Monday, January 14, 2013

POETRY BREAK #12: "Dickens In Camp" by Bret Harte

NOTE from Frederick S. Myrtle introduction to the  1922 Deluxe Edition Of This Poem:

"Dickens In Camp" is held by many admirers of Bret Harte to be his masterpiece of verse. The poem is so held for the evident sincerity and depth of feeling it displays as well as for the unusual quality of its poetic expression...

When word of the passing of "The Master," as he reverently styled [Dickens], reached Bret Harte while he was in San Rafael [CA.]. He immediately sent a dispatch across the bay to San Francisco to hold back the forthcoming publication of his "Overland Monthly" for twenty-four hours, and ere that time had elapsed the poetic tribute to which the title was given of "Dickens in Camp" had been composed and sent on its way to magazine headquarters in the Western metropolis. That was in July, 1870...

In the twining of English holly and Western pine upon the great English novelist's grave the poet expresses a happy thought. He calls East and West together in common appreciation of one whose influence was not merely local but worldwide. He invites the old world and the new to kneel together at the altar of sentiment, an appeal to the emotions which never fails to touch a responsive chord in the heart of humanity.


Above the pines the moon was slowly drifting,
The river sang below;
The dim Sierras, far beyond, uplifting
Their minarets of snow.

The roaring camp-fire, with rude humor, painted
The ruddy tints of health
On haggard face and form that drooped and fainted
In the fierce race for wealth;

Till one arose, and from his pack's scant treasure
A hoarded volume drew,
And cards were dropped from hands of listless leisure
To hear the tale anew;

And then, while round them shadows gathered faster,
And as the firelight fell,
He read aloud the book wherein the Master
Had writ of "Little Nell."

Perhaps 'twas boyish fancy,—for the reader
Was youngest of them all,—
But, as he read, from clustering pine and cedar
A silence seemed to fall;

The fir-trees, gathering closer in the shadows,
Listened in every spray,
While the whole camp, with "Nell" on English meadows,
Wandered and lost their way.

And so in mountain solitudes—o'ertaken
As by some spell divine—
Their cares dropped from them like the needles shaken
From out the gusty pine.

Lost is that camp, and wasted all its fire:
And he who wrought that spell?—
Ah, towering pine and stately Kentish spire,
Ye have one tale to tell!

Lost is that camp! but let its fragrant story
Blend with the breath that thrills
With hop-vines' incense all the pensive glory
That fills the Kentish hills.

And on that grave where English oak and holly
And laurel wreaths intwine,
Deem it not all a too presumptuous folly,—
This spray of Western Pine!

 Bret Harte [1836-1902]

The "Master" surrounded by his creations


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