William Cullen Bryant's "The Gladness of Nature"

Updated on August 23, 2019
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

William Cullen Bryant

Source

Introduction and Text of "The Gladness of Nature"

William Cullen Bryant's "The Gladness of Nature," dramatizes the joy that nature can engender in the individual who observes with an open mind and willing heart. The poem features five rimed quatrains, with the rime scheme, ABAB.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Gladness of Nature

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space
And their shadows at play on the bright-green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There’s a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There’s a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There’s a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he’ll smile thy gloom away.

Reading of "The Gladness of Nature"

Commentary

One of the most cheerful poems ever written, "The Gladness of Nature," paints smiles on the faces of fruit and flowers and allows the sunshine to chase away all gloom.

First Quatrain: Rhetorical Question of Gladness

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

The speaker begins with a question, "Is this a time to be cloudy and sad . . .?" The full text of the question includes the answer as it insists that "our mother Nature laughs," "the deep blue heavens look glad," and "gladness breathes from the blossoming ground[.]" Thus, his rhetorical question emphasizes how definite it is that this is a time to be exceedingly glad because all of nature is glad.

Second Quatrain: Piles of Example of Good Cheer

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The rest of the poem piles example on example, supporting the claim that no human being could be "cloudy and sad" while the earth's environment is dramatizing such beauty, cheer, and joy. He says, "there are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren, / And the gossip of swallows through all the sky."

He is offering auditory images that cheer the ear. Continuing with the auditory imagery, he claims, "The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den, / And the wilding bee hums merrily by." The jolly little noises made by these charming creatures enhances his painting of a fine, bright day.

Third Quatrain: Figures in the Clouds

The clouds are at play in the azure space
And their shadows at play on the bright-green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

The speaker then points his listener's attention to the sky, where "the clouds are at play in the azure space." But he also brings the eye back to earth, pointing to the cloud's "shadows at play on the bright-green vale."

Staying with the motion of the clouds, he fancies that they "stretch to the frolic chase / And there they role in the easy gale." He figuratively transforms the fleecy clouds into animals, perhaps, sheep, gamboling in the meadow.

Fourth Quatrain: All of Nature Smiles

There’s a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There’s a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There’s a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

The speaker points to the "leaves in that aspen bower" that are dancing, while there is "a titter of winds in that beechen tree." He observes "smiles" on the faces of "fruit," and there is also "a smile on the flower." All of nature seems to come together in one gigantic burst of happy sunshine in which the speaker is blissfully luxuriating. He even hears "the brook" laughing as it "runs to the sea."

Fifth Quatrain: The Smiling Sun

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he’ll smile thy gloom away.

The speaker commands his listener to "look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles / On the dewy earth." And the earth returns the smile, as the sun's rays play upon "the leaping waters and gay young isles." And the speaker makes his final optimistic declaration that the sun will "smile thy gloom away."

William Cullen Bryant

Source

Life Sketch of William Cullen Bryant

Most noted for his poem “Thanatopsis,” a study of death, William Cullen Bryant also wrote numerous sonnets focusing on nature. Born in Cummington, Massachusetts, November 3, 1794, Bryant was an early nature lover, and much of his poetry focuses on nature subjects.

Despite the fact that he lived a long life, dying in New York in 1878, his health was weak in infancy. One story has it that as a baby Bryant had a large head; his father who was a physician sought to reduce the size of his son’s head by dunking him in cold water every morning. It is not known if these cold baths actually brought about the desired result.

Bryant entered Williams College at age sixteen and studied there for two years. Later he studied law and became a member of the bar in 1815. He practiced law at Plainfield and at Great Barrington. Despite his high achievement in the courts, his real love was literature, not law.

Bryant’s literary career had begun in his teens. He wrote and published a satirical poem titled “The Embargo” and several other poems when he was only thirteen. He wrote his most widely read poem, “Thanatopsis,” when he was only eighteen.

He moved to New York in 1825 and with a friend founded The New York Review, where he published many of his poems. His longest stint as an editor was at The Evening Post, where he served for over fifty years until his death. In addition to his editorial and literary efforts, Bryant joined in the political discussions of the day, offering clear-headed prose to his repertoire of works.

In 1832, Bryant published his first volume of poems, and in 1852 his collection, The Fountain and Other Poems, appeared. When he was seventy-one years old, he began his translation of the Iliad which he completed in 1869; then he finished the Odyssey in 1871. When he was eighty-two, he wrote and published his strongest work, The Flood of Years.

Another important poem that serves as an excellent example of this poet's style and unique craftsmanship is his sonnet titled "October":

October

Aye, thou art welcome, heaven's delicious breath!
When woods begin to wear the crimson leaf,
And sons grow meek, and the meek suns grow brief,
And the year smiles as it draws near its death.
Wind of the sunny south! oh, still delay
In the gay woods and in the golden air,
Like to a good old age released from care,
Journeying, in long serenity, away.
In such a bright, late quiet, would that I
Might wear out life like thee, 'mid bowers and brooks,
And dearer yet, the sunshine of kind looks,
And music of kind voices ever nigh;
And then my last sand twinkled in the glass,
Pass silently from men, as thou dost pass.

The speaker addresses the month of October, personifying its presence. As in his most famous poem, “Thanatopsis,” the poet portrays death as something to be admired instead of feared. Bryant’s dedication to his literary career as well as to his homeland could not be emphasized any better than by the poet himself when he declared the following:

We are not without the hope that those who read what we have written, will see in the past, with all its vicissitudes, the promise of a prosperous and honorable future, of concord at home, and peace and respect abroad; and that the same cheerful piety which leads the good man to put his personal trust in a kind Providence, will prompt the good citizen to cherish an equal confidence in regard to the destiny reserved for our beloved country.

Despite the shrill voices of many of today’s poets and political pundits who denigrate their country with their undisciplined art and polemics, Bryant’s hope has well been realized for those who focus on the right places.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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