â€œOH, letâ€™s go up the hill and scare ourselves, As reckless as the best of them to-night, By setting fire to all the brush we piled With pitchy hands to wait for rain or snow. Oh, letâ€™s not wait for rain to make it safe. The pile is ours: we dragged it bough on bough Down dark converging paths between the pines. Letâ€™s not care what we do with it to-night. Divide it? No! But burn it as one pile The way we piled it. And letâ€™s be the talk Of people brought to windows by a light Thrown from somewhere against their wall-paper. Rouse them all, both the free and not so free With saying what theyâ€™d like to do to us For what theyâ€™d better wait till we have done. Letâ€™s all but bring to life this old volcano, If that is what the mountain ever wasâ€” And scare ourselves. Let wild fire loose we willâ€¦.â€
â€œAnd scare you too?â€ the children said together.
â€œWhy wouldnâ€™t it scare me to have a fire Begin in smudge with ropy smoke and know That still, if I repent, I may recall it, But in a moment not: a little spurt Of burning fatness, and then nothing but The fire itself can put it out, and that By burning out, and before it burns out It will have roared first and mixed sparks with stars, And sweeping round it with a flaming sword, Made the dim trees stand back in wider circleâ€” Done so much and I know not how much more I mean it shall not do if I can bind it. Well if it doesnâ€™t with its draft bring on A wind to blow in earnest from some quarter, As once it did with me upon an April. The breezes were so spent with winter blowing They seemed to fail the bluebirds under them Short of the perch their languid flight was toward; And my flame made a pinnacle to heaven As I walked once round it in possession. But the wind out of doorsâ€”you know the saying. There came a gust. You used to think the trees Made wind by fanning since you never knew It blow but that you saw the trees in motion. Something or someone watching made that gust. It put the flame tip-down and dabbed the grass Of over-winter with the least tip-touch Your tongue gives salt or sugar in your hand. The place it reached to blackened instantly. The black was all there was by day-light, That and the merest curl of cigarette smokeâ€” And a flame slender as the hepaticas, Blood-root, and violets so soon to be now. But the black spread like black death on the ground, And I think the sky darkened with a cloud Like winter and evening coming on together. There were enough things to be thought of then. Where the field stretches toward the north And setting sun to Hyla brook, I gave it To flames without twice thinking, where it verges Upon the road, to flames too, though in fear They might find fuel there, in withered brake, Grass its full length, old silver golden-rod, And alder and grape vine entanglement, To leap the dusty deadline. For my own I took what front there was beside. I knelt And thrust hands in and held my face away. Fight such a fire by rubbing not by beating. A board is the best weapon if you have it. I had my coat. And oh, I knew, I knew, And said out loud, I couldnâ€™t bide the smother And heat so close in; but the thought of all The woods and town on fire by me, and all The town turned out to fight for meâ€”that held me. I trusted the brook barrier, but feared The road would fail; and on that side the fire Died not without a noise of crackling woodâ€” Of something more than tinder-grass and weedâ€” That brought me to my feet to hold it back By leaning back myself, as if the reins Were round my neck and I was at the plough. I won! But Iâ€™m sure no one ever spread Another color over a tenth the space That I spread coal-black over in the time It took me. Neighbors coming home from town Couldnâ€™t believe that so much black had come there While they had backs turned, that it hadnâ€™t been there When they had passed an hour or so before Going the other way and they not seen it. They looked about for someone to have done it. But there was no one. I was somewhere wondering Where all my weariness had gone and why I walked so light on air in heavy shoes In spite of a scorched Fourth-of-July feeling. Why wouldnâ€™t I be scared remembering that?â€
â€œIf it scares you, what will it do to us?â€
â€œScare you. But if you shrink from being scared, What would you say to war if it should come? Thatâ€™s what for reasons I should like to knowâ€” If you can comfort me by any answer.â€
â€œOh, but warâ€™s not for childrenâ€”itâ€™s for men.â€
â€œNow we are digging almost down to China. My dears, my dears, you thought thatâ€”we all thought it. So your mistake was ours. Havenâ€™t you heard, though, About the ships where war has found them out At sea, about the towns where war has come Through opening clouds at night with droning speed Further oâ€™erhead than all but stars and angels,â€” And children in the ships and in the towns? Havenâ€™t you heard what we have lived to learn? Nothing so newâ€”something we had forgotten: War is for everyone, for children too. I wasnâ€™t going to tell you and I mustnâ€™t. The best way is to come up hill with me And have our fire and laugh and be afraid.â€