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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