When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?
The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.
We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.
We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.
We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.
We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.
~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850 – 1919)
New Year: A Dialogue
“The night is cold, the hour is late, the world is bleak and drear;
Who is it knocking at my door?”
THE NEW YEAR:
“I am Good Cheer.”
“Your voice is strange; I know you not; in shadows dark I grope.
What seek you here?”
THE NEW YEAR:
“Friend, let me in; my name is Hope.”
“And mine is Failure; you but mock the life you seek to bless.
THE NEW YEAR:
“Nay, open wide the door; I am Success.”
“But I am ill and spent with pain; too late has come your wealth.
I cannot use it.”
THE NEW YEAR:
“Listen, friend; I am Good Health.”
“Now, wide I fling my door. Come in, and your fair statements prove.”
THE NEW YEAR:
“But you must open, too, your heart, for I am Love.”
Longfellow, for one, did not seem to associate Chaucer with the sounds and smells of 14th century London.
This is a rather interesting sonnet about Chaucer, given that he was a city-lad, so to speak, as opposed to the Pearl Poet, who would have been more of a country-person, though the two seem to have know each other.
An old man in a lodge within a park;
The chamber walls depicted all around
With portraitures of huntsman, hawk, and hound,
And the hurt deer. He listeneth to the lark,
Whose song comes with the sunshine through the dark
Of painted glass in leaden lattice bound;
He listeneth and he laugheth at the sound,
Then writeth in a book like any clerk.
He is the poet of the dawn, who wrote
The Canterbury Tales, and his old age
Made beautiful with song; and as I read
I hear the crowing cock, I hear the note
Of lark and linnet, and from every page
Rise odors of ploughed field or flowery mead.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Longfellow wrote rather educational sonnets on several English poets, but since he was one of the greatest American sonnet writers of the 19th century, his sonnets are much better poems than the adjective “educational” might suggest.
The truth is that Frost was the first American who could be honestly reckoned as a master-poet by world standards. – Robert Graves
This is a well-known poem indeed, and for good reason.
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.