A Palimpsest of Time and Place
Thomas Cole
Painter, Poet, Prophet
Earth Elegies III


The Compliant of the Forest

Renamed and somewhat altered by WC Bryant before publication in
The Knickerbocker Magazine
in 1840-41:

The Lament of the Forest






Lament of the Forest
by Thomas Cole

In joyous Summer, when the exulting earth
Flung fragrance from innumerable flowers
Through the wide wastes of heaven, as on she took
In solitude her everlasting way,
I stood among the mountain heights, alone!
The beauteous mountains, which the voyager
On Hudson's breast far in the purple west
Magnificent, beholds; the abutments broad
Whence springs the immeasurable dome of heaven.
A lake was spread before me, so serene
That I had deemed it heaven with silver clouds,
Had not the drowning butterfly, or wing
Of skimming swallow, ever and anon
Wrinkled its glorious face with spreading rings.
It was Earth's offering to the imperial sky
That in their rugged palms the mountains held
Aloft. Around it rose precipitous steeps,
With rock, and crag, and dell, and cavern dank;
Which seemed an amphitheatre hugely built
By mighty Titans when the world was young;
And though the Flood o'erwhelmed the builders, hurled
Downward its loftiest battlements, and crushed
The massive seats, columns and arches vast;
Silent and desolate, it rears on high
A thousand Colosseums heaped in one!
Forests of shadowy pine, hemlock and beech,
And oak and maple ever beautiful,
O'er every rent and boss of ruin spread,
Rank above rank arrayed: the topmost pines
Quivered among the clouds, and on the lake,
Peaceful and calm, the lower woods looked down,
A silent people through the lapsing years.

Beside that lake I lingered long, like one
Who gazes on the face of her he loves,
Entranced in thoughts too glad for utterance.
I watched the breeze upon the mountain's breast
Toss the green pine and birchen foliage gray;
The clouds, like angels on their heavenward flight,
Inhaled the perfume from the azalea's flower,
And small white violet, whose honied breath
Made the air sweet, and marked the wavelets break,
Casting the pollen of the rifled flowers
In mimic rage, like gold-dust, on the shores.
The sun descended, and the twilight spread
Its soft empurpled wings; and that blessed hour,
When spirits stooping from the crimson clouds
Commune with man, whose grovelling instincts now
Are laid aside as robes of earthliness
By Nature's pure and solitary fount.

Over my senses stole a sweet repose,
And dreams, which are but wakefulness of soul —
A brief exemption from encumbering clay.
I heard a sound! 'T was wild and strange; a voice
As of ten thousand! Musical it was
A gush of richest concord, deep and slow;
A song that filled the universal air!
It was the voice of the great Forest, sent
From every valley and dark mountain top
Within the bosom of this mighty land.


Thomas Cole's Writings

On American Scenery

The Storm

The Wild

The Ice Cone


Writings of his Contemporaries

William Cullen Bryant

Washington Irving


Additional Readings

Related Links


"It is a subject that to every American ought to be of surpassing interest; ... in the midst of American scenery -- it is his own land; its beauty, its magnificence, its sublimity -- all are his; and how undeserving of such a birthright, if he can turn towards it an unobserving eye, an unaffected heart!"
Thomas Cole. An Essay On American Scenery

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