Songs of Travel and Other Verses. 38. The Woodsman
IN all the grove, nor stream nor bird Nor aught beside my blows was heard, And the woods wore their noonday dress - The glory of their silentness. From the island summit to the seas, Trees mounted, and trees drooped, and trees Groped upward in the gaps. The green Inarboured talus and ravine By fathoms. By the multitude The rugged columns of the wood And bunches of the branches stood; Thick as a mob, deep as a sea, And silent as eternity. With lowered axe, with backward head, Late from this scene my labourer fled, And with a ravelled tale to tell, Returned. Some denizen of hell, Dead man or disinvested god, Had close behind him peered and trod, And triumphed when he turned to flee. How different fell the lines with me! Whose eye explored the dim arcade Impatient of the uncoming shade - Shy elf, or dryad pale and cold, Or mystic lingerer from of old: Vainly. The fair and stately things, Impassive as departed kings, All still in the wood's stillness stood, And dumb. The rooted multitude Nodded and brooded, bloomed and dreamed, Unmeaning, undivined. It seemed No other art, no hope, they knew, Than clutch the earth and seek the blue. 'Mid vegetable king and priest And stripling, I (the only beast) Was at the beast's work, killing; hewed The stubborn roots across, bestrewed The glebe with the dislustred leaves, And bade the saplings fall in sheaves; Bursting across the tangled math A ruin that I called a path, A Golgotha that, later on, When rains had watered, and suns shone, And seeds enriched the place, should bear And be called garden. Here and there, I spied and plucked by the green hair A foe more resolute to live, The toothed and killing sensitive. He, semi-conscious, fled the attack; He shrank and tucked his branches back; And straining by his anchor-strand, Captured and scratched the rooting hand. I saw him crouch, I felt him bite; And straight my eyes were touched with sight. I saw the wood for what it was: The lost and the victorious cause, The deadly battle pitched in line, Saw silent weapons cross and shine: Silent defeat, silent assault, A battle and a burial vault. Thick round me in the teeming mud Brier and fern strove to the blood: The hooked liana in his gin Noosed his reluctant neighbours in: There the green murderer throve and spread, Upon his smothering victims fed, And wantoned on his climbing coil. Contending roots fought for the soil Like frightened demons: with despair Competing branches pushed for air. Green conquerors from overhead Bestrode the bodies of their dead: The Caesars of the sylvan field, Unused to fail, foredoomed to yield: For in the groins of branches, lo! The cancers of the orchid grow. Silent as in the listed ring Two chartered wrestlers strain and cling; Dumb as by yellow Hooghly's side The suffocating captives died; So hushed the woodland warfare goes Unceasing; and the silent foes Grapple and smother, strain and clasp Without a cry, without a gasp. Here also sound thy fans, O God, Here too thy banners move abroad: Forest and city, sea and shore, And the whole earth, thy threshing-floor! The drums of war, the drums of peace, Roll through our cities without cease, And all the iron halls of life Ring with the unremitting strife. The common lot we scarce perceive. Crowds perish, we nor mark nor grieve: The bugle calls - we mourn a few! What corporal's guard at Waterloo? What scanty hundreds more or less In the man-devouring Wilderness? What handful bled on Delhi ridge? - See, rather, London, on thy bridge The pale battalions trample by, Resolved to slay, resigned to die. Count, rather, all the maimed and dead In the unbrotherly war of bread. See, rather, under sultrier skies What vegetable Londons rise, And teem, and suffer without sound: Or in your tranquil garden ground, Contented, in the falling gloom, Saunter and see the roses bloom. That these might live, what thousands died! All day the cruel hoe was plied; The ambulance barrow rolled all day; Your wife, the tender, kind, and gay, Donned her long gauntlets, caught the spud, And bathed in vegetable blood; And the long massacre now at end, See! where the lazy coils ascend, See, where the bonfire sputters red At even, for the innocent dead. Why prate of peace? when, warriors all, We clank in harness into hall, And ever bare upon the board Lies the necessary sword. In the green field or quiet street, Besieged we sleep, beleaguered eat; Labour by day and wake o' nights, In war with rival appetites. The rose on roses feeds; the lark On larks. The sedentary clerk All morning with a diligent pen Murders the babes of other men; And like the beasts of wood and park, Protects his whelps, defends his den. Unshamed the narrow aim I hold; I feed my sheep, patrol my fold; Breathe war on wolves and rival flocks, A pious outlaw on the rocks Of God and morning; and when time Shall bow, or rivals break me, climb Where no undubbed civilian dares, In my war harness, the loud stairs Of honour; and my conqueror Hail me a warrior fallen in war. Vailima.
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