Century Magazine/Volume 49/Issue 1/Witch-Hazel

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The last lone aster in the wood has died,

    And taken wings, and flown;

The sighing oaks, the evergreens' dark pride, And shivering beeches, keep their leaves alone.

From the chill breath of late October's blast

    That all the foliage seared,

Even the loyal gentian shrank at last, And, gathering up her fringes, disappeared.

The wood is silent as an unswept lute;

    Color and song have fled;

Only the brave black-alder's brilliant fruit Lights the sear deadness with its living red.

But what is this wild fragrance that pervades

    The air like incense-smoke?

Pungent as spices blown in tropic shades, Subtle as some enchanter might evoke.

Not like the scent of flower, nor drug, nor balm,

    Nor resins from the East,

Yet trancing soul and sense in such a charm As holds us when the thrush's song has ceased.

Mysterious, gradual, like the gathering dews,

    And damp, sweet scents of night,

Whence is this strange aroma that imbues The lone and leafless wood with new delight?

And while the questioner drinks,withparted lips,

    The mystical draught — behold!

A wondrous bush, beplumed from root to tips With crimped and curling bloom of shredded gold!

Not even the smallest leaf or hint of green

    Is mingled with its sprays,

But every slender stem and twig is seen Haloed with flickerings of yellow blaze.

What wizard, wise in spells of drugs and gums,

    With weird divining-rod

Conjures this luminous loveliness that comes As if by magic from the frozen sod?

Fearless witch-hazel! braver than the oak

    That dares not bloom till spring,

Thus to defy the frost's benumbing stroke With challenge of November blossoming!

And yet it has an airy, delicate grace

    Denied all other flowers,

And lights the gloom as some beloved face Dawns on the dark of melancholy hours.

Miraculous shrub, that thus in frost and blight

    Smilest all undismayed,

And scatterest from thy wands of golden light A sudden sunshine in the chilly glade.

Sprite of New England forests, he was wise

    Who gave thee thy quaint name,

As, threading wind-stripped woods, with awed surprise He first beheld thy waving fan of flame.