Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813-1892)

From Ariel and Caliban

return to sonnet central return to 19th century Americans

Pines and the Sea

Beyond the low marsh-meadows and the beach,
Seen through the hoary trunks of windy pines,
The long blue level of the ocean shines.
The distant surf, with hoarse, complaining speech,
Out from its sandy barrier seems to reach;
And while the sun behind the woods declines,
The moaning sea with sighing boughs combines,
And waves and pines make answer, each to each.
O melancholy soul, whom far and near,
In life, faith, hope, the same sad undertone
Pursues from thought to thought! thou needs must hear
An old refrain, too much, too long thine own:
'This thy mortality infects thine ear;
The mournful strain was in thyself alone.

The Human Flower


In the old void of unrecorded time,
In long, slow aeons of the voiceless past,
A seed from out the weltering fire-mist cast
Took root--a struggling plant that from its prime
Through rudiments uncouth, through rock and slime,
Grew, changing form and issue--and clinging fast,
Stretched its aspiring tendrils--till at last
Shaped like a spirit it began to climb
Beyond its rugged stem, with leaf and bud
Still burgeoning to greet the sunlit air
That clothed its regal top with love and power,
And compassed it as with a heavenly flood
Until it burst in bloom beyond compare,
The world's consummate, peerless human flower.


Shall that bright flower the countless ages toiled
And travailed to bring forth--shall that rare rose,
Whose bloom and fragrance earth and heaven unclose
Their treasuries to enrich, by death be foiled?
Its matchless splendour trampled down and spoiled?
Shall that Celestial Love--who watched its throes
Through centuries of long struggles and of woes,
And freed it from the old Serpent round it coiled;
Who tended it, and reared its glorious head
Above the brambles and the poisonous marsh,
And shielded it when zones were cased in ice--
Leave it to perish when the summons harsh
Of death is rung,--or, ere its leaves are shed,
Transplant it to his realm of Paradise?

Life and Death


O solemn portal, veiled in mist and cloud,
Where all who have lived throng in, an endless line,
Forbid to tell by backward look or sign
What destiny awaits the advancing crowd;
Bourne crossed but once with no return allowed:
Dumb, spectral gate, terrestrial yet divine;
Beyond whose arch all powers and fates combine,
Pledged to divulge no secrets of the shroud.
Close, close behind we step, and strive to catch
Some whisper in the dark, some glimmering light;
Through circling whirls of thought intent to snatch
A drifting hope--a faith that grows to sight;
And yet assured, whatever may befall,
That must be somehow best that comes to all.


If death be final, what is life, with all
Its lavish promises, its thwarted aims,
Its lost ideals, its dishonoured claims,
Its uncompleted growth? A prison wall,
Whose heartless stones but echo back our call;
An epitaph recording but our names;
A puppet-stage where joys and griefs and shames
Furnish a demon jesters' carnival;
A plan without a purpose or a form;
A roofless temple; an unfinished tale.
And men like madrepores through calm and storm
Toil, die to build a branch of fossil frail,
And add from all their dreams, thoughts, acts, belief,
A few more inches to a coral reef.

(Texts above from American Sonnets)

Seven Wonders of the World

The Printing-Press

In boyhood's days we read with keen delight
How young Aladdin rubbed his lamp and raised
The towering Djin whose form his soul amazed,
Yet who was pledged to serve him day and night.
But Gutenberg evoked a giant sprite
Of vaster power, when Europe stood and gazed
To see him rub his types with ink. Then blazed
Across the lands a glorious shape of light,
Who stripped the cowl from priests, the crown from kings,
And hand in hand with Faith and Science wrought
To free the struggling spirit's limèd wings,
And guard the ancestral throne of sovereign Thought.
The world was dumb. Then first it found its tongue
And spake -- and heaven and earth in answer rung.

The Ocean Steamer

With streaming pennons, scorning sail and oar,
With steady tramp and swift revolving wheel,
And even pulse from throbbing heart of steel,
She plies her arrowy course from shore to shore.
In vain the siren calms her steps allure;
In vain the billows thunder on her keel;
Her giant form may toss and rock and reel
And shiver in the wintry tempest's roar;
The calms and storms alike her pride can spurn.
True to the day she keeps her appointed time.
Long leagues of ocean vanish at her stern --
She drinks the air, and tastes another clime,
Where men their former wonder fast unlearn,
Which hailed her coming as a thing sublime.

The Locomotive

Whirling along its living freight, it came,
Hot, panting, fierce, yet docile to command --
The roaring monster, blazing through the land
Athwart the night, with crest of smoke and flame;
Like those weird bulls Medea learned to tame
By sorcery, yoked to plough the Colchian strand
In forced obedience under Jason's hand.
Yet modern skill outstripped this antique fame,
When o'er our plains and through the rocky bar
Of hills it pushed its ever-lengthening line
Of iron roads, with gain far more divine
Than when the daring Argonauts from far
Came for the golden fleece, which like a star
Hung clouded in the dragon-guarded shrine.

The Telegraph and Telephone

Fleeter than time, across the Continent,
Through unsunned ocean depths, from beach to beach,
Around the rolling globe Thought's couriers reach.
The new-tuned earth like some vast instrument
Tingles from zone to zone; for Art has lent
New nerves, new pulse, new motion -- all to each,
And each to all, in swift electric speech
Bound by a force unwearied and unspent.
Now lone Katahdin talks with Caucasus;
The Arctic ice-fields with the sultry South,
The sun-bathed palm thrills to the pine-tree's call.
We for all realms were made, and they for us.
For all there is a soul, an ear, a mouth;
And Time and Space are naught. The mind is all.

The Photograph

Phoebus Apollo, from Olympus driven,
Lived with Admetus, tending herds and flocks:
And strolling o'er the pastures and the rocks
He found his life much duller than in Heaven.
For he had left his bow, his songs, his lyre,
His divinations and his healing skill,
And as a serf obeyed his master's will.
One day a new thought waked an old desire.
He took to painting, with his colors seven,
The sheep, the cows, the faces of the swains,
All shapes and hues in forests and on plains.
These old sun-pictures all are lost, or given
Away among the gods. Man owns but half
The Sun-god's secret -- in the Photograph.

The Spectroscope

All honor to that keen Promethean soul
Who caught the prismic hues of Jove and Mars,
And from the glances of the dædal stars,
And from the fiery sun, the secret stole
That all are parts of one primeval Whole, --
One substance beaming through Creation's bars
Consent and peace, amid the chemic wars
Of gases and of atoms. Yonder roll
The planets; yonder, baffling human thought,
Suns, systems, all whose burning hearts are wooed
To one confession -- so hath Science caught
Those eye-beams frank, whose speech cannot delude, --
How of one stuff our mortal earth is wrought
With stars in their divine infinitude.

The Microphone

The small enlarged, the distant nearer brought
To sight, made marvels in a denser age.
But Science turns with every year a page
In the enchanted volume of her thought.
The wizard's wand no longer now is sought.
Yet with a cunning toy the Archimage
May hear from Rome Vesuvius' thunders rage,
And earthquake mutterings underground are caught,
Alike with trivial sounds. Would there might rise
Some spiritual seer, some prophet wise,
Whose tactile vision would avert the woes
Born of conflicting forces in the state; --
Some listener to the deep volcanic throes
Below the surface -- ere we cry, "Too late!"