The Soul's Quest and Other Poems

by Frederick George Scott





GREAT mother! from the depths of forest wilds,
From mountain pass and burning sunset plain,
We, thine unlettered children of the woods,
Upraise to thee the everlasting hymn
Of nature, language of the skies and seas,
Voice of the birds and sighing of the pine
In wintry wastes. We know none other tongue,
Nor the smooth speech that, like the shining leaves,
Hides the rough stems beneath. We bring our song,
Wood-fragrant, rough, yet autumn-streaked with love,
And lay it as a tribute at thy feet.
But should it vex thee thus to hear us sing,
Sad in the universal joy that crowns
This year of years, and shouldst thou deem our voice
But death-cry of the ages that are past,
Bear with us—say, “My children of the woods,
In language learnt from bird and wood and stream,
From changing moons and stars and misty lakes,
Pour forth their love, and lay it at my feet;
The voice is wild and strange, untuned to ear
Of majesty, ill-timed to fevered pulse
Of this young age, and meteor-souls that flash
New paths upon night’s dome; yet will I hear
This singing of my children ere they die.”

Great mother! thou art wise, they say, and good,

And reignest like the moon in autumn skies,
The world about thy feet. We have not seen
Thy face, nor the wild seas of life that surge
Around thy throne; but we have stood by falls,
Deep-shadowed in the silence of the woods,
And heard the water-thunders, and have said,
Thus is the voice of men about our Queen.
What is the red man but the forest stream,
The cry of screech-owl in the desert wilds?
This flood that overflows the hills and plains
Is not for us. Back, Westward, Northward, ay,
Up to eternal winter ’neath the stars,
Our path must be in silence, till the snows
And sun and wind have bleached our children’s bones.
The red must go; the axe and plough and plane
Are not for him. We perish with the pine,
We vanish in the silence of the woods;
Our footsteps, like the war-trail in the snow,
Grow fainter while the new spring buds with life.

Great mother! the white faces came with words

Of love and hope, and pointed to the skies,
And in the sunrise splendour set the throne
Of the Great Spirit, and upon the cross
Showed us His Son, and asked a throne for Him.
Their speech was music; but in camp at night
We brooded o’er the matter round the fire,
The shadowy pines about us, and the stars,
Set in the silent heavens, looking down.
We brooded o’er the matter days and years,
For thus each thought and thus each spake in words:
“We children of the woods have lived and died
In these our forests, since the first moon tipped
Their thousand lakes and rivers with her beams,
Pale silver in the fading sky of even.
Our fathers’ faces kindled in the glow
Of setting suns; they read the starlit sky;
They heard the Spirit’s breathing on the storm,
And on the quaking earth they felt His tread;
But never yet the story of His Son
Was wafted to them from the sighing woods,
Or bird or stream. Our fathers’ God is ours;
And as for these new words, we watch and wait.”

Great mother! we have waited days and years,
Thro’ spring and summer—summer, autumn, spring;
Brooding in silence, for anon we dreamed

A bird’s voice in our hearts half sung, “’Tis true.”
We listened and we watched the pale face come,
When, lo! new gods came with them—gods of iron
And fire, that shook the forests as they rushed,
Filling with thunder and loud screeching, plains,
Mountains, and woods, and dimming with their breath
The shining skies. These new gods, who were they,
That came devouring all, and blackening earth
And sky with smoke and thunder? We knew not,
But fled in terror further from the face
Of these white children and their gods of iron;
We heard no more their story of the Son,
And words of love. Their own lives were not love,
But war concealed and fire beneath the ash.
Thus ever now the burden of our speech—
We perish with the pine tree and the bird,
We vanish in the silence of the woods,
The white man’s hunting-ground, it is not ours;
We care not for his gods of iron and fire;
Our home is in the trackless wilds, the depths
Of mountain solitudes, by starlit lakes,
By noise of waters in the unchanging woods.

