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by William Cullen Bryant


Oh ye who love to overhang the springs,

And stand by running waters, ye whose boughs

Make beautiful the rocks o'er which they play,

Who pile with foliage the great hills, and rear

A paradise upon the lonely plain,

Trees of the forest, and the open field!

Have ye no sense of being? Does the air,

The pure air, which I breathe with gladness, pass

In gushes o'er your delicate lungs, your leaves,

All unenjoyed? When on your winter's sleep

The sun shines warm, have ye no dreams of spring?

And when the glorious spring-time comes at last,

Have ye no joy of all your bursting buds,

And fragrant blooms, and melody of birds

To which your young leaves shiver? Do ye strive

And wrestle with the wind, yet know it not?

Feel ye no glory in your strength when he,

The exhausted Blusterer, flies beyond the hills,

And leaves you stronger yet? Or have ye not

A sense of loss when he has stripped your leaves,

Yet tender, and has splintered your fair boughs?

Does the loud bolt that smites you from the cloud

And rends you, fall unfelt? Do there not run

Strange shudderings through your fibres when the axe

Is raised against you, and the shining blade

Deals blow on blow, until with all their boughs,

Your summits waver and ye fall to earth?

Know ye no sadness when the hurricane

Has swept the wood and snapped its sturdy stems

Asunder, or has wrenched, from out the soil

The mightiest with their circles of strong roots,

And piled the ruin all along his path? -

Nay, doubt we not that under the rough rind,

In the green veins of these fair growths of earth,

There dwells a nature that receives delight

From all the gentle processes of life,

And shrinks from loss of being. Dim and faint

May be the sense of pleasure and of pain,

As in our dreams; but, haply, real still. -

Our sorrows touch you not. We watch beside

The beds of those who languish or who die,

And minister in sadness, while our hearts

Offer perpetual prayer for life and ease

And health to the beloved sufferers.

But ye, while anxious fear and fainting hope

Are in our chambers, ye rejoice without.

The funeral goes forth; a silent train

Moves slowly from the desolate home; our hearts

Are breaking as we lay away the loved,

Whom we shall see no more, in their last rest,

Their little cells within the burial-place.

Ye have no part in this distress; for still

The February sunshine steeps your boughs

And tints the buds and swells the leaves within;

While the song-sparrow, warbling from her perch,

Tells you that spring is near. The wind of May

Is sweet with breath of orchards, in whose boughs

The bees and every insect of the air

Make a perpetual murmur of delight,

And by whose flowers the humming-bird hangs poised

In air, and draws their sweets and darts away.

The linden, in the fervors of July,

Hums with a louder concert. When the wind

Sweeps the broad forest in its summer prime,

As when some master-hand exulting sweeps

The keys of some great organ, ye give forth

The music of the woodland depths, a hymn

Of gladness and of thanks. The hermit-thrust

Pipes his sweet note to make your arches ring;

The faithful robin, from the wayside elm,

Carols all day to cheer his siting mate;

And when the autumn comes, the kings of earth,

In all their majesty, are not arrayed

As ye are, clothing the broad mountain-side

And spotting the smooth vales with red and gold;

While, swaying to the sudden breeze, ye fling

Your nuts to earth, and the brisk squirrel comes

To gather them, and barks with childish glee,

And scampers with them to his hollow oak. -

Thus, as the seasons pass, ye keep alive

The cheerfulness of Nature, till in time

The constant misery which wrings the heart

Relents, and we rejoice with you again,

And glory in your beauty; till once more

We look with pleasure on your varnished leaves,

That gayly glance in sunshine, and can hear,

Delighted, the soft answer which your boughs

Utter in whispers to the babbling brook. -

Ye have no history. I cannot know

Who, when the hillside trees were hewn away,

Haply two centuries since, bade spare this oak,

Leaning to shade, with his irregular arms,

Low-bent and long, the fount that from his roots

Slips through a bed of cresses toward the bay-

I know not who, but thank him that he left

The tree to flourish where the acorn fell,

And join these later days to that far time

While yet the Indian hunter drew the bow

In the dim woods, and the white woodman first

Opened these fields to sunshine, turned the soil

And strewed the wheat. An unremembered Past

Broods, like a presence, mid the long gray boughs

Of this old tree, which has outlived so long

The flitting generations of mankind. -

Ye have no history. I ask in vain

Who planted on the slope this lofty group

Of ancient pear-trees that with spring-time burst

Into such breadth of bloom. One bears a scar

Where the quick lightning scored its trunk, yet still

It feels the breath of Spring, and every May

Is white with blossoms. Who it was that laid

Their infant roots in earth, and tenderly

Cherished the delicate sprays, I ask in vain,

Yet bless the unknown hand to which I owe

This annual festival of bees, these songs

Of birds within their leafy screen, these shouts

Of joy from children gathering up the fruit

Shaken in August from the willing boughs. -

Ye that my hands have planted, or have spared,

Beside the way, or in the orchard-ground,

Or in the open meadow, ye whose boughs

With every summer spread a wider shade,

Whose herd in coming years shall lie at rest

Beneath your noontide shelter? who shall pluck

Your ripened fruit? who grave, as was the wont

Of simple pastoral ages, on the rind

Of my smooth beeches some beloved name?

Idly I ask; yet may the eyes that look

Upon you, in your later, nobler growth,

Look also on a nobler age than ours;

An age when, in the eternal strife between

Evil and Good, the Power of Good shall win

A grander mastery; when kings no more

Shall summon millions from the plough to learn

The trade of slaughter, and of populous realms

Make camps of war; when in our younger land

The hand of ruffian Violence, that now

Is insolently raised to smite, shall fall

Unnerved before the calm rebuke of Law,

And Fraud, his sly confederate, shrink in shame,

Back to his covert, and forego his prey. - -