Page images
PDF
EPUB

Almost a smile to steal to cheer her son's,
As if one riddle of the Sphinx were guessed.

II.

THE TITMOUSE.

You shall not be overbold
When

you

deal with arctic cold, As late I found

my

lukewarm blood Chilled wading in the snow-choked wood. 5 How should I fight? my foeman fine

Has million arms to one of mine:
East, west, for aid I looked in vain,
East, west, north, south, are his domain.

Miles off, three dangerous miles, is home ; 10 Must borrow his winds who there would come.

Up and away for life! be fleet! -
The frost-king ties my fumbling feet,
Sings in my ears, my hands are stones,
Curdles the blood to the marble bones,

343. The Sphinx in classical mythology was a monster having a human head, a lion's body, and sometimes fabled as winged. It used to propose a question to the Thebans and murder all who could not guess it. The riddle was,

“What goes on four feet, on two feet, and three,

But the more feet it goes on the weaker it be?” Edipus gave the answer that it was man, going on four feet as a child, and when old using a staff which made the third foot. But the Sphinx's riddle in the old poetry and in the serious modern acceptation is nothing .ess than the whole problem of human life.

15 Tugs at the heart-strings, numbs the sense,

And hems in life with narrowing fence.
Well, in this broad bed lie and sleep,
The punctual stars will vigil keep,

Embalmed by purifying cold, 20 The winds shall sing their dead-march old,

The snow is no ignoble shroud,
The moon thy mourner, and the cloud.

Softly, — but this way fate was pointing, 'T was coming fast to such anointing, 25 When piped a tiny voice hard by,

Gay and polite, a cheerful cry,
Chic-chicadeedee! saucy note
Out of sound heart and merry throat,

As if it said, “ Good day, good sir ! 30 Fine afternoon, old passenger!

Happy to meet you in these places,
Where January brings few faces.”

a

This poet, though he live apart,
Moved by his hospitable heart,
35 Sped, when I passed his sylvan fort,

To do the honors of his court,
As fits a feathered lord of land ;
Flew near, with soft wing grazed my hand,

Hopped on the bough, then, darting low, 40 Prints his small impress on the snow,

Shows feats of his gymnastic play,
Head downward, clinging to the spray.

Here was this atom in full breath, Hurling defiance at vast death; 45 This scrap of valor just for play

Fronts the north-wind in waistcoat gray,

As if to shame my weak behavior ;
I greeted loud my little saviour,

“ You pet! what dost here? and what for ?
50 In these woods, thy small Labrador,

At this pinch, wee San Salvador!
What fire burns in that little chest
So frolic, stout, and self-possest?

Henceforth I wear no stripe but thine ; 55 Ashes and jet all hues outshine.

Why are not diamonds black and gray,
To ape thy dare-devil array ?
And I affirm, the spacious North

Exists to draw thy virtue forth. 60 I think no virtue goes with size;

The reason of all cowardice
Is, that men are overgrown,
And, to be valiant, must come down
To the titmouse dimension."

1

a

65 T is good-will makes intelligence,

And I began to catch the sense
Of
my
bird's
song:

“ Live out of doors
In the great woods, on prairie floors.

I dine in the sun; when he sinks in the sea,
70 I too have a hole in a hollow tree;

And I like less when Summer beats
With stilling beams on these retreats,
Than noontide twilights which snow makes

With tempest of the blinding flakes.
75 For well the soul, if stout within,

Can arm impregnably the skin;
And polar frost my frame defied,

Made of the air tha: blows outside." 78. The titmouse's frame made of the outer air to his fancy w light, free, and strong as it is — can well defy polar frost.

With glad remembrance of my debt, 80 I bomeward turn; farewell, my pet!

When here again thy pilgrim comes,
He shall bring store of seeds and crumbs.
Doubt not, so long as earth has bread,

Thou first and foremost shalt be fed; 85 The Providence that is most large

Takes hearts like thine in special charge,
Helps who for their own need are strong,
And the sky dotes on cheerful song.

Henceforth I prize thy wiry chant
90 O'er all that mass and minster vaunt;

For men mis-hear thy call in spring,
As 't would accost some frivolous wing,
Crying out of the hazel copse, Phe-be!

And, in winter, Chic-a-dee-dee!
95 I think old Cæsar must have heard

In northern Gaul my dauntless bird,
And, echoed in some frosty wold,
Borrowed thy battle-numbers bold.

And I will write our annals new, 100 And thank thee for a better clew,

I, who dreamed not when I came here
To find the antidote of fear,
Now hear thee say in Roman key,
Paan! Veni, vidi, vici.

a

114 Plutarch in his Life of Julius Cæsar, relates that, after Cæsar's victory over Pharnaces at Zela in Asia Minor, “when he gave a friend of his at Rome an account of this action, to ex press the promptness and rapidity of it, he used three words, came, saw, and conquered, which in Latin having all the same cadence, carry with them a very suitable air of brevity."

INI.

MONADNOC.

THOUSAND minstrels woke within me,

" Our music 's in the hills;”
Gayest pictures rose to win me,

Leopard-colored rills.
5 “Up! - If thou knew'st who calls

To twilight parks of beech and pine,
High over the river intervals,
Above the ploughman's bighest line,

Over the owner's farthest walls !
1o Up! where the airy citadel

O'erlooks the surging landscape's swell!
Let not unto the stones the Day
Her lily and rose, her sea and land display;

Read the celestial sign'
15 Lo! the south answers to the north;

Bookworm, break this sloth urbane;
A greater spirit bids thee forth
Than the gray dreams which thee detain.

10. Any one who has stood upon the summit of Monadnoc, in Cheshire County, southern New Hampshire, would feel the significance not only of the surging landscape's swell, but of the airy citadel, since the crest of the mountain is a pinnacle of stone, built up almost like a fortress.

12. That is, let not the insensate stones be the only recipients of the splendors which the light reveals.

16. The use of urbane is a recall of ‘he first meaning of the word which is more distinct in c:ban. As a city (urbs) gives politeness, urbanity, and the country (rus) gives rusticity, here the sloth urbane is the indolence as regards nature which clings to a person too confined within city limits of interest.

« PreviousContinue »