The Dying Raven

Original Text: 

Richard Henry Dana, Poems and Prose Writings (Boston: Russell, Odiorne, 1933): 105-09. Internet Archive

1    Come to these lonely woods to die alone?
2It seems not many days since thou wast heard,
3From out the mists of spring, with thy shrill note,
4Calling upon thy mates -- and their clear answers.
5The earth was brown then; and the infant leaves
6Had not put forth to warm them in the sun,
7Or play in the fresh air of heaven. Thy voice,
8Shouting in triumph, told of winter gone,
9And prophesying life to the sealed ground,
10Did make me glad with thoughts of coming beauties.
11And now they're all around us, -- offspring bright
12Of earth, -- a mother, who, with constant care,
13Doth feed and clothe them all. -- Now o'er her fields,
14In blessed bands, or single, they are gone,
15Or by her brooks they stand, and sip the stream;
16Or peering o'er it, -- vanity well feigned --
17In quaint approval seem to glow and nod
18At their reflected graces. -- Morn to meet,
19They in fantastic labors pass the night,
20Catching its dews, and rounding silvery drops
21To deck their bosoms. -- There, on high, bald trees,
22From varnished cells some peep, and the old boughs
23Make to rejoice and dance in warmer winds.
24Over my head the winds and they make music;
25And grateful, in return for what they take,
26Bright hues and odours to the air they give.
27Thus mutual love brings mutual delight --
28Brings beauty, life; -- for love is life -- hate, death.
29    Thou Prophet of so fair a revelation!
30Thou who abod'st with us the winter long,
31Enduring cold or rain, and shaking oft,
32From thy dark mantle, falling sleet or snow --
33Thou, who with purpose kind, when warmer days
34Shone on the earth, 'mid thaw and steam, cam'st forth
35From rocky nook, or wood, thy priestly cell,
36To speak of comfort unto lonely man --
37Didst say to him, -- though seemingly alone
38'Mid wastes and snows, and silent, lifeless trees,
39Or the more silent ground -- it was not death,
40But nature's sleep and rest, her kind repair; --
41That Thou, albeit unseen, didst bear with him
42The winter's night, and, patient of the day,
43And cheered by hope, (instinct divine in Thee,)
44Waitedst return of summer.
45                        More Thou saidst,
46Thou Priest of Nature, Priest of God, to man!
47Thou spok'st of Faith, (than instinct no less sure,)
48Of Spirits near him, though he saw them not;
49Thou bad'st him ope his intellectual eye,
50And see his solitude all populous;
51Thou showd'st him Paradise, and deathless flowers;
52And didst him pray to listen to the flow
53Of living waters.
54                        Preacher to man's spirit!
55Emblem of Hope! Companion! Comforter!
56Thou faithful one! is this thine end? 'T was thou,
57When summer birds were gone, and no form seen
58In the void air, who cam'st, living and strong,
59On thy broad, balanced pennons, through the winds.
60And of thy long enduring, this the close!
61Thy kingly strength, thou Conqueror of storms
62Thus low brought down.
63                        The year's mild, cheering dawn
64Shone out on thee, a momentary light.
65The gales of spring upbore thee for a day,
66And then forsook thee. Thou art fallen now;
67And liest among thy hopes and promises --
68Beautiful flowers, and freshly springing blades,
69Gasping thy life out. -- Here for thee the grass
70Tenderly makes a bed; and the young buds
71In silence open their fair, painted folds --
72To ease thy pain, the one -- to cheer thee, these.
73But thou art restless; and thy once keen eye
74Is dull and sightless now. New-blooming boughs,
75Needlessly kind, have spread a tent for thee.
76Thy mate is calling to the white, piled clouds,
77And asks for thee. They give no answer back.
78As I look up to their bright angel faces,
79Intelligent and capable of voice
80They seem to me. Their silence to my soul
81Comes ominous. The same to thee, doomed bird,
82Silence or sound: For thee there is no sound,
83No silence. -- Near thee stands the shadow, Death; --
84And now he slowly draws his sable veil
85Over thine eyes; thy senses softly lulls
86Into unconscious slumbers. The airy call
87Thou 'lt hear no longer; 'neath sun-lighted clouds,
88With beating wing, or steady poise aslant,
89Wilt sail no more. Around thy trembling claws
90Droop thy wings' parting feathers. Spasms of death
91Are on thee.
92                        Laid thus low by age? Or is 't
93All-grudging man has brought thee to this end?
94Perhaps the slender hair, so subtly wound
95Around the grain God gives thee for thy food,
96Has proved thy snare, and makes thine inward pain.
97    I needs must mourn for thee. For I, who have
98No fields, nor gather into garners -- I
99Bear thee both thanks and love, not fear nor hate.
100    And now, farewell! The falling leaves ere long
101Will give thee decent covering. Till then,
102Thine own black plumage, which will now no more
103Glance to the sun, nor flash upon my eyes,
104Like armour of steeled knight of Palestine,
105Must be thy pall. Nor will it moult so soon
106As sorrowing thoughts on those borne from him, fade
107In living man.
108                        Who scoffs these sympathies,
109Makes mock of the divinity within;
110Nor feels he gently breathing through his soul
111The universal spirit. -- Hear it cry,
112."How does thy pride abase thee, man, vain man!
113How deaden thee to universal love,
114And joy of kindred with all humble things, --
115God's creatures all!."
116                        And surely it is so.
117He who the lily clothes in simple glory,
118He who doth hear the ravens cry for food,
119Hath on our hearts, with hand invisible,
120In signs mysterious, written what alone
121Our hearts may read. -- Death bring thee rest, poor Bird.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire / Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: 
2012
Rhyme: 
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