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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Earlier Poems

The Spirit of Poetry

  • This and the following poem were written in Portland immediately after Mr. Longfellow left college in the autumn of 1825.

  • THERE is a quiet spirit in these woods,

    That dwells where’er the gentle south-wind blows;

    Where, underneath the white-thorn in the glade,

    The wild flowers bloom, or, kissing the soft air,

    The leaves above their sunny palms outspread.

    With what a tender and impassioned voice

    It fills the nice and delicate ear of thought,

    When the fast ushering star of morning comes

    O’er-riding the gray hills with golden scarf;

    Or when the cowled and dusky-sandalled Eve,

    In mourning weeds, from out the western gate,

    Departs with silent pace! That spirit moves

    In the green valley, where the silver brook,

    From its full laver, pours the white cascade;

    And, babbling low amid the tangled woods,

    Slips down through moss-grown stones with endless laughter.

    And frequent, on the everlasting hills,

    Its feet go forth, when it doth wrap itself

    In all the dark embroidery of the storm,

    And shouts the stern, strong wind. And here, amid

    The silent majesty of these deep woods,

    Its presence shall uplift thy thoughts from earth,

    As to the sunshine and the pure, bright air

    Their tops the green trees lift. Hence gifted bards

    Have ever loved the calm and quiet shades.

    For them there was an eloquent voice in all

    The sylvan pomp of woods, the golden sun,

    The flowers, the leaves, the river on its way,

    Blue skies, and silver clouds, and gentle winds,

    The swelling upland, where the sidelong sun

    Aslant the wooded slope, at evening, goes,

    Groves, through whose broken roof the sky looks in,

    Mountain, and shattered cliff, and sunny vale,

    The distant lake, fountains, and mighty trees,

    In many a lazy syllable, repeating

    Their old poetic legends to the wind.

    And this is the sweet spirit, that doth fill

    The world; and, in these wayward days of youth,

    My busy fancy oft embodies it,

    As a bright image of the light and beauty

    That dwell in nature; of the heavenly forms

    We worship in our dreams, and the soft hues

    That stain the wild bird’s wing, and flush the clouds

    When the sun sets. Within her tender eye

    The heaven of April, with its changing light,

    And when it wears the blue of May, is hung,

    And on her lip the rich, red rose. Her hair

    Is like the summer tresses of the trees,

    When twilight makes them brown, and on her cheek

    Blushes the richness of an autumn sky,

    With ever-shifting beauty. Then her breath,

    It is so like the gentle air of Spring,

    As, from the morning’s dewy flowers, it comes

    Full of their fragrance, that it is a joy

    To have it round us, and her silver voice

    Is the rich music of a summer bird,

    Heard in the still night, with its passionate cadence.