Later Canadian Poems

Edited by J. E. Wetherell



ARCHIBALD LAMPMAN.





Among the Millet.

The dew is gleaming in the grass,
    The morning hours are seven,
And I am fain to watch you pass,
    Ye soft white clouds of heaven.

Ye stray and gather, part and fold;
5
    The wind alone can tame you;
I think of what in time of old
    The poets loved to name you.

They called you sheep, the sky your sward,
    A field without a reaper;
10
They called the shining sun your lord,
    The shepherd wind your keeper.

Your sweetest poets I will deem
    The men of old for moulding
In simple beauty such a dream,
15
    And I could lie beholding, [Page 65]

Where daisies in the meadow toss,
    The wind from morn till even
Forever shepherd you across
    The shining field of heaven.
20

—————

April.

Pale season, watcher in unvexed suspense,
    Still priestess of the patient middle day,
Betwixt wild March’s humoured petulance
    And the warm wooing of green-kirtled May,
    Maid month of sunny peace and sober grey,
5
Weaver of flowers in sunward glades that ring
With murmur of libation to the spring:

As memory of pain, all past, is peace,
    And joy, dream-tasted, hath the deepest cheer,
So art thou sweetest of all months that lease
10
    The twelve short spaces of the flying year.
    The bloomless days are dead, and frozen fear
No more for many moons shall vex the earth,
Dreaming of summer and fruit-laden mirth. [Page 66]

The grey song-sparrows, full of spring, have sung
15
    Their clear thin silvery tunes in leafless trees;
The robin hops and whistles, and among
    The silver-tasselled poplars the brown bees
    Murmur faint dreams of summer harvestries;
The creamy sun at even scatters down
20
A gold-green mist across the murmuring town.

By the slow streams the frogs all day and night
    Dream without thought of pain or heed of ill,
Watching the long warm silent hours take flight,
    And ever with soft throats that pulse and thrill,
25
    From the pale-weeded shallows trill and trill,
Tremulous sweet voices, flute-like, answering
One to another glorying in the spring.

All day across the ever-cloven soil
    Strong horses labour, steaming in the sun,
30
Down the long furrows with slow straining toil,
    Turning the brown clean layers; and one by one
    The crows gloom over them, till daylight done
Finds them asleep somewhere in duskèd lines
Beyond the wheat-lands in the northern pines.
35

The old year’s cloaking of brown leaves that bind
    The forest floor-ways, plated close and true—
The last love’s labour of the autumn wind— [Page 67]
    Is broken with curled flower buds, white and blue,
    In all the matted hollows, and speared through
40
With thousand serpent-spotted blades upsprung,
Yet bloomless, of the slender adder-tongue.

In the warm noon the south wind creeps and cools,
    Where the red-budded stems of maples throw
Still tangled etchings on the amber pools,
45
    Quite silent now, forgetful of the slow
    Drip of the taps, the troughs, and trampled snow,
The keen March mornings, and the silvering rime,
And mirthful labour of the sugar prime.

Ah, I have wandered with unwearied fee
50
    All the long sweetness of an April day,
Lulled with cool murmurs and the drowsy beat
    Of partridge wings in secret thickets grey,
    The marriage hymns of all the birds at play,
The faces of sweet flowers, and easeful dreams
55
Beside slow reaches of frog-haunted streams;

Wandered with happy feet, and quite forgot
    The shallow toil, the strife against the grain,
Near souls that hear us call, but answer not,—
    The loneliness, perplexity and pain,
60
    And high thoughts cankered with an earthly stain; [Page 68]
And then, the long draught emptied to the lees,
I turn me homeward in slow-pacing ease,

Cleaving the cedar shadows and the thin
    Mist of grey gnats that cloud the river shore,
65
Sweet even choruses, that dance and spin
    Soft tangles in the sunset; and once more
    The city smites me with its dissonant roar.
To its hot heart I pass, untroubled yet,
Fed with calm hope, without desire or fret.
70

So to the year’s first altar step I bring
    Gifts of meek song, and make my spirit free
With the blind working of unanxious spring,
    Careless with her, whether the days that flee
    Pale drouth or golden-fruited plenty see,
75
So that we toil, brothers, without distress,
In calm-eyed peace and godlike blamelessness.

—————

Heat.

