“The Cuckoo Wood” by Edmund Beale Sargant

The Cuckoo Wood

Cuckoo, are you calling me,
Or is it a voice of wizardry?
In these woodlands I am lost,
From glade to glade of flowers tost.
Seven times I held my way,
And seven times the voice did say,
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! No man could
Issue from this underwood,
Half of green and half of brown,
Unless he laid his senses down.
Only let him chance to see
The snows of the anemone
Heaped above its greenery;
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! No man could
Issue from the master wood.

Magic paths there are that cross;
Some beset with jewelled moss
And boughs all bare; where others run,
Bluebells bathe in mist and sun
Past a clearing filled with clumps
Of primrose round the nutwood stumps;
All as gay as gay can be,
And bordered with dog-mercury,
The wizard flower, the wizard green,
Like a Persian carpet seen.
Brown, dead bracken lies between,
And wrinkled leaves, whence fronds of fern
Still untwist and upward turn.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! No man could
Issue from this wizard wood,
Half of green, and half of brown,
Unless he laid his senses down.

Seven times I held my way
Where new heaps of brushwood lay,
All with withies loosely bound,
And never heard a human sound.
Yet men have toiled and men have rested
By yon hurdles darkly-breasted,
Woven in and woven out,
Piled four-square, and turned about
To show their white and sharpened stakes
Like teeth of hounds or fangs of snakes.
The men are homeward sped, for none
Loves silence and a sinking sun.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Woodmen know
Souls are lost that hear it so,
Seven times upon the wind,
To lull the watch-dogs of the mind.

A stranger wood you shall not find!
Beech and birch and oak agree
Here to dwell in company.
Hazel, elder, few men could
Name the kinds of underwood.
Summer and winter haunt together,
And golden light with misty weather
'Tis summer where this beech is seen
Defenceless in its virgin green;
All its leaves are smooth and thin,
And the sunlight passes in,
Passes in and filters through
To a green heaven below the blue.
Low the branches fall and trace
A circle round that mystic place,
Guarded on its outward side
By hyacinths in all their pride;
And within dim moons appear,
Wax and wane I go not near! 
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! How we fear
Sights and sounds that come and go
Without a cause for men to know!

Why for a whispered doubt should I
Shun that other beech-tree high,
Red and watchful, still and bare,
With a thousand spears in air,
Guarding yet its treasured leaf
From storm and hail and winter's grief?
Unregarded on the ground
Leaves of yester-year abound,
For what is autumn's gold to one
That hoards a life scarce yet begun?
Let me so renew my youth,
I defend it, nail and tooth,
Rooting deep and lifting high.
For this my dead leaves hiss and sigh
And glow as on the downward road
To the dog-snake's dread abode.
Noxious things of earth and air,
Get you hence, for I prepare
To flaunt my beauty in the sun
When all beside me are undone.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Pan shall see
The surge of my virginity
Overtop the sobered glade.
Luminous and unafraid
Near his sacred oak I'll spread
Lures to tempt him from his bed:
His couch, his lair his form shall be
By none but by the fair beech-tree.

O cunning Oak ! What is your skill
To hold the god against my will?
Keep your favours back like me,
With disfavour he shall see
Orange hues of jealousy:
Show your leaf in early prime,
It shall be dark before its time:
Me you shall not rival ever.
Silver Birch, would you endeavour,
Trembling in your bridal dress,
To win at last a dog's caress?
Through your twigs so thin and dark
Shows the black and ashen bark,
Like a face that underneath
Tightened eyebrows looks on death.
Think not, dwarf, that Pan shall find
Aught about you to his mind.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! All shall try
To win him. But the beech and I,
Man and tree made one at last,
Alone have power to hold him fast.

Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Forth I creep,
When the flowers fall asleep,
And upgather odours rare
Floating on the misty air,
All to be imprisoned where
My sap is rising till they reach
The swelling twigs, and thence shall each
Separate scent be shaken free
As my flowers and leaves agree.
Rare in sooth those flowers shall be:
Cunningly will I devise
Colours to delight the eyes,
Slipping from my fissured stem
To get by stealth or stratagem
The glory of the morning petal.
Where the bees at noontide settle,
Mine to rifle all their sweets:
Honey and bee-bread on the teats
Of my blossoms shall be spread,
Till the lime-trees shake with dread
Of the marvels still to come
When their bees about me hum.

Welcome, welcome, cloudless night,
Is our labour ended quite?
Are the mortal and the tree
Now made one in ecstasy,
One in foretaste of the dawn?
Crescent moon, sink, sink outworn!
Stars be buried, stars be born,
Mount and dip to tell aright
The doings of the morrow's light!
Mists, assemble, hide me quite,
Till the sun with growing strength
Grips your veils, and length by length
Tears them down from head to foot;
Then to the challenge I am put!

