The Way in the Wood

A wood lies on the shore,
Fill’s with murmurs, as each tree
Learn’d the music of the sea,
Which it heareth all the day,
Ever growing more and more,
Or fading far away.

And standing on that shore,
The past comes back to me,
In that music of the sea,
And that murmur of the wood,
Ever fading far away,
Yet evermore renewed.

In the weird and ancient wood,
There are fairy lights that fall,
Never by the sunshine made;
And a flicker and a shade,
Where no substance is at all;
There are thrilling touches laid
By no hand on head and shoulder;
Things that peep from leaf and blade
And blossom, when there’s no beholder;
And we walk as in a story,
Through the gloom and though the glory,
Of the weird and ancient wood.

Through the gloom and through the glory
Of the ancient wood beheld,
Comes in glimpses, like her story,
A maiden of the times of Eld;
Like a young fawn, unafraid,
Straying through its own green glade.

Now a little rill she crosses,
Stealing through the velvet mosses,
From the hollow, where the trees
Stand in groups of twos and threes,
Wide-armed, bountiful, and spread
As for blessing overhead;
While the thick grass underfoot
Shelters violets round each root,
And on tender laps receives,
Soft the fall of dying leaves.

All along the maiden’s way,
Glades are opening, glad and green,
Ever tempting her to stay
From the bare brown path between.
Some one surely called her name!
Was it but the wood dove cooing?
And that beck’ning, was’t the same
As the plumy ferns are doing?
In each foxglove bell the bee
Swings himself right merrily,
Every bell by turns he tries,
He is buried head and thighs!
Now on that side, now on this,
Does a bird his song repeat,
Quiv’ring at its close with bliss
Far too full and far too sweet,
For the little throat to utter;
Here a whirr, and there a flutter,
Here a coo, and there a call,
Here a dart, and there a spring,
Token’d happy creatures all.
Now and then awhile she stood,
Wishful that they might come near her,
Wistful half that they should fear her,
Silence in her attitude.

Now the sunny noon is high,
And upon the bank she sits;
Shade on shade around her flits—
On the bank’s embroidery—
Star and heart of leaf inwrought,
Mazy as a poet’s thought—
One doth rest beside the maid
In the mystic light and shade.
Into silence sweet subdued,
In the dim heart of wood
Many paths together meet
And companionship is sweet.

Sounds as of a river flowing,
Through the forest depths are going,
And the distant murmurs seem,
Like a river in a dream,
For the path is carried far,
Over precipice and scaur,
And beneath it runs the river,
Flowing onward, flowing ever,
Drawing down the little rills,
From the rocks and from the hills,
To the bosom of the sea.

Here the daisies disappear,
Shadows on the pathway brown
Falling ever thicklier down.
Something like a thrill of fear
Touches trembling lip and limb,
And the violets in her eyes,
Blue beneath the open skies,
Seem to grow more large and dim.
Round and round, for rood on rood,
Trees are growing, trees are throwing
Shades of ill and shades of good,
Arms of shelter fondly flinging,
Arms of murder fiercely clinging,
Stifling in the close embraces,
Throes of terror and affright,
While some meekly in their places
Die of pining for the light.

Closely heart to heart will beat,
Closely lip with lip will meet,
Where the branch and bough embraces,
And the light and shade enlaces;
Hands of trust in his she places,
And her heaven is in his eyes,
Link’d together as they rise
To go forward, but he chooses
Smoother than he would, refuses
Peril for her sake; — thus may
He be guarded still in guarding
And be guided still in guiding,
Ill from the beloved warding,
Blessing to himself betiding.

In mid-forest oaks and beeches,
Thick and tow’ring, hold the ground;
By the river’s winding reaches,
Trees of every leaf are found;
Here the ash with arms all knotted,
Into anguish’d writhings grew;
Here the sickly alder rotted;
On a mound of ancient yew;
And the willows in the water
Trail’d their tresses silver gray;
Aspen, when the low wind caught her,
Sigh’d through every trembling spray;
Lady birch so light and gay,
Something sad that wind had taught her,
For each slender limb would quiver;
While upon the moaning river,
Flags of drowned lilies lay.

In the forest depths unknown,
Once more in the maid alone;
And she hears the moaning river,
Hears the ivy near her shiver,
Hears the rain upon the leaves,
Beating with a sound that grieves;
On the path her feet are slipping,
‘Tween the river and the rock,
All the adder’s-tongues are dripping,
Wet is every ruddy lock
Of her hair, and where she lays
Her small lily hand, and stays
Trembling steps, the worm is crawling,
Toads beneath her feet are sprawling,
And her very soul is faint
With the dank air’s deathly taint.

She hath reach’d a tree whose head
Still is green, whose heart is dead;
Her wet robe about her clings,
And she sinks upon the ground,
Heedless of the loathly things,
Where her slain knight she hath found,
Lying white among the green
Of the ferns that strive to screen,
From the staring of the light,
Those dead eyes, a ghastly sight.

By the river sat the maiden,
With the burden of her pain:
Downward flow’d the river laden
With the burden of the rain:
In that dark and swollen flood,
Who had known the little rill
At the entrance of the wood?
Who had known that maiden still?
When the dismal pall of night
Came and wrapt her grief from sight?
And there rose upon the blast,
In the dark hours wailing past,
Mingled groan and shriek and sigh—
More than mortal agony.

Ere long in that solitude
Rose the forest sanctuary,
Where the holy dead they bury,
‘Tween the murmur of the river
And the murmur of the wood,
Fill’d with pleading sound for ever;
And a slain knight’s mould’ring bones
Rest beneath its chancel stones.
Yellow, yellow leaves
All grown pale with sighing!—
For the sweet days dead,
For the sad days dying,
Yellow, yellow leaves
How the parting grieves!

Yellow, yellow leaves,
Falling, falling, falling!
Death is best, when hope
There is no recalling.
Yet O, yellow leaves,
How the parting grieves!

Source: Good Words Vol. 5 (1864): 551-553. Print.

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