The Forester

THE FORESTER

Born in a dark wood’s lonely dell,
Where echoes roar’d, and tendrils curl’d
Round a low cot, like hermit’s cell,
Old Salcey Forest [1]  was my world.
I felt no bonds, no shackles then,5
For life in freedom was begun;
I gloried in th’ exploits of men,
And learn’d to lift my father’s gun.
O what a joy it gave my heart!
Wild as a woodbine up I grew;10
Soon in his feats I bore a part,
And counted all the game he slew.
I learn’d the wiles, the shifts, the calls,
The language of each living thing;
I mark’d the hawk that darting falls,15
Or station’d spreads the trembling wing.
I mark’d the owl that silent flits,
The hare that feeds at eventide,
The upright rabbit, when he sits
And mocks you, ere he deigns to hide.20
I heard the fox bark through the night,
I saw the rooks depart at morn,
I saw the wild deer dancing light,
And heard the hunter’s cheering horn.
Mad with delight, I roam’d around25
From morn to eve throughout the year,
But still, midst all I sought or found,
My favourites were the spotted deer.
The elegant, the branching brow,
The doe’s clean limbs and eyes of love;30
The fawn as white as mountain snow,
That glanced through fern and brier and grove.
One dark, autumnal, stormy day,
The gale was up in all its might,
The roaring forest felt its sway,35
And clouds were scudding quick as light:
A ruthless crash, a hollow groan,
Aroused each self-preserving start,
The kine in herds, the hare alone,
And shagged colts that grazed apart.40
Midst fears instinctive, wonder drew
The boldest forward, gathering strength
As darkness lour’d, and whirlwinds blew,
To where the ruin stretch’d his length.
The shadowing oak, the noblest stem45
That graced the forest’s ample bound,
Had cast to earth his diadem;
His fractured limbs had delved the ground.
He lay, and still to fancy groan’d;
He lay like Alfred when he died—50
Alfred, a king by Heaven enthroned,
His age’s wonder, England’s pride!
Monarch of forests, great as good,
Wise as the sage,—thou heart of steel!
Thy name shall rouse the patriot’s blood55
As long as England’s sons can feel.
From every lawn, and copse, and glade,
The timid deer in squadrons came,
And circled round their fallen shade
With all of language but its name.60
Astonishment and dread withheld
The fawn and doe of tender years,
But soon a triple circle swell’d,
With rattling horns and twinkling ears.
Some in his root’s deep cavern housed,65
And seem’d to learn, and muse, and teach,
Or on his topmost foliage browsed,
That had for centuries mock’d their reach.
Winds in their wrath these limbs could crash,
This strength, this symmetry could mar;70
A people’s wrath can monarchs dash
From bigot throne or purple car.
When Fate’s dread bolt in Clermont’s bowers [2] 
Provoked its million tears and sighs,
A nation wept its fallen flowers,75
Its blighted hopes, its darling prize.—
So mourn’d my antler’d friends awhile,
So dark, so dread, the fateful day;
So mourn’d the herd that knew no guile,
Then turn’d disconsolate away!80
Who then of language will be proud?
Who arrogate that gift of heaven?
To wild herds when they bellow loud,
To all the forest-tribes ’tis given.
I’ve heard a note from dale or hill85
That lifted every head and eye;
I’ve heard a scream aloft, so shrill
That terror seized on all that fly.
Empires may fall, and nations groan,
Pride be thrown down, and power decay;90
Dark bigotry may rear her throne,
But science is the light of day.
Yet, while so low my lot is cast,
Through wilds and forests let me range;
My joys shall pomp and power outlast—95
The voice of nature cannot change.

_______________

A soberer feeling through the crowd he flung,
Clermont was uppermost on every tongue;
But who can live on unavailing sighs?
The inconsolable are not the wise.
Spirit, and youth, and worth, demand a tear—5
That day was past, and sorrow was not here;
Sorrow the contest dared not but refuse
’Gainst Oakly’s open cellar and the muse.
Sir Ambrose cast his eye along the line,
Where many a cheerful face began to shine,10
And, fixing on his man, cried, loud and clear,
‘What have you brought, John Armstrong? let us hear.’
Forth stepp’d his shepherd;—scanty locks of grey
Edged round a hat that seem’d to mock decay;
Its loops, its bands, were from the purest fleece,15
Spun on the hills in silence and in peace.
A staff he bore carved round with birds and flowers,
The hieroglyphics of his leisure hours;
And rough form’d animals of various name,
Not just like Bewick’s, but they meant the same.20
Nor these alone his whole attention drew,
He was a poet,—this Sir Ambrose knew,—
A strange one too;—and now had penn’d a lay,
Harmless and wild, and fitting for the day.
No tragic tale on stilts;—his mind had more25
Of boundless frolic than of serious lore;—
Down went his hat, his shaggy friend close by
Dozed on the grass, yet watch’d his master’s eye.

Notes

[1] [An ancient royal forest covering 1,850 acres, a few miles south-east of Northampton.] BACK

[2] [Claremont, Esher, Surrey, where Princess Charlotte Augusta (1796–1817) died after giving birth to a still-born boy on 6 November 1817. See Stephen C. Behrendt, Royal Mourning and Regency Culture: Elegies and Memorials of Princess Charlotte (London, 1997).] BACK

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