Wasteland

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

Briar and fennel and chinquapin,
And rue and ragweed everywhere;
The field seemed sick as a soul with sin,
Or dead of an old despair,
Born of an ancient care.

The cricket's cry and the locust's whirr,
And the note of a bird's distress,
With the rasping sound of a grasshoppér,
Clung to the loneliness
Like burrs to a ragged dress.

So sad the field, so waste the ground,
So curst with an old despair,
A woodchuck's burrow, a blind mole's mound,
And a chipmunk's stony lair,
Seemed more than it could bear.

So solemn too, so more than sad,
So droning-lone with bees
I wondered what more could Nature add
To the sum of its miseries
And then I saw the trees.

Skeletons gaunt, that gnarled the place,
Twisted and torn they rose,
The tortured bones of a perished race
Of monsters no mortal knows.
They startled the mind's repose.

And a man stood there, as still as moss,
A lichen form that stared;
And an old blind hound, that seemed at loss,
Forever around him fared
With a snarling fang half-bared.

I looked at the man. I saw him plain.
Like a dead weed, gray and wan,
Or a breath of dust. I looked again
And man and dog were gone
Like wisps o' the graying dawn. . . .

Were they a part of the grim death'there?
Ragweed, fennel, and rue?
Or forms of the mind, an old despair,
That there into semblance grew
Out of the grief I knew?

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