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About this poet

William Cullen Bryant was born near Cummington, Massachusetts, on November 3, 1794. He was the second son of doctor and state legislator Peter Bryant and his wife Sarah Snell, whose ancestors were passengers on the Mayflower.

At thirteen, Bryant wrote “The Embargo,” a satirical poem calling for the resignation of President Thomas Jefferson. The poem was eventually published in a pamphlet in 1808. At sixteen, Bryant enrolled as a sophomore at WIlliams College with the intention of transferring to Yale. During his time at Williams, Bryant wrote “Thanatopsis,” which was later published in The North American Review for September, 1817.

When Bryant was unable to attend Yale, he studied law under private tuition. He was admitted to the bar at the age of twenty-one and spent nearly ten years practicing in Massachusetts. During this time, he married Frances Fairchild. They were together for nearly fifty years.

In 1821, when asked to speak at Harvard’s commencement, Bryant wrote the beginnings of what would eventually become his first published book of verse. Poems is believed to have been published first in 1821, and was later re-published with additions in two volumes by D. Appleton and Company in 1862.

In 1829, Bryant and his wife moved to New York City, where he was an editor of the New York Review. Later that year he became editor in chief of the New York Evening Post, a position he held until his death. Bryant used the newspaper as a platform to call for the abolition of slavery, and was also an advocate for Abraham Lincoln, delivering the speech that would eventually secure his nomination and eventual presidency.

Bryant is considered an American nature poet and journalist, with ties to the Hudson River School of art. He wrote poems, essays, and articles that championed the rights of workers and immigrants, and he was frequently published by the North American Review. He is the author of several books, including The White-Footed Deer and Other Poems (I. S. Platt, 1844), and The Fountain and Other Poems (Wiley and Putnam, 1842). He died on June 12, 1878, in New York City.

Bryant’s influence helped establish important New York civic institutions such as Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Medical College. In 1884, New York City's Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park in his honor. Bryant was also the nephew of Charity Bryant, whose marriage to Sylvia Drake is thought to be one of the earliest same-sex unions in American history.



Selected Bibliography

The Fountain and Other Poems (Wiley and Putnam, 1842)
The White-Footed Deer and Other Poems (I. S. Platt, 1844)
Poems (D. Appleton, 1862)

The Planting of the Apple-Tree

Come, let us plant the apple-tree.   
Cleave the tough greensward with the spade;   
Wide let its hollow bed be made;   
There gently lay the roots, and there   
Sift the dark mould with kindly care, 
  And press it o'er them tenderly,   
As, round the sleeping infant's feet,   
We softly fold the cradle sheet;   
  So plant we the apple-tree.   
   
  What plant we in this apple-tree?    
Buds, which the breath of summer days   
Shall lengthen into leafy sprays;   
Boughs where the thrush, with crimson breast,   
Shall haunt and sing and hide her nest;   
  We plant, upon the sunny lea,    
A shadow for the noontide hour,   
A shelter from the summer shower,   
  When we plant the apple-tree.   
   
  What plant we in this apple-tree?   
Sweets for a hundred flowery springs   
To load the May-wind's restless wings,   
When, from the orchard row, he pours   
Its fragrance through our open doors;   
  A world of blossoms for the bee,   
Flowers for the sick girl's silent room,    
For the glad infant sprigs of bloom,   
  We plant with the apple-tree.   
   
  What plant we in this apple-tree!   
Fruits that shall swell in sunny June,   
And redden in the August noon,    
And drop, when gentle airs come by,   
That fan the blue September sky,   
  While children come, with cries of glee,   
And seek them where the fragrant grass   
Betrays their bed to those who pass,    
  At the foot of the apple-tree.   
   
  And when, above this apple-tree,   
The winter stars are quivering bright,   
And winds go howling through the night,   
Girls, whose young eyes o'erflow with mirth,    
Shall peel its fruit by cottage-hearth,   
  And guests in prouder homes shall see,   
Heaped with the grape of Cintra's vine   
And golden orange of the line,   
  The fruit of the apple-tree.    
   
  The fruitage of this apple-tree   
Winds and our flag of stripe and star   
Shall bear to coasts that lie afar,   
Where men shall wonder at the view,   
And ask in what fair groves they grew;    
  And sojourners beyond the sea   
Shall think of childhood's careless day   
And long, long hours of summer play,   
  In the shade of the apple-tree.   
   
  Each year shall give this apple-tree    
A broader flush of roseate bloom,   
A deeper maze of verdurous gloom,   
And loosen, when the frost-clouds lower,   
The crisp brown leaves in thicker shower;   
  The years shall come and pass, but we    
Shall hear no longer, where we lie,   
The summer's songs, the autumn's sigh,   
  In the boughs of the apple-tree.   
   
  And time shall waste this apple-tree.   
Oh, when its aged branches throw    
Thin shadows on the ground below,   
Shall fraud and force and iron will   
Oppress the weak and helpless still?   
  What shall the tasks of mercy be,   
Amid the toils, the strifes, the tears    
Of those who live when length of years   
  Is wasting this little apple-tree?   
   
  "Who planted this old apple-tree?"   
The children of that distant day   
Thus to some aged man shall say;    
And, gazing on its mossy stem,   
The gray-haired man shall answer them:   
  "A poet of the land was he,   
Born in the rude but good old times;   
'T is said he made some quaint old rhymes
  On planting the apple-tree."

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

William Cullen Bryant

William Cullen Bryant, author of "Thanatopsis," was born in Cummington, Massachusetts on November 3, 1794. He is considered an American nature poet and journalist, who wrote poems, essays, and articles that championed the rights of workers and immigrants.

by this poet

poem
Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun!
One mellow smile through the soft vapory air,
Ere, o'er the frozen earth, the loud winds run,
Or snows are sifted o'er the meadows bare.
One smile on the brown hills and naked trees,
And the dark rocks whose summer wreaths are cast,
And the blue gentian flower, that,
poem

They talk of short-lived pleasure—be it so—
Pain dies as quickly: stern, hard-featured pain
Expires, and lets her weary prisoner go.
The fiercest agonies have shortest reign;
And after dreams of horror, comes again
The welcome morning with its rays of peace.
Oblivion, softly wiping out

poem
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