Lake Lyrics and Other Poems

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

ODE TO TENNYSON


 

GREAT Bard, thou Merlin of these latter days,
Who wovest thy magic songs in looms of thought,
From out the dim threads of the misty past;
Sweetest and strongest in song since Milton sang,
Or Shakespeare by his Avon dreamed of Lear;
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Thine Arthur with his helm of gleaming light,
Hath sent a wind of thought about the world;
A glory like the glory of the Grail,
To lead men higher to our Lord Divine.

To thee, great agéd, round the shining world,

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Across Atlantic and his fogs and gloom,
And gleaming breast—a mirror of moon and stars,
And dawns and sunsets, when the ruddy sun
Drives, flaming, his fiery car from east to west,
Across the vapors of the upper deep,
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I pay this humble tribute to thy song,

My master, nor I shame to call thee so,
But rather glory to have drunk from thee,
And thy deep springs of song, as Virgil did,
Greater than I, from that old Grecian bard

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Who sang in dark, immortal songs for men.
As here upon our western continent,
The great St. Lawrence, all night long, flows north
Into the mighty waters of his gulf,
And sings a glorious song to all his shores,
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Caught by the dawn and breathed across the world;
So sang he mighty songs, great songs of light,
That streamed through all the caverns of his thought,
And brimmed the mighty rivers of his brain.

Or Milton, blind, the bard of newer days,

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The glorious Homer of our own loved tongue,
Who sang in lofty strains of heavenly wars,
Of light and dark, when heaven and hell arrayed
Against each other, Satan downward fell,
A baleful star, with constellation dire,
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Into the dread abysses of the deep.
Or sang he sweeter musiced-pastoral lays,
Like him of Mantua, sweet-voiced Roman bard,
Who sang of sylvan woods and breezy farms;
Great shady beeches where some shepherd piped
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His amorous strains amid his fleecy flocks.

O father poet, let me call thee so,
I, thy disciple, sitting at thy feet,
Thou master of song in all its varied chords,

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Bird lyrist of the music of our time, 45
Had I thy voice, or his, our own loved dead,
Who here by winding Charles ’neath western skies,
Like John on Patmos, saw the inner light,
And breathed to men the music of his dream;
Thou like the eagle, he the soaring lark,
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Thy brother bard in song, cleaving the air,
So near to heaven heard the angels sing
And brought some echo back, down here to men.
Had I his voice or thine I would aspire,
As birds attempt to cleave the edge of clouds,
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Away above them in the upper air;
To be a voice to thee, a nameless voice,
Voice of the new west calling to the east,
To tell thee of this wondrous western world;
Voice of the future calling to the past,
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O’er silent lakes and rivers round the world,
To where thou dwellest in thy English halls,
With mighty ruins of the ivied past,
With all its chronicles of wars and kings
And greater, for the web of all the past
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Is wove in mystic colors, we may take
And many of these patterns make our own;
And so make strong the future from the past.

Great bard, thou ever seemest unto me,
In all the broils and turmoils of the state;

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Like some aged Lear of truth and holy light,
Wandering amid a wreck of men and kings
And broken swords of honor,—worn out creeds,
And all the vanished dream of England’s past.
A voice of anguish for the trampled right,
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A voice of warning for the future good;
That goes so like a breath of midnight wind,
Blown through a lonely haunted place of tombs.
And there thou walkest, white-haired, aged, bent,
About the night of life, with one vain call,
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Heard ’mid the turmoil of the lower world,
For some Cordelia of the purer past.

And more, for thou art also unto me
Like some lost knight of the great order gone;
Sir Bedivere last of the table round,

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Or Arthur himself, dying of all his wounds,
Not wounds of flesh alone, but wounds of sins,
Wounds of the heart for those who were untrue.
So the old order goes, last baron great
Or England’s greatness, states dissolve and wane
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And governments decline, old customs die;
But memory in men is never dead,
And character and greatness all remain,
Like stars set in the firmament of time,
To shine for all days on. A star thou art
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Of greatest magnitude and from thy light,
Thou too shalt build a ring of lesser lights,
To burn forever in thy radiance,
Reflecting all thy glory to the world.