by Ann Neilson

I was perusing the pages of Charles Fenno Hoffman’s poetry this evening, when I felt the urge to share a few of his poems—pieces which have touched my heart. I share these with the hope that you may also enjoy these exquisite, nature-themed writings.

From John Frost’s Grand Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animated Nature, pg. 154.

Hunt is Up, The. A Meditation


The hunt is up —
The merry woodland shout,
That rung these echoing glades about
An hour agone,
Hath swept beyond the eastern hills,
Where, pale and lone,
The moon her mystic circle fills;
Awhile across her slowly reddening disk
The dusky larch,
As if to pierce the blue o’erhanging arch,
Lifts its tall obelisk.

And now from thicket dark,
And now from mist-wreathed river
The fire-fly’s spark
Will fitful quiver,
And bubbles round the lily’s cup
From lurking trout come coursing up,
Where stoops the wading fawn to drink:
While scared by step so near,
Uprising from the sedgy brink
The clanging bittern’s cry will sink
Upon the hunter’s ear;
Who, startled from his early sleep,
Lists for some sound approaching nigher —
Half-dreaming, lists — then turns to heap
Another fagot on his fire,
And then again, in dreams renewed,
Pursues his quarry through the wood.

And thus upon my dreaming youth,
When boyhood’s gambols pleased no more,
And young Romance, in guise of Truth,
Usurped the heart all theirs before;
Thus broke Ambition’s trumpet-note
On visions wild,
Yet blithesome as this river
On which the smiling moonbeams float
That thus have there for ages smiled,
And will thus smile for ever.
And now no more the fresh green-wood,
The forest’s fretted aisles,
And leafy domes above them bent,
And solitude
So eloquent!
Mocking the varied skill y’-blent
In Art’s most gorgeous piles —
No more can soothe my soul to sleep
Than they can awe the sounds that sweep
To hunter’s horn and merriment
Their verdant passes through,
When fresh the dun-deer leaves his scent
Upon the morning dew.

The game’s afoot! — and let the chase
Lead on, whate’er my destiny —
Though Fate her funeral drum may brace
Full soon for me!
And wave death’s pageant o’er me —
Yet now the new and untried world
Like maiden banner first unfurled,
Is glancing bright before me!
The quarry soars! and mine is now the sky,
Where, “at what bird I please, my hawk shall fly!”

Yet something whispers through the wood —
A voice like that perchance
Which taught the hunter of Egeria’s grove
To tame the Roman’s dominating mood,
And lower, for awhile, his conquering lance
Before the images of Law and Love —
Some mystic voice that ever since hath dwelt
Along with Echo in her dim retreat,
A voice whose influence all, at times, have felt
By wood or glen, or where on silver strand
The clasping waves of Ocean’s belt
Will clashing meet
Around the land:
It whispers me that soon — too soon
The pulses which now beat so high,
Impatient with the world to cope,
Will, like the hues of autumn sky,
Be changed and fallen ere life’s noon
Should tame its morning hope.

Yet why,
While Hope so jocund singeth
And with her plumes the gray beard’s arrow wingeth,
Should I
Think only of the barb it bringeth?
Though every dream deceive
That to my youth is dearest,
Until my heart they leave
Like forest leaf when searest —
Yet still, mid forest leaves
Where now
Its tissue thus my idle fancy weaves,
Still with heart new-blossoming
While leaves, and buds, and wild flowers spring,
At Nature’s shrine I’ll bow;
Nor seek in vain that truth in her
She keeps for her idolater.


From forestry; a journal of forest and estate management, pg. 521.

What is Solitude?

Not in the shadowy wood,
Not in the crag-hung glen,
Not where the echoes brood
In caves untrod by men;
Not by the black seashore,
Where barren surges break,
Not on the mountain hoar,
Not by the breezeless lake;
Not on the desert plain
Where man hath never stood,
Whether on isle or main —
Not there is solitude.

Birds are in woodland bowers;
Voices in lonely dells:
Streams to the listening hours
Talk in earth’s secret cells;
Over the gray-ribbed sand
Breathe Ocean’s frothy lips;
Over the still lake’s strand
The wild flower toward it dips;
Pluming the mountain’s crest
Life tosses in its pines,
Coursing the desert’s breast
Life in the steed’s mane shines.

Leave — if thou wouldst be lonely —
Leave Nature for the crowd;
Seek there for one — one only
With kindred mind endowed!
There — as with Nature erst
Closely thou wouldst commune —
The deep soul-music nursed
In either heart, attune!
Heart-wearied thou wilt own,
Vainly that phantom wooed,
That thou at last hast known
What is true Solitude!


