Later Canadian Poems

Edited by J. E. Wetherell



CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS.





Canada.

O Child of Nations, giant-limbed,
    Who stand’st among the nations now,
Unheeded, unadored, unhymned,
    With unanointed brow,—

How long the ignoble sloth, how long
5
    The trust in greatness not thine own?
Surely the lion’s brood is strong
    To front the world alone!

How long the indolence, ere thou dare
    Achieve thy destiny, seize thy fame—
10
Ere our proud eyes behold thee bear
    A nation’s franchise, nation’s name?

The Saxon force, the Celtic fire,
    These are thy manhood’s heritage!
Why rest with babes and slaves? Seek higher
15
The place of race and age. [Page 93]

I see to every wind unfurled
    The flag that bears the Maple-Wreath;
Thy swift keels furrow round the world
    Its blood-red folds beneath;
20

Thy swift keels cleave the furthest seas;
    Thy white sails swell with alien gales;
To stream on each remotest breeze
    The black smoke of thy pipes exhales.

O Falterer, let thy past convince
25
    Thy future,—all the growth, the gain,
The fame since Cartier knew thee, since
    Thy shores beheld Champlain!

Montcalm and Wolfe! Wolfe and Montcalm!
    Quebec, thy storied citadel
30
Attest in burning song and psalm
    How here thy heroes fell!

O Thou that bor’st the battle’s brunt
    At Queenston, and at Lundy’s Lane,—
On whose scant ranks but iron front
35
    The battle broke in vain!—

Whose was the danger, whose the day,
    From whose triumphant throats the cheers, [Page 94]
At Chrysler’s Farm, at Chateauguay,
    Storming like clarion-bursts our ears?
40

On soft Pacific slopes,—beside
    Strange floods that northward rave and fall,—
Where chafes Acadia’s chainless tide—
    Thy sons await thy call.

They wait; but some in exile, some
45
    With strangers housed, in stranger lands;—
And some Canadian lips are dumb
    Beneath Egyptian sands.

O mystic Nile! Thy secret yields
    Before us; thy most ancient dreams
50
Are mixed with far Canadian fields
    And murmur of Canadian streams.

But thou, my Country, dream not thou!
    Wake, and behold how night is done,—
How on thy breast, and o’er thy brow,
55
    Bursts the uprising sun! [Page 95]

—————

In the Afternoon.

Wind of the summer afternoon,
Hush, for my heart is out of tune!

Hush, for thou movest restlessly
The too light sleeper, Memory!


Whate’er thou hast to tell me, yet

5
’Twere something sweeter to forget,—

Sweeter than all thy breath of balm
An hour of unremembering calm!

Blowing over the roofs, and down
The bright streets of this inland town,
10

These busy crowds, these rocking trees—
What strange note hast thou caught from these?

A note of waves and rushing tides,
Where past the dikes the red flood glides,

To brim the shining channels far
15
Up the green plains of Tantramar.

Once more I snuff the salt, I stand
On the long dikes of Westmoreland; [Page 96]

I watch the narrowing flats, the strip
Of red clay at the water’s lip;
20

Far off the net-reels, brown and high,
And boat-masts slim against the sky;

Along the ridges of the dikes
Wind-beaten scant sea-grass, and spikes

Of last year’s mullein; down the slopes

25
To landward, in the sun, thick ropes

Of blue vetch, and convolvulus,
And matted roses glorious.

The liberal blooms o’erbrim my hands;
I walk the level, wide marsh-lands;

30

Waist-deep in dusty-blossomed grass
I watch the swooping breezes pass

In sudden, long, pale lines, that flee
Up the deep breast of this green sea.

I listen to the bird that stirs
35
The purple tops, and grasshoppers

Whose summer din, before my feet
Subsiding, wakes on my retreat. [Page 97]

Again the droning bees hum by;
Still-winged, the gray hawk wheels on high;
40

I drink again the wild perfumes,
And roll, and crush the grassy blooms.

Blown back to olden days, I fain
Would quaff the olden joys again;

But all the olden sweetness not
45
The old unmindful peace hath brought.

Wind of this summer afternoon,
Thou hast recalled my childhood’s June;

My heart—still is it satisfied
By all the golden summer-tide?
50

Hast thou one eager yearning filled,
Or any restless throbbing stilled,

Or hast thou any power to bear
Even a little of my care?—

Ever so little of this weight
55
Of weariness canst thou abate?

Ah, poor thy gift indeed, unless
Thou bring the old child-heartedness,— [Page 98]

And such a gift to bring is given,
Alas, to no wind under heaven!
60

Wind of the summer afternoon,
Be still; my heart is not in tune.

