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1  nature becomes so often monstrous and grotesque. And yet Bryant's imagination has its characteristic modes of relating its objects. Three or four huge and impressive metaphors underlie a great part of his poetry: the past as a place, an underworld,1 dim and tremendous, most poignantly illustrated in the poem The past with its personal allusions, and most sublimely in The death of slavery, a great political hymn, with Lowell's Commemoration ode, and Whitman's When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloomed, the highest poetry of solemn grandeur produced by the Civil War; death as a mysterious passageway, whether through gate2 or cloud,3 with the hosts ever entering and disappearing in the Beyond; mankind conceived as one vast company, a troop, a clan; and, as suggested above, nature as a multitudinous Life.Bryant wonderfully visualized and unified the vast scope of the racial movement and the range of natural phenomena. His “broad surveys,” as they have been called, are more than surveys: they are large acts of the combining imagination, presenting the significance, not merely the catalogue. These acts take us home to the most inveterate habit of his poet-mind. As method or device they seem to suggest a simple prescription for writing poetry; superficially, after one has met them again and yet again in Bryant, one might call them easy to do, because easy to understand. The task is, however, not to make a list, but to make the right list; a list not by capricious association of ideas, but by the laws of inner harmony of meaning. Again, in Bryant the list is itself often a fine, far look beyond the immediate fact — the immediate fact with which all but the poet would rest content. The song of the Sower needed no suggestion from Schiller's Song of the Bell, which, however, Bryant doubtless knew;4 it highly illustrates his own natural procedure:
Where are conceal'd the days which have elapsed?This is doubtless one of the many indications of how thoroughly Bryant's early reading penetrated his subconsciousness and, with boyhood's woods and mountains, contributed to his essential make — up in maturity.
Hid in the mighty cavern of the past,
They rise upon us only to appal,
By indistinct and half-glimpsed images.
3 Poems, p. 260.
4 Poems, p. 250.
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