Sanctuary Sunshine House Sonnets

by Bliss Carman

Illustrations by Whitman Bailey




There is an hour in the day when birds fly close to the hedges and are suddenly present in gardens; when flowers are no longer flaunting, and trees are a dim stature; when the noise of insects in the grasses becomes distinct, and men are seen on their homeward way. The mood that belongs to this hour Bliss Carman renders in the unrhymed sonnets of SANCTUARY. It is a mood in which living and a dream about life are reconciled. In these last poems of his,

We linger on entranced by glowing earth,
The splendor of the blazoned woods are still,
The pattern of the everlasting hours . . .
The lone Designer of Indian Summer smiles.

I have known few poets anywhere, and certainly no poet in America, who had so dedicated himself to the service of poetry as Bliss Carman. I do not mean that he went about showing himself as belonging to that service. He did nothing of the kind. He had too much humor and too much interest in daily happenings to show himself as anything else than a companionable man. But in the struggle which every visionary must have with the world he had no divided heart; quietly, without any argumentation, he took the side opposite to the world’s. "Getting and spending we lay waste our Powers," Wordsworth lamented. Bliss Carman did with the minimum of getting and spending. "Little we see in Nature that is ours," that noble lament goes on. Bliss Carman had earned the right to say these words with less bitterness than most visionaries.

His life had frugal dignity which was in itself a rare and a fine achievement. The tweeds that he wore had given him long service; they were always carefully pressed and spotless; that wide-brimmed hat he had worn for many seasons. Yet there was always something in his attire that corresponded to the gaiety and color of his minda bright neck-tie, a silver chain, a turquoise ornament that some Indian friend had bestowed upon him. He was a tall man. But that exceptional build was contained in a thin integument. He bled easily; he was sensitive over every part of his great frame. However, that irritability that usually goes with the thin skin was no part of his nature. Bliss Carman was above everything else a sweet-natured man. I am sure that no one ever parted from him without thinking, "I hope I shall see dear Bliss Carman again."

He was saved from being a solitary by his friendship with Dr. Morris Lee King and Mrs. Mary Perry Kinga friendship which indeed gave sanctuary to the poet, and unquestionably added to his length of days. His health was precarious when he came to New Canaan twenty-two years ago. But these last ten years, I have heard him say, found him more robust in health than any time since his early youth. Every morning he would leave his rooms in the village and walk to Sunshine House where Dr. and Mrs. King live; there he would spend the day, writing, reading, walking, and dreaming, returning to the village at night. These last poems were written in "the Sun Room" as part of an uncompleted collection, and reflect the house in which he has so much peace and content, and the garden that the wild creatures were not shut out of, and reflect, above all, the companionship that strengthened and inspirited him.

His ever dear native land, Canada, gave him its highest honours in his later years. He was born in New BrunswickNew Brunswick which, as his comrade of the old days, Richard Le Gallienne, in his tribute to Carman, reminded us, "when it belonged to France, went by the more charming name of Acadie, or Acadia, immortalized by Longfellow, and as near to Arcady in its romantic natural features as its name. It is a region of glittering lakes, rivers and bays, rocky ravines and great forests, abounding in wild life, a paradise of the adventurous canoeist," and it was a treasured memory of the poet’s.

But his later poetry belongs to New England, to Connecticut, and particularly to "the little valley of the Silvermine." Here he died suddenly on the morrow of a quiet working-day. Then the first young birds were leaving the nests; it was a day on which those who were close to him could say as they thought upon him, a verse of one of his own poems,

In patience therefore I await
My friend’s unchanged benign regard
Some April when I too shall be
Spilt water from a broken shard.

Padraic Colum.

New Canaan, September 1929.