Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
The Charcoal-Burner
By Edmund Gosse (1849–1928)
HE lives within the hollow wood,
  From one clear dell he seldom ranges;
His daily toil in solitude
  Revolves, but never changes.
A still old man, with grizzled beard,        5
  Grey eye, bent shape, and smoke-tann’d features,
His quiet footstep is not fear’d
  By shyest woodland creatures.
I love to watch the pale blue spire
  His scented labour builds above it;        10
I track the woodland by his fire,
  And, seen afar, I love it.
It seems among the serious trees
  The emblem of a living pleasure,
It animates the silences        15
  As with a tuneful measure.
And dream not that such humdrum ways
  Fold naught of nature’s charm around him;
The mystery of soundless days
  Hath sought for him and found him.        20
He hides within his simple brain
  An instinct innocent and holy,
The music of a wood-bird’s strain,—
  Not blithe, nor melancholy,
But hung upon the calm content        25
  Of wholesome leaf and bough and blossom—
An unecstatic ravishment
  Born in a rustic bosom.
He knows the moods of forest things,
  He feels, in his own speechless fashion,        30
For helpless forms of fur and wings
  A mild paternal passion.
Within his horny hand he holds
  The warm brood of the ruddy squirrel;
Their bushy mother storms and scolds,        35
  But knows no sense of peril.
The dormouse shares his crumb of cheese,
  His homeward trudge the rabbits follow;
He finds, in angles of the trees,
  The cup-nest of the swallow.        40
And through this sympathy, perchance,
  The beating heart of life he reaches
Far more than we who idly dance
  An hour beneath the beeches.
Our science and our empty pride,        45
  Our busy dream of introspection,
To God seem vain and poor beside
  This dumb, sincere reflection.
Yet he will die unsought, unknown,
  A nameless head-stone stand above him,        50
And the vast woodland, vague and lone,
  Be all that ’s left to love him.

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