An Old-World Thicket by Christina Rossetti

…”Una selva oscura.”–Dante.

Awake or sleeping (for I know not which)
I was or was not mazed within a wood
Where every mother-bird brought up her brood
Safe in some leafy niche
Of oak or ash, of cypress or of beech,

Of silvery aspen trembling delicately,
Of plane or warmer-tinted sycamore,
Of elm that dies in secret from the core,
Of ivy weak and free,
Of pines, of all green lofty things that be.

Such birds they seemed as challenged each desire;
Like spots of azure heaven upon the wing,
Like downy emeralds that alight and sing,
Like actual coals on fire,
Like anything they seemed, and everything.

Such mirth they made, such warblings and such chat
With tongue of music in a well-tuned beak,
They seemed to speak more wisdom than we speak,
To make our music flat
And all our subtlest reasonings wild or weak.

Their meat was nought but flowers like butterflies,
With berries coral-colored or like gold;
Their drink was only dew, which blossoms hold
Deep where the honey lies;
Their wings and tails were lit by sparkling eyes.

The shade wherein they revelled was a shade
That danced and twinkled to the unseen sun;
Branches and leaves cast shadows one by one,
And all their shadows swayed
In breaths of air that rustled and that played.

A sound of waters neither rose nor sank,
And spread a sense of freshness through the air;
It seemed not here or there, but everywhere,
As if the whole earth drank,
Root fathom deep and strawberry on its bank.

But I who saw such things as I have said,
Was overdone with utter weariness;
And walked in care, as one whom fears oppress
Because above his head
Death hangs, or damage, or the dearth of bread.

Each sore defeat of my defeated life
Faced and outfaced me in that bitter hour;
And turned to yearning palsy all my power,
And all my peace to strife,
Self stabbing self with keen lack-pity knife.

Sweetness of beauty moved me to despair,
Stung me to anger by its mere content,
Made me all lonely on that way I went,
Piled care upon my care,
Brimmed full my cup, and stripped me empty and bare:

For all that was but showed what all was not,
But gave clear proof of what might never be;
Making more destitute my poverty,
And yet more blank my lot,
And me much sadder by its jubilee.

Therefore I sat me down: for wherefore walk?
And closed mine eyes: for wherefore see or hear?
Alas, I had no shutter to mine ear,
And could not shun the talk
Of all rejoicing creatures far or near.

Without my will I hearkened and I heard
(Asleep or waking, for I know not which),
Till note by note the music changed its pitch;
Bird ceased to answer bird,
And every wind sighed softly if it stirred.

The drip of widening waters seemed to weep,
All fountains sobbed and gurgled as they sprang,
Somewhere a cataract cried out in its leap
Sheer down a headlong steep;
High over all cloud-thunders gave a clang.

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Such universal sound of lamentation
I heard and felt, fain not to feel or hear;
Nought else there seemed but anguish far and near;
Nought else but all creation
Moaning and groaning wrung by pain or fear,

Shuddering in the misery of its doom:
My heart then rose a rebel against light,
Scouring all earth and heaven and depth and height,
Ingathering wrath and gloom,
Ingathering wrath to wrath and night to night.

Ah me, the bitterness of such revolt,
All impotent, all hateful, and all hate,
That kicks and breaks itself against the bolt
Of an imprisoning fate,
And vainly shakes, and cannot shake the gate.

Agony to agony, deep called to deep,
Out of the deep I called of my desire;
My strength was weakness and my heart was fire;
Mine eyes that would not weep
Or sleep, scaled height and depth, and could not sleep;

The eyes, I mean, of my rebellious soul,
For still my bodily eyes were closed and dark:
A random thing I seemed without a mark,
Racing without a goal,
Adrift upon life’s sea without an ark.

More leaden than the actual self of lead
Outer and inner darkness weighed on me.
The tide of anger ebbed. Then fierce and free
Surged full above my head
The moaning tide of helpless misery.

Why should I breathe, whose breath was but a sigh?
Why should I live, who drew such painful breath?
Oh weary work, the unanswerable why!–
Yet I, why should I die,
Who had no hope in life, no hope in death?

Grasses and mosses and the fallen leaf
Make peaceful bed for an indefinite term;
But underneath the grass there gnaws a worm–
Haply, there gnaws a grief–
Both, haply always; not, as now, so brief.

The pleasure I remember, it is past;
The pain I feel is passing, passing by;
Thus all the world is passing, and thus I:
All things that cannot last
Have grown familiar, and are born to die.

And being familiar, have so long been borne
That habit trains us not to break but bend:
Mourning grows natural to us who mourn
In foresight of an end,
But that which ends not who shall brave or mend?

Surely the ripe fruits tremble on their bough,
They cling and linger trembling till they drop:
I, trembling, cling to dying life; for how
Face the perpetual Now?
Birthless and deathless, void of start or stop,

Void of repentance, void of hope and fear,
Of possibility, alternative,
Of all that ever made us bear to live
From night to morning here,
Of promise even which has no gift to give.

