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invited to read a poem before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard College, and he read The Ages, a stately grave poem which shows his own poetic power, his familiarity with the great masters of literature, and his lofty, philosophic nature. Shortly after this he issued a small volume of poems, and his name began to be known as that of the first American who had written poetry that could take its place in universal literature. His own decided preference for literature, and the encouragement of friends, led to his abandonment of the law in 1825, and his removal to New York, where he undertook the associate editorship of The New York Review and Athenæum Magazine. Poetic genius is not caused or controlled by circumstance, but a purely literary life in a country not yet educated in literature was impossible to a man of no other means of support, and in a few months, after the Review had vainly tried to maintain life by a frequent change of name, Bryant accepted an appointment as assistant editor of the Evening Post. From 1826, then, until his death, Bryant was a journalist by profession. One effect of this change in his life was to eliminate from his poetry that political character which was displayed in his first published poem and had several times since shown itself. Thenceafter he threw into his journalistic occupation all those thoughts and experiences which mada him by nature a patriot and political thinker; he reserved for poetry the calm reflection, love of nature, and purity of aspiration which made him a poet. His editorial writing was made strong and pure by his cultivated taste and lofty ideals, but he presented the rare combination of a poet who never sacrificed his love of high literature and his devotion to art, and of a publicist who retained a sound judgmert and pursued the most practical ends.
His life outwardly was uneventful. He made four jour neys to Europe, in 1834, 1845, 1852, 1857, and he made frequent tours in his own country. His observations on his travels were published in Letters from a Traveller, Letters
from the East, and Letters from Spain and other Coun tries. He never held public office, except that in 1860 he was a presidential elector, but he was connected intimately with important movements in society, literature, and politics, and was repeatedly called upon to deliver addresses commemorative of eminent citizens, as of Washington Irving, and James Fenimore Cooper, and at the unveiling of the bust of Mazzini in the Central Park. His Orations and Addresses have been gathered into a volume.
The bulk of his poetry apart from his poetic translations is not considerable, and is made up almost wholly of short poems which are chiefly inspired by his love of nature. R. H. Dana in his preface to The Idle Man says: “I shall never forget with what feeling my friend Bryant some years ago · described to me the effect produced upon him by his meeting for the first time with Wordsworth’s Ballads. He lived, when quite young, where but few works of poetry were to be had ; at a period, too, when Pope was still the great idol of the Temple of Art. He said that upon opening Wordsworth a thousand springs seemed to gush up at once in his heart, and the face of nature of a sudden to change into a strange freshness and life.”
This was the interpreting power of Wordsworth suddenly disclosing to Bryant, not the secrets of nature, but his own powers of perception and interpretation. Bryant is in no sense an imitator of Wordsworth, but a comparison of the two poets would be of great interest as showing how individually each pursued the same general poetic end. Wordsworth's Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower and Bryant's O Fairest of the Rural Maids offer an admirable opportunity for disclosing the separate treatment of similar subjects. In Bryant's lines, musical and full of a gentle reve ery, the poet seems to go deeper and deeper into the forest, almost forgetful of the “fairest of the rural maids ; Wordsworth's lines, with what simple yet profound feeling
1 This was written in 1833.
the poet, after delicately disclosing the interchange of nature and human life, returns into those depths of human sympathy where nature must forever remain as a remote shadow.
Bryant translated many short poems from the Spanish, but his largest literary undertaking was the translation of the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. He brought to this task great requisite powers, and if there is any failure it is in the absence of Homer's lightness and rapidity, qualities which the elasticity of the Greek language especially favored.
A pleasant touch of a simple humor appeared in some of his social addresses, and occasionally is found in his poems, as in Robert of Lincoln. Suggestions of personal experience will be read in such poems as The Cloud on the Way, The Life that Is, and in the half-autobiographic poem, A Lifetime