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The Mulberries

  I.


  On the Rialto Bridge we stand;
    The street ebbs under and makes no sound;
  But, with bargains shrieked on every hand,
    The noisy market rings around.


  "_Mulberries, fine mulberries, here!_"
    A tuneful voice,--and light, light measure;
  Though I hardly should count these mulberries dear,
    If I paid three times the price for my pleasure.


  Brown hands splashed with mulberry blood,
    The basket wreathed with mulberry leaves
  Hiding the berries beneath them;--good!
    Let us take whatever the young rogue gives.


  For you know, old friend, I haven't eaten
    A mulberry since the ignorant joy
  Of anything sweet in the mouth could sweeten
    All this bitter world for a boy.


  II.


  O, I mind the tree in the meadow stood
    By the road near the hill: when I clomb aloof
  On its branches, this side of the girdled wood,
    I could see the top of our cabin roof.


  And, looking westward, could sweep the shores
    Of the river where we used to swim
  Under the ghostly sycamores,
    Haunting the waters smooth and dim;


  And eastward athwart the pasture-lot
    And over the milk-white buckwheat field
  I could see the stately elm, where I shot
    The first black squirrel I ever killed.


  And southward over the bottom-land
    I could see the mellow breadths of farm
  From the river-shores to the hills expand,
    Clasped in the curving river's arm.


  In the fields we set our guileless snares
    For rabbits and pigeons and wary quails,
  Content with the vaguest feathers and hairs
    From doubtful wings and vanished tails.


  And in the blue summer afternoon
    We used to sit in the mulberry-tree:
  The breaths of wind that remembered June
    Shook the leaves and glittering berries free;


  And while we watched the wagons go
    Across the river, along the road,
  To the mill above, or the mill below,
    With horses that stooped to the heavy load,


  We told old stories and made new plans,
    And felt our hearts gladden within us again,
  For we did not dream that this life of a man's
    Could ever be what we know as men.


  We sat so still that the woodpeckers came
    And pillaged the berries overhead;
  From his log the chipmonk, waxen tame,
    Peered, and listened to what we said.


  III.


  One of us long ago was carried
    To his grave on the hill above the tree;
  One is a farmer there, and married;
    One has wandered over the sea.


  And, if you ask me, I hardly know
    Whether I'd be the dead or the clown,--
  The clod above or the clay below,--
    Or this listless dust by fortune blown


  To alien lands. For, however it is,
    So little we keep with us in life:
  At best we win only victories,
    Not peace, not peace, O friend, in this strife.


  But if I could turn from the long defeat
    Of the little successes once more, and be
  A boy, with the whole wide world at my feet,
    Under the shade of the mulberry-tree,--


  From the shame of the squandered chances, the sleep
    Of the will that cannot itself awaken,
  From the promise the future can never keep,
    From the fitful purposes vague and shaken,--


  Then, while the grasshopper sang out shrill
    In the grass beneath the blanching thistle,
  And the afternoon air, with a tender thrill,
    Harked to the quail's complaining whistle,--


  Ah me! should I paint the morrows again
    In quite the colors so faint to-day,
  And with the imperial mulberry's stain
    Re-purple life's doublet of hodden-gray?


  Know again the losses of disillusion?
    For the sake of the hope, have the old deceit?--
  In spite of the question's bitter infusion,
    Don't you find these mulberries over-sweet?


  All our atoms are changed, they say;
    And the taste is so different since then;
  We live, but a world has passed away
    With the years that perished to make us men.


 

William Dean Howells