From plains that reel to southward, dim,
    The road runs by me white and bare;
Up the steep hill it seems to swim
    Beyond, and melt into the glare. [Page 69]
Upward half way, or it may be
5
    Nearer the summit, slowly steals
A hay-cart, moving dustily
    With idly clacking wheels.

By his cart’s side the wagoner
    Is slouching slowly at his ease,
10
Half-hidden in the windless blur
    Of white dust puffing to his knees.
This wagon on the height above,
    From sky to sky on either hand,
Is the sole thing that seems to move
15
    In all the heat-held land.

Beyond me in the fields the sun
    Soaks in the grass and hath his will;
I count the marguerites one by one;
    Even the buttercups are still.
20
On the brook yonder not a breath
    Disturbs the spider or the midge.
The water-bugs draw close beneath
    The cool gloom of the bridge.

Where the far elm-tree shadows flood
25
    Dark patches in the burning grass,
The cows, each with her peaceful cud,
    Lie waiting for the heat to pass. [Page 70]
From somewhere on the slope near by
    Into the pale depth of the noon
30
A wandering thrush slides leisurely
    His thin revolving tune.

In intervals of dreams I hear
    The cricket from the droughty ground;
The grasshoppers spin into mine ear
35
    A small innumerable sound.
I lift mine eyes sometimes to gaze:
    The burning sky-line blinds my sight:
The woods far off are blue with haze:
    The hills are drenched in light.
40

And yet to me not this or that
    Is always sharp or always sweet;
In the sloped shadow of my hat
    I lean at rest, and drain the heat;
Nay more, I think some blessed power
45
    Hath brought me wandering idly here:
In the full furnace of this hour
    My thoughts grow keen and clear. [Page 71]

—————

Freedom.

    Out of the heart of the city begotten
        Of the labour of men and their manifold hands,
Whose souls, that were sprung from the earth in her morning,
No longer regard or remember her warning,
    Whose hearts in the furnace of care have forgotten
5
        Forever the scent and the hue of her lands;

    Out of the heat of the usurer’s hold,
        From the horrible crash of the strong man’s feet;
Out of the shadow where pity is dying;
Out of the clamour where beauty is lying,
10
    Dead in the depth of the struggle for gold;
        Out of the din and the glare of the street;

    Into the arms of our mother we come,
        Our broad strong mother, the innocent earth,
Mother of all things beautiful, blameless,
15
Mother of hopes that her strength makes tameless,
    Where the voices of grief and of battle are dumb,
        And the whole world laughs in the light of her mirth.

    Over the fields, where the cool winds sweep,
        Black with the mould and brown with the loam, [Page 72]
20
Where the thin green spears of the wheat are appearing,
And the high-ho shouts from the smoky clearing;
    Over the widths where the cloud shadows creep;
        Over the fields and the fallows we come;

    Over the swamps with their pensive noises,
25
        Where the burnished cup of the marigold gleams;
Skirting the reeds, where the quick winds shiver
On the swelling breast of the dimpled river,
    And the blue of the kingfisher hands and poises,
        Watching a spot by the edge of the streams;
30

    By the miles of the fences warped and dyed
        With the white-hot noons and their withering fires,
Where the rough bees trample the creamy bosoms
Of the hanging tufts of the elder blossoms,
    And the spiders weave, and the grey snakes hide,
35
        In the crannied gloom of the stones and the briers;

    Over the meadow lands sprouting with thistle,
        Where the humming wings of the blackbirds pass,
Where the hollows are banked with the violets flowering,
And the long-limbed pendulous elms are towering,
40
    Where the robins are loud with their voluble whistle,
        And the ground sparrow scurries away through the grass,

    Where the restless bobolink loiters and woos
        Down in the hollows and over the swells, [Page 73]
Dropping in and out of the shadows,
45
Sprinkling his music about the meadows,
    Whistles and little checks and coos,
        And the tinkle of glassy bells;

    Into the dim woods full of the tombs
        Of the dead trees soft in their sepulchers,
50
Where the pensive throats of the shy birds hidden
Pipe to us strangely entering unbidden,
    And tenderly still in the tremulous glooms
        The trilliums scatter their white-winged stars;

    Up to the hills where our tired hearts rest,
55
        Loosen, and halt, and regather their dreams;
Up to the hills, where the winds restore us,
Clearing our eyes to the beauty before us,
    Earth with the glory of life on her breast,
        Earth with the gleam of her cities and streams.
60

    Here we shall commune with her and no other;
        Care and the battle of life shall cease;
Men her degenerate children behind us,
Only the night of her beauty shall bind us,
    Full of rest, as we gaze on the face of our mother,
65
        Earth in the health and the strength of her peace. [Page 74]

—————

Midnight.