Sweet is thy voice; but yet, but yet—
Of all ’twere sweetest to forget!


—————

On the Creek.

Dear Heart, the noisy strife
    And bitter carpings cease.
Here is the lap of life,
    Here are the lips of peace.

Afar from stir of streets,
5
    The city’s dust and din,
What healing silence meets
    And greets us gliding in!

Our light birch silent floats;
    Soundless the paddle dips.
10
You sunbeam thick with motes
    Athro’ the leaface slips, [Page 99]

To light the iris wings
    Of dragon-flies alit
On lily-leaves, and things
15
    Of gauze that float and flit.

Above the water’s brink
    Hush’d winds make summer riot;
Our thirsty spirits drink
    Deep, deep, the summer quiet.
20

We slip the world’s gray husk,
    Emerge, and spread new plumes;
In sunbeam-fretted dusk,
    Thro’ populous golden glooms,

Like thistledown we slide,
25
    Two disembodied dreams,—
With spirits alert, wide-eyed,
    Explore the perfume-streams.

For scents of various grass
    Stream down the veering breeze;
30
Warm puffs of honey pass
    From flowering linden-trees;

And fragrant gusts of gum,
    From clammy balm-tree buds, [Page 100]
With fern-brake odors, come
35
    From intricate solitudes.

The elm-tops are astir
    With flirt of idle wings.
Hark to the grackles’ chirr
    Whene’er an elm-bough swings!
40

From off yon ash-limb sere
    Out-thrust amid green branches,
Keen like an azure spear
    A kingfisher down launches.

Far up the creek his calls
45
    And lessening laugh retreat;
Again the silence falls,
    And soft the green hours fleet.

They fleet with drowsy hum
    Of insects on the wing;—
50
We sigh—the end must come!
    We taste our pleasure’s sting.

No more, then, need we try
    The rapture to regain.
We feel our day slip by,
55
    And cling to it in vain. [Page 101]

But, Dear, keep thou in mind
    These moments swift and sweet!
Their memory thou shalt find
    Illume the common street;
60

And thro’ the dust and din,
    Smiling, thy heart shall hear
Quiet waters lapsing thin,
    And locusts shrilling clear.

—————

The Silver Thaw.

There came a day of showers
    Upon the shrinking snow;
The south wind sighed of flowers,
    The softening skies hung low.
Midwinter for a space
5
Foreshadowing April’s face,
The white world caught the fancy
    And would not let it go. [Page 102]

In reawakened courses
    The brooks rejoiced the land;
10
We dreamed the spring’s shy forces
    Were dripping close at hand.
The dripping buds were stirred,
As if the sap had heard
The long-desired persuasion
15
    Of April’s soft command.

But antic Time had cheated
    With hope’s elusive gleam;
The phantom spring defeated
    Fled down the ways of dream.
20
And in the night the reign
Of winter came again,
With frost upon the forest
    And stillness on the stream.

When morn in rose and crocus
25
    Came up the bitter sky,
Celestial beams awoke us
    To wondering ecstasy.
The wizard winter’s spell
Had wrought so passing well
30
That earth was bathed in glory
    As if God’s smile were nigh. [Page 103]

The silvered saplings bending
    Flashed in a rain of gems;
The statelier trees attending
35
    Blazed in their diadems.
White fire and amethyst
All common things had kissed,
And chrysolites and sapphires
    Adorned the bramble stems.
40

In crystalline confusion
    All beauty came to birth;
It was a kind illusion
    To comfort waiting earth—
To bid the buds forget
45
The spring so distant yet,
And hearts no more remember
    The iron season’s dearth.

—————

Canadian Streams.

O rivers rolling to the sea
From lands that bear the maple tree,
    How swell your voices with the strain
Of loyalty and liberty! [Page 104]

A holy music, heard in vain
5
By coward heart and sordid brain,
    To whom this strenuous being seems
Naught but a greedy race for gain.

O unsung streams,—not splendid themes
Ye lack to fire your patriot dreams!
10
    Annals of glory gild your waves,
Hope freights your tides, Canadian streams!

St. Lawrence, whose wide water laves
The shores that ne’er have nourished slaves!
    Swift Richelieu of lilied fame!
15
Niagara of glorious graves!

Thy rapids, Ottawa, proclaim
Where Daulac and his heroes came!
    Thy tides, St. John, declare La Tour,
And, later, many a loyal name!
20

Thou inland stream, whose vales, secure
From storm, Tecumseh’s death made poor!
    And thou small water, red with war,
’Twixt Beaubassin and Beauséjour!

Dread Saguenay, where eagles soar,
25
What voice shall from the bastioned shore [Page 105]
    The tale of Roberval reveal
Or his mysterious fate deplore?

