The Song Of The Forest

A poem by John Frederick Freeman

(11th November, 1918)


To Thee, Most Holy, Most Obscure, light-hidden,
Shedding light in the darkness of the mind
As gold beams wake the air to birds a-wing;
To Thee, if men were trees, would forests bow
In all our land, as under a new wind;
To Thee, if trees were men, would forests sing
Lifting autumnal crowns and bending low,
Rising and falling again as inly chidden,
Singing and hushing again as inly bidden.
To Thee, Most Holy, men being men upraise
Bright eyes and waving hands of unarticulating praise.


To Thee, Most Holy, Most Obscure, who pourest
Thy darkness into each wild-heaving human forest,
While some say, "'Tis so dark God cannot live,"
And some, "It is so dark He never was,"
And few, "I hear the forest branches give
Assurèd signs His wind-like footsteps pass;"
To Thee, now that long darkness is enlightened,
Lift men their hearts, shaking the death-chill dews.
Even sad eyes with morning light are brightened,
And in this spiritual Easter's lovely hues
Are no more with death's arctic shadow frightened.


Here in this morning twilight gleaming pure
Mid the high forest boughs and making clear
The motion the night-wakeful brain had guessed;
Here in this peace that wonders, Is it Peace?
And sighs its satisfaction on the shivering air;
Here, O Most Holy, here, O bright Obscure,
Every deep root within the earth's quick breast
Knows that the long night's ended and sore agitations cease,
And every leaf of every human tree
In England's forest stirs and sings, Light Giver, now to Thee.


I cannot syllable that unworded praise--
An ashen sapling bending in Thy wind,
Uplifting in Thy light new-budded leaves;
Nor for myself nor any other raise
My boughs in music, though the woodland heaves--
O with what ease of pain at length resigned,
What hope to the old inheritance restored!
Thy praise it is that men at last are glad.
Long unaccustomed brightness in their eyes
Needs must seem beautiful in thine, bright Lord,
And to forget the part that sorrow had
In every shadowed breast, where still it lies,
Is there not praise in such forgetfulness?
For to grieve less means not that love is less.


--Nor for myself nor any other. Yet
I cannot but remember all that passed
Since justice shook these bosoms, and the fret
Of indignation stirred them and they cast
Forgot aside all lesser wrongs, and rose
Against the spiritual evil of that threat
That made them of dishonour slaves or foes.
And who may but with pride remember how
Not by ten righteous justice might be saved,
But by unsaintly millions moving all
As the tide moves when myriad tossed waves flow
One way, and on the crumbling bastions fall;
Then sinking backwards unopposed and slow
Over the ruined towers where those vain angers raved.


Creep tarnished gilded figures to their holes
Who once walked like great men upon the earth
Flickering their false shadows. Fear, like a hound,
Hunts them, and there's a death in every sound;
And had they souls sorrow would prick their souls
At every heavy sigh the wind waved forth.
... Into their holes they've crept, and they will die.
Of them no more and never any more.
Their leper-gilt is gone, and they will lie
Poisoning a little earth and nothing more.


--That justice has been saved and wrong been slain,
That the slow fever-darkness ends in day,
Nor madness shakes the pillared world again
With the same blind proud fury; that in vain
Whispers the Tempter now, "So pass away
Strength, honesty and hope, and nothing left but pain!"
That the many-voiced confusion of the night
Clears in the winging of a spirit bright
With new-recovered joy;--for this, O Light,
Light Giver, Night Dispeller, praise should be.
But praise is dumb from burning hearts to Thee.


But as a forest bending in the wind
Murmurs in all its boughs after the wind,
Sounds uninterpreted and untaught airs;
So now when Thy wind over England stirs,
The proud and untranslating sounds of praise
Mingle tumultuous over our human ways;
And magnifying echoes of Thy wind
Rouse in the profoundest forests of the mind.


And in the secret thicket where Thy light
Is dimmed with starry shining of the night,
Hearing these mingled airs from every wood
Thou'lt smile serenely down, murmuring, "'Tis good."
While Angels in the thicket borders curled
Amid the farthest gold beams of Thy hair,
Seeing on one drooped beam this distant world
Floating illumined, cry, "Bright Lord, how fair!"

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