Beauty and Life

by Duncan Campbell Scott

© Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1921.


 

Ode for the Keats Centenary  

A Vision

Variations on a Seventeenth Century Theme  

Senza Fine

The Fragment of a Letter  

A Masque

The Flight  

The Eagle Speaks

Leaves  

Lilacs and Humming Birds

The Tree, the Birds, and the Child  

Afterwards

Last Year  

The Enigma

On the Death of Claude Debussy  

In Grenada

Bells  

Impromptu

Reverie  

In Winter

Threnody  

Song

Spirit and Flesh  

In the Selkirks

The Lovers  

Question and Answer

By the Shore  

Lines on a Monument

The Anatomy of Melancholy  

After Battle

Portrait of Mrs. Clarence Gagnon  

The Fallen

The Water Lily  

Somewhere in France

A Road Song  

To a Canadian Aviator who Died for his Country in France

After a Night of Storm  

To the Canadian Mothers

Idle to Grieve  

 

Afterword

by Shelley Hulan

 

 

 

Ode for the Keats Centenary

February 23, 1921.

 

 
The Muse is stern unto her favoured sons,
Giving to some keys of all the joy
Of the green earth, but holding even that joy
Back from their life;
Bidding them feed on hope,
5
A plant of bitter growth,
Deep-rooted in the past;
Truth, ’tis a doubtful art
To make Hope sweeten
Time as it flows;
10
For no man knows
Until the very last,
Whether it be a sovereign herb that he has eaten,
Or his own heart.

O stern, implacable Muse,
15
Giving to Keats so richly dowered,
Only the thought that he should be
Among the English poets after death;
Letting him fade with that expectancy,
All powerless to unfold the future!
20
What boots it that our age has snatched him free
From thy too harsh embrace,
Has given his fame the certainty
Of comradeship with Shakespeare’s?
He lies alone
25
Beneath the frown of the old Roman stone
And the cold Roman violets;
And not our wildest incantation
Of his most sacred lines,
Nor all the praise that sets
30
Towards his pale grave,
Like oceans towards the moon,
Will move the Shadow with the pensive brow
To break his dream,
And give unto him now
35

One word!—

When the young master reasoned
That our puissant England
Reared her great poets by neglect,
Trampling them down in the by-paths of Life

40
And fostering them with glory after death,
Did any flame of triumph from his own fame
Fall swift upon his mind; the glow
Cast back upon the bleak and aching air
Blown round his days—?
45
Happily so!
But he, whose soul was mighty as the soul
Of Milton, who held the vision of the world
As an irradiant orb self-filled with light,
Who schooled his heart with passionate control
50
To compass knowledge, to unravel the dense
Web of this tangled life, he would weigh slight
As thistledown blown from his most fairy fancy
That pale self-glory, against the mystery,
The wonder of the various world, the power
55
Of "seeing great things in loneliness."

Where bloodroot in the clearing dwells
Along the edge of snow;
Where, trembling all their trailing bells,
The sensitive twinflowers blow;
60

Where, searching through the ferny breaks,
The moose-fawns find the springs;
Where the loon laughs and diving takes
Her young beneath her wings;

Where flash the fields of arctic moss
65
With myriad golden light;
Where no dream-shadows ever cross
The lidless eyes of night;

Where, cleaving a mountain storm, the proud
Eagles, the clear sky won,
70
Mount the thin air between the loud
Slow thunder and the sun;

Where, to the high tarn tranced and still
No eye has ever seen,
Comes the first star its flame to chill
75
In the cool deeps of green;—
Spirit of Keats, unfurl thy wings,
Far from the toil and press,
Teach us by these pure-hearted things,
Beauty in loneliness.
80

Where, in the realm of thought, dwell those
Who oft in pain and penury
Work in the void,
Searching the infinite dark between the stars,
The infinite little of the atom,

85
Gathering the tears and terrors of this life,
Distilling them to a medicine for the soul;
(And hated for their thought
Die for it calmly;
For not their fears,
90
Nor the cold scorn of men,
Fright them who hold to truth:)
They brood alone int the intense serene
Air of their passion,
Until on some chill dawn
95
Breaks the immortal form foreshadowed in their dream,
And the distracted world and men
Are no more what they were.


Spirit of Keats, unfurl thy deathless wings,
Far from the wayward toil, the vain excess,

100
Teach us by such soul-haunting things
Beauty in loneliness.

The minds of men grown numb, their vision narrows,
The clogs of Empire and the dust of ages,
The lust of power that fogs the fairest pages,
105
Of the romance that eager life would write,
These war on Beauty with their spears and arrows.
But still is Beauty and of constant power;
Even in the whirl of Time’s most sordid hour,
Banished from the great highways,
110
Affrighted by the tramp of insolent feet,
She hangs her garlands in the by-ways;
Lissome and sweet
Bending her head to hearken and learn
Melody shadowed with melody,
115
Softer than shadow of sea-fern,
In the green-shadowed sea:
Then, nourished by quietude,
And if the world’s mood
Change, she may return
120
Even lovelier than before.—

The white reflection in the mountain lake
Falls from the white stream
Silent in the high distance;
The mirrored mountains guard

125
The profile of the goddess of the height,
Floating in water with a curve of crystal light;
When the air, envious of the loveliness,
Rushes downward to surprise,
Confusion plays in the contact,
130
The picture is overdrawn
With ardent ripples,
But when the breeze, warned of intrusion,
Draws breathless upward in flight,
The vision reassembles in tranquillity,
135
Reforming with a gesture of delight,
Reborn with the rebirth of calm.

Spirit of Keats, lend us thy voice,
Breaking like surge in some enchanted cave
On a dream-sea-coast,
140
To summon Beauty to her desolate world.

For Beauty has taken refuge from our life
That grew too loud and wounding;
Beauty withdraws beyond the bitter strife,
Beauty is gone, (Oh where?)
145
To dwell within a precinct of pure air
Where moments turn to months of solitude;
To live on roots of fern and tips of fern,
On tender berries flushed with the earth’s blood.
Beauty shall stain her feet with moss
150
And dye her cheek with deep nut-juices,
Laving her hands in the pure sluices
Where rainbows are dissolved.
Beauty shall view herself in pools of amber sheen
Dappled with peacock-tints from the green screen
155
That mingles liquid light with liquid shadow.
Beauty shall breathe the fairy hush
With the chill orchids in their cells of shade,
And hear the invocation of the thrush
That calls the stars into their heaven,
160
And after even
Beauty shall take the night into her soul.
When the thrill voice goes crying through the wood,
(Oh Beauty, Beauty!)
Troubling the solitude
165
With echoes from the lonely world,
Beauty will tremble like a cloistered thing
That hears temptation in the outlands singing,
Will steel her dedicated heart and breathe
Into her inner ear to firm her vow:—
170
‘Let me restore the soul that ye have marred.
‘O mortals, cry no more on Beauty,
‘Leave me alone, lone mortals,
‘Until my shaken soul come to its own,
‘Lone mortals, leave me alone!’
175
(Oh Beauty, Beauty, Beauty!)
All the dim wood is silent as a dream
That dreams of silence.
 

 

Variations on a Seventeenth Century Theme

"It was high spring, and all the way
Primrosed, and hung with shade."
Henry Vaughan 1622-1695.

 

 

I

 

 
O younge and fresche was the lovely Eve
Who was our moder, and of fayre visage
When sche her house in Eden-bower must leave
With Adam whom God made in His image,
As the good booke saith; in youth and age
Study it close and con the gospel well,
For it will save your seely soul from Hell.

A Poete telleth in an olde romaunt
Of our foreparents and their first distress.
They were all naked sauf for the kinde plaunt,
10 
 Where Eve had gathered leaves them for to dress.
There were adrad at the broode wilderness,
Shivering bothe, altho they knew ne cold,
For the high sonne was shining bright and bold.

When the wing-schuldered aungel there did stonde,
15 
And shake his sword in flame of gold and red,
Adam espied that in her little honde
Eve covered something that it cherished.
What was it Eva from the aungel hid?
Sche without ever askin Goddis pardon
20 
Had a small primrose taken from His garden.

