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Poem by Sidney Lanier
To-day the woods are trembling through and through With shimmering forms, that flash before my view, Then melt in green as dawn-stars melt in blue. The leaves that wave against my cheek caress Like women’s hands; the embracing boughs express A subtlety of mighty tenderness; The copse-depths into little noises start, That sound anon like beatings of a heart, Anon like talk ’twixt lips not far apart. The beech dreams balm, as a dreamer hums a song; Through that vague wafture, expirations strong Throb from young hickories breathing deep and long With stress and urgence bold of prisoned spring And ecstasy of burgeoning. Now, since the dew-plashed road of morn is dry, Forth venture odors of more quality And heavenlier giving. Like Jove’s locks awry, Long muscadines Rich-wreathe the spacious foreheads of great pines, And breathe ambrosial passion from their vines. I pray with mosses, ferns and flowers shy That hide like gentle nuns from human eye To lift adoring perfumes to the sky. I hear faint bridal-sighs of brown and green Dying to silent hints of kisses keen As far lights fringe into a pleasant sheen. I start at fragmentary whispers, blown From undertalks of leafy souls unknown, Vague purports sweet, of inarticulate tone. Dreaming of gods, men, nuns and brides, between Old companies of oaks that inward lean To join their radiant amplitudes of green I slowly move, with ranging looks that pass Up from the matted miracles of grass Into yon veined complex of space Where sky and leafage interlace So close, the heaven of blue is seen Inwoven with a heaven of green. I wander to the zigzag-cornered fence Where sassafras, intrenched in brambles dense, Contests with stolid vehemence The march of culture, setting limb and thorn As pikes against the army of the corn. There, while I pause, my fieldward-faring eyes Take harvests, where the stately corn-ranks rise, Of inward dignities And large benignities and insights wise, Graces and modest majesties. Thus, without theft, I reap another’s field; Thus, without tilth, I house a wondrous yield, And heap my heart with quintuple crops concealed. Look, out of line one tall corn-captain stands Advanced beyond the foremost of his bands, And waves his blades upon the very edge And hottest thicket of the battling hedge. Thou lustrous stalk, that ne’er mayst walk nor talk, Still shalt thou type the poet-soul sublime That leads the vanward of his timid time And sings up cowards with commanding rhyme -- Soul calm, like thee, yet fain, like thee, to grow By double increment, above, below; Soul homely, as thou art, yet rich in grace like thee, Teaching the yeomen selfless chivalry That moves in gentle curves of courtesy; Soul filled like thy long veins with sweetness tense, By every godlike sense Transmuted from the four wild elements. Drawn to high plans, Thou lift’st more stature than a mortal man’s, Yet ever piercest downward in the mould And keepest hold Upon the reverend and steadfast earth That gave thee birth; Yea, standest smiling in thy future grave, Serene and brave, With unremitting breath Inhaling life from death, Thine epitaph writ fair in fruitage eloquent, Thyself thy monument. As poets should, Thou hast built up thy hardihood With universal food, Drawn in select proportion fair From honest mould and vagabond air; From darkness of the dreadful night, And joyful light; From antique ashes, whose departed flame In thee has finer life and longer fame; From wounds and balms, From storms and calms, From potsherds and dry bones And ruin-stones. Into thy vigorous substance thou hast wrought Whate’er the hand of Circumstance hath brought; Yea, into cool solacing green hast spun White radiance hot from out the sun. So thou dost mutually leaven Strength of earth with grace of heaven; So thou dost marry new and old Into a one of higher mould; So thou dost reconcile the hot and cold, The dark and bright, And many a heart-perplexing opposite, And so, Akin by blood to high and low, Fitly thou playest out thy poet’s part, Richly expending thy much-bruised heart In equal care to nourish lord in hall Or beast in stall: Thou took’st from all that thou mightst give to all. O steadfast dweller on the selfsame spot Where thou wast born, that still repinest not -- Type of the home-fond heart, the happy lot! -- Deeply thy mild content rebukes the land Whose flimsy homes, built on the shifting sand Of trade, for ever rise and fall With alternation whimsical, Enduring scarce a day, Then swept away By swift engulfments of incalculable tides Whereon capricious Commerce rides. Look, thou substantial spirit of content! Across this little vale, thy continent, To where, beyond the mouldering mill, Yon old deserted Georgian hill Bares to the sun his piteous aged crest And seamy breast, By restless-hearted children left to lie Untended there beneath the heedless sky, As barbarous folk expose their old to die. Upon that generous-rounding side, With gullies scarified Where keen Neglect his lash hath plied, Dwelt one I knew of old, who played at toil, And gave to coquette Cotton soul and soil. Scorning the slow reward of patient grain, He sowed his heart with hopes of swifter gain, Then sat him down and waited for the rain. He sailed in borrowed ships of usury -- A foolish Jason on a treacherous sea, Seeking the Fleece and finding misery. Lulled by smooth-rippling loans, in idle trance He lay, content that unthrift Circumstance Should plough for him the stony field of Chance. Yea, gathering crops whose worth no man might tell, He staked his life on games of Buy-and-Sell, And turned each field into a gambler’s hell. Aye, as each year began, My farmer to the neighboring city ran; Passed with a mournful anxious face Into the banker’s inner place; Parleyed, excused, pleaded for longer grace; Railed at the drought, the worm, the rust, the grass; Protested ne’er again ’twould come to pass; With many an `oh’ and `if’ and `but alas’ Parried or swallowed searching questions rude, And kissed the dust to soften Dives’s mood. At last, small loans by pledges great renewed, He issues smiling from the fatal door, And buys with lavish hand his yearly store Till his small borrowings will yield no more. Aye, as each year declined, With bitter heart and ever-brooding mind He mourned his fate unkind. In dust, in rain, with might and main, He nursed his cotton, cursed his grain, Fretted for news that made him fret again, Snatched at each telegram of Future Sale, And thrilled with Bulls’ or Bears’ alternate wail -- In hope or fear alike for ever pale. And thus from year to year, through hope and fear, With many a curse and many a secret tear, Striving in vain his cloud of debt to clear, At last He woke to find his foolish dreaming past, And all his best-of-life the easy prey Of squandering scamps and quacks that lined his way With vile array, From rascal statesman down to petty knave; Himself, at best, for all his bragging brave, A gamester’s catspaw and a banker’s slave. Then, worn and gray, and sick with deep unrest, He fled away into the oblivious West, Unmourned, unblest. Old hill! old hill! thou gashed and hairy Lear Whom the divine Cordelia of the year, E’en pitying Spring, will vainly strive to cheer -- King, that no subject man nor beast may own, Discrowned, undaughtered and alone -- Yet shall the great God turn thy fate, And bring thee back into thy monarch state And majesty immaculate. Lo, through hot waverings of the August morn, Thou givest from thy vasty sides forlorn Visions of golden treasuries of corn -- Ripe largesse lingering for some bolder heart That manfully shall take thy part, And tend thee, And defend thee, With antique sinew and with modern art.
Sidney Lanier's other poems:
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