Beyond the Hills of Dream

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

The Tree of Truth


 

THERE grows a mighty centuried tree,
     Its roots athwart the world,
Its branches wide as earth’s wide girth
     By thousand dews impearled.
 
Its top is hoary, its wide boughs
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     Reach out to heaven above,
Its roots are knowledge, and its sap
     The yearning heart of love.
 
Men hack its branches, curb its roots,
     To trim it to their ken,
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Or hide its green in poisonous vines
     From evil’s grimmest fen. 

But evermore while ages wane,
     And centuries rise and die,
Through dark, though light, through good and ill,

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     Its sap the years defy.
 
For deeper in the heart of things,
     And older far than time,
Its roots are fixed in those sure deeps
     From which the centuries climb.
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Ages ago its girth was great;
     Its boughs o’er earth’s wide lands;
All peoples gathered ’neath its glades
     Where now old ruin stands.
 
But form and custom staled its green
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     And curbed it into bounds
Of pruning hooks and greedy walls
     That hemmed its sacred rounds.
 
And vast and wide where once to all
     Its radiant leaves were free,
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Far peoples paid, with earth’s red gold,
     Its sacred home to see.

And summer by summer, yea, year by year,
     Still lower shrank its head,
Till shallow deceit and life’s despair
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     Declared its heart was dead.
 
Then men cried, “We will hew it down,
     And build from out its wood
A temple rare wherein to teach
     Us memory of its good.
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“And ’neath its shelter we will keep,
     To hold the ages’ youth,“
Those holy dreams our fathers drew
     From out the tree of truth.” 

They hacked and hewed, they sawed and planed,

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     They lopped its branches wide,
Till shorn and bare the old tree stood
     To every wind and tide.
 
And round its scathed and ruined trunk,
     Whence life had fled aloof,
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They built a temple carved and arched
     From floor to groined roof.
 
And reared a shrine where art was all
     The end of human pain,
Till a sprout shot forth from the old tree’s trunk
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     And burst its walls amain;
 
A sturdy, wayward, wilding growth,
     That mocked their maimèd dream
Of life and truth in legend carved
     On groinèd arch and beam.
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Men stood amazed.  The teachers cried,
     “Behold the curse of earth!
Its life must die or all our words
     Are but as nothing worth.”

“Nay, nay,” cried others, “but let it stand,
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     Perchance a miracle.
”Then straight about its burgeoning boughs
     Old bloody battles fell.
 
Wild clamor and clash of fiery arms,
     The old against the new.
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Mad hosts arrayed with banner and blade,
     Where war’s wild trumpets blew. 

But as they strove by gates of blood,
     With glad unconscious youth,
Higher and wider skyward climbed

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     The newer tree of truth.
 
And blithe within its boughs their nests
     The birds of heaven made,
While at its foot mid earth’s old ruins,
     The happy children played.
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And form and cant were swept away,
     While under its dream sublime,
Men drank anew ’neath heaven’s arch
     From nature for a time.
 
Yea, still it spreads its antres vast,
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     Through peace and clash of arms,
 And blossoms brave and blithe and free,
     O’er all earth’s shrunk alarms. 

And still men battle to destroy
     The living for the dead

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Old ruined trunk of that which towers
     Its glories overhead:
 
And strive for art’s distorted ways,
     While from earth’s heart of youth,
Higher and wider heavenward spreads
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     The ancient tree of truth.