Menella Bute Smedley

The Lady and the Rooks

Trust the grand and gentle trees,
Never will their welcome fade;
All that lives may lie at ease
In the haven of their shade;
Treasuries of tranquil air
Keep they for the burning days;
And their boughs ascend like prayer,
And their leaves break forth like praise.

Patient are they, for they wait
On the humours of the year;
Noble, for they keep their state
When the winter leaves them sere;
Brave to suffer heat and cold,
And the tempest's war-alarms;
Very tender, for they hold
All bird-babies in their arms.
Where the winter silence hears
No voice louder than a brook's,
There was built for many years
A great city of the rooks;
There they brush the tall elm-crests
With their sable waft of wing;
You may count a hundred nests,
Bare among the buds of spring.

Couch'd in crimson window-curve,
Looks a lady to the sky,
Sees each builder swoop and swerve,
Like a great black butterfly;
Hum of their familiar talk,
Brings a greeting to her ear,
We are in the elm-tree walk!
Spring is sure, and summer near!
But a louder note invades,
Whence and how? who dares to tell?
They are building in the shades,
By her own pet oriel!
In her cedar, which so long
With a separate glory stood,
Like a Sunday-tree among
Work-day brethren of the wood.

In her cedar—nothing less!
Heavens, what free-and-easy birds!
Now she utters her distress,
Loudly, with despotic words:—
“This is quite against the laws,
You must drive them out of reach;
We shall have superfluous caws
Mixing with our parts of speech.”
So she spake, and it was done;
Strew the ruins at her feet!
Little homestead, scarce begun,
You shall never be complete.
See how silent and dismay'd
Hang the guilty pair aloof;
Tenants they, with rent unpaid,
Watching their dismantled roof.

And the fair spring-day was lost
In a soft prophetic night,
Covering all the coming host
Of King Summer's bloom and light;
And the household lay at rest,
Dreaming not of labour vain;
And the rooks to that poor nest
Came and set to work again.
Angry eyes awoke and saw,
Ruthless hands the work undo;
Many a faint remonstrant caw
Dies unheeded in the dew.
Five times was the nest begun;
Five times, with the dawn of day,
Were the cunning links undone,
And the framers chased away.

But one night, through all the trees,
Went a whirr of wings afloat,
And a tumult and a breeze,
Big with caws from many a throat;
Sleep is hunted from the house;
Through the dark the master looks,
Saying to his weary spouse,
“There's a strike among the rooks.”
To that houseless pair forlorn
All the nation came in aid:
“This,” they cried, “cannot be borne;
“In a night it shall be made!”
And it was! They pile, they weave,
Flit, fuss, chatter through the shade;
The first twig was set at eve,
And by dawn the eggs were laid.

When the lady came to see,
Much she marvell'd, as she might,
Such a goodly work to be
Finish'd in a single night.
All the air was black with wings,
For the nation hover'd near;
Pleading for their precious things,
Half in anger, half in fear.

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