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Michael Oaktree
by [?]


Under an arch of glorious leaves I passed
Out of the wood and saw the sickle moon
Floating in daylight o’er the pale green sea.

It was the quiet hour before the sun
Gathers the clouds to prayer and silently
Utters his benediction on the waves
That whisper round the death-bed of the day.
The labourers were returning from the farms
And children danced to meet them. From the doors
Of cottages there came a pleasant clink
Where busy hands laid out the evening meal.
From smouldering elms around the village spire
There soared and sank the caw of gathering rooks.
The faint-flushed clouds were listening to the tale
The sea tells to the sunset with one sigh.
The last white wistful sea-bird sought for peace,
And the last fishing-boat stole o’er the bar,
And fragrant grasses, murmuring a prayer,
Bowed all together to the holy west,
Bowed all together thro’ the golden hush,
The breathing hush, the solemn scented hush,
The holy, holy hush of eventide.

And, in among the ferns that crowned the hill
With waving green and whispers of the wind,
A boy and girl, carelessly linking hands,
Into their golden dream drifted away.
On that rich afternoon of scent and song
Old Michael Oaktree died. It was not much
He wished for; but indeed I think he longed
To see the light of summer once again
Blossoming o’er the far blue hills. I know
He used to like his rough-hewn wooden bench
Placed in the sun outside the cottage door
Where in the listening stillness he could hear,
Across the waving gilly-flowers that crowned
His crumbling garden wall, the long low sigh
Of supreme peace that whispers to the hills
The sacred consolation of the sea.
He did not hope for much: he longed to live
Until the winter came again, he said;
But on the last sweet eve of May he died.

I wandered sadly through the dreaming lanes
Down to the cottage on that afternoon;
For I had known old Michael Oaktree now
So many years, so many happy years.
When I was little he had carried me
High on his back to see the harvest home,
And given me many a ride upon his wagon
Among the dusty scents of sun and hay.
He showed me how to snare the bulky trout
That lurked under the bank of yonder brook.
Indeed, he taught me many a country craft,
For I was apt to learn, and, as I learnt,
I loved the teacher of that homely lore.
Deep in my boyish heart he shared the glad
Influence of the suns and winds and waves,
Giving my childhood what it hungered for–
The rude earth-wisdom of the primal man.

He had retained his childhood: Death for him
Had no more terror than his bed. He walked
With wind and sunlight like a brother, glad
Of their companionship and mutual aid.
We, toilers after truth, are weaned too soon
From earth’s dark arms and naked barbarous breast.
Too soon, too soon, we leave the golden feast,
Fetter the dancing limbs and pluck the crown
Of roses from the dreaming brow. We pass
Our lives in most laborious idleness.
For we have lost the meaning of the world;
We have gone out into the night too soon;
We have mistaken all the means of grace
And over-rated our small power to learn.
And the years move so swiftly over us:
We have so little time to live in worlds
Unrealised and unknown realms of joy,
We are so old before we learn how vain
Our effort was, how fruitlessly we cast
Our Bread upon the waters, and how weak
Our hearts were, but our chance desires how strong!
Then, in the dark, our sense of light decays;
We cannot cry to God as once we cried!
Lost in the gloom, our faith, perhaps our love,
Lies dead with years that never can return.