Out in the woodlands all alone,
Out in the forests dim and drear,
I lay with rifle at my side,
In earnest watching for the deer.
I seem'd like sentinel of the war
On distant outpost for vigil plac'd,
Guarding the dangerous picket-ground,
As to and fro on my beat I pac'd.
How intent I mark'd the hostile camp,
The flash of steel in the order'd line,
The gallop of horsemen on the march,
The gleam where the big brass cannon shine!
E'en so, through the long arcades of woods,
Through the column'd ranks of giant trees,
Through tangled thicket of bramble and weed,
My glance every moving object sees.
I see the rabbit leap through the glade,
The squirrel clamber the gnarled oak,
The speckled partridge lead forth her brood,
The eagle sail o'er with pinion-stroke;
But still no form of the dappled doe,
No branching antler of noble stag,
Were seen in the vast expanse of woods,
O'er grassy slope or rocky crag,
All still and solemn as lonely grave;
No rustling stir of the leaves in air;
All nature seem'd in a drowsy swoon--
No life-throb, no pulsation there!
The sluggish river that wander'd by
Slipped noiseless, voiceless, on its way;
No ripple of laughter in its course,
No prattle of merriment gay;
It seem'd as if alone in the world,
Aloof from human kind I stood,
With naught above but the silent skies,
Naught around but the lonesome wood.
Then methought a feeble and fitful sound
Came wafted along the fields of air,
A whisper-like moan of the distant surf,
Or sigh through the grass of uplands bare.
Is it the cry of the hunting pack?
Is it the clamorous yelp of the hounds?
Yes, for I see them in far-off glade,
I see them burst through brier and vine;
I see them dash through the shallow stream,
Now group'd together, now rang'd in line.
Fast through the forest, fast they speed,
Fast by the herbless and treeless waste;
Onward, remorseless as cruel death,
Onward they press in tireless haste.
And there at their head, at brief advance,
I see a stately stag in career--
A stag that bounds, that struggles for life,
The proud, the hunted, the frantic deer.
Nearer, yet nearer the quarry comes,
Panting, exhausted, well-nigh spent;
And ere my levell'd and deadly tube
Its leaden message had surely sent,
The poor, tir'd creature's dying sigh
Was heard, and the hound's exultant cry.