And there sche guarded it all faithfully,
Like as a younge priest sholde guard the Host,
Then looking on its beauty, sodenly
Her timid mind with payne was rudely crost,
25 
Sche thought on all the blossoms sche had lost,
And the first tear of all the teares sche shed,
Fell down upon the litel yalow head.

But when our fader Adam saw her payne,
His hert was all aswownying with her grief,
30 
For he of gently Eva was full fayne
And tender at the hert beyond belief.
He went away as he had been a thief,
And where he went the Poete did not know,
But all that day Eve never saw him mo.
35 

 

II

 

 
All in the high May-time,
The only merry play-time,
A pedlar comes clad all in yellow;
Down the lane as he passes,
The lads and the lasses
Crowd after the impudent fellow.

He sells ballads and snatches
Of glees and of catches,
That go with a wonderful jingle;
He teaches a dance
10
That is perfect romance,
And sets all your blood in a tingle.

He has treasures untold
Of things made in gold,
Of jewels and carvings and laces;
15
But the moment you try
A thought for to buy
He makes a few frowns and grimaces.

If you mention a hope
Off he goes in a mope,
20
He is wrath if you ask an ideal;
He cries with a sneer
"You can’t buy them here!
"I only engage in the real."

"Dreams are a stuff
25
"All well enough
"For those who love shadows to cherish,
"They’re nothing but bubbles;
"I have my own troubles
"To gather up things that don’t perish."
30

"Come then, my boon lad,
"All thinkers are mad,
"For your strength I will give you good measure;
"Come, don’t be afraid,
"My pretty wild maid
35
"To barter your beauty for pleasure."
"For this is high May-time,
"The only merry play-time,
"When the primrose has lighted her wan-fire,
"Come, stroll down the lane,
40
"You’ll not bargain in vain,
"At the end of the path is a bonfire!"
 

 

III

 

 
I dreamed a dream once in the long ago,
A tranquil angel spoke beside my bed,
Two figures stood beside him in the glow
Cast from his vesture and his glorious head,
One held a crystal globe all primrose-rayed,
5
The other held a temple hung with shade.

"O man, these symbols are the whole of life,
"Here is the round of pleaure dashed with light,
"Here is the shade of sorrow and of strife,
"Temple and sphere—the sombre and the bright,
10
"Make thou thy choice, thy mighty will is free,
"In this election is thy destiny."

I thought to choose the crystal, ’twas so fair.
Eyes of serene enchantment seemed to peer,
Shadows of filmy beauty floated there,
15
But as I closed my hand upon the sphere,
I saw a flash of something in the gold
That made my very heart turn grey and cold.

And so I grasped the temple hung with shade,
The angel and the figures vanished away,
20
I put aside the shadows undismayed,
And felt my heart turn weary and old and grey,
The very thing that I had hoped to shun
Sat on a throne, it was the All Powerful One.

"Make thou thy choice, thy mighty will is free,"
25
The mocking words were ever in my ears,
Through all my days I strove with destiny,
With teen and sorrow harvested the years.
I lie through æons as all mortals must,
A little heap of ashes and of dust.
30

 

IV

 

 
The moon glows with a primrose light
To-night!
A happy vesper sparrow sings,
His wings
Are moist with dew, a wraith of mist,
5
Grey amethyst,
Deepens the purple in the fields,
Slow yields
Twilight to the vast shade that listlessly
Moves landward from the sea.
10

 

V

 

 
A playwright’s room all hung about with masks.
Three candles burning and a fire half dying,
Points of high-light on shadowed foils and flasks,
A tragic form on a grey sofa lying:

Enter a youth too out of breath for speech—he
5
Was ancient clad like one of the Medici.  

Piero:

     Why are you here, Paolo, after a first night
Like that? Flaming! Everyone crying "Paolo"!
Crowding onto the stage, crowning Giovanna with flowers.
Then when they cleared, and we set out the supper
10
On the stage, you know—as we planned—and everyone  
Came from the dressing-rooms in Florentine
Costume, you know—as we planned—then we missed
 
  you.  
I rushed here—never thinking!

 
Paolo:

 
  And you found me. 15
After failure a little realm of quiet.

 
Piero:

 
  Failure!

 
Paolo:

  After the end a pause before the end!

Piero:

  Failure! The most absolute success!

 
Paolo:

     I will tell you, Piero, inner secrets—
20
A play within a play—in the second act
Giovanna was to give my love an answer—
It was not so arranged—too subtle for that,
When she handed Antonio the flowers
I was to divine it by a certain gesture
25
Imagined long by me,—it was to come
Instinctive to her, like a revelation:
There she failed, wanting in noble insight!


 
Piero:

 
     Fancy, morbid fancy—tortured, over-wrought!
We all know that Giovanna loves you!
30 
She knows it now herself, no one could act
Like that, unless she loved!


 
Paolo:

 

And yet, and yet,  
It is the end!

 
Piero:

 
     I’ll rush back and bring the restless players
35 
With torches and music and tear you out of this
And set you with your triumph.

 
Paolo:

 
  Give her these flowers!

 
Piero:

 
  Primroses! those flowers in the second act were  

primroses!

40 

Paolo:

 
  They were false—tell her—

 
Piero:

 
    What?

 
Paolo:

 
Well, nothing, Piero, the flowers will tell her.

 
The place was still when music danced about,
Dark when the torches played upon the gloom,
45
The jest and clamour of a merry rout
Was heard by no one in the upper room;
Then there was breathless running on the stair,
Confusion at the door, and frantic groping there.

 
Piero:

 
  One moment! Wait! 50

Giovanna:

 
   Is there no more haste in the world?

 
Piero:  
     All dark, there’s something terribly wrong here,  
Go back!

 
Giovanna:

 
     What the flowers told me! Jesu have pity!
But if there be no pity give me strength!
55

 

VI

 
Youth is a blossom yellow at the edge,
All full of honeyed pleasantness,
If you leave it, it will wither in the hedge,
If you pluck it, it will wither none the less,
Then pluck it—that were better after all,
60
But pluck it with a sort of wistfulness,
Yea, pluck it if you must, and let it fall
Regretfully, with a last touch of tenderness,
Before the colour and the honey all
Are flown away,
65
And you are holding but a withered tress
Of passion and of loveliness.
Now let it fall—
Yet hold it—hold it—’tis thy youth!
Nay, let if fall—fall—fall—
70
Caress it ere it fall,
Then let it fall and die.

 

 

VII

A Fairy Funeral.

 

 
What we bury here is nought,
Hardly dreaming, hardly thought.

For dead fairies go nowhere,
Leaving nothing in the air.

 
Their clear bodies are all through 5
Made of shadow, mixed with dew.

When they change their fairy state,
They, like dew, evaporate.

But we fairies that remain,
The dead fairy’s funeral feign.
10

Place within a shepherd’s purse
Primrose pollen; for a hearse,

Lady-birds we harness up
To an empty acorn cup.

This we bury, deep in moss;—
15
Then we mourn our grievous loss,

Mourn with music, piercing thin,
Cricket with his mandolin,

Many a hautboy, many a flute,
Played by them you fancy mute.
20

Then a solemn epigraph
Grave we on the cenotaph:—

"Once a fairy of the best,
"Here lies nothing,—Stranger, rest,—

"Ponder,—when you change your state,
25
"You may thus evaporate,

"Follow where the fairy goes,
"Into nothing, no one knows."
 

 

VIII

 

 
Bleak Spring in a north city overseas,
In the moist window of a florist’s shop,
Pots of primroses,
Labelled ‘Only a quarter.’
The drizzle begins to freeze,
5
Daylight closes:
The passers-by loiter or stop,
And one old body
Broken with child-bearing and woe
And work and toddy
10
Looks once and lo!
An English lane below the thorns
Was gilded with the glow
Of a myriad lemon-coloured horns,—
Primroses—primroses!
15
All her girlish days came with a rush
Back from her shire home where the wild thrush
Sprinkled the primrose buds with music,
And the young morning light
Soared up to meet the skylark on his height.
20
She fingered in the knotted corner of a rag
A coin, the very price!
Her faded blue-bell eyes
Were moistened with remembrance;
She dreamed a little—murmured in her dream.
25 

"The same old bloomin’ colour!
 
