After ‘Tintern Abbey’
Five years are gone, five weary years since I,
Climbing by a long and rocky path,
First walked among that ancient grove of pines,
Sheltered in a winding canyon. High
Above, there tower lofty peaks
Whose granite bastions mock the blows
And buffets of an ever-swirling wind,
While on their crowns, the winters snows yet clung
To precipices sheer, and as the noon’s
Fierce rays of blinding sun illuminate
Each deep moraine, each lofty cornice,
Ice, melting slowly in the warming rays,
Gives birth to rivulets. These merge and form
A cataract which thunders from on high
And fills the canyon’s head with thunderous roar
Of nature’s violent turbulence. Below,
These azure tumults roil and pool before
Finding outlet, streaming merrily
Along the canyon’s floor, now hiding in
The darkness of the spreading pines’ thick boughs,
Now carving at some wall of rock to sport
Among its fallen stones. And when this stream
Pools at some wide and lonely spot its depths,
As frigid as the snows from which they rise,
Give shelter to innumerable trout and slake
The tongues of many wild beasts and birds.
I sat an age beside that mountain stream
And watched its waters laugh among the roots
Which, jumbled, form the bank. It was a scene
Of beauty crystalline, as evening’s light,
Sinking down behind the rocky peaks,
Bathed the canyon in pale light. The wind,
Chilled by the ice fields high above,
Played about the whispering branches of
The trees, and sent their needles, heavy with
The resin’d scent of sap, aloft. That smell!
The mountain air, cool earth and pine and rock,
Lingers with me still.
As down I climbed,
Full with the sublime and lofty peace
Of nature, I resolved to store in my mind
The memory of that happy hour as
A balm for later years: when I returned
To the city and again grew ill
With its dull, unending toil, each
Day, each hour of my life assigned
A task, my every thought consumed by the
Unceasing mandates of a laboring
And consuming world, then
Within those memories I might find a cure
More potent than a physic could prescribe.
Perhaps as, sick at heart, I left my work
I’d be stricken by a blast of air,
Frigid as those snows; or else a scent
Of pine, wafted by some zephyr sweet,
Would call to mind that rock, that stream,
Refreshing for me all my memories
Of those tranquil hours among the hills.
So I hoped.
But now I’ve heard that grove,
Those peaceful, noble pines whose boughs o’erhung
The frigid stream, has burned. An errant spark,
A campfire left to die, by autumn’s wind
Was nursed into a blaze which lept
Between the trees as eager as a roe.
The whispering needles caught and, borne aloft
By furnace-blasted wind, played in the flame
And choking pall of smoke. The canyon now
Is waste, a valley mute with ash and broken
Only by the blackened stumps of trees.
That ancient wood, beset for centuries
By fire, beetle, snow, and parching draught,
Was nonetheless adapted, and so lived,
Now flourishing, now waning as the earth
Traced her natural cycles down the years.
But we, in getting, spending, have lain waste,
Have broken nature’s union, and the flood
No longer follows drought, which lasts for years.
The forest burns, the roaring cataract
Is silenced as the snows themselves now fall
Less thick, less often on the peaks. Those ills
Which, laboring and consuming, sickened me
In the city have become so great
That even memory offers no escape:
The frigid blast, the scent of pine recall,
Not the valley or the happy hour,
But all our faults, our growth and waste that so
Beset the world that even Nature’s life,
Her beauty, chokes and dies.
The canyon will regrow, and in years hence
The wind will play again, though if its airs
Shall light on towering pines or on the dry
And fragrant sagebrush is beyond my sight.
Though we may affront those places which
Are decorated most with Nature’s charms,
We cannot yet undo Her generative
Ability. For Nature’s power of growth,
Her verdancy, does seem beyond the reach
Of even our most greedy tendencies:
All fallow places could regrow with years.
Until such time as policy or chance
Again gives Nature license to make Earth
Resplendent with her greens and golds, we shall
Still possess those forests of the mind,
In whose dim paths we may yet pass at will.
My memories of those spreading pines, which I
Once counted on to soothe my days, instead
May be a storehouse of those things which time
And human weakness have erased. Only
Imagined do those darkened trees now stand,
And yet their memory is more dear to me
For loss: I find repast again among
Their shaded trunks, and in remembering,
Preserve a beauty that has passed from us.