Mountain Pictures and Others

Sweet Fern

John Greenleaf Whittier

THE SUBTLE power in perfume found
    Nor priest nor sibyl vainly learned;
On Grecian shrine or Aztec mound
    No censer idly burned.

That power the old-time worships knew,
    The Corybantes’ frenzied dance,
The Pythian priestess swooning through
    The wonderland of trance.

And Nature holds, in wood and field,
    Her thousand sunlit censers still;
To spells of flower and shrub we yield
    Against or with our will.

I climbed a hill path strange and new
    With slow feet, pausing at each turn;
A sudden waft of west wind blew
    The breath of the sweet fern.

That fragrance from my vision swept
    The alien landscape; in its stead,
Up fairer hills of youth I stepped,
    As light of heart as tread.

I saw my boyhood’s lakelet shine
    Once more through rifts of woodland shade;
I knew my river’s winding line
    By morning mist betrayed.

With me June’s freshness, lapsing brook,
    Murmurs of leaf and bee, the call
Of birds, and one in voice and look
    In keeping with them all.

A fern beside the way we went
    She plucked, and, smiling, held it up,
While from her hand the wild, sweet scent
    I drank as from a cup.

O potent witchery of smell!
    The dust-dry leaves to life return,
And she who plucked them owns the spell
    And lifts her ghostly fern.

Or sense or spirit? Who shall say
    What touch the chord of memory thrills?
It passed, and left the August day
    Ablaze on lonely hills.

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