Annapolis, do thy floods yet feel
Faint memories of Champlain’s keel,
30
    Thy pulses yet the deeds repeat
Of Poutrincourt and d’Iberville?

And thou far tide, whose plains now beat
With march of myriad westering feet,
    Saskatchewan, whose virgin sod
35
So late Canadian blood made sweet!

Your bulwark hills, your valleys broad,
Streams where de Salaberry trod,
    Where Wolfe achieved, where Brock was slain,—
Their voices are the voice of God!
40

O sacred waters, not in vain,
Across Canadian height and plain,
    Ye sound us in triumphant tone
The summons of your high refrain. [Page 106]

—————

A Blue Blossom.

A small blue flower with yellow eye
    Hath mightier spell to move my soul
    Than even the mightiest notes which roll
From man’s most perfect minstrelsy.
    A flash, a momentary gleam,
5

    A glimpse of some celestial dream,
And tears alone are left to me.

Filled with a longing vague and dim,
    I hold the flower in every light;
    To purge my soul’s redarkened sight,

10
I grope till all my senses swim.
    In vain; I feel the ecstasy
    Only when suddenly I see
This pale star with the sapphire rim.

Nor hath the blossom such strange power
15
    Because it saith “Forget me not”
    For some heart-holden, distant spot,
Or silent tongue, or buried hour.
    Methinks immortal memories
    Of some past scenes of Paradise
20
Speak to my spirit through the flower. [Page 107]

Forgotten is our ancient tongue;
    Too dull our ears, our eyes too blind,
    Even quite to catch its notes, or find
Its symbols written bright among
25
    All shapes of beauty. But ’tis hard,
    When one can hear, to be debarred
From knowledge of the meaning sung.

—————

Autochthon.

I.

  I am the spirit astir
    To swell the grain,
When the fruitful suns confer
    With laboring rain;
I am the life that thrills

5
      In branch and bloom;
I am the patience of abiding hills,
      The promise masked in doom. [Page 108]

II.

  When the sombre lands are wrung,
    And storms are out,
10
  And giant woods give tongue,
    I am the shout;
And when the earth would sleep,
    Wrapped in her snows,

I am the infinite gleam of eyes that keep
15
      The post of her repose.

III.

  I am the hush of calm,
    I am the speed,
The flood-tide’s triumphing psalm,
    The marsh-pool’s heed;

20
  I work in the rocking roar
    Where the cataracts fall;

I flash in the prismy fire that dances o’er
      The dew’s ephemeral ball.

IV.

  I am the voice of wind
25
      And wave and tree,
Of stern desires and blind,
    Of strength to be; [Page 109]
I am the cry by night
    At point of dawn,

30
The summoning bugle from the unseen height,
      In cloud and doubt withdrawn.

V.

  I am the strife that shapes
    The stature of man,
The pang no hero escapes,

35
      The blessing, the ban;
I am the hammer that moulds
    The iron of our race,

The omen of God in our blood that a people beholds,
      The foreknowledge veiled in our face. [Page 110]
40

—————

Song.

Oh, purple hang the pods
    On the green locust tree,
And yellow turn the sods
    On a grave that’s dear to me;

And blue, softly blue,
5
    The hollow Autumn sky,
With its birds flying through
    To where the sun-lands lie!

In the sun-lands they’ll bide
    While Winter’s on the tree;—
10
And oh, that I might hide
    The grave that’s dear to me! [Page 111]

—————

Epitaph for a Sailor Buried Ashore.

He who but yesterday would roam
    Careless as clouds and currents range,
In homeless wandering most at home,
    Inhabiter of change;

Who wooed the west to win the east,
5

    And named the stars of North and South,
And felt the zest of Freedom’s feast
    Familiar in his mouth;

Who found a faith in stranger speech,
    And fellowship in foreign hands,

10
And had within his eager reach
    The relish of all lands—

How circumscribed a plot of earth
    Keeps now his restless footsteps still,
Whose wish was wide as ocean’s girth,
15
    Whose will the water’s will! [Page 112]

—————

Gray Rocks and Grayer Sea.

Gray rocks, and grayer sea,
    And surf along the shore—
And in my heart a name
    My lips shall speak no more.

The high and lonely hills
5
    Endure the darkening year—
And in my heart endure
    A memory and a tear.

Across the tide a sail
    That tosses and is gone—
10
And in my heart the kiss
    That longing dreams upon.

Gray rocks, and grayer sea,
    And surf along the shore—
And in my heart the face
15
    That I shall see no more. [Page 113]

—————

A Song of Growth.

In the heart of a man
    Is a thought upfurled:
Reached its full span
    It will shake the world,—
And to one high thought
5
Is a whole race wrought.

