Grandeur.

A poem by Alfred Castner King

Dedicated to the mountains of the San Juan district, Colorado, as seen from the summit of Mt. Wilson.


I stood at sunrise, on the topmost part
Of lofty mountain, massively sublime;
A pinnacle of trachyte, seamed and scarred
By countless generations' ceaseless war
And struggle with the restless elements;
A rugged point, which shot into the air,
As by ambition or desire impelled
To pierce the eternal precincts of the sky.

Below, outspread,
A scene of such terrific grandeur lay
That reeled the brain at what the eyes beheld;
The hands would clench involuntarily
And clutch from intuition for support;
The eyes by instinct closed, nor dared to gaze
On such an awful and inspiring sight.

The sun arose with bright transcendent ray,
Up from behind a bleak and barren reef;
His face resplendent with beatitude,
Solar effulgence and combustive gleam;
Bathing the scene in such a wealth of light
That none could marvel that primeval man,
Rude and untaught, whene'er the sun appeared,
Fell down and worshiped.

A wilderness of weird, fantastic shapes,
Of precipice and stern declivity;
Of dizzy heights, and towering minarets;
Colossal columns and basaltic spires
Which pointing heavenward, appeared to wave
In benediction o'er the depths beneath.

Uneven crags and cliffs of various form;
Abysmal depths, and dire profundities;
Chasms so deep and awful that the eye
Of soaring eagle dare not gaze below,
Lest, dizzied, he should lose his aerial poise,
And headlong falling, reach the gulf beneath.

Majestic turrets, and the stately dome
Which, ovaled by the slow but tireless hand
Of eons of disintegrating time,
Still with impressive aspect rears its brow
Defiant of mutation and decay.


The crevice deep and inaccessible;
Fissure and rent, where the intrusive dike's
Creative and destructive agency
Leaves many an enduring monument
Of metamorphic and eruptive power;
Of molten deluge, and volcanic flood;
Fracture and break, the silent stories tell
Of dire convulsion in the ages past;
Of subterranean catastrophe,
And cataclysm of internal force.

The trachyte wall, beseamed and battle scarred;
The porphyritic tower and citadel;
The granite ramparts and embattlements
Of nature's fort, impregnable and wild,
Stand as a symbol of eternal strength,
And hurl a challenge to the elements!

CaƱons of startling and appalling depths,
With caverns, vast and gloomy, which would seem
Meet for the haunt of centaur or of gnome;
The gorgon and the labyrinthodon;
The clumsy mammoth and the dinosaur;
Or all gigantic and unwieldy shapes
Which earth has seen in the mysterious past,
Would seem in more accord and harmony
With such surroundings than the puny form
Of insignificant, conceited man.

And interspersed amid these solemn peaks
Lie many a pleasant vale and grassy slope,
Besprinkled with the drooping columbine,
And fragrant growths of all harmonious tints,
Whose variegated colors punctuate
Grandeur with beauty, and fearless, bloom
In the forbidding shadow of the cliffs,
And to the margin of the snowy combs
Which still resist the sun's persuasive ray.

A lakelet, cool, pellucid and serene,
Fed by the drippings from eternal snows,
Lies like a mirror 'neath a frowning cliff,
Or as a gem, majestically ensconced
In diadem of crag and pinnacle.

Down towards the distant valley's sultry clime,
Both solitary, and in straggling groups;
In solid phalanx, rigid and compact;
In labyrinth of branches interspread,
Impervious to the rain and midday sun;
In form spontaneous, without regard
To law of uniformity, there stand
In silent awe, or whispering to the breeze,
The sombre fir and melancholy pine.
And many a denuded avenue
Of varying and considerable width,
Cut through the growth of balsam, spruce and pine,
Which stands erect and proud on either hand,
Attests the swift and desolating force
Of fearful, devastating avalanche.


The mountain rill its pleasant music makes,
As the descendant waters roll along,
In rhythmic flow and dulcet cantabile,
In various concord and harmonious pitch,
Pursuant of its journey to the sea;
The murmuring treble of the rivulet,
Uniting with the deep and ponderous bass
Of torrent wild and foaming cataract;
The thunderous, reverberating tones
And seething ebullition of the falls
Are blended in one grand euphonious chord.

Far in the hazy distance, as the eye
With vague perceptive vision penetrates,
Lie the vast mesas of ethereal hue,
Stretched in a calm and sleepy quietude,
Dreamy repose and blue tranquillity;
The eye which rests upon the drowsy scene
Beholds a dim horizon, which presents
No line of demarcation or of bounds;
A merging union, blurred and indistinct;
Fuliginous confusion, that the eye
In viewing gazes, but no more discerns
Which is the earth, and which the azure sky.

But mark the change!
A cloud, which floated in the atmosphere,
An inconsiderable and feathery speck
Of no proportions, now augmented, wears
A threatening aspect, ominously dark;
Enveloping the heaven's canopy
In lowering shadow and portentous gloom;
In pall of ambient obscurity.
The fork-ed lightnings ramify and play
Upon a background of sepulchral black;
The growling thunders rumble a reply
Of detonation awful and profound,
To every corruscation's vivid gleam;
In deep crescendo and fortissimo,
In quavering tremolo and stately fugue
Echoes, reverberates and dies away!

But soon the sun, with smiling radiance,
Through orifice, through rift and aperture,
Invades the storm, and dissipates the clouds,
Which scatter, cowering and ephemeral,
Hugging the cliffs, and o'er the dire abyss
Hover, in fleecy, ever changing form,
And in a transient season disappear;
Vanish, as man must vanish, and are gone.

The moist precipitation of the storm
Revives, refreshes and invigorates
The various vegetation, and bedews
Each blade of grass and floweret with a tear;
As nature, weeping o'er the faults of man.

"Would seem in more accord and harmony,
With such surroundings than the puny form
Of insignificant, conceited man."


The day recedes, and twilight's neutral shade
Succeeds in turn, and ushers in the night,
Whose wings, outstretched and shadowy, descend,
And in nocturnal mantle robes the scene.

A hush prevails! Oppressive and profound;
A silence, broken only by the breeze;
A dormant quiet-essence and repose;
Pervading calm and sweet oblivion,--
As nature wrapt in soft refreshing sleep.

Far in the east a solitary star
Peeps through the sombre curtain of the night--
In hesitating dubitation burns;
In lonely splendor, flashes for a time,
Till scattering celestial lights appear,--
The vanguard of an astral multitude
Of constellations, jewelled and serene,
Which fill the lofty dome of space, until
The heavens sparkle with the myriad
Of spectra, nebulae and satellite;
With stellar scintillation, and the orbs
Of less refulgence, which, reflective shine;
With falling star and trailing meteor;
In one grand culmination, glittering
To their Creator's glory!

A burst of mellow lunar radiance
Inundates and illuminates the scene;
The waxing moon, in her meridian full,
Her beam vicarious disseminates,
And shining, hides with her superior light,
The twinkling beauty of the firmament!

At the stupendous and inspiring sight
Of cosmic grandeur of the universe,
A sense of vague and overwhelming awe;
Of inconceivable immensity,
The being's inmost recess permeates;
And man, the atom in comparison,
In spellbound admiration, mutely stands;
With speculative meditation, dwells
On that most solemn of impressive thoughts,
The goodness of the Deity to man![A]


"Both solitary and in straggling groups;
In solid phalanx, rigid and compact."

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