East and West Poems

On a Cone of the Big Trees

(Sequoia Gigantea)

Bret Harte

BROWN foundling of the Western wood,
    Babe of primeval wildernesses!
Long on my table thou hast stood
    Encounters strange and rude caresses;
Perchance contented with thy lot,
    Surroundings new, and curious faces,
As though ten centuries were not
    Imprisoned in thy shining cases.

Thou bring’st me back the halcyon days
    Of grateful rest, the week of leisure,
The journey lapped in autumn haze,
    The sweet fatigue that seemed a pleasure,
The morning ride, the noonday halt,
    The blazing slopes, the red dust rising,
And then the dim, brown, columned vault,
    With its cool, damp, sepulchral spicing.

Once more I see the rocking masts
    That scrape the sky, their only tenant
The jay-bird, that in frolic casts
    From some high yard his broad blue pennant.
I see the Indian files that keep
    Their places in the dusty heather,
Their red trunks standing ankle-deep
    In moccasins of rusty leather.

I see all this, and marvel much
    That thou, sweet woodland waif, art able
To keep the company of such
    As throng thy friend’s—the poet’s—table:
The latest spawn the press hath cast,—
    The “modern popes,” “the later Byrons,”—
Why, e’en the best may not outlast
    Thy poor relation—Sempervirens.

Thy sire saw the light that shone
    On Mohammed’s uplifted crescent,
On many a royal gilded throne
    And deed forgotten in the present;
He saw the age of sacred trees
    And Druid groves and mystic larches;
And saw from forest domes like these
    The builder bring his Gothic arches.

And must thou, foundling, still forego
    Thy heritage and high ambition,
To lie full lowly and full low,
    Adjusted to thy new condition?
Not hidden in the drifted snows,
    But under ink-drops idly spattered,
And leaves ephemeral as those
    That on thy woodland tomb were scattered?

Yet lie thou there, O friend! and speak
    The moral of thy simple story:
Though life is all that thou dost seek,
    And age alone thy crown of glory,
Not thine the only germs that fail
    The purpose of their high creation,
If their poor tenements avail
    For worldly show and ostentation.

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