Thomas Bailey Aldrich

(November 11, 1836 – March 19, 1907 / Portsmouth, New Hampshire)

Elmwood - Poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Here, in the twilight, at the well-known gate
I linger, with no heart to enter more.
Among the elm-tops the autumnal air
Murmurs, and spectral in the fading light
A solitary heron wings its way
Southward--save this no sound or touch of life.
Dark is the window where the scholar's lamp
Was used to catch a pallor from the dawn.

Yet I must needs a little linger here.
Each shrub and tree is eloquent of him,
For tongueless things and silence have their speech.
This is the path familiar to his foot
From infancy to manhood and old age;
For in a chamber of that ancient house
His eyes first opened on the mystery
Of life, and all the splendor of the world.
Here, as a child, in loving, curious way,
He watched the bluebird's coming; learned the date
Of hyacinth and goldenrod, and made
Friends of those little redmen of the elms,
And slyly added to their winter store
Of hazel-nuts: no harmless thing that breathed,
Footed or winged, but knew him for a friend.
The gilded butterfly was not afraid
To trust its gold to that so gentle hand,
The bluebird fled not from the pendent spray.
Ah, happy childhood, ringed with fortunate stars!
What dreams were his in this enchanted sphere,
What intuitions of high destiny!
The honey-bees of Hybla touched his lips
In that old New-World garden, unawares.

So in her arms did Mother Nature fold
Her poet, whispering what of wild and sweet
Into his ear--the state-affairs of birds,
The lore of dawn and sunset, what the wind
Said in the tree-tops--fine, unfathomed things
Henceforth to turn to music in his brain:
A various music, now like notes of flutes,
And now like blasts of trumpets blown in wars.
Later he paced this leafy academe
A student, drinking from Greek chalices
The ripened vintage of the antique world.
And here to him came love, and love's dear loss;
Here honors came, the deep applause of men
Touched to the heart by some swift-winged word
That from his own full heart took eager flight--
Some strain of piercing sweetness or rebuke,
For underneath his gentle nature flamed
A noble scorn for all ignoble deed,
Himself a bondman till all men were free.

Thus passed his manhood; then to other lands
He strayed, a stainless figure among courts
Beside the Manzanares and the Thames.
Whence, after too long exile, he returned
With fresher laurel, but sedater step
And eye more serious, fain to breathe the air
Where through the Cambridge marshes the blue Charles
Uncoils its length and stretches to the sea:
Stream dear to him, at every curve a shrine
For pilgrim Memory. Again he watched
His loved syringa whitening by the door,
And knew the catbird's welcome; in his walks
Smiled on his tawny kinsmen of the elms
Stealing his nuts; and in the ruined year
Sat at his widowed hearthside with bent brows
Leonine, frosty with the breath of time,
And listened to the crooning of the wind
In the wide Elmwood chimneys, as of old.
And then--and then....

The after-glow has faded from the elms,
And in the denser darkness of the boughs
From time to time the firefly's tiny lamp
Sparkles. How often in still summer dusks
He paused to note that transient phantom spark
Flash on the air--a light that outlasts him!

The night grows chill, as if it felt a breath
Blown from that frozen city where he lies.
All things turn strange. The leaf that rustles here
Has more than autumn's mournfulness. The place
Is heavy with his absence. Like fixed eyes
Whence the dear light of sense and thought has fled,
The vacant windows stare across the lawn.
The wise sweet spirit that informed it all
Is otherwhere. The house itself is dead.

O autumn wind among the sombre pines,
Breathe you his dirge, but be it sweet and low.
With deep refrains and murmurs of the sea,
Like to his verse--the art is yours alone.
His once--you taught him. Now no voice but yours!
Tender and low, O wind among the pines.
I would, were mine a lyre of richer strings,
In soft Sicilian accents wrap his name.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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