To Albert Dürer.

A poem by Victor Marie Hugo

("Dans les vieilles forêts.")

[X., April 20, 1837.]


Through ancient forests - where like flowing tide
The rising sap shoots vigor far and wide,
Mounting the column of the alder dark
And silv'ring o'er the birch's shining bark -
Hast thou not often, Albert Dürer, strayed
Pond'ring, awe-stricken - through the half-lit glade,
Pallid and trembling - glancing not behind
From mystic fear that did thy senses bind,
Yet made thee hasten with unsteady pace?
Oh, Master grave! whose musings lone we trace
Throughout thy works we look on reverently.
Amidst the gloomy umbrage thy mind's eye
Saw clearly, 'mong the shadows soft yet deep,
The web-toed faun, and Pan the green-eyed peep,
Who deck'd with flowers the cave where thou might'st rest,
Leaf-laden dryads, too, in verdure drest.
A strange weird world such forest was to thee,
Where mingled truth and dreams in mystery;
There leaned old ruminating pines, and there
The giant elms, whose boughs deformed and bare
A hundred rough and crooked elbows made;
And in this sombre group the wind had swayed,
Nor life - nor death - but life in death seemed found.
The cresses drink - the water flows - and round
Upon the slopes the mountain rowans meet,
And 'neath the brushwood plant their gnarled feet,
Intwining slowly where the creepers twine.
There, too, the lakes as mirrors brightly shine,
And show the swan-necked flowers, each line by line.
Chimeras roused take stranger shapes for thee,
The glittering scales of mailèd throat we see,
And claws tight pressed on huge old knotted tree;
While from a cavern dim the bright eyes glare.
Oh, vegetation! Spirit! Do we dare
Question of matter, and of forces found
'Neath a rude skin-in living verdure bound.
Oh, Master - I, like thee, have wandered oft
Where mighty trees made arches high aloft,
But ever with a consciousness of strife,
A surging struggle of the inner life.
Ever the trembling of the grass I say,
And the boughs rocking as the breezes play,
Have stirred deep thoughts in a bewild'ring way.
Oh, God! alone Great Witness of all deeds,
Of thoughts and acts, and all our human needs,
God only knows how often in such scenes
Of savage beauty under leafy screens,
I've felt the mighty oaks had spirit dower -
Like me knew mirth and sorrow - sentient power,
And whisp'ring each to each in twilight dim,
Had hearts that beat - and owned a soul from Him!

MRS. NEWTON CROSLAND

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