Corydon: An Elegy

by Bliss Carman


 

 

CORYDON: AN ELLEGY
IN MEMORY OF MATTHEW ARNOLD

The Universal Review 5 (Nov. 1889): 425-437. [London]


 

‘While the still morn went out with sandals grey.’—Lycidas

 

I

 

THIS is the river-land of Acadie,
            Their refuge and their home these hundred years,
To whom mere loyalty was more than gain;
A border land of sunshine and the sea,
            Plaintive and slow and full of love and tears
5

And beauty of days, with shadow or trace or stain
            Of never a dream undone.
High June it is, and such a summer-time
            Of mountain-traversing clouds piled up with sun
            As only this far North can know at all,

10
Where blue streams lure the clover to its prime,
            And all day long hear the brown thrushes call.
 

 

II

 

 
And all the livelong night of summer rain,
            In dead-wood cedar swamps, trackless and hoar,
Lorn rain-birds call, and grey mist-foldings loom,
15
As if the dark-stoled ages’ moving train
            Would free their burden of dirige once more—
That aching threnody which doth consume
            The Cumner nightingales.
Plead, plead for him, my tiny brothers, now,
20
            Since gift of song ye have whose prayer avails
            With the great Mother from our dingles lone!
And where the white veils of the rain sweep low
            Let your wild keening cry forth, lift and blown!

 

III

 

 
For ye can sing, while I have nought but love;
25
            And he, our brother, walks the earth no more.
Through all the summer rain sing low, sing on,
Sing clear the meadow lily bells above,
            The eternal sad half-unremembered lore,
In blended requiem for Corydon,
30
            Dead in that far-off place.
For love is not of country nor of kin;
            And we shall never know him face to face,
            Though time well on to slake the thirst of time,
And the spent years back from oblivion win
35
            A little respite in your grief sublime.

 

IV

 

For England now, the rain-sweet flowery isle
            Which bore him, hath reclaimed him unto her
Amidst the azure sea; yet wide and far
His message and his memory must beguile
40
            The days with sundown quiet, and confer
The tranquil beating of a twilight star
            Upon a twilit world.
Surely not hence, where wood-flower and fern
            Hear the long breezes through the pines unfurled,
45
            And the shy whip-poor-will’s reed-flute notes hover
All night, nor fail, shall that wayfarer turn
            Uncheered, uncherished, whom the June doth cover.

 

V

 

Yet those weird grievous cries—hark! lonelily,
            The hurtling utterance of tern and loon,
50
Shrill forth, and quaver, and search from dome to rim
The white cloud-loft where morn takes wind of the sea.
            Blue, blue for ever in the shadeless noon,
Down to the fogs of bellowing Fundy’s brim,
            Woodland Welaastook runs,
55
By leagues of intervale and ripening grass,
            Drenched with the leisure of a thousand suns,
            River of dream, sheltered from haste and fame.
There all day long my yester journey was,
            From Nerepis to Nashwaak; evening came
60

 

VI

 

With her few stars round the last bluff, and there
            The drowsing city of the shadowy elms!
The reed-birds now, this burning afternoon,
Flood the old garden with a lotus air,
            Some brooding orient spell that half o’erwhelms
65
The old-time longing with a sense of June.
            Stirring the maple shade,
The yellowbird rebrims his sultry throat;
            Day long the martins, blithe, still-winged, have laid
            Their dizzy circuits on the blue profound;
70
Past the tall elms, luring the eye to float
            Cloudward and dreamward with the outward-bound,

 

VII

 

Winds the untroubled river, broadening on
            To meadow islands grown waist-deep about
Their grey chinked barns with dust-ripe timothy.
75
Shimmering, hazy, burnished in the sun,
            The limpid reedy thoroughfares shoal out
To glinting silt-beds where the minnows lie,
            And idle heron peer,
And heavy odours set from the marsh at noon;
80
            Across the hot low murmur of mid-year
            A swarthy locust drives his creaking cart;
Now and again, breaking the torrid swoon,
            Savanna sparrows lift their dreamy heart;

 

VIII

 

A teeming slumber haunts the iris flowers;
85
            And all God’s creatures have their will together.
Once more, wild spirit, lead us in thy care
To the shy well-heads of the dawn’s rath hours!
            Here did we love him in the old spring weather,
But now the burdened morrow shall us bear
90
            No word his lips have said.
Ah, vain! thou hast no part in grief at all,
            Nor any runnel in thy bourns to thread
            The valley of night where lies the moaning sea;
And Corydon is gone beyond recall,
95
            Whence many mourn him lightlier than we.

