Waste Land

Briar and fennel and chincapin,
    And rue and ragweed everywhere;
The field seemed sick as a soul with sin,
    Or dead of an old despair,
    Born of an ancient care.

The cricket’s cry and the locust’s whirr,
    And the note of a bird’s distress,
With the rasping sound of the grasshopper,
    Clung to the loneliness
    Like burrs to a trailing dress.

So sad the field, so waste the ground,
     So curst with an old despair,
A woodchuck’s burrow, a blind mole’s mound
     And a chipmunk’s stony lair,
     Seemed more than it could bear.

So lonely, too, so more than sad,
    So droning-lone with bees —
I wondered what more could Nature add
    To the sum of its miseries  .   .   .
    And then—I saw the trees. 

Skeletons gaunt that gnarled the place,
    Twisted and torn they rose—
The tortured bones of a perished race
    Of monsters no mortal knows,
    They started the mind’s repose.

And a man stood there, as still as moss,
    A lichen form that stared;
With an old blind hound that, at a loss,
    Forever around him fared
    With a snarling fang half bared.

I looked at the man; I saw him plain;
    Like a dead weed, gray and wan
Or a breath of dust.   I looked again—
    And man and dog were gone,
    Like wisps of the graying dawn.   .   .   .

Were they a part of the grim death there—
    Ragweed, fennel, and rue?
Or forms of the mind, an old despair,
    That there into semblance grew
    Out of the grief I knew?


From Poetry, Vol. 1, No. 4 (January 1913). This poem is in the public domain.