Wood Dreams

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

About the time when bluebells swing
Their elfin belfries for the bee
And in the fragrant House of Spring
Wild Music moves; and Fantasy
Sits weaving webs of witchery:
And Beauty's self in silence leans
Above the brook and through her hair
Beholds her face reflected there,
And wonders what the vision means
About the time when bluebells swing,
I found a path of glooms and gleams,
A way that Childhood oft has gone,
That leads into the Wood of Dreams,
Where, as of old, dwell Fay and Faun,
And Faërie dances until dawn;
And Elfland calls from her blue cave,
Or, starbright, on her snow-white steed,
Rides blowing on a silver reed
That Magic follows like a slave
I found a path of glooms and gleams.

And in that Wood I came again
On old enchantments. There, behold,
I saw them pass, a kingly train,
Fable and Legend, wise and old,
In garb of glimmering green and gold:
While far away forgotten bells
And horns of Faërie made faint sound;
And all the anxious heaven around
And earth grew gossamered with spells,
And whirled with ouphen feet again.

And, lo, I saw the ancient Hall
Of Story rise, where Dreams conspire
With Words and Music to enthrall
The Yearning of the soul's desire,
Holding it fast with charméd fire:
Where Glamour bows in servitude;
And, Lord of Ecstasy and Awe,
Song, with his henchmen, Lore and Law,
Sits 'mid the mighty Brotherhood
Of Beauty in that twilight Hall.

Then far away the forest rang
With something more than bugle calls:
A voice, a summons wild that sang,
As if Adventure in his halls
Awoke; or Daring on the walls
Shouted to Youth to take his stand
Before the wizard-guarded tower
Where Love, within her secret bower,
Beckons him on with moon-white hand
Why was it that the forest rang?

And then I knew: It was my Sprite,
My Witch, whose spells had led me far:
Who held me with the old delight,
And drew my soul beyond the bar
Of all the real, like a star.
How long ago, how far that day,
Since first I met her in the wild!
And on my face her white face smiled,
And my child fears she soothed away!
Ay! ay! 'twas she -my airy Sprite!

And on my heart again the hour
Flashed as when first she gazed at me;
Her loveliness clothed on with power
And joy and godlike mystery,
A portion of Earth's ecstasy:
Again I felt, in ways unknown,
Down in my soul a memory waken
Of some far kiss once given and taken,
That made me hers, her very own,
Once every year for one brief hour. . . .

A Dryad laughed among the trees;
A Naiad flashed with limbs a-spark;
A Satyr reached rough arms to seize;
A Faun foot danced adown the dark
To music of rude pipes of bark:
Earth crowded all its shapes-around,
Myths, bare and beautiful of breast,
'Mid whom pursuing passion pressed,
Wild, Pan-like, leaping from the ground.
A Dryad laughed among the trees.

Then Elfdom, in a starlike rain,
To right and left rose blossoms slim;
And urged its Joy in twinkling train
Down many a flower and rainbow rim
Of moonbeam. Fancy sat with Whim:
And from the ferns gleamed glowworm eyes,
Where Faërie held its Court; and, green,
An impish spirit ran between,
With Puck-like laughter of surprise,
And firefly flickerings, wild as rain.

Then suddenly a light that grew,
And in the light my Witch! who stood,
As crystal-evident as dew,
Weaving a spell that made the wood
Take on a dream's similitude:
And, lo, through radiance and perfume
I saw Romance, crowned with a crown,
And Chivalry come riding down,
On two great steeds, all gold and gloom,
Round whom the splendor grew and grew. . . .

And of the Dream the forest dreams
Again my soul becomes a part:
Again my magic armor gleams;
Again beneath its steel my heart
Throbs all impatient for the start.
Again the towers of Time and Chance
Loom grimly, where, forever fair,
Wrapped in the glory of her hair,
Beauty lies bound by Necromance,
The Beauty that we know in dreams.

And, as before, again I smile,
Delaying still to break the spell,
Facing the gateway of old Guile,
Where hangs the slug-horn that shall knell
Defiance to the Courts of Hell.
"Then Elfdom, in a starlike rain,
To right and left rose blossom-slim."
What though around me, torch on torch,
The eyes of Danger, glowering, wait!
What though Death heaves a sword of hate
Beneath the gate's enchanted arch!
I raise the horn again and smile.

What now, O Night, shall make me pause?
I face the darkness of the tomb,
That stirs with clank of iron claws,
And threatenngs of gigantic doom,
The monster in the granite gloom.
And then full in the face of Night
I hurl my challenge, blast on blast
The drawbridge thunders; and the vast
Echoes with batlike wings in flight.
There is no thing to give me pause.

My heart sings, bounding to its quest.
I mount the stairs to where she sleeps,
A rose upon her brow and breast,
And in her long hair's golden deeps
The glory of the youth she keeps.
I kneel again; I clasp her there;
I kiss her mouth; but, lo, behold!
Her beauty crumbles into mold,
'And all the castle goes in air,
And with it all my heart's high quest. . . .

And in the wood I wake again.
The Dream is gone as is the child,
Who followed far in rapture's train,
And by a vision was beguiled,
The Witch, the Presence undefiled,
Whose call still sounds o'er holt and hollow,
An elfin bugle, in the morn;
And in the eve a faery horn,
Bidding the dreaming heart to follow,
The child in man that hears again. . . .

For what we dream is never lost.
Dreams mold the soul within the clay.
The rapture and the pentecost
Of beauty shape our lives some way:
They are the beam, the guiding ray,
That Nature dowers us with at birth,
And, like the light upon the crown
Of some dark hill, that towers down,
Point us to Heaven, not to Earth,
Above the world where dreams are lost.

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