On Arbor Day

In honor of Arbor Day, we share two poems from Over the River and Through the Wood: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century American Children’s Poetry, edited by Karen L. Kilcup and Angela Sorby.

 

PLANT A TREE

by Lucy Larcom

He who plants a tree,

Plants a hope.
Rootlets up through fibers blindly grope;
Leaves unfold into horizons free.

So man’s life must climb

From the clods of time

Unto heavens sublime.
Canst thou prophesy, thou little tree,
What the glory of thy boughs shall be?

He who plants a tree,—

Plants a joy;
Plants a comfort that will never cloy;
Every day a fresh reality,

Beautiful and strong,

To whose shelter throng

Creatures blithe with song.
If thou couldst but know, thou happy tree,
Of the bliss that shall inhabit thee!

He who plants a tree,—

He plants peace.
Under its green curtains jargons cease.
Leaf and zephyr murmur soothingly;

Shadows soft with sleep

Down tired eyelids creep,

Balm of slumber deep.
Never hast thou dreamed, thou blessèd tree,
Of the benediction thou shalt be.

He who plants a tree,—

He plants youth;
Vigor won for centuries in sooth;
Life of time, that hints eternity!

Boughs their strength uprear;

New shoots, every year

On old growths appear,
Thou shalt teach the ages, sturdy tree,
Youth of soul is immortality.

He who plants a tree,—

He plants love;
Tents of coolness spreading out above
Wayfarers, he may not live to see.

Gifts that grow, are best;

Hands that bless are blest;

Plant! Life does the rest!
Heaven and earth help him who plants

a tree,
And his work its own reward shall be.


Tulp poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera. Photo by R. Noonan

Tulp poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera. Photo by R. Noonan

THE SEEDLING

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

As a quiet little seedling

Lay within its darksome bed,
To itself it fell a-talking,

And this is what it said:

“I am not so very robust,

But I’ll do the best I can;”
And the seedling from that moment

Its work of life began.

So it pushed a little leaflet

Up into the light of day,
To examine the surroundings

And show the rest the way.

The leaflet liked the prospect,

So it called its brother, Stem;
Then two other leaflets heard it,

And quickly followed them.

To be sure, the haste and hurry

Made the seedling sweat and pant;
But almost before it knew it

It found itself a plant.

The sunshine poured upon it,

And the clouds they gave a shower;
And the little plant kept growing

Till it found itself a flower.

Little folks, be like the seedling,

Always do the best you can;
Every child must share life’s labor

Just as well as every man.

And the sun and showers will help you

Through the lonesome, struggling

hours,
Till you raise to light and beauty

Virtue’s fair, unfading flowers

kilcup

Karen L. Kilcup is a professor of American literature at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her books include Teaching Nineteenth-Century American Poetry and Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781–1924. Angela Sorby is an associate professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Her books include Schoolroom Poets: Childhood, Performance, and the Place of American Poetry, 1865–1917, and three poetry collections, most recently The Sleeve Waves.

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