A Peep at the Birds: With Twenty Engravings, Francis Channing Woodworth, pg. 16.

The Bob-O-Linkum

Thou vocal sprite — thou feather’d troubadour!
In pilgrim weeds through many a clime a ranger,
Com’st thou to doff thy russet suit once more
And play in foppish trim the masquing stranger?
Philosophers may teach thy whereabouts and nature;
But wise, as all of us, perforce, must think ’em,
The school-boy best hath fixed thy nomenclature,
And poets, too, must call thee Bob-O-Linkum.

Say! art thou, long ‘mid forest glooms benighted,
So glad to skim our laughing meadows over —
With our gay orchards here so much delighted,
It makes thee musical, thou airy rover?
Or are those buoyant notes the pilfer’d treasure
Of fairy isles, which thou hast learn’d to ravish
Of all their sweetest minstrelsy at pleasure,
And, Ariel-like, again on men to lavish?

They tell sad stories of thy mad-cap freaks
Wherever o’er the land thy pathway ranges;
And even in a brace of wandering weeks,
They say, alike thy song and plumage changes;
Here both are gay; and when the buds put forth,
And leafy June is shading rock and river,
Thou art unmatch’d, blithe warbler of the North,
While through the balmy air thy clear notes quiver.

Joyous, yet tender — was that gush of song
Caught from the brooks, where ‘mid its wild flowers smiling
The silent prairie listens all day long,
The only captive to such sweet beguiling;
Or didst thou, flitting through the verdurous halls
And column’d isles of western groves symphonious,
Learn from the tuneful woods, rare madrigals,
To make our flowering pastures here harmonious?

Caught’st thou thy carol from Ottawa maid,
Where, through the liquid fields of wild-rice plashing,
Brushing the ears from off the burdened blade,
Her birch canoe o’er some lone lake is flashing?
Or did the reeds of some savannah south
Detain thee while thy northern flight pursuing,
To place those melodies in thy sweet mouth,
The spice-fed winds had taught them in their wooing?

Unthrifty prodigal! — is no thought of ill
Thy ceaseless roundelay disturbing ever?
Or doth each pulse in choiring cadence still
Throb on in music till at rest for ever?
Yet now in wilder’d maze of concord floating,
‘Twould seem that glorious hymning to prolong,
Old Time in hearing thee might fall a-doting,
And pause to listen to thy rapturous song!

19th century engraving of the New Forest, UK

Photographed from a book titled ‘English Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil’ published in London ca. 1870. 

Primeval Woods


Yes ! even here, not less than in the crowd,
Here, where yon vault in formal sweep seems piled
Upon the pines, monotonously proud,
Fit dome for fane, within whose hoary veil
No ribald voice an echo hath defiled —
Where Silence seems articulate; up-stealing
Like a low anthem’s heavenward wail: —
Oppressive on my bosom weighs the feeling
Of thoughts that language cannot shape aloud;
For song too solemn, and for prayer too wild, —
Thoughts, which beneath no human power could quail,
For lack of utterance, in abasement bow’d —
The cavern’d waves that struggle for revealing,
Upon whose idle foam alone God’s light hath smiled.


Ere long thine every stream shall find a tongue,
Land of the Many Waters! But the sound
Of human music, these wild hills among,
Hath no one save the Indian mother flung
Its spell of tenderness? Oh, o’er this ground,
So redolent of Beauty , hath there play’d no breath
Of human poesy — none beside the word
Of Love, as, murmur’d these old boughs beneath,
Some fierce and savage suitor it hath bound
To gentle pleadings? Have but these been heard?
No mind, no soul here kindled but my own?
Doth not one hollow trunk about resound
With the faint echoes of a song long flown,
By shadows like itself now haply heard alone?


And Ye, with all this primal growth must go!
And loiterers beneath some lowly spreading shade,
Where pasture-kissing breezes shall, ere then, have play’d,
A century hence, will doubt that there could grow
From that meek land such Titans of the glade!
Yet wherefore primal? when beneath my tread
Are roots whose thrifty growth, perchance, hath arm’d.
The Anak spearman when his trump alarm’d;
Roots that the Deluge wave hath plunged below;
Seeds that the Deluge wind hath scattered;
Berries that Eden’s warblers may have fed;
In slime of earlier worlds preserved unharmed,
Again to quicken, germinate, and blow,
Again to charm the land as erst the land they charm’d.