Backward gazing through the shadows.
As the evening fades away,
I perceive the little footprints,
Where the morning sunlight lay,
Warm and mellow, on the pathway
Leading to the open door
Of the cabin in the clearing,
Where my soul reclines once more.
Oh! that cabin in the clearing,
Where my Mary came, a bride,
Where our children grew to love us,
Where our little Robbie died:
Still in memory blooms the redbud
By the doorway, and the breeze
Tingles with the spicewood's odor
And the catbird's melodies.
And I mind the floor of puncheons,
Rudely laid on joist and sill,
And the fireplace shaped and beaten
From the red clay on the hill;
With the chimney standing outside,
Like a blind man asking alms,
Wrought of sticks and clay and fashioned
By the builder's ready palms.
Half way up the flue, wide-throated,
Does the hickory crosstree rest,
Whence depend the pot and kettle,
Where the great fire blazes best.
Oh! I smell the savory venison,
Hear the hominy simmer low,
As my Mary stirs the embers
That were ashes long ago.
Once again I hurry homeward,
When the day of toil is o'er,
And my heart leaps up in gladness,
For in this wide open door,
Mary in her homespun habit,
With her hand above her eyes,
Gazes all around the clearing
Till my coming form she spies.
'Tis for her I am a hunter,
And the fleet deer's sudden bound
Tells how swift and sure my aim is,
Ere his life-tide dyes the ground;
'Tis for her I am an angler,
And the spotted beauties woo
From their paradise of waters,
Ere the sun has dried the dew.
And the wild rose and the bluebell
That I pluck with gentle care,
Are for her who rules the cabin-
Mary, of the raven hair;
'Tis for her I smite the forest
Day by day with myriad blows;
'Tis for her the cornstalk tassels,
And the golden pumpkin grows.
Often, winding through the woodlands,
Neighbors come with song and shout,
Eager for a day of pleasure
Where the latch-string hangeth out.
And with ready hands assist us
At our labors, while the zest
Of our conversation heightens
Till the sun goes down the west.
Aye, and once again I see them,
On a sad, sweet summer day
When the robin on the maple
Seems to sing his soul away;
And the clearing swims around me
In a tangled dream of woe,
And my weeping Mary whispers,
"Tell me why he had to go?"
"Why he had to go?" O Heaven!
"Did God want our little boy?"
'Tis the old, unanswered question,
Cankering in the heart of joy,
And subduing many a pleasure,
As I see those friends of old,
Hiding tenderly our darling
In the forest's virgin mold.
Now, that cabin in the clearing
Is but dust, blown here and there,
Where the palpitating engines
Breathe their darkness on the air;
Where my forests towered in beauty,
Now a smoky village stands,
And the rows of factories cluster
Grimly on my fertile lands.
Scarcely room enough is left me
For this double, clustering rose,
Where the baby and its mother
Side by side in earth repose;
Soon the last fond trace will vanish
Which proclaims that they have been;
But no matter—heaven's gateway
Opened wide to let them in.
Yet with Mary oft I linger,
Where the well-sweep slanteth low,
Planning over all our labors,
When to plant and what to sow,
How to ride to Sunday meeting—
Fixing on a proper day
For the rolling and the quilting,
And the young folks' evening play.
"Eighty, and a memory only!"
Is that what you speak of me?
Well, the memory is a blessing,
And its pictures fair to see;
While the fairest and the sweetest
Lingers with me evermore—
'Tis the cabin in the clearing,
And my Mary at the door.