The Old Water-Mill, by Madison Cawein

  Wild ridge on ridge the wooded hills arise,
  Between whose breezy vistas gulfs of skies
  Pilot great clouds like towering argosies,
  And hawk and buzzard breast the azure breeze.
  With many a foaming fall and glimmering reach
  Of placid murmur, under elm and beech,
  The creek goes twinkling through long gleams and glooms
  Of woodland quiet, summered with perfumes:
  The creek, in whose clear shallows minnow-schools
  Glitter or dart; and by whose deeper pools
  The blue kingfishers and the herons haunt;
  That, often startled from the freckled flaunt
  Of blackberry-lilies—where they feed or hide—
  Trail a lank flight along the forestside
  With eery clangor. Here a sycamore
  Smooth, wave-uprooted, builds from shore to shore
  A headlong bridge; and there, a storm-hurled oak
  Lays a long dam, where sand and gravel choke
  The water's lazy way. Here mistflower blurs
  Its bit of heaven; there the ox-eye stirs
  Its gloaming hues of pearl and gold; and here,
  A gray, cool stain, like dawn's own atmosphere,
  The dim wild carrot lifts its crumpled crest:
  And over all, at slender flight or rest,
  The dragonflies, like coruscating rays
  Of lapis-lazuli and chrysoprase,
  Drowsily sparkle through the summer days:
  And, dewlap-deep, here from the noontide heat
  The bell-hung cattle find a cool retreat;
  And through the willows girdling the hill,
  Now far, now near, borne as the soft winds will,
  Comes the low rushing of the water-mill.

  Ah, lovely to me from a little child,
  How changed the place! wherein once, undefiled,
  The glad communion of the sky and stream
  Went with me like a presence and a dream.
  Where once the brambled meads and orchardlands,
  Poured ripe abundance down with mellow hands
  Of summer; and the birds of field and wood
  Called to me in a tongue I understood;
  And in the tangles of the old rail-fence
  Even the insect tumult had some sense,
  And every sound a happy eloquence:
  And more to me than wisest books can teach
  The wind and water said; whose words did reach
  My soul, addressing their magnificent speech,—
  Raucous and rushing,—from the old mill-wheel,
  That made the rolling mill-cogs snore and reel,
  Like some old ogre in a faerytale
  Nodding above his meat and mug of ale.

  How memory takes me back the ways that lead—
  As when a boy—through woodland and through mead!
  To orchards fruited; or to fields in bloom;
  Or briery fallows, like a mighty room,
  Through which the winds swing censers of perfume,
  And where deep blackberries spread miles of fruit;—
  A wildwood feast, that stayed the plowboy's foot
  When to the tasseling acres of the corn
  He drove his team, fresh in the primrose morn;
  And from the liberal banquet, nature lent,
  Plucked dewy handfuls as he whistling went.—

  A boy once more, I stand with sunburnt feet
  And watch the harvester sweep down the wheat;
  Or laze with warm limbs in the unstacked straw
  Near by the thresher, whose insatiate maw
  Devours the sheaves, hot-drawling out its hum—
  Like some great sleepy bee, above a bloom,
  Made drunk with honey—while, grown big with grain,
  The bulging sacks receive the golden rain.
  Again I tread the valley, sweet with hay,
  And hear the bobwhite calling far away,
  Or wood-dove cooing in the elder-brake;
  Or see the sassafras bushes madly shake
  As swift, a rufous instant, in the glen
  The red fox leaps and gallops to his den:
  Or, standing in the violet-colored gloam,
  Hear roadways sound with holiday riding home
  From church or fair, or country barbecue,
  Which half the county to some village drew.

  How spilled with berries were its summer hills,
  And strewn with walnuts all its autumn rills!—
  And chestnuts too! burred from the spring's long flowers;
  June's, when their tree-tops streamed delirious showers
  Of blossoming silver, cool, crepuscular,
  And like a nebulous radiance shone afar.—
  And maples! how their sappy hearts would pour
  Rude troughs of syrup, when the winter hoar
  Steamed with the sugar-kettle, day and night,
  And, red, the snow was streaked with firelight.
  Then it was glorious! the mill-dam's edge
  One slope of frosty crystal, laid a ledge
  Of pearl across; above which, sleeted trees
  Tossed arms of ice, that, clashing in the breeze,
  Tinkled the ringing creek with icicles,
  Thin as the peal of far-off elfin bells:
  A sound that in my city dreams I hear,
  That brings before me, under skies that clear,
  The old mill in its winter garb of snow,
  Its frozen wheel like a hoar beard below,
  And its west windows, two deep eyes aglow.

  Ah, ancient mill, still do I picture o'er
  Thy cobwebbed stairs and loft and grain-strewn floor;
  Thy door,—like some brown, honest hand of toil,
  And honorable with service of the soil,—
  Forever open; to which, on his back
  The prosperous farmer bears his bursting sack,
  And while the miller measures out his toll,
  Again I hear, above the cogs' loud roll,—
  That makes stout joist and rafter groan and sway,—
  The harmless gossip of the passing day:
  Good country talk, that says how so-and-so
  Lived, died, or wedded: how curculio
  And codling-moth play havoc with the fruit,
  Smut ruins the corn and blight the grapes to boot:
  Or what is news from town: next county fair:
  How well the crops are looking everywhere:—
  Now this, now that, on which their interests fix,
  Prospects for rain or frost, and politics.
  While, all around, the sweet smell of the meal
  Filters, warm-pouring from the rolling wheel
  Into the bin; beside which, mealy white,
  The miller looms, dim in the dusty light.

  Again I see the miller's home between
  The crinkling creek and hills of beechen green:
  Again the miller greets me, gaunt and brown,
  Who oft o'erawed my boyhood with his frown
  And gray-browed mien: again he tries to reach
  My youthful soul with fervid scriptural speech.—
  For he, of all the countryside confessed,
  The most religious was and goodliest;
  A Methodist, who at all meetings led;
  Prayed with his family ere they went to bed.
  No books except the Bible had he read—
  At least so seemed it to my younger head.—
  All things of Heaven and Earth he'd prove by this,
  Be it a fact or mere hypothesis:
  For to his simple wisdom, reverent,
  "The Bible says" was all of argument.—
  God keep his soul! his bones were long since laid
  Among the sunken gravestones in the shade
  Of those dark-lichened rocks, that wall around
  The family burying-ground with cedars crowned:
  Where bristling teasel and the brier combine
  With clambering wood-rose and the wildgrape-vine
  To hide the stone whereon his name and dates
  Neglect, with mossy hand, obliterates.