Bayard Taylor - Metempsychosis of the Pine
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Metempsychosis of the Pine - by Bayard Taylor
As when the haze of some wan moonlight makes
Familiar fields a land of mystery,
Where, chill and strange, a ghostly presence wakes
In flower, and bush, and tree,—
Another life, the life of Day o'erwhelms:
The Past from present consciousness takes hue,
And we remember vast and cloudy realms
Our feet have wandered through:
So, oft, some moonlight of the mind makes dumb
The stir of outer thought: wide open seems
The gate wherethrough strange sympathies have come,
The secret of our dreams;
The source of fine impressions, shooting deep
Below the failing plummet of the sense;
Which strike beyond all Time, and backward sweep
Through all intelligence.
We touch the lower life of beast and clod,
And the long process of the ages see
From blind old Chaos, ere the breath of God
Moved it to harmony.
All outward wisdom yields to that within,
Whereof nor creed nor canon holds the key;
We only feel that we have ever been,
And evermore shall be.
And thus I know, by memories unfurled
In rarer moods, and many a nameless sign,
That once in Time, and somewhere in the world,
I was a towering Pine,
Rooted upon a cape that overhung
The entrance to a mountain gorge whereon
The wintry shadow of a peak was flung,
Long after rise of sun.
Behind, the silent snows; and wide below,
The rounded hills made level, lessening down
To where a river washed with sluggish flow
A many-templed town.
There did I clutch the granite with firm feet,
There shake my boughs above the roaring gulf,
When mountain whirlwinds through the passes beat,
And howled the mountain wolf.
There did I louder sing than all the floods
Whirled in white foam above the precipice,
And the sharp sleet that stung the naked woods
Answer with sullen hiss:
But when the peaceful clouds rose white and high
On blandest airs that April skies could bring,
Through all my fibres thrilled the tender sigh,
The sweet unrest of Spring.
She, with warm fingers laced in mine, did melt
In fragrant balsam my reluctant blood;
And with a smart of keen delight I felt
The sap in every bud,
And tingled through my rough old bark, and fast
Pushed out the younger green, that smoothed my tones,
When last year's needles to the wind I cast,
And shed my scaly cones.
I held the eagle till the mountain mist
Rolled from the azure paths he came to soar,
And like a hunter, on my gnarled wrist
The dappled falcon bore.
Poised o'er the blue abyss, the morning lark
Sang, wheeling near in rapturous carouse;
And hart and hind, soft-pacing through the dark,
Slept underneath my boughs.
Down on the pasture-slopes the herdsman lay,
And for the flock his birchen trumpet blew;
There ruddy children tumbled in their play,
And lovers came to woo.
And once an army, crowned with triumph, came
Out of the hollow bosom of the gorge,
With mighty banners in the wind aflame,
Borne on a glittering surge.
Of tossing spears, a flood that homeward rolled,
While cymbals timed their steps of victory,
And horn and clarion from their throats of gold
Sang with a savage glee.
I felt the mountain walls below me shake,
Vibrant with sound, and through my branches poured
The glorious gust: my song thereto did make
Some blind harmonic instinct pierced the rind
Of that slow life which made me straight and high,
And I became a harp for every wind,
A voice for every sky;
When fierce autumnal gales began to blow,
Roaring all day in concert, hoarse and deep;
And then made silent with my weight of snow—
A spectre on the steep;
Filled with a whispering gush, like that which flows
Through organ-stops, when sank the sun's red disk
Beyond the city, and in blackness rose
Temple and obelisk;
Or breathing soft, as one who sighs in prayer,
Mysterious sounds of portent and of might,
What time I felt the wandering waves of air
Pulsating through the night.
And thus for centuries my rhythmic chant
Rolled down the gorge, or surged about the hill:
Gentle, or stern, or sad, or jubilant,
At every season's will.
No longer Memory whispers whence arose
The doom that tore me from my place of pride:
Whether the storms that load the peak with snows,
And start the mountain-slide,
Let fall a fiery bolt to smite my top,
Upwrenched my roots, and o'er the precipice
Hurled me, a dangling wreck, erelong to drop
Into the wild abyss;
Or whether hands of men, with scornful strength
And force from Nature's rugged armory lent,
Sawed through my heart and rolled my tumbling length
Sheer down the steep descent.
All sense departed, with the boughs I wore;
And though I moved with mighty gales at strife,
A mast upon the seas, I sang no more,
And music was my life.
Yet still that life awakens, brings again
Its airy anthems, resonant and long,
Till Earth and Sky, transfigured, fill my brain
With rhythmic sweeps of song.
Thence am I made a poet: thence are sprung
Those shadowy motions of the soul, that reach
Beyond all grasp of Art,—for which the tongue
Is ignorant of speech.
And if some wild, full-gathered harmony
Roll its unbroken music through my line,
There lives and murmurs, faintly though it be,
The Spirit of the Pine.