The American Pantheon

WHEN Rufus Griswold built his Pantheon wide,
And set a hundred poets round its walls,
Did he believe their statues would abide
The tests of time upon their pedestals ?
A hundred poets, some in Parian stone
Perchance, and some in brittle plaster cast,
And some, mere busts, whose names are scarcely known,
Dii Minores of a voiceless Past.
Time was when many there so neatly niched,
Held each within his court a sovereign sway,
Each in his turn his little world enriched,
The ephemeral poet-laureate of his day.
Ah, what is fame ! Star after star goes out,
Lost Pleiads in the firmament of truth :
Our kings discrowned ere dies the distant shout
That hailed the coronation of their youth.
Few are the world’s great singers. Far apart,
Thrilling with love, yet wrapped in solitude,
They sit communing with the common Heart
That binds the race in human brotherhood.
A wind of heaven o’er their musing breathes,
And wakes them into verse, — as April turns
The roadside banks to violets, and unsheaths
The forest-flowers amid the leaves and ferns.
And we who dare not wear the immortal crown
And singing-robes, at least may hear and dream,
While strains from prophet-lips come floating down,
Inspired by them to sing some humbler theme.
Nay, nothing can be lost whose living stems,
Rooted in truth, spring up to beauty’s flower.
The spangles of the stage may flout the gems
On queenly breasts, but only for an hour.
The fashion of the time shall stamp its own.
The heart, the radiant soul, the eternal truth
And beauty born of harmony, alone
Can claim the garlands of perennial youth.
O not for fame the poet of to-day
Should hunger. Though the world his music scorn,
The after-time may hear, as mountains gray
Echo from depths unseen the Alpine horn.
So, while around this Pantheon wide I stray,
Where poets from Freneau to Fay are set,
I doubt not each in turn has sung a lay
Some hearts are not quite willing to forget.
For who in barren rhyme and rhythm could spend
The costly hours the Muse alone should claim,
Did not some finer thought, some nobler end,
Breathe ardors sweeter than poetic fame ?
Christopher P. Cranch.
  1. See Poets and Poetry of America, by Rufus W. Griswold. Philadelphia: Cary and Hart. 1842.