Lays of the ‘True North,’

AND

OTHER CANADIAN POEMS

BY

AGNES MAULE MACHAR


IV.

BALLADS OF LOVE AND LABOUR.

—————

 


 

 

 

AFTER THE SILVER WEDDING.


LIEBCHEN! Liebchen!
    Half of fifty years
Wind away behind us,
    With their smiles and tears;
Now we look behind us,

5

    Not before—as when
First we roamed together
    Through the woodland glen!

Liebchen! Liebchen!
    How you tripped, that day,

10

Through the bright spring sunshine,
    Fresh with breath of May,
With the fair white lilies
    Gleaming on your breast!
Liebchen! Liebchen!

15

    Don’t you know the rest?

Liebchen! Liebchen!
    Still I see you there,
With the fresh breeze ruffling
    Your soft chestnut hair;—

20

Fair and shy, and seeming
    Of the spring a part,
Liebchen! Liebchen
    Crept into my heart! [Page 166]

Liebchen! Liebchen!

25

    Now you trip no more;
Matrons walk sedately,
    Dancing days are o’er;
In your chestnut tresses
    Mingle threads of gray—

30

Liebchen! Liebchen!
    ’Tis not always May!

Yet, think you I cherish
    Less my faithful wife,
True through storm and sunshine,

35

    Tried by years of life,
Than the blushing maiden
    Set by love apart?
Yet I keep her, Liebchen,
    In my inmost heart.

40


And when mortal weakness
    Shall have passed away,
I shall see you, Liebchen,
    As you stood that day;
Fair as that bright vision

45

    I shall see you stand,
In the spring immortal
    Of a fairer land!

For the cares and sorrows
    Of this life below

50

Perfect noble beauty
    That in heaven shall glow.
Look we on, then, Liebchen,
    Not look back and sigh;
For we know, my Liebchen,

55

    Love can never die! [Page 167]

 


 

THE MADONNA OF THE ENTRY.


IN a city of churches and chapels,
    From belfry and spire and tower,
On the solemn and starlit silence
    The bells chimed the midnight hour.

Then, in silvery tones of gladness,

5

    They rang in the Christmas morn,
The wonderful, mystical season
    When Jesus Christ was born!

And all thought of the Babe in the manger,
    The Child that knew no sin,

10

That hung on the breast of the mother
    Who ‘found no room in the inn.’

All thought of the choir of angels
    That swept through the darkness then,
To chant forth the glad Evangel

15

    Of peace and love to men!

       *        *        *        *        *    
   
In that city of churches and chapels
    A mother crouched, hungry and cold,
In a dark and cheerless entry,
    With a babe in her nerveless hold.

20


Hungry and cold and weary,
    She had paced the streets all night;
No home for her in the city,
    No food, no warmth, no light.

And just as the bells’ glad chiming

25

    Pealed in the Christmas Day,
The angels came down through the darkness
    And carried the babe away.

No room for one tiny nursling
    In that city of churches fair;

30

But the Father hath ‘many mansions’
    And room for the baby there! [Page 168]

 


 

JOE BIRSE, THE ENGINEER.*


HAVE we not still our heroes,
    With pulses strong and true,
In life’s sharp stress and conflict,
    Ready to dare and do?
Let all who hold true manhood

5

    And knightly courage dear
Honour one humble hero,
    Joe Birse the engineer!

The train sweeps through the darkness
    Its precious freight of lives,

10

Of fathers, mothers, brothers,
    Of sisters, husbands, wives,
Straight to the cold black river;
    None dream of danger near,
None see the deadly peril,

15

    Save Joe the engineer.

O’er the white feath’ry snowdrifts
    The headlight throws its glare
On to that awful blackness,
    That gulf of dark despair

20

Swift speeds the panting engine
    With fiery, throbbing breath;
Defying brake and throttle,
    It plunges on—to death!

