Songs from a Northern Garden

by Bliss Carman


 

THE BALLAD OF FATHER HUDSON


 

You may doubt, but I heard the story 
Just as I tell it to you; 
And whatever you think of the setting, 
I believe the substance true.

The great North Seaboard Province,

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From Fundy to Chaleurs,
Is a country of many waters
And sombre hills of fir,

Where the moose still treads his snow-yard,
Breaking his paths to browse, 

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Where the caribou rove the barrens, 
And the bear and the beaver house;

Where Killooleet sings from the ridge-pole
All through the night and the rain, 
When the great blue Northern Summer 

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Comes back to the wilds again.

In that land of many rivers,
Bogan and lake and stream,
You may follow the trail in the water
With the paddle's bend and gleam,

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Where the canoe, like a shadow
Among the shadows, slips 
Under the quiet alders 
And over the babbling rips;

You may go for a week together,

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Reading footmark and trace 
Of the wild shy woodland creatures, 
Ere you meet a human face.

There where the Loyalists came 
And the houses of men were few, 

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Little was all their wealth 
And great were the hardships they knew;

But greater the hardy faith 
They kept unflinching and fine, 
And chose to be naught in the world 

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For the pride of a loyal line.

And there came Father Hudson, 
As I've heard my father tell, 
To serve the wilderness missions, 
With sound of a Sunday bell.

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Sober he was and a toiler, 
Cared not for ease nor place; 
They speak of his humour, too, 
And the long droll shaven face.

Labour he did, and spared not, 

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In that vineyard wild and rough, 
And often was sore with travel, 
And often hungry enough,

Doubt not, as he carried the word
By portage and stream and trail 

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That still in the mind of his people 
The fire of truth should prevail.

And once was a church to build,
Little, lonely, apart, 
Hardly more than a token 

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In the forest 's great green heart.

With his own hands he reared it,
And often was wet to the hide,
And often slept on the shavings
Till the birds sang outside;

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Then up in the fragrant morning,
And back to hammer and saw,
Building into the timbers 
Love and devotion and awe.

So the fair summer went by,

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And the church was finished at last; 
But Father Hudson was called 
To a country still more vast.

In the land of the creaking snowshoe
And the single track in the snow,

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There's many a thing of wonder 
No man will ever know.

It happened about the feast 
Of the blessed Nativity, 
When the snow lay heavy and silent 

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On every bending tree,

When the great north lights were stalking
Through the purple solitude, 
Father Hudson's successor 
Passed by the church in the wood.

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And it came to his mind to ponder
What the requital may be 
Of toil that is done in the body, 
When the soul is at last set free;

And whether the flame of fervour

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That is quenched in service here,
Survives through self-surrender 
To illumine another sphere.

Then he saw the place all lighted, 
Though it was not the hour of prayer,

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And the strains of a triumphing organ 
Came to him on the air.

In amazement he turned aside.
Who could the player be?
And who had lighted the lights?

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The door still fast, the key

On its nail in the little porch! 
He turned, put one foot on the sill,
Unlocked, opened, and entered. 
The church was dark and still!

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The white-robed spruces around it
Stood still with never a word; 
The sifting snow at the window 
Was all the good man heard.

Verily, Father Hudson,

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Strong was thy sturdy creed,
But stronger and more enduring
The humble and holy deed,

Which so could enthral the senses
And lend the spirit sight 

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To behold the glory of labour 
And love's availing might.

O brave are the single-hearted
Who deal with this life, and dare
To live by the inward vision— 

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In the soul's native air.