Lundy's Lane and Other Poems

by Duncan Campbell Scott


 

LINES IN MEMORY OF EDMUND MORRIS


 

DEAR MORRIS—here is your letter—
  Can my answer reach you now?
Fate has left me your debtor,
You will remember how;
For I went away to Nantucket,
5
And you to the Isle of Orleans,
And when I was dawdling and dreaming
Over the ways and means
Of answering, the power was denied me,
Fate frowned and took her stand;
10
I have your unanswered letter
Here in my hand.
This—in your famous scribble,
It was ever a cryptic fist,
Cuneiform or Chaldaic
15

Meanings held in a mist.

DEAR MORRIS, (now I'm inditing
  And poring over your script)
I gather from the writing,
The coin that you had flipt,

20
Turned tails; and so you compel me
To meet you at Touchwood Hills:
Or, mayhap, you are trying to tell me
The sum of a painter's ills:
Is that Phimister Proctor
25

Or something about a doctor?
Well, nobody knows, but Eddie,
Whatever it is I'm ready.

FOR our friendship was always fortunate
  In its greetings and adieux,

30
Nothing flat or importunate,
Nothing of the misuse
That comes of the constant grinding
Of one mind on another.
So memory has nothing to smother,
35
But only a few things captured
On the wing, as it were, and enraptured.
Yes, Morris, I am inditing—
Answering at last it seems,
How can you read the writing
40

In the vacancy of dreams?

I WOULD have you look over my shoulder
  Ere the long, dark year is colder,
And mark that as memory grows older,
The brighter it pulses and gleams.

45
And if I should try to render
The tissues of fugitive splendour
That fled down the wind of living,
Will they read it some day in the future,
And be conscious of an awareness
50
In our old lives, and the bareness
Of theirs, with the newest passions
In the last fad of the fashions?

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

HOW often have we risen without daylight
  When the day star was hidden in mist,
55
When the dragon-fly was heavy with dew and sleep,
And viewed the miracle pre-eminent, matchless,
The prelusive light that quickens themorning.
O crystal dawn, how shall we distill your virginal freshness
When you steal upon a land that man has not sullied with his
  intrusion,
60
When the aboriginal shy dwellers in the broad solitudes
Are asleep in their innumerable dens and night haunts
Amid the dry ferns, in the tender nests
Pressed into shape by the breasts of the Mother birds?
How shall we simulate the thrill of announcement
65

When lake after lake lingering in the starlight
Turn their faces towards you,
And are caressed with the salutation of colour?

HOW shall we transmit in tendril-like images,
  The tenuous tremour in the tissues of ether,

70

Before the round of colour buds like the dome of a shrine,
The preconscious moment when love has fluttered in the bosom,
Before it begins to ache?

HOW often have we seen the even
  Melt into the liquidity of twilight,

75

With passages of Titian splendour,
Pellucid preludes, exquisitely tender,
Where vanish and revive, thro' veils of the ashes of roses,
The crystal forms the breathless sky discloses.

THE new moon a slender thing,

80
  In a snood of virgin light,
She seemed all shy on venturing
In the vast night.

HER own land and folk were afar,
  She must have gone astray,

85

But the gods had given a silver star,
  To be with her on the way.

I CAN feel the wind on the prairie
  And see the bunch-grass wave,
And the sunlights ripple and vary

90
The hill with Crowfoot's grave,
Where he "pitched off" for the last time
In sight of the Blackfoot Crossing,
Where in the sun for a pastime
You marked the site of his tepee
95
With a circle of stones. Old Napiw
Gave you credit for that day.
And well I recall the weirdness
Of that evening at Qu'Appelle,
In the wigwam with old Sakimay,
100
The keen, acrid smell,
As the kinnikinick was burning;
The planets outside were turning,
And the little splints of poplar
Flared with a thin, gold flame.
105
He showed us his painted robe
Where in primitive pigments
He had drawn his feats and his forays,
And told us the legend
Of the man without a name,
110
The hated Blackfoot,
How he lured the warriors,
The young men, to the foray
And they never returned.
Only their ghosts
115
Goaded by the Blackfoot
Mounted on stallions:
In the night time
He drove the stallions
Reeking into the camp;
120
The women gasped and whispered,
The children cowered and crept,
And the old men shuddered
Where they slept.
When Sakimay looked forth
125
He saw the Blackfoot,
And the ghosts of the warriors,
And the black stallions
Covered by the night wind
As by a mantle.
130

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

I REMEMBER well a day,
  When the sunlight had free play,
When you worked in happy stress,
While grave Ne-Pah-Pee-Ness
Sat for his portrait there,
135
In his beaded coat and his bare
Head, with his mottled fan
Of hawk's feathers, A Man!
Ah Morris, those were the times
When you sang your inconsequent rhymes
140
Sprung from a careless fountain:

"He met her on the mountain,
He gave her a horn to blow,
And the very last words he said to her
Were, ’Go 'long, Eliza, go.'"

