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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Father of the Forest
By William Watson (1858–1935)
 
I
OLD emperor Yew, fantastic sire,
  Girt with thy guard of dotard kings,
What ages hast thou seen retire
  Into the dusk of alien things?
What mighty news hath stormed thy shade,        5
Of armies perished, realms unmade?
 
Already wast thou great and wise,
  And solemn with exceeding eld,
On that proud morn when England’s eyes,
  Wet with tempestuous joy, beheld        10
Round her rough coasts the thundering main
Strewn with the ruined dream of Spain.
 
Hardly thou count’st them long ago,—
  The warring faiths, the wavering land,
The sanguine sky’s delirious glow,        15
  And Cranmer’s scorched, uplifted hand.
Wailed not the woods their task of shame,
Doomed to provide the insensate flame?
 
Mourned not the rumoring winds, when she—
  The sweet queen of a tragic hour—        20
Crowned with her snow-white memory
  The crimson legend of the Tower?
Or when a thousand witcheries lay
Felled with one stroke, at Fotheringay?
 
Ah, thou hast heard the iron tread        25
  And clang of many an armored age,
And well recall’st the famous dead:
  Captains or counselors, brave or sage,
Kings that on kings their myriads hurled,
Ladies whose smile embroiled the world.        30
 
Rememberest thou the perfect knight,
  The soldier, courtier, bard, in one,—
Sidney, that pensive Hesper-light
  O’er Chivalry’s departed sun?
Knew’st thou the virtue, sweetness, lore,        35
Whose nobly hapless name was More?
 
The roystering prince, that afterward
  Belied his madcap youth, and proved
A greatly simple warrior lord
  Such as our warrior fathers loved—        40
Lives he not still? for Shakespeare sings
The last of our adventurer kings.
 
His battles o’er, he takes his ease;
  Glory put by, and sceptred toil.
Round him the carven centuries        45
  Like forest branches arch and coil.
In that dim fane, he is not sure
Who lost or won at Azincour!
 
Roofed by the mother minster vast
  That guards Augustine’s rugged throne,        50
The darling of a knightly Past
  Sleeps in his bed of sculptured stone,
And flings, o’er many a warlike tale,
The shadow of his dusky mail.
 
The monarch who, albeit his crown        55
  Graced an august and sapient head,
Rode roughshod to a stained renown
  O’er Wallace and Llewellyn dead,
And perished in a hostile land,
With restless heart and ruthless hand;        60
 
Or that disastrous king on whom
  Fate, like a tempest, early fell,
And the dark secret of whose doom
  The Keep of Pomfret kept full well;
Or him that with half-careless words        65
On Becket drew the dastard swords;
 
Or Eleanor’s undaunted son,
  That, starred with idle glory, came
Bearing from leaguered Ascalon
  The barren splendor of his fame,        70
And, vanquished by an unknown bow,
Lies vainly great at Fontevraud;
 
Or him, the footprints of whose power
  Made mightier whom he overthrew,—
A man built like a mountain-tower,        75
  A fortress of heroic thew,—
The Conquerer, in our soil who set
This stem of Kinghood flowering yet:
 
These, or the living fame of these,
  Perhaps thou minglest—who shall say?—        80
With thrice remoter memories,
  And phantoms of the mistier day,
Long ere the tanner’s daughter’s son
From Harold’s hands this realm had won.
 
What years are thine, not mine to guess!        85
  The stars look youthful, thou being by;
Youthful the sun’s glad-heartedness;
  Witless of time the unaging sky!
And these dim-groping roots around
So deep a human Past are wound,        90
 
That, musing in thy shade, for me
  The tidings scarce would strangely fall
Of fair-haired despots of the sea
  Scaling our eastern island-wall,
From their long ships of norland pine,        95
Their “surf-deer” driven o’er wilds of brine.
 
Nay, hid by thee from Summer’s gaze
  That seeks in vain this couch of loam,
I should behold, without amaze,
  Camped on yon down the hosts of Rome;        100
Nor start though English woodlands heard
The selfsame mandatory word
 
As by the cataracts of the Nile
  Marshaled the legions long ago,
Or where the lakes are one blue smile        105
  ’Neath pageants of Helvetian snow,
Or ’mid the Syrian sands that lie
Sick of the Day’s great tearless eye,
 
Or on barbaric plains afar,
  Where, under Asia’s fevering ray,        110
The long lines of imperial war
  O’er Tigris passed, and with dismay
In fanged and iron deserts found
Embattled Persia closing round,
 
And ’mid their eagles watched on high        115
  The vultures gathering for a feast,
Till, from the quivers of the sky,
  The gorgeous star-flight of the East
Flamed, and the bow of darkness bent
O’er Julian dying in his tent.        120
 
II
Was it the wind befooling me
  With ancient echoes, as I lay?
Was it the antic fantasy
  Whose elvish mockeries cheat the day?
Surely a hollow murmur stole        125
From wizard bough and ghostly bole:
 
“Who prates to me of arms and kings,
  Here in these courts of old repose?
Thy babble is of transient things,
  Broils, and the dust of foolish blows.        130
Thy sounding annals are at best
The witness of a world’s unrest.
 
“Goodly the ostents are to thee,
  And pomps of Time: to me more sweet
The vigils of Eternity,        135
  And Silence patient at my feet;
And dreams beyond the deadening range
And dull monotonies of Change.
 
“Often an air comes idling by
  With news of cities and of men;        140
I hear a multitudinous sigh
  And lapse into my soul again.
Shall her great noons and sunsets be
Blurred with thine infelicity?
 
“Now from these veins the strength of old,        145
  The warmth and lust of life, depart:
Full of mortality, behold
  The cavern that was once my heart!
Me, with blind arm, in season due,
Let the aërial woodman hew.        150
 
“For not though mightiest mortals fall,
  The starry chariot hangs delayed;
His axle is uncooled, nor shall
  The thunder of His wheels be stayed.
A changeless pace His coursers keep,        155
And halt not at the wells of sleep.
 
“The South shall bless, the East shall blight,
  The red rose of the dawn shall blow;
The million-lilied stream of night
  Wide in ethereal meadows flow;        160
And autumn mourn, and everything
Dance with the wild pipe of the spring.
 
“With oceans heedless round her feet,
  And the indifferent heavens above,
Earth shall the ancient tale repeat        165
  Of wars and tears, and death and love,
And wise from all the foolish past,
Shall peradventure hail at last
 
“The advent of that morn divine
  When nations may as forests grow,        170
Wherein the oak hates not the pine,
  Nor beeches wish the cedars woe,
But all, in their unlikeness, blend
Confederate to one golden end,—
 
“Beauty: the Vision whereunto        175
  In joy, with pantings, from afar,
Through sound and odor, form and hue,
  And mind and clay, and worm and star,—
Now touching goal, now backward hurled,—
Toils the indomitable world.”        180
 
 
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