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Home > Books > The Witchery of Archery > Chapter 10: The death of the white heron,
Chapter X
The death of the white heron

I PULLED my boat with even sweep,
Across light shoals and eddies deep,

Tracking the currents of the lake
From lettuce raft to weedy brake.

Across a pool, death-still and dim,
I saw a monster reptile swim,

And caught, far off and quickly gone,
The delicate outlines of a fawn.

Above the marshy islands flew
The green teal and the swift curlew.

The rail and dunlin drew the hem
Of lily-bonnets over them.

I saw the tufted wood-duck pass
Between the clumps of water-grass.

All round the gunwales and across
I draped my boat with Spanish moss,

And, lightly drawn from head to knee,

I hung gay air-plants over me;

Then, lurking like a savage thing
That meditates a treacherous spring,

I stood in motionless suspense
Among the rushes green and dense.

I kept my bow half-drawn, a shaft
Set straight across the velvet haft.

Alert and vigilant I stood,
Scanning the lake, the sky, the wood.

I heard a murmur soft and sad
From water-weed to lily-pad,

And from the frondous pines did ring
The hammer of the golden-wing.

On old drift-logs the bitterns stood
Dreaming above the silent flood.

The water-turkey eyed my boat,
The hideous snake-bird coiled its throat,

And birds whose plumage shone like flame-
Wild things grown suddenly, strangely tame,

Lit near me; but I heeded not,
They could not tempt me to a shot.

Grown tired at length, I bent the oars
By grassy brinks and shady shores,

Through labyrinths and mysteries
Mid dusky cypress stems and knees,

Until I reached a spot I knew
Over which each day the herons flew.

I heard a whisper sweet and keen
Flow through the fringe of rushes green

(The water saying some light thing,
The rushes gayly answering).

The wind drew faintly to the south,
Like breath blown from a sleeper's mouth,

And down its current sailing low
Came a lone heron, white as snow.

He cleft with grandly spreading wing
The hazy sunshine of the spring,

Through graceful curves he swept above
The gloomy, moss-hung cypress grove,

Then, gliding down a long incline,
He flashed his golden eyes on mine,

Half-turned he poised himself in air . . .
The prize was great, the mark was fair!

I raised my bow and steadily drew
The silken string until I knew

My trusty arrow's barbed point
Lay on my left forefinger joint--

Until I felt the feather seek
My ear, swift-drawn across my cheek:

Then from my fingers leapt the string
With sharp recoil and deadly ring,

Closed by a sibilant sound so shrill
It made the very water thrill--

Like twenty serpents bound together
Hissed the flying arrow's feather!

A thud, a puff, a feathery ring,
A quick collapse, a quivering--

A whirl, a headlong downward dash,
A heavy fall, a sullen plash,

And like white foam, or giant flake
Of snow he lay upon the lake!

And of his death the rail was glad
Strutting upon a lily-pad.

The jaunty wood-duck smiled and bowed,
The belted kingfisher laughed aloud,

Making the solemn bittern stir
Like a half-wakened slumberer,

And rasping notes of joy I heard
From gallinule and crying-bird,

The while with trebled noise did ring
The hammer of the golden-wing!