That Far River:
Selected Poems of
Theodore Goodridge Roberts

Edited by Martin Ware





I: That Far River: Poems of River, Backwoods and Barrens





Socobie’s Passing


Socobie, aged and bent with pain,
At the time of the year when the red leaves fly
Crawled from his tent door down to the river.
I will try my wrist and my skill again
And sweep a paddle before I die.”

5

Time falls—the wind falls—the grey geese draw on.

There is silence and peace on our Mother St. John.

Socobie, once a king of his tribe,
Once a lover, a poet, a man,
Launched his sun-scarred craft to the river.

10

“I will try my strength where the rapids jibe—
I will run her sheer, as a master can.”

At the time of the year when the pass is blue
And the spent leaf falls in the empty wood
Socobie put out on the merry river;

15

The brown blade lifted the white canoe—
The rapids shouted, the forests stood.

Down in the village the hearths were bright,
And the night frost gleamed in the after-grass,
And the farmers were homing up from the river,

20

When out of the star-mist, slender and white
A birch craft leapt and they watched it pass.

Time falls—the frost falls—the great stars draw on.
What voice cries, “Farewell” to our Mother St. John?


N.L.                                                                                        
1899, N.L
[Page 5]

 


 

The Shooting of the Moose


All day through woodland stillnesses
Of weighted fir and spruce
We’ve followed on our springing shoes
The blood-trail of the moose,
And now the moon swings clear, and black
5
The shadows fall across our track.

All day above the crunching snow
Pierre and Dick and I,
With lust of blood, have sped along
To see the great moose die.
10
And now the night has come, and dim
The spectral drifts wreathe after him.

We shot him at the cabin door;
The whiskey-jacks cried shrill.
And when the smoke moved up I saw
15
The hemlocks waiting still—
The ancient spruces bending low
To his brave blood across the snow.

Yea, brave his blood as yours or mine
And fit for better skill.
20

The devil’s luck, Pierre!  I know
The sights were fixed to kill.
To-night a bull-moose, plunging, dies
Beneath the comfortless, wide skies.


*N.L. (in pref. to L.B. Version “The Moose”)                     1899, N.L.
[Page 6]

 


 

Gluskap’s Hound


They slew a god in a valley
     That faces the wooded west:
They held him down in their anger,
     With a mountain across his breast:
And all night through, and all night long,            
5
     His hound will take no rest.

From low woods black as sorrow,
     That marshal along the lake,
A cry breaks out on the stillness
     As if the dead would wake—               
10

The cry of Gluskap’s hound, who hunts
     No more for the hunting’s sake,

But follows the sides of the valley,
     And the old, familiar trail,
With his nose to the ground, and his eyes            
15
     Red lights in the cedar swale,
All night long and all night through,
     ‘Till the heavy east grows pale.

Some say he foreheralds tempest,
     Outrunning the wind in the air…               
20
When willows are flying yellow
     And alders are wet and bare.
He runs, with no joy in the running,
     Giving tongue to his mad despair.            

Another stick on the fire!
25
     The shadows are creeping near!
Something runs in the thicket
     The spruces droop to hear!
The black hound running in fierce despair,
     With his grief of a thousand year.               
30


L.B.                                                                                       
1899, Y.C.

[Page 7]

 


 

The Red Chief


We saw his fire upon the hills;
The spruce trees knew the crawling smoke.
A thousand berries of the wood
Took on the scarlet of his cloak.

The far trails felt his moccasins
5
Tread soft along the cedared way.
The ancient pines beheld the flare
Of his red shield, at break of day.

He hailed the birches down the stream,
Gently he sang with his soft breath.
10
His face was brown and kind, and yet
The dreaming alders dreamed of death.

The gray geese heard his sure approach
And left the blue lake’s still retreat.
The sunset mocked his feathered crest;
15
The partridge berries stained his feet.

And we, who saw upon the hills
The curling signals of his fire,
Knew that the Scarlet Chief had come
To woo us to his swift desire.   
20

Ainslie’s                                                                      
  1901, Ainslie’s

 


 

Spring Flight


Is it the voice of the open waters
    Calling the grey geese home from the South?
Do they hear the freshet under the willows
    And the grinding logs at the river’s mouth? [Page 8]

How do they know the lakes are open?
5

    Do they scent the maple buds bursting red?
Who has whispered them word of April?
    Who has told them that Winter’s dead?

 
Strong wings athrill,                        
Brave hearts astir,
10
  They come, and the stars
Are high and chill,
And the frosty air
Is alive, aware                        
Of the whisp’ring wings.
15
 
Sure, unafraid,
Swift, undismayed,
Where the Northern Light flings
His cloak, they fly                        
And honk and pass
20
 

Under the sky.

My heart flies too
Fearlessly forth
With that feathery crew                        
To the North.                          
25
 

Up and away—
As their wings aspire—
I sail to the land of my heart’s desire.


