Agnes Maule Machar

by Wanda Campbell


 

Agnes Maule Machar
1837-1927


 

 

Agnes Maule Machar was born in Kingston Upper Canada, on January 23, 1837. Her father was a theologian and head of the college that was to become Queen’s University, and throughout her long life she was actively involved in philanthropy and the local cultural community. Though encouraged in intellectual pursuits (she studied Latin and Greek before she was ten), she was not encouraged to write since, according to Ethelwyn Wetherald, her mother believed that “a literary vocation was not likely to promote a woman’s happiness” (300). Almost all of Machar’s work originally appeared under a pseudonym since “she feared her words would be little heeded, if it were known that they owed their being to a mere girl” (Wetherald 300). Machar chose “Fidelis” as her pen name because “Faithfulness is the quality I most value, and care most to possess” (quoted by Wetherald, 300). With the goal of encouraging Canadian patriotism, Machar wrote historical poems about heroic figures such as Laura Secord and Louis Riel, paeans to Canadian nature in her many “Thousand Island” poems, and more overtly patriotic poems such as “The Canadian Fatherland,” which reveals an intriguing shift in gender in the third stanza and calls for unity in diversity.

    Machar was active in numerous social organizations, including the Humane Society and the American Audubon Society “for the defence of birds from the ravages of fashion” (Wetherald 300). Efforts to galvanize women to political action are humorously portrayed in the poem “A Woman’s Meeting.” Though advocacy for causes such as higher education for women appears mostly in Machar’s prose, poems such as “Madonna of the Entry” (see also “No Room for the Baby,” the Week 7 [28 March 1890]: 268) reveal her passion for social justice.

    Machar published nine works of fiction, six histories, five biographies, and was a frequent contributor to Canadian periodicals such as the Canadian Monthly, the Week, and the Canadian Magazine and American periodicals such as Century Magazine, St. Nicholas, and Wide Awake. Most of [Page 61] her poetry was collected and published in Lays of the “True North” and Other Canadian Poems (1899), which was sufficiently popular to prompt the publication of an enlarged edition in 1902. Both Nancy Miller Chenier’s 1977 thesis and Carole Gerson’s essay on Machar and her contemporaries in Canadian Writers and Their Works provide detailed overviews of Machar’s fiction and her significant contributions to Canadian intellectual life. She was, as Gerson points out, an “outstanding crusader for the causes of temperance, labour, reform, feminism and…Christianity” (DLB 92:221).She died on January 24, 1927.

    Though apparently not musically gifted, Machar wins praise from Charles G.D. Roberts in 1888 for her “firm command of musical and simple lyric forms, and of vivid description” (234). The latter quality, which owes much to her enthusiasm for sketching and painting, results in some memorable imagery. Machar’s strengths and weaknesses as a poet are revealed through a comparison of her poem “The Passing of Clote Scarp” with Roberts’ poem on the same theme.

    Though William Douw Lighthall, the editor of Songs of the Great Dominion, described her in 1889 as “one of those who well disputes the palm for the leadership among Canadian poetesses” (458), she has not fared well over time. William Wilfred Campbell argued in an 1892 “At the Mermaid Inn” column that Machar was “more human and more interesting than any book she will ever write” (196), and Wetherald admits that “some of her poetry is produced by a collaboration of the artist and moralist within her, and that we are not so grateful for the moral as we are for the image,” (300-301). In a poem such as “Misunderstanding,” which makes effective use of contrasting memories of the same incident and some striking imagery, we see Machar at her best. Her penchant for didactic endings tends to mar our appreciation of poems such as “To a Friend in Europe” and “Untrodden Ways.” In fact, when the latter poem was republished by Ryerson in 1935, the closing stanza was left out entirely. Machar’s own approach to revision can be studied by comparing “The Happy Islands” with an earlier and longer version entitled “‘The Cliff’ to ‘The Islands.’”

