Songs from a Northern Garden

by Bliss Carman


 

IN A GRAND PRÉ GARDEN


 

In a garden over Grand Pré, dewy in the morning sun,
Here in earliest September with the summer nearly done,
Musing on the lovely world and all its beauties, one by one!

Bluets, marigolds, and asters, scarlet poppies, purple phlox,—
Who knows where the key is hidden to those frail yet perfect locks

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In the tacit doors of being where the soul stands still and knocks?

There is Blomidon's blue sea-wall, set to guard the turbid straits
Where the racing tides have entry; but who keeps for us the gates
In the mighty range of silence where man's spirit calls and waits?

Where is Glooscaap? There's a legend of that saviour of the West,

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The benign one, whose all-wisdom loved beasts well, though men the best,
Whom the tribes of Minas leaned on, and their villages had rest.

Once the lodges were defenceless, all the warriors being gone
On a hunting or adventure. Like a panther on a fawn,
On the helpless stole a war-band, ambushed to attack at dawn.

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But with night came Glooscaap. Sleeping he surprised them; waved his
          bow;
Through the summer leaves descended a great frost, as white as snow;
Sealed their slumber to eternal peace and stillness long ago.

Then a miracle. Among them, while still death undid their thews,
Slept a captive with her children. Such the magic he could use,

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She arose unharmed with morning, and departing, told the news.

He, too, when the mighty Beaver had the country for his pond,
All the way from the Pereau here to Bass River and beyond,
Stoned the rascal; drained the Basin; routed out that vagabond.

You can see yourself Five Islands Glooscaap flung at him that day,

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When from Blomidon to Sharp he tore the Beaver's dam away,—
Cleared the channel, and the waters thundered out into the bay.

(Do we idle, little children? Ah, well, there is hope, maybe,
In mere beauty which enraptures just such ne'er-do-wells
as we!
I must go and pick my apples. Malyn will be calling me!)

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Here he left us—see the orchards, red and gold in every tree!—
All the land from Gaspereau to Portapique and Cheverie,
All the garden lands of Minas and a passage out to sea.

You can watch the white-sailed vessels through the meadows wind and
          creep.
All day long the pleasant sunshine, and at night the starry sleep,

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While the labouring tides that rest not have their business with the deep!

So I get my myth and legend of a breaker-down of bars,
Putting gateways in the mountains with their thousand-year-old scars,
That the daring and the dauntless might steer outward by the stars.

So my demiurgic hero lays a frost on all our fears.

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Dead the grisly superstition, dead the bigotry of years,
Dead the tales that frighten children, when the pure white light appears.

Thus did Glooscaap of the mountains. What doth Balder of the flowers,Balder, the white lord of April, who comes back amid the showersAnd the sunshine to the Northland to revive this earth of ours?

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First, how came my garden, where untimely not a leaf may wilt?
For a thousand years the currents trenched the rock and wheeled the silt,
Dredged and filled and smoothed and levelled, toiling that it might be built.

For the moon pulled and the sun pushed on the derrick of the tide;
And a great wind heaved and blustered,—swung the weight round with a
          stride,

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Mining tons of red detritus out of the old mountain side,— 

Bore them down and laid them even by the mouth of stream and rill
For the quiet lowly doorstep, for cemented joist and sill
Of our Grand Pré, where the cattle lead their shadows or lie still.

So my garden floor was founded by the labouring frugal sea,

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Deep and virginal as Eden, for the flowers that were to be,
All for my great drowsy poppies and my marigolds and me.

Who had guessed the unsubstantial end and outcome of such toil,—
These, the children of a summer, whom a breath of frost would foil,
I, almost as faint and fleeting as my brothers of the soil?

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Did those vague and drafty sea-tides, as they journeyed, feel the surge
Of the prisoned life that filled them seven times full from verge to verge,
Mounting to some far achievement where its ardour might emerge?

Are they blinder of a purpose in their courses fixed and sure,
Those sea arteries whose heavings throb through Nature's vestiture,

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Than my heart's frail valves and hinges which so perilously endure?

Do I say to it, "Give over!"—Can I will, and it will cease?
Nay, it stops but with destruction; knows no respite nor release.
I, who did not start its pulses, cannot bid them be at peace.

Thus the great deep, framed and fashioned to a thought beyond its own,

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Rocked by tides that race or sleep without its will from zone to zone,
Setting door-stones for a people in a century unknown,

Sifted for me and my poppies the red earth we love so well.
Gently there, my fine logician, brooding in your lone grey cell!
Was it all for our contentment such a miracle befell?

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No; because my drowsy poppies and my marigolds and I
Have this human need in common, nodding as the wind goes by;
There is that supreme within us no one life can satisfy. 

With their innocent grave faces lifted up to meet my own,
They are but the stranger people, swarthy children of the sun,

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Gypsies tenting at our door to vanish ere the year is done.

(How we idle, little children! Still our best of tasks may be,
From distraction and from discord without baseness to get free.
I must go and pick my apples. Malyn will be calling me!)

Humbly, then, most humbly ever, little brothers of the grass,

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With Aloha at your doorways I salute you as you pass,
I who wear the mortal vesture, as our custom ever was.

Known for kindred by the habit, by the tanned and crimson stain,
Earthlings in the garb ensanguined just so long as we remain,
You for days and I for seasons mystics by the common strain,

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Till we tread the virgin threshold of a great moon red and low,
Clean and joyous while we tarry, and uncraven when we go
From the rooftree of the rain-wind and the broad eaves of the snow.

And this thing called life, which frets us like a fever without name,
Soul of man and seed of poppy no mortality can tame,

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Smouldering at the core of beauty till it breaks in perfect flame,— 

What it is I know not; only I know they and I are one,
By the lure that bids us linger in the great House of the Sun,
By the fervour that sustains us at the door we cannot shun.

From a little wider prospect, I survey their bright domain;

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On a rounder dim horizon, I behold the ploughman rain;
All I have and hold so lightly, they will perish to attain.

Waking at the word of April with the South Wind at her heels,
We await the revelation locked beneath the four great seals,
Ice and snow and dark and silence, where the Northern search-light wheels.

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Waiting till our Brother Balder walks the lovely earth once more,
With the robin in the fir-top, with the rain-wind at the door,
With the old unwearied gladness to revive us and restore,

We abide the raptured moment, with the patience of a stone,
Like ephemera our kindred, transmigrant from zone to zone,

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To that last fine state of being where they live on joy alone.

O great Glooscaap and kind Balder, born of human heart's desire,
When earth's need took shape and substance, and the impulse to aspire
Passed among the new-made peoples, touching the red clay with fire,

By the myth and might of beauty, lead us and allure us still,

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Past the open door of wonder and oblivion's granite sill,
Past the curtain of the sunset in the portals of the hill,

To new provinces of wisdom, sailless latitudes of soul.
I for one must keep the splendid faith in good your lives extol,
Well assured the love you lived by is my being's source and goal.

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Fearless when the will bids "Venture," or the sleepless mind bids "Know,"
Here among my lowly neighbours blameless let me come and go,
Till I, too, receive the summons to the silent Tents of Snow.

In a garden over Grand Pré, bathed in the serenity
Of the early autumn sunlight, came these quiet thoughts to me,

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While the wind went down the orchard to the dikes and out to sea.

(Idling yet? My flowery children, only far too well I see
How this day will glow forever in my life that is to be!
I must go and pick my apples. There is Malyn calling me!)