On a Cone of the Big Trees

A poem by Francis Bret Harte

Brown foundling of the Western wood,
Babe of primeval wildernesses!
Long on my table thou hast stood
Encounters strange and rude caresses;
Perchance contented with thy lot,
Surroundings new, and curious faces,
As though ten centuries were not
Imprisoned in thy shining cases.

Thou bring’st me back the halcyon days
Of grateful rest, the week of leisure,
The journey lapped in autumn haze,
The sweet fatigue that seemed a pleasure,
The morning ride, the noonday halt,
The blazing slopes, the red dust rising,
And then the dim, brown, columned vault,
With its cool, damp, sepulchral spicing.

Once more I see the rocking masts
That scrape the sky, their only tenant
The jay-bird, that in frolic casts
From some high yard his broad blue pennant.
I see the Indian files that keep
Their places in the dusty heather,
Their red trunks standing ankle-deep
In moccasins of rusty leather.

I see all this, and marvel much
That thou, sweet woodland waif, art able
To keep the company of such
As throng thy friend’s the poet’s table:
The latest spawn the press hath cast,
The “modern popes,” “the later Byrons,”
Why, e’en the best may not outlast
Thy poor relation Sempervirens.

Thy sire saw the light that shone
On Mohammed’s uplifted crescent,
On many a royal gilded throne
And deed forgotten in the present;
He saw the age of sacred trees
And Druid groves and mystic larches;
And saw from forest domes like these
The builder bring his Gothic arches.

And must thou, foundling, still forego
Thy heritage and high ambition,
To lie full lowly and full low,
Adjusted to thy new condition?
Not hidden in the drifted snows,
But under ink-drops idly spattered,
And leaves ephemeral as those
That on thy woodland tomb were scattered?

Yet lie thou there, O friend! and speak
The moral of thy simple story:
Though life is all that thou dost seek,
And age alone thy crown of glory,
Not thine the only germs that fail
The purpose of their high creation,
If their poor tenements avail
For worldly show and ostentation.

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