Pine, Rose and Fleur de Lis

by Susie Frances Harrison


 

A MONODY


TO THE MEMORY OF ISABELLA VALANCY CRAWFORD.


I weep for our dead Sappho—Sappho, who is dead,
       Was ours, and great, although her friends were few;
Let the great Greek go by, or lift in love her laurelled head,
       One of her peers hath entered; let her view
The youngest poet-soul that darkly gropes
5
       For light and truth; let the great Greek out stretch
       Warm hands of welcome, Deity-bidden, fetch
The faint soul home with Love’s strong coilèd ropes.

I weep for our dead Sappho—Sappho, who was ours,
       The great Greek knew her, shame—that we did not;

10
Did not her song pierce blue, light dark and break through close-
  branched bowers?  
       Yet was an early grave her earthward lot.
Whom the gods love die young. Great Sappho, raise
       Thy yearning arms and draw her from the flood;
       Cheer thou her spirit, warm her freezing blood.
15
Lave her faint brow, and crown it with clinging bays.

I make my moan the while. I do not weep
       Because that Death her body hath not spared;
Weep I for thoughts of bliss, of converse sweet with meaning

  deep,  
       That, had I known her, surely we had shared.
20
I weep for thinking much of the forest walks,
       When willows shimmer with leaf of thinnest gold,
       And crumpled green is ready to unfold,
And white show all the slender reedy stalks

Within the muddy marshes; here and there,

25
       A stray wind-flower that stars the sunny glade,
A triple-leafed trillium tall, that soon in May-time light shall wear
       Its white flower—lovely lamp for lanes of shade.
I weep for thinking much of the purple blooms
       We might have seen together on the hills,
       The while the melting snow made rough the rills,
30
And from the frozen flats uprose the glooms.

I weep, and wonder much who was her friend;
       Or had she none, and so crept unconsoled
Lonely along life’s sunless shore and sadly, bravely penned
       The lines that read so warm, that ring so bold.

35
As water precious sediment, shining ore,
       So the clear liquid of her verse embalms,
       Like amber, flies—the fire, the flush, the palms
Of passionate tropics, pulsing, sun-bathed shore.

I make my moan the while. I weep to think

40
       Such walks were not for us, nor yet that hour
Far dearer still to friends when snow hath curtained every chink,
       And hearth-sides blaze with welcome, though there lower
The God of Storm upon the threshold neat.
       To have sat so—close and tender; (women can—
45
       Are all to themselves, and happy, need no man,)
Alas! that we never lit on such retreat!

Such solace there was none. Great Sappho—raise
       Her drooping head and tell her one hath come,
Late though it seem, with yearning words of comfort and of

  praise!
50
       She does not hearken. Yet she is but dumb.
Wait but a little—she will sing again.

       I wait. I watch the trees fire, one by one,
       I count the oxen, indolent in the sun,
I see the sparkle of many a dstant vane.
55

I smooth the chestnuts shining in the grass,
       I look up when a bird is felt to whir-
These are my truest joys. O wherefore comes it thus to pass
       That these are no more anything to her?
This day is like her—sumptuous, vivid, warm,
60
       All golden mellow, gemmed with spots of fire.
       Demeter, smiling, ’ere she slay desire
With warring winds and icy breath of storm

Hath cast upon the earth a veil of gold,
       Defying Danaë. I, too, work my spells.

65
Zeus is not only lord. Behold the vales, the slopes behold.
       The woods of bronze, the topaz-sprinkled dells!
The myths still live. I am not shrunken yet,
       Disabled, no, nor impotent, failing, weak;
       ’Tis I who crumple claw, form flower, ope beak,

70
Knit cobweb, paint the maples, frost-snares set.

Thus the sly Goddess. Every year she makes
       The simple Earth most beautiful for a time.
But, every year, dread mother, her revenge unguessed she

  slakes,  
       When green and gold are gone, with sleet and rime.
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Thus doth she make her moan. Persephone
       Dieth once a year to life and light and air,
       Howbeit she lives afar, most strangely fair,
With eyes that in the dark have learnt to see.

