Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BOTANICAL GARDENS, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

BOTANICAL GARDENS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: He follows me no more, I said, nor stands
Last Line: "there shall be springs and springs!"
Subject(s): Gardens & Gardening

He follows me no more, I said, nor stands
Beside me. And I wake these later days
In an April mood, a wonder light and free.
The vision is gone, but gone the constant pain
Of constant thought. I see dawn from my hill,
And watch the lights which fingers from the waters
Twine from the sun or moon. Or look across
The waste of bays and marshes to the woods,
Under the prism colors of the air,
Held in a vacuum silence, where the clouds,
Like cyclop hoods are tossed against the sky
In terrible glory.

And earth charmed I lie
Before the staring sphinx whose musing face
Is this Egyptian heaven, and whose eyes
Are separate clouds of gold, whose pedestal
Is earth, whose silken sheathed claws
No longer toy with me, even while I stroke them:
Since I have ceased to tease her.

Then behold
A breeze is blown out of a world becalmed,
And as I see the multitudinous leaves
Fluttered against the water and the light,
And see this light unveil itself, reveal
An inner light, a Presence, Secret splendor,
I clap hands over eyes, for the earth reels;
And I have fears of dieties shown or spun
From nothingness. But when I look again
The earth has stayed itself, I see the lake,
The leaves, the light of the sun, the cyclop hoods
Of thunder heads, yet feel upon my arm
A hand I know, and hear a voice I know --
He has returned and brought with him the thought
And the old pain.

The voice says: "Leave the sphinx.
The garden waits your study fully grown."

And I arise and follow down a slope
To a lawn by the lake and an ancient seat of stone,
And near it a fountain's shattered rim enclosing
An Eros of light mood, whose sculptured smile
Consciously dimples for the unveiled pistil of love,
As he strokes with baby hand the slender arching
Neck of a swan. And here is a peristyle
Whose carven columns are pink as the long updrawn
Stalks of tulips bedded in April snow.
And sunk amid tiger lillies is the face
Of an Asian Aphrodite close to the seat
With feet of a Babylonian lion amid
This ruined garden of yellow daisies, poppies
And ruddy asphodel from Crete, it seems,
Though here is our western moon as white and thin
As an abalone shell hung under the boughs
Of an oak, that is mocked by the vastness of sky between
His boughs and the moon in this sky of afternoon....
We walk to the water's edge and here he shows me
Green scum, or stalks, or sedges, grasses, shrubs,
That yield to trees beyond the levels, where
The beech and oak have triumph; for along
This gradual growth from algae, reeds and grasses,
That builds the soil against the water's hands,
All things are fierce for place and garner life
From weaker things.

And then he shows me root stocks,
And Alpine willow, growths that sneak and crawl
Beneath the soil. Or as we leave the lake
And walk the forest I behold lianas,
Smilax or woodbine climbing round the trunks
Of giant trees that live and out of earth,
And out of air make strength and food and ask
No other help. And in this place I see
Spiral bryony, python of the vines
That coils and crushes; and that banyan tree
Whose spreading branches drop new roots to earth,
And lives afar from where the parent trunk
Has sunk its roots, so that the healthful sun
Is darkened: as a people might be darkened
By ignorance or want or tyranny,
Or dogma of a jungle hidden faith.
Why is it, think I, though I dare not speak,
That this should be to forests or to men;
That water fails, and light decreases, heat
Of God's air lessens, and the soil goes spent,
Till plants change leaves and stalks and seeds as well,
Or migrate from the olden places, go
In search of life, or if they cannot move
Die in the ruthless marches.

That is life, he said.
For even these, the giants scatter life
Into the maws of death. That towering tree
That for these hundred years has leafed itself,
And through its leaves out of the magic air
Drawn nutriment for annual girths, took root
Out of an acorn which good chance preserved,
While all its brother acorns cast to earth,
To make trees, by a parent tree now gone,
Were crushed, devoured, or strangled as they sprouted
Amid thick jealous growth wherein they fell.
All acorns but this one were lost.

Then he reads
My questioning thought and shows me yuccas, cactus
Whose thick leaves in the rainless places thrive.
And shows me leaves that must have rain, and roots
That must have water where the river flows.
And how the spirit of life, though turned or driven
This way or that beyond a course begun,
Cannot be stayed or quenched, but moves, conforms
To soil and sun, makes roots, or thickens leaves,
Or thins or re-adjusts them on the stem
To fashion forth itself, produce its kind.
Nor dies not, rests not, nor surrenders not,
Is only changed or buried, re-appears
As other forms of life.

We had walked through
A forest of sequoias, beeches, pines,
And ancient oaks where I could see the trace
Of willows, alders, ruined or devoured
By the great Titans.

At last
We reached my hill and sat and overlooked
The garden at our feet, even to the place
Of tiger lilies and of asphodel,
By now beneath the self-same moon, grown denser:
As where the wounded surface of the shell
Thickens its shimmering stuff in spiral coigns
Of the shell, so was the moon above the seat
Beside the Eros and the Aphrodite
Sunk amid yellow daisies and deep grass.
And here we sat and looked. And here my vision
Was over all we saw, but not a part
Of what we saw, for all we saw stood forth
As foreign to myself as something touched
To learn the thing it is.

I might have asked
Who owns this garden, for the thought arose
With my surprise, who owns this garden, who
Planted this garden, why and to what end,
And why this fight for place, for soil and sun
Water and air, and why this enmity
Between the things here planted, and between
Flying or crawling life and plants, and whence
The power that falls in one place but arises
Some other place; and why the unceasing growth
Of all these forms that only come to seed,
Then disappear to enrich the insatiate soil
Where the new seed falls? But silence kept me there
For wonder of the beauty which I saw,
Even while the faculty of external vision
Kept clear the garden separate from me,
Envisioned, seen as grasses, sedges, alders,
As forestry, as fields of wheat and corn,
As the vast theatre of unceasing life,
Moving to life and blind to all but life;
As places used, tried out, as if the gardener,
For his delight or use, or for an end
Of good or beauty made experiments
With seed or soils or crossings of the seed.
Even as peoples, epochs, did the garden
Lie to my vision, or as races crowding,
Absorbing, dispossessing, killing races,
Not only for a place to grow, but under
A stimulus of doctrine: as Mahomet,
Or Jesus, like a vital change of air,
Or artifice of culture, made the garden,
Which mortals call the world, grow in a way,
And overgrow the world as neither dreamed.
Who is the Gardener then? Or is there one
Beside the life within the plant, within
The python climbers, wandering sedges, root stalks,
Thorn bushes, night-shade, deadly saprophytes,
Goths, Vandals, Tartars, striving for more life,
And praying to the urge within as God,
The Gardener who lays out the garden, sprays
For insects which devour, keeps rich the soil
For those who pray and know the Gardener
As One who is without and over-sees?...

But while in contemplation of the garden,
Whether from failing day or from departure
Of my own vision in the things it saw,
Bereft of penetrating thought I sank,
Became a part of what I saw and lost
The great solution.

As we sat in silence,
And coming night, what seemed the sinking moon,
Amid the yellow sedges by the lake
Began to twinkle, as a fire were blown --
And it was fire, the garden was afire,
As it were all the world had flamed with war.
And a wind came out of the bright heaven
And blew the flames, first through the ruined garden,
Then through the wood, the fields of wheat, at last
Nothing was left but waste and wreaths of smoke
Twisting toward the stars. And there he sat
Nor uttered aught, save when I sighed he said
"If it be comforting I promise you
Another spring shall come."

"And after that?"
"Another spring -- that's all I know myself,
There shall be springs and springs!"

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