Verse > Anthologies > Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. > Yale Book of American Verse
Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.  1912.
William Cullen Bryant. 1794–1878
21. The Past
    THOU unrelenting Past! 
Strong are the barriers round thy dark domain, 
    And fetters, sure and fast, 
Hold all that enter thy unbreathing reign. 
    Far in thy realm withdrawn         5
Old empires sit in sullenness and gloom, 
    And glorious ages gone 
Lie deep within the shadow of thy womb. 
    Childhood, with all its mirth, 
Youth, Manhood, Age that draws us to the ground,  10
    And last, Man's Life on earth, 
Glide to thy dim dominions, and are bound. 
    Thou hast my better years; 
Thou hast my earlier friends, the good, the kind, 
    Yielded to thee with tears—  15
The venerable form, the exalted mind. 
    My spirit yearns to bring 
The lost ones back—yearns with desire intense, 
    And struggles hard to wring 
Thy bolts apart, and pluck thy captives thence.  20
    In vain; thy gates deny 
All passage save to those who hence depart; 
    Nor to the streaming eye 
Thou giv'st them back—nor to the broken heart. 
    In thy abysses hide  25
Beauty and excellence unknown; to thee 
    Earth's wonder and her pride 
Are gathered, as the waters to the sea; 
    Labors of good to man, 
Unpublished charity, unbroken faith,  30
    Love, that midst grief began, 
And grew with years, and faltered not in death. 
    Full many a mighty name 
Lurks in thy depths, unuttered, unrevered; 
    With thee are silent fame,  35
Forgotten arts, and wisdom disappeared. 
    Thine for a space are they— 
Yet shalt thou yield thy treasures up at last: 
    Thy gates shall yet give way, 
Thy bolts shall fall, inexorable Past!  40
    All that of good and fair 
Has gone into thy womb from earliest time, 
    Shall then come forth to wear 
The glory and the beauty of its prime. 
    They have not perished—no!  45
Kind words, remembered voices once so sweet, 
    Smiles, radiant long ago, 
And features, the great soul's apparent seat. 
    All shall come back; each tie 
Of pure affection shall be knit again;  50
    Alone shall Evil die, 
And Sorrow dwell a prisoner in thy reign. 
    And then shall I behold 
Him, by whose kind paternal side I sprung, 
    And her, who, still and cold,  55
Fills the next grave—the beautiful and young. 

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