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FERN-LAND

I

Hither, where a woven roof
Keeps the prying sun aloof
From wonderland,
From the fairies underland,—
Hither, where strange grasses grow
With their curling rootlets set
'Twixt the black roots serpentine,
Laurel roots that twist and twine
Toward the cloven path below
Of some cloud-born rivulet,—
This way enter
Fern-Land, and from rim to centre
All its secrets shall be thine.


II

Here within the covert see
Fern-Land's mimic forestry;
Royal tree-ferns
Canopy the nestling wee ferns
That with every pointed frond
Lend their lords a duteous ear;
Golden ferns a sunshine make—
Fleck their beauty on the brake;
In their moonlight close beyond
Silver ferns like sprites appear.
Here beholden,
Purple, silver, green and golden,
Mingle for their own sweet sake.


III

Day's sure horologe of flowers
Marks in turn the honeyed hours;
Blossoms dangle,
Lithe lianas twist and tangle;
Here on the lagetta tree
Laboring elves at starlight weave
Filmy bride-veils of its spray,
Shot with the cocuya's ray,—
For in fairy-land we be!
Look, and you shall well believe
Oberon reigneth,
And Titania disdaineth,
Still, to yield her lord his way.


IV

Here, unseen by grosser light,
Fairy-land, at noon of night
Holidaying,
Sallies forth in fine arraying;
Elfin, sylphide, fay and gnome
On the dew-tipped ferns disport,
In the festooned creepers swing,
Their light plumage fluttering.
Fern-Land is their ancient home,
Here the monarch holds his court,
Puck abideth;
Here the Queen her changeling hideth,
Ariel doth merrily sing.


V

Here, when Dian shuns the sky,
Swift the winged watchmen fly,—
Flash their torches
In and out mimosa porches
Till the first pale glint of morn:
Then the little people change
Casque and doublet, robe and sash,
In the twinkling of a lash,
For the magic mantles worn
Warily where mortals range,
And beside us
Now unseen, with glee deride us,
Laugh to scorn our trespass rash.


VI

Then the gnomes, that change to newts,
Lurk about the tree-fern's roots;
Their commander
Is the frog-mouthed salamander
Who will marshal in the sun
Red-backed lizards from the vines,
Eft and newt from bog and spring,—
Many a crested, horny thing
Sharp-eyed, fearsome,—and that one
With the loathly spotted lines!
Mortal heedeth
Him, whose breath of poison speedeth
Them that chafe the elfin king.


VII

Moths above, that feed on dew,
Flit their wings of gold and blue,—
Fancy guesses
These must be the court-princesses:
Others are in durance pent,
Changed to orchids for their tricks,—
Wantons they, who must remain
All day long in beauteous pain
Till stern Oberon relent,
Pardon grant, and seal affix.
Each repineth
Thus until the monarch dineth
And, content, doth loose her chain.


VIII

Would you had the fine, fine ear
The dragonfly's recall to hear,—
Tiny words
Of the vibrant humming-birds
That, where bloom convolvuli,
Round the dew-cups whir and hover,
Thrusting each, hour after hour,
His keen bill to heart o' the flower,
As some mounted knight may ply
His long lance, an eager lover,
Through deep sedges,
And athrough the coppice edges,
Fain to reach his lady's bower.


IX

Whilst the emerald lancers poise
In the soft air without noise,
Brake and mould
Hoard their marvels manifold.
There the armored beetles creep,
Shrouding in unseemly fear
Each his shield of chrysoprase
Lest its gleam himself betrays
For our kind to seize and keep
Prisoned in a damsel's ear.
Each one stealeth
Dumbly, and his dull way feeleth
Until starlight shall appear.


X

Step you soft, be mute and wary
Lest you wake the lords of Faery!
Motion rude
Fits not with their solitude:
Else the spider will resent
And the beetle nip you well,
Bête-rouge in your neck will furrow,
Garapata dig his burrow:—
Dread the wasp's swift punishment
And the chegoe's vengeance fell:
Well-defended,
Fairies sleep till day hath ended,—
Leave we Fern-Land and its spell.