From where I sit I see the stars,
    And down the chilly floor
The moon between the frozen bars
    Is glimmering dim and hoar.

Without, in many a peakèd mound
5
    The glinting snowdrifts lie;
There is no voice or living sound;
    The embers slowly die.

Yet some wild thing is in mine ear;
    I hold my breath and hark;
10
Out of the depth I seem to hear
    A crying in the dark:

No sound of man or wife or child,
    No sound of beast that groans,
Or of the wind that whistles wild,
15
    Or of the tree that moans:

I know not what it is I hear;
    I bend my head and hark:
I cannot drive it from mine ear,
    That crying in the dark. [Page 75]
20

—————

Unrest.

All day upon the garden bright
    The sun shines strong,
But in my heart there is no light,
    Nor any song.

Voices of merry life go by,
5
    Adown the street;
But I am weary of the cry
    And drift of feet.

With all dear things that ought to please
    The hours are bless’d.
10
And yet my soul is ill at ease.
    And cannot rest.

Strange spirit, leave me not too long,
    Nor stint to give,
For if my soul have no sweet song,
15
    It cannot live. [Page 76]

—————

A Song.

    Oh night and sleep,
    Ye are so soft and deep,
I am so weary, come ye soon to me.
    Oh hours that creep,
    With so much time to weep,
5
I am so tired, can ye no swifter be?

    Come, night, anear;
    I’ll whisper in thine ear
What makes me so unhappy, full of care;
    Dear night, I die
10
    For love that all men buy
With tears, and know not it is dark despair.

    Dear night, I pray,
    How is it that men say
That love is sweet? It is not sweet to me.
15
    For one boy’s sake
    A poor girl’s heart must break;
So sweet, so true, and yet it could not be!

    Oh, I loved well,
    Such love as none can tell:
20
It was so true, it could not make him know: [Page 77]
    For he was blind,
    All light and all unkind:
Oh, had he known, would he have hurt me so?

    Oh night and sleep,
25
    Ye are so soft and deep,
I am so weary, come ye soon to me.
    Oh hours that creep,
    With so much time to weep,
I am so tired, can ye no swifter be?
30

—————

What Do Poets Want With Gold?

What do poets want with gold,
    Cringing slaves and cushioned ease;
Are not crusts and garments old
    Better for their souls than these?

Gold is but the juggling rod
5
Of a false usurping god,
Graven long ago in hell
With a somber stony spell,
Working in the world forever.
Hate is not so strong to sever [Page 78]
10
Beating human heart from heart.
Soul from soul we shrink and part,
And no longer hail each other
With the ancient name of brother.
Give the simple poet gold,
15
And his song will die of cold.
He must walk with men that reel
On the rugged path, and feel
Every sacred soul that is
Beating very near to his.
20
Simple, human, careless, free,
As God made him, he must be:
For the sweetest song of bird
Is the hidden tenor heard
In the dusk, at even-flush,
25
From the forest’s inner hush,
Of the simple hermit thrush.

What do poets want with love?
    Flowers that shiver out of hand,
And the fervid fruits that prove
30
    Only bitter broken sand?

Poets speak of passions best
When their dreams are undistressed;
And the sweetest songs are sung,
E’er the inner heart is stung. [Page 79]
35
Let them dream; ’tis better so;
Ever dream, but never know.
If their spirits once have drained
All that goblet crimson-stained,
Finding what they dream divine,
40
Only earthly, sluggish wine,
Sooner will the warm lips pale,
And the flawless voices fail,
Sooner come the drooping wing,
And the afterdays that bring
45
No such songs as did the spring.

—————

The Organist.

