The Voice in the Native Oak by Henry Kendall

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Twelve years ago, when I could face
   High heaven's dome with different eyes --
In days full-flowered with hours of grace,
   And nights not sad with sighs --
I wrote a song in which I strove
   To shadow forth thy strain of woe,
Dark widowed sister of the grove! --
   Twelve wasted years ago.

But youth was then too young to find
   Those high authentic syllables,
Whose voice is like the wintering wind
   By sunless mountain fells;
Nor had I sinned and suffered then
   To that superlative degree
That I would rather seek, than men,
   Wild fellowship with thee!

But he who hears this autumn day
   Thy more than deep autumnal rhyme,
Is one whose hair was shot with grey
   By Grief instead of Time.
He has no need, like many a bard,
   To sing imaginary pain,
Because he bears, and finds it hard,
   The punishment of Cain.

No more he sees the affluence
   Which makes the heart of Nature glad;
For he has lost the fine, first sense
   Of Beauty that he had.
The old delight God's happy breeze
   Was wont to give, to Grief has grown;
And therefore, Niobe of trees,
   His song is like thine own!

But I, who am that perished soul,
   Have wasted so these powers of mine,
That I can never write that whole,
   Pure, perfect speech of thine.
Some lord of words august, supreme,
   The grave, grand melody demands;
The dark translation of thy theme
   I leave to other hands.

Yet here, where plovers nightly call
   Across dim, melancholy leas --
Where comes by whistling fen and fall
   The moan of far-off seas --
A grey, old Fancy often sits
   Beneath thy shade with tired wings,
And fills thy strong, strange rhyme by fits
   With awful utterings.

Then times there are when all the words
   Are like the sentences of one
Shut in by Fate from wind and birds
   And light of stars and sun,
No dazzling dryad, but a dark
   Dream-haunted spirit doomed to be
Imprisoned, crampt in bands of bark,
   For all eternity.

Yea, like the speech of one aghast
   At Immortality in chains,
What time the lordly storm rides past
   With flames and arrowy rains:
Some wan Tithonus of the wood,
   White with immeasurable years --
An awful ghost in solitude
   With moaning moors and meres.

And when high thunder smites the hill
   And hunts the wild dog to his den,
Thy cries, like maledictions, shrill
   And shriek from glen to glen,
As if a frightful memory whipped
   Thy soul for some infernal crime
That left it blasted, blind, and stript --
   A dread to Death and Time!

But when the fair-haired August dies,
   And flowers wax strong and beautiful,
Thy songs are stately harmonies
   By wood-lights green and cool --
Most like the voice of one who shows
   Through sufferings fierce, in fine relief,
A noble patience and repose --
   A dignity in grief.

But, ah! conceptions fade away,
   And still the life that lives in thee --
The soul of thy majestic lay --
   Remains a mystery!
And he must speak the speech divine --
   The language of the high-throned lords --
Who'd give that grand old theme of thine
   Its sense in faultless words.

By hollow lands and sea-tracts harsh,
   With ruin of the fourfold gale,
Where sighs the sedge and sobs the marsh,
   Still wail thy lonely wail;
And, year by year, one step will break
   The sleep of far hill-folded streams,
And seek, if only for thy sake
   Thy home of many dreams.

First published in The Australian Town & Country Journal, 4 July 1874, and again in the same newspaper on 12 August 1882;
and then later in
Songs from the Mountains by Henry Kendall, 1880;
Selected Poems of Henry Kendall edited by T. Inglis Moore, 1957;
The Poetical Works of Henry Kendall edited by Thomas Thornton Reed, 1966;
Henry Kendall: Poetry, Prose and Selected Correspondence edited by Michael Ackland, 1993.

Note: this poem is related to an earlier work titled "The Voice of the Native Oak" by Charles Harpur, 1851, which you can read here.
The poem by Kendall is also known by the title "The Voice of the Wild Oak".

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on July 4, 2011 7:46 AM.

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