Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
To the Past
By William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)
          THOU unrelenting Past!
Stern are the fetters 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          Far in thy realm withdrawn        5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 shadows 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 givest 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Unpublished charity, unbroken faith;        30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 thou shalt 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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