WHEN I was but a little boy
Who hunted in the wood
To scare or mangle or destroy
—A freakish elemental joy
That tasted life and found it good—
I hardly heard the awful ban
That mutters round the free,
But followed where the waters ran,
And wondered when the pipe of Pan
Shook silence with its minstrelsy.
Where sun-spray glittered on my limbs
I danced, and laughed, and trilled
My happy incoherent hymns,
Sped only by the whirling whims
With which my eager heart was filled.
The wind was glad and so was I;
My soul lay open wide,
Reflecting all the starry sky;
The swallows called to me to fly;
I dreamed of how the fishes glide.
But while my errant feet were set
On mosses cool and sweet,
The great grey phantoms brooding met
Within the shades, and cast a net
With dreary charms about my feet.
They pent me in a barren place,
A city, so they said,
Of gallant wonder-working grace
—But haunted, haunted by a race
Of rigid unperceptive dead.
With sightless eyes they pored on books,
And scrawled on many a sheet
Their regimental strokes and hooks,
And stalked about with pompous looks,
Top-hatted, in the civil street.
I strove to flee, but everywhere
Met solid-seeming walls;
And yet I knew the world was fair,
And, hearkening well, heard, even there,
A bird and distant waterfalls.
And love which I had scarcely known
Leaped upward as I heard;
I blessed the creek, the mossy stone,
The fern along the gully strown,
The little beasts, the piping bird.
Could walls o’ermaster one who knew
The world of outer light?
The very shadow that they threw
Was tindured with a deeper blue
Because the quickening sun was bright.
I laughed aloud, as one who leaps
Against a curling wave,
And, as a widening ripple creeps,
A shudder caught the stony steeps,
And life shook, laughing, in the grave.
“O phantoms, who are you to fix
Eternal towers of pride?”
I mocked at their fantastic tricks,
I thrust my fingers through the bricks
And felt the flowers the other side.
I pricked my pointed ears to hear
The love-song of the bird,
And dear was every note, and dear
The myriad sounds that echoed near
The magically chorus’d word.
I saw the fading phantoms glare;
Their tones to silence hissed.
The walls bulged, brightening everywhere,
And thinned and melted in the air
To ragged streams of rosy mist.
Trill, happy bird, for ever trill,
For I have learned to bless
The great grey shades whose thwarted will
Turned earth to heaven; and I am still
A dweller in the wilderness.