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Elk Country

Silas Weir Mitchell 1829 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) – 1914 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)



FROM lands of the elk and the pine-tree,
Of hemlock and whitewood and maple,
You ask me to write you a lyric
Shall thrill with the cries of the forest,
And flow like the sap of the maple,—
The rich yellow blood of the maple,
That hath such a wild, lusty sweetness,
Such a taste of the wilderness in it.
And surely 't were pleasant to summon
The days which so lately have vanished,
The friends who were part of their pleasure.
Right cheery for me, in the city,
To think once again of the sunsets
We watched from the crest of the hilltop,
Alone on the stumps in the clearing;
When slowly the forms of the mountains,
Our own hills, our loved Alleghanies,
Grew hazy and distant and solemn,
Cloaked each with the shade of his neighbor;
Like rigid old Puritans scorning
The passion and riot of color,
Of yellow and purple and scarlet,
Which haunt the gay court of the sunset,
Where Eve, like a wild Cinderella,
Awaits the gray fairy of twilight.
Sweet, ever, to think of the forests,
Their cool, woody fragrance delicious;
To think of the camp-fires we builded
To baffle those terrible pungies;
To think how we wandered, bewildered
With wood-dreams and delicate fancies
Unknown to the life of the city.
To tread but those cushioning mosses;
To lie, almost float, on the fern-beds;
To feel the crisp crush of the foot on
The mouldering logs of the windfall,
Were things to be held in remembrance.
Dost recall how we lingered to listen
The sound of the wood-robin's bugle,
Or bent the witch-hopple to guide us,
As one folds the page he is reading,
And felt, as we peered through the stillness,
Through armies and legions of tree-trunks,
Such solemn and brooding sensations
As told of the birth of religions,
As whispered how men grow to Druids
When the fly-wheel of work is arrested,
And they live the still life of the forest?
Ay, here in the face of the woodman,
You see how the woods have been preaching,
As he leans on the logs of his cabin
To watch the prim city-folk coming
O'er the chips, and the twigs, and the stubble,
Through the fire-scarred stumps, and the hemlocks
His axe hath so ruthlessly girdled.
Ay, he too has learned in the forest,
One half of him Nimrod and slayer,
Unsparing, enduring, and tireless,
In wait for the deer at the salt-lick;
Yet one stronger half of his nature—
This rough and bold out-of-door nature.
Hath touches of sadness upon it,
And is grown to the ways of the forest,
Till wildness and softness together;
Are one in the sap of his being.

Right pleasant it were, friend and lady,
To tell you some tale of the woodland;
Of childish and simple conceptions,
And find in their half-spoken meanings
Some thought all the nations have muttered
In the parable tongues of their childhood.
Alas for the tale and the writer!
The land has no story to tell us,—
No voice save the Clarion's waters,
No song save the murm'rous confusion
Of winds gone astray in the pine-tops,
Or the roar of the rain on the hemlocks;—
No record, no sign, not a word of
The lords of the axe and the rifle,
Who camped by the smooth Alleghany,
And blazed the first tree on the mountain.
Yet here, even here in the forest,—
The soul-calming deep of the forest,
Where cat-birds are noisy and dauntless,
And deft little miserly squirrels
Are hoarding the beech-nuts for winter;
Where rattlesnakes charm, and the hoot-owl
By night sounds his murderous war-pipe,
Yes, here in the last home of Nature,
Where the greenness that swells o'er the hillock
Is pink with the blossoming laurel,
The wants of the city still haunt us,
When busy blue axes are ringing,
And totter the kings of the mountain.
Ah, well you recall, I can fancy,
The morn we looked down on the valley
That bears the proud name of the battle,
Itself a fair field for the winning;
Recall, too, the frank speech which told us
Who felled the first tree in the valley
Where now the red heifers are browsing,
And reapers are swinging their cradles,
And fat grow the stacks with the harvest.
Canst see, too, the dam and the mill-pond,
The trees in the dark amber water,
Where thousands of pine logs are tethered,
With maple and black birch and cherry?
Canst hear, as I hear, the gay hum of
The bright, whizzing saw in the steam-mill,
Its up-and-down old-fashioned neighbor
Singing, 'Go it!' and 'Go it!' and 'Go it!'
As it whirrs through the heart of the pine-tree,
And
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:57 min read
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Silas Weir Mitchell

Silas Weir Mitchell (February 15, 1829 – January 4, 1914) was an American physician, scientist, novelist, and poet. He is considered the father of medical neurology, and he discovered causalgia (complex regional pain syndrome) and erythromelalgia, and pioneered the rest cure. more…

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    "Elk Country" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 21 Oct. 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/43485/elk-country>.

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