Alcyone

by Archibald Lampman


 

 

THE WOODCUTTER’S HUT


 

Far up in the wild and wintery hills in the heart of
          the cliff-broken woods,
Where the mounded drifts lie soft and deep in the
          noiseless solitudes,
The hut of the lonely woodcutter stands, a few rough                 5
          beams that show
A blunted peak and a low black line, from the
          glittering waste of snow.
In the frost-still dawn from his roof goes up in the
          windless, motionless air,                                                  10
The thin, pink curl of leisurely smoke; through the
          forest white and bare
The woodcutter follows his narrow trail, and the
          morning rings and cracks
With the rhythmic jet of his sharp-blown breath and                15
         the echoing shout of his axe.
Only the waft of the wind besides, or the stir of some
          hardy bird—
The call of the friendly chickadee, or the part of the
          nuthatch—is heard;                                                           20
Or a rustle comes from a dusky clump, where the
          busy siskins feed,
And scatter the dimpled sheet of the snow with the
          shells of the cedar-seed.
Day after day the woodcutter toils untiring with axe                 25
          and wedge,
Till the jingling teams come up from the road that
          runs by the valley’s edge,
With plunging of horses, and hurling of snow, and
          many a shouted word,                                                      30
And carry away the keen-scented fruit of his cutting,
          cord upon cord.
Not the sound of a living foot comes else, not a moving
          visitant there,
Save the delicate step of some halting doe, or the                35
          sniff of a prowling bear.
And only the stars are above him at night, and the
          trees that creak and grown,
And the frozen, hard-swept mountain-crests with
          their silent fronts of stone,                                               40
As he watches the sinking glow of his fire and the
          wavering flames upcaught,
Cleaning his rifle or mending his moccasins, sleepy
          and slow of thought.
Or when the fierce snow comes, with the rising wind,           45
          from the grey north-east,
He lies through the leaguering hours in his bunk like a
          winter-hidden beast,
Or sits on the hard-packed earth, and smokes by his
          draught-blown guttering fire,                                          50
Without thought or remembrance, hardly awake, and
          waits for the storm to tire.
Scarcely he hears from the rock-rimmed heights to the
          wild ravines below,
Near and far-off, the limitless wings of the tempest              55
          hurl and go
In roaring gusts that plunge through the cracking
          forest, and lull, and lift,
All day without stint and all night long with the
          sweep of the hissing drift.                                              60
But winter shall pass ere long with its hills of snow
          and its fettered dreams,
And the forest shall glimmer with living gold, and
          chime with the gushing of streams;
Millions of little points of plants shall prick through                65
          its matted floor,
And the wind-flower lift and uncurl her silken buds by
          the woodman’s door;
The sparrow shall see and exult; but lo! as the
          spring draws gaily on,                                                    70
The woodcutter’s hut is empty and bear, and the
          master that made it is gone.
He is gone where the gathering of valley men
          another labour yields,
To handle the plough, and the harrow and scythe,                75
          in the heat of the summer fields.
He is gone with his corded arms, and his ruddy face,
          and his moccasined feet
The animal man in his warmth and vigour, sound,
          and hard, complete.                                                       80
And all summer long, round the lonely hut, the
          black earth burgeons and breeds,
Till the spaces are filled with the tall-plumed ferns
          and the triumphing forest-weeds;
The thick wild raspberries hem its walls, and, stretch-        85
          ing on either hand,
The red-ribbed stems and the giant-leaves of the
          sovereign spikenard stand.
So lonely and silent it is, so withered and warped
          with the sun and snow                                                   90
You would think it the fruit of some dead man’s toil
          a hundred years ago;
And he who finds it suddenly there, as he wanders
          far and alone,
Is touched with a sweet and beautiful sense of some-        95
          thing tender and gone,
The sense of struggling life in the waste, and the
          mark of a soul’s command,
The going and coming of vanished feet, the touch of
          a human hand.                                                             100