Songs from a Northern Garden

by Bliss Carman


 

ABOVE THE GASPEREAU

TO H.E.C.


 

There are sunflowers too in my garden on top of the hill,
Where now in early September the sun has his will,—
The slow autumn sun that goes leisurely, taking his fill
Of life in the orchards and fir woods so moveless and still;
As if, should they stir, they might break some illusion and spill
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The store of their long summer musing on top of the hill.
The crowds of black spruces in tiers from the valley below,
Ranged round their sky-roofed coliseum, mount row after row.
How often there, rank above rank, they have watched for the slow
Silver-lanterned processions of twilight,—the moon's come and go!
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How often as if they expected some bugle to blow,
Announcing a bringer of news they were breathless to know,
They have hushed every leaf,—to hear only the murmurous flow
Of the small mountain river sent up from the valley below!

How still through the sweet summer sun, through the soft summer rain,

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They have stood there awaiting the summons should bid them attain
The freedom of knowledge, the last touch of truth to explain
The great golden gist of their brooding, the marvellous train
Of thought they have followed so far, been so strong to sustain,—
The bright gospel of sun and the pure revelations of rain!
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Then the orchards that dot, all in order, the green valley floor,
Every tree with its boughs weighed to earth, like a tent from whose door
Not a lodger looks forth,—yet the signs are there gay and galore,
The great ropes of red fruitage and russet, crisp snow to the core.
Can the dark-eyed Romany here have deserted of yore
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Their camp at the coming of frost? Will they seek it no more?
Who dwells in St. Eulalie's village? Who knows the fine lore
Of the tribes of the apple-trees there on the green valley floor?

Who, indeed? From the blue mountain gorge to the dikes by the sea,
Goes that stilly wanderer, small Gaspereau; who but he

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Should give the last hint of perfection, the touch that sets free
From the taut string of silence the whisper of beauties to be!
The very sun seems to have tarried, turned back a degree,
To lengthen out noon for the apple-folk here by the sea.
What is it? Who comes? What's abroad on the blue mountainside?
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A hush has been laid on the leaves and will not be defied.

Is the great Scarlet Hunter at last setting out on his ride
From the North with deliverance now? Were the lights we descried
Last night in the heavens his camp-fires seen far and wide,
The white signal of peace for whose coming the ages have cried?

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"Expectancy lingers; fulfilment postponed," I replied,
When soul said uneasily, "Who is it haunts your hillside?"
All the while not a word from my sunflowers here on the hill.
And to-night when the stars over Blomidon flower and fill
The blue Northern garden of heaven, so pale and so still,
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From the lordly king-aster Aldebaran there by the sill
Of the East, where the moonlight will enter, not one will fulfil
A lordlier lot than my sunflowers here on the hill.

So much for mere fact, mere impression. So much I portray
Of the atmosphere, colour, illusion of one autumn day,

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In the little Acadian village above the Grand Pré;
Just the quiet of orchards and firs, where the sun had full sway,
And the river went trolling his soft wander-song to the bay,
While roseberry, aster, and sagaban tangled his way.
Be you their interpreter, reasoner; tell what they say,
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These children of silence whose patient regard I portray.

You Londoner, walking in Bishopsgate, strolling the Strand,
Some morning in autumn afford, at a fruit-dealer's stand,
The leisure to look at his apples there ruddy and tanned.
Then ask, when he's smiling to serve you, if choice can command

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A Gravenstein grown oversea on Canadian land.
(And just for the whim's sake, for once, you'll have no other brand!)
How teach you to tell them? Pick one, and with that in your hand,
Bethink you awhile as you turn again into the Strand.

"What if," you will say,—so smooth in your hand it will lie,

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So round and so firm, of so rich a red to the eye,
Like a dash of Fortuny, a tinge of some Indian dye,
While you turn it and toss, mark the bloom, ere you taste it and try,—
"Now what if this grew where the same bright pavilion of sky
Is stretched o'er the valley and hillside he bids me descry,
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The windless valley of peace, where the seasons go by,
And the river goes down through the orchards where long shadows lie!"

There's the fruit in your hand, in your ears is the roar of the street,
The pulse of an empire keeping its volume and beat,
Its sure come and go day and night, while we sleep or we eat.

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Taste the apple, bite in to the juice; how abundant and sweet!
As sound as your own English heart, and wholesome as wheat.
There grow no such apples as that in your Bishopsgate street.

Or perhaps in St. Helen's Place, when your business is done
And the ledgers put by, you will think of the hundred and one

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Commissions and errands to do; but what under the sun
Was that, so important? Ah, yes! the new books overrun
The old shelves. It is high time to order a new set begun.
Then off to the joiner's. You enter to see his plane run
With a long high shriek through the lumber he's working upon.
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Then he turns from his shavings to query what you would have done.