    In his dim chapel day by day
    The organist was wont to play,
And please himself with fluted reveries;
    And all the spirit’s joy and strife,
    The longing of a tender life,
5
Took sound and form upon the ivory keys;
    And though he seldom spoke a word,
    The simple hearts that loved him heard
        His glowing soul in these. [Page 80]

    One day as he was wrapped, a sound
10
    Of feet stole near; he turned and found
A little maid that stood beside him there.
    She started, and in shrinking wise
    Besought him with her liquid eyes
And little features, very sweet and spare.
15
    “You love music, child,” he said,
    And laid his hand upon her head,
        And smoothed her matted hair.

    She answered, “At the door one day
    I sat and heard the organ play;
20
I did not dare to come inside for fear;
    But yesterday, a little while,
    I crept half up the empty aisle
And heard the music sounding sweet and clear;
    To-day I thought you would not mind,
25
    For, master dear, your face was kind,
        And so I came up here.”

    “You love the music, then,” he said,
    And still he stroked her golden head,
And followed out some winding reverie;
30
    “And you are poor?” said he at last;
    The maiden nodded, and he passed
His hand across her forehead dreamingly; [Page 81]
    “And will you be my friend?” he spake,
    “And on the organ learn to make
35
        Grand music here with me?”

    And all the little maiden’s face
    Was kindled with a grateful grace;
“Oh, master, teach me; I will slave for thee!”
    She cried; and so the child grew dear
40
    To him, and slowly, year by year,
He taught her all the organ’s majesty;
    And gave her from his slender store
    Bread and warm clothing, that no more
        Her cheeks were pinched to see.
45

    And year by year the maiden grew
    Taller and lovelier, and the hue
Deepened upon her tender cheeks untried.
    Rounder, and queenlier, and more fair
    Her form grew, and her golden hair
50
Fell yearly richer at her master’s side.
    In speech and bearing, form and face,
    Sweeter and graver, grace by grace,
        Her beauties multiplied.

    And sometimes at his work a glow
55
    Would touch him, and he murmured low,
“How beautiful she is!” and bent his head; [Page 82]
    And sometimes when the day went by
    And brought no maiden, he would sigh,
And lean and listen for her velvet tread;
60
    And he would drop his hands and say,
    “My music cometh not to-day;
        Pray God she be not dead!”

    So the sweet maiden filled his heart,
    And with her growing grew his art,
65
For day by day more wondrously he played.
    Such heavenly things the master wrought,
    That in his happy dreams he thought
The organ’s self did love the gold-haired maid:
    But she, the maiden, never guessed
70
    What prayers for her in hours of rest
        The somber organ prayed.

    At last, one summer morning fair,
    The maiden came with braided hair
And took his hands, and held them eagerly.
75
    “To-morrow is my wedding day;
    Dear master, bless me that the way
Of life be smooth, not bitter, unto me.”
    He stirred not; but the light did go
    Out of his shrunken cheeks, and oh!
80
        His head hung heavily. [Page 83]

    “You love him, then?” “I love him well,”
    She answered, and a numbness fell
Upon his eyes and all his heart that bled.
    A glory, half a smile, abode
85
    Within the maiden’s eyes and glowed
Upon her parted lips. The master said,
    “God bless and bless thee, little maid,
    With peace and long delight,” and laid
        His hands upon her head.
90

    And she was gone; and all that day
    The hours crept up and slipped away,
And he sat still, as moveless as a stone.
    The night came down, with quiet stars,
    And darkened him. In colored bars
95
Along the shadowy aisle the moonlight shone.
    And then the master woke and passed
    His hands across the keys at last,
        And made the organ moan.

    The organ shook, the music wept;
100
    For sometimes like a wail it crept
In broken moanings down the shadows drear;
    And otherwhiles the sound did swell,
    And like a sudden tempest fell
Through all the windows wonderful and clear. [Page 84]
105
    The people gathered from the street,
    And filled the chapel seat by seat—
        They could not choose but hear.

    And there they sat till dawning light,
    Nor ever stirred for awe. “To-night
110
The master hath a noble mood,” they said.
    But on a sudden ceased the sound:
    Like ghosts the people gathered round,
And on the keys they found his fallen head.
    The silent organ had received
115
    The master’s broken heart relieved,
        And he was white and dead. [Page 85]

—————

The Truth.

Friend, though thy soul should burn thee, yet be still.
    Thoughts were not made for strife, nor tongues for swords.
    He that sees clear is gentlest of his words,
And that’s not truth that hath the heart to kill.
The whole world’s thought shall not one truth fulfil.
5
    Dull in our age, and passionate in youth,
    No mind of man hath found the perfect truth,
Nor shalt thou find it; therefore, friend, be still.

