What gnarled stretch, what depth of shade, is his?
There needs no crown to mark the forest's king;
How in his leaves outshines full summer's bliss!
Sun, storm, rain, dew, to him their tribute bring,
Which he, with such benignant royalty
Accepts, as overpayeth what is lent;
All nature seems his vassal proud to be,
And cunning only for his ornament.
How towers he, too, amid the billowed snows,
An unquelled exile from the summer's throne,
Whose plain, uncintured front more kingly shows,
Now that the obscuring courtier leaves are flown.
His boughs make music of the winter air,
Jewelled with sleet, like some cathedral front
Where clinging snow-flakes with quaint art repair
The dents and furrows of Time's envious brunt.
How doth his patient strength the rude March wind
Persuade to seem glad breaths of summer breeze,
And win the soil that fain would be unkind,
To swell his revenues with proud increase!
He is the gem; and all the landscape wide
(So doth his grandeur isolate the sense)
Seems but the setting, worthless all beside,
An empty socket, were he fallen thence.
So, from oft converse with life's wintry gales,
Should man learn how to clasp with tougher roots
The inspiring earth;—how otherwise avails
The leaf-creating sap that sunward shoots?
So every year that falls with noiseless flake
Should fill old scars up on the stormward side,
And make hoar age revered for age's sake,
Not for traditions of youth's leafy pride.
So, from the pinched soil of a churlish fate,
True hearts compel the sap of sturdier growth,
So between earth and heaven stand simply great,
That these shall seem but their attendants both;
For nature's forces, with obedient zeal
Wait on the rooted faith and oaken will,
As quickly the pretender's cheat they feel,
And turn mad Pucks to flout and mock him still.
Lord! all Thy works are lessons,—each contains
Some emblem of man's all-containing soul;
Shall he make fruitless all Thy glorious pains,
Delving within Thy grace an eyeless mole?
Make me the least of Thy Dodona-grove,
Cause me some message of Thy truth to bring,
Speak but a word through me, nor let Thy love
Among my boughs disdain to perch and sing.
James Russell Lowell.