The wood, and every creature of the wood,
Seemed mourning with me in an undertone;
Soft scattered chirpings and a windy moan,
Trees rustling where they stood
And shivered, showed compassion for my mood.

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Rage to despair; and now despair had turned
Back to self-pity and mere weariness,
With yearnings like a smouldering fire that burned,
And might grow more or less,
And might die out or wax to white excess.

Without, within me, music seemed to be;
Something not music, yet most musical,
Silence and sound in heavenly harmony;
At length a pattering fall
Of feet, a bell, and bleatings, broke through all.

Then I looked up. The wood lay in a glow
From golden sunset and from ruddy sky;
The sun had stooped to earth though once so high;
Had stooped to earth, in slow
Warm dying loveliness brought near and low.

Each water-drop made answer to the light,
Lit up a spark and showed the sun his face;
Soft purple shadows paved the grassy space
And crept from height to height,
From height to loftier height crept up apace.

While opposite the sun a gazing moon
Put on his glory for her coronet,
Kindling her luminous coldness to its noon,
As his great splendor set;
One only star made up her train as yet.

Each twig was tipped with gold, each leaf was edged
And veined with gold from the gold-flooded west;
Each mother-bird, and mate-bird, and unfledged
Nestling, and curious nest,
Displayed a gilded moss or beak or breast.

And filing peacefully between the trees,
Having the moon behind them, and the sun
Full in their meek mild faces, walked at ease
A homeward flock, at peace
With one another and with every one.

A patriarchal ram with tinkling bell
Led all his kin; sometimes one browsing sheep
Hung back a moment, or one lamb would leap
And frolic in a dell;
Yet still they kept together, journeying well,

And bleating, one or other, many or few,
Journeying together toward the sunlit west;
Mild face by face, and woolly breast by breast,
Patient, sun-brightened too,
Still journeying toward the sunset and their rest.




I, All-Creation, sing my song of praise
To God Who made me and vouchsafes my days,
And sends me forth by multitudinous ways.


I, like my Brethren, burn eternally
With love of Him Who is Love, and loveth me;
The Holy, Holy, Holy Unity.


I, with my Brethren, gaze eternally
On Him Who is Wisdom, and Who knoweth me;
The Holy, Holy, Holy Trinity.

All Angels.

We rule, we serve, we work, we store His treasure,
Whose vessels are we, brimmed with strength and pleasure;
Our joys fulfil, yea, overfill our measure.


We float before the Presence Infinite,
We cluster round the Throne in our delight,
Revolving and rejoicing in God’s sight.


I, blue and beautiful, and framed of air,
At sunrise and at sunset grow most fair;
His glory by my glories I declare.

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We Powers are powers because He makes us strong;
Wherefore we roll all rolling orbs along,
We move all moving things, and sing our song.


I blaze to Him in mine engarlanding
Of rays, I flame His whole burnt-offering,
While as a bridegroom I rejoice and sing.


I follow, and am fair, and do His Will;
Through all my changes I am faithful still,
Full-orbed or strait, His mandate to fulfil.


We Star-hosts numerous, innumerous,
Throng space with energy untumultuous,
And work His Will Whose eye beholdeth us.

Galaxies and Nebulae.

No thing is far or near; and therefore we
Float neither far nor near; but where we be
Weave dances round the Throne perpetually.

Comets and Meteors.

Our lights dart here and there, whirl to and fro,
We flash and vanish, we die down and glow;
All doing His Will Who bids us do it so.


We give ourselves; and be we great or small,
Thus are we made like Him Who giveth all,
Like Him Whose gracious pleasure bids us fall.


We give ourselves in silent secret ways,
Spending and spent in silence full of grace;
And thus are made like God, and show His praise.


We sift the air and winnow all the earth;
And God Who poised our weights and weighs our worth
Accepts the worship of our solemn mirth.


My power and strength are His Who fashioned me,
Ordained me image of His Jealousy,
Forged me His weapon fierce exceedingly.


I glow unto His glory, and do good:
I glow, and bring to life both bud and brood;
I glow, and ripen harvest-crops for food.

Winter and Summer.

Our wealth and joys and beauties celebrate
His wealth of beauty Who sustains our state,
Before Whose changelessness we alternate.

Spring and Autumn.

I hope,–
And I remember,–

We give place
Either to other with contented grace,
Acceptable and lovely all our days.


I make the unstable stable, binding fast
The world of waters prone to ripple past:
Thus praise I God, Whose mercies I forecast.


I rouse and goad the slothful, apt to nod,
I stir and urge the laggards with my rod:
My praise is not of men, yet I praise God.


My whiteness shadoweth Him Who is most fair,
All spotless: yea, my whiteness which I wear
Exalts His Purity beyond compare.


We darken sun and moon, and blot the day,
The good Will of our Maker to obey:
Till to the glory of God we pass away.


