Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
1900-1930


 

 

Selected Essays and Reviews

by Bliss Carman

Edited by Terry Whalen


 

The Paths of Peace*


 

It is the eve of the gladdest festival of the year, the day set apart as a memorial to that serene and beautiful Being whom his followers delight to call the Prince of Peace. So old and beloved if the holiday that the mere word Christmas itself is more rich in the aroma of kindly and moving associations than any effusion of yours or mine could be.

As children we innocently believed in the little round-bellied chimney god and the good, persecuted martyr of Cavalry with equal reverence. He who filled our stockings with candy and toys and glided baubles was quite as generous and much more real than He who guarded and loved our souls. In the early dark hours did we not wake up and stealthily feel each stocking toe-tip? And were they not actually stuffed with the long-desired treasures? Could any proof be stronger? And then in a few years, as the cold suspicion of truth stole over the child mind like an autumn frost, and good St. Nick was discovered to be a myth, did we not silently try to perpetuate the crumbling dogma? That all his miraculous kindliness should only be the work of our parents, after all, was too sad to be believed. The frail tissue of fable on which we had so confidingly relied was far too lovely to be ruthlessly destroyed by any prosy fact; and there stole over our perception, I think, a sort of sadness at the disillusion, so that we would not willingly admit even to ourselves that the delightful and impossible childrens' paradise was at an end. It was, though; and in time we came to substitute an understanding human love of those who cared for us, for the ruined fairy of Santa Claus and his Christmas team. And it was good to have something to take the place of that which we had lost.

There are many grown-up children who do not write letters to Santa Claus and post them in the empty fireplace any longer; who have discarded the doctrine of the fireside Christmas Eve divinity with much superiority; who would scorn to hang a stocking by their bed to-morrow night; who would scoff at the idea that it might be filled once again, if only they wished hard enough; and who none the less will go to their temples on Christmas Day with the unshaken hallucination that the Great Orderer of the universe is to be influenced by many solicitations. It may be so: it may be that this round world is ruled by some great cosmic Santa Claus, who doles out blessings while we are unaware, and is swayed by the urgent supplications of his children. I have my doubts. I have a suspicion that this, too, is no more than a nursery tale, though a decent reverence for all ancient beauty makes me shrink from acknowledging the infatuation even to myself.

When the myth of the good St. Nicholas had to be destroyed, in the interests of so-called education and truth, still there remained behind the poetic symbol, the solid though less attractive fact of human parental care and loving kindness. But when you take away the greater myth of the St. Nicholas for grown-ups, on what fact am I to rely? Is that, too, merely a symbol of human love and the kindliness of our own hearts? Among the marvels of science is that contrivance which from an elaborate sort of magic lantern casts moving and life-like pictures upon a curtain for our edification? Is the master of our destiny some such enormous shadow cast upon the curtain of the universe from the tiny luminous point of the mortal soul? Still how wonderful the mechanism must be! And who invented that?

Well, perhaps it is not important, after all. I am quite sure that our good friend from Nazareth would care very little how you explained him or the Father he talked about, so long as you cherished his teaching. We have hardly come to that yet; we cannot practice universal love. But at least we can profess it. I suppose that is something.

Meanwhile, for this day and year, our festival of peace is rudely disturbed. Dream as we will of the spread of the kingdom of love, the old method of bloodshed remains. We be Christians in name, but Jehovists and Norse pagans in reality. Who are the exponents of modern Christianity? The Anglo-Saxons. And now at the dawn of the last year of nineteen Christian centuries, one branch of that dominant race is treading on a feeble Oriental people, while its sister branch is waging desperate war with a stubborn foe in Africa. Is this any better than a Roman or a Macedonian campaign? You say the English and the Americans have right on their side, and justice, and the good of the world? Yes, but how can love fight at all? Christ never resisted; He didn't believe in resistance. Probably He was in error. If not, how, then, can you justify your profession of His doctrine while you are violating its letter and spirit?

It is the old dilemma; the battle is to the strong, and the strong are only made through battle: then how shall we preserve our integrity as men, and yet allow wars to cease? The law of life is that it shall live by strife; the life that ceases to strive dies of decay. And then, perhaps, we may eliminate hate without eliminating strife. It is certain that the hunter does not hate the animal he kills-not always. Perhaps we shall some day actually come to love our enemies, as we were advised to do so long ago; though it is much easier to love them after they are dead.

If you go to divine service on Christmas Day you may pray for the success of the Boers or the British, as you feel inclined; it won't alter the event one way or the other: and it will relieve your tension. But please don't imagine for one moment that you are a Christian. You belong to the Old Testament dispensation, with your Puritan ancestors and their pagan ancestors before them.


"The Paths of Peace," Commercial Advertiser, Dec. 30, 1899 [back]