Later Canadian Poems

Edited by J. E. Wetherell




GEORGE FREDERICK CAMERON.





In After Days.

 

I will accomplish that and this,
   And make myself a thorn to Things—
   Lords, councillors and tyrant kings—
Who sit upon their thrones and kiss

The rod of Fortune; and are crowned

5
   The sovereign masters of the earth
   To scatter blight and death and dearth
Wherever mortal man is found.

I will do this and that, and break
   The backbone of their large conceit,

10
   And loose the sandals from their feet,
And show ’tis holy ground they shake.

So I sang in my earlier days,
   Ere I had learned to look abroad [Page 1]
   And see that more than monarchs trod

15
Upon the form I fain would raise.

Ere I, in looking toward the land
   That broke a triple diadem,
   That grasped at Freedom’s garment hem,
Had seen her, sword and torch in hand,

20

A freedom-fool: ere I had grown
   To know that Love is freedom’s strength—
   France taught the world that truth at length!—
And Peace her chief foundation stone.

Since then, I temper so my song

25
   That it may never speak for blood;
   May never say that ill is good;
Or say that right may spring from wrong:

Yet am what I have ever been—
   A friend of Freedom, staunch and true,

30
   Who hate a tyrant, be he—you—
A people,—sultan, czar, or queen.

And then the Freedom-haters came
   And questioned of my former song,
   If now I held it right, or wrong:

35
And still my answer was the same:— [Page 2]

The good still moveth towards the good:
   The ill still moveth towards the ill:
   But who affirmeth that we will
Not form a nobler brotherhood

40

When communists, fanatics, those
   Who howl their “vives” to Freedom’s name
   And yet betray her unto shame,
Are dead and coffined with her foes.


—————

The Defeat of Love.

“I go,” said Love to his friends one day,
   “To a balmy island known to me,
To a happy island leagues away
   Set star-fair far in a Southern sea.

For there the mate that affection means

5
   To give my heart has waited long:
She calls—I go to those sweeter scenes
   Of life and love and summer and song.

Those sweeter scenes where the wild grape grows
   To thrill the throat of the land with wine: [Page 3]

10
Where all is sweet as is the rose
   To the bee that hangs to its heart divine!”

He built a boat of deep-sea shell,
   Or meet for calm, or common gale;
He bade us all a kind farewell,
15
   Then took the tiller and spread the sail.

We watched him off—the wind blew free,
   Like electric spark he sped from the shore;
He crossed the bar; he won the sea;
   Then night came down and closed him o’er.
20

            *             *             *             *             *

Well, days and weeks and months grew old,
   A year grew perfect and complete,
Ere to our ears the tidings rolled
   Of Love and Love’s too dark defeat.

The maiden wearied of his delay,—
25
   For adverse grew both wind and tide,—
And said, “I will meet him on the way
   And guide him here!” She smiled in pride;

For she was royal, and had ships
   And men to mark her least command; [Page 4]
30
And ere the word had left her lips,
   Her barge was ready to leave the land.

            *             *             *             *             *

And she sailed Northward far and fast,
   And he sailed Southward steady and true:
They came together at length, but passed
35
   Each other one night, and neither knew.

So he sailed Southward o’er the main,
   And she sailed towards the Pole-star fair,
Till storms arose and wrecked them twain,
   And no one knows the when or where!
40

Ah, me! How often, or first or last,
   The lover and loved—the fitting two—
Have met on Life’s large sea, and passed
   Each other forever, while neither knew! [Page 5]

—————

Apart.

Yes, love of mine, and fair as any fair—
   Song of my soul, and soul of all this song!
I will forgive thee, though thou makest bare
   And bleak my life:—yea, by thy glorious hair
And violet eyes, I will forgive the wrong.
5

I will forgive thee, even as I expect
   To be forgiven of all my own ill deeds
By Him who holds all people His elect,—
   Who judges kindly, caring not for creeds.

I do forgive! Albeit it hurts the heart
10
   To say—It might have been!—still o’er and o’er;
To ask, yet find no aid in any art,
   To know that we must walk life’s ways apart—
O lovelessness of love!—for evermore. [Page 6]

—————

First Love.

Ah, love is deathless! we do cheat
   Ourselves who say that we forget
Old fancies: last love may be sweet,
   First love is sweeter yet.

And day by day more sweet it grows
5
   Forevermore, like precious wine,
As Time’s thick cobwebs o’er it close,
   Until it is divine.

Grows dearer every day and year,
   Let other loves come, go at will:
10
Although the last love may be dear,
   First love is dearer still. [Page 7]

—————

Standing on Tiptoe.

Standing on tiptoe ever since my youth
    Striving to grasp the future just above,
I hold at length the only future—Truth,
    And Truth is Love.

I feel as one who being awhile confined
5
    Sees drop to dust about him all his bars:—
The clay grows less, and, leaving it, the mind
    Dwells with the stars. [Page 8]

—————

“Ah Me! The Mighty Love.”

