Wood Myths

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

Sylvan, they say, and nymph are gone;
And yet I saw the two last night,
When overhead the moon sailed white,
And through the mists, her light made wan,
Each bush and tree doffed its disguise,
And stood revealed to mortal eyes.

The hollow, rimmed with rocks and trees,
And massed with ferns and matted vines,
Seemed an arena mid the pines,
A theatre of mysteries,
Where oread and satyr met,
And all the myths that men forget.

The rain and frost had carved the rocks
With faces that were wild and strange,
Which Protean fancy seemed to change
Each moment in the granite blocks,
That seemed slow dreaming into form
The gods grotesque of wind and storm.

Then suddenly Diana stood,
Slim as a shaft of moonlight, there,
Immortalizing earth and air
With perfect beauty: through the wood
Her maidens went as brightness goes
Athwart a cloud at evening's close.

And then I saw a faun push through
The thorny berry; at his lip
Twinkled a pipe that seemed to drip
Dim sounds of crickets and of dew,
Things that, in strange reality,
Seemed born of his frail melody.

And then I saw the naiad rise
From out her rock; a form of spar,
In which her heart shone like a star,
And like the moon her hair and eyes;
She smiled, and at each smile, it seemed,
Some wildflower into being gleamed.

And then the dryad from her beech
Came, silver white as is its bark;
And slender through the dreaming dark
I saw her go: a whispering speech
Was hers from whose soft murmured words
Is made the language of the birds.

Then satyrs and the centaurs passed:
And then old Pan himself; and there,
Flying before him, all her hair
About her like a mist, the last
Wild nymph I saw; and as she went
The woods as with a wind were bent.

And in the hush, like some slow rose
That knows not yet that it is born,
A premonition of the morn
Bloomed; and from out its far repose,
Borne over ocean, through the wood,
A sighing swept the solitude.

Then nothing more. But I had seen
That Pan still lives and all his train,
Whatever men say: they remain
The unseen forces; they that mean
Nature; its awe and majesty,
That symbolize mythology.

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