The Dying Raven

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Come to these lonely woods to die alone?It seems not many days since thou wast heard,From out the mists of spring, with thy shrill note,Calling upon thy mates -- and their clear answers.The earth was brown then; and the infant leavesHad not put forth to warm them in the sun,Or play in the fresh air of heaven. Thy voice,Shouting in triumph, told of winter gone,And prophesying life to the sealed ground,Did make me glad with thoughts of coming beauties.And now they're all around us, -- offspring brightOf earth, -- a mother, who, with constant care,Doth feed and clothe them all. -- Now o'er her fields,In blessed bands, or single, they are gone,Or by her brooks they stand, and sip the stream;Or peering o'er it, -- vanity well feigned --In quaint approval seem to glow and nodAt their reflected graces. -- Morn to meet,They in fantastic labors pass the night,Catching its dews, and rounding silvery dropsTo deck their bosoms. -- There, on high, bald trees,From varnished cells some peep, and the old boughsMake to rejoice and dance in warmer winds.Over my head the winds and they make music;And grateful, in return for what they take,Bright hues and odours to the air they give.

Thus mutual love brings mutual delight --Brings beauty, life; -- for love is life -- hate, death.

Thou Prophet of so fair a revelation!Thou who abod'st with us the winter long,Enduring cold or rain, and shaking oft,From thy dark mantle, falling sleet or snow --Thou, who with purpose kind, when warmer daysShone on the earth, 'mid thaw and steam, cam'st forthFrom rocky nook, or wood, thy priestly cell,To speak of comfort unto lonely man --Didst say to him, -- though seemingly alone'Mid wastes and snows, and silent, lifeless trees,Or the more silent ground -- it was not death,But nature's sleep and rest, her kind repair; --That Thou, albeit unseen, didst bear with himThe winter's night, and, patient of the day,And cheered by hope, (instinct divine in Thee,)Waitedst return of summer.

More Thou saidst,Thou Priest of Nature, Priest of God, to man!Thou spok'st of Faith, (than instinct no less sure,)Of Spirits near him, though he saw them not;Thou bad'st him ope his intellectual eye,And see his solitude all populous;Thou showd'st him Paradise, and deathless flowers;And didst him pray to listen to the flowOf living waters.

Preacher to man's spirit!Emblem of Hope! Companion! Comforter!Thou faithful one! is this thine end? 'T was thou,When summer birds were gone, and no form seenIn the void air, who cam'st, living and strong,On thy broad, balanced pennons, through the winds.And of thy long enduring, this the close!Thy kingly strength, thou Conqueror of stormsThus low brought down.

The year's mild, cheering dawnShone out on thee, a momentary light.The gales of spring upbore thee for a day,And then forsook thee. Thou art fallen now;And liest among thy hopes and promises --Beautiful flowers, and freshly springing blades,Gasping thy life out. -- Here for thee the grassTenderly makes a bed; and the young budsIn silence open their fair, painted folds --To ease thy pain, the one -- to cheer thee, these.But thou art restless; and thy once keen eyeIs dull and sightless now. New-blooming boughs,Needlessly kind, have spread a tent for thee.Thy mate is calling to the white, piled clouds,And asks for thee. They give no answer back.As I look up to their bright angel faces,Intelligent and capable of voiceThey seem to me. Their silence to my soulComes ominous. The same to thee, doomed bird,Silence or sound: For thee there is no sound,No silence. -- Near thee stands the shadow, Death; --And now he slowly draws his sable veilOver thine eyes; thy senses softly lullsInto unconscious slumbers. The airy callThou 'lt hear no longer; 'neath sun-lighted clouds,With beating wing, or steady poise aslant,Wilt sail no more. Around thy trembling clawsDroop thy wings' parting feathers. Spasms of deathAre on thee.

Laid thus low by age? Or is 'tAll-grudging man has brought thee to this end?Perhaps the slender hair, so subtly woundAround the grain God gives thee for thy food,Has proved thy snare, and makes thine inward pain.

I needs must mourn for thee. For I, who haveNo fields, nor gather into garners -- IBear thee both thanks and love, not fear nor hate.

And now, farewell! The falling leaves ere longWill give thee decent covering. Till then,Thine own black plumage, which will now no moreGlance to the sun, nor flash upon my eyes,Like armour of steeled knight of Palestine,Must be thy pall. Nor will it moult so soonAs sorrowing thoughts on those borne from him, fadeIn living man.

Who scoffs these sympathies,Makes mock of the divinity within;Nor feels he gently breathing through his soulThe universal spirit. -- Hear it cry,."How does thy pride abase thee, man, vain man!How deaden thee to universal love,And joy of kindred with all humble things, --God's creatures all!."

And surely it is so.He who the lily clothes in simple glory,He who doth hear the ravens cry for food,Hath on our hearts, with hand invisible,In signs mysterious, written what aloneOur hearts may read. -- Death bring thee rest, poor Bird.

© Dana Richard Henry