A New Metre: Poetry Archive

“Write thou these words . . .” —Exodus 34:27

Darkling Wood

I.

An ancient forest, full to tell
of tales dark and shadows deep.
And to its edge the mighty trees
to heaven reach, and down they grasp
within the stony bed, below,
the land is founded on.

Farther on than edge to edge
the light, though dim, yet fails more.
It gives Poseidon’s murky green
all played about by flying leaves
and branches high where still the Sun
may find a dwelling-place.

Ever and anon, the Sky,
in boldly interloping beams,
will shoot him through the verdant roof,
just to find him swallowed up
in dolor and despair
when dark he finds the floor:
the depths of mould, of years and lives,
of ages, yea, aeterna past,
the leaves and twigs of agèd trees,
the loam of all that’s ceased to be
sprawled out in all-engulfing shade
(of these is sorrow made).

Yes, somewhere still a far-off bird
may sing itself a happy song,
but ne’er the wood will take its note
and own it as its anthem lay.
the birdsong does not break the gloom;
still the forest lives.

II.

Darkling Wood grows ever on,
and colder, darker, danker still,
and more foreboding is its face
from every day and year that’s passed.
For generations now the wood
has grown, but none can tell.

For generations here and gone
the wood has slowly grown its part.
Slowly, slowly, stately and staunch:
so ever slow, that none may know,
the wood shall grow, and live, and dwell
beyond the men it has surpassed.

It grows so slowly, steady on,
that lines of men may see the same;
and when one dies, he sees the wood
unchanged since boyhood, when fleet-foot
and shoeless, boyish-clad ran he
among the self-same trees.

Every father shows his son
his boyhood haunts ungrown and still,
and every son will run and hide
among the bushes same and full,
and knowing not that years have passed —
or owning to the years.

And when that barefoot boy has grown,
and raised a boy, and seen his lot,
and lays him down abed to die,
he’ll pull from thought a view he drunk
the day his father died, and find
nor leaf nor twig misplaced.

Every father, every son
seems to see in its black heart
a stillness nether to the world.
But that black heart, it holds within
a life that’s slower, yes, I grant;
but stronger far than they.

III.

Now, moving farther, ever deeper,
nearer to the vast black heart,
the trees are turning so immense
that, groundward, no more beam of light
may break its little presence through
their palms and branches wide.

Dusk near too thick for sight to pierce
pervades the suburbs of the heart.

But finally, with arduous soul, and grim,
I reach the forest’s heart.
The trail of mists and ghosts I’ve ta’en
has led me down the labyrinth
into the lair of many things,
darknesses and shadows.

Darknesses there are, and shadows
creeping out from every tree
into the darkest haunts that be
a-secreted within my mind.
I look at them and try to see,
and find they cannot be.

I look at them and try to know,
but know not if they’re there, or there,
or if they’re anywhere at all.
I fight my way past fear and terror;
mere gloom has long since changed to black,
but yon ahead ’tis light.

A thin, wan beam creeps down among
the thin, dark twigs and leaves above —
vast aeons must its journey be —
and throws a pallor over all,
giving darkness once again
its dusk-accustomed shape.

IV.

I find within the Darkling Wood
a clearing, touched with light
so easily as almost missed.
The spid’ry beam at length takes rest
upon a small and severed pedestal
that’s weathered with its days.

Upon the pillar’s carven top
I feel, but scarce can see
what on the slate is smoothly graved.
In the darkness, nearly felt,
I can with my hand make out
an unfamiliar script.

The hand is of an Eastern cut,
and forms which I can feel
are none the same as those I ken,
and those I’ve writ since I was young.
But somehow, in the dark, those words!
I know those words! I know . . .

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