The Lament of the Forest

Original Text: 
Thomas Cole, "The Lament of the Forest," The Knickerbocker: or, New-York Monthly Magazine 17 (June 1841): 516-19. Google Books.
1In joyous Summer, when the exulting earth
2Flung fragrance from innumerable flowers
3Through the wide wastes of heaven, as on she took
4In solitude her everlasting way,
5I stood among the mountain heights, alone!
6The beauteous mountains, which the voyager
7On Hudson's breast far in the purple west
8Magnificent, beholds; the abutments broad
9Whence springs the immeasurable dome of heaven.
10A lake was spread before me, so serene
11That I had deemed it heaven with silver clouds,
12Had not the drowning butterfly, or wing
13Of skimming swallow, ever and anon
14Wrinkled its glorious face with spreading rings.
15It was Earth's offering to the imperial sky
16That in their rugged palms the mountains held
17Aloft. Around it rose precipitous steeps,
18With rock, and crag, and dell, and cavern dank;
19Which seemed an amphitheatre hugely built
20By mighty Titans when the world was young;
21And though the Flood o'erwhelmed the builders, hurled
22Downward its loftiest battlements, and crushed
23The massive seats, columns and arches vast;
24Silent and desolate, it rears on high
25A thousand Colosseums heaped in one!
26Forests of shadowy pine, hemlock and beech,
27And oak and maple ever beautiful,
28O'er every rent and boss of ruin spread,
29Rank above rank arrayed: the topmost pines
30Quivered among the clouds, and on the lake,
31Peaceful and calm, the lower woods looked down,
32A silent people through the lapsing years.
33Beside that lake I lingered long, like one
34Who gazes on the face of her he loves,
35Entranced in thoughts too glad for utterance.
36I watched the breeze upon the mountain's breast
37Toss the green pine and birchen foliage gray:
38The clouds, like angels on their heavenward flight,
39Inhaled the perfume from the azalea's flower,
40And small white violet, whose honied breath
41Made the air sweet, and marked the wavelets break,
42Casting the pollen of the rifled flowers
43In mimic rage, like gold-dust, on the shores.
44The sun descended, and the twilight spread
45Its soft empurpled wings; and that blessed hour,
46When spirits stooping from the crimson clouds
47Commune with man, whose grovelling instincts now
48Are laid aside as robes of earthliness
49By Nature's pure and solitary fount.
50Over my senses stole a sweet repose,
51And dreams, which are but wakefulness of soul --
52A brief exemption from encumbering clay.
53I heard a sound! 'Twas wild and strange; a voice
54As of ten thousand! Musical it was --
55A gush of richest concord, deep and slow;
56A song that filled the universal air!
57It was the voice of the great Forest, sent
58From every valley and dark mountain top
59Within the bosom of this mighty land.
60                                        LAMENT.
61"Mortal, whose love for our umbrageous realms
62Exceeds the love of all the race of man;
63Whom we have loved; for whom have opened wide
64With welcome our innumerable arms;
65Open thine ears! The voice that ne'er before
66Was heard by living man, is lifted up,
67And fills the air -- the voice of our complaint.
68Thousands of years! -- yea, they have passed away
69As drops of dew upon the sunlit rose,
70Or silver vapors of the summer sea;
71Thousands of years! like wind-strains on the harp,
72Or like forgotten thoughts, have passed away
73Unto the bourne of unremembered things.
74Thousands of years! When the fresh earth first broke
75Through chaos, swift in new-born joy even then
76The stars of heaven beheld us waving high
77Upon the mountains, slumbering in the vales:
78Or yet the race of man had seen their light,
79Before the virgin breast of earth was scarred
80By steel, or granite masses rent from rocks
81To build vast Thebes or old Persepolis,
82Our arms were clasped around the hills, our locks
83Shaded the streams that loved us, our green tops
84Were resting places for the weary clouds.
85Then all was harmony and peace; but MAN
86Arose -- he who now vaunts antiquity --
87He the destroyer -- and in the sacred shades
88Of the far East began destruction's work.
89Echo, whose voice had answered to the call
90Of thunder or of winds, or to the cry
91Of cataracts -- sound of sylvan habitants
92Or song of birds -- uttered responses sharp
93And dissonant; the axe unresting smote
94Our reverend ranks, and crashing branches lashed
95The ground, the mighty trunks, the pride of years,
96Rolled on the groaning earth with all their umbrage.
97Stronger than wintry blasts, and gathering strength,
98Swept that tornado, stayless, till the Earth,
99Our ancient mother, blasted lay and bare
100Beneath the burning sun. The little streams
101That oft had raised their voices in the breeze
102In joyful unison with ours, did waste
103And pine as if in grief that we were not.