Moon and all stars I don for diadem
To make me fair: I cast myself and them
Before His feet, Who knows us gem from gem.


I shout before Him in my plenitude
Of light and warmth, of hope and wealth and food;
Ascribing all good to the Only Good.

Light and Darkness.

I am God’s dwelling-place,–
And also I
Make His pavilion,–
Lo, we bide and fly
Exulting in the Will of God Most High.

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Lightning and Thunder.

We indivisible flash forth His Fame,
We thunder forth the glory of His Name,
In harmony of resonance and flame.


Sweet is our store, exhaled from sea or river:
We wear a rainbow, praising God the Giver
Because His mercy is for ever and ever.


I rest in Him rejoicing: resting so
And so rejoicing, in that I am low;
Yet known of Him, and following on to know.


Our heights which laud Him, sink abased before
Him higher than the highest evermore:
God higher than the highest we adore.


We green-tops praise Him, and we fruitful heads,
Whereon the sunshine and the dew He sheds:
We green-tops praise Him, rising from out beds.

Green Things.

We all green things, we blossoms bright or dim,
Trees, bushes, brushwood, corn and grasses slim,
We lift our many-favored lauds to Him.


I praise Him on my thorn which I adorn,–
And I, amid my world of thistle and thorn,–
And I, within my veil where I am born.


We, Apple-blossom, Citron, Pomegranate,
We, clothed of God without our toil and fret,
We offer fatness where His Throne is set.


I proffer Him my sweetness, who am sweet,–
I bow my strength in fragrance at His feet,–
I wave myself before His Judgment Seat.

Medicinal Herbs.

I bring refreshment,–
I bring ease and calm,–
I lavish strength and healing,–
I am balm,–
We work His pitiful Will and chant our psalm.

A Spring.

Clear my pure fountain, clear and pure my rill,
My fountain and mine outflow deep and still,
I set His semblance forth and do His Will.


To-day I praise God with a sparkling face,
My thousand thousand waves all uttering praise:
To-morrow I commit me to His Grace.


We spring and swell meandering to and fro,
From height to depth, from depth to depth we flow,
We fertilize the world, and praise Him so.

Whales and Sea Mammals.

We Whales and Monsters gambol in His sight
Rejoicing every day and every night,
Safe in the tender keeping of His Might.


Our fashions and our colors and our speeds
Set forth His praise Who framed us and Who feeds,
Who knows our number and regards our needs.


Winged Angels of this visible world, we fly
To sing God’s praises in the lofty sky;
We scale the height to praise our Lord most High.

Eagle and Dove.

I the sun-gazing Eagle,–
I the Dove,
With plumes of softness and a note of love,–
We praise by divers gifts One God above.

Beasts and Cattle.

We forest Beasts,–
We Beasts of hill or cave,–
We border-loving Creatures of the wave,–
We praise our King with voices deep and grave.

Small Animals.

God forms us weak and small, but pours out all
We need, and notes us while we stand or fall:
Wherefore we praise Him, weak and safe and small.

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I praise my loving Lord, Who maketh me
His type by harmless sweet simplicity:
Yet He the Lamb of lambs incomparably.


I praise the Lion of the Royal Race,
Strongest in fight and swiftest in the chase:
With all my might I leap and lavish praise.

All Men.

All creatures sing around us, and we sing:
We bring our own selves as our offering,
Our very selves we render to our King.


Flock of our Shepherd’s pasture and His fold,
Purchased and well-beloved from days of old,
We tell His praise which still remains untold.


We free-will Shepherds tend His sheep, and feed;
We follow Him while caring for their need;
We follow praising Him, and them we lead.

Servants of God.

We love God, for He loves us; we are free
In serving Him, who serve Him willingly:
As kings we reign, and praise His Majesty.

Holy and Humble Persons.

All humble souls he calls and sanctifies;
All holy souls He calls to make them wise;
Accepting all, His free-will sacrifice.


He maketh me,–
And me,–
And me,–
To be
His blessed little ones around His knee,
Who praise Him by mere love confidingly.


God makes our service love, and makes our wage
Love: so we wend on patient pilgrimage,
Extolling Him by love from age to age.


God gives us power to rule: He gives us power
To rule ourselves, and prune the exuberant flower
Of youth, and worship Him hour after hour.

Spirits and Souls–

Lo, in the hidden world we chant our chant
To Him Who fills us that we nothing want,
To Him Whose bounty leaves our craving scant.

of Babes–

With milky mouths we praise God, from the breast
Called home betimes to rest the perfect rest,
By love and joy fufilling His behest.

of Women–

We praise His Will which made us what He would,
His Will which fashioned us and called us good,
His Will our plenary beatitude.

of Men.

We praise His Will Who bore with us so long,
Who out of weakness wrought us swift and strong,
Champions of right and putters-down of wrong.


Let everything that hath or hath not breath,
Let days and endless days, let life and death,
Praise God, praise God, praise God, His creature saith.

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