The Voice in the Wild Oak

A poem by Henry Kendall

(Written in the shadow of 1872.)


Twelve years ago, when I could face
High heaven’s dome with different eyes
In days full-flowered with hours of grace,
And nights not sad with sighs
I wrote a song in which I strove
To shadow forth thy strain of woe,
Dark widowed sister of the grove!
Twelve wasted years ago.

But youth was then too young to find
Those high authentic syllables,
Whose voice is like the wintering wind
By sunless mountain fells;
Nor had I sinned and suffered then
To that superlative degree
That I would rather seek, than men,
Wild fellowship with thee!

But he who hears this autumn day
Thy more than deep autumnal rhyme,
Is one whose hair was shot with grey
By Grief instead of Time.
He has no need, like many a bard,
To sing imaginary pain,
Because he bears, and finds it hard,
The punishment of Cain.

No more he sees the affluence
Which makes the heart of Nature glad;
For he has lost the fine, first sense
Of Beauty that he had.
The old delight God’s happy breeze
Was wont to give, to Grief has grown;
And therefore, Niobe of trees,
His song is like thine own!

But I, who am that perished soul,
Have wasted so these powers of mine,
That I can never write that whole,
Pure, perfect speech of thine.
Some lord of words august, supreme,
The grave, grand melody demands;
The dark translation of thy theme
I leave to other hands.

Yet here, where plovers nightly call
Across dim, melancholy leas
Where comes by whistling fen and fall
The moan of far-off seas
A grey, old Fancy often sits
And fills thy strong, strange rhyme by fits
With awful utterings.

Then times there are when all the words
Are like the sentences of one
Shut in by Fate from wind and birds
And light of stars and sun,
No dazzling dryad, but a dark
Dream-haunted spirit doomed to be
Imprisoned, crampt in bands of bark,
For all eternity.

Yea, like the speech of one aghast
At Immortality in chains,
What time the lordly storm rides past
With flames and arrowy rains:
Some wan Tithonus of the wood,
White with immeasurable years
An awful ghost in solitude
With moaning moors and meres.

And when high thunder smites the hill
And hunts the wild dog to his den,
Thy cries, like maledictions, shrill
And shriek from glen to glen,
As if a frightful memory whipped
Thy soul for some infernal crime
That left it blasted, blind, and stript
A dread to Death and Time!

But when the fair-haired August dies,
And flowers wax strong and beautiful,
Thy songs are stately harmonies
By wood-lights green and cool
Most like the voice of one who shows
Through sufferings fierce, in fine relief,
A noble patience and repose
A dignity in grief.

But, ah! conceptions fade away,
And still the life that lives in thee
The soul of thy majestic lay
Remains a mystery!
And he must speak the speech divine
The language of the high-throned lords
Who’d give that grand old theme of thine
Its sense in faultless words.

By hollow lands and sea-tracts harsh,
With ruin of the fourfold gale,
Where sighs the sedge and sobs the marsh,
Still wail thy lonely wail;
And, year by year, one step will break
The sleep of far hill-folded streams,
And seek, if only for thy sake
Thy home of many dreams.

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