James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

November 3

To Bryant on His Birthday

By George H. Boker (1823–1890)

  • (Born November 3, 1794)
  • These lines commemorating Bryant’s seventieth birthday, Nov. 3, 1864, were read at a celebration of that event at the Century Club in New York.

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    HEARKEN, ye bards who err by rigid rules,

    And wear the tawdry livery of the schools;

    Who strive to shine as other lights have shone,

    And envying others, forfeit what’s your own!

    Write, as he wrote, with honest, simple pains,

    Out of the seeds God planted in your brains,

    Out of the fullness of your nation’s heart,

    Nor vex the dead with imitative art;

    Nor cross the natural limit of the seas,

    To seek a strength that fills our stronger breeze.

    For were the copy as the first mould cast,—

    Out on the thing! a copy ’tis at last!

    By mere descent no poet shall be known;

    Each royal minstrel holds his separate throne,

    And o’er his state a seraph’s brand is whirled:

    One Milton is enough for any world.

    Poet revered, you taught this lesson first,

    As from the bondage of the schools you burst,

    And filled our startled but delighted sense

    With our wide land’s discovered affluence;

    Gave the scorned legends of our narrow past

    Another color and more graceful cast;

    Touched the wild flowers beneath our lucid skies,

    And shook their glimmer in the dreamer’s eyes;

    Made history light upon unstoried hills,

    And breathed a voice along our savage rills;

    Spread over all the haze of fresh romance,

    Till Europe wondered through her doubting glance;

    But wondered more that every tone rang out

    The clarion challenge of a freeman’s shout;

    Sounding defiance to their castes and kings,

    Their courtly follies over empty things;

    But, O my Bryant, tempered sweet and low,

    To tenderest pity, was your music’s flow

    Over the trampled serfs that raised their groans

    Beneath the shadows of resplendent thrones.

    Warm was the welcome of the hand you gave

    Across our threshold to the fleeing slave;

    And stern the courage of your angry frown,

    When tyrants raged for what they called their own.

    You were the first who made us clearly see,

    In rhythmic words, how grand ’tis to be free;

    Sang to the world the spirit of our land,

    And waved her standard from your spotless hand;

    Taught every child the glory of his birth,

    And spread his heritage around the earth;

    Made youth feel stronger, that his life began

    Here in the front of freedom’s hardy van;

    Consoled the sage against foreboding fears,

    And starred with hopes the shadows of his years.