    Like Lampman and other poets of the period, Machar believed in the recuperative powers of nature, and she herself often sought refuge at Ferncliffe, her summer home overlooking the St. Lawrence at Gananoque. Though tempted to drift forever among her beloved islands, she returned always to the “nobler task” and higher cause. [Page 62]

Selected Bibliography

“The Cliff” to “The Islands” (Gananoque, ON: Privately Printed,     1891)
Lays of the “True North” and Other Canadian Poems (Toronto:     Copp, 1899) Enlarged 2nd edition (1902)
The Thousand Islands (Toronto: Ryerson, 1935)

Ethelwyn Wetherald, “Some Canadian Literary Women—II. ‘Fidelis,’” The Week (5 April 1888): 300-01; Charles G.D. Roberts, Poems of Wild Life, (Toronto: Gage, 1888):234; William Wilfred Campbell, “At the Mermaid Inn,” 26 November 1892 At the Mermaid Inn: Wilfred Campbell, Archibald Lampman, Duncan Campbell Scott in The Globe 1892-93 (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1979): 195-96; W.D. Lighthall, Songs of the Great Dominion (London: Walter Scott, 1889); Emily McManus, “Lays of the ‘True North’ and Other Canadian Poems: a Review,” Canadian Magazine 14 (December 1899): 174-77; R.W. Cumberland, “Agnes Maule Machar,” Queen’s Quarterly 34 (January 1927): 331-39; Nancy Miller Chenier, “Agnes Maule Machar: Her Life, Her Social Concerns, and a Preliminary Bibliography of Her Writing,” (MA Thesis, Carleton University, 1977); Carole Gerson, “Three Writers of Victorian Canada,” Canadian Writers and Their Works: Fiction Series 1:195-256 (Toronto: ECW, 1983); Ruth Compton Brouwer, “The ‘Between-Age’ Christianity of Agnes Machar,” Canadian Historical Review 65 (1984): 347-70; Carole Gerson, “Agnes Maule Machar,” Dictionary of Literary Biography 92 (1990): 220-21. [Page 63]

 

 

September among the Thousand Islands

 

 
The long pine branches lightly bend
    Above grey rocks with moss o’ergrown,
And rays of golden light descend
    Aslant on twisted root and stone;
All still and silent at our feet
5
Lies the broad river’s glassy sheet.

So calm, so tranquil its expanse;

    No ripple on its peaceful breast;
It might be sea of fairyland
    By some strange magic laid to rest;

10
And the grey, hazy islands seem
The vision of a passing dream.

In such soft tints their shores extend,
    So dim their winding outlines lie;—
They do not separate, but blend

15
    The melting hues of lake and sky,
Save where some light-tower’s snowy gleam
Is mirrored in the placid stream.

No sounds the dreamy stillness break;
    No echo o’er the lake is heard,

20
Save that the leaping fishes make,
    Or twitter of a lonely bird;
And summer sweetness seems to stray,
Confused, through the September day!

We watch the swift receding boat,

25
    And long we bend our patient gaze,
And strive to trace it, far afloat,
    Through the soft mist’s uncertain haze,
To catch the latest glimpse we may
Of friends beloved it bears away. [Page 64]
30

So, often, through the misty veil
    That hides from us the spiritland,
We gaze and gaze, till gazing fail,
    As on its outer verge we stand,
On cherished forms receding far
35
To realms that undiscovered are!  

 

Canadian Monthly                                                 Lays of the“True
September 1874 (6:228)                                                North” 1899

 

 

To a Friend in Europe
‘Cœlum, non animum, mutant, qui trans mare currunt.’

 

 
I, here amid the Canadian pines,
    Whose floating fragrance fills the air;
Where rocks are green with tangled vines,
    And ferns are waving everywhere;

Where, under long, dark hemlock boughs,

5
    Bright waves leap sparkling to the sun,
Or rest ’neath pine-crowned craggy brows
    In purple state when day is done!

You, where, amid bright southern flowers,
    You gaze on soft, blue southern seas,

10
And, framed in vine and olive boughs,
    The summits of the Pyrenees;—

Where, o’er the château’s vine-clad wall
    You watch the sunset’s glorious dream,
When softly kissed by golden mist

15
    The Titans all transfigured seem;—

Or, passing from the quaint old town,
    You wander up their rocky base,
While laden peasants clamber down [Page 65]
    The winding, walnut-shaded ways;—

20

Or, seaward turned, your eyes explore
    Soft gleaming hills and headlands bare;
The sleeping sea and sunlit shore,
    And crags that swim in purple air!

What matter ’neath those skies or these

25
    We share the long sweet summer day,
Where myrtle blossoms scent the breeze,
    Or feathery hemlocks fringe the bay?

So, only by the waiting soul
    Mid rustling leaves or woodland scent,

30
The spirit that informs the whole
    More closely with the heart is blent—

So, in the presence felt of Him
    Who seems so near in woodland ways,
We learn, in forest alleys dim,

35
    Sweet lessons for the wintry days,

When death lies chill on vale and hill,
    And even a southern sea is gray;
When fairest skies the storm-clouds fill,
    And summer seems so far away!

