‘The Evening Wind’ by William Cullen Bryant is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines, or octaves. Bryant has not chosen to imbue this work with one specific unifying pattern of rhyme. Instead, the stanzas follow individual patterns that have similar qualities. The stanzas all end with a rhyming couplet, or set of two lines. They also contain moments of an alternating pattern of rhyme. This can be seen clearly in the first stanza within the first six lines rhyming ababab. This repetition occurs again in the second stanza, with different end sounds.
Additionally, a reader should note of the fact that there is also a metrical pattern at work. Each line is written in iambic pentameter. This means that they contain five sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed. This is a very common pattern of rhythm within work created before, during, and after Bryant’s lifetime.
Summary of The Evening Wind
The poem begins with the speaker relishing in the coming of the evening wind to his home. It has been a “sultry” day that is lightened with the coolness of the breeze. The speaker describes how the wind has spent its day in the next line. It has moved the waters of the ocean for hours, “scattering high their spray,” but now it has come inland.
In the following stanzas, the speaker tells the reader of all the wind is going to do. From his house, it will “Go” and touch the lives of “mariners,” birds, sick men, and mourners alike. All manner of creature will benefit from the peace of the “evening wind.”
Analysis of The Evening Wind
Spirit that breathest through my lattice, thou
That cool’st the twilight of the sultry day,
Gratefully flows thy freshness round my brow:
Thou hast been out upon the deep at play,
Riding all day the wild blue waves till now,
Roughening their crests, and scattering high their spray
And swelling the white sail. I welcome thee
To the scorched land, thou wanderer of the sea!
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by addressing the “Spirit” that is “breath[ing]” through his window. One can use context clues, such as the title, to assume he means the evening wind. It is moving through the “lattice” covering and cooling the “twilight of the sultry,” or warm, day. The speaker professes his thanks to the wind for cooling him off.
He tells the reader, and the wind itself, that it has been “out…at play” all day. It has been preoccupied with “riding all the day the wild blue waves.” Now though it has come to him and improved his life. He is happy that it is no longer spending time with the “Rough…crests” of the waves. The final line is a “welcome” to the wind. It is normally a “wanderer of the sea” but lucky for the speaker has come to spend time around his home.
A reader should take note of the alliterative elements present in the last two lines of this stanza. Bryant uses the words “swelling,” “sail,” “scorched” and “sea” as well as “white,” “welcome” and “wanderer” within a short section.
Nor I alone—a thousand blossoms round
Inhale thee in the fulness of delight;
And languid forms rise up, and pulses bound
Livelier, at coming of the wind of night;
And, languishing to hear thy grateful sound,
Lies the vast inland stretched beyond the sight.
Go forth into the gathering shade; go forth,
God’s blessing breathed upon the fainting earth!
It is not only the speaker’s life the wind is improving. He isn’t alone in his appreciation. There are also the flowers to consider. They are “Inhal[ing] thee in the fulness of delight.” It is a welcome reprieve from the heat. They were once “languid” and drooping but now “rise up.”
Although the speaker and all the flowers in the surrounding area are pleased that the wind has come, the speaker lets it go. He tells the wind that it should “go forth” from his home. There are many others who need to experience the benefit it can bring. The speaker refers to the earth in this final line as “fainting.” This is a reference back to the heat he was experiencing during the day. He figures there are many others in his same situation.
Go, rock the little wood-bird in his nest,
Curl the still waters, bright with stars, and rouse
The wide old wood from his majestic rest,
Summoning from the innumerable boughs
The strange, deep harmonies that haunt his breast:
Pleasant shall be thy way where meekly bows.
The shutting flower, and darkling waters pass,
And where the o’ershadowing branches sweep the grass.
The third stanza gives the reader a number of different parts of the world to imagine. Here the speaker is setting out different tasks the wind might complete during the night. He tells it to “Go,” and sweep over the “wood-bird in his nest.” It should also go to the “still waters” that are reflecting back the “bright…stars” of the night.
The speaker assumes that when the wind goes through the woods and moves the “wood-bird in his nest” it will be roused to sing. This will be something novel as it has not happened for a time. The wind is going to move calmly and pleasantly through the landscape that surrounds the “shutting flower.” It will liven up the darker areas of the night and make flowers want to stay awake to feel its touch.
The faint old man shall lean his silver head
To feel thee; thou shalt kiss the child asleep,
And dry the moistened curls that overspread
His temples, while his breathing grows more deep:
And they who stand about the sick man’s bed,
Shall joy to listen to thy distant sweep,
And softly part his curtains to allow
Thy visit, grateful to his burning brow.
The fourth stanza brings a human presence back into the narrative. There will somewhere be a “faint old man” who will pause and “lean his silver head” to feel the wind touch it. All creatures, human and non-human, take pleasure from the feeling of a cool breeze on a hot day.
There is also another type of person, or in this case, a group of people, who take specific pleasure from the wind. They are those who are “stand[ing} about the sick man’s bed.” Even though they are worried and perhaps soon to mourn, there is a reprieve in the “distant sweep” of the wind. All are able to find joy in it. The wind will even make its way into the sick room, “part” the curtains of the bed and touch the sick man’s “grateful…burning brow.”
Go—but the circle of eternal change,
Which is the life of nature, shall restore,
With sounds and scents from all thy mighty range
Thee to thy birthplace of the deep once more;
Sweet odours in the sea-air, sweet and strange,
Shall tell the home-sick mariner of the shore;
And, listening to thy murmur, he shall deem
He hears the rustling leaf and running stream.
In the fifth stanza, the speaker tells the wind again that it must “Go.” On its way from his home out to the “deep” where it was born, it is going to pass a mariner. This person has been on the sea for a long period of time and is desperate for a taste of home. The wind brings it to him. His “home-sick[ness]” will be alleviated somewhat by the “Sweet odours in the sea-air.” In this environment, they smell and feel “sweet and strange.”
The scent of land, traveling on the back of the wind, will be so strong the mariner will feel as if he can “hear… the rustling leaf and running stream.” Even when it is returning to its “birthplace” the wind is still helping those on earth that need it the most. It is part of the “circle of eternal change” and is made of every “sound and scent from all ”its “mighty range.”