"But I keeps my quarter,
"Though—perhaps I’d orter;
"Would it please old Jerry
"If I was to blow it?
30
"But the merry stuff—the merry,—
"Tcht! is London Dry!
"P’rhaps I’d orter!
"But he’ll never know it,
"And anyhow he wouldn’t give a damn;
35
"This darling little quarter,
(Feeling it fondly in the filthy rag)
"Oh my eye!
(Giving her head a roguish wag)
"Will buy a proper dram,
40
"Then we’ll be merry,
"One drink for me and two for dear old Jerry."
 

 

IX

Ecossaise

 

 
My Love is like the primrose light
     That springs up with the morn,
My Love is like the early night
     Before the stars are born.

 
My Love is like the shine and shade 5
     That ripple on the wood,
(The shadow is her dark green plaid,
     The light her silver snood).

 

They never meet with eager lips,
     And mingle in their mirth,

10
They only touch their finger-tips,
     And circle round the earth.

My Love’s so pure, so winsome-sweet,
     So dancing with delight,
That I shall love her till they meet,
15

     And all the world is night.

 

 

X

 

 
A few chords now for a brimming close,
No climax, but a fading away
Into something either grave or gay
As the line wanders and falters. The rose
Must fade and the tone must lessen and die,
5
But the sweetest note of a melody
Is the last note, and who can tell
That the last note in the long tune
Of life on the earth will not be fraught
With all the joy of each perished day.
10
The earth will pass in frost, they say,
And be all senseless like the moon.
Well, as the earth grows stark and cold,
Let us imagine it will hold
To the very end, the things worth while.
15
The last of all the race, a youth
And a maid with a shy triumphant smile,
Adam and Eve—beyond all ruth—
Above the need of trial or pardon,
Happy alone in their frozen garden,
20
And a Primrose hid in the withered foliage
Fallen down from the Tree of Knowledge,
To glow with clarid light and lend
A touch of beauty to the end.
They will recall a wild strange myth,—
25
Once the earth was warm to the very pith
With noble fire and the sun cast light,
And the heart of man was burning bright;
They will love in a final fashion,
The quintessential human passion,
30
The summation of all vanished love
With beauty as the breath thereof,
Love their last word, and human bliss
Rounded upon a marble kiss.
For cold will stop their breathing there,
35
And they will never know nor care
How, long ago in the blithe air,
The old earth really looked in May,
When over every lane and glade
It was high Spring and all the way
40
Primrosed, and hung with shade.  

 

The Fragment of a Letter

 

 
You will recall, of all those magic nights
One when we floated on the sunset lights,
In all the mirrored crimson from the flare;
Not knowing whether we were led by air
Or by the secret impulse of the lake.
5
We watched the youthful darkness swiftly take
The burning mountain-chain of fretted colour
And drench it with his dream of dusk;—duller
It grew and duller, to a high coast of ashes.
The impalpable sheet lightning fled in flashes,
10
Signalling, in a vivid instant code,
The approach of another wonder-episode
Of beauty, ever stealing nigh and nigher,
And then we were aware of the still fire
Of the Great Moon!
15

We neared a shadowy island where we lay
And watched the faint illusive moonlight play
Along the shore wheron our tents were pitched.
The silver-birches like live things bewitched
By malice jealous of their beauty, stood
20
Upon the liquid threshold of the wood.
Then quick upon the dark, like knocks of fate,
There fell three axe-strokes, and then clear, elate
Came back the echoes true to tune and time,
Three axe-strokes—rhythmed and matched in rhyme;
25
Then a leaf-comment died away in murmurs.
The smoke of our camp-fire amid the firs
Like a tall ghost rose up below the moon.
The enchanted water joined an antiphonal rune
In labials and liquids with the rocky shoal
30
Where we were moored by pressure of the breeze,
That barely chafed our bark canoe, and stole
Like a wing-flutter through the hazel-trees.
Hidden above there, half asleep, a thrush
Spoke a few silver words upon the hush,—
35
Then paused self-charmed to silence.

’Tis winged impromptu and the occasion strange
That gives to beauty its full power and range.
The bird was nature; and his casual giving,
Us to ourselves—for what we gain from living,
40
When we possess our souls or seem to own,
Is not the peak of knowledge, but the tone
Of feeling; is not the problem solved, but just
The hope of solving opened out and thrust
A little further into the spirit air;
45
But whether there be demonstration there
We know not; no more than the growing vines
When they commission their young eager bines
To find amid the void a clinging-spot
Know whether it be really there or not.
50

The bird is silent in the groves that grow
Around the past; still the reflections are
That fluttered from his song, and long ago
The tranquil evening ended with a star.
Nothing of all remains but pure romance,
55
A magic space wherein the mind can dwell,
Above the touch of tedium or of chance
Where fragile thoughts are irrefrangible.
Still the young Time is guardian of that space,
Trembling with unstained beauty through and through,
60
Where shoots of memory radiate and enlace
Bright as the sun-point in a globe of dew;
Until old Time sables the crystal door,
We may re-enter there,—once more, once more.
 

 

The Flight

 

 
She:

                                                   Not one step farther:—
 
What yawns below is Death,—the lightning showed me.

 
He:  
  I was too careful for the path, our feet  
Cannot tread air.

 
She:

  My heart lives in the dark 5
Before your face; you are advanced too far,—
To feel safe I should have the beating of your heart
Next mine; then, if we slip and live a moment
Till the air drowns us, we live together
The last moment.
10

He:

 
  The precipice curves upward here  
And outward; press to the wall for shelter.
That was a stab! Nimble lightning to avoid
The imminent thunder-crash! Did your heart stop?


 
She:

     Death dogs us! Lures us on a perilous mountain
15
Full of traps and then casts storm upon us.

 
He:

  Death’s full of fraud, but we have a light
For his deception.

 
She: A light?

He: Why, Love!
20

She:

     Alas! Death is so envious of Love!
Thunder is not more envious of lightning
That flies before and is not when he calls.

 
He:

  True!—So Death can never overtake Love!

 
She:

 
  But think of all those piteous lovers 25
Deluded that they were shut in with God,
Yet Death struck them;—Tristan and Isolde,
Launcelot and Guinevere, and the whirling pair,
Paolo and that other, transfixed forever
By the bitter-lipped Florentine. Their sobs
30
Fill all the world; then how shall we escape?

 
He:  
  These models of agony the mad world  
Cherishes, but the greatest lovers go
Unrecorded, the line of the profoundest poet
Finds tides under his deepest lead; resources
35
Of passion are hid in simple lives like ours
Would swamp his boat to lift them from the deeps.

 
She:

   But Death’s the point, and if he falls
On such high peers of pure romance
He’ll crush us with the wind of a frown.
40

He:

 

Death’s full of fraud, he’s but negation,  
We know of him by breathing. The cunning fellow
Has a mask he wears to look like Life.

 
She:

 
  He’s dropped it now and I fear his glare  
That lit those older passions; and no pity 45
Showed from his naked countenance then.

 
He:

 
  Careless Death, who has lost his precious mask  
Found by two mortals fearless made through Love!—
Here in the hollow of the ample cheek
Above the awful oval of the mouth
50
We’ll hide, and when Death calls us, sharp, once,
We will not answer;—and when Death, testy,
Calls us twice, we’ll be oblivious,
And when Death calls us thrice—for the last time,
Mark you,—we’ll be asleep. Then Death will say
55
"I’ve lost those lovers, so they’re lost, they’re lost,
They were to die to-day,— but now they’re lost."
So the old dotard fumbling in the mist
About his throat—will stumble here and there
And cry,—"My Mask, my Mask! how can these mortals
60
Look upon Death unless he looks like Life,
My Mask!" And then he’ll find it lying here
And raise us clear until your sparkling beauty
Catch in his eye and then he’ll startle up
With—"Ha! I have them now these tricksy
65
Bemused and vagrant lovers fast asleep
In the precinct and appurtenance of Death."
He’ll peer upon us like a wildered pearl-fisher
That finds two priceless pearls in a single shell;
He’ll say—"She minds me of another face
70
Some dim complainant in the ages gone
That cried out on me, and so agonized
In simple words that poison memory still.
Not of the famous lovers of the world,
Arthur’s tall queen, or she that drank Love’s potion
75
On the wild sea, or the bewitched Egyptian,
But one of those whose passion is pure tragic,—
The unknown lovers ever are the greatest,—
They that build the scaffold up for these
Brave puppets to pine and pose as Love’s exemplars.
80
Well, for her sake sleep on but for an hour;
Your time shall come; pity is but postponement.
Some kingliness too hovers about the youth,
He shelters her with nobleness; an echo
Of something haunts my ear, of deeds with swords
85
For lighting, coupled somehow in covenant
With her whose beauty pierced me long ago.
Let him hold her close, for their brief fluttering hour
Is but a moth-wing in the wind of time.
Pity is but—what—pity—!" So, wandering,
90
He’ll drowse and start, and doze and start—and sleep,
And then we’ll spring and take him in a net
And show him in the markets of the world,
Confuting all the sceptics of renown,
Here’s the pure proof that Love can conquer Death.
95

She:

 
  The storm dwindles: the lightning hangs like signals  
In the rear-guard of retreat, a cool wind
Blows backward from the vortex of the cloud;
There’s a starved Moon at the tip of the Crag
That hunts like a silver hound for starlight;
100
She’ll pass, and next in progress comes the dawn.

