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The Long White Cloud

APPENDIX II — The Passing of the Forest — A Lament for the Children of Tané

page 380

The Passing of the Forest
A Lament for the Children of Tané

All glory cannot vanish from the hills.
Their strength remains, their stature of command
O'er shadowy valleys that cool twilight fills
For wanderers weary in a faded land;
Refreshed when rain-clouds swell a thousand rills,
Ancient of days in green old age they stand,
Though lost the beauty that became Man's prey
When from their flanks he stripped the woods away.

But thin their vesture now, the trembling grass,
Shivering and yielding as the breeze goes by,
Catching quick gleams and scudding shades that pass,
As running seas reflect a windy sky.
A kinglier garb their forest raiment was
From crown to feet that clothed them royally,
Shielding the secrets of their streams from day
Ere the deep, sheltering woods were hewn away.

Well may these brooding, mutilated kings,
Stripped of the robes that ages weaved, discrowned,
Draw down the clouds with soft-enfolding wings
And white, aerial fleece to wrap them round,
To hide the scars that every season brings,
The fire's black smirch, the landslip's gaping wound,
Well may they shroud their heads in mantle grey
Since from their brows the leaves were plucked away!

Gone is the forest's labyrinth of life,
Its clambering, thrusting, clasping, throttling race,
Creeper with creeper, bush with bush at strife,
Struggling in silence for a breathing space;
page 381 Below, a realm with tangled rankness rife,
Aloft, tree columns in victorious grace.
Gone the dumb hosts in warfare dim; none stay;
Dense brake and stately trunk have passed away.

Gone are those gentle forest-haunting things,
Eaters of honey, honey-sweet in song,
The tui and the bell-bird—he who rings
That brief, rich music we would fain prolong,
Gone the wood pigeon's sudden whirr of wings,
The daring robin all unused to wrong,
Ay, all the friendly friendless creatures. They
Lived with their trees and died and passed away.

Gone are the flowers. The kowhai like ripe corn,
The frail convolvulus, a day-dream white,
The dim-hued passion-flower for shadows born,
The fragrant orchid pallid in green night,
The blood-red rata strangling trees forlorn
Or with exultant crimson fiery-bright
Painting the sombre gorges, and that fay
The starry clematis are all away!

Lost is the resinous, sharp scent of pines,
Of wood fresh cut, clean-smelling, for the hearth,
Of smoke from burning logs in wavering lines
Softening the air with blue, of brown, damp earth
And dead trunks fallen among coiling vines,
Slow-mouldering, moss-coated. Round the girth
Of the green land the wind brought vale and bay
Fragrance far-borne now faded all away.

Lost is the sense of noiseless sweet escape
From dust of stony plain, from sun and gale,
When the feet tread where quiet shadows drape
Dark stems with peace beneath a kindly veil.
No more the pleasant rustlings stir each shape,
Creeping with whisperings that rise and fail
Through glimmering lace-work lit by chequered play
Of light that danced on moss now burned away.

Gone are the forest tracks where oft we rode
Under the silvery fern fronds, climbing slow
Through long green tunnels, while hot noontide glowed
And glittered on the tree-tops far below.

page 382

There in the stillness of the mountain road
We just could hear the valley river flow
With dreamy murmur through the slumbering day
Lulling the dark-browed woods now passed away.

Fanned by the dry, faint air that lightly blew
We watched the shining gulfs in noonday sleep
Quivering between tall cliffs that taller grew
Above the unseen torrent calling deep,
Till like a sword cleaving the foliage through
The waterfall flashed foaming down the steep,
White, living water, cooling with its spray
Soft plumes of curling fern now scorched away.

The axe bites deep. The rushing fire streams bright;
Swift, beautiful and fierce it speeds for Man,
Nature's rough-handed foeman, keen to smite
And mar the loveliness of ages. Scan
The blackened forest ruined in a night,
A sylvan Parthenon that God will plan
But builds not twice. Ah, bitter price to pay
For Man's dominion—beauty swept away!

W. P. Reeves.

More than three-fourths of the native forests have already been destroyed by the settlers. The N.Z. State Forestry Department has lately been endeavouring to arouse public attention in the islands to the economic danger of this shocking wastefulness.

Historical map of North Island, New Zealand tourist resorts

Historical map of South Island, New Zealand tourist resorts