Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE DRYADS, by LILIAN WHITE SPENCER



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THE DRYADS, by            
First Line: I was a lonely seeker of lost health
Last Line: Knowing he lives, for I have seen his face.
Subject(s): Dryads


I was a lonely seeker of lost Health --
Twin-brother, laughing at my side from birth,
Who won our games, though all the cheers were mine,
Where a white stadium in gracious curves
Bows toward her doughty knight, the college field.
He fled from me the day a ghoul of war,
Haunting far battles in a fetid shroud,
With poisoned kisses caught me, unaware. . . .
* * * * *
I sought my brother in a lifted land
Of new horizons where the granite west
As though directing to his hiding place,
Upraises stark brown fingers to the sky.
A cripple, maimed by men and capitols,
Diseased with plague of crowds whose high crusades
Are soon sick hopes that die of weariness,
I came to giant hills. Their brows of stone,
White-crowned or bare, serene against the sun,
Are adamant to puny frets of earth.
And I saw peace in that august retreat,
Kneeling with silence where great vistas spread
Unending rapture over range and range.
I too was dumb; for only He can speak
In light and shadow, forest, peak, and storm
Words that can tell the glory fittingly.

The wilds, an eager gypsy host, swung wide
My inn, a poor deserted cabin. Spring
Laid flowered carpets to the door and rang
A welcome on the bells of columbine.
Kings have not ruled such splendid realms as I
Who owned the brown and green, the blue and gold.
I slept and heard a lost voice call my name
In lusty challenge from the utmost height.
Do they make answer who reply with tears?
The brown, white-tonsured hills made offering
To my wan misery of healing wine
Poured from a turquoise chalice on the world;

At night the cup was gold-flecked ebony.
I drank at evening's altar, lenten-draped
In purple vesture, lit by them that bear
The twinkling candles of the universe.
Low in the west blazed peerless Sirius;
The Hunter bowed by Taurus and his maids;
All, weary of the chase and reconciled,
Departing side by side to summer rest.
I thought with Job: "Canst loose Orion's bands,
Bind up sweet influence of Pleiades,
Or guide Arcturus?" Now that wonder star,
Heaven's most ardent runner, climbed the east,
Swinging his ruddy torch triumphantly;
And at his feet Virgo's bright taper burned.
Gold-haloed, treading rosy ways of dawn,
Each day came like a sweet girl-saint to prayer,
Telling on chaplets of auroral dew
Her happy orisons. The wide blue nave
Of her great temple echoed with the chant
Of swift-winged choristers that hurried north
For April matins. Ardent hours held
Life, in sharp nectar, to my thirsty lips.
Their jealous, watchful lord, the sun, looked on,
And when his crimson galleons set sail,
From ports of twilight carried them away.
I was not left unsolaced. Hesperus
Stole from the fading azure out to me.

Nor was I lonely now, for Health hallooed
In joyous hide-and-seek through near high zones.
My watchdog was a coyote. Does he bark,
I wonder, yet, beside the weeping rocks --
My spring that trickles down the mountain's breast?
Daily a messenger shrieked up to me
And waved a signal flag of thunder-cloud;
Then, pausing in the canyon rift below,
Threw off my mail and provender and went,
With one long piercing whistle of disdain
About the trifling business of the world.
I saved the newspapers, unread, to use
For kindling.
I had neighbors, dryad girls,
Tall, white, and beautiful. June brought them gowns
Of shimmering jade. They grouped about the door,
Girdling my borrowed acre with a ring
Of magic, as they danced in every breeze
Like green light turned into a waterfall.
Men call them aspen trees, but they to me
Are song and laughter of the golden age
Still lingering upon these holy hills.
They were my gentle friends, saluting me
With fair leaf-laden arms, and when I dared
Lay reverent touch on their blanched loveliness
I found it marble cold, but hand and cheek
Bore fairy powder from their pure caress.
Aspens are always tremulous with joy
Save when a marvelous hushed moment comes
And kisses them to silent ecstasy.
They nestle, timid babes of yesterday,
Beside the age-old pines that dote on them.
The eagle from his eyrie in the spring
Beholds pale nymphs and sombre foster sires;
Then, they seem captive pools of far-strayed sea
Surrounded by dark jailers like its cliffs.

O here was balm indeed for all my wounds!

