Prelude

 

Pleasant it was, when woods were green,

  And winds were soft and low,

To lie amid some sylvan scene.

Where, the long drooping boughs between,

5Shadows dark and sunlight sheen

  Alternate come and go;

 

Or where the denser grove receives

  No sunlight from above,

But the dark foliage interweaves

10In one unbroken roof of leaves,

Underneath whose sloping eaves

  The shadows hardly move.

 

Beneath some patriarchal tree

  I lay upon the ground;

15His hoary arms uplifted he,

And all the broad leaves over me

Clapped their little hands in glee,

  With one continuous sound;--

 

A slumberous sound, a sound that brings

20  The feelings of a dream,

As of innumerable wings,

As, when a bell no longer swings,

Faint the hollow murmur rings

  O'er meadow, lake, and stream.

 

25And dreams of that which cannot die,

  Bright visions, came to me,

As lapped in thought I used to lie,

And gaze into the summer sky,

Where the sailing clouds went by,

30  Like ships upon the sea;

 

Dreams that the soul of youth engage

  Ere Fancy has been quelled;

Old legends of the monkish page,

Traditions of the saint and sage,

35Tales that have the rime of age,

  And chronicles of Eld.

 

And, loving still these quaint old themes,

  Even in the city's throng

I feel the freshness of the streams,

40That, crossed by shades and sunny gleams,

Water the green land of dreams,

  The holy land of song.

 

Therefore, at Pentecost, which brings

  The Spring, clothed like a bride,

45When nestling buds unfold their wings,

And bishop's-caps have golden rings,

Musing upon many things,

  I sought the woodlands wide.

 

The green trees whispered low and mild;

50  It was a sound of joy!

They were my playmates when a child,

And rocked me in their arms so wild!

Still they looked at me and smiled,

  As if I were a boy;

 

55And ever whispered, mild and low,

  "Come, be a child once more!"

And waved their long arms to and fro,

And beckoned solemnly and slow;

O, I could not choose but go

60  Into the woodlands hoar,--

 

Into the blithe and breathing air,

  Into the solemn wood,

Solemn and silent everywhere

Nature with folded hands seemed there

65Kneeling at her evening prayer!

  Like one in prayer I stood.

 

Before me rose an avenue

  Of tall and sombrous pines;

Abroad their fan-like branches grew,

70And, where the sunshine darted through,

Spread a vapor soft and blue,

  In long and sloping lines.

 

And, falling on my weary brain,

  Like a fast-falling shower,

75The dreams of youth came back again,

Low lispings of the summer rain,

Dropping on the ripened grain,

  As once upon the flower.

 

Visions of childhood! Stay, O stay!

80  Ye were so sweet and wild!

And distant voices seemed to say,

"It cannot be! They pass away!

Other themes demand thy lay;

  Thou art no more a child!

 

85"The land of Song within thee lies,

  Watered by living springs;

The lids of Fancy's sleepless eyes

Are gates unto that Paradise,

Holy thoughts, like stars, arise,

90  Its clouds are angels' wings.

 

"Learn, that henceforth thy song shall be,

  Not mountains capped with snow,

Nor forests sounding like the sea,

Nor rivers flowing ceaselessly,

95Where the woodlands bend to see

  The bending heavens below.

 

"There is a forest where the din

  Of iron branches sounds!

A mighty river roars between,

100And whosoever looks therein

Sees the heavens all black with sin,

  Sees not its depths, nor bounds.

 

"Athwart the swinging branches cast,

  Soft rays of sunshine pour;

105Then comes the fearful wintry blast

Our hopes, like withered leaves, fail fast;

Pallid lips say, 'It is past!

  We can return no more!,

 

"Look, then, into thine heart, and write!

110  Yes, into Life's deep stream!

All forms of sorrow and delight,

All solemn Voices of the Night,

That can soothe thee, or affright,--

  Be these henceforth thy theme."