Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/July 1880/My Fire
WITHIN my grate a cheerful blaze
Lights up the room with ruddy rays,
That blunt the winter's sharpest stings
With bygone summer's offerings.
I sit and watch the leaping flame,
In wonder whence its beauty came;
And trace it back to days of old,
When Earth's hard crust was scarcely cold,
And tropic trees in arctic zones
Taught the north-wind those subtile tones,
Which, now and then, its weary blast
Seems to regather from the past,
To murmur in a mystic song
The secret-keeping pines among.
And, as I gaze, I somehow see
Strange things that long have ceased to be:
The sooty carbon seems to glow
With memories of long ago,
And in the flickering lines of gold
The story of its past is told.
Ages ago, when Earth was young,
And all her beauties yet unsung—
Save in the songs that Nature weaves
Into the texture of the leaves,
Or teaches to the insect swarms
That fill the light with darting forms—
A meteor, like some silly moth,
To meet destruction nothing loath,
Drawn by a force it could not shun,
Broke from its circles round the Sun,
And in a flashing spiral flight
Shot to the central source of light.
New fuel fed the solar flame;
New sunbeams into being came;
And these, unconscious of their birth,
Sought speedily the whirling Earth.
In that far-off, mysterious day
The undeveloped planet lay
Afloat in space, a different thing
From that which bears us on its wing.
Forgotten rivers downward ran
From mountains never seen by man,
To oceans, long since dried away,
Whose beds are continents to-day.
And overhead the heavens bent
Not wholly like our firmament.
Some stars, perchance, that now are cold,
In their deserted orbits rolled;
And others shone more brightly then
Than since abashed by gaze of men.
The very Sun intenser glowed
As on the heavenly way he strode,
And sent to space the fiercer heat
Of fiery youth and vigor sweet.
Through vapors dense the sunbeams fell,
And worked in passing many a spell
On ancient rocks and flowing streams,
And decked with unaccustomed gleams
The wings of insects proud to be
The wearers of such livery.
Then on through forests where the breeze
Found giant ferns grown into trees,
That in their waving branches held
The wealth of summer undispelled.
Strange flowers turned bright faces up
To catch the light in many a cup,
And all of nature gladly sought
The blessings by the sunbeams wrought.
But these fair rays whose deeds I sing
Staid nowhere long for anything;
Leaping from rock, and leaf, and tree,
From stream and pool with equal glee,
Until, half buried in the ground,
A freshly fallen seed they found.
And here they halted; here at last
A welcome duty held them fast.
As day by day the sunbeams fell,
A tiny leaflet burst its shell;
And soon a stem of tender green
Was thrust above the earthy screen.
Daily it drank the air and dew;
Daily the sunlight warmed it through;
Up to a mighty tree it grew.
A tower of fronded foliage high
Above the forest sought the sky
Whose sturdy stem, erect, defied
Tempest or flood with haughty pride,
And for a century bravely stood
The monarch of the solitude.
But Time, who conquers all things, saw
This perfect tree without a flaw;
And sent an insect, weak and small,
To bring about its certain fall.
Gnawed at the root, its strength decayed;
The forest giant bent and swayed,
And with a shuddering crash it fell
From the high place it loved so well.
Buried in slime, and ooze, and clay,
The perished king forgotten lay.
The Ages, with resistless tread,
Marched slowly on above the dead;
And where the tree had grandly grown
They piled a thousand feet of stone.
A royal tomb, with royal state,
Was token of the monarch's fate:
Surely the future has for us
No worthier sarcophagus.
At last came Man, with eager brain,
To ransack Earth in search of gain;
And where a brook had cleft apart
The rocks to reach a mountain's heart,
Deep in the chasm he could trace
An ancient forest's burial-place.
In sheets of coal the eye could mark
The very texture of the bark;
And see, with every tender vein
Still sharply outlined, clear and plain,
Leaves that had wooed the morning sun
When Time itself was scarce begun,
And turned to stone the giant stem
That wore the leafy diadem.
Brightly my fire of coal may burn—
Backward my thoughts, resistless, turn.
With keen imagination's eye
I see the Ages passing by:
I see the meteor's headlong flight;
A planet's death; the birth of light;
The ancient world, unlike our own;
The mighty forest turned to stone;
And, scene by scene, before my eyes,
The whole long vanished past arise.
And from my grate I feel the glow
Of sunbeams fallen long ago,
Stored up by Nature's magic art
Within a tree's untainted heart,
To sleep a myriad ages long,
And wake the subject of a song.