 
He:

 
  We’ll wait secure and hear the crushed thunder  
Recoil, and the water-voices of the gorge
Fill in the pauses, and then the faint first light
Will point the peaks and we’ll go down to safety.
105

 

Leaves

 

 
The great elms hold
Aloft their clouds of early autumn gold,
Compressed of summer-sunshine and so treasured,
Till now like alms doled out and slowly measured
To the starved earth. The oak-leaves are tenacious
And cling close to the oak-trees, contumacious
Of all the laws of winter and his rights.
You’ll find them there on moonlit winter nights,
Above their sparkling shadows on the snow.
Of finer parchment are beech-leaves; they glow
10
 In spectral wraiths, and rustle, rustle, rustle
In the frost wind, even above the bustle
Of the blown snow that streams across the crust
Of brighter silver like a silver dust.
The sulphur-coloured poplars burn and quiver,
15
Each leaf contributes its ancestral shiver
To the illusion of a flaming cone,
At the black core the stems show cool as stone,
That soon will brave it frigid and unstoled,
Each standing in his round of fallen gold.
20
The sumachs vanished early, in a passion,
Squandering their colour in a prodigal fashion,
They’ve left us cones of faded purple fire,
Sharp as mementoes of destroyed desire.
The ash trees have a little leaf and so
25
They pass quiescently and make no show
In exodus, as mourning for past laches,
They lie about in heaps of dust and ashes.
Not so the mountain ashes, the leaves perish
Unthought of, the tough twigs still hold and cherish
30
The berries in dense clusters of dark coral,
Which the pine grosbeaks share without a quarrel
In the clear, blustery days of early March.
The leaves of bass-woods seems to curl and parch;
The trees are rounded like a bee-hive dome,
35
The leaves dry up as pale as honeycomb,
As if those robbers, the inveterate bees,
Murmured their colour-secret to the trees;
So when they die the cunning leaves contrive
To simulate the hoard within the hive.
40
But when the maple-leaves are touched with frost,
All our similitudes are dwarfed or lost;
We do not think of single leaf or tree,
No more than of water when we think of the sea;
We only know the hills are hung with garlands,
45
And in a happy trance we dream there are lands
As calm with beauty as this painted scene,
Calm with perpetual beauty; this demesne
We wander in awhile and deeply muse
On past deeds and on future shadows, and choose
50
Out of the lives we lived only those things
That left no thirst, no ardours and no stings,
Out of the life to come the dreams that chime
Consistent with imaginary time.
But, while we muse, there falls a fairy jar
55
That subtly tells us where we really are;
There is a stir within the loveliness,
A lessening in the colour, a faint stress
Of grey, a silver thinning of the air,
And ere our painted vision is nowhere,
60
Fearing a coming change we cannot brook,
We raise our wistful eyes for one last look.
 



The Tree, The Birds, and The Child

To B.W.S.

 

 
A birch before the northern window stood
     Silvery white,
Shrouded in greens of liquid tender hue,
     All laved in light.
It seemed a naiad in a fountain caught
5
     Had charmed the spray
To blow about her naked loveliness,
     Never away.
And all the rustle of the inner shadow
     Was full of dancing,
10
Now the swift sun and now the lustrous rain
     Flashing and glancing.
Two robins searching for an empty tree
     Saw it was fair,
Liked the seclusion of an ambushed crotch
15
     And settled there.
And there a child beside the window sat
     Watching them brood
Over their eggs, with all the fluttering care
     Of parenthood.
20
She clasped her hands below her vivid face,
     Her lips apart,
As if she mothered there a little bird
     Close to her heart.
But then ere long, she turned and vanished
25
     Through the closed door,
No more to laugh, to love—perhaps ’twere best
     To say no more.
Then the tree died, it could not answer once
     To Spring’s desire,
30
It was cut down and split and corded up
     And burned with fire.
The birds were certain of their slender tree
     Early that Spring,
But when they strove to perch upon the limbs
35
     There was nothing.
They flew away and built in other branches
     Another nest,
Disquieted with foreign winds and shadows
     Banished and dispossessed.
40
But even now the tree, the birds, the child
     Come back again,
And live for moments in the crystal clear
     Orb of the brain;
The birds are quick, the leaves are light and laughing
45
     In profusion,
The child is radiant with a lovely motion—
     'Tis an illusion!
But ah! the love that conjures up the vision,
     Intense and breathless,
50
Own to me as it trembles and disperses,
     The love is deathless.
 

 

Last Year

 

 
By the grey shores of Rideau,
     The bells are calling clear,
Over the dying ripple,
     The swallows dip and veer,
The spring is coming slow,
5
     As it came last year!

But a slow spring is sure
     With freshets of cold rain;
As it came last year
     And ever may come again,
10
With flowers frail and pure,
     Where the pure snow had lain.

The bells have ceased their calling
     But silence calls as clear,
Within the earth’s shadow
15
     A few stars appear,
The chill night is falling
     As it fell last year.
 



On the Death of Claude Debussy

March 26th, 1918

To T.G.

 

 
Then Death who was watching
Raised him more tenderly
Than the forms of other men,
And wrapped him in her hair,
Her mouth drooped to his mouth,
5
And they became one
Forever—

Then arose around them
A confusion of light and sound,
The complaint of the wind
10
In the plane-trees,
The far away pulse of a horn,
Ripples of fairy colour,
Rhythms of Spain,
The overtones of cymbals,
15
The sobs of tormented souls,
Crys of delight and their echoes,
The crystal stroke of goat-bells,
The tremor of temple gongs,
The robes of Melisande,
20
Trailing vague glories;
Fauns’ eyes in the vapour,
Flutes of Dionysus,
Haunting his ruined fane,
Veils of rain, quenching the tulip gardens,
25
Sea-light at the roots of islands,
The Spirit of Puck
With the ghost of a humming-bird,
The chords of boys’ voices,
The open organ tones;
30
And under all the pedal-point
Of the deep-based ocean,
Hidden under the mists,
Chanting, infinitely remote,
At the foot of enchanted cliffs.
35
Then with a turn of illumination,
An enharmonic change of vision,
Death and Debussy
Become France and her heroes,
As if all her sacred heroes
40
Were in that one form,
Clasped in the bosom of France,

Enfolded with her ideals and inspirations.
Then the group loses outline,
Firmness dissolves,
45
And surrounded by light and sound,
Shadows, they drift away
Into the shadow.
 



Bells

 

 
Slow bells at dawn—
What mean ye by your tolling?
Bells in the growing light,
Knolling afar,
Loitering in leisured sequence,
5
Where the ringing seraphim
Shake you out of heaven,
From the morning star.
 

Echoes are in my soul,—
Consonances and broken melodies,—
10
Survivals frayed and remembrances
Vanished and irretrievable.

 
What know ye of life,
Or of perished hours or years?
Ye tones that are born in air,
15
And throb in air and die,
Leaving no traces anywhere,
Save tremors in the quickened pool of tears
Within the windless deeps of memory?
 



