Norman Rowland Gale

The Great Beech

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With heart disposed to memory, let me stand
Near this monarch and this minstrel of the land,
Now that Dian leans so lovely from her car.
Illusively brought near by seeming falsely far,
In yon illustrious summit sways the tangled evening star.

From trembling towers of greenery there heaves
In glorious curves a precipice of leaves.
Superbly rolls thy passionate voice along,
Withstander of the tempest, grim and strong,
When at the wind's imperative thou burstest into song.

Still must I love thy gentle music most,
Utterly innocent of challenge or of boast,
And playmate of the sun's adoring beam.
Close kindred to thy softer tremblings seem
The sighs of her I covet, when she kindles in a dream.

Oft at thy branching altar have I knelt,
Searched for the secret, and thy lesson spelt
Before the athletes of the night had done
Their starry toil and joyous beams had run
To melt the ancient silversmith who loves the set of sun.

When Spring was budding in my heart anew,
Thy prayer for foliage soared into the blue.
Within thy branches myriad children heard:
Pale were their lips and fingers as they stirred
And promised leafiness enough to tempt thy favourite bird.

Quick was the wonder to amaze my sight:
Where stood the leafless suppliant towered a knight
Green to the helm and touching lips with May!
Far on the hill the wheatstalks stopped from play
To call across the valley love to leaves more fine than they.

Then wert thou vocal, hospitable king!
Safe in thy heart the birds were glad to sing,
For dove and stormcock to thy breast had come;
And at the perfect hour a moony foam
And starlight fell upon the thrush that made thy bosom home.

As gentle gatherer of the weary wing,
Happy to quaff from the eternal spring
That damps the woodwren's feather-swollen breast,
Thou lendest to my heart a deeper rest,
Working with priceless balm a miracle for thy guest.

On thee, in green and sunshine greatly stoled,
Thy kindred of the undulating wold
Obeisance, as befits their stature, spend:
Sweet is the embassy, with wind for friend,
When lofty limes of Todenham Church their fragrant homage send.

Rightly they worship. Rightly comes the maid
To look for love beneath thy bounteous shade;
Rightly as these the village children haste,
And with their sunburned fingers interlaced
Fasten a living girdle round thy cool and stalwart waist.

For games and grief thou hast an equal heart,
Giving to all petitioners the needed part.
Often I ask the shape of him who fled
To drink of knowledge at the fountain-head:
He pulses in the shadow as a fugitive from the dead.

Old noble of the county, once we twain
Beneath thy roof discoursed of bliss and pain;
And, looking upward for the star Content,
Laughed deep at soul to watch the sunbeams sent
In coveys glittering all along the field of firmament.

If ever the travelled spirit can return
Where once in earthly bliss 'twas proud to burn
In hard-won triumph over resolute clay,
'Tis here my friend shall fold his wings and stay
To fill my unforgetting heart with tremulous holiday.

The tryst is here. Brother, I shall not fail
Whether in Summer's ripeness, Winter's hail.
Come most in Autumn's sympathetic charms,
When opal hazes touch the red-roofed farms,
And in the night the beech-tree holds the red moon in his arms.

And tell me, Brother, if the shining plan
Of resurrection chooses only man;
If every friend of plain and upland dies.
For I would have this turreted tree arise
To lord it over beeches in the forest of Paradise.

Fast in the ample chamber of his bole
There dwells, perchance, an unintelligible soul
Destined to tower in some celestial wold,
Where you and I, conversing as of old,
May watch the Alps of Heaven become as mountains made of gold.

Or bend to watch how cunningly the earth
Tangles our kin in webs of tears and mirth,
And soils them even as they fly the stain;
And, seeing this, may find that Heaven is vain
To keep earth-broken hearts from breaking in Heaven again

Till shines the hour when Home is truly Home,
With all the brave and dear familiars come:
Assembled ripely in the lustrous sheaf
Of Love, and radiant in divine relief
From Joy that used to spoil the earth by whispering to Grief.

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