Oh, hearts and homes awaiting

25

    Those husbands, fathers, wives!
Must the dark river swallow
    That treasure of dear lives?
Does he think, in the quiver
    Of nerves at utmost strain,

30

Of one home waiting for him?
    Ah! must it wait in vain? [Page 169]

No time to pause or question;
    One impulse in his breast,—
If power of man can do it,

35

    That he must save the rest!
With one tremendous shudder
    The train stops—short and sheer;
Onward still darts the engine—
    God help the engineer!

40


God help him?  Nay; He called him
    To win life’s noblest crown,
As in that cold black water
    He went, unflinching, down.
What better than to follow

45

    Where Love Divine hath trod;
Himself to give for brother man,
    Then—through the dark to God!

 

* The Scotch engineer of a train on the Canadian Grand Trunk Railway which dashed on through an open switch to the brink of the St. Lawrence at Lachine.  Through the heroism of the engineer the train was stopped on the brink, but the locomotive plunged into the river, bearing with it the heroic engineer. [back]

 


 

THE GOOD-BYE AT THE DOOR.*


GOOD-BYE to the wife and children, a kiss to the baby—last,
As into the cold gray morning the husband and father passed;
For the holiday was over, and the week-day work begun,
So good-bye to the happy home till the daily task be done.

But the daily task was ended, although he knew it not;

5

A train to an unknown country unwittingly he sought;
While o’er the fiery chariot the pitying angels wait,
To bear each faithful spirit on through the golden gate.

A shout! A shock! A crash! and over the pure white snow
Is scattered a mass of wreck and the human freight below. [170]

10

But alas for the wives at home, and the children that no more
Shall welcome home their father when the daily task is o’er!

O Earth, thou art full of sorrow!  O Life, thou art all too sad!
Save for the light from heaven, that e’en makes the mourner glad
With the hope of the life immortal, that holds the key of this,

15

So the joy of the coming meeting may thrill through Love’s parting         kiss!

And perchance the angels heard the songs from the other shore
Blend with the mortal music of the good-bye at the door—
Good-bye to the wife and children, a kiss to the baby—last,
As into the spirit-world, through the cold gray morn he passed!

20

 

* A party of workmen, leaving Toronto for their place of employment on the morning of January 2, 1884, were crushed to death through the train falling over an embankment.  A true incident suggested the opening lines. [back]

 


 

CHRISTMAS IN THE HOSPITAL.


AN’ is it Christmas mornin’?  I’ve lost my count of time,
But I thought it must be Christmas, by the bells’ sweet solemn                 chime;
And I had a dream of the home-folks, just as the mornin’ broke;
Maybe ’twas the bells that brought it, ringin’ before I woke.

An’ is it Christmas mornin’?  An’ while I’m lyin’ here

5

The folks to church are goin’, the bells do ring so clear—
Father an’ mother an’ children, merrily over the snow,
Just as we always used to go on Christmas long ago.

Oh yes, I know you’re good, nurse,—an’ I do not try to fret,
But at Christmas-time no wonder if my eyes with tears are wet,

10
        [Page 171]

For in my dream I saw so plain the brown house by the mill,
An’ my father an’ my mother; ah, me! are they there still?

And as they go to church to-day, oh, do they think of me,
An’ wonder where poor Katie is beyond the great blue sea?
An’ well it is they cannot tell, an’ may they never know,

15

For sure ’twould only break their hearts to hear my tale of woe!

My mother must be getting old, an’ she was never strong,
But then her spirit was so bright, an’ sweet her daily song,—
She sings no more about the house, but still she thinks of me,
An’ wipes away the dropping tears for one she ne’er may see.

20


My father’s bent with honest toil and trouble bravely borne,
But never has he had to bear a word or look of scorn,
An’ never shall it come through me; for all I have been wild,—
I’d rather die a thousand deaths than shame him in his child!

Oh yes, I have been sinful; but some were more to blame,

25

Who never think because of that to hang their heads for shame.
Ah, well, I mustn’t think of them, but of myself, and pray
That He will take away the sin who came on Christmas Day!

An’ thank you for the letter, nurse, you say the ladies brought.
’Twas kind of them to think of me; I thank them for the thought.