Reverie

 

 
"Le plaisir délicieux et toujours nouveau d’une occupation inutile."
Henri de Regnier
 

Then something moves in the unquiet mind,
Something impalpable and hard to bind,
The double of the thought or the thought’s essence;
The annunciation of its subtle presence
Is a slight perfume, or a fragile shading,
5
Hardly perceived ere it is frayed and fading:
Is it the core of all the secret longing
That keeps the memory populous, a thronging
Of ghosts of all the passions, proving deathless
The dead passions? Is it the shadows faithless
10
Of joys that were to live but once and die
Without a hope of immortality,
That now come treading the old jocund measure,
Mere apparitions, pulseless of all pleasure?
Is it aroma faint from Nature’s chalice,
15
The odour of the aurora borealis
That shifts before the stars a silver fume,
Or peacock-tints on pools of amber gloom
In some fir-forest, all of light denuded,
The aroma faint that keeps the mind deluded
20
With the vain thought that here it lived before
In many incarnations o’er and o’er,
Till all this life seems but a spectral show
Of something real that perished long ago?
Thus the unquiet mind is charmed and caught
25
When comes to Beauty Beauty’s afterthought,
The shadow rainbow, that the rainbow flings
On the torn storm-breast underneath his wings.
 

 

Threnody

 

 
Now the only debt that can be paid to her
     Is the thought that life was grievous;
No amends can now be ever made to her;
     Kiss her hands before they leave us.

Gently raise her; she was moulded slenderly,
5
     Not for days so wild and deep;
Leave her where the poplars murmur tenderly,
     "This night she shall sleep!"
 

 

Spirit and Flesh

 

 

I

 

 
A house stands clear on a mellow rise,
     With meadows in a ring,
An orchard blossoms white with surprise
     At the urgency of spring.

 
The meadows fall to the winnowed sand
     Where a cove breaks free,
Like the curve of a fragile ivory hand
     Trembling full of the sea.
5



II

 

 
(He Speaks.)

Here is your pantry, love,
Full of useful dishes,
All the glass and napery
The heart of woman wishes.

Here is your parlour,
5
Hung with rose and mauve,
All its lacquer cabinets
Filled with treasure trove.

Here is your chamber, love,
With its smooth bed,
10
With the pretty chintz flowered
Canopy overhead.

We shall sit beneath the tree,
When our work is done,
Watch the colour in the orchard
15
From the setting sun.  

 

III

 

 
(She speaks.)

O life what do you hold
So mysterious, so alluring,
That I have no rest?
The sea’s breast
Tells me the whole round earth
5
Is flaming with haunts of pleasure,
Glades where deathless dancers
Weave and swerve
To music that maddens the nerve,
Scents that pierce like sounds,
10
Vision without bounds,
Colour that changes as fire
Changes, and deeps of desire
Whose margins are ferned with dreams.
Take me, O Life,
15
Drive me like a shuttle
Through the warp of pleasure,
The woof shall I give without measure
To the last hour,
But stint me no longer
20
Of passion and power!  

 

IV

 

 
It was a painted evening at the fall
     Of leaf and apple and frost-withered grape,
A form was flitting through the hall
     Of changeful colour and shape.

It paced the floor, it climbed the narrow stair,
5
     It wreathed the chamber door with quick desire,
The only bride that entered there
     Was the swift bride of fire;

She lived her sudden life so wild, so feared,
     Of all the petty wealth she left alone
10
A pit of rubble scarred and seared,
     A broken threshold stone.

Yet over the ruin hovers a ghostly house,
     The walls, and roof, and chambers all inwove
With unquiet memories, tremulous,
15
     And phantom treasure trove.  



V

 

 
(He speaks from the world.)

The turn of a throat,
A glint of hair,
It might be—!
I rush in the tides of men
Following a shadow;
5
She might be here or there;
Rescue her from splendour,
Rescue her faint, tender
Feet from disaster;
O Master of Life,
10
Lay her gleaming head
Radiant or broken
Here on my breast!
 

 

VI

 

 
But never a thought for the ghost of the house on the hill  
     That he burned with fire, or the crescent of winnowed sand,  
That holds the sea as the new moon holds the still,  

     Gray wraith of a perished moon in her ivory hand.

 

 

VII

 

 
(She speaks from the world.)
I have conquered all life with its glory and passion,
 
     Its beauty and danger;  
There is nothing of chance or of folly or fashion
     To which I am stranger.
My insatiable heart is yet bounding and eager
 
     For potent new flashes;
The body of bye-gone delights is as meagre
 
     And arid as ashes.  



VIII

 

 
But the ghost house on the hill
     Hovers not alone,
A fond spirit flits at will
     To the threshold stone;

Enters on the vacant air,
5
     Counts the pantry store,
Climbs the visionary stair
     To the upper floor;

Sets her little room to rights,
     When the work is done,
10
In the orchard sees the lights
     From the setting sun;

Turns her vision to the sand,
     Watches wistfully,
The cove like the curve of an ivory hand
15
     Trembling full of the sea.
 



The Lovers

 

 
The robins round the lilac tree
     Were fluttering in the rain,—
Before we knew—the cloud had fled,
     The sky was fair again.

Before we knew—the young, sweet moon
5
     With rose was drifted o’er,
The dusk had drowsed the stream and lit
     The lights along the shore.

The stars were faint—before we knew
     The night was on the lawn:—
10
Before we knew—a shadow stirred
     It must have been the dawn.
 



By the Shore

 

 
Ripples that run so gladly
     To the sands of the broken shore,
I wish that I knew your meaning
     And I would ask no more.

My heart is bitter with sorrow
5
     For the years that are long gone,
And there is no consolation
     That I may dwell upon.

’Tis idle to sway and glitter
     And make a sound of mirth,
10
The human heart is hungry
     For comfort on the earth.

Is all that you can tell me,
     As you waver and sparkle and glance,
That after the scourge of tempest
15
     You still can laugh and dance?

If this is the depth of your meaning,
     Rave on, or murmur or cease,
My heart is riven with sorrow
     And cannot be at peace.
20



The Anatomy of Melancholy

 

 
I read once in an ancient and proud book
     How beauty fadeth,
How stale will Helen or Leucippe grow
     When custom jadeth,
"When the black ox has trodden on her toe,"
5
     Beauty will alter,
And love that lives on beauty, so it said,
     Will fade and falter.

Then, while your mistress wrinkles and grows sour,
     O sage sardonic,
10
What charm preserves your virile strength and show,
     What potent tonic?
An elephant has trodden on your toe,
     Your look grows bleary,
Leucippe has quick eyes, her love of you
15
     Is dull and weary.

I laid his book beside a Chinese rose-jar,
     (Old Robert Burton),
Lifted the dragon-guarded lid and—lo!
     Faint and uncertain,
20
Frail rose-ghosts of rose-gardens all in blow
     Haunted the room,
The spangled dew, the shell-tints and the moonlight
     Lived in the fume,
And still shall linger in the leaves until
25
     The jar shall perish.
So the true lovers in their memories stow
     The things they cherish,
And loose them in the tender after-glow
     Of life’s long day,
30
Till memory dies, and the world with all its passion
     Passes away.
 



Portrait of Mrs. Clarence Gagnon

 

 
Beauty is ambushed in the coils of her
Gold hair—honey from the silver comb
Drips, and the clustered under-tone is warm
As beech leaves in November—the light slides there
Like minnows in a pool,—slender and slow.
5
A glow is ever in her tangled eyes,
Surprise is settling in them, never to be caught;
Thought lies there lucent but unsolvable,
Her curvèd mouth is tremulous yet still,
Her will holds it in check; were it to sleep
10
One moment, that white guardian will of hers,
Words would brim over in a wild betrayal,
Fall sweet and tell the secret of her charm,
Harm would befall the world, Beauty would fly
Into the shy recesses of the wood—
15
Be seen no more of mortals, be a myth
Remembered by a few who might recall
A nerveless gesture, a frail colour, a faint stress,
Some vestige of a vanished loveliness.
 


Ste. Petronille, July 25th, 1919.
 



The Water Lily

To H.W.

 

 
In the granite-margined pool,
Hot to its shallow deeps,
The water-lily sleeps
And wakes in light,
While all the garden blossoms shine
5
Rich in the sun,
The throbbing circles tangled round the shrine
Of the Peerless one.

