“A Walk in the Woods” by Elizabeth Oakes Smith

by Ann Neilson

Oaksmith’s poem, “A Walk in the Woods,” reflects on the unchanging and gentle graces of nature. To Oaksmith, nature is an “oracle of peace,” “love to [her],” and “Smiles upward with its pure and tranquil look.” However, the last stanza disturbs the poem’s otherwise neutral tone, with the last two lines reading, “How like the poet’s musty rhymes, / On dusty shelf away, in after times.” This reflection from picturesque nature to something of a dreary message, being that the poet’s voice is doomed to be forgotten, calls to question why she may have shifted her tone. Perhaps her musings in the poem are simply deposited reflections—I will leave my estimations at this, for truly only the poet knows.

A Walk in the Woods
Elizabeth Oakes Smith
From The Ladies’ Companion, October, 1840

The green-draped hills, and bending sky,
The waterfall and glen,
With all the melody of earth,
Are beautiful, as when
With bounding step and throbbings wild,
A part of each I was, a little child.

No tumult now—but o’er me comes
A sweet, yet saddened pleasure—
It sticks upon my inward sense,
A calm that has no measure—
And now I feel each thing to be
An oracle of peace, and love to me.

I mark the blossoms, loving still
The shadow of green wood;
The lowly trailing vine becomes
A minister of good;
And gurgling on, the pebbly brook
Smiles upward with its pure and tranquil look.

The last year’s leaves are grey and old,
And damp beneath the tread;
But ‘mid them, with their pointed cups,
The flowrets lift their head;
The uncouth root is rounder o’er
With velvet-seeming moss, like fairy floors.

And here, beneath the roots, behold,
The squirrel’s store is left—
A heap of darkened walnut shells
Piled in this cosey cleft—
How like the poet’s musty rhymes,
On dusty shelf away, in after times.