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May-Day and Other Pieces

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  Daughter of Heaven and Earth, coy Spring,With sudden passion languishing,Maketh all things softly smile,Painteth pictures mile on mile,Holds a cup with cowslip-wreaths,Whence a smokeless incense breathes.Girls are peeling the sweet willow,Poplar white, and Gilead-tree,And troops of boysShouting with whoop and hilloa,And hip, hip three times three.The air is full of whistlings bland;What was that I heardOut of the hazy land?Harp of the wind, or song of bird,Or clapping of shepherd’s hands,Or vagrant booming of the air,Voice of a meteor lost in day?Such tidings of the starry sphereCan this elastic air convey.Or haply ’t was the cannonadeOf the pent and darkened lake,Cooled by the pendent mountain’s shade,Whose deeps, till beams of noonday break,Afflicted moan, and latest holdEven unto May the iceberg cold.Was it a squirrel’s pettish bark,Or clarionet of jay? or hark,Where yon wedged line the Nestor leads,Steering north with raucous cryThrough tracts and provinces of sky,Every night alighting downIn new landscapes of romance,Where darkling feed the clamorous clansBy lonely lakes to men unknown.Come the tumult whence it will,Voice of sport, or rush of wings,It is a sound, it is a tokenThat the marble sleep is broken,And a change has passed on things.

  Beneath the calm, within the light,A hid unruly appetiteOf swifter life, a surer hope,Strains every sense to larger scope,Impatient to anticipateThe halting steps of aged Fate.Slow grows the palm, too slow the pearl:When Nature falters, fain would zealGrasp the felloes of her wheel,And grasping give the orbs another whirl.Turn swiftlier round, O tardy ball!And sun this frozen side,Bring hither back the robin’s call,Bring back the tulip’s pride.

  Why chidest thou the tardy Spring?The hardy bunting does not chide;The blackbirds make the maples ringWith social cheer and jubilee;The redwing flutes his o-ka-lee,The robins know the melting snow;The sparrow meek, prophetic-eyed,Her nest beside the snow-drift weaves,Secure the osier yet will hideHer callow brood in mantling leaves;And thou, by science all undone,Why only must thy reason failTo see the southing of the sun?

  As we thaw frozen flesh with snow,So Spring will not, foolish fond,Mix polar night with tropic glow,Nor cloy us with unshaded sun,Nor wanton skip with bacchic dance,But she has the temperanceOf the gods, whereof she is one,—Masks her treasury of heatUnder east-winds crossed with sleet.Plants and birds and humble creaturesWell accept her rule austere;Titan-born, to hardy naturesCold is genial and dear.As Southern wrath to Northern rightIs but straw to anthracite;As in the day of sacrifice,When heroes piled the pyre,The dismal Massachusetts iceBurned more than others’ fire,So Spring guards with surface coldThe garnered heat of ages old:Hers to sow the seed of bread,That man and all the kinds be fed;And, when the sunlight fills the hours,Dissolves the crust, displays the flowers....