Not with vain noise
    The great work grows,
Nor with foolish voice,—
    But in repose;
10
Not in the rush,
But in the hush!

From the cogent lash
    Of the cloud-herd wind
The low clouds dash,
15
    Blown headlong, blind;
But beyond, the great blue
Looks moveless through.

O’er the loud world sweep
    The scourge and the rod:
20
But in deep beyond deep
    Is the stillness of God,—
At the fountains of Life
No cry, no strife! [Page 114]

—————

The Clearing.

Stumps, and harsh rocks, and prostrate trunks all charred,
    And gnarled roots naked to the sun and rain,—
    They seem in their grim stillness to complain,
And by their plaint the evening peace is jarred.
These ragged acres fire and the ax have scarred,
5
    And many summers not assuaged their pain.
    In vain the pink and saffron light, in vain
The pale dew on the hillocks stripped and marred.

But here and there the waste is touched with cheer
    Where spreads the fire-weed like a crimson flood,
10
    And venturous plumes of golden-rod appear;
And round the blackened fence the great boughs lean
    With comfort; and across the solitude
The hermit’s holy transport peals serene. [Page 115]

—————

The Sower.

A brown sad-colored hillside, where the soil,
    Fresh from the frequent harrow, deep and fine,
    Lies bare; no break in the remote sky-line,
Save where a flock of pigeons streams aloft,
Startled from feed in some low-lying croft,
5
    Or far-off spires with yellow of sunset shine;
    And here the Sower, unwittingly divine,
Exerts the silent forethought of his toil.

Alone he treads the glebe, his measured stride
      Dumb in the yielding soil; and tho’ small joy
10
    Dwell in his heavy face, as spreads the blind
Pale grain from his dispensing palm aside,
      This plodding churl grows great in his employ;—
    Godlike, he makes provision for mankind. [Page 116]

—————

The Waking Earth.

With shy, bright clamor the live brooks sparkle and run;
    Freed flocks confer about the farmstead ways;
    The air’s a wine of dreams and shining haze
Beaded with bird-notes thing—for spring’s begun.
The sap flies upward. Death is over and done.
5
    The glad earth wakes; the glad light breaks, the days
    Grow round, grow radiant. Praise for the new life! Praise
For bliss of breath and blood beneath the sun!

What potent wizardry the wise earth wields,
To conjure with a perfume! From bare fields
10
    The sense drinks in a breath of furrow and sod,
And lo! the bound of days and distance yields;
    And fetterless the soul is flown abroad,
    Lord of desire and beauty like a god. [Page 117]

—————

When Milking Time is Done.

When milking time is done, and over all
    This quiet Canadian inland forest home
    And wide, rough pasture-lots the shadows come,
And dews, with peace and twilight voices, fall,
From moss-cool watering trough to foddered stall
5
    The tired plough-horses turn,—the barn-yard loam
    Soft to their feet,—and in the sky’s pale dome
Like resonant chords the swooping night-jars call;

The frogs, cool-fluting ministers of dream,
    Make shrill the slow brook’s borders; pasture bars
10
      Down clatter, and the cattle wander through,—
Vague shapes amid the thickets; gleam by gleam
    Above the wet grey woods emerge the stars,
      And through the dusk the farmstead fades from view. [Page 118]

—————

In the Wide Awe and Wisdom of the Night.

In the wide awe and wisdom of the night
    I saw the round world rolling on its way,
Beyond significance of depth or height,
    Beyond the interchange of dark and day.
I marked the march to which is set no pause,
5
    And that stupendous orbit round whose rim
The great sphere sweeps, obedient unto laws
    That utter the eternal thought of Him.

I compassed time, outstripped the starry speed,
    And in my still soul apprehended space,
10
Till, weighing laws which these but blindly heed,
    At last I cam before Him face to face;
And knew the universe of no such span
    As the august infinitude of Man. [Page 119]

—————

The Night Sky.

O Deep of Heaven, ’tis thou alone art boundless,
    ’Tis thou alone our balance shall not weigh,
’Tis thou alone our fathom-line finds soundless,
    Whose infinite our finite must obey!
Thro’ thy blue realms and down thy starry reaches
5
    Thought voyages froth beyond thy furthest fire,
And homing from no sighted shoreline, teaches
    Thee measureless as is the soul’s desire.
O Deep of Heaven! No beam of Pleiad ranging
    Eternity may bridge thy gulf of spheres;
10
The ceaseless hum that fills thy sleep unchanging
    Is rain of the innumerable years;
Our worlds, our suns, our ages,—these but stream
Through thine abiding like a dateless dream! [Page 120]