Here, where the leaves are trodden inches deep,

80
       What waste of colour, symmetry, beauty, life!
There, where her soul’s rich song is hushed in waiting, wavering
  sleep,  
       We dare not figure waste. Across the strife
That strangles Hope ever high at the court of God,
       That voice at last shall be clearly, daily heard,
85
       That heart with holiest striving shall be stirred,
That soul be free to soar, as lark from sod.

Yet are we mocked by cold conjecture’s wraith!
       To sigh and grasp at what is gone for aye—
I too, Earth-mother, lose my calm, I lose my saving faith,

90
       I too, disdain the world’s vile disarray
And would avenge its blindness, point its shame.
       Kill off for me, Demeter, thus I cry,
       These impotent—that the great, good gods defy,
These flies of men that dally with her name!

95

For her’s was no slight soul. Kind Sappho knows—
       For she hath read those Greek-inspirèd lines,
Stanzas in which as of old the Spartan spirit steadily glows—
       Deep—as Ægean blue through branching vines,
Strong—as the naked limbs of Spartan youth,
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       Hot—as the suns on Æolia’s rocky plains.
       Clasp me the Helot—reach me the rich quatrains,
That throb with triumph, touched with the wand of truth!

I make my moan the while. Dear Sappho—list!
       Ask her this, further. Was she loath to go,

105
Or was she ready, willing, soul-enchanted since she wist
       Not fully of her gift, nor of life below?
Nay—so calm Greek whispers—’tis no time
       To question her. For a soul so lately riven
       By Death’s slow pains, though fully, know, forgiven,

110
May answer not. Ponder then in your heart your rhyme.

I wait. I watch the Autumn. Swift it passes,
       Till sallow fungi stud the dripping trees;
Brittle and brown and dry grow even the smoothest, greenest

  grasses,  
       And garden-plots lie naked to the breeze,
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And rifled rigging climbeth the damp dull house,
       And men and women crouching before their fire,
       Hearken the wind as it climbeth ever higher,
Hearken the cricket, watch for the keen-eyed mouse.

Four walls hath bound them—bound me too, the same,

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       Not like that spirit—bursting place and age,
The mummy-like cloths of genius—that pure fire, that golden
  flame,  
       Her lambent thought, that fed each splendid page
With picturesque portraits, Greek, Italian, Spanish.
       The pomp of Rome, the clash of Capitol hate,
125
       La Bouquetière, sweet victim of foul fate—
How beside these do colder visions vanish!

Four walls could not her feverish spirit fetter,
       Yet precious airs strove with her, sweet, unsought;
Often I think, that had I called her friend or known her better,

130
       I might have steered the rich barque of her thought
To shores of our own, looming softly, freshly fair.
       I might have shown her—tawny eastern torrents,
       The lonely Gatineau, the vast St. Lawrence,
I might have said—In all this thou shalt share:
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Take it and make it—thou who only can’st,
       Sweet alchemist—rare singer—what thou wilt;
Distilled in thine alembic, earth-dissevered, as thou plann’st,
       Our life’s ideal shalt on thee be built.

Had I but known her well—thus had I spoken.
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       But now she sleeps where Sappho guards and guides,
       Deaf to the rolling in of Death’s slow tides,
And Charon’s ship on the black wave’s crest unbroken.

There where the canyon, cut in the living rock,
       Its snow-streaked side up from the prairie lifts,

145
Shall not her name live long, --I think so, till Time has ceased to
  mock,  
       Hath she not conquered Death by gracious gifts?
Did she not sing the song of the pioneer,
       An epic of axe and tree, of glebe and pine,
       Hath she not—Great High Priestess of Love benign,
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Rose-crowned, brow-bound, from Love dissevered Fear?

I shall not cease to moan. Some day I shall catch
       The music of the voice I wait to hear,
And hearing, rapt, declare that its magic melody doth not match
       With aught ever heard in this songless hemisphere.

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O, could I hope that the mantle of her song
       Might fall on me through very love of her—
       Strong Sappho! Grant it! I may not confer
High gifts her gifts alone to her God belong.

 


 

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