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Corn by Sidney Lanier


To-day the woods are trembling through and through

With shimmering forms, that flash into my view,

Then melt in green as dawn-stars melt in blue.

The leaves that wave against my cheek caress

Like women's hands; the embracing boughs express

A subtlety of mighty tenderness;

The copse-depths into little noises start,

That sound anon like beatings of a heart,

Anon like talk 'twixt lips not far apart.

The beech dreams balm, as a dreamer hums a song,

Through whose vague sweet float expirations strong

From lithe young hickories, breathing deep and long

With stress and urgence bold of inward spring,

And ecstasy of burgeoning.

Now, since the dew-plashed road of morn is dry,

Come daintier smells, linked in soft company,

Like velvet-slippered ladies pacing by.

Long muscadines,

Like Jove's locks curled round foreheads of great pines,

Breathe out ambrosial passion from their vines.

I pray with mosses, ferns and flowers shy

That hide like gentle nuns from human eye,

To lift adoring odors to the sky.

I hear faint bridal-sighs of blissful green,

Dying to kindred silences serene,

As dim lights melt into a pleasant sheen.

I start at fragmentary whispers, blown

From undertalks of leafy loves unknown,

Vague purports sweet, of inarticulate tone.

Dreaming of gods, men, nuns and brides, between

Old companies of oaks that inward lean

To join their radiant amplitudes of green,

I slowly move, with ranging looks that pass

Up from the matted miracles of grass

Into yon veined complex of space,

Where sky and leafage interlace

So close the heaven of blue is seen

Inwoven with a heaven of green.

I wander to the zigzag-cornered fence

Where sassafras, intrenched in brambles dense,

Contests with stolid vehemence

The march of culture, setting limb and thorn,

Like pikes, against the army of the corn.

There, while I pause, before mine eyes,

Out of the silent corn-ranks, rise

Inward dignities

And large benignities and insights wise,

Graces and modest majesties.

Thus, without tilth, I house a wondrous yield;

Thus, without theft, I reap another's field,

And store quintuple harvests in my heart concealed.

See, out of line a single corn-stem stands

Advanced beyond the foremost of his bands,

And waves his blades upon the very edge

And hottest thicket of the battling hedge.

Thou lustrous stalk, that canst nor walk nor talk,

Still dost thou type the poet-soul sublime

That leads the vanward of his timid time,

And sings up cowards with commanding rhyme—

Soul calm, like thee, yet fain, like thee, to grow

By double increment, above, below;

Soul homely, as thou art, yet rich in grace like thee,

Teaching the yeomen selfless chivalry,

That moves in gentle curves of courtesy;

Soul filled like thy long veins with sweetness tense,

By every godlike sense

Transmuted from the four wild elements.

Toward the empyrean

Thou reachest higher up than mortal man,

Yet ever piercest downward in the mould,

And keepest hold

Upon the reverend and steadfast earth

That gave thee birth.

Yea, standest smiling in thy very grave,

Serene and brave,

With unremitting breath

Inhaling life from death,

Thine epitaph writ fair in fruitage eloquent,

Thy living self thy monument.

As poets should,

Thou hast built up thy hardihood

With wondrous-varying food,

Drawn in select proportion fair

From solid mould and vagrant air;

From terrors of the dreadful night,

And joyful light;

From antique ashes, whose departed flame

In thee has finer life and longer fame;

From wounds and balms,

From storms and calms,

From potsherds and dry bones,

And ruin-stones.

So to thy vigorous substance thou hast wrought

Whate'er the hand of Circumstance hath brought;

Yea, into cool solacing green hast spun

White radiance hot from out the sun.

So thou dost mutually leaven

Strength of earth with grace of heaven;

So thou dost marry new and old

Into a one of higher mould;

So thou dost reconcile the hot and cold,

The dark and bright,

And many a heart-perplexing opposite:

And so,

Akin by blood to high and low,

Fitly thou playest out thy poet's part,

Richly expending thy much-bruised heart

In equal care to nourish lord in hall

Or beast in stall:

Thou took'st from all that thou might'st give to all.

O steadfast dweller on the selfsame spot

Where thou wast born, that still repinest not—

Type of the home-fond heart, the happy lot!—

Deeply thy mild content rebukes the land

Whose flimsy homes, built on the shifting sand

Of trade, for ever rise and fall

With alternation whimsical,

Enduring scarce a day,

Then swept away

By swift engulfments of incalculable tides

Whereon capricious Commerce rides.

Look, thou substantial spirit of content!

Across this little vale, thy continent,

To where, beyond the mouldering mill,

Yon old deserted Georgian hill

Bares to the sun his piteous aged crest

And seamy breast,

By restless-hearted children left to lie

Untended there beneath the heedless sky,

As barbarous folk expose their old to die.

Upon that generous swelling side,

Now scarified

By keen neglect, and all unfurrowed save

By gullies red as lash-marks on a slave,

Dwelt one I knew of old, who played at toil,

And dreamed himself a tiller of the soil.

Scorning the slow reward of patient grain,

He sowed his soul with hopes of swifter gain,

Then sat him down and waited for the rain.

He sailed in borrowed ships of usury—

foolish Jason on a treacherous sea,

Seeking the Fleece and finding misery.

Lulled by smooth-rippling loans, in idle trance

He lay, content that unthrift Circumstance

Should plough for him the stony field of Chance.

Yea, gathering crops whose worth no man might tell,

He staked his life on a game of Buy-and-Sell,

And turned each field into a gambler's hell.

Aye, as each year began,

My farmer to the neighboring city ran,

Passed with a mournful anxious face

Into the banker's inner place;

Parleyed, excused, pleaded for longer grace,

Railed at the drought, the worm, the rust, the grass,

Protested ne'er again 'twould come to pass

Such troops of ills his labors should harass;

Politely swallowed searching questions rude,

And kissed the dust to melt his Dives's mood.

At last, small loans by pledges great renewed,

He issues smiling from the fatal door,

And buys with lavish hand his yearly store

Till his small borrowings will yield no more.

Aye, as each year declined,

With bitter heart and ever-brooding mind

He mourned his fate unkind.

In dust, in rain, with might and main,

He nursed his cotton, cursed his grain,

Fretted for news that made him fret again,

Snatched at each telegram of Future Sale,

And thrilled with Bulls' or Bears' alternate wail—

In hope or fear alike for ever pale.

And thus from year to year, through hope and fear,

With many a curse and many a secret tear,

Striving in vain his cloud of debt to clear,

At last

He woke to find his foolish dreaming past,

Beheld his best-of-life the easy prey

Of quacks and scamps, and all the vile array

That line the way,

From thieving statesman down to petty knave;

Yea, saw himself, for all his bragging brave,

A gamester's catspaw and a banker's slave.

Then, worn and gray, and sick with deep unrest,

He fled away into the oblivious West,

Unmourned, unblest.

Old hill! old hill! thou gashed and hairy Lear

Whom the divine Cordelia of the year,

E'en pitying Spring, will vainly strive to cheer—

King, but too poor for any man to own,

Discrowned, undaughtered and alone,

Yet shall the great God turn thy fate,

And bring thee back into thy monarch's state

And majesty immaculate;

So, through hot waverings of the August morn,

A vision of great treasuries of corn

Thou bearest in thy vasty sides forlorn,

For largesse to some future bolder heart

That manfully shall take thy part,

And tend thee,

And defend thee,

With antique sinew and with modern art.