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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Henry Clarence Kendall 1841–82

The Voice in the Wild Oak

TWELVE years ago, when I could face

High heaven’s dome with different eyes,

In days full-flowered with hours of grace,

And nights not sad with sighs,

I wrote a song in which I strove

To shadow forth thy strain of woe,

Dark widowed sister of the grove—

Twelve wasted years ago.

But youth was then too young to find

Those high authentic syllables

Whose voice is like the wintering wind

By sunless mountain fells;

Nor had I sinned and suffered then

To that superlative degree

That I would rather seek, than men,

Wild fellowship with thee.

But he who hears this autumn day

Thy more than deep autumnal rhyme,

Is one whose hair was shot with gray

By grief instead of time.

He has no need, like many a bard,

To sing imaginary pain,

Because he bears, and finds it hard,

The punishment of Cain.

No more he sees the affluence

Which makes the heart of Nature glad;

For he has lost the fine first sense

Of beauty that he had.

The old delight God’s happy breeze

Was wont to give, to grief has grown;

And therefore, Niobe of trees,

His song is like thine own.

But I, who am that perished soul,

Have wasted so these powers of mine,

That I can never write that whole,

Pure, perfect speech of thine.

Some lord of words august, supreme,

The grave, grand melody demands;

The dark translation of thy theme

I leave to other hands.

Yet here, where plovers nightly call

Across dim melancholy leas—

Where comes by whistling fen and fall

The moan of far-off seas—

A gray old Fancy often sits

Beneath thy shade with tired wings,

And fills thy strong, strange rhyme by fits

With awful utterings.

Then times there are when all the words

Are like the sentences of one

Shut in by fate from wind and birds

And light of stars and sun!

No dazzling dryad, but a dark

Dream-haunted spirit, doomed to be

Imprisoned, cramped in bands of bark,

For all eternity.

Yea, like the speech of one aghast

At Immortality in chains,

What time the lordly storm rides past

With flames and arrowy rains:

Some wan Tithonus of the wood,

White with immeasurable years—

An awful ghost, in solitude

With moaning moors and meres!

And when high thunder smites the hill

And hunts the wild dog to his den,

Thy cries, like maledictions, shrill

And shriek from glen to glen,

As if a frightful memory whipped

Thy soul for some infernal crime

That left it blasted, blind, and stripped—

A dread to Death and Time!

But when the fair-haired August dies,

And flowers wax strong and beautiful,

Thy songs are stately harmonies

By wood-lights green and cool,

Most like the voice of one who shows

Through sufferings fierce, in fine relief,

A noble patience and repose—

A dignity in grief.

But, ah! conceptions fade away,

And still the life that lives in thee,

The soul of thy majestic lay,

Remains a mystery!

And he must speak the speech divine,

The language of the high-throned lords,

Who ’d give that grand old theme of thine

Its sense in faultless words.

By hollow lands and sea-tracts harsh,

With ruin of the fourfold gale,

Where sighs the sedge and sobs the marsh,

Still wail thy lonely wail;

And, year by year, one step will break

The sleep of far hill-folded streams,

And seek, if only for thy sake,

Thy home of many dreams.