40

So, from the heart divine there rise
    A fuller spring of love in ours,
Bright hopes for dark November skies,
    Warm faith for bleak and wintry hours;

That faith, to those who seek it given,

45
    Grow still in us as seasons roll,
And—drawing sunshine straight from heaven—
    Keep living summer in the soul! [Page 66]
 

 

Canadian Monthly                                                 Lays of the“True
March 1876 (9:203-03)                                                North”
1899

 

 

In a Studio

 

 
You smile to see the canvas bear
    The golden sunshine of September,
And trace, in all its outlines fair,

    The landscape we so well remember.

You mark the sky, so softly blue;

5
    The dreamy haze, so golden mellow;
The woods, in greens of tenderest hue,
    Just turning here and there to yellow;

The solemn pines above the stream
    Where yon gray mountain rears its shoulder,

10
And, by the shore, the scarlet gleam
    Beside the lichened granite boulder.

You whisper, with a proud delight,
    That this reflection of September
Might cheer us on the wintriest night

15
    Amid the snows of dull December!

Ah, well! you kindly praise the whole;

    You cannot see the figure in it
That graved upon the artist’s soul
    The sunshine of that golden minute!

20

You cannot see the earnest eyes
    That grew so dreamy and so tender,
While watching with a glad surprise
    The autumn landscape’s golden splendour.

You cannot see the soul-lit face

25
    That made the landscape’s central sweetness,
Adding to Nature’s ripest grace
    The crowning charm of glad completeness! [Page 67]

Well, love, that charm is left me still,
    Though vanished is the bright September;

30
Though leaves lie strewn and winds blow chill,
    You make my sunshine in December!
 

 

Rose Belford’s                                                         Lays of the “True
Canadian Monthly
                                                        North” 1899
January 1880 (4:82)

 

 

Laura Secord

During the so-called war of 1812-14 between England and the United States, Laura Secord, the wife of a crippled British veteran, saved the British forces from surprise and possible destruction by the heroic action narrated in the ballad. Her home lay near the celebrated Queenston Heights, a few miles from the Falls of Niagara.

 

 
Softly the spell of moonlight fell
    On the swift river’s flow,
On the gray crags of Queenston Heights,
    And the green waves below.

Alone the whip-poor-will’s sad cry

5
    Blent with the murmuring pines,
Save where the sentry paced his rounds
    Along th’invading lines.

But in one lowly cottage home
    Were trouble and dismay;

10
Two anxious watchers could not sleep
    For tidings heard that day.

Brave James Secord, with troubled heart,
    And weary crippled frame,
That bore the scars of Queenston Heights,

15
    Back to his cabin came;

For he had learned a dark design [Page 68]
    Fitzgibbon to surprise,
As with a handful of brave men
    At Beaver Dam he lies.

20

‘And Boerstler, with eight hundred men,
    Is moving from the shore
To steal upon our outpost there,
    Guarded by scarce two score!

Then, wiping out, as well he may,

25
    That gallant little band,
The foe will sweep his onward way
    O’er the defenceless land.

Then noble Brock had died in vain—
    If but Fitzgibbon knew!’

30
And the poor cripple’s heart is fain
    To press the journey through.

But Laura, bending o’er her babes,
    Said, smiling through her tears:
‘These are not times for brave men’s wives

35
    To yield to craven fears.

You cannot go to warn our men,
    Or slip the outposts through;
But if perchance they let me pass,
    This errand I will do.’

40

She soothed his anxious doubts and fears:
    She knew the forest way;
She put her trust in Him who hears
    His children when they pray!

Soon as the rosy flush of dawn

45
    Glowed through the purple air,
She rose to household tasks—and kissed
    Her babes with whispered prayer. [Page 69]

To milk her grazing cow she went;
    The sentry at the lines

50
Forgot to watch, as both were lost
    Amid the sheltering pines.

The rising sun’s first golden rays
    Gleamed through the forest dim,
And through its leafy arches rang

55
    The bird’s sweet morning hymn.

The fragrant odour of the pines,
    The carols gay and sweet,
Gave courage to the fluttering heart,
    And strength to faltering feet.

60

And on she pressed, with steadfast tread,
    Her solitary way,
O’er tangled brake and sodden swamp
    Through all the sultry day.

