Did ever it come in your way to pass
The silvery pond with its fringe of grass;
And, threading the lane hard by, to see
The veteran ELM OF NEWBURY?
You saw how its roots had grasped the ground
As if it had felt that the earth went round,
And fastened them down with determined will
To keep it steady, and hold it still.
Its aged trunk, so stately and strong
Has braved the blasts as they're rushed along,
Its head has towered, and its arms have spread,
While more than a hundred years have fled!
Well, that old elm, that is now so grand,
Was once a twig in the rustic hand
Of a youthful peasant, who went one night
To visit his love, by the tender light
Of the modest moon and her twinkling host,
While the star that lighted his bosom most,
And gave to his lonely feet their speed,
Abode in a cottage beyond the mead!
'T was the peaceful close of a summer's day;
Its glorious orb had passed away;
The toil of the field till the morn had ceased,
For a season of rest to man and beast.
The mother had silenced her humming wheel;
The father returned for the evening meal,
The thanks of one who had chosen the part
Of the poor in spirit, the rich in heart,
Who, having the soul's grand panacea,
Feel all is added that's needful here;
And know this truth of the human breast,
That, wanting little, is being blest.
The good old man in his chair reclined,
At a humble door, with a peaceful mind,
While the drops from his sun-burnt brow were dried
By the cool, sweet air of the eventide.
The son from the yoke had unlocked the bow,
Dismissing the faithful ox to go
And graze in the close. He had called the kine
For their oblation at day's decline.
He'd gathered and numbered the lambs and sheep,
And fastened them up in their nightly keep.
He'd stood by the coop till the hen could bring
Her huddling brood safe under her wing;
And made them secure from the hooting owl,
Whose midnight prey was the shrieking fowl.
When all was finished, he sped to the well
Where the old gray bucket hastily fell,
And the clear cold water came up to chase
The dust of the field from his neck and face,
And hands and feet, till the youth began
To look renewed in the outer man;
And soon arrayed in his Sunday's best,
The stiff new suit had done the rest;
And the hale, young lover was on his way,
Where, through the fen and the field it lay;
And over the bramble, the brake and the grass,
As the shortest cut to the house of his lass.
It is not recorded how long he staid
In the cheerful home of the smiling maid;
But when he came out, it was late and dark,
And silent—not even a dog would bark,
To take from his feeling of loneliness,
And make the length of his way seem less.
He thought it was strange, that the treacherous moon
Should have given the world the slip so soon;
And, whether the eyes of the girl had made
The stars of the sky in his own to fade,
Or not, it certainly seemed to him,
That each grew distant, and small, and dim;
And he shuddered to think he now was about
To take a long and a lonely route;
For he did not know what fearful sight
Might come to him through the shadows of night!
An Elm grew close by the cottage's eaves;
So, he plucked him a twig well clothed with leaves,
And sallying forth with the supple arm,
To serve as a talisman parrying harm,
He felt that, though his heart was so big,
'T was even the stouter for having the twig.
For this, he thought, would answer to switch
The horrors away, as he crossed the ditch,
The meadow and copse, wherein, perchance,
Will-o'-the-wisp might wickedly dance;
And wielding it keep him from having a chill
At the menacing sound of 'Whip-poor-will!'
And his flesh from creeping beside the bog
At the harsh, bass voice of the viewless frog:—
In short, he felt that the switch would be
Guard, plaything, business and company!
When he got safe home, and joyfully found
He still was himself! and living! and sound!
He planted the twig by his family cot,
To stand as a monument marking the spot
It helped him to reach: and, what was still more,
Because it had grown by his fair one's door.
The twig took root; and as time flew by,
Its boughs spread wide, and its head grew high;
While the priest's good service had long been done,
Which made the youth and the maiden one;
And their young scions arose and played
Around the tree, in its leafy shade.
But many and many a year has fled
Since they were gathered among the dead.
And now their names with the moss o'ergrown,
Are veiled from sight on the church-yard stone,
That leans away, in a lingering fall,
And owns the power that shall level all
The works that the hand of man hath wrought,
Bring him to dust, and his name to nought.
While, near in view, and just beyond
The grassy skirts of the silver pond,
In its 'green old age,' stands the noble tree,
The veteran ELM OF NEWBURY.