O river that ripples by rushes and roadways,
O river that murmurs a threat and a song,
There is sough of the pines in the whip of your eddies,
There is earth in your tided as you scamper along!
Though you flee to the sea as if demons had chased you,
And never quite rest in the mud, or the morn,
I know you remember the lair in the Mountains,
The rent in the rock where your ripples were born.
Oh, you may pretend you are kin to the ocean,
Oh, you may pretend that your prize is the sea;
But I know how you wince at a sail on your surface,
I know how you yearn just to mirror a tree.
The pines have a lilt that is sorrowful, lonely,
They reach their dark arms o'er the trail a stream,
And they lavish the store of their cinnamon needles
To thread their regrets like a sob through a dream.
O river, I know how you feign your forgetting,
When the day gilds your bosom with treasure of noon;
Or, with make-believe suns in your innocent shallows,
You steal from the planets to mock at the moon,
And spread on the plains in a trick at lagooning
Of something you learned from a mirage asleep --
A mask for the memory of ridges' responses,
Or brawling in canyons black shadowed and deep.
You may sweep to the reef at the bar of the harbor,
You may mix with the wave in the friendliest way,
And the blue sea may welcome with gratified laughter
The stream that is veined with the ochres of clay;
You may stifle your moan on the breast of the ocean,
And wide as the sky-line your kingdom may be;
But, belted with seaweed and buskined with coral,
You belong to the Mountains though lost in the sea!
And the vague valleys know it, the hill flowers know it;
The little ferns, lisping, protest to the rills;
The dry mountain breezes, the hawk-haunted eyries,
The Nearness to God that you left in the hills.
When I look in the deep, where you ruffle and rumble
Between a sheer gorge to a white pool below,
Though you strive to dissemble in delicate foaming,
I see the earth stain in your sick heart....and know.
First published in The Bulletin, 19 August 1915