Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
From roads that followed brook or pasture wall,
The landmark elm was a tree to travel by.
From window, door, and path it centered all
The rocks, gates, roofs, and country summer sky.
The road comes up the hill and over now.
It cuts across the meadows toward the sun
As if the last old farmer set his plough
And drove it westward when his work was done.
The elm tree on the hilltop, great and green,
Lifts heaven up no more by night or day.
The sun shines through its boughs, the stars between,
And travellers measure miles another way.
No man who heard his father's father guess
How long the elm tree stood before his time
Is warned of winter by its leaflessness,
Or sees through leaves the moon in summer climb.
Nevertheless the moonlight falls the same,
And the landmark elm, with autumn coming on,
Turns golden still when other trees are flame,
But now the men with watchful eyes are gone.
The roots go deeper into the darkness now
Of earth as rich as time. They lift the rain
From long ago to buds on the latest bough.
No country weather comes or clears in vain,
The frost, the spring, the fresh and cloudless days,
The northern wind at night, the drought that burned.
A summer publishes in green one phrase
Of history the questioning roots have learned.
It is the strength as well, the pain and love,
The living thoughts men had and never told,
That now the million leaves are murmuring of.
The men are dead. The tree is only old.
It spreads and towers into the sunlit air,
The leaves in wind forever moved and massed,
Stirring and growing for its own sake there
In memory of the unremembered past.