1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cullen Bryant

Isaac Clark Pray, "Sketches of American Poets: Bryant" Prose and Verse, from the Port Folio of an Editor (1836) 26-27.



He has been ranked by some, as the first of our poets; but the number is small, who think that he merits such rank. More poetical master-spirits are on the north and south of him. His flights are like those of the swallow, seldom resembling the fearless darings of the eagle. He gives much beauty to his productions — the offspring of care; he has much correctness — the eminent of taste; he writes but short articles, thereby displaying the weakness of his genius, and the fear of losing his reputation.

The poetry of his blank verse is more exalted than that of his rhyme, and he owns some of the richest and most unique specimens of that kind of writing, which can be found in modern poetry.

It is well known, that the little Nautilus lives in the depths of the waters, and in fair weather mounts to the surface, throws up its gossamer sail, and is wafted along in perfect safety; but in prospect of a storm, furls its sail, and sinks to the bottom. So it is with Bryant. He comes slowly to his task — trusts not to his powers to bear against a sea of criticism, but makes safety even before danger, and is contented to live in his little sonnets and occasional verses.

His claim is small on us, and to rank him too near the first poet is doing him too much injustice. He can no more stand, by the side of some of his contemporaries, than the Nautilus can be said to equal the majestic and storm-braving ship.