The Father of the Forest

I

Old emperor Yew, fantastic sire,
Girt with thy guard of dotard kings —
What ages hast thou seen retire
Into the dusk of alien things?
What mighty news hath stormed thy shade,
Of armies perished, realms unmade?

Already wast thou great and wise,
And solemn with exceeding eld,
On that proud morn when England's eyes,
Wet with tempestuous joy, beheld
Round her rough coasts the thundering main
Strewn with the ruined dream of Spain.

Hardly thou count'st them long ago,
The warring faiths, the wavering land,
The reddened sky's delirious glow,
And Cranmer's scorched, uplifted hand.
Wailed not the woods their task of shame,
Doomed to provide the insensate flame?

Mourned not the rumouring winds, when she,
The sweet queen of a tragic hour,
Crowned with her snow-white memory
The crimson legend of the Tower?
Or when a thousand witcheries lay
Felled without ruth, at Fotheringay?

Ah, thou hast heard the iron tread
And clang of many an armoured age,
And well recall'st the famous dead,
Captains or counsellors brave or sage,
Kings that on kings their myriads hurled,
Ladies whose smile embroiled the world.

Rememberest thou the perfect knight,
The soldier, courtier, bard in one,
Sidney, that pensive Hesper-light
O'er Chivalry's departed sun?
Knew'st thou the virtue, sweetness, lore,
Whose nobly hapless name was More?

The roystering prince, that afterward
Belied his madcap youth, and proved
A greatly simple warrior lord
Such as our warrior fathers loved —
Lives he not still? for Shakespeare sings
The last of our adventurer kings.

His battles o'er, he takes his ease,
Glory put by, and sceptred toil.
Round him the carven centuries
Like forest branches arch and coil.
In that dim fane, he is not sure
Who lost or won at Azincour!

Roofed by the mother minster vast
That guards Augustine's rugged throne,
The darling of a knightly Past
Sleeps in his bed of sculptured stone,
And throws, o'er many a warlike tale,
The shadow of his sable mail.

The monarch who, albeit his crown
Graced an august and sapient head,
Rode roughshod to a stained renown
O'er Wallace and Llewellyn dead,
And eased at last by Solway strand
His restless heart and ruthless hand;

Or that disastrous king on whom
Fate, like a tempest, early fell,
And the dark secret of whose doom
The Keep of Pomfret kept full well;
Or him whose lightly leaping words
On Becket drew the dastard swords:

Or Eleanor's undaunted son,
That, starred with idle glory, came
Bearing from 'leaguer'd Ascalon
The barren splendour of his fame,
And, vanquished by a stripling's bow,
Lies vainly great at Fontevraud;

Or him, the footprints of whose power
Made mightier whom he overthrew;
A man built like a mountain-tower,
A fortress of heroic thew;
The Conqueror, in our soil who set
This stem of Kinghood flowering yet; —

These, or the living fame of these,
Perhaps thou minglest — who shall say? —
With ev'n remoter memories,
And phantoms of the mistier day,
Long ere the tanner's daughter's son
From Harold's hands this realm had won.

What years are thine, not mine to guess!
The stars look youthful, thou being by;
Youthful the sun's glad-heartedness;
Witless of time the unageing sky!
And these dim-groping roots around
So deep a human Past are wound,

That, musing in thy shade, for me
The tidings scarce would strangely fall
Of pagan despots of the sea
Scaling fierce-eyed our ocean wall,
From their dark ships of norland pine,
Their surf-steeds, ridden o'er wilds of brine.

Nay, hid by thee from Summer's gaze
That seeks in vain this couch of loam,
I should behold, without amaze,
Camped on yon down the hosts of Rome,
Nor start though these lulled woodlands heard
The self-same mandatory word.

As by the Cataracts of the Nile
Marshalled the legions long ago,
Or where the lakes are one blue smile
'Neath pageants of Helvetian snow,
Or mid the Syrian sands that lie
Sick of the day's great tearless eye,

Or on barbaric plains afar,
Where, under Asia's fevering ray,
The long lines of imperial war
O'er Tigris passed, and with dismay
In fanged and iron deserts found
Embattled Persia closing round,

And mid their eagles watched on high
The vultures gathering for a feast,
Till, from the quivers of the sky,
The gorgeous star-flight of the East
Flamed, and the bow of darkness bent
O'er Julian dying in his tent.

II

Was it the wind befooling me
With ancient echoes, as I lay?
Was it the antic fantasy
Whose elvish mockeries cheat the day?
Surely a hollow murmur stole
From wizard bough and ghostly bole:

" Who prates to me of arms and kings,
Here in these courts of old repose?
Thy babble is of transient things,
Broils, and the dust of foolish blows.
Thy sounding annals are at best
The witness of a world's unrest.

" Goodly the loud ostents to thee,
And pomps of time: to me more sweet
The vigils of Eternity,
And Silence patient at my feet;
And dreams beyond the deadening range
And dull monotonies of Change.

" Often an air comes idling by
With news of cities and of men.
I hear a multitudinous sigh,
And lapse into my soul again.
Shall her great noons and sunsets be
Blurred with thine infelicity?

" Now from these sinews, year by year,
Strength and the lust of life depart;
Full of mortality is here
The cavern that was once my heart!
Me, with blind arm, in season due,
Let the aerial woodman hew.

" For not though mightiest mortals fall,
The starry chariot hangs delayed.
His axle is uncooled, nor shall
The thunder of His wheels be stayed.
A changeless pace His coursers keep,
And halt not at the wells of sleep.

" The South shall bless, the East shall blight,
The red rose of the Dawn shall blow;
The million-lilied stream of Night
Wide in ethereal meadows flow;
And Autumn mourn; and everything
Dance to the wild pipe of the Spring.

" With oceans heedless round her feet,
And the indifferent heavens above,
Earth shall the ancient tale repeat
Of wars and tears, and death and love;
And, wise from all the foolish Past,
Shall peradventure hail at last.

" The advent of that morn divine
When nations may as forests grow,
Wherein the oaks hate not the pine,
Nor does the elm wish cedars woe,
But all, in their unlikeness, blend
Confederate to one golden end —

" Beauty: the Vision whereunto,
In joy, with pantings, from afar,
Through sound and odour, form and hue,
And mind and clay, and worm and star —
Now touching goal, now backward hurled —
Toils the indomitable world. "
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