Sagas of Vaster Britain: Poems of the Race, the Empire and the Divinity of Man

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

The Dryad


 

HER soul was sown with the seed of the tree
     Of old when the earth was young,
And glad with the light of its majesty
     The light of her beautiful being upgrew.
And the winds that swept over land and sea,
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     And like a harper the great boughs strung,
     Whispered her all things new.
 
The tree reached forth to the sun and the wind
     And towered to heaven above.
But she was the soul that under its rind
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     Whispered its joy through the whole wood’s span,
Sweet and glad and tender and kind;
     For her love for the tree was a holier love
     Than the love of woman for man.
 
The seasons came and the seasons went
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     And the woodland music rang;
And under her wide umbrageous tent,
     Hidden forever from mortal eye,
She sang earth’s beauty and wonderment.
     But men never knew the spirit that sang
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     This music too wondrous to die.
 
Only nature, forever young,
     And her children, forever true,
Knew the beauty of her who sung
     And her tender, glad love for the tree;
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Till on her music the wild hawk hung
     From his eyrie high in the blue
     To drink her melody free.
 
And the creatures of earth would creep from their haunts
     To stare with their wilding eyes,
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To hearken those rhythms of earth’s romance,
     That never the ear of mortal hath heard;
Till the elfin squirrels would caper and dance,
     And the hedgehog’s sleepy and shy surprise
     Would grow to the thought of a bird.
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And the pale wood-flowers from their cradles of dew
     Where they rocked them the whole night long,
While the dark wheeled round and the stars looked through
     Into the great wood’s slumbrous breast,
Till the gray of the night like a mist outblew;
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     Hearkened the piercing joy of her song
     That sank like a star in their rest.
 
But all things come to an end at last
     When the wings of being are furled.
And there blew one night a maddening blast
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     From those wastes where ships dismantle and drown,
That ravaged the forest and thundered past;
     And in the wreck of that ruined world
     The dryad’s tree went down. 

When the pale stars dimmed their tapers of gold,
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     And over the night’s round rim
The day rose sullen and ragged and cold,
     Over that wind-swept, desolate wild,
Where the huge trunks lay like giants of old,
     Prone, slain on some battlefield, silent and grim;
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     The wood-creatures, curious, mild,
 
Searching their solitudes, found her there
     Like a snowdrift out in the morn;
One lily are round the beech-trunk bare,
     One curved, cold, under her elfin head,
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With the beechen shine in her nut-brown hair,
     And the pallor of dawn on her face, love-lorn,
     Beautiful, passionless, dead.