AN acorn fell from an old oak tree,
And lay on the frosty ground
'O, what shall the fate of the acorn be!'
Was whispered all around,
By low-toned voices, chiming sweet,
Like a floweret's bell when swung
And grasshopper steeds were gathering fleet,
And the beetl's hoofs up-rung—

For the woodland Fays came sweeping past
In the pale autumnal ray,
Where the forest leaves were falling fast,
And the acorn quivering lay;
They came to tell what its fate should be,
Though life was unrevealed;
For life is holy mystery,
Where'er it is conceal'd.

They came with gifts that should life bestow'
The dew and the living air—
The bane that should work its deadlv wo—
Was found with the Fairies there.
In the gray moss-cup was the mildew brought,
And the worm in the rose-leaf roll'd,
And many things with destruction fraught,
That its fate were quickly told.

But it needed not; for a blessed fate
Was the acorn's doomed to be—
The spirits of earth should its birth-time wait,
And watch o'er its destiny.
To a little sprite was the task assigned
To bury the acorn deep,
Away from the frost and searching wind,
When they through the forest sweep.

I laughed outright at the small thing's toil,
As he bow'd beneath the spade,
And he balanced his gossamer wings the while
To look in the pit he made.
A thimble's depth it was scarcely deep,
When the spade aside he threw,
And roll'd the acorn away to sleep
In the hush of dropping dew.

The spring-time came with its fresh, warm air,
And its gush of woodland song;
The dew came down, and the rain was there,
And the sunshine rested long;
Then softly the black earth turn'd aside,
The old leaf arching o'er,
And up, where the last year's leaf was dried,
Came the acorn-shell once more.

With coil'd stem, and a pale green hue,
It look'd but a feeble thing;
Then deeply its roots abroad it threw,
Its strength from the earth to bring.
The woodland sprites are gathering round,
Rejoiced that tile task is done—
That another life from the noisome ground
Is up to the pleasant sun.

The young child pass'd with a careless tread,
And the germ had well-nigh crush'd,
But a spider, launch'd on her airy thread,
The cheek of the stripling brush'd.
He little knew, as he started back,
How the acorn's fate was hung
On the very point in the spider's track
Where the web on his cheek was flung.

The autumn came, and it stood alone,
And bow'd as the wind pass'd by—
The wind that utter'd its dirge-like moan
In the old oak sere and dry;
And the hollow branches creak'd and sway'd
But they bent not to the blast,
For the stout oak tree, where centuries play'd
Was sturdy to the last.

A schoolboy beheld the lithe young shoot,
And his knife was instant out,
To sever the stalk from the spreading root,
And scatter the buds about;
To peel the bark in curious rings,
And many a notch and ray,
To beat the air till it whizzing sings,
Then idly cast away.

His hand was stay'd; he knew not why:
'Twas a presence breathed around—
A pleading from the deep-blue sky,
And up from the teeming ground.
It told of the care that had lavish'd been
In sunshine and in dew—
Of the many things that had wrought a screen
When peril around it grew.

It told of the oak that once had bow'd,
As feeble a thing to see;
But now, when the storm was raging loud,
It wrestled mightily.
There's a deeper thought on the schoolboy's brow,
A new love at his heart,
And he ponders much, as with footsteps slow
He turns him to depart.

Up grew the twig, with a vigour bold,
In the shade of the parent tree,
And the old oak knew that his doom was told,
When the sapling sprang so free.
Then the fierce winds came, and they raging tore
The hollow limbs away;
And the damp moss crept from the earthy floor
Around the trunk, time-worn and gray.

The young oak grew, and proudly grew,
For its roots were deep and strong;
And a shadow broad on the earth it threw,
And the sunlight linger'd long
On its glossy leaf, where the flickering light
Was flung to the evening sky;
And the wild bird came to its airy height,
And taught her young to fly.

In acorn-time came the truant boy,
With a wild and eager look,
And he mark'd the tree with a wondering joy,
As the wind the great limbs shook.
He look'd where the moss on the north side grew,
The gnarled arms outspread,
The solemn shadow the huge tree threw,
As it tower'd above his head:

And vague-like fears the boy surround,
In the shadow of that tree;
So growing up from the darksome ground,
Like a giant mystery.
His heart beats quick to the squirrel's tread
On the withered leaf and dry,
And he lifts not up his awe-struck head
As the eddying wind sweeps by.

And regally the stout oak stood,
In its vigour and its pride;
A monarch own'd in the solemn wood,
With a sceptre spreading wide—
No more in the wintry blast to bow,
Or rock in the summer breeze;
But draped in green, or star-like snow,
Reign king of the forest trees.

And a thousand years it firmly grew,
And a thousand blasts defied;
And, mighty in strength, its broad arms threw
A shadow dense and wide.
It grew where the rocks were bursting out
From the thin and heaving soil—
Where the ocean's roar, and the sailor's shout,
Were mingled in wild turmoil—

Where the far-off sound of the restless deep
Came up with a booming swell;
And the white foam dash'd to the rocky steep,
But it loved the tumult well.
Then its huge limbs creak'd in the midnight air,
And joined in the rude uproar:
For it loved the storm and the lightning's glare,
And the sound of the breaker's roar.

The bleaching bones of the seabird's prey
Were heap'd on the rocks below;
And the bald-head eagle, fierce and gray,
Look'd off from its topmost bough.
Where its shadow lay on the quiet wave
The light boat often swung,
And the stout ship, saved from the ocean-grave,
Her cable round it flung.

Change came to the mighty things of earth—
Old empires pass'd away;
Of the generations that had birth,
O Death! where, where were they?
Yet fresh and green the brave oak stood,
Nor dreamed it of decay,
Though a thousand times in the autumn wood
Its leaves on the pale earth lay.

A sound comes down in the forest trees,
An echoing from the hill;
It floats far off on the summer breeze,
And the shore resounds it shrill.
Lo! the monarch tree no more shall stand
Like a watch-tower of the main—
The strokes fall thick from the woodman's hand,
And its falling shakes the plain.

The stout old oak—! ‘Twas a worthy tree,
And the builder marked it out;
And he smiled its angled limbs to see,
As he measured the trunk about.
Already to him was a gallant bark
Careering the rolling deep,
And in sunshine, calm, or tempest dark,
Her way she will proudly keep.

The chisel clinks, and the hammer rings,
And the merry jest goes round;
While he who longest and loudest sings
Is the stoutest workman found.
With jointed rib, and trunnel'd plank
The work goes gayly on,
And light-spoke oaths, when the glass they drank,
Are heard till the task is done.

She sits on the stocks, the skeleton ship,
With her oaken ribs all bare,
And the child looks up with parted lip,
As it gathers fuel there—
With brimless hat, the bare-foot boy
Looks round with strange amaze.
And dreams of a sailor's life of joy
Are mingling in that gaze.

With graceful waist and carvings brave
The trim hull waits the sea
And she proudly stoops to the crested wave,
While round go the cheerings three.
Her prow swells up from the yeasty deep,
Where it plunged in foam and spray;
And the glad waves gathering round her sweep
And buoy her in their play.

Thou wert nobly rear'd, O heart of oak!
In the sound of the ocean roar,
Where the surging wave o'er the rough rock broke
And bellow'd along the shore—
And how wilt thou in the storm rejoice,
With the wind through spar and shroud,
To hear a sound like the forest voice,
When the blast was raging loud!

With snow-white sail, and streamer gay,
She sits like an ocean-sprite,
Careering on in her trackless way,
In sunshine or dark midnight:
Her course is laid with fearless skill,
For brave hearts man the helm;
And the joyous winds her canvass fill
Shall the wave the stout ship whelm?

On, on she goes, where icebergs roll,
Like floating cities by;
Where meteors flash by the northern pole,
And the merry dancers fly;
Where the glittering light is backward flung
From icy tower and dome,
And the frozen shrouds are gaily hung
With gems from the ocean foam.

On the Indian se. was her shadow cast,
As it lay like molten gold,
And her pendant shroud and towering mast
Seem'd twice on the waters told.
The idle canvass slowly swung
As the spicy breeze went by,
And strange, rare music around her rung
From the palm-tree growing nigh.

O, gallant ship, thou didst bear with thee
The gay and the breaking heart,
And weeping eyes look'd out to see
Thy white-spread sails depart.
And when the rattling casement told
Of many a perill'd ship,
The anxious wife her babes would fold,
And pray with trembling lip.

The petrel wheeled in her stormy flight;
The wind piped shrill and high;
On the topmast sat a pale blue light,
That flickered not to the eye:
The black cloud came like a banner down,
And down came the shrieking blast;
The quivering ship on her beams is thrown,
And gone are helm and mast.

Helmless, but on before the gale,
She ploughs the deep-troughed wave:
A gurgling sound— a phrenzied wail—
And the ship hath found a grave.
And thus is the fate of the acorn told,
That fell from the old oak tree,
And the woodland Fays in the frosty mould
Preserved for its destiny.

More verses by Elizabeth Oakes Smith