Tell me, busy, busy glade,
Half in light, and half in shade,
Is your world of wood-folk there?
All are come but the mole and hare;
One is blind, and underground
Of that tumult hears no sound;
The other Pan has crept within,
To bask afield in the hare-skin.
All are come of woodland fowl
But the cuckoo and the owl;
The owl's asleep, and the cuckoo -bird
Nowhere seen is eachwhere heard.
Cuckoo ! Cuckoo ! Those that see
The leafing of this great beech-tree,
And its flowers of every kind,
Woodland lovers have in mind;
Those that breathe the scented wind,
Or touch this bark of satin, could
Never issue from our wood.

Tell me, busy, busy glade,
Are little flying things afraid?
All are come of aery folk,
Gnats that hover like a smoke,
Butterflies and humble-bees,
Insects winged in all degrees,
Honey-toilers, pleasure-makers,
Of labours and of joys forsakers,
Round these boughs to live and die.
Only the moth and the dragon-fly
Keep their haunts and come not nigh:
The moth is moonstruck, she must creep
With twitching wings, and half-asleep,
Through folds of darkness ; and that other,
The dragon-fly, Narcissus' brother,
Flashes all his burnished mail
In a still pool adown the dale.

Tell me, busy, busy glade,
Shifting aye in light and shade,
Are the dryads peeping forth,
More in wonder than in wrath,
Each beneath her own dear tree
Parting her hair that she may see
How queens put on their sovereignty?
All are come of Pan's own race,
Nymphs and satyrs fill the place,
Necks outstretched and ears a-twitching, 
That Pan may know of all this witching. 
Heedless stumble the goatfeet
Till four-footed things retreat.
Cries of Ah ! and Ay ! and Eh!
Scare the forest birds away,
And their notes that rang so clear
At dawn, you now shall rarely hear:
Only a robin here and there
Pitches high his trembling voice
In a challenge to rejoice.

Cuckoo! Cuckoo! How two notes
Stolen from all woodland throats
Make the satyrs stand like stone,
Waiting for Pan to call his own!
How the couching dryads seem
To root themselves as in a dream,
And the naiads, wan and whist,
To melt into an evening mist!

Tell me, silent, silent glade,
All in light that once was shade,
All in shade that once was light,
How went the creatures from my sight?
Where are the shapes that turned to stone,
And my tree that reigned alone?
Red and watchful, still and bare,
With a thousand spears in air,
Stands the beech that you would bind
Unlawfully to human mind.
Gone is every woodland elf
To the mighty god himself.
Mortal! You yourself are fast!
Doubt not Pan shall come at last
To put a leer within your eyes
That pry into his mysteries.
He shall touch the busy brain
Lest it ever teem again;
Point the ears and twist the feet,
Till by day you dare not meet
Men, or in the failing light
Mutter more than, Friend, good-night!

Tell me, whispering, whispering glade,
Am I eager or afraid?
Do I wish the god to come?
What shall I say if he be dumb?
Tell me, wherefore hiss and sigh
Those shrivelled leaves? Has Pan gone by?
Why do your thousand pools of light
Gaze like eyes that fade at night?
Pan has but twain, Pan's eyes are bright!
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! See, yon stakes
Gape and grin like fangs of snakes;
Not snakes nor hounds are mouthing thus;
Pan himself is watching us.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Now
The god is breasting the hill-brow.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Pan is near:
Joy runs trembling back to fear.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! All my blood
Knocks through the heart whose every thud
Chokes me, blinds me, drains my madness.
As one half-drowned, I feel life's gladness
Ooze from each pore. Towards the sun
Downhill I reel that fain would run.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Thornless seem
Briars that part as in a dream.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Hazel-boughs
Hurt not though they blood the brows.

Cuckoo! In a meadow prone
At last I lie, my wits my own;
And in my hand I clasp the flower
To counteract that magic power;
The cuckoo-flower, in a lilac sheet
Under body, head and feet.
Above me apple-blossoms fleck
The cloudless sky, a neighbouring beck
With many a happy gurgle goes
Down to the farm through alder-rows.
Strange it is, and it is sweet,
To hear the distant mill-wheel beat,
And the kindly cries of men
Turning the cattle home again,
The clank of pails and all the shades
Of laughter of the busy maids.
Now is come the evening star,
And my limbs new-blooded are.
So beside the stream I choose
A path that patient anglers use
Which with many twists and turns
Brings me where a candle burns,
A lowly light, through cottage pane
Seen and hid and seen again.
Cuckoo! Now you call in vain.
I am far and I am free
From all woodland wizardry!

Edmund Beale Sargant's poem "The Cuckoo Wood" was published in Georgian Poetry 1911-1912. To read this poem in digitized versions of this publication, follow the link(s) below: