From the Green Book of the Bards

by Bliss Carman


 

AMONG THE ASPENS


 

I

THE LOST WORD

 

The word of the wind to the aspens
I listened all day to hear;
But over the hill or down in the swale
He vanished as I drew near.

I asked of the quaking shadows,

5

I questioned the shy green bird;
But the falling river bore away
The secret I would have heard.

Then I turned to my forest cabin
In a clove of the Kaaterskill;

10

And at dead of night, when the fire was low,
The whisper came to my sill.

Now I know there will haunt me ever
That word of the ancient tongue,
Whose golden meaning, half divined,

15

Was lost when the world was young.

I know I must seek and seek it,
Through the wide green earth and round,
Though I come in ignorance at last
To the place of the Grassy Mound.

20

Yet it may be I shall find it,
If I keep the patience mild,
The pliant faith, the eager mind,
And the heart of a little child.

 

II

LEAF TO LEAF

 

You know how aspens whisper
25

Without a breath of air!
I overheard one lisper
Yesterday declare,

"When all the woods are sappy
And the sweet winds arrive,

30

My dancing leaves are happy
Just to be alive."

And presently another,
With that laconic stir
We take to be each other,

35

Spoke and answered her,

"When the great frosts shall splinter
Our brothers oak and pine,
In the long night of winter
Glad fortitude be thine!"

40

And where the quiet river
Runs by the quiet hill,
I heard the aspens shiver,
Though all the air was still.

 

III

THE PASSER BY

 

Said Aspen Heart to Quaking Leaf,
45

"Who goes by on the hill,
That you should tremble at dead of noon
When the whole earth is still?"

Said Quaking Leaf to Aspen Heart,
"A loneliness drew nigh,

50

And fear was on us, when we heard
The mountain rain go by."

Said Aspen Heart to Quaking Leaf,
"Who went by on the hill?
The rain was but your old grey nurse

55

Crossing the granite sill."

Said Quaking Leaf to Aspen Heart,
"There was a ghostly sigh,
And frosty hands were laid on us,
As the lone fog went by."

60


Said Aspen Heart to Quaking Leaf,
"But who went by on the hill?
The white fogs were your playfellows,
And your companions still."

Said Quaking Leaf to Aspen Heart,

65
"We shook, I know not. why,
Huddled together when we saw
A passing soul go by."

 

IV

THE QUESTION

 

I wondered who
Kept pace with me, as I wandered through
70

The mountain gorges blue.

I said to the aspen leaves,
The timorous garrulous tribe of the forest folk,
"Who people the wilderness,
When the wind is away,

75

And sparrow and jay
Keep silence of noon on a summer day?"
And the leaves replied,
"You must question our brother the rain of the mountain-side."

Then I said to the rain,

80

The fleeing silvery multitudes of the rain,
"Who people the wilderness,
When the noon is still,
And valley and hill

Feel their pulses slow to the summer's will?"

85

And the rain replied,
"You must ask our brother the fog on the outward tide."

Then I said to the fog,
The ancient taciturn companies of the sea-mist,
"Who people the loneliness

90

When your hordes emerge
On the grey sea verge,
And the wind begins his wailing dirge?"
And the fog replied,
"Inquire of that inquisitor at your side."

95

Then I asked myself. But he knew,
If report of sense be true,
No more than you.

 

V

A SENTRY

 

All summer my companion
Was a white aspen-tree,
100

Far up the sheer blue canyon,
A glad door-ward for me.

There at the cabin entry,
Where beauty went and came,
Abode that quiet sentry,

105

Who knew the winds by name.

And when to that lone portal,
All the clear starlight through,
Came news of things immortal
No mortal ever knew,

110


That vigilant unweary
Kept solitary post,
And heard the woodpipes eery
Of a fantastic host,

Play down the wind in sadness,

115

Play up the wind in glee,—
The ancient lyric madness,
The joy that is to be.

They passed; the music ended;
And through those rustling leaves

120
The morning sun descended,
With peace about my eaves.