Nature And the Book

by Alfred Austin

Alfred Austin

I closed the book. The summer shower
In smiling dimples ebbed away,
But still on leaf, and blade, and flower,
The fallen raindrops glistening lay.
I placed the volume on the shelf,
And, issuing from the leafy shed,
Paced the moist garden by myself,
Musing on what I just had read:
That Man should live by Nature's laws,
And that his ways are waste and wild,
Unless he follow where she draws,
Cling to her skirts, and be her child:
That love, and dread, and doubt are dreams,
But dwindling specks in widening space,
Nor shall we ever pierce what seems,
Or find a soul behind the face;
That if man will but ask the air,
Question the earth, consult the skies,
He needs no help of awe or prayer,
Or further wisdom, to be wise.
The sun had dried the garden seat;
The tall lithe flax nor bent nor swayed;
The tassels of the lime smelt sweet
Within the circle of its shade.
The heavy bees from out the hive
Came slowly answering to the sun;
I watched them hover, and then dive
Into the foxgloves, one by one.
Shortly a butcher-bird shot by,
Then doubled back, and upward flew,
Chasing a sulphur butterfly
To whom the earth and air were new.
Oft it escaped-escaped again,-
But, each time, feebler swerved and rose;
Till flagged the flying flower, and then
I saw not, but could guess, the close.
Anon a hawk, intent to strike,
In the blue ether hovering brown,
Flickered an instant, and, then like
Returning arrow, quickened down.
What! Has he missed? No, bravely done!
A whirr of wings, a silenced shriek.
Off skimmed the covey-all save one,
Left in tight claw and rending beak.
And are these then the laws that I
Must copy with a docile will?
Am I to suck each sweetness dry?
Am I to harry and to kill?
If Nature is to be my guide,
I doubt her fitness for the part,
Rebuke her ruthlessness, and chide
Her lack of soul, her want of heart.
I chafe within the cage of law;
The realm of chance far sweeter is.
I own no love, I feel no awe,
For causes and for sequences.
Doth Nature draw me, 'tis because,
Unto my seeming, there doth lurk
A lawlessness about her laws,
More mood than purpose in her work.
The Spring-time will not come to date;
Winds, clouds, and frosts, man's reckoning mar.
For bud and bloom you have to wait,
Despite your ordered calendar.
If Nature built by rule and square,
Than man what wiser would she be?
What wins us is her careless care,
And sweet unpunctuality.
They misconstrue her, who translate.
They blur her mirror with their mist.
``Behold,'' one says, ``the face of Fate,''
Because himself a fatalist.
Another, coming, cries ``Behold
The aspect of a veering will!
The Gods are weak, the Gods are old''-
Fools! you are older, weaker still.
In vain would science scan and trace
Firmly her aspect. All the while,
There gleams upon her far-off face
A vague unfathomable smile.
Only the poet reads her right,
Because he reads with heart, not eyes:
He bares his being in her sight,
And mirrors all her mysteries.
While others scan some favourite part
Of Nature, he reflects the whole,
Has every climate in his heart,
And all the seasons in his soul.
While she upon herself revolves,
He only her whole sphere can see,
And in that prism, his mind, resolves
The fragments of her unity.
He bids her not to him conform,
He does not question her intent;
He takes the sunshine and the storm
As strings of some sweet instrument;
And out of these, and every mood
That in her lurks, makes music flow,
And fledges Fancy's happy brood
E'en from the very nest of woe.
He loves her, hence doth not demand
That she be better or be worse,
But links with his her helpful hand,
And weds her beauty to his verse.
He loves her more, as grow the years;
Her faults are virtues in his eyes;
He drinks, with her, Spring's wayward tears,
With her, shares Winter's wasted sighs.
She waited for him till he came;
Though he departs, she doth survive,
And, fondly careful of his fame,
Through hers she keeps his name alive.
From sunny woof and cloudy weft
Fell rain in sheets; so, to myself
I hummed these hazard rhymes, and left
The learnëd volume on the shelf.





Last updated January 14, 2019