Treasure Island

Philip Henry Savage

(1868-1899 / the United States)

Solitude


I KNOW a little patch of mountain ground.
Low-settled by itself; and Moosilauke
Stands boldly in the west but never sees
Its little group of buildings and the elm
Close by the door. And farther in the north,
Bearing his sun-scarred summit proudly forth,
Stands noble Lafayette; he looks abroad
Across the sunny hamlet where the meadows
Shine with a softer green, yet scarcely knows
This low gray dwelling and beside the door
Its ancient elm-tree; yet do Lafayette
And Moosilauke the mountain and the deep,
Aspiring hills feel through their silent hearts
The birth and progress, Woodstock, of thy streams,
Born of the mossy mountains and the rocks
And running through the hills; and they in turn
Do visit and confirm the house in joy.
Gray with the touch of nature, friend familiar
Of forests and their mosses, with its roofs
Long-sloping to the west, I see it stand,
With gables not uncopied from the hills,
The mountain house, the home of quietness.
The village knew it not; beyond the hill
It was itself a hamlet; here there stood
Its tributary fields and pastures, here
A crystal source of water and a world
Of timber, and its flocks were on the hills.
There lay the little graveyard in the pines,
And these with larches and small maples made
A decent graveyard shadow; and I see
One queer, untutored apple that has placed
His foot beyond the pale, dropping his fruit
On the most ancient grave; all round about
Are golden meadows quiet in the sun,
With ombrel elm-trees dotting out the green.

This is the gate to Solitude; one day
I crossed the yard to where an old man sat
And questioned him, although I knew him not,
Brought here among the sources of the hills
Close to the thought of small simplicity.
I asked him, 'Where is Solitude?' He rose,
And pointing with his cane across the ridge
Described a course that drew my heart in joy;
'Beyond the sheepfold follow the small lane
Across the first low ridge; the cattle there
Are mine and mine the pasture to the wood;
The lane will enter through the trees and lead
A mile or more over and up the slope,
There where you see the pines; let down the bars
At the upper end and that is Solitude.'
I never started out on any course
With half the joy I felt for Solitude!
Rocks in the pasture lay, oases bare
In deserts of green grass! I moved among
The beasts and stood beside them where they drank
The stony pasture stream, where little grass
Crept thickly down the bank beside the shallows.
I wet my lips; 't is like a sacrament
To touch wild water where the cattle drink;
And more, I guessed it came from Solitude.
Then at the entrance of the trees I stood,
Ground the hard earth beneath my foot, and sent
A proud glance northward; he who thus can stand
On Moosilauke and look on Lafayette
Is master of the western hills; below,
Beyond the trees and pasture lay the valley
Voiceless and crowded by the mountains round
In multitude so great I turned and fled
Up the long, turning footway of the lane.
Ah, silence in the forest! I have learned
More from the hush of forests than from speech
Of many teachers, more of joy at least,
And that quick sympathy where joy has birth;
A thousand times called outward from myself
By life at every point, ten thousand things
Speaking at once in tones so sharp and sweet
Their voice was pain, but pain as life is pain
Beneath the over-chorus of the sky;
In silence finding joy to know myself
Deep in the heart of nature and the world.
As one advances up the slow ascent
Along the pathway in the woods the trees
Change aspect, nor alone in this but change
In stature and in power till Solitude
Seems cut out of the ancient forest. Here
Was Solitude! where man had lived of old,
Loved, serving God, and built himself a home.
Man smooths an acre on the rolling earth,
Turns up the mould and reaps the gifts of God;
Plucks down the apple from the tree, the tree
From empire in the forest, builds a home;
Turns for a bout among his brothers, wins
A sister to his wife and gets an heir;
And then as here in Solitude departs
And leaves small mark behind. The place is rare
In this high epic of the human life.
Where wildness has been wilderness shall be,
But give God time; and life is but a span,
Nine inches, while before it and behind
Stretches the garden of the cosmic gods;
For after London, England shall be wild
And none can thaw the iceberg at the pole.
In Solitude one sees the winding trace
Of what has been a road, a block of stone
Footworn, that lies along the dim pathway
Before one old foundation; and the rest
Is freaks of grass among the rising growth
Of birch and maple that another year
Shall see almost a forest.

Submitted: Monday, October 18, 2010

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