17. The Mill Stream
One of a hundred little rills--
Born in the hills,
Nourished with dews by the earth, and with tears by the sky,
Sang--"Who so mighty as I?
The farther I flow
The bigger I grow.
I, who was born but a little rill,
Now turn the big wheel of the mill,
Though the surly slave would rather stand still.
Old, and weed-hung, and grim,
I am not afraid of him;
For when I come running and dance on his toes,
With a creak and a groan the monster goes.
And turns faster and faster,
As he learns who is master,
Round and round,
Till the corn is ground,
And the miller smiles as he stands on the bank,
And knows he has me to thank.
Then when he swings the fine sacks of flour,
I feel my power;
But when the children enjoy their food,
I know I'm not only great but good!"
Furthermore sang the brook--
"Who loves the beautiful, let him look!
Garlanding me in shady spots
Are blue as the summer sky:
Who so lovely as I?
My King-cups of gold
Shine from the shade of the alders old,
Stars of the stream!--
At the water-rat's threshold they gleam.
The Frog-bit spreads me its blossoms of snow,
And in masses
The Willow-herb, the flags, and the grasses,
Reeds, rushes, and sedges,
Flower and fringe and feather my edges.
To be beautiful is not amiss,
But to be loved is more than this;
And who more sought than I,
By all that run or swim or crawl or fly?
Sober shell-fish and frivolous gnats,
The poet with rippling rhymes so fluent,
Boys with boats playing truant,
Cattle wading knee-deep for water;
And the flower-plucking parson's daughter.
Down in my depths dwell creeping things
Who rise from my bosom on rainbow wings,
For--too swift for a school-boy's prize--
Hither and thither above me dart the prismatic-hued dragon-flies.
At my side the lover lingers,
And with lack-a-daisical fingers,
The Weeping Willow, woe-begone,
Strives to stay me as I run on."
There came an hour
When all this beauty and love and power
But a small thing to that Mill Stream.
And then his cry
Was, "Why, oh! why
Am I thus surrounded
With checks and limits, and bounded
By bank and border
To keep me in order,
Against my will?
I, who was born to be free and unfettered--a mountain rill!
But for these jealous banks, the good
Of my gracious and fertilizing flood
Might spread to the barren highways,
And fill with Forget-me-nots countless neglected byways.
Why should the rough-barked Willow for ever lave
Her feet in my cooling wave;
When the tender and beautiful Beech
Faints with midsummer heat in the meadow just out of my reach?
Could I but rush with unchecked power,
The miller might grind a day's corn in an hour.
And what are the ends
Of life, but to serve one's friends?"
A day did dawn at last,
When the spirits of the storm and the blast,
Breaking the bands of the winter's frost and snow,
Swept from the mountain source of the stream, and flooded the valley below.
Dams were broken and weirs came down;
Cottage and mill, country and town,
Shared in the general inundation,
And the following desolation.
Then the Mill Stream rose in its might,
And burst out of bounds to left and to right,
Rushed to the beautiful Beech,
In the meadow far out of reach.
But with such torrents the poor tree died,
Torn up by the roots, and laid on its side.
The cattle swam till they sank,
Trying to find a bank.
Never more shall the broken water-wheel
Grind the corn to make the meal,
To make the children's bread.
The miller was dead.
When the setting sun
Looked to see what the Mill Stream had done In its hour
Of unlimited power,
And what was left when that had passed by,
Behold the channel was stony and dry.
In uttermost ruin
The Mill Stream had been its own undoing.
Furthermore it had drowned its friend:
This was the end.