But homeward 'tis you who make question. That song of the blade!
And the sharp sweet cry of the wood, what an answer it made!
What stories the joiner must hear, as he plies his clean trade,
Of all the wild life of the forest where long shadows wade

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The untrodden moss, and the firs send a journeying shade
So slow through the valley so far from the song of his blade.

Come back to my orchards a moment. They're waiting for you.
How still are the little grey leaves where the pippins peep through!
The boughs where the ribstons hang red are half-breaking in two.

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Above them September in magical soft Northern blue
Has woven the spell of her silence, like frost or like dew,
Yet warm as a poppy's red dream. When All Saints shall renew
The beauty of summer awhile, will their dreaming come true?
Ah, not of my Grand Pré they dream, nor your London and you!
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Their life is their own, and the surge of it. All through the spring
They pushed forth their buds, and the rainbirds at twilight would sing.
They put forth their bloom, and the world was as fairy a thing
As a Japanese garden. Then midsummer came with a zing
And the clack of the locust; then fruit-time and coolness, to bring
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This aftermath deep underfoot with its velvety spring.

And they all the while with the fatherly, motherly care,
Taking sap from the strength of the ground, taking sun from the air,
Taking chance of the frost and the worm, taking courage to dare,
Have given their life that the life might be goodly and fair

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In their kind for the seasons to come, with good witness to bear
How the sturdy old race of the apples could give and not spare.
To-morrow the harvest begins. We shall rifle them there
Of the beautiful fruit of their bodies, the crown of their care.

How lovingly then shall the picker set hand to the bough!—

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Bid it yield, ere the seed come to earth or the graft to the plough,
Not only sweet life for its kind, as the instincts allow,
That savour and shape may survive generations from now,
But life to its kin who can say, "I am stronger than thou,"—
Fulfilling a lordlier law than the law of the bough.
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I heard before dawn, with planets beginning to quail,—
"Whoso hath life, let him give, that my purpose prevail;
Whoso hath none, let him take, that his strength may be hale.
Behold, I have reckoned the tally, I keep the full tale.
Whoso hath love, let him give, lest his spirit grow stale;
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Whoso hath none, let him die; he shall wither and fail.
Behold I will plenish the loss at the turn of the scale.
He hath law to himself, who hath love; ye shall hope and not quail."

Then the sun arose, and my sunflowers here on the hill,
In free ceremonial turned to the East to fulfil

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Their daily observance, receiving his peace and his will,—
The lord of their light who alone bids the darkness be nil,
The lord of their love who alone bids the life in them thrill;
Undismayed and serene, they awaited him here on the hill.
Ah, the patience of earth! Look down at the dark pointed firs;
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They are carved out of blackness; one pattern recurs and recurs.
They crowd all the gullies and hillsides, the gashes and spurs,
As silent as death. What an image! How nature avers
The goodness of calm with that taciturn beauty of hers!
As silent as sleep. Yet the life in them climbs and upstirs.
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They too have received the great law, know that haste but defers
The perfection of time,—the initiate gospeller firs.

So year after year, slow ring upon ring, they have grown,
Putting infinite long-loving care into leafage and cone,
By the old ancient craft of the earth they have pondered and known

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In the dead of the hot summer noons, as still as a stone.
Not for them the gay fruit of the thorn, nor the high scarlet roan,
Nor the plots of the deep orchard-land where the apples are grown.

In winter the wind, all huddled and shuddering, came
To warm his old bones by the fires of sunset aflame

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Behind the black house of the firs. When the moose-birds grew tame
In the lumberer's camps in the woods, what marvellous fame
His talk and the ice of his touch would spread and proclaim,
Of the berg and the floe of the lands without nation or name,
Where the earth and the sky, night and noon, north and south are the same,
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The white and awful Nirvana of cold whence he came!

Then April, some twilight picked out with a great yellow star,
Returning, like Hylas long lost and come back with his jar
Of sweet living water at last, having wandered so far,
Leads the heart out-of-doors, and the eye to the point of a spar,

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At whose base in the half-melted snow the first Mayflowers are,—
And there the first robin is pealing below the great star.

So soon, oversoon, the full summer. Within those dark boughs,
Deliberate and far, a faltering reed-note will rouse
The shy transports of earth, till the wood-creatures hear where they house,

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And grow bold as the tremble-eared rabbits that nibble and mouse.
While up through the pasture-lot, startling the sheep as they browse,
Where kingbirds and warblers are piercing the heat's golden drowse,
Some girl, whom the sun has made tawny, the wind had to blowse,
Will come there to gentle her lover beneath those dark boughs.
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Then out of the hush, when the grasses are frosty and old,
Will the chickadee's tiny alarm against winter be rolled;
And soon, when the ledges and ponds are bitten with cold,
The honk of the geese, that wander-cry stirring and bold,
Will sound through the night, where those hardy mariners hold
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The uncharted course through the dark, as it is from of old.

