The Wood Giant

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

From Alton Bay to Sandwich Dome,
From Mad to Saco river,
For patriarchs of the primal wood
We sought with vain endeavor.

And then we said: “The giants old
Are lost beyond retrieval;
This pygmy growth the axe has spared
Is not the wood primeval.

“Look where we will o’er vale and hill,
How idle are our searches
For broad-girthed maples, wide-limbed oaks,
Centennial pines and birches.

“Their tortured limbs the axe and saw
Have changed to beams and trestles;
They rest in walls, they float on seas,
They rot in sunken vessels.

“This shorn and wasted mountain land
Of underbrush and boulder,
Who thinks to see its full-grown tree
Must live a century older.”

At last to us a woodland path,
To open sunset leading,
Revealed the Anakim of pines
Our wildest wish exceeding.

Alone, the level sun before;
Below, the lake’s green islands;
Beyond, in misty distance dim,
The rugged Northern Highlands.

Dark Titan on his Sunset Hill
Of time and change defiant
How dwarfed the common woodland seemed,
Before the old-time giant!

What marvel that, in simpler days
Of the world’s early childhood,
Men crowned with garlands, gifts, and praise
Such monarchs of the wild-wood?

That Tyrian maids with flower and song
Danced through the hill grove’s spaces,
And hoary-bearded Druids found
In woods their holy places?

With somewhat of that Pagan awe
With Christian reverence blending,
We saw our pine-tree’s mighty arms
Above our heads extending.

We heard his needles’ mystic rune,
Now rising, and now dying,
As erst Dodona’s priestess heard
The oak leaves prophesying.

Was it the half-unconscious moan
Of one apart and mateless,
The weariness of unshared power,
The loneliness of greatness?

O dawns and sunsets, lend to him
Your beauty and your wonder!
Blithe sparrow, sing thy summer song
His solemn shadow under!

Play lightly on his slender keys,
O wind of summer, waking
For hills like these the sound of seas
On far-off beaches breaking,

And let the eagle and the crow
Find shelter in his branches,
When winds shake down his winter snow
In silver avalanches.

The brave are braver for their cheer,
The strongest need assurance,
The sigh of longing makes not less
The lesson of endurance.

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