Ah, me! the mighty love that I have borne
    To thee, sweet Song! A perilous gift was it
My mother gave me that September morn
    When sorrow, song, and life were at one altar lit.

A gift more perilous that the priest’s: his lore
5
    Is all of books and to his books extends;
And what they see and know he knows—no more,
    And with their knowing all his knowing ends.

A gift more perilous than the painter’s: he
    In his divinest moments only sees
10
The inhumanities of color, we
    Feel each and all the inhumanities. [Page 9]

—————

Wisdom—A Sonnet.

Wisdom immortal from immortal Jove
    Shadows more beauty with her virgin brows
Than is between the pleasant breasts of Love
    Who makes at will and breaks her random vows,
And hath a name all earthly names above:
5
The noblest are her offspring; she controls
    The times and seasons—yea, all things that are—
The heads and hands of men, their hearts and souls,
    And all that moves upon our mother star,
And all that pauses ’twixt the peaceful poles.
10
Nor is she dark and distant, coy and cold,—
    But all in all to all who seek her shrine
In utter truth, like to that king of old
Who wooed and won—yet by no right divine. [Page 10]

—————

Past and Future.

The Past!—In even our oldest songs
    Regret for older past appears,—
The Past with all its bitter wrongs,
    And bitter, buried years:
With all its woes and crimes and shames,—
5
    Its rule of sword, and king, and cowl—
Its scourges, tortures, axes, flames,
    And myriad murders foul!

The Future! To our latest lays
    A common strain of longing clings
10
For future nights, and future days,
    And future thoughts and things.
The Future! Who of us will see
    This Future,—in its brightness bask—
Ye ask the Future?—Let it be!
15
    Ye know not what ye ask.

The Present! Ah, the mightiest mind
    Holds only that. We may not see
The dim days, or the undefined
    And unformed ages yet to be:
20
Enough for us that if we do
    The present deed that should be done,
The three shall open to our view—
    Past, Present, Future—One! [Page 11]

—————

On Life’s Sea.

On Life’s sea! Full soon
    The evening cometh—cheerless, sad and cold;
Past is the golden splendor of the noon,
    The darkness comes apace—and I grow old.

Yet the ship of Fate
5
    Drives onward o’er the waters mountain high!
And now the day goes out the western gate
    And not a star is smiling in the sky.

Gloom before—behind!
    Rude billows battling with an iron shore
10
On either hand: anon, the chilling wind
    Smiting the cordage with an angry roar.

Then the compass veers
    And doth avail not: for the dust of earth
Hath marred its beauty, and the rust of years
15
    Hath made its mechanism of little worth.

And tho’ oft I gaze
    Into the lost, yet ever lovely Past,
And strive to call a power from perished days
    With which to dare the midnight and the blast, [Page 12]
20

The power flies my hand;
    And my sad heart grows wearier day by day,
Beholding not the lights which line the land
    And throw their smile upon the desert way:

For the star of Hope
25
    Shed but one beam along the lonely path,
Then slid behind the clouds adown the slope,
    And set forever in a sea of wrath!

Yet the ship moves on—
    Aye, ever on! still drifting with the tide,
30
With Faith alone to look or lean upon,
    As pilot o’er the waters wild and wide.

Yet for all, I feel
    My bark shall bound on billows gentler rolled.
Be Faith my pilot, then, until the keel
35
    Shall kiss and clasp the glittering sands of gold! [Page 13]

—————

The Golden Text.

You ask for fame or power?
    Then up, and take for text:—
This is my hour,
    And not the next, nor next!

Oh, wander not in ways
5
    Of ease or indolence!
Swift come the days,
    And swift the days go hence.

Strike! while the hand is strong:
    Strike! while you can and may:
10
Strength goes ere long,—
    Even yours will pass away.

Sweet seem the fields, and green,
    In which you fain would lie:
Sweet seems the scene
15
    That glads the idle eye:

Soft seems the path you tread,
    And balmy soft the air,—
Heaven overhead
    And all the earth seems fair: [Page 14]
20

But, would your heart aspire
    To noble things,—to claim
Bard’s, statesman’s fire—
    Some measure of their fame;

Or, would you seek and find
25
    The secret of success
With mortal kind?
    Then, up from idleness!

Up—up! all fame, all power
    Lies in this golden text:—
30
This is my hour—
    And not the next, nor next! [Page 15]

—————

To the West Wind.

West wind, come from the west land,
    Fair and far!
Come from the fields of the best land
    Upon our star!

Come, and go to my sister
5
    Over the sea:
Tell her how much I have missed her,
    Tell her for me!

Odors of lilies and roses—
    Set them astir;
10
Cull them from gardens and closes,—
    Give them to her!

Say I have loved her, and love her:
    Say that I prize
Few on the earth here above her,
15
    Few in the skies!

Bring her, if worth the bringing,
    A brother’s kiss:
Should she ask for a song of his singing,
    Give her this! [Page 16]
20

—————

The Way of the World.

