Crotalus
(Rattlesnake Bar, Sierras)

Bret Harte

 

No life in earth, or air, or sky;
The sunbeams, broken silently,
On the bared rocks around me lie,— 

Cold rocks with half-warmed lichens scarred,
And scales of moss; and scarce a yard
Away, one long strip, yellow-barred. 

Lost in a cleft! 'T is but a stride
To reach it, thrust its roots aside,
And lift it on thy stick astride! 

Yet stay! That moment is thy grace!
For round thee, thrilling air and space,
A chattering terror fills the place! 

A sound as of dry bones that stir
In the Dead Valley! By yon fir
The locust stops its noonday whir! 

The wild bird hears; smote with the sound,
As if by bullet brought to ground,
On broken wing, dips, wheeling round! 

The hare, transfixed, vrith trembling lip,
Halts, breathless, on pulsating hip,
And palsied tread, and heels that slip.

.  .  .  .  .  .  . 

Enough, old friend!— 't is thou. Forget
My heedless foot, nor longer fret
The peace with thy grim castanet!

I know thee! Yes! Thou mayst forego
That lifted crest; the measured blow
Beyond which thy pride scorns to go,

Or yet retract! For me no spell
Lights those slit orbs, where, some think, dwell
Machicolated fires of hell! 

I only know thee humble, bold,
Haughty, wıth miseries untold,
And the old Cuse that left thee coId, 

And drove thee ever to the sun,
On blistenng rocks; nor made thee shun
Our cabin's hearth, when day was done, 

And the spent ashes warmed thee best;
We knew thee,—silent, joyless guest
Of our rude ingle. E'en thy quest 

Of the rare milk-bowl seemed to be
Naught but a brother's poverty,
And Spartan taste that kept thee free 

From lust and spine. Thou! whose fame
Searchest the grass with tongue of flame,
Making all creatures seem thy game; 

When the whole woods before thee run,
Asked but—when all was said and done—
To lie, untrodden, in the sun!