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WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT
[The poems from Bryant are printed by the kind permission of Messrs. D. Appleton & Co., the authorized publishers of his works.]
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall, And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
1 This, the first great poem written in America, was published in the North American Review for September, 1817, vol. v, pp. 338-340. Bryant's father had found it, together with the Fragment,' later known as Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood,' among other papers in a desk; and had immediately taken it to Boston and shown it to his friend Willard Phillips, one of the editors of the North American Review. When Phillips read the poem to his fellow editors, one of them, Richard H. Dana, exclaimed, Ah, Phillips, you have been imposed upon; no one on this side of the Atlantic is capable of writing such verses; and though soon persuaded that the verses really were by an American, the editors still believed that 'Thanatopsis ' must have been written by the young poet's father. Phillips says in a letter to Bryant, December, 1817: "Your "Fragment" was exceedingly liked here. All the best judges say that it and your father's "Thanatopsis" are the very best poetry that has been published in this country.'
As originally printed in the North American Review, the poem began with what is now line 17, -Yet a few days, and ended with lines 65 and 66,
And make their bed with thee.
It was preceded by four stanzas of four lines each, which did not properly belong to the poem, but had been found with it. The beginning and ending of the poem as it now stands were first given in the volume of poems published by Bryant in 1821.
See Mr. Godwin's account of the origin of the poem, in his Life of Bryant, vol. i, pp. 97-101; and of its first publication, pp. 148-155.