by Ann Neilson

I was perusing the pages of Charles Fenno Hoffman’s poetry this evening, when I suddenly 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.

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

Hunt is Up, The. A Meditation

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.

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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!

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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

New Forest, UK: Link.

Primeval Woods

I.

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.

II.

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?

III.

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.

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