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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Western States: Prairies, The

The Hunter of the Prairies

By William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)

AY, this is freedom!—these pure skies

Were never stained with village smoke;

The fragrant wind, that through them flies,

Is breathed from wastes by plough unbroke.

Here, with my rifle and my steed,

And her who left the world for me,

I plant me, where the red deer feed

In the green desert,—and am free.

For here the fair savannas know

No barriers in the bloomy grass;

Wherever breeze of heaven may blow,

Or beam of heaven may glance, I pass.

In pastures, measureless as air,

The bison is my noble game;

The bounding elk, whose antlers tear

The branches, falls before my aim.

Mine are the river-fowl that scream

From the long stripe of waving sedge;

The bear, that marks my weapon’s gleam,

Hides vainly in the forest’s edge;

In vain the she-wolf stands at bay;

The brinded catamount, that lies

High in the boughs to watch his prey,

Even in the act of springing, dies.

With what free growth the elm and plane

Fling their huge arms across my way,

Gray, old, and cumbered with a train

Of vines, as huge and old and gray!

Free stray the lucid streams, and find

No taint in these fresh lawns and shades;

Free spring the flowers that scent the wind

Where never scythe has swept the glades.

Alone the Fire, when frost-winds sere

The heavy herbage of the ground,

Gathers his annual harvest here,

With roaring like the battle’s sound,

And hurrying flames that sweep the plain,

And smoke-streams gushing up the sky:

I meet the flames with flames again,

And at my door they cower and die.

Here, from dim woods, the aged past

Speaks solemnly; and I behold

The boundless future in the vast

And lonely river, seaward rolled.

Who feeds its founts with rain and dew?

Who moves, I ask, its gliding mass,

And trains the bordering vines, whose blue

Bright clusters tempt me as I pass?

Broad are these streams,—my steed obeys,

Plunges, and bears me through the tide.

Wide are these woods,—I thread the maze

Of giant stems, nor ask a guide.

I hunt, till day’s last glimmer dies

O’er woody vale and grassy height;

And kind the voice and glad the eyes,

That welcome my return at night.