I will walk warily in the wise woods on the fringes of eventide,
For the covert is full of noises and the stir of nameless things.
I have seen in the dusk of the beeches the shapes of the lords that ride,
And down in the marish hollow I have heard the lady who sings.
And once in an April gleaming I met a maid on the sward,
All marble-white and gleaming and tender and wild of eye;—
I, Jehan the hunter, who speak am a grown man, middling hard,
But I dreamt a month of the maid, and wept I knew not why.
Down by the edge of the firs, in a coppice of heath and vine,
Is an old moss-grown altar, shaded by briar and bloom,
Denys, the priest, hath told me ’twas the lord Apollo’s shrine
In the days ere Christ came down from God to the Virgin’s womb.
I never go past but I doff my cap and avert my eyes—
(Were Denys to catch me I trow I’d do penance for half a year)—
For once I saw a flame there and the smoke of a sacrifice,
And a voice spake out of the thicket that froze my soul with fear.
Wherefore to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
Mary the Blessed Mother, and the kindly Saints as well,
I will give glory and praise, and them I cherish the most,
For they have the keys of Heaven, and save the soul from Hell.
But likewise I will spare for the Lord Apollo a grace,
And a bow for the lady Venus—as a friend but not as a thrall.
‘Tis true they are out of Heaven, but some day they may win the place;
For gods are kittle cattle, and a wise man honours them all.
– John Buchan, Wood Magic from The Moon Endureth: Tales and Fancies
kittle cattle: “Used to denote people or animals that are capricious, rash, or erratic in behaviour; also transf., objects, concepts, etc., that are difficult to use, sort out, or comprehend.” (Oxford English Dictionary)