The Way-Side Elm

Category: Poetry
Standing alone by the highway side,
Stately, and stalwart, and tempest-tried,
Staunch of body and strong of bough,
Fronting the sky with an honest brow,
King of the forest and field is he -
Yon way side watcher - the old Elm tree.

When kindly Summer, with smile serene,
Drapes branch and bough in her robe of green,
Ever the joyous, wild birds come
And sing 'mid the clustering leaves at home;
Ever the soft winds, to and fro,
Steal through the branches with music low,
And golden sunbeams sparkle and play,
And dance with shadows the livelong day.

Up to his forehead undimmed by time,
The morning sun-ray is first to climb,
With the tender touch of its earliest beam
To break the spell of his dewy dream;
And there the longest, when daylight dies,
The rosy lustre of sunset lies,
As loath to fade on the distant sea,
Without an adieu to the old Elm tree.

And grand it is, when the wintry blast
With shout and clamor is sweeping past,
To watch the stately and stern old tree
As he battles alone on the wintry lea,
With leafy crown to the four winds cast,
And stout arms bared to the ruffian blast;
Or fiercely wrestles with wind and storm,
Unbowed of forehead, unbent of form.

O proud old tree! O loneliest tree!
Thy strong-limbed brothers have passed from thee; -
One by one they've been swept away,
And thou alone - of the centuries grey
That have come and gone since thy hour of birth,
And left their scars on the patient earth -
Remainest to speak to the world and me
Of hoarded secrets that dwell with thee.

What of thy birth-hour? what of thy prime?
Who trod the wastes in that olden time?
Who gathered flowers where thy shadows lay?
Who sought thy coolness at noon of day?
What warrior chieftains, what woodland maids,
Looked up to thee from the dusky glades?
Who warred and conquered, who lived and died
In those far off years of the forest's pride?

No voice, no answer! So I, too, speak,
Yet mine, as the insect's call, is weak
To break thy silence, thou lonely tree,
Or win a whispered reply from thee.
Yet, teacher mine, thou hast taught my heart
What soon from its records will not depart -
A lesson of patience, a lesson of power,
Of courage that fails not in danger's hour,
Of calm endurance through winter's gloom,
Of patient waiting for summer's bloom,
And, heavenward gazing, through storm and night,
Like thee to watch for the dawning light.

Available translations:

English (Original)