The Dread Voyage Poems

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

TO THE RIDEAU RIVER


 

YOU wander, shining, down all happy places,
      You kiss the over-airs with misty lips,
You mirror in your depths all earth’s glad faces,
      While low to you in love the heaven dips.

About you gather all the loves of summer,

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      You sing glad morning and tired eve to sleep,
Lifting your cooling cup to each new comer,
      Till hearts grow strong where life was at its neap.

O river, glad and bounteous in your singing,
      So restful and continuous night and day,

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You seem to voice the feathered creatures winging,
      And little children in their joyous play.

You bring to earth a long-lost, olden beauty,
      When filling summer with your slumb’rous sound;
You banish stress and strife and barren duty,

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      Brimming with joyance all the world around.

I gaze upon your shining face at morning,
      When woods are fresh and dews are on the grass;
And light and love, the night and darkness scorning,
      Fill earth with song from each bush where I pass.

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I gaze upon your misty face at even,
      Athwart the golden chambers of the west,
When ever-changing glories of the heaven
      Build up a broken splendour in thy breast.

And when the misty moon, in pallid glory,

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      Glimmers across the ghost-lagoons of night,
Within your breast there haunts the spectre story
      Of her pale loves and dreams in tremulous light.

Across the peace of all the night’s great healing,
      Beneath the silence of the dark’s hushed deep,

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A phosphorescent, ghostly spirit stealing,
      You softly slide, a sleep within a sleep.

You slip and shine by boughs that bend to kiss you,
      You dream by curvèd banks of shimmering green;
And where you swerve the alien meadows miss you,

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      But happy are the banks you glide between.

You drift, a solace to the great woods under,
      Wimpling wide in many a watery moon;
And when you sing, the hours, in soft-eyed wonder,
      Lean, finger on lip, entrancèd by your tune.

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Out by dim, hazy shores, in reedy shallows,
      The drowsy cattle sun them in the heat;
And, far from woody slopes and ragged fallows,
      A lazy wind goes loitering in the wheat.

You fill the summer with your magic chanting

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      Your sleepy music out by field and fell;
And spirits elusive in your bosom haunting,
      Sleep like the genie in the Arabian well.

In low green capes, by country ways descending,
      Where your tides wind by many a braided shore,

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The great cool elms, the heaven and water blending,
      Mirror their ghosts within thy shimmering floor.

By pebbly shoals whereon your tides are driven,
      In silvery surge and far-heard slumb’rous song,
Your sleeping shores and the white hosts of heaven

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      Hearken your tender droppings all night long.

Where out along the dusk, all white-mist laden,
      You cradle deep in wells of azure light,—
Like to the virgin dreams of some sweet maiden,—
      In your glad breast the million stars of night.

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The great, hot city calls with its loud clamour,
      Unrecked, unheeded here at night or noon;
Faint, far-away breaks in its baleful glamour
      ’Mid wilderness ’neath the sun and moon;

Across your silver bars whereby you glisten,

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      Oblivious of the throe of earth’s wild mart,
You leap and sing, and then you lie and listen,
      As if to hear the throbbing of your heart.

O happy, happy stream, drift softly, slowly,
      Through sunlit hours in musical, sweet ways,

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Thine are the haunts all unprofaned and holy,
      Far from earth’s life and all its maddened maze.

Thine is the peace, the glory and the splendour,
      That mother nature gives unto her own;
Thine are the dreams, all glad, elusive, tender,

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      With which she veils herself, remote, alone.

When she withdraws herself from man’s rude peering
      Into the virgin secrets of her heart,
Out from the realms of hate and doubt and fearing,
      Unto her life of dreams, shut out, apart.

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Where no soul reaches save some kindred spirit,
      Some late-born satyr caged in human form,
Some child of that old order who inherit
      The haunting beauty of the ages’ storm.

Strange children, smitten with the dream of seeing

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      The glory that lies under this mad life;
The folds of midnight back of all this being,
      The majesty of sleep behind the strife.

Even I am one of those, glad, haunted river,
      A soul belated from the great ones gone;

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Wandering here at twilight, doomèd ever
      Mid alien days and dreams to wander on;

Hearing by grove and stream old voices calling
       In holy runes of earth’s primeval tongue;
Mad music in the air about me falling,

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      Out of the ages when the earth was young.

For I am not of all this weird mob, thronging
      The streets of mad to-day, the world’s dread throe;
I walk apart all hungered with a longing
      For some departed, mighty long ago.

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Unfettered child of nature’s mirth and gladness,
      Sing, sing and drift by field and country way;
Fill earth and men with thy divine, sweet madness,
      With glad contentment gird both night and day:

Till even I, with every sad-eyed brother,

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      Pausing amid the felon cares of life,
Fare back through thee to earth our great kind mother,
      Forgetting failure, bitterness and strife.

And care and pain one troublous dream dissolving,
      Across the splendour of thy misty bars;

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We only know the glorious day revolving,
      Night’s majesty, and her eternal stars.