Survivor sole, and hardly such, of all That once lived here, thy brethren, at my birth, (Since which I number threescore winters past,) A shattered veteran, hollow-trunked perhaps, As now, and with excoriate forks deform, Relics of ages! Could a mind, imbued With truth from heaven, created thing adore, I might with reverence kneel, and worship thee. It seems idolatry, with some excuse, When our forefather Druids in their oaks Imagined sanctity. The conscience, yet Unpurified by an authentic act Of amnesty, the meed of blood divine, Loved not the light, but, gloomy, into gloom Of thickest shades, like Adam after taste Of fruit proscribed, as to a refuge, fled. Thou wast a bauble once; a cup and ball, Which babes might play with; and the thievish jay Seeking her food, with ease might have purloined The auburn nut that held thee, swallowing down Thy yet close-folded latitude of boughs And all thine embryo vastness at a gulp. But Fate thy growth decreed; autumnal rains Beneath thy parent tree mellowed the soil, Designed thy cradle; and a skipping dear, With pointed hoof dibbling the glebe, prepared The soft receptacle, in which, secure, Thy rudiments should sleep the winter through So Fancy dreams. Disprove it, if ye can, Ye reasoners broad awake, whose busy search Of argument, employed too oft amiss, Sifts half the pleasures of short life away! Thou fell'st mature; and in the loamy clod Swelling with vegetative force instinct Did burst thine egg, as theirs the fabled Twins, Now stars; two lobes, protruding, paired exact; A leaf succeeded, and another leaf, And, all the elements thy puny growth Fostering propitious, thou becamest a twig. Who lived when thou wast such? Oh, couldst thou speak As in Dodona once thy kindred trees Oracular, I would not curious ask The future, best unknown, but at thy mouth Inquisitive, the less ambiguous past. By thee I might correct, erroneous oft, The clock of history, facts and events Timing more punctual, unrecorded facts Recovering, and misstated setting right -- Desperate attempt, till trees shall speak again! Time made thee what thou wast, king of the woods: And Time hath made thee what thou art -- a cave For owls to roost in. Once thy spreading boughs O'erhung the champaign; and the numerous flocks, That grazed it, stood beneath that ample cope Uncrowded, yet safe-sheltered from the storm. No flock frequents thee now. Thou hast outlived Thy popularity, and art become (Unless verse rescue thee awhile) a thing Forgotten, as the foliage of thy youth. While thus through all the stages thou hast pushed Of treeship -- first a seedling, hid in grass; Then twig; then sapling; and, as century rolled Slow after century, a giant-bulk Of girth enormous, with moss-cushioned root Upheaved above the soil, and sides embossed With prominent wens globose, -- till at last The rottenness, which time is charged to inflict On other mighty ones, found also thee. What exhibitions various hath the world Witnessed of mutability in all That we account most durable below! Change is the diet on which all subsist, Created changeable, and change at last Destroys them. Skies uncertain now the heat Transmitting cloudless, and the solar beam Now quenching in a boundless sea of clouds,-- Calm and alternate storm, moisture and drought, Invigorate by turns the springs of life In all that live, plant, animal, and man, And in conclusion mar them. Nature's threads, Fine passing thought, e'en in her coarsest works, Delight in agitation, yet sustain, The force, that agitates, not unimpaired; But, worn by frequent impulse, to the cause Of their best tone their dissolution owe. Thought cannot spend itself, comparing still The great and little of thy lot, thy growth From almost nullity into a state Of matchless grandeur, and declension thence, Slow, into such magnificent decay. Time was, when, settling on thy leaf, a fly Could shake thee to the root -- and time has been When tempests could not. At thy firmest age Thou hadst within thy bole solid contents, That might have ribbed the sides and planked the deck Of some flagged admiral; and tortuous arms, The shipwright's darling treasure, didst present To the four-quartered winds, robust and bold, Warped into tough knee-timber, many a load! But the axe spared thee. In those thriftier days Oaks fell not, hewn by thousands, to supply The bottomless demands of contest, waged For senatorial honours. Thus to Time The task was left to whittle thee away With his sly scythe, whose ever-nibbling edge, Noiseless, an atom and an atom more Disjoining from the rest, has, unobserved, Achieved a labour, which had far and wide, By man performed, made all the forest ring. Embowelled now, and of thy ancient self Possessing nought but the scooped rind, that seem An huge throat, calling to the clouds for drink, Which it would give in rivulets to thy root, Thou temptest none, but rather much forbidd'st The feller's toil, which thou couldst ill requite. Yet is thy root sincere, sound as the rock, A quarry of stout spurs, and knotted fangs, Which, crooked into a thousand whimsies, clasp The stubborn soil, and hold thee still erect. So stands a kingdom, whose foundation yet Fails not, in virtue and in wisdom laid, Though all the superstructure, by the tooth Pulverised of venality, a shell Stands now, and semblance only of itself! Thine arms have left thee. Winds have rent them off Long since, and rovers of the forest wild With bow and shaft, have burnt them. Some have left A splintered stump, bleached to a snowy white; And some, memorial none, where once they grew. Yet life still lingers in thee, and puts forth Proof not contemptible of what she can, Even where death predominates. The spring Finds thee not less alive to her sweet force, Than yonder upstarts of the neighbouring wood So much thy juniors, who their birth received Half a millennium since the date of thine. But since, although well qualified by age To teach, no spirit dwells in thee, nor voice May be expected from thee, seated here On thy distorted root, with hearers none, Or prompter, save the scene, I will perform Myself the oracle, and will discourse In my own ear such matter as I may. One man alone, the father of us all, Drew not his life from woman; never gazed, With mute unconsciousness of what he saw, On all around him; learned not by degrees, Nor owed articulation to his ear; But, moulded by his Maker into man At once, upstood intelligent, surveyed All creatures, with precision understood Their purport, uses, properties, assigned To each his name significant, and filled With love and wisdom, rendered back to Heaven In praise harmonious the first air he drew. He was excused the penalties of dull Minority. No tutor charged his hand With the thought-tracing quill, or tasked his mind With problems. History, not wanted yet, Leaned on her elbow, watching Time, whose course Eventful, should supply her with a theme.
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