“Forests are made for weary men, that they might find their souls again.” So begins my father’s favorite poem. I heard him quote it many times, and my mother crafted a clay-on-wood plaque with those first words. The plaque hung for many years in their cabin near Ely, Minnesota, and now it hangs in my den. But I never knew who wrote the poem until the early ’90s, when I included it in my book of quotations, The Wilderness Companion.
The poet was Mary Carolyn Davies. Born near Spokane, Washington in 1888, she got some early recognition during her college days at the University of California-Berkeley. After one year, though, she left the university and made her way to Greenwich Village in New York, where evidently she spent the war years before moving back to Oregon. She had some publishing successes between 1918 and 1921. Her 1918 marriage to Leland Davis fell apart, though, and perhaps this is what led her back to New York in the 1930s.
She found no more writing success and history lost sight of her, other than rumors of her falling into poverty. Even her death is unrecorded. You can find a couple dozen of her poems here, but below is the one I came to learn from my father. Sigurd Olson would have loved it.
Forests are made for weary men,
That they might find their souls again;
And little leaves are hung on trees,
To whisper of old memories;
And trails with cedar shadows black,
Are placed there just to lead men back
Beyond the pitfalls of success
To boyhood, peace and happiness.
I hope she, too, found some peace and happiness in the parks of New York, discovering trails that led her back beyond the pitfalls of success that she knew so well.
This post focuses on the healing powers of nature, and so belongs to the blue portion of the singing wilderness spiritual map.