The Wood-pile


    OUT walking in the frozen swamp one grey day
    I paused and said, "I will turn back from here.
    No, I will go on farther—and we shall see."
    The hard snow held me, save where now and then
    One foot went down. The view was all in lines
    Straight up and down of tall slim trees
    Too much alike to mark or name a place by
    So as to say for certain I was here
    Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
    A small bird flew before me. He was careful
    To put a tree between us when he lighted,
    And say no word to tell me who he was
    Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
    He thought that I was after him for a feather—
    The white one in his tail; like one who takes
    Everything said as personal to himself.
    One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
    And then there was a pile of wood for which
    I forgot him and let his little fear
    Carry him off the way I might have gone,
    Without so much as wishing him good-night.
    He went behind it to make his last stand.
    It was a cord of maple, cut and split
    And piled—and measured, four by four by eight.
    And not another like it could I see.
    No runner tracks in this year's snow looped near it.
    And it was older sure than this year's cutting,
    Or even last year's or the year's before.
    The wood was grey and the bark warping off it
    And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
    Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
    What held it though on one side was a tree
    Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
    These latter about to fall. I thought that only
    Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
    Could so forget his handiwork on which
    He spent himself, the labour of his axe,
    And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
    To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
    With the slow smokeless burning of decay.


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