Ripples outrun her
As she slides with the air;
10 
Like moonstones frail, the waterdrops
Invade her red-rimmed pads,—
Tremble mercurial there;
Ivory rose petals,
Fugitive, wind-blown
15
Shallops of kindred beauty
Attend the starry-pointed wonder,
Lolling so languidly by the lotus leaves.

An odour vibrates upward from the flower,
An incense faint
20
Gathers and floats
Above the chalice of the breathing lily,
Firm as the halo of a saint,
Immaculate and chilly;
Or the distilled and secret odour weaves
25
A silver snood,
Binding the temples of the virgin lily
Listlessly leaning by the lotus leaves.

Light flock-bells, born of the rains flailing,
Are based on fragile foam and domed with paling
30
Rainbow flicker;
Thicker the water-beetles ply their oars
Freighting between the phantom shores
The little evil thoughts that trouble beauty;
But heedless the haughty lily
35
Buoyed in the lymph-clear shallows
Languorously,—

 
The intense heaven of her cold white
Is troubled with colour;
The shadow cast by light
40
On its own substance lies;
The clear etherealities
Are tremoured with fire;
Conscious and still unconscious of the sun,
The petals swoon amorously;
45
The gold-tipped sceptres of desire
Shine in the warm cradle-cup
Of the luxurious pure lily
Trembling in ecstasy by the lotus leaves.

 
Listen, listen, there should be a voice 50
Dulcet as odour and flush;
The flying yellow of the gold finch
Sparkles with notes
Blown on a gold-black flute,
There is no reason why a lily should be mute,
55
Moored languorously by the lotus leaves.

A shadow dreams upon the rounded mere,
A gold dust swims upon the crystal,
Maturity broods in water and air;
The starry-pointed wonder
60
From the root tangled lair
Feels ripeness lure her under;
She sinks reluctant from sunlight,
From the chaplet of stars
Spangling the water delicately,
65
Down the dark pool of silence;
The world lost,—
All lost but memory
And the germ of beauty.
O banishment to cloistral water,
70
The pause in the limpid hush,
There to recreate
The form, the odour, the flush.
Then the lyrical impulse,
The stem goes rocketing
75
To kiss spring light,
The pointed bud parts,
The garden lies in ecstasy
Conscious of the starry wonder
That opens—opens—opens—
80
The odour overflows—
Comes the under-flush—
The stately lily lolls again,
Pale water-lily,
Languorously floating by the lotus leaves.
85

Ste. Petronille, July 27th, 1919.
 



A Road Song

 

 
Up heart, away heart,
Never heed the weather.
Leave the lowland reaches
Where the grain’s in seed.
Take the powerful wind in face,
5
All in highest feather,
Lift your burden with a shout,
Fit for every need.
Front the mountains, cross the passes,
Pioneer the sheer crevasses,
10
Where the glaciers breed,
Where the imminent avalanches,
Tremble with their air-held motions,
Where below the balsam branches
Start the rills in the erosions,
15
Follow where they lead;
Where the sunlight ebbs in oceans,
Cast away your load!
Life is not the goal,
It is the road.
20



After a Night of Storm

 

 
After a night of storm,
They found her lovely form
Cast high upon the beach at Spaniards Bay,
The only driftage from the stately barque,
That went to pieces in the flashing dark;
5
Even at that day
None knew the vessel’s name,
Or whence it came,
Or whither it was bound,
And now no man can know
10
For that was long and long ago.

They said she was a wondrous thing to see,
All dazzling in her bridal dress,
A miracle of foam and ivory.
Her satin gown was smoothened by the wave,
15
Her rippled ribbons, all her wandering laces
Set in their places.
Her hands were loosely clasped without a gem,
But clad with mitts of silken net.
Diamonds in the buckles of her shoon
20
All fairly set,
And one great brooch the colour of the moon
Held her lace shawl.
A snood had slipped back from her hair,
Her face was piteous, so fair, so fair,
25
And gleaming small
Upon her breast there seemed to float
A wedding ring,
Threaded upon a crimson and green string
Around her throat.
30



Idle to Grieve

 

 
Idle to grieve when the stars are clear above me,
When the bright waters bubble in the spring,
Idle to grieve when there are storms to prove me
And birds that seek me out to come and sing.

Idle to grieve, the light is on the highway,
5
There are the mountain meadows to achieve,
Beyond in the pass the airy heights are my way,
Idle to grieve, glad heart, idle to grieve.
 



A Vision

 

 
The tenebrous sky
Was founded on lightning,
And there came marching
To a funeral,
A multitude so millioned
5
That number was unthinkable;
There were massed together
Kings pierced with their sceptres,
Tyrants shod with the points of swords,
And priests each with a live coal
10
In the palm of his hand,
Learned men
With book-yokes on their necks,
Merchants with gold eyelids;
Each one tortured with his symbol,
15
And an innumerable host
Without sign or distinction;
Each bore a tuft of grass
In his fingers;
The grass was in seed,
20
And as they walked,
The seed fell where it listed.
There was no sound
As the host marched
To the funeral;
25
But what was buried
Was far in the Past,
And the host poured up
From the Future.
 



Senza Fine

 

 
That is the rain
Sobbing, sobbing
Against the window pane.
And the wind comes robbing
The rain of its voice
5
And leaves me no choice,
In the dead room,
But to hear the noise
Of my heart throbbing, throbbing.

But before the storm
10
The evening was warm
I remember, and calm,
And by the mill dam
The martins were flashing,
If she had not said—!
15
But then say it she did—
I should be rid
Of the throbbing, throbbing,
At the heart of the shadow
That stands by the window
20
Sobbing, sobbing,
And breathes the dark
And sucks at the noise
Like a vampire—hark!
Robbing, robbing
25
The storm of its voice.

The miller’s children at play,
I remember, called to each other,
And I tried to smother
The sound of her words,
30
But then—what she showed me!
’Tis between her vest,
The one I gave on her birthday,
Crimson, with silver pomegranates,
And her breast:
35

They will find it there,
But what can they say?
They cannot find
What it did to my mind,
Or what she said
40
When she threw back her head
And smiled,
So maddening, so wild.

To the left of the trail
Through the beaver meadow,
45
An arm of the swale
Is bordered with iris,
And the ferns grow rank,
But nothing is dank,
Crisp, pungent, dry:
50
The wind lingers by,
And stops.

There may have been a few drops.

Throbbing, throbbing,
And there is the rain
55
Robbing, robbing
The wind of its voice,
And it beats again
On the window pane,
Sobbing, sobbing.
60

(Senza fine)
 



A Masque

 

 
A sculptured head beside a stony road
Across a moor, low stars and shattered light
Played on the face of beauty like a god
But pitiless; it seemed to hold the might
Of Aeons: even destiny seemed dead
5

In that cold fateful head.

 
Then one by one across the stony moor
Came figures clad like masquers for a fete,
Symbols of life they seemed, both gay and dour,
All quick with life and all importunate,
10
To follow where the flinty pathway led  

And speak with that cold head.

 
First two fair women, clad in sombre guise,
Communed together who should speak their word,
Then ventured up the younger with pure eyes
15
But faltered, as if she feared her memory erred,
And glanced behind to flee, but turned instead,
 

"There is no hope," she said.

 
And now came one whose lips were grey as stone,
Whose open eyes with agony were packed,
20
His flesh seemed loosened to the very bone,
Shaken like vapour from a cataract,
He drifted against the absolute stern head,
 

"There is no hope!" he said.

 
In motley garb came one as if a-maying, 25
Playing a melody on a silver flute  
And dancing; first he ceased his liquid playing,
Then his dancing, and stood bedazzled and mute,
 
And when he spoke his face was filled with dread,  

"There is no hope," he said.

30
A youth clad in a sable cloak came next,  
A book he held whereon his eyes were cast,
His brow was fearless but his eyes perplexed,
He hardly saw the statue, as he passed
He glanced up from the book wherein he read,
35

"There is no hope!" he said.

 

Then stood a figure clad in yellow flames,
Loaded with brutal spoils of fortunate strife,
Shrouded in veils that covered deeper shames,
And clothes unwound from the loathsome things of life,

40
She stood within the odour that she shed,  

"There is no hope," she said.

 
Then rushed one running far beyond her breath
Hasty as flame, a hunted, witless thing,
And furtive as a wild hare on the heath,
45
She darted up distrait and whispering,
Four hurried words she muttered, ere she fled,
 

"There is no hope!" she said.

 
All hot from life they came with this worn tale,
Did they believe its pathos would atone,
50
Or did they hope their spirits would prevail
To draw a comment from the sphinx in stone?
Not one could charm the inexorable head,
 

Moveless and cold as lead.

 

Last rustled up a winged lad with wells
55
Of bubbling laughter in his irised eyes,
His face was quick with mountain-lights and dells
Of honeyed dimples rapid with surprise;
He threw his rosy arms around the head,
 

"Is there no hope?" he said.

60 
Then the grim statue smiled, and all the wild  
Sky broke and light rushed through in sudden floods
Glorious!—and where the head was pedestalled
Were osier-wands and fringes of frail woods,
With shallow water painted with the cool
65 

Reflected flag-flowers, musing by the pool.

 



The Eagle Speaks

 

 
The Indians of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains capture eagles by concealing themselves, and seizing the birds as they attempt to take the bait set for them; in the combat that follows, the bird has sometimes been the victor.
 

 

To E.W.T.

 

 
Nay, not so near the edge, for far below
The cloud are rocks, and there an icy stream
Would whirl your little bodies like dead leaves
And dash them. Stretch your wings; your wings
Are power and the air’s your element;
5
When they are mighty, close under the sun
We’ll fly, and you shall look up at him
And he shall feel impotent in the heavens
When he hears us scream and taunt him.
When they are strong you may fall,—sudden
10
As the snow rushes from the pass and roars,
And all the stems of trees in the green valley
Snap in the windage of his roar,—and fall—
Fall so unerring and swift and check so fierce
And yet not even disturb a feather on the ledge;
15
As you saw me now hurled like a bolt
From the slant sun and fall like a furled shadow.

To mount, that is our destiny, to mount—and even
In rest to feel that power that calls us up
To hang above the earth and all the tribes
20
Of men that creep and scurry upon it,
With their tamed horses and their buffaloes;
They fight together on horseback—I have seen—
Naked and puny and wearing on their heads
Our tail feathers to frighten one another:
25
They lie in wait to rob us of our plumes,
Hiding in snares about the hollow hills,
Baiting their traps with the dainty antelope,
And if they find a feather on the plain
Dropped in high flight as a cold cloud, careless
30
Might drop a snow-flake,—boasting about their camp-fires
How they had braved the dread war eagle
And torn his plumage. Stretch thy wings,
For they are safety from such pillage, and swiftness
In pursuit, and fiery freedom, dealing
35
Cold death, as I have dealt it, to the spoiler.

In the slant light toward twilight I had caught
In my slow circlings the scent of plunder,
And stooped down to where a kid had fallen
On the yellow bank of a dry water-course.
40
I had dropped slow with wings up-spread
Over it and let down my talons to clutch,—
When I was seized,—astonished I rushed up with power
And dragged this thing out from his snare,
Scattering his little shelter under the kid;
45
He held me strong and struck at me with a knife,
Whirling him about as I strove in the air,
I tore his scalp and blinded him with his blood,
And as he dragged me down, half-fallen,
I beat him with the shoulders of my wings
50
On his hard brain-pan, a fury of blows
As wild as hail on a stone mountain top.
Dizzied so, his knife fell and I tore his scalp
Down over his eyes, and with his puny hands
He strove to catch my whirling wings and failed,—
55
Then smote him to the earth and I was free;
Naked and huddled on his side he lay,
Daubed all with yellow paint streaked with vermilion
Vowed to this adventure, but all lifeless
As the kid and the dead water course.
60

I swirled low over earth like flame flattened
By wind, then with a long loop of swiftness
Rose sheer up into the bubble of the air
And left him, carrion with his carrion,
For the dull coyotes to scent and overhaul

65
With snarls and bickerings lower than the dogs.
Rose to the unattempted heights, spurning
The used channels of the air, to the thin reach
Where vapours are unborn and caught the last
Glint of falling light beyond the peak
70
Of the last mountain, and hung alone serene
Till night, welling up into the void, darkened me,—
Poised with the first cold stars.


 
Wings,—thy wings,
Strengthen thy wings, for they are more than swiftness,
75
More than freedom, proud withdrawal are they
Into the region where, after vivid action,
Thought rises the immortal ghost of action,
Above the orb where space assembles silence,
Where all the ache and effort of this petty life
80
Are quieted with silence.  



Lilacs and Humming Birds

 

 
Lace-like in the moonlight,
The white lilac tree was quiet,
A little form of dream delight
Within a dreaming scene,
Like a little bride of shadow
5
In a dim secluded eyot,
With perfume for an element
Around the white and green.

The secret of this dream delight,
The core of this bride-quiet,
10
Hid even from the moonlight
By the heart-leaved screen,
Was the dew encrusted jewel
Of a ruby-throat, and nigh it
A nest of sleeping humming-birds
15
Amid the white and green.  



Afterwards

 

 
I watched thee with devotion
     Through all those silent years,
Thy least regarded motion,
     Thy laughter and thy tears.

But thou, when fate would sever
5
     The visionary tie,
Unconscious and for ever
     Left me without a sigh.

Yet though I needs must borrow
     My comfort from distress,
10
I would not give my sorrow
     For thy unconsciousness.
 



The Enigma

 

 
I said, before the dawning came,
     The day shall be so fair,
Wonder shall thrill me and the flame
     Of spirit touch my hair.

Although the day was perfect light,
5
     Wonder withheld his lyre;
Expectance was a-wing till night,
     Then died with my desire.

But on a casual day of rain,
     Wonder came chanting by;
10
I threw my heart wide to the strain,—
     It passed—’twas but a sigh.
 



In Grenada

 

 
A loft in far Grenada,
     Where snow in silver pales
The tops of the Sierras,
     I heard the nightingales
        In the dark vales.
5

In all the Moorish gardens
     The olive trees were still,
Yet something faintly trembled
     Below the moonlit hill,
        A falling rill
10

Made a clear ostinato
     For the ecstatic sound;
The birds were lost in singing
     And wandered round and round
        In a deep swound.
15

But, when the full enchantment
     Had wildly worked its will,
They found themselves in silence:
     The clear, falling rill
        Vibrated still.
20



Impromptu

 

 
Bring your cherished beauty,
     Bring your vaunted might,
Bring your tear-stained duty,
     Bring your heart’s delight,

Do not lag or falter,
5
     Heap them on the fire:
Ashes on the altar,
     All of life’s desire!
 



In Winter

 

 
The snow with never a flickering
     Burns in a dead white,
Above like flame a-bickering
     There plays a flutter light.

What is there flashing, blowing,
5
     Above the frosted glow?
The unseen wind is throwing
     The Snow-birds in the Snow.
 



Song

 

 
Lay thy cheek to mine, love,
     Once before I go;
Memories throng and quiver, love,
     In the afterglow.

All the rippling springtimes
5
     Full of crocus lights;
When the dawns came too soon
     And tardy were the nights.

All the dusky summers
     By the fruitful hill;
10
Thinking both the one thought
     When the heart was still.

Deep, untroubled autumns,
     Fallen leaves and rime;
Musing on the treasure
15
     Of the old time.

Where my journey leads, love,
      There is cold and snow;
Lay thy cheek to mine, love,
     Once before I go.
20



In the Selkirks

 

 
The old gray shade of the Mountain
     Stands in the open sky,
Counting, as if at his leisure,
     The days of Eternity.

The Stream comes down from its Sources,
5
     Afar in the glacial height,
Rushing along through the valley
     In loops of silver light.

"What is my duty, O Mountain,
     Is it to stand like thee?
10
Is it, O flashing torrent,
     Like thee—to be free?"

The Man utters the questions,
     He breathes—he is gone!
The Mountain stands in the heavens,
15
     The Stream rushes on.

Glacier, B.C.,
August 27th. 1920.
 