145

Foolish,—but life was all,
And under the skilful fingers
Contours came at your call—
Art grows and time lingers;—
But now the song has a change
150
Into something wistful and strange.
And one asks with a touch of ruth
What became of the youth
And where did Eliza go?
He met her on the mountain,
155
He gave her a horn to blow,
The horn was a silver whorl
With a mouthpiece of pure pearl,
And the mountain was all one glow,
With gulfs of blue and summits of rosy snow.
160
The cadence she blew on the silver horn
Was the meaning of life in one phrase caught,
And as soon as the magic notes were born,
She repeated them once in an afterthought.
They heard in the crystal passes,
165
The cadence, calling, calling,
And faint in the deep crevasses,
The echoes falling, falling.
They stood apart and wondered;
Her lips with a wound were aquiver,
170
His heart with a sword was sundered,
For life was changed forever
When he gave her the horn to blow:
But a shadow arose from the valley,
Desolate, slow and tender,
175
It hid the herdsmen’s chalet,
Where it hung in the emerald meadow,
(Was death driving the shadow?)
It quenched the tranquil splendour
Of the colour of life on the glow-peaks,
180
Till at the end of the even,
The last shell-tint on the snow-peaks
Had passed away from the heaven.
And yet, when it passed, victorious,
The stars came out on the mountains,
185
And the torrents gusty and glorious,
Clamoured in a thousand fountains,
And even far down in the valley,
A light re-discovered the chalet.
The scene that was veiled had a meaning,
190
So deep that none might know;
Was it here in the morn on the mountain,
That he gave her the horn to blow?

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

TEARS are the crushed essence of this world,
  The wine of life, and he who treads the press
195
Is lofty with imperious disregard
Of the burst grapes, the red tears and the murk.
But nay! that is a thought of the old poets,
Who sullied life with the passional bitterness
Of their world-weary hearts. We of the sunrise,
200
Joined in the breast of God, feel deep the power
That urges all things onward, not to an end,
But in an endless flow, mounting and mounting,
Claiming not overmuch for human life,
Sharing with our brothers of nerve and leaf
205
The urgence of the one creative breath,—
All in the dim twilight— say of morning,
Where the florescence of the light and dew
Haloes and hallows with a crown adorning
The brows of life with love; herein the clue,
210
The love of life—yea, and the peerless love
Of things not seen, that leads the least of things
To cherish the green sprout, the hardening seed;
Here leans all nature with vast Mother-love,
Above the cradled future with a smile.
215
Why are there tears for failure, or sighs for weakness,
While life's rhythm beats on? Where is the rule
To measure the distance we have circled and clomb?
Catch up the sands of the sea and count and count
The failures hidden in our sum of conquest.
220

Persistence is the master of this life;
The master of these little lives of ours;
To the end—effort—even beyond the end.

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

 
HERE, Morris, on the plains that we have loved,
Think of the death of Akoose, fleet of foot,
225
Who, in his prime, a herd of antelope
From sunrise, without rest, a hundred miles
Drove through rank prairie, loping like a wolf,
Tired them and slew them, ere the sun went down.
Akoose, in his old age, blind from the smoke
230
Of tepees and the sharp snow light, alone
With his great grandchildren, withered and spent,
Crept in the warm sun along a rope
Stretched for his guidance. Once when sharp autumn
Made membranes of thin ice upon the sloughs,
235
He caught a pony on a quick return
Of prowess and, all his instincts cleared and quickened,
He mounted, sensed the north and bore away
To the last Last Mountain Lake where in his youth
He shot the sand-hill-cranes with his flint arrows.
240
And for these hours in all the varied pomp
Of pagan fancy and free dreams of foray
And crude adventure, he ranged on entranced,
Until the sun blazed level with the prairie,
Then paused, faltered and slid from off his pony.
245
In a little bluff of poplars, hid in the bracken,
He lay down; the populace of leaves
In the lithe poplars whispered together and trembled,
Fluttered before a sunset of gold smoke,
With interspaces, green as sea water,
250

And calm as the deep water of the sea.

THERE Akoose lay, silent amid the bracken,
Gathered at last with the Algonquin Chieftains.
Then the tenebrous sunset was blown out,
And all the smoky gold turned into cloud wrack.

255
Akoose slept forever amid the poplars,
Swathed by the wind from the far-off Red Deer
Where dinosaurs sleep, clamped in their rocky tombs.
Who shall count the time that lies between
The sleep of Akoose and the dinosaurs?
260
Innumerable time, that yet is like the breath
Of the long wind that creeps upon the prairie
And dies away with the shadows at sundown.

 

*     *     *     *     *

 
WHAT we may think, who brood upon the theme,
Is, when the old world, tired of spinning, has fallen
265
Asleep, and all the forms, that carried the fire
Of life, are cold upon her marble heart—
Like ashes on the altar—just as she stops,
That something will escape of soul or essence,—
The sum of life, to kindle otherwhere:
270
Just as the fruit of a high sunny garden,
Grown mellow with autumnal sun and rain,
Shrivelled with ripeness, splits to the rich heart,
And looses a gold kernel to the mould,
So the old world, hanging long in the sun,
275
And deep enriched with effort and with love,
Shall, in the motions of maturity,
Wither and part, and the kernel of it all
Escape, a lovely wraith of spirit, to latitudes
Where the appearance, throated like a bird,
280
Winged with fire and bodied all with passion,
Shall flame with presage, not of tears, but joy.