Though, for the morning songs of birds

65
    She heard the wolf’s hoarse cry,
And saw the rattlesnake glide forth,
    As swift she hurried by.

Nor dark morass nor rushing stream
    Could balk the steadfast will
,

70
Nor pleading voice of anxious friends
    Where stood St. David’s Mill.

The British sentry heard her tale,
    And cheered her on her way;
But bade her ‘ware the Indian scouts

75
    Who in the covert lay.

Anon, as cracked a rotten bough
    Beneath her wary feet,
She heard their war-whoop through the gloom, [Page 70]
    Their steps advancing fleet;
80

But quickly to the questioning chief
    She told her errand grave,
How she had walked the livelong day
    Fitzgibbon’s men to save!

The redskin heard and kindly gazed

85
    Upon the pale-faced squaw;
Her faithful courage touched his heart,
    Her weary look he saw.

“Me go with you” was all he said,
    And through the forest gray

90
He led her safe to Beaver Dam,
    Where brave Fitzgibbon lay.

With throbbing heart she told her tale;
    They heard with anxious heed,
Who knew how grave the crisis was,

95
    How urgent was the need!

Then there was riding far and near,
    And mustering to and fro
Of troops and Indians from the rear
    To meet the coming foe;

100

And such the bold, determined stand
    Those few brave soldiers made—

So fiercely fought the Indian band
    From forest ambuscade—

That Boerstler in the first surprise

105
    Surrendered in despair,
To force so small it scarce could serve
    To keep the prisoners there!

While the brave weary messenger [Page 71]
    In dreamless slumber lay,
110
And woke to find her gallant friends
    Were masters of the fray.
 

 

•    •    •

 

 
If e’er Canadian courage fail,
    Or loyalty grow cold,
Or nerveless grow Canadian hearts,
115
    Then be the story told—

How British gallantry and skill
    There played their noblest part,
Yet scarce had won if there had failed
    One woman’s dauntless heart!

120

 

Rose Belford’s                                                         Lays of the “True
Canadian Monthly                                                         North”
1899
June 1880 (4:575-77)

 

 

Untrodden Ways; or, Two Visions

 

 
Where close the curving mountains drew
    To clasp the stream in their embrace,
With every outline, shade and hue
    Reflected in its placid face,

The ploughman stops his team to watch

5
    The train, as swift it thunders by;
Some distant glimpse of life to catch,
    He strains his eager, wistful eye.

His waiting horses patient stand
    With wonder in their gentle eyes,

10

As through the tranquil mountain land
    The snorting engine onward flies.

The morning freshness is on him, [Page 72]
    Just wakened from his balmy dreams;
The wayfarers, all soiled and dim,

15
    Think longingly of mountain streams.

Oh, for the joyous mountain air,
    The long delightful autumn day
Among the hills!—the ploughman there
    Must have perpetual holiday!

20

And he, as all day long he guides
    His steady plough with patient hand,
Thinks of the train that onward glides
    Into some new enchanted land,

Where, day by day, no plodding round

25
    Wearies the frame and dulls the mind,
Where life thrills keen to sight and sound,
    With ploughs and furrows left behind.

Even so, to each the untrod ways
    Of life are touched by fancy’s glow,

30
That ever sheds its brightest rays
    Upon the path we do not know.
 

 

Rose Belford’s                                                         Lays of the “True
Canadian Monthly
                                                        North” 1899
February 1882 (8:130)

 

 

Quebec to Ontario,
A Plea for the Life of Riel, September, 1885

 

 
You have the land our fathers bought
    With blood, and toil, and pain,
De Mont’s and Cartier’s earnest thought—
    The life-blood of Champlain.

From fair Acadia’s rock-bound strand

5
    To wide Ontario’s shore,
Where Norman swords fought hand to hand [Page 73]
    The Iroquois of yore,


And those great western wilds afar,
    Where wandering Indians roam,

10
And where the hardy voyager
    First reared his cabin home—

All, all is yours; from east to west
    The British banner streams,
But in a conquered people’s breast

15
    Will live its early dreams!

So when your rich men grudge our poor
    Homes on their native plains,
The blood of the old voyageur
    Leaps boiling in our veins.

20

And one whose heart was fired at sight
    Of suffering and wrong
Took arms, in evil hour, to fight,
    For weakness—with the strong.

His wild scheme failed; how could it stand

25
    Against such fatal odds?
And brave hearts sleep in yon far land
    Beneath the prairie sods.

He stands a traitor at the bar
    Of your cold modern laws,

30
And yet, to him who woke the war
    It seemed a patriot cause!

Nay, more, perchance the sore distress
    That stirred the bitter fray,
Through that, has pierced to ears that else

35
    Had still been deaf to-day;

While he who sought his people’s weal,
    Who loved his nation well,
The prisoner of your fire and steel, [Page 74]
    Lies doomed in felon’s cell!