104Our trackless shades, our dim ubiquity,
105In solemn garb of the primeval world,
106Our glory, our magnificence, were gone;
107And but on difficult places, marsh or steep,
108The remnants of our failing race were left,
109Like scattered clouds upon the mountain-top.
110The vast Hyrcanian wood, and Lebanon's
111Dark ranks of cedar were cut down like grass;
112And man, whose poets sang our happy shades,
113Whose sages taught that Innocence and Peace,
114Daughters of Solitude, sojourned in us,
115Held not his arm, until Necessity,
116Stern master e'en of him, seized it and bound,
117And from extinction saved our scanty tribes.
118"Seasons there were, when man, at war with man,
119Left us to raze proud cities, desolate
120Old empires, and pour out his blood on soil
121That once was all our own. When death has made
122All silent, all secure, we have returned,
123Twisted our roots around the prostrate shafts
124And broken capitals, or struck them deep
125Into the mould made richer by man's blood.
126Such seasons were but brief: so soon as earth
127Was sanctified again by shade and art,
128Again resolved to nature, man came back,
129And once more swept our feeble hosts away.
130"Yet was there one bright, virgin continent
131Remote, that Roman name had never reached,
132Nor ancient dreams, in all their universe;
133As inaccessible in primal time
134To human eye and thought, as Uranus
135Far in his secret void. For round it rolled
136A troubled deep, whose everlasting roar
137Echoed in every zone; whose drear expanse
138Spread dark and trackless as the midnight sky;
139And stories of vast whirlpools, stagnant seas,
140Terrible monsters, that with horror struck
141The mariner's soul, these held aloof full long
142The roving race of Europe from that land,
143The land of beauty and of many climes,
144The land of mighty cataracts, where now
145Our own proud eagle flaps his chainless wing.
146"Thus guarded through long centuries, untouched
147By man, save him, our native child, whose foot
148Disdained the bleak and sun-beat soil, who loved
149Our shafted halls, the covert of the deer,
150We flourished, we rejoiced. From mountain top
151To mountain top we gazed, and over vales
152And glimmering plains we saw our banner green
153Wide waving yet untorn. Gladly the Spring
154On bloomy wing shed fragrance over us;
155And Summer laughed beneath our verdant roof,
156And Autumn sighed to leave our golden courts;
157And when the crimson leaves were strewn in showers
158Upon the ample lap of Oregon,
159Or the great Huron's lake of lazuli,
160Winter upraised his rude and stormy songs,
161And we in a wild chorus answered him.
162O peace primeval! would thou hadst remained!
163What moved thee to unbar thine emerald gates,
164O mighty Deep! when the destroyer came?
165Strayed then thy blasts upon Olympus' air,
166Or were they lulled to breezes round the brow
167Of rich Granada's crafty conqueror,
168When with strong wing they should have rushed upon
169Our enemy and smitten him, as when
170The fleet of Xerxes on the Grecian coast
171Was cast like foam and weed upon the rocks!
172"But impotent the voice of our complaint:
173He came! Few were his numbers first, but soon
174The work of desolation was begun
175Close by the heaving main; then on the banks
176Of rivers inland far, our strength was shorn,
177And fire and steel performed their office well.
178No stay was there -- no rest. The tiny cloud
179Oft seen in torrid climes, at first sends forth
180A faint light breeze; but gathering, as it moves,
181Darkness and bulk, it spans the spacious sky
182With lurid palm, and sweeps stupendous o'er
183The crashing world. And thus comes rushing on
184This human hurricane, boundless as swift.
185Our sanctuary, this secluded spot,
186Which the stern rocks have guarded until now,
187Our enemy has marked. This gentle lake
188Shall lose our presence in its limpid breast,
189And from the mountains we shall melt away,
190Like wreaths of mist upon the winds of heaven.
191Our doom is near: behold from east to west
192The skies are darkened by ascending smoke;
193Each hill and every valley is become
194An altar unto Mammon, and the gods
195Of man's idolatry -- the victims we.
196Missouri's floods are ruffled as by storm,
197And Hudson's rugged hills at midnight glow
198By light of man-projected meteors.
199We feed ten thousand fires: in our short day
200The woodland growth of centuries is consumed;
201Our crackling limbs the ponderous hammer rouse
202With fervent heat. Tormented by our flame,
203Fierce vapors struggling hiss on every hand.
204On Erie's shores, by dusky Arkansas,
205Our ranks are falling like the heavy grain
207"A few short years! -- these valleys, greenly clad,
208These slumbering mountains, resting in our arms,
209Shall naked glare beneath the scorching sun,
210And all their wimpling rivulets be dry.
211No more the deer shall haunt these bosky glens,
212Nor the pert squirrel chatter near his store.
213A few short years! -- our ancient race shall be,
214Like Israel's, scattered 'mong the tribes of men."


206] Wolga: the Volga river. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire / Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: