the poetry of fly fishing

a winter piece

william cullen bryant

The time has been that these wild solitudes,

Yet beautiful as wild, were trod by me

Oftener than now; and when the ills of life

Had chafed my spirit—when the unsteady pulse

Beat with strange flutterings—I would wander forth

And seek the woods. The sunshine on my path

Was to me a friend. The swelling hills,

The quiet dells retiring far between,

With gentle invitation to explore

Their windings, were a calm society

That talked with me and soothed me. Then the chant

Of birds, and chime of brooks, and soft caress

Of the fresh sylvan air, made me forget

The thoughts that broke my peace, and I began

To gather simples by the fountain’s brink,

And lose myself in day-dreams.

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While I stood

In Nature’s loneliness, I was with one

With whom I early grew familiar, one

Who never had a frown for me, whose voice

Never rebuked me for the hours I stole

From cares I loved not, but of which the world

Deems highest, to converse with her. When shrieked

The bleak November winds, and smote the woods,

And the brown fields were herbless, and the shades,

That met above the merry rivulet,

Were spoiled, I sought, I loved them still; they seemed

Like old companions in adversity.

Still there was beauty in my walks; the brook,

Bordered with sparkling frost-work, was as gay

As with its fringe of summer flowers. Afar,

The village with its spires, the path of streams

And dim receding valleys, hid before

By interposing trees, lay visible

Through the bare grove, and my familiar haunts

Seemed new to me. Nor was I slow to come

Among them, when the clouds, from their still skirts,

Had shaken down on earth the feathery snow,

And all was white.

The pure keen air abroad,

Albeit it breathed no scent of herb, nor heard

Love-call of bird nor merry hum of bee,

Was not the air of death. Bright mosses crept

Over the spotted trunks, and the close buds,

That lay along the boughs, instinct with life,

Patient, and waiting the soft breath of Spring,

Feared not the piercing spirit of the North.

The snow-bird twittered on the beechen bough,

And ’neath the hemlock, whose thick branches bent

Beneath its bright cold burden, and kept dry

A circle, on the earth, of withered leaves,

The partridge found a shelter. Through the snow

The rabbit sprang away. The lighter track

Of fox, and the raccoon’s broad path, were there,

Crossing each other. From his hollow tree

The squirrel was abroad, gathering the nuts

Just fallen, that asked the winter cold and sway

Of winter blast, to shake them from their hold.

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  But Winter has yet brighter scenes—he boasts

Splendors beyond what gorgeous Summer knows;

Or Autumn with his many fruits, and woods

All flushed with many hues. Come when the rains

Have glazed the snow and clothed the trees with ice,

While the slant of sun of February pours

Into the bowers a flood of light. Approach!

The incrusted surface shall upbear thy steps,

And the broad arching portals of the grove

Welcome thy entering. Look! the massy trunks

Are cased in pure crystal; each light spray,

Nodding and tinkling in the breath of heaven,

Is studded with its trembling water-drops,

That glimmer with an amethystine light.

But round the parent-stem the long low boughs

Bend, in a glittering ring, and arbors hide

The glassy floor.

Oh! you might deem the spot

The spacious cavern of some virgin mine,

Deep in the womb of earth—where the gems grow,

And diamonds put forth radiant rods and bud

With amethyst and topaz—and the place

Lit up, most royally, with the pure beam

That dwells in them. Or haply the vast hall

Of fairy palace, that outlasts the night,

And fades not in the glory of the sun;—

Where crystal columns send forth slender shafts

And crossing arches; and fantastic aisles

Wind from the sight in brightness, and are lost

Among the crowded pillars. Raise thine eye;

Thou seest no cavern roof; no palace vault;

There the blue sky and the white drifting cloud

Look in. Again the wildered fancy dreams

Of spouting fountains, frozen as they rose,

And fixed, with all their branching jets, in air,

And all their sluices sealed. All, all is light;

Light without shade. But all shall pass away

With the next sun. From numberless vast trunks

Loosened, the crashing ice shall make a sound

Like the far roar of rivers, and the eve

Shall close o’er the brown woods as it was wont.

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 And it is pleasant, when the noisy streams

Are just set free, and milder suns melt off

The plashy snow, save only the firm drift

In the deep glen or the close shade of pines—

’Tis pleasant to behold the wreaths of smoke

Roll up among the maples of the hill,

Where the shrill sound of youthful voices wakes

The shriller echo, as the clear pure lymph,

That from the wounded trees, in twinkling drops,

Falls, mid the golden brightness of the morn,

Is gathered in with brimming pails, and oft,

Wielded by sturdy hands, the stroke of axe

Makes the woods ring. Along the quiet air,

Come and float calmly off the soft light clouds,

Such as you see in summer, and the winds

Scarce stir the branches. Lodged in sunny cleft,

 

Where the cold breezes come not, blooms alone

The little wind-flower, whose just opened eye

Is blue as the spring heaven it gazes at—

Startling the loiterer in the naked groves

With unexpected beauty, for the time

Of blossoms and green leaves is yet afar.

And ere it comes, the encountering winds shall oft

Muster their wrath again, and rapid clouds

Shade heaven, and bounding on the frozen earth

Shall fall their volleyed stores, rounded like hail

And white like snow, and the loud North again

Shall buffet the vexed forest in his rage.