Question and Answer

"O Soul If Thou Would'st Be Free, Love The Love That Shuts Thee In."
Jalal'ud-Din-Rumi

 

 
Warring Soul, beset with foes,
     Struggling with the spears of wrath;
Where thy easiest journey goes,
     Fighting lions in the path;
Ah the blows and counter blows!
5
     Frantic with the noise and din!
Warring Soul, would’st thou be free?
     Love the love that shuts thee in.

"Sorrowing Soul, dissolved with tears,
     Whom the tides of anguish toss,
10
Wounded with a thousand fears
     Sprung from loneliness and loss,
Fearing all the coming years
     Are to grief and pain akin.
Sorrowing Soul, would’st thou be free?
15
     Love the love that shuts thee in.

Laughing Soul, with delicate lutes,
     Paying all thy dearest debt,
Dancing to the purling flutes,
     Rhythmed by the castinet:
20
Nothing seen but flowers and fruits,
     Where the sword of frost has been,
Laughing Soul, would’st thou be free?
     Love the love that shuts thee in.

Brooding Soul, that looks on fate,
25
     On past times, on times to be;
Thinking how importunate
     Is the rule of destiny;
Careless to be early or late;
     Irresolute to lose or win;
30
Brooding Soul, would’st thou be free?
     Love the love that shuts thee in.
 



Lines on a Monument

 

 
Honour for them that watched the waves,
     That stormed the ridge, that dared the air,
That claimed of right unsullied graves
     And slumber with contentment there.

Honour for them that bravely fought,
5
     O Pride, O Faith, without alloy—
No tears, no doubt, no shadow—nought
     But silence on the heights of Joy.
 



After Battle

 

 
When the first larks began to soar,
     They left him wounded there;
Pity unlatched the sun-lit door,
     And smoothed his clotted hair.

But when the larks were still, before
5
     The mist began to rise,
’Twas Love that latched the star-lit door,
     And closed his dreamless eyes.
 



The Fallen

 

 
Those we have loved the dearest,
     The bravest and the best,
Are summoned from the battle
     To their eternal rest;

There they endure the silence,
5
     Here we endure the pain—
He that bestows the Valour
     Valour resumes again.

O, Master of all Being,
     Donor of Day and Night,
10
Of Passion and of Beauty,
     Of Sorrow and Delight,

Thou gav’st them the full treasure
     Of that heroic blend—
The Pride, the Faith, the Courage,
15
     That holdeth to the end.

Thou gavest us the Knowledge
     Wherein their memories stir—
Master of Life, we thank Thee
     That they were what they were.
20



Somewhere in France

 

 
The storm was done
And fragments of the sun
Fell on the great Cathedral front
Of saints and heroes,
And fell on a woman’s form
5
That vanished through the porch,
She pushed the leathern door
And saw the great rose-window like a torch
Colour the million ghosts of the dead incense.
She paused at the bénitier
10
And trembled down the aisle,
She thought to make a prayer,
She knelt but could not pray;
A month on yesterday
Her lover had been killed at Verdun.
15

Deep grief dawns slowly
And the light was on her soul.

She thought on God and called on Christ,
And fainted in her woe.
And lo!
20
As she leant against the pillar,
Pale like a saint—stiller
Than death—from out the stone
Thrilled a warm tone,
As if an Angel spoke:
25

"Thou art not here alone,
Thy sorrow woke
One who once loved as thou,
Long, long ago.
Noble he was—and he stooped low,
30
His princely people said,
To crown me.
Him they banished oversea
To kill his love,
They could not—this have I for proof,
35
They killed me here instead,
They walled me up at night within the stone
When this church was abuilding,
A narrow niche, and I was all alone.
It did not take me long to die,
40
And now my little dust has enough room.
But love can never die,
And when I felt my heart cry out in thine
I rose after three hundred years
To kiss your tears,
45
And tell you that our little wells of love
Have springs in the great deeps thereof.
And this I know in mine own soul
And by the blessed rood,
There is a solitude
50
Beyond his death and thine
Where time shall have no hours,
Where you shall be together,
Till then above mischance
Thy soul is guarded in the soul of France."
55

And then the lovely shape within the stone
Fell into silence, and a little dust
Fell in the silence.

 
But she who was so strangely comforted,
Left the dim shrine,
60
And pushed the leathern door,
And stood upon the threshold in the shine
Struck from a thousand banners in the sky,
Where a great tempest-sunset marching by
Deployed before the portal
65
As all the flags of France were beating there
In the flushed air
Triumphant and immortal.
 



To a Canadian Aviator who Died for his Country in France

 

 
Tossed like a falcon from the hunter’s wrist,
A sweeping plunge, a sudden shattering noise,
And thou hast dared, with a long spiral twist,
The elastic stairway to the rising sun.
Peril below thee and above, peril
5
Within thy car; but peril cannot daunt
Thy peerless heart: gathering wing and poise,
Thy plane transfigured, and thy motor-chant
Subdued to a whisper—then a silence,—
And thou art but a disembodied venture
10
In the void.

But Death, who has learned to fly,
Still matchless when his work is to be done,
Met thee between the armies and the sun;
Thy speck of shadow faltered in the sky;
15
Then thy dead engine and thy broken wings
Drooped through the arc and passed in fire,
A wreath of smoke—a breathless exhalation.
But ere that came a vision sealed thine eyes,
Lulling thy senses with oblivion;
20
And from its sliding station in the skies
Thy dauntless soul upward in circles soared
To the sublime and purest radiance whence it sprang.

In all their eyries, eagles shall mourn thy fate,
And leaving on the lonely crags and scaurs
25
Their unprotected young, shall congregate
High in the tenuous heaven and anger the sun
With screams, and with a wild audacity
Dare all the battle danger of thy flight;
Till weary with combat one shall desert the light,
30
Fall like a bolt of thunder and check his fall
On the high ledge, smoky with mist and cloud,
Where his neglected eaglets shriek aloud,
And drawing the film across his sovereign sight
Shall dream of thy swift soul immortal
35 
Mounting in circles, faithful beyond death.  

 

To the Canadian Mothers

1914-1918

 

 
Why mourn thy dead, that are the world’s possession?
These, our Immortals—Shall we give them up
To the complaint of private loss and dole?
Nay—mourn for them, if mourn thou must,—
Grief is thy private treasure;
5
Thy soul alone can count its weight or measure.
But we who know they saved the world
Think of them joined to that unwithering throng,
Who in the long dead strife
Have thought and fought for Liberty:
10
When she was but a faint pulsation in the mind,
The faintest rootlet of a growing thought,
They nourished her with tears
And gave their dreams to add depth to her foliage;
And when the enemy ravaged her bright blossoms,
15
 Drenched her with their rich blood
To prove she lived and was the ever-living.
These are the true Immortals,
The deathless ones that saved the world.

Nay, weep, if weep thou must
20
And think upon thy lad, onetime in trust
To fortune; of his gallant golden head
And all the wayward sanctities of childhood;
Of how he crowned thy life with confidences;
Of the odour of his body, lulled with sleep,
25
Confusing thy dim prayers for some best future
With the sheer love that is the deepest:
False fortune has destroyed her hostages!
Old joys are bitter, bitter as very death!
Let break thy heart and so be comforted.
30

Be comforted, for we have claimed the child
And taken him to be with light and glory;
Not as we knew him in his earthly days
The lovely one, the virtuous, the dauntless,—
Or one who was a boaster, thick with faults
35
Perchance,—but as the index of the time,
The stay and nurture of the world’s best hope,
The peerless seed of valour and victory.

Here in a realm beyond the fading world,
We garner them and hold them in abeyance
40
Ere we deliver them to light and silence —
The vestiges of battle fallen away—
Fragments of storm parting about the moon,—
Here in the dim rock-chambers, garlanded
With frail sea-roses perfumed by the sea
45
That murmurs of renown, and murmuring,
Scatters the cool light won by the ripple
From the stormless moon, cloistered with memory,
Whose dim caves front the immortal vistas
Plangent with renown, here they await
50
The light, the glory and the ultimate rest.

Be comforted,—nay sob, if sob thou must,
Cover thy face and dim thy hair with dust,
And we who know they live
Gather thy dead in triumph—
55
Exalted from the caves of memory,
Purified from the least assoil of time,—
And lay them with all that is most living,
In light transcendent,
In the ageless aisles of silence,
60

With the Immortals that have saved the world.