 

IX

 

Yet Oxford, child of dreams and mother of men,
            Too ill can spare him whose swift-fallen prime
Broke, with the old lost battle half re-won.
And while her cloister garths and halls again
100
            Cheer festal throngs at this memorial time,
With murmuring croons for little Oriel’s son
            The Merton ringdoves mourn.
She only smiles, beyond the depth of tears:
            How many a time she held the world in scorn!
105
            She saw what ages panoplied and fade!
Go forth how many a retinue, the peers
            Of red-cross Templars on a last crusade!

 

X

 

And he … Why muse of Oxford and the dead?
            ‘Look where the slow ripe moon breaks from the hill,
110
Thrusting above the pine-blue barrier
That crocus crest up, and the first white shred
            Of fairy noonlight falls across the sill
Of our open door. What threshold wanderer
            Allures on what pale track?
115
Come, friend, the wilds are calling, let us go;
            There is no resting here.’ … Down from the rack
            I took a paddle, saw the roses dun,
Shouldered the long brown birch canoe, and so
            Came where the circling river voyages on
120

 

XI

 

Beneath the grey-leaved willows, in whose guard
            The drone-a-day, the frustrate, dead-alive,
Deluded world amidst her moonlit spires
Lay foiled by sleep. Before us was unbarred
            That long bright path the wind and moon contrive
125
To bridge the gulf for stifled heart desires;
            Let soul awhile slip sheath.
Out this wide reach, escaping the world’s hand,
            A surge of the dark blood—some wild keen breath—
            Made the rock-maple spring and glitter and spring;
130
And the slim ruddy birch flew clear from land
            Right for the orient like a wonder-thing.

 

XII

 

Until, at Nashwaak Bridge, on the tranced air
            From shore to shore a bugle sounds retreat,
Nor stirs the moonlight upon Christ Church tower.
135
After the feud and tourney-stress, we fare
            By quiet river paths beyond defeat,
Far out of hurry, where silent hour by hour
            The brave tall rushes grow.
From this time-service in the courts of men
140
            Unhand thy foemen, World, and let them go!
            Back to the brown sweet forest, her own seed,
The pines and poplars welcome us again,
            And nature’s silences all need.

 

XIII

 

So we float in between the grey log piers,
145
            And the hush deepens, melts, and drowns all nose;
Fever and babble and haste no more prevail
To fret the holy spirit with full tears;
            And past all bounds of June the soul deploys
To scour the naked starlands for a trail
150
            Of vanished things unbound—
Mother, and father, and lost May twilights drenched
            With wake-robin and dream, scraps of brook sound,
            And broken words, and kisses, and brave friends—
Cherished, then blown abroad like wind and quenched
155
            In shifting snow dunes at red evening ends.

 

XIV

 

And Corydon is made a name, a breath
            Of sundown ruddying the maple seeds,
Less than a swallow’s wing against the sun,
Less than a cricket braving frosty death,
160
            Or yonder bittern boomling in the reeds.
His warfare unto peace and light is one
            Before the Sphinx’s gaze
With Israel’s bondage and Napoleon’s fame,
            A sigh whereon the dead Nile sands and days
165
            Lift and are sown upon the earth with sleep;
Seedtime and seed and sower without name,
            Where never a harvester sets hand to reap.

 

XV

 

Too foolish boy, why grieve for death at all,
            Or any more repine for Corydon?
170
He lies with Tristram and dark Iseult dream,
Within the reed-strewn gusty Breton hall;
            From the sad poor Bokhara’s king is gone.
Time drinks the sorrow upon Oxus stream;
            Peace wraps Balder the Good,
175
Balder the Beautiful, whom all things loved,
            Regathered to his kindlier brotherhood;
            Across another Cumner, night long passed,
Failure and doubt—haply, who knows?—disproved,
            The Scholar-Gipsy cheers his mate at last.
175

 

XVI

 

Here only (let the paddle rest and drip)
            We wrong the patient mother of us all,
And violate her beauty with much grief.
Lean on the gunwale. Summer’s knee and lip
            Are at the stream; she drinks a long recall
180
Of infinite leisure and full-sighed relief.
            Ere the grass-flowers are old,
We come before the morning, and depart
            Before the evening shadows; with a fold
            Of those white arms we are for ever hers:
185
We long; she comes with shy desire at heart;
            Above our grave in the pines a squirrel chirs.

