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Song of the Redwood-Tree


A prophecy and indirection, a thought impalpable to breathe
     as air,
A chorus of dryads, fading, departing, or hamadryads departing,
A murmuring, fateful, giant voice, out of the earth and sky,
Voice of a mighty dying tree in the redwood forest dense.

Farewell my brethren,
Farewell O earth and sky, farewell ye neighboring waters,
My time has ended, my term has come.

Along the northern coast,
Just back from the rock-bound shore and the caves,
In the saline air from the sea in the Mendocino country,
With the surge for base and accompaniment low and hoarse,
With crackling blows of axes sounding musically driven by
     strong arms,
Riven deep by the sharp tongues of the axes, there in the
     redwood forest dense,
I heard the mighty tree its death-chant chanting.

The choppers heard not, the camp shanties echoed not,
The quick-ear'd teamsters and chain and jack-screw men
     heard not,
As the wood-spirits came from their haunts of a thousand
     years to join the refrain,
But in my soul I plainly heard.

Murmuring out of its myriad leaves,
Down from its lofty top rising two hundred feet high,
Out of its stalwart trunk and limbs, out of its
     foot-thick bark,

That chant of the seasons and time, chant not of the past
     only but the future.

You untold life of me,
And all you venerable and innocent joys,
Perennial hardy life of me with joys 'mid rain and
     many a summer sun
And the white snows and night and the wild winds;
O the great patient rugged joys, my soul's strong joys
     unreck'd by man
(For know I bear the soul befitting me, I too have
     consciousness, identity
And all the rocks and mountains have, and all the earth,)
Joys of the life befitting me and brothers mine,
Our time, our term has come.

Nor yield we mournfully majestic brothers,
We who have grandly fill'd our time;
With Nature's calm content, with tacit huge delight,
We welcome what we wrought for through the past,
And leave the field for them.
For them predicted long,
For a superber race, they too to grandly fill their time,
For them we abdicate, in them ourselves ye forest kings!
In them these skies and airs, these mountain peaks,
     Shasta, Nevadas
These huge precipitious cliffs, this amplitude, these
     valleys, far Yosemite
To be in them absorb'd, assimilated.

Then to a loftier strain,
Still prouder, more ecstatic rose the chant,
As if the heirs, the deities of the West,
Joining with master-tongue bore part.

Not wan from Asia's fetiches,
Nor red from Europe's old dynastic slaughter-house,
(Area of murder-plots of thrones, with scent left yet
     of wars and scaffolds everywhere,)

But come from Nature's long and harmless throes,
     peacefully builded thence

These virgin lands, lands of the Western shore,
To the new culminating man, to you, the empire new,
You promis'd long, we pledge, we dedicate.

You occult deep volitions,
You average spiritual manhood, purpose of all, pois'd
     on yourself, giving not taking law
You womanhood divine, mistress and source of all, whence
     life and love and aught that comes from life and love
You unseen moral essence of all the vast materials of
     America, (age upon age working in death the same as life
You that, sometimes known, oftener unknown, really shape and
     mould the New World, adjusting it to Time and Space
You hidden national will lying in your abysms, conceal'd
     but ever alert
You past and present purposes tenaciously pursued, may-be
     unconscious of yourselves
Unswerv'd by all the passing errors, perturbations of the
You vital, universal, deathless germs, beneath all creeds,
     arts, statutes, literatures
Here build your homes for good, establish here, these areas
     entire, lands of the Western shore
We pledge, we dedicate to you.

For man of you, your characteristic race,
Here may he hardy, sweet, gigantic grow, here tower
     proportionate to Nature
Here climb the vast pure spaces unconfined, uncheck'd by
     wall or roof
Here laugh with storm or sun, here joy, here patiently inure,
Here heed himself, unfold himself, (not others' formulas
     heed,) here fill his time
To duly fall, to aid, unreck'd at last,
To disappear, to serve.

Thus on the northern coast,
In the echo of teamsters' calls and the clinking chains, and
     the music of choppers' axes,

The falling trunk and limbs, the crash, the muffled shriek,
     the groan,
Such words combined from the redwood-tree, as of voices
     ecstatic, ancient and rustling,
The century-lasting, unseen dryads, singing, withdrawing,
All their recesses of forests and mountains leaving,
From the Cascade range to the Wasatch, or Idaho far, or
To the deities of the modern henceforth yielding,
The chorus and indications, the vistas of coming humanity,
     the settlements, features all,
In the Mendocino woods I caught.


The flashing and golden pageant of California,
The sudden and gorgeous drama, the sunny and ample lands,
The long and varied stretch from Puget sound to Colorado
Lands bathed in sweeter, rarer, healthier air, valleys and
     mountain cliffs,
The fields of Nature long prepared and fallow, the silent,
     cyclic chemistry,
The slow and steady ages plodding, the unoccupied surface
     ripening, the rich ores forming beneath;
At last the New arriving, assuming, taking possession,
A swarming and busy race settling and organizing everywhere,
Ships coming in from the whole round world, and going out
     to the whole world,
To India and China and Australia and the thousand island
     paradises of the Pacific,
Populous cities, the latest inventions, the steamers on the
     rivers, the railroads, with many a thrifty farm, with machinery,
And wood and wheat and the grape, and diggings of yellow gold.


But more in you than these, lands of the Western shore,
(These but the means, the implements, the standing-ground,)

I see in you, certain to come, the promise of thousands of
     years, till now deferr'd,
Promis'd to be fulfill'd, our common kind, the race.

The new society at last, proportionate to Nature,
In man of you, more than your mountain peaks or stalwart
     trees imperial,
In woman more, far more, than all your gold or vines, or
     even vital air.

Fresh come, to a new world indeed, yet long prepared,
I see the genius of the modern, child of the real and ideal,
Clearing the ground for broad humanity, the true America,
     heir of the past so grand,
To build a grander future.

1874                                                                  1881

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