Great mother! we have wondered that thy sons,
Thy pale sons, should have left thy side and come
To these wild plains, and sought the haunts of bears

And red men. Why their battle with the woods?
Whither they go upon their gods of iron,
Out of the golden sunrise to the mists
Of purple evening in the setting west?
Their lives have scarce as many moons as ours,
Nor happier are. We know not what they seek;
For death’s cold finger chills their fevered life,
As in the wilds he stills the meanest worm,
And death flies with them over all their paths,
And waits them in the heart of wildest waste;
They cannot break his power. Forgive these thoughts
If, as they rise like mists, they dim the gold
That zones thy brow. They came to us at night,
As we have sat in council round the fire;
They seemed the echo of the sighing pines
Far in our soul. One evening rose a chief,
White-headed, bowed with years, one hand on staff,
One on death’s arm, preparing for the way.
“My sons,” he said, “these people are not wise.
We bide our time, and they will pass away;
Then shall the red man come like bird in spring,
And build the broken camp, and hunt and fish
In his old woods. These people pass away;
Then shall the red man come like bird in spring,
And build the broken camp, and hunt and fish
In his old woods. These people pass away;
For I have thought through many nights and days,
And wondered what they seek; and now I know,
And knowing, say these people are not wise.
They found these plains beneath the burning west,
And westward, ever westward, still they press,
Seeking the shining meadows of the land
Where the sun sleeps, and, folded ’neath his wings,
The happy spirits breathe eternal day.
But I have lived thro’ five score changing years,
And I have talked with wintry-headed chiefs,
And I have heard that kingdom is not reached
Thro’ woods and plains, but by the bridge of death.
This people is not wise; we bide our time.”

Great mother! they have told us that the snows

Of fifty winters sleep about thy throne,
And buds of spring now blossom with sweet breath
Beneath thy tread. They tell us of the sea,
And other lands, where other children dwell;
Of mighty cities and the gleam of gold,
Of empires wider than the shining plains
Viewed from giant hill, that lift thy throne above
The clouded mountain-tops. They tell us, too,
Of wonders in the home of man; of gods
Of iron and fire made servants, and of fire
Snatched from the clouds to flash man’s swiftest thought;
But these are not for us. The forest flower
Droops in the haunts of man; it needs the sky,
And smokeless air, and glances of the sun
Thro’ rustling leaves. We perish with the woods;
The plains are all before thee. Send thy sons
To plant and build, and drive their flashing gods,
Startling the forests, till, like ocean’s bounds,
Thine empire rolls in splendour from wide east
To widest west, broad fields of gold for thee
And thy white children; but our spirits wait
Amid the silent ages, and we pass
To where our fathers dwell, by silent streams,
And hunt in trackless wilds through cloudless days.
The wheels of thy great empire, as it moves
From east to west, from south to icy north,
Crush us to earth. We perish with the woods.

Great mother; if the changing moons have brought
Thee nearer to the darksome bridge that spans
The gulf between this and the eternal day,

If thy path and thy children’s be the same,
And thy feet follow where thy fathers went,
Perchance thy soul upon earth’s utmost verge,
The eternal sky about thee, and the deeps
Unfathomable beyond—perchance thy soul,
Grown weary with the fever of thy life,
May yearn for song of bird, and sighing pine,
And silent meditation of the woods;
Perchance, when, looking back from infinite skies
To restless man, thy soul, too, echoes, “Why?”
“Where?” and “Whither?” and thy heart may love
This death-song of thy children, ere they pass
With birds and forests to the silent land.
Perchance the white face told us what was true,
And love and hope wait by the throne of God.
The ruffled lake gives out but broken gleams
Of the clear stars above; so, restless life
May be the troubled reflex of the skies.
The world rolls onward, ever on and on,
Through clouded vast and moans of dying years,
Into the depths of sunset; but the light
Blinds our dim eyes, we cannot see the goal.
The spirit of the world is not for us;
We perish with the pine tree and the bird;
We bow our heads in silence. We must die.


* Indian for a cry of lamentation. [back]