So, summer passed. . . . The hills dismissed me, healed,
But I was drugged with their sweet habit now.
The lost was found: Health clutched my arm's new brawn
And cried: "Your work is waiting. Let us go!"
I had forgotten it. I would forget,
Who had been here before the Scorpion
Began his long slow crawl across the south
With old Antares, patriarch of suns,
Whose final glare bade me depart as well.
But the immortal shepherd lad and lass,
Altair and Vega, roamed high pastures still,
And why not I? The great horns of the Bull,
A down-arched threat, retreated up the east.

Aldebaran, his red eye, winked at me
In promise of rare sport should I remain.
Orion was in chase! How could I go
Where city walls shut out the friendly stars
And pavements spurn the press of dryad feet?
The birds went in my stead. Still, in my grove
The darling witches danced, but now they told
Gay secrets to the first chill winds. I heard
The scintillating talk, yet could not guess --
And rabbits cocked their knowing ears in vain.
Now, nights arrived with menace from the north
And morning wore a filmy veil of rime
Whose white clouds lifted when the warm noon smiled.
Then -- suddenly -- the aspens blazed. I knew!
On all the hills it was their marriage day
To winter. They were decked in bridal gear,
Rifled from autumn's treasure chest, and climbed
In blithe processions heavenward; their ranks
A dazzling panoply of quivering gold.

Gold! Gold! Wealth vast enough to ransom all
Life's ugliness as dower for a spouse
Whose kiss and bed are cold and withering --
Yet they but lie beneath his snowy sheets
Asleep until that gallant lover, spring,
Comes courting them again with gifts of green.
My dryads wore the brightest robes of all.

This heart of mine, that scorned the creeds of men,
Believes -- converted by a hermit saint
Named Beauty, who performed a miracle
On those dear heights with yellow aspen trees,
Turning the universe and my gray soul
To flame . . . God lives! And I have seen His face.

My brother spoke: "The time has come!" I cried,
"No, not till I have walked with Him awhile!"

My dryads waved farewell. Their shimmering scarves
And hair and garments were a golden rain.

The sun my guide, the moon my sentinel,
I mounted as my heart sang glorias
Where saffron rivers at the flood tide ran
Between high-towered walls of conifer.
By far, still streams I came on tragedy
Of aspens slain for food and roof-tree use;
I had not thought that I could learn to hate
The beaver, master of such solitudes.
I dared the crags and wrestled with the winds;
Transparent pinions beat me to the ground
While pines but nodded. They were casual,
Indifferent, -- so many storms had passed.
I reached the eagle's eyrie. . . . God, Who gave
Eyes that can see all ecstasy at once,
Why not a tongue to tell it? Even here
Familiar loveliness soothed anguished awe
At too great vision of His world. Below
Aspens were burning lakes whose bright waves dashed
Against dark circling walls of evergreen.

From that high hour of pinnacle I turned
Toward home. My neat wee nest well merited
The sacred name, for it had mothered me
And soon would send me out to life, a man.
Down, down I hurried, laughing -- then -- I saw --
No little cabin set in groves of fire. . . .
Here stood a squalid hut, a bare stripped field,
And their first owners. Paid assassins, all,
Though other men would call them woodcutters
And even kindly fellows! Never I! --
For they had murdered my girl goddesses.
O pale prone victims! Robes and hair of gold
Were strewn, soiled, trampled on by ruthless feet;
And in the shambles white limbs that had danced
Lay flayed, dismembered, piled in dreadful rows.
My nymphs and their enchanting sisterhood
On near-by hills had suffered martyrdom.
Like Ursula and her ten thousand maids,
Their pure hosts, girt with shining armor, fell
In the red carnage of barbaric war.

The butchers grinned at me. One yawned, one swore,
One shoved before my grief a printed page
Torn from the close-sealed stack of newspapers
I kept for kindling. On its blackened front
I read this legend: "Wanted aspen wood
For mattresses."

O, may sleep wander far
From those who lie on dead joy of the hills!
Let nightmares gallop on the evil couch
Wrought from a slaughtered forest! There are shrines
That nature's will declares inviolate.
It is not good to rob the spring of glee,
Steal summer's laughter, autumn's chant of praise --
The aspens are all these.

I bowed my head:
"Yes, brother, it is time. I wait the cry
Of that which seeks me in the canyon depths.
Today it shall not summon us in vain.
The spell is broken, and those small white stumps
Are tombstones; each one marks a grave of dreams.
I go forever. Here spring comes no more."
* * * * *

And yet I bear spring always in my soul.
No thieving town can steal the blue and gold,
The green and brown, the dryads and the stars
From one to whom God spoke upon the heights --
And though I walk on crowded city streets,
Gray, like the rest, with weariness, I smile,
Knowing He lives, for I have seen His face.





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