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The Fallen Elm

The popinjay screamed from tree to tree,
Then was lost in the burnished leaves;
The sky was as blue as a southern sea,
And the swallow came back to the eaves.

So I followed the sound of pipe and bleat
To the glade where my dear old Elm,
With head majestic and massive feet,
Rules over a grassy realm.

When lo! where it once rose, robed and crowned,
Was naught but the leafless air:
Its limbs were low on the dinted ground,
And its body lay stripped and bare.

Then I sate on the prostrate trunk, and thought
Of the times that I there had strayed
From the clamour and strife of tongues, and sought
The peace of its silent shade;

And, with none anear save the browsing beeves,
Had lain and refreshed my soul
With the maiden grace of its waving leaves,
And the strength of its manly bole.

And I said, `Never more will the truant wind
Sit and swing in your lissom boughs;
Never more in your branches the ringdove find
A nook for its nuptial vows.

`Ne'er again will the thrifty squirrel store
In your hollows its wintry food,
And, unseen, in your rotted gnarls no more
Will the woodpecker hatch its brood.

`When the cuckoo and nightingale voice in parts
May's madrigal loud and clear,
And the kingfisher dives and the dragonfly darts,
You will neither feel nor hear.

`Nor will swain and his sweet, when the wain's in the shed,
And the shadows stretch long and dark,
Make tender tryst at your foot, and wed
Their names on your fluted bark.

`The seasons laugh at the seasons dead,
But never, when new Springs bleat,
Will you feel the sunshine around your head,
Or the moisture about your feet.

`And when Autumn's flail on the granary floor
Falls muffled by mellow sheaves,
Old elm, you will mirror yourself no more
In the lake of your littered leaves.'

Then in silence sadder than speech I sat,
When a tremor began to shake
The ribs of the elm as it lay there flat,
And a voice in the branches spake:

`Nay, pity me not, I am living still,
Though prone on the ploughed-up earth,
Though the woodreeve will lop me with hook and bill,
And the shroudmaker take my girth.

`'Twas pleasant, when sap began to stir,
And branch, spray, and bud to shoot,
To hearken the newly-paired partridge whirr,
And the croak of the pairing coot;

`When the broodmare suckled her long-limbed foal,
To watch lovers meet and part,
And to feel, as they nestled against my bole,
The beat of each trusting heart.

`But full as oft as on loving kiss
I gazed upon lonely tear;
And when drenched kine huddle and slant winds hiss,
Then living seemed long and drear.

`Now, when jackdaws starve and the blizzard bites,
And the furrows are flecked with sleet,
And the owl keeps snug in the thatch o'nights,
And the waggoner chafes his feet;

`When the empty nest in the leafless hedge
Sits sad where the sweet birds sang,
And the mallard croaks in the frozen sedge,
And the wings of the wildgeese twang;

`When the lean hare nibbles the birch-tree bark,
And the stoat grows lank and thin,
And the cubs of the vixen prowl the dark,
And the gossips sit and spin;

`They will carry me in from the well-walled garth,
Where the logs are split and stored,
And lay me down where the blazing hearth
Glints warm on the beakered board.

`I shall roar my stave through the chimney's throat,
When the husky hindmen troll,
And flicker low when to children's note
The graybeard nods his poll:

`Watch the ploughboy duck for the crab and miss,
While the bedesmen munch their dole,
And the buxom wench leaves a lickerish kiss
On the rim of the rounding bowl:

`See the children troop, ere they dint their beds,
And, hushing their pagan glee,
Raise dimpled hands, bow flaxen heads,
And pray at their mother's knee.

`Or, perched perchance at the windmill top,
I shall gaze upon gray-roofed farms,
When the clouds are still and the hurricanes drop;
Or up in my brawny arms

`Catch the idle winds as they lag at play,
That in toil they may take their share,
And round and round dip my foamless way
Through the sea of the shoreless air.

`I shall listen, hushed, to the stars at night,
Shall abide betwixt earth and sky:
While one lives and works at a lofty height,
One may change, but one does not die.

`In the stream you love, I may find a home,
Where the quince by the miller's door
Floats flowers as white as his unsluiced foam,
Or the meal on his powdered floor.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:01 min read

Alfred Austin

Alfred Austin DL was an English poet who was appointed Poet Laureate in 1896 upon the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. more…

All Alfred Austin poems | Alfred Austin Books

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