Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
My Hickory Fire
By Helen Hunt Jackson (1830–1885)
O HELPLESS body of hickory-tree,
What do I burn in burning thee?
Summers of sun, winters of snow,
Springs full of sap’s resistless flow;
All past year’s joys of garnered fruits;        5
All this year’s purposed buds and shoots;
Secrets of fields of upper air,
Secrets which stars and planets share;
Light of such smiles as broad skies fling;
Sound of such tunes as wild winds sing;        10
Voices which told where gay birds dwelt,
Voices which told where lovers knelt;—
O strong white body of hickory-tree,
How dare I burn all these in thee?
  But I too bring, as to a pyre,        15
Sweet things to feed thy funeral fire:
Memories waked by thy deep spell;
Faces of fears and hopes which fell;
Faces of darlings long since dead,—
Smiles that they smiled, and words they said;        20
Like living shapes they come and go,
Lit by the mounting flame’s red glow.
But sacredest of all, O tree,
Thou hast the hour my love gave me.
Only thy rhythmic silence stirred        25
While his low-whispered tones I heard;
By thy last gleam of flickering light
I saw his cheek turn red from white;
O cold gray ashes, side by side
With yours, that hour’s sweet pulses died!        30
  But thou, brave tree, how do I know
That through these fires thou dost not go
As in old days the martyrs went
Through fire which was a sacrament?
How do I know thou dost not wait        35
In longing for thy next estate?—
Estate of higher, nobler place,
Whose shapes no man can use or trace.
How do I know, if I could reach
The secret meaning of thy speech,        40
But I thy song of praise should hear,
Ringing triumphant, loud, and clear,—
The waiting angels could discern,
And token of thy heaven learn?
O glad, freed soul of hickory-tree,        45
Wherever thine eternity,
Bear thou with thee that hour’s dear name,
Made pure, like thee, by rites of flame!

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