Watch and be still, nor hearken to the fool,
The babbler of consistency and rule!
    Wisest is he, who, never quite secure,
10
        Changes his thoughts for better day by day:
    To-morrow some new light will shine, be sure,
        And thou shalt see thy thought another way. [Page 86]

—————

A Prayer.

Oh earth, oh dewy mother, breathe on us
    Something of all thy beauty and thy might,
    Us that are part of day, but most of night,
Not strong like thee, but ever burdened thus
With glooms and cares, things pale and dolorous,
5
    Whose gladdest moments are not wholly bright;
    Something of all thy freshness and thy light,
Oh earth, oh mighty mother, breathe on us.

Oh mother, who wast long before our day,
    And after us full many an age shalt be,
10
Careworn and blind, we wander from thy way:
    Born of thy strength, yet weak and halt are we;
Grant us, oh mother, therefore, us who pray,
    Some little of thy light and majesty. [Page 87]

—————

Knowledge.

What is more large than knowledge and more sweet;
    Knowledge of thoughts and deeds, of rights and wrongs,
    Of passions, and of beauties, and of songs;
Knowledge of life; to feel its great heart beat
Through all the soul upon her crystal seat;
5
    To see, to feel, and evermore to know;
    To till the old world’s wisdom till it grow
A garden for the wandering of our feet.

Oh for a life of leisure and broad hours,
    To think and dream, to put away small things,
10
        This world’s perpetual leaguer of dull naughts;
To wander like the bee among the flowers
    Till old age find us weary, feet and wings
        Grown heavy with the gold of many thoughts. [Page 88]

—————

Sight.

The world is bright with beauty, and its days
    Are filled with music; could we only know
    True ends from false, and lofty things from low;
Could we but tear away the walls that graze
Our very elbows in life’s frosty ways;
5
    Behold the width beyond us with its flow,
    Its knowledge and its murmur and its glow,
Where doubt itself is but a golden haze.

Ah brothers, still upon our pathway lies
    The shadow of dim weariness and fear,
10
Yet if we could but lift our earthward eyes
    To see, and open our dull ears to hear,
    Then should the wonder of this world draw near
And life’s innumerable harmonies. [Page 89]

—————

Music.

Move on, light hands, so strongly tenderly,
    Now with dropped calm and yearning undersong,
    Now swift and loud, tumultuously strong,
And I in darkness, sitting near to thee,
Shall only hear, and feel, but shall not see,
5
    One hour made passionately bright with dreams,
    Keen glimpses of life’s slendour, dashing gleams
Of what we would, and what we cannot be.

Surely not painful ever, yet not glad,
    Shall such hours be to me, but blindly sweet,
10
            Sharp with all yearning and all fact at strife,
    Dreams that shine by with unremembered feet,
            And tones that like far distance make this life
Spectral and wonderful and strangely sad. [Page 90]

—————

The Railway Station.

The darkness brings no quiet here, the light
    No waking: ever on my blinded brain
    The flare of lights, the rush, and cry, and strain,
The engine’s scream, the hiss and thunder smite:
I see the hurrying crowds, the clasp, the flights,
5
    Faces that touch, eyes that are dim with pain:
    I see the hoarse wheels turn, and the great train
Move labouring out into the bourneless night.

So many souls within its dim recesses,
    So many bright, so many mournful eyes:
10
Mine eyes that watch grow fixed with dreams and guesses;
    What threads of life, what hidden histories,
What sweet or passionate dreams and dark distresses,
    What unknown thoughts, what various agonies! [Page 91]

—————

Outlook.

Not to be conquered by these headlong days,
    But to stand free: to keep the mind at brood
    On life’s deep meaning, nature’s altitude
Of loveliness, and time’s mysterious ways;
At every thought and deed to clear the haze
5
    Out of our eyes, considering only this,
    What man, what life, what love, what beauty is,
This is to live, and win the final praise.

Though strife, ill fortune, and harsh human need
    Beat down the soul, at moments blind and dumb
10
    With agony; yet, patience—there shall come
        Many great voices from life’s outer sea,
Hours of strange triumph, and, when few men heed,
        Murmurs and glimpses of eternity. [Page 92]