The Ghosts Of The Trees

by Isabella Valancy Crawford

Isabella Valancy Crawford

The silver fangs of the mighty axe
Bit to the blood of our giant boles;
It smote our breasts and smote our backs.
Thundered the front-cleared leaves.
As sped in fire
The whirl and flame of scarlet leaves,
With strong desire
Leaped to the air our captive souls.
While down our corpses thundered,
The Air at our strong souls gazed and wondered,
And cried to us, "Ye
Are full of all mystery to me.
I saw but your plumes of leaves,
Your strong, brown greaves,
Your sinewy roots and lusty branches;
And, fond and anxious,
I laid my ear and my restless breast
By each pride-high crest;
And softly stole
And listened by limb and listened by bole,
Nor ever the stir of a soul
Heard I in ye.
Great is the mystery!"

The strong brown Eagle plunged from his peak;
From the hollow iron of his beak
The wood pigeon fell, its breast of blue
Cold with sharp death all thro' and thro'.
To our ghosts he cried,
"With talons of steel
I hold the storm;
Where the high peaks reel
My young lie warm;
In the wind-rocked spaces of air I bide,
My wings too wide,
Too angry-strong, for the emerald gyves
Of woodland cell where the meek dove thrives.
And when at the bar
Of morn I smote with my breast its star,
And under
My wings grew purple the jealous thunder,
With the flame of the skies
Hot in my breast and red in my eyes,
From peak to peak of sunrise piled,
That set space glowing
With flames from air-based craters blowing,
I downward swept, beguiled
By the close-set forest, gilded and spread,
A sea for the lordly tread
Of a god's war-ship.
I broke its leafy surf with my breast;
My iron lip
I dipped in the cool of each whispering crest.
From your leafy steeps
I saw in the deeps
Red coral, the flame-necked oriole;
But never the stir of a soul
Heard I in ye.
Great is the mystery!"

From its ferny coasts
The River gazed at our strong, free ghosts,
And with rocky fingers shed
Apart the silver curls of its head;
Laid its murmuring hands
On the reedy bands;
And at gaze
Stood in the half-moon of brown, still bays.
Like glossed eyes of stags
Its round pools gazed from the rusty flags
At our ghostly crests,
At the bark-shields strong on our phantom breasts;
And its tide
Took lip and tongue and cried:

"I have pushed apart
The mountain's heart,
I have trod the valley down;
With strong hands curled,
Have caught and hurled
To the earth the high hill's crown.

"My brow I thrust
Through sultry dust
That the lean wolf howled upon;
I drove my tides
Between the sides
Of the bellowing canyon.

"From crystal shoulders
I hurled my boulders
On the bridge's iron span;
When I reared my head
From its old-time bed,
Shook the pale cities of man.

"I have run a course
With the swift, wild horse;
I have thundered pace for pace
With the rushing herds;
I have caught the beards
Of the swift stars in the race.

"Neither moon nor sun
Could me outrun;
Deep caged in my silver bars,
I hurried with me
To the shouting sea
Their light and the light of the stars.

"The reeling earth,
In furious mirth,
With sledges of ice I smote;
I whirled my sword
Where the pale berg roared,
I took the ship by the throat.

"With stagnant breath
I called chill Death,
My guest, to the hot bayou;
I built men's graves
With strong-thewed waves.
That thing that my strength might do

"I did right well.
Men cried, "From Hell
The might of thy hand is given!'
By loose rocks stoned,
The stout quays groaned;
Sleek sands by my spear were riven.

"O'er shining slides
On my glossèd tides
The brown cribs, close woven, rolled;
The stout logs sprung
Their height among
My loud whirls of white and gold.

"The great raft prest
My calm, broad breast—
A dream thro' my shady trance;
The light canoe
A spirit flew—
The pulse of my blue expanse.

"Winged swift, the ships
My foaming lips
Made rich with dewy kisses,
All night and morn,
Thro' fields of corn;
And where the mill-wheel hisses,

"And shivers and sobs
With labouring throbs,
With its whirls my strong palms played.
I parted my flags
For thirsty stags;
On the necks of arches laid,

"To the dry-vined town
My tide rolled down:
Dry lips and throats a-quiver
Rent sky and sod
With shouts, "From God
The strength of the mighty river!'

"I, listening, heard
The soft-songed bird,
The beetle about your boles,
The calling breeze
In your crests, O trees,—
Never the voices of souls!"

We, freed souls of the trees, looked down
On the River's shining eyes of brown;
And upward smiled
At the tender Air and its warrior child,
The iron Eagle strong and wild.

No will of ours,
The captive souls of our barky towers;
His the deed
Who laid in the secret earth the seed,
And with strong hand
Knitted each woody fetter and band.

Last updated April 01, 2023