The Iceberg and Other Poems

by Charles G.D. Roberts


 

THE SQUATTER


 

ROUND the lone clearing
Clearly the whitethroats call
Across the marge of dusk and the dewfall’s coolness.

Far up in the empty
Amber and apple-green sky

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A night-hawk swoops, and twangs her silver chord.

No wind’s astir,
But the poplar boughs breathe softly
And the smoke of a dying brush-fire stings the air.

The spired, dark spruces

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Crowd up to the snake fence, breathless,
Expectant till the rising of the moon.

In the wet alders,
Where the cold brook flows murmuring,
The red cow drinks,—the cow-bell sounds tonk-tonk.

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               *      *      *      *      *      *

From his cabin door
The squatter lounges forth,
Sniffs the damp air, and scans the sky for rain.

He has made his meal,—
Fat bacon, and buckwheat cakes,

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And ruddy-brown molasses from Barbados.

His chores all done,
He seats himself on the door-sill,
And slowly fills his pipe, and smokes, and dreams.

He sees his axe

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Leaning against the birch logs.
The fresh white chips are scattered over the yard.

He hears his old horse
Nosing the hay, in the log barn
Roofed with poles and sheathed with sheets of birch-bark.

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Beyond the barn
He sees his buckwheat patch,
Its pink-white blossom pale-gleaming through the twilight.

Its honeyed fragrance
Breathes to his nostrils, mingled

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With the tang of the brushfire smoke, thinly ascending.

Deepens the dusk.
The whitethroats are hushed; and the night-hawk
Drops down from the sky and hunts the low-flying night-moths.

               *      *      *      *      *      *

The squatter is dreaming.
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Vaguely he plans how, come winter,
He’ll chop out another field, just over the brook.

He’ll build a new barn
Next year, a barn with a haymow,
No more to leave his good hay outside in the stack.

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He rises and stretches,
Goes in and closes the door,
And lights his lamp on the table beside the window.

The light shines forth.
It lights up the wide-stewn chips.

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For a moment it catches the dog darting after a rabbit.

It lights up the lean face
Of the squatter as he sits reading,
Knitting his brow as he spells out a month-old paper.

               *      *      *      *      *      *

Slowly the moon,

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Humped, crooked, red, remote,
Rises, tangled and scrawled behind the spruce-tops.

Higher she rises,—
Grows round, and smaller, and white,
And sails up in the empty sky high over the spruce-tops.

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She washes in silver,
Illusively clear, the log barn,
The lop-sided stack by the barn, and the slumbering cabin.

She floods in the window,—
And the squatter stirs in his bunk,

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On his mattress stuffed with green fir-tips, balsamy scented.

               *      *      *      *      *      *

From the dark of the forest
The horned owl hoots, and is still.
Startled, the silence descends, and broods once more on the clearing.

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