Ah, the life of the woods, how they share and partake of it all,
These evergreens, silent as Indians, solemn and tall!
From the goldenwing's first far-heard awakening call,
The serene flute of the thrush in his high beech hall,

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And the pipe of the frog, to the bannered approach of the fall,
And the sullen wind, when snow arrives on a squall,
Trooping in all night from the North with news would appal
Any outposts but these; with a zest they partake of it all.

Lo, out of the hush they seem to mount and aspire!

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From basement to tip they have builded, with heed to go higher,
One circlet of branches a year with their lift of green spire.
Nay, rather they seem to repose, having done with desire,
Awaiting the frost, with the fruit scarlet-bright on the briar,
Each purpose fulfilled, each ardour that bade them aspire.
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Then hate be afar from the bite of the axe that shall fell
These keepers of solitude, makers of quiet, who dwell
On the slopes of the North. And clean be the hand that shall quell
The tread of the sap that was wont to go mounting so well,
Round on round with the sun in a spiral, slow cell after cell,
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As a bell-ringer climbs in a turret. That resinous smell
From the eighth angel's hand might have risen with the incense to swell
His offering in heaven, when the half-hour's silence befell.

Behold, as the prayers of the saints that went up to God's knees
In John's Revelation, the silence and patience of these

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Our brothers of orchard and hill, the unhurrying trees,
To better the burden of earth till the dark suns freeze,
Shall go out to the stars with the sound of Acadian seas,
And the scent of the wood-flowers blowing about their great knees.

To-night when Altair and Alshain are ruling the West,

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Whence Boötes is driving his dogs to long hunting addressed;
With Alioth plumb over Blomidon standing at rest;
When Algol is leading the Pleiades over the crest
Of the magical East, and the South puts Alpherat to test
With Menkar just risen; will come, like a sigh from Earth's breast,
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The first sob of the tide turning home,—one distraught in his quest
Forever, and calling forever the wind in the west.

And to-night there will answer the ghost of a sigh on the hill,
So small you would say, Is it wind, or the frost with a will
Walking down through the woods, who tomorrow shall show us his skill

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In yellows and reds? So noiseless, it hardly will thrill
The timorous aspens, which tremble when all else is still;
Yet the orchards will know, and the firs aware on the hill.

"O Night, I am old, I endure. Since my being began,
When out of the dark the aurora spread up like a fan,

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I have founded the lands and the islands; the hills are my plan.
I have covered the pits of the earth with my bridge of one span.
From the Horn to Dunedin unbroken my long rollers ran,
From Pentland and Fastnet and Foyle to Bras d'Or and Manan,
To dredge and upbuild for the creatures of tribe and of clan.
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Lo, now who shall end the contriving my fingers began?"

Then the little wind that blows from the great star-drift
Will answer, "Thou tide in the least of the planets I lift,
Considers the journeys of light. Are thy journeyings swift?
Thy sands are as smoke to the star-banks I huddle and shift.

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Peace! I have seeds of the grasses to scatter and sift.
I have freighting to do for the weed and the frail thistle drift.

"O ye apples and firs, great and small are as one in the end.
Because ye had life to the full, and spared not to spend;
Because ye had love of your kind, to cherish and fend;

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Held hard the good instinct to thrive, cleaving close to life's trend;
Nor questioned where impulse had origin,—purpose might tend;
Now, beauty is yours, and the freedom whose promptings transcend
Attainment forever, through death with new being to blend.
O ye orchards and woods, death is naught, love is all in the end."
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Ah, friend of mine over the sea, shall we not discern,
In the life of our brother the beech and our sister the fern,
As St. Francis would call them (his Minorites, too, would we learn!),
In death but a door to new being no creature may spurn,
But must enter for beauty's completion,—pass up in his turn
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To the last round of joy, yours and mine, whence to think and discern?

Who shall say "the last round?" Have I passed by the exit of soul?
From behind the tall door that swings outward, replies no patrol
To our restless Qui vive? when is paid each implacable toll.
Not a fin of the tribes shall return, having cleared the great shoal;

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Not a wing of the migrants come back from below the dark knoll;
Yet the zest of the flight and the swimming who fails to extol?
Saith the Riddle, "The parts are all plain; ye may guess at the whole."I guess, "Immortality, knowledge, survival of Soul."

To-night, with the orchards below and the firs on the hill

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Asleep in the long solemn moonlight and taking no ill,
A hand will open the sluice of the great sea-mill,—
Start the gear and the belts oaf the tide. Then a murmur will fill
The hollows of midnight with sound, when all else is still,
A promise to hearten my sunflowers here on the hill.
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