30

The print is easy read, but, oh, what would I give to see
Just one small scrap of writin’ from the old home folks to me!

But, nurse, those bells seem tellin’ of the better home above,
Where sin and sorrow cannot come, but all is peace an’ love,
Where broken hearts are healed at last, an’ darkness passed

35

        away,
An’ He shall bid us welcome home who came on Christmas Day!
        [Page 172]

 


 

THE NEW CRUSADE.


OH, sweet and clear the melody rang ’neath the Syrian heaven,
The echoes of the sweetest song to mortals ever given:
Love and goodwill where warring hate had held rude sway so                 long!
Oh, well might angels come to earth to sing that Christmas song!
And once again that message came in sweet and solemn tone;

5

God spake in our humanity to win it for His own:
‘Love God with all thy heart and soul, from selfish aims set free,
And love thy neighbour as thyself, and as God loveth thee.’

Age after age has passed away since first that song had birth;
But scant response its message woke in our sin-blinded earth.

10

Men missed its very heart of hearts, while yet its words they sang,
And while yet through wide cathedral aisles the sacred accents             rang.
But now methinks we hear anew the music loud and clear,
‘Because your Father loveth you, love ye your brethren here.’
That clarion call through church and hall rings o’er the busy throng,

15

Sounding the knell to selfish greed in Love’s immortal song!

Oh, sitting in your palaces, where soft the sunlight falls
Through richest silken hangings on stately pictured walls,
Where ’mid your costly playthings the idle hours pass by,
Hear ye without a distant shout, a long and bitter cry?

20

Hear ye the tramp of thousands in early morning chill,
Passing to weary hours of toil in workshop or in mill?
Hear ye them ask from daily task a little time to spare,
A little leisure to enjoy what God hath made so fair? [Page 173]

’Twould mar your costly banquets, bedecked with costly flowers,

25

While strains of sweetest music float soft ’mid fairy bowers,
To look into the dreary dens, where ’mid the gathering gloom,
Your brothers herd like folded sheep in each close, squalid                     room;—
To see where in dark alleys, all foul with mire and dust,
Starved children, pining women, toil to earn a scanty crust;

30

To hear the saddest moan of all, when men have vainly pled
For roughest toil and poorest to earn the daily bread!

Wake, dreamers, from your slumbers on silken couch of ease!
’Tis yours to drive these spectres forth, and fouler fiends than                 these;
If Christ ye call your Lord and King, He owneth those alone

35

Who seek to hold a brother’s good as sacred as their own!
And still those heavenly notes are heard, yet sweeter and more             clear,
Drowning the strain of wrong and pain, and unbelief’s cold sneer.
One star shines bright through darkest night, for waiting eyes to             see;
The anthem of the New Crusade the angels’ song shall be!

40

 


 

A THANKSGIVING HYMN.


FOR the gladness of the sunshine,
    For the dropping of the rain,
For the springtide’s bloom of promise,
    For the autumn’s golden grain,
For the beauty of the forest,

5

    For the fatness of the field,
For the orchard’s rosy fruitage,
    For the vineyard’s luscious yield,
            We thank Thee, O Lord! [Page 174]

For the nobler, richer beauty,

10

    For the light that spirits know,
For the sacredness of duty
    Guiding us through life below,
For our earthly ties so precious,
    For the fireside warm and bright,

15

For the faith that through the darkness
    Leads us to immortal light,
            We thank Thee, O Lord!

For the drought that parched and withered,
    For the blast that bared the bough,

20

For the clouds concealing blessings
    That we may not measure now,
For our gladness and our sorrow,
    For our poverty and wealth,
For our getting and our losing,

25

    For our sickness and our health,
            We thank Thee, O Lord!

For the losses and the crosses
    Coming sore against our will;
From Thy hand each good gift cometh,

30

    And, not less, the seeming ill.
What Thou givest in Thy wisdom,
    That alone to us is blest,
And of all Thy countless givings,
    For Thy boundless love, the best,

35

            We thank Thee, O Lord! [Page 175]

 


 

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