 

XVII

 

The echo wakes where the last cadence ran,
            Though the dead player is a rifted reed,
Broken, unstopped. Ages ago one said,
190
‘My life is wind. My days are swifter than
            A weaver’s shuttle.’ And to-night we heed
That quick unfriended cry, though he is dead
            In the Arabian waste,
And the winds shift his burial sand to keep
195
            The measure of time … See these birch twigs o’er-laced
            Upon the stars; I peel this bark, and scrawl
(The text of life in a broad margin of sleep)
            The white waif with blind characters, and call

 

XVIII

 

The script my work, my beam in the house of Art,
200
            My wonder of jetsam on the hither shore,
My rune of life, my something more than nought.
And why? It touches you—my friend—in the heart
            With a moment’s thrill you had not known before,
Joyous and full; so it is amply wrought,
205
            Being the best of me.
As well, were I the peer of Corydon,
            It might outlast this night of ours and be
            The inspiration of a thousand Junes
To lovers where the far Saskatchewan
210
            Lures the old way with immemorial croons.

 

XIX

 

But now you toss it on the stream, and this
            My gnome-built argosy of spirit and dream
Makes port to-morrow night with sand-bar strays.
Woven at dawn with calm and fire and bliss
215
            Upon the Nornies’ loom where shadows gleam,
We fill the pattern of a length of days
            With mummery and mime.
We love and pas, toil, harvest, earn, and build
            (You with your bridges, Corydon with rhyme,
220
            To span and dome this tent-shade in the dawn)
Till evening, then (nor arch nor line fulfilled)
            The fellow-craftsmen of a day are gone.

 

XX

 

The sad suspirium of a lone sunrise
            On winter wind-trails from the sweet austere
225
Fir-barriered saffron east, on river plain
And smothered rosland stirs the snow and dies:
            This is the nether tone-drift, stern and sheer,
Breathed under Corydon’s most summer strain;
            The note of long surcease;
230
The yearning of dayrise, wilding fresh unblown,
            Where the wood-song has rapture of release;
            The tenuous lull where the hushed soul gets free;
Or to wild roses of Manan the moan
            Where some thrush-hunted foreland takes the sea.
235

 

XXI

 

Death holds a smile most like foreknowledge of life.
            For they who are of the world shall rule it not,
And those who are other-world’s it will destroy.
The illumined only, with a scorn of strife,
            Await that smile’s break, victors, since God wrought
240
Strength out of calm and reverence out of joy.
            Through ever-journeying prime
The last young Greek lifts up his choric song,
            A lyric marble on the frieze of time.
            Born of a day, until the stars unfold
245
Beauty is mother of tears; but man ere long
            Bows with a sleep, and passes, being old.

 

XXII

 

We give to Art the white imperial sway,
            A poised unhasting meteor-flight to shroud
The escaping mute undominated soul,
250
And find therein—no rest nor any stay.
            Then love turns home, and tired heads are bowed
On the breast of Night, under the broad blue stole
            In forest Acadie,
And baffled hands are loosed in the grass, until—
255
            Another year something of you and me,
            Vernal through all the hyacinthine verge,
Shall stir the windflowers when the wind is still,
            And upward with the summer at full surge.

 

XXIII

 

Hark to the gold-mouthed veery answering
260
            His brother pilgrim where the east grows wan!
Thou Chrysostom of silence and repose,
Glad eremite from the unbordered spring,
            Who tarriest here in the pine waste with man,
Dearer than Sophoclean chorus close!
265
            In the High Court of Night
Be thou essoiner for us unto Death:
            With de servitio Regis let him write
            Us down defaulting, yet exempt and free
(Even we who go as a wind wandereth)
270
            With Orpheus and with Corydon and thee.

 

XXIV

 

April and death: I thought not ever again
            The unprisoned summer could thy charm restore,
Nor June be more than June. Alluring, clear—
Ah, the old burst up-welling! Sorrow and stain
275
            Fleet as a grey dew on the wind once more;
And thou, heart’s joy, with solace and with cheer
            Wilt stay the slackening wrist
Of many a voyager swerving his light bark
            By shingly beaches, where the river mist—
280
            The Indian spirit—hears thee from the stream
Pierce all the woodsy starlight and the dark:
            Alluring, clear, the wells of the dawn gleam!

 

XXV

 

A kernel of joy athrob in the blue dusk
            Unfolds and spreads; from core to rim of June
285
The aspiration and the lift of things
Prevail through earth, and fear is a riven husk;
            The windflaws in the pines awake and croon;
The northern streamers upon rosied wings
            Shimmer and wheel and fade:
290
No grief is in the borders of thy song,
            Nor any failure, nor a thing mismade—
            Only the impulse of unslaked desire,
Athirst for life where thy calm brethren throng,
            Whose dreams out-journey Sirius nor tire.
295

 

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