The Name in the Bark

THE self of so long ago,
And the self I struggle to know,
I sometimes think we are two, — or are we shadows of one ?
To-day the shadow I am
Comes back in the sweet summer calm
To trace where the earlier shadow flitted awhile in the sun.
Once more in the dewy morn
I trod through the whispering corn,
Cool to my fevered cheek soft breezy kisses were blown ;
The ribboned and tasselled grass
Leaned over the flattering glass,
And the sunny waters trilled the same low musical tone.
To the gray old birch I came,
Where I whittled my school-boy name:
The nimble squirrel once more ran skippingly over the rail,
The blackbirds down among
The alders noisily sung,
And under the blackberry-brier whistled the serious quail.
I came, remembering well
How my little shadow fell,
As I painfully reached and wrote to leave to the future a sign :
There, stooping a little, I found
A half-healed, curious wound,
An ancient scar in the bark, but no initial of mine!
Then the wise old boughs overhead
Took counsel together, and said,—
And the buzz of their leafy lips like a murmur of prophecy passed, —
“ He is busily carving a name
In the tough old wrinkles of fame;
But, cut he as deep as he may, the lines will close over at last! ”
Sadly I pondered awhile,
Then I lifted my soul with a smile,
And I said, — “ Not cheerful men, but anxious children are we,
Still hurting ourselves with the knife,
As we toil at the letters of life,
Just marring a little the rind, never piercing the heart of the tree.”
And now by the rivulet’s brink
I leisurely saunter, and think
How idle this strife will appear when circling ages have run,
If then the real I am
Descend from the heavenly calm,
To trace where the shadow I seem once flitted awhile in the sun.