"The Groves Were God's First Temples"
Context: Standing in an "aged wood," Bryant offers a hymn to God. A forest, the poet says, is a more grand and holy temple than a man-made cathedral. Primitive man felt "the sacred influence" of the "stilly twilight of the place." We "in the world's riper years" should return to "God's ancient sanctuaries" to worship. The trees, the "dim vaults," the "winding aisles" of the forest form a suitable shrine "for humble worshiper to hold/ Communion with his Maker." For God suffuses the entire forest. The "mighty oak" reflects God's "Grandeur, strength, and grace," and the "delicate forest flower" is an "emanation of the indwelling Life,/ A visible token of the upholding Love,/ That are the soul of this great universe." Bryant sees the eternity of God in the eternal process of creation. Everything dies, but "on the faltering footsteps of decay/ Youth presses." "Earth's charms" are eternal, and "Life mocks the idle hate/ Of his arch-enemy Death." Bryant prays that he may "often to these solitudes/ Retire" and in God's presence "reassure/ My feeble virtue." God can frighten sinners into repentance by sending tempests and whirlwinds, but the poet prays: "Oh, from these sterner aspects of thy face/ Spare me and mine. . . . Be it ours to meditate,/ In these calm shades, thy milder majesty,/ And to the beautiful order of thy works/ Learn to conform the order of our lives." The opening lines of the poem describe the holiness of nature:
The groves were God's first temples. Ere man learnedTo hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,And spread the roof above them–ere he framedThe lofty vault, to gather and roll backThe sound of anthems; in the darkling wood,Amid the cool and silence, he knelt down,And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanksAnd supplication.