40

Pity the captive in your hand,
    Pity the conquered race;
You—strong, victorious in the land—
    Grant us the victor’s grace!
 

 

c. 1885                                                                     Lays of the “True
                                                                                            North”1899

 

 

An Indian Summer Carol

 

 
All day the dreaming sunshine steeps
    In gold the yellowing beeches;
In softest blue the river sleeps
    Among the island reaches.

Against the distant purple hills

5
    The autumn tints are glowing;
With blood-red wine the sumach fills,
    Rich lines of carmine showing.

Upon the glassy stream the boat
    Glides softly like a vision;

10
And, with its shadow, seems to float
    Among the isles Elysian.

About the plumy golden-rod
    The tireless bees are humming;
The aster’s clusters star the sod

15
    And wait the rover’s coming.

The birch and maple glow with dyes
    Of scarlet, rose and amber;
And like a flame from sunset skies,
    Bright tangled creepers clamber.

20

The oaks in Tyrian purple dight
    Burn, where the sunlight presses; [Page 75]
The birch stands like a Dryad bright
    Beneath her golden tresses.

So still the air, so like a dream,

25
    We hear the acorn falling;
And o’er the scarcely rippled stream
    The loon’s long quavered calling.

The robin* softly o’er the lea,
    His farewell song is trilling;
30
The squirrel flits from tree to tree,
    His winter storehouse filling.

Like him we, too, may gather store
    From all this glorious nature.
Then leave, my friend, dry bookish lore

35
    And dreary nomenclature;

Let logic wintry hours beguile;

    Leave weary mathematics;
Let Artistotle rest awhile,
    And all the Eleatics.

40

O’er Plato we can talk and muse
    When wintry winds are blowing;
Now Nature bids us not refuse
    The glory she is showing.

For she herself has better lore

45
    Than all man’s cold dissections;
Her hieroglyphs can teach us more
    Than volumes of reflections.

Leave the old thinkers to the dreams
    That have been dreamed for ages;
[Page 76]
50
Leave dry old scientific reams,
    And study Nature’s pages.

Her poetry is sweeter far
    Than all men write about her;
Old Homer, though his theme was war,

55
    Had scarcely sung without her!

Haste to the woods, throw books away:
    They’ll wait the tardy comer;
For them there’s many a winter day,
    But brief’s our Indian summer!

60

 

* The Canadian Robin, properly a species of thrush. [back]

 

 

Week 4 November                                                 Lays of the “True
1886 (3:788)                                                                     North” 1899

 

 

Our Canadian Fatherland

 

 

 

I

 

 
What is our young Canadian land?
Is it fair Norembega’s strand?
Or grey Cape Breton by the sea?
Quebec? Ontario? Acadie?
Or Manitoba’s flower-decked plain?
5
Or fair Columbia’s mountain chain?
Can any part, from strand to strand,
Be a Canadian’s Fatherland?
Nay, for our young Canadian land
    Is greater, grander far than these;
10
It stretches wide on either hand
    Between the world’s two mighty seas.
So let no hostile foot divide
    The fields our feet should freely roam;
Gael, Norman, Saxon, side by side,
15
    And Canada our nation’s home; [Page 77]
From sea to sea, from strand to strand,
Spreads our Canadian Fatherland.
 

 

II

 

 
Where’er our country’s banner spreads
It folds o’er free Canadian heads—
20
Where’er our land’s romantic story
Enshrines the memory and the glory
Of heroes who with blood and toil
Laid deep in our Canadian soil
Foundations for the future age,
25
And wrote their names on history’s page—
Our history—from strand to strand,
Spreads our Canadian Fatherland!
So each to each is firmly bound
    By ties all generous hearts should own;
30
We cannot spare an inch of ground:
    No severed part can stand alone.
So Nova Scotia and Quebec
    Shall meet in kinship real and true;
New Brunswick’s hills be mirrored back
35
    In fair Ontario’s waters blue.
From sea to sea, from strand to strand,
Spreads our Canadian Fatherland!
 

 

III

 

 
Where’er Canadian thought breathes free,
Or strikes the lyre of poesy—
40
Where’er Canadian hearts awake,
To sing a song for her dear sake,
Or catch the echoes, spreading far,
