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· "Earth" from Bryant Park to Ground Zero ·

I was moved to learn of Richard Drew's story two years ago today in New York. The AP photographer who chanced to take "The Falling Man" photograph at the World Trade Center, Drew began that fateful day at Bryant Park, rather preparing to shoot a maternity fashion show. What had Bryant Park to say to Ground Zero, I asked myself, earth to man, birth to death, maybe past to present? And then I answered, recalling two brief lines from a little-known Bryant poem in fact called "Earth":
 · William Cullen Bryant ·

O Earth! dost thou too sorrow for the past
Like man thy offspring? Do I hear thee mourn?

Bryant's meditation on the question, though in a style we'd today call unfashionable, ends on a note still apt to our circumstances. Mr. New York of the nineteenth century, Bryant queried his own country at last from a much larger perspective,

What then shall cleanse thy bosom, gentle Earth,
From all its painful memories of guilt?

and wrote,

My native Land of Groves! a newer page
In the great record of the world is thine;
Shall it be fairer? Fear, and friendly Hope,
And Envy, watch the issue, while the lines,
By which thou shalt be judged, are written down. William Cullen Bryant: Representative Selections, with Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes, ed. Tremaine McDowell, New York: The American Book Company, 1935, 77-80.

Today we all know Bryant at least got his personified abstractions right.


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