With scent of alders and swollen waters               
    And the flooded bar at the river’s mouth
30

Spring, awake in our Nashwaak valley,
    Calls her exiles home from the South.


*Songs of the Marit. (in pref. to L.B.)                             1901, Criter.

[Page 9]

 


 

Flying Over


Pacing an endless city street,
          I heard a sound from the upper air—
Vibrant, mystic, quick with life
          And sad with longing—of wings astir.
           

I raised my glance past the midnight lamps,
5
          To catch a shadow of that high flight
Of birds in the starshine breasting north,
          Homebound, cleaving the April night;
           

And my heart went, too, with my eyes’ rapt gaze,
To join the geese in the starry ways.
10

*L.B.                                                                                       1934, L.B.

 


 

The Angler


Brown rocks and crowding spruces;
White foam and amber stream;
Deep pools that sleep in shadow;
Wide runs that sing and gleam—
Cast!—let the flies light softly
5
Like whispers in a dream.

A flash of red and silver
Where the foam-bells drift along—
Well hit! The catgut straightens,
The reel begins its song.
10
Pray that the tip be flawless.
Pray that the cast be strong.

Play him down to the shallows;
Land him there in the sun.
He fought your wrist like a hero [Page 10]
15

And now his fight is done
And his life in the swinging eddies
Where the golden lights are spun.


*Y.C.                                                                                     1902, Y.C.

 


 

The Desolate Cabin


Swings the door at the wind’s will:
    Sun-dazed, the clearings swoon:
Over the stump-land washes
    The voiceless afternoon.
           

Creaks the roof at the wind’s whim:
5
    Noiseless, the lean hares pass:
Snake-berries gleam in the shadows:
    Shadows glide in the grass.
           

No one crosses the threshold.
              
    The windows show no face.  
10
The northern gable slouches
    Like the loser of a race.

Here are sunshine and silence,
    Shadow and empty air.
           
Did something gleam at the window,     
15
    Like a thin hand waving there?            

No birds call from the spruces,
    No beast cries from the plain.
A spent wind runs on the roof,
              
    With the sound of forgotten rain:
20

And something stirs on the threshold
    Like the ghost of a drifting leaf,
And sobs in the yellow silence
    Like a lost soul of grief. [Page 11]
           

A mist at the edge of the wood
25

    The breath of the forest waits.
Westward, the naked rampikes
    Stand at the crimson gates.


L.B.
                              *Revised 1931                         1903, Ainslie’s

 


 

Night Comes to the Barrens


The ptarmigan have crossed the bay.
No antlers swing above the “run.”
No bird-call wakes the sombre marsh,
Dull red against the setting sun.

Purple and gray the barrens lie.
5
With rocky shoulders cut with scars.
The slim, dead trees, like whitened bones,
Gleam pale beneath the early stars.

Silence and night come close to us,
With shrouded faces and still eyes.
10

The tent-flap stirs with passing dreams,
And, gray and red, the camp-fire dies.


K.B.                                                                                       
1903, K.B.

 


 

July Morning


A whitethroat sings in a pointed fir:
In orchard branches joy is astir:
A whip-poor-will by a hidden spring
Volleys his ‘plaint where shadows cling.

From river-meadows white mists creep,
5
Shying and crowding like frightened sheep: [Page 12]
Lifting and swirling, they stream away—
Through fire and dew—to the gates of day.

To grey barn eaves, on tremulous wing,
Martins flutter and dart and cling:
10
A blue cock-pigeon struts to his mate;
Colts in the paddock trot to the gate.

From eastward windows blinds are drawn.
Night’s last shade from the west is gone.
From chimneys rosey in golden air
15
Smoke ascends like azure prayer.

L.B.
                                                1905, Can. Mag. (as “A Morning”)

 


 

On that Far River


A wind came to me, crying
 “On that far river which you love and know,
The sliding shallows redden in the sun;
The noiseless paddles dip, the red barks go
Silent as dream; and day is just begun
5
With lifting mist along the meadow’s rim
And lifting fire around the valley’s brim.
In scent of ripened grasses, dawn releases
Shadow and dew and many a night-old thing;
The shallows flash; the level light increases;
10
And high day gilds the heron’s ashen wing.”

A wind came to me, crying
“On that far river where the eddies turn,
Pause and swing wide and sink to amber sleep,
The snipe are running in the dewy fern;

15
The white poles bend, the slim barks, quiv’ring creep
Up the loud rapids…. Day and toil are done,
And red as Gluskap’s war shield hangs the sun.
With scent of dimming waters and wet grasses [Page 13]
Night soothes the river that you love and know:
20
Along the west the last flame flares and passes:
And now the crimson campfire is aglow.”


L.B.
                                                                             1910, Can. Mag.

[Page 14]