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Poem by Francis Thompson


A Fallen Yew


It seemed corrival of the worlds great prime,
   Made to un-edge the scythe of Time,
      And last with stateliest rhyme.

No tender Dryad ever did indue
   That rigid chiton of rough yew,
      To fret her white flesh through:

But some god like to those grim Asgard lords,
   Who walk the fables of the hordes
      From Scandinavian fjords,

Upheaved its stubborn girth, and raised unriven,
   Against the whirl-blast and the levin,
      Defiant arms to Heaven.

When doom puffed out the stars, we might have said,
   It would decline its heavy head,
      And see the world to bed.

For this firm yew did from the vassal leas,
   And rain and air, its tributaries,
      Its revenues increase,

And levy impost on the golden sun,
   Take the blind years as they might run,
      And no fate seek or shun.

But now our yew is strook, is fallenyea
   Hacked like dull wood of every day
      To this and that, men say.

Never!To Hades shadowy shipyards gone,
   Dim barge of Dis, down Acheron
      It drops, or Lethe wan.

Stirred by its fallpoor destined bark of Dis!
   Along my soul a bruit there is
      Of echoing images,

Reverberations of mortality:
   Spelt backward from its death, to me
      Its life reads saddenedly.

Its breast was hollowed as the tooth of eld;
   And boys, their creeping unbeheld,
      A laughing moment dwelled.

Yet they, within its very heart so crept,
   Reached not the heart that courage kept
      With winds and years beswept.

And in its boughs did close and kindly nest
   The birds, as they within its breast,
      By all its leaves caressed.

But bird nor child might touch by any art
   Each others or the trees hid heart,
      A whole Gods breadth apart;

The breadth of God, he breadth of death and life!
   Even so, even so, in undreamed strife
      With pulseless Law, the wife,

The sweetest wife on sweetest marriage-day,
   Their souls at grapple in mid-way,
      Sweet to her sweet may say:

I take you to my inmost heart, my true!
   Ah, fool! but there is one heart you
      Shall never take him to!

The hold that falls not when the town is got,
   The hearts heart, whose immurèd plot
      Hath keys yourself keep not!

Its ports you cannot burstyou are withstood
   For him that to your listening blood
      Sends precepts as he would.

Its gates are deaf to Love, high summoner;
   Yea, Loves great warrant runs not there:
      You are your prisoner.

Yourself are with yourself the sole consortress
   In that unleaguerable fortress;
      It knows you not for portress

Its keys are at the cincture hung of God;
   Its gates are trepidant to His nod;
      By Him its floors are trod.

And if His feet shall rock those floors in wrath,
   Or blest aspersion sleek His path,
      Is only choice it hath.

Yea, in that ultimate hearts occult abode
   To lie as in an oubliette of God,
      Or as a bower untrod,

Built by a secret Lover for His Spouse;
   Sole choice is this your life allows,
      Sad tree, whose perishing boughs
         So few birds house!



Francis Thompson


Francis Thompson's other poems:
  1. Epilogue to the Poet's Sitter
  2. Any Saint
  3. A Judgment in Heaven
  4. To My Godchild, Francis M.W.M.
  5. St. Monica


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