Ballad of the Fruitless Plant

by Hervey Allen

Hervey Allen

A fruitless plant of a sensitive seed
Once grew in a pot where its every need
Was a hope to prevent and a joy to precede
With thoughtful care and skillful speed—
Oh, the fruitless plant of the sensitive seed!

It was trained on a trellis and made to climb;
It was freed of weed, and freed of slime.
And its earliest blossoms, as all agreed,
Were nipped in the bud, so its strength might speed
Through its limbs and leaves, and not to seed.

So there it stood by the garden wall
In an elegant pot, and it grew so tall
That the nursery gardeners, one and all,
Paused as they passed, to admire, and agreed,
'Twas a beautiful plant of a sensitive seed—
A beautiful plant, but no use withal!

If it missed the forest where it grew;
If it missed the wildwood, no one knew,
For the sun poured down, and the rain and dew,
And its leaves grew broad and its tendrils grew
In the cracks of the only wall it knew,
While the days went by and the seasons flew.

Then there came a day and there came an hour
When the fruitless plant attempted to flower,
A feeling at first that its deep roots had
That ran through its branches and made them glad,
Till a leaf turned back and opened its eye,
And a flower looked up at the sun in the sky.

A perfect blossom, it blossomed so high
That the gardener missed it, walking by.
Oh, the fruitless plant with the lovely eye,
The gardener missed it, walking by!

But deep in the pot in the loam and damp
The roots of the plant were gnarled with cramp,
And they split the pot in their thrust for space,
And their trouble showed in the flowers' face,
For they could not answer the whole plant's need
And nourish the blossom to bear the seed.

So it had no scent that the bees would try,
And its petals shrank, and its stem grew dry,
While the burning sun went slowly by.
And that flower fell, without a sound,
And the gardener found it on his round,
Lolling its tongue for a taste of the ground.

Then his face went black with a gardener's wrath,
And he kicked the elegant pot from his path,
And its cracked sides burst, while the gardener cursed,
For he saw the roots, and he knew the worst—
And he hurled that plant that would not yield
Over the wall on a stony field.

Oh, those were days for the fruitless plant!
It suffered the snail, and it suffered the ant,
The slimy snail, and the busy ant.
Its need was great and its food was scant;
It withered down to the very root;
It was pressed in the earth by a passing boot—
Then the rain came down and it started to shoot.

It had no leaves for a beautiful crown
To please the eye, but its roots put down
In a stony field near an ugly town;
No leaves it had, but its roots put down
In a barren field by an ugly town.

They split the rock with infinite toil,
They moved the stones, and they found the soil.
They thrust deep down in a mighty coil,
And they even pierced the garden wall,
Though the gardener never knew it all.
He watered his beds, and he gave no heed
To the fruitless plant of the sensitive seed—
So, it fought the mole and it strangled the weed;
But the thoughtful gardener gave no heed.

Till, all at once, with a terrible strength
That it drew from the stones, it sprang at length
Over an oak tree and up the wall,
And its leaves grew broad, and its stem grew tall,
And it locked that oak tree twice about,
And burst into bloom with a mighty shout.

Oh, the bees came by and they loved the scent;
They bent their backs—and away they went!
Then the gardener came, and he stopped and saw
Those magical flowers without a flaw.
They puzzled his brain, so he stopped his jaw
From falling down with a horrible name
That out of a Latin textbook came.
Now he knew the name and he knew the breed
Of the fruitless plant with the sensitive seed.

But a lady pale who used to pace
Up and down that garden space
To ease her heart in a lovely place;
And back and forth as if to win
Forgetfulness of kith and kin,
Bent over those flowers and read their brief
In the scent of their blooms and the shape of their leaf.

Last updated September 05, 2017