The Poetry Corner

The Leaning Elm

By Francis Brett Young

Before my window, in days of winter hoar Huddled a mournful wood: Smooth pillars of beech, domed chestnut, sycamore, In stony sleep they stood: But you, unhappy elm, the angry west Had chosen from the rest, Flung broken on your brothers' branches bare, And left you leaning there So dead that when the breath of winter cast Wild snow upon the blast, The other living branches, downward bowed, Shook free their crystal shroud And shed upon your blackened trunk beneath Their livery of death.... On windless nights between the beechen bars I watched cold stars Throb whitely in the sky, and dreamily Wondered if any life lay locked in thee: If still the hidden sap secretly moved As water in the icy winterbourne Floweth unheard: And half I pitied you your trance forlorn: You could not hear, I thought, the voice of any bird, The shadowy cries of bats in dim twilight Or cool voices of owls crying by night ... Hunting by night under the hornd moon: Yet half I envied you your wintry swoon, Till, on this morning mild, the sun, new-risen Steals from his misty prison; The frozen fallows glow, the black trees shaken In a clear flood of sunlight vibrating awaken: And lo, your ravaged bole, beyond belief Slenderly fledged anew with tender leaf As pale as those twin vanes that break at last In a tiny fan above the black beech-mast Where no blade springeth green But pallid bells of the shy helleborine. What is this ecstasy that overwhelms The dreaming earth? See, the embrownd elms Crowding purple distances warm the depths of the wood: A new-born wind tosses their tassels brown, His white clouds dapple the down: Into a green flame bursting the hedgerows stand. Soon, with banners flying, Spring will walk the land.... There is no day for thee, my soul, like this, No spring of lovely words. Nay, even the kiss Of mortal love that maketh man divine This light cannot outshine: Nay, even poets, they whose frail hands catch The shadow of vanishing beauty, may not match This leafy ecstasy. Sweet words may cull Such magical beauty as time may not destroy; But we, alas, are not more beautiful: We cannot flower in beauty as in joy. We sing, our musd words are sped, and then Poets are only men Who age, and toil, and sicken.... This maim'd tree May stand in leaf when I have ceased to be.