The Green Book of the Bards

by Bliss Carman

© Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge UP, 1898


The Green Book of the Bards


THERE is a book not written
   By any human hand,
The prophets all have studied,
   The priests have always banned.

I read it every morning,

   I ponder it by night;
And Death shall overtake me
   Trimming my humble light.

He’ll say, as did my father
   When I was young and small

“ My son, no time for reading!
   The night awaits us all.”

He’ll smile, as did my father
   When I was small and young,
That I should be so eager

   Over an unknown tongue.

Then I would leave my volume
   And willingly obey,—
Get me a little slumber
   Against another day.


Content that he who taught me
   Should bid me sleep awhile,
I would expect the morning
   To bring his courtly smile;

New verses to decipher,

   New chapters to explore,
While loveliness and wisdom
   Grow ever more and more!

For who could ever tire
   Of that wild legendry,

The folklore of the mountains,
   The drama of the sea?

I pore for days together
   Over some lost refrain,—
The epic of the thunder,

   The lyric of the rain.

This was the creed and canon
   Of Jeffries and Thoreau,
And all the free believers
   Who worshipped long ago.


Here Amiel in sadness,
   And Burns in pure delight,
Sought for the hidden import
   Of man’s eternal plight.

No Xenophon and Caesar

   This master had for guides,
Yet here are well recorded
   The marches of the tides.

Here are the marks of greatness
   Accomplished without noise,

The Elizabethan vigour,
   And the Landorian poise;

The sweet Cahaucerian temper,
   Smiling at all defeats;
The gusty moods of Shelley,

   The Autumn calms of Keats.

Here were derived the gospels
   Of Emerson and John;
‘T was with this revelation
   The face of Moses shone.


Here Blake and Job and Omar
   The author’s meaning traced;
Here Virgil got his sweetness,
   And Arnold his unhaste.

Here Horace learned to question,

   And Browning to reply,
When soul stood up on trial
   For her mortality.

And all these lovely spirits
   Who read in the great book,

Then went away in silence
   With their illumined look,

Left comment, as art furnished
   A margin for their skill,—
Their guesses at the secret

   Whose gist eludes us still.

And still in that green volume,
   With ardour and with youth
Undaunted, my companions
   Are searching for the truth.


One page, entitled Grand Pré,
   Has the idyllic air
That Bion might have envied:
   I set a footnote there.


Link to this volume on Early Canadiana Online