We sneer and we laugh with the lip—the most of us do it,
    Whenever a brother goes down like a weed with the tide;
We point with the finger and say—Oh, we knew it! we knew it!
    But, see! we are better than he was, and we will abide.

He walked in the way of his will—the way of desire,
5
    In the Appian way of his will without ever a bend;
He walked in it long, but it led him at last to the mire,—
    But we who are stronger will stand and endure to the end.

His thoughts were all visions—all fabulous visions of flowers,
    Of bird and of song and of soul which is only a song;
10
His eyes looked all at the stars in the firmament, ours
    Were fixed on the earth at our feet, so we stand and are strong.

He hated the sight and the sound and the sob of the city;
    He sought for his peace in the wood and the musical wave;
He fell, and we pity him never, and why should we pity—
15
    Yea, why should we mourn for him—we who still stand, who are             brave? [Page 17]

Thus speak we and think not, we censure unheeding,             unknowing,—
    Unkindly and blindly we utter the words of the brain;
We see not the goal of our brother, we see but his going,
    And sneer at his fall if he fall, and laugh at his pain.
20

Ah, me! the sight of the sod on the coffin lid,
    And the sound, and the sob, and the sigh of it as it falls!
Ah, me! the beautiful face forever hid
    By four wild walls!

You hold it a matter of self-gratulation and praise
25
    To have thrust to the dust, to have trod on a heart that was             true,—
To have ruined it there in the beauty and bloom of its days—
    Very well! There is somewhere a Nemesis waiting for you. [Page 18]

—————

“What Though, My Brother?”

What though, my brother, to-day be drear
    And dark and sad—
To-morrow, to-morrow will soon be here?
    Perchance to make thee glad.

Sorrow and heaviness—these are things
5
    That come to men:
They come to the commons, they come to kings,
    They come to go again.

Why should a season of bitterness bear
    Thee down to dust?
10
To-day may be foul yet to-morrow be fair;
    Trust in to-morrow—trust!

And if to-morrow be darker yet
    With pain and ill,
Though the heart be dry and the eyelids wet,
15
    Trust in to-morrow still! [Page 19]

—————

An Answer.

“Can it be good to die?” you question, friend;
    “Can it be good to die, and move along
Still circling round and round, unknowing end,
    Still circling round and round amid the throng
Of golden orbs attended by their moons—
5
    To catch the intonation of their song
As on they flash, and scatter nights, and noons,
    To worlds like ours, where things like us belong?”

To me ’tis idle saying, “He is dead,”
    Or, “Now he sleepeth and shall wake no more;
10
The little flickering, fluttering life is fled,
    Forever fled, and all that was is o’er.”
I have a faith—that life and death are one,
    That each depends upon the self-same thread,
And that the seen and unseen rivers run
15
    To one calm sea, from one clear fountain-head.

I have a faith—that man’s most potent mind
    May cross the willow-shaded stream nor sink;
I have a faith—when he has left behind
    His earthly vesture on the river’s brink, [Page 20]
20
When all his little fears are torn away,
    His soul may beat a pathway through the tide,
And, disencumbered of its coward-clay,
    Emerge immortal on the sunnier side.

So, say:—It must be good to die, my friend!
25
    It must be good and more than good, I deem;
’Tis all the replication I may send—
    For deeper swimming seek a deeper stream.
It must be good, or reason is a cheat,
    It must be good, or life is all a lie,
30
It must be good and more than living sweet,
    It must be good—or man would never die.

—————

What Matters It?

I.

What reck we of the creeds of men?—
    We see them—we shall see again.
What reck we of the tempest’s shock?
What reck we where our anchor lock?
    On golden marl or mould—
5
In salt-sea flower or riven rock—
    What matter—so it hold? [Page 21]

II.

What matters it the spot we fill
    On Earth’s green sod when all is said?—
When feet and hands and heart are still
10
    And all our pulses quieted?
When hate or love can kill nor thrill,—
    When we are done with life and dead?

III.

So we be haunted night nor day
    By any sin that we have sinned,
15
What matter where we dream away
    The ages?—In the isles of Ind,
In Tybee, Cuba, or Cathay,
    Or in some world of winter wind?

IV.

It may be I would wish to sleep
20
    Beneath the wan, white stars of June,
And hear the southern breezes creep
    Between me and the mellow moon:
But so I do not wake to weep
    At any night or any noon, [Page 22]
25

V.

And so the generous gods allow
    Repose and peace from evil dreams,
It matters little where or how
    My couch be spread:—by moving streams,
Or on some eminent mountain’s brow
30
    Kist by the morn’s or sunset’s beams.

VI.

For we shall rest; the brain that plans,
    That thought or wrought or well or ill,
At gaze like Joshua’s moon shall stand,
    Not working any work or will,
35
While eye and lip and heart and hand
    Shall all be still—shall all be still! [Page 23]