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The Black Birds

by
 I 

Once, only once, I saw it clear, --
That Eden every human heart has dreamed
A hundred times, but always far away!
Ah, well do I remember how it seemed,
Through the still atmosphere
Of that enchanted day,
To lie wide open to my weary feet:
A little land of love and joy and rest,
With meadows of soft green,
Rosy with cyclamen, and sweet
With delicate breath of violets unseen, --
And, tranquil 'mid the bloom
As if it waited for a coming guest,
A little house of peace and joy and love
Was nested like a snow-white dove 

From the rough mountain where I stood, 
Homesick for happiness,
Only a narrow valley and a darkling wood 
To cross, and then the long distress
Of solitude would be forever past, --
I should be home at last.
But not too soon! oh, let me linger here And feed my eyes, hungry with sorrow, On all this loveliness, so near, And mine to-morrow! Then, from the wood, across the silvery blue, A dark bird flew, Silent, with sable wings.
Close in his wake another came, -- Fragments of midnight floating through The sunset flame, -- Another and another, weaving rings Of blackness on the primrose sky, -- Another, and another, look, a score, A hundred, yes, a thousand rising heavily From that accursed, dumb, and ancient wood, -- They boiled into the lucid air Like smoke from some deep caldron of despair! And more, and more, and ever more, The numberless, ill-omened brood, Flapping their ragged plumes, Possessed the landscape and the evening light With menaces and glooms.
Oh, dark, dark, dark they hovered o'er the place Where once I saw the little house so white Amid the flowers, covering every trace Of beauty from my troubled sight, -- And suddenly it was night! II At break of day I crossed the wooded vale; And while the morning made A trembling light among the tree-tops pale, I saw the sable birds on every limb, Clinging together closely in the shade, And croaking placidly their surly hymn.
But, oh, the little land of peace and love That those night-loving wings had poised above, -- Where was it gone? Lost, lost forevermore! Only a cottage, dull and gray, In the cold light of dawn, With iron bars across the door: Only a garden where the withering heads Of flowers, presaging decay, Hung over barren beds: Only a desolate field that lay Untilled beneath the desolate day, -- Where Eden seemed to bloom I found but these! So, wondering, I passed along my way, With anger in my heart, too deep for words, Against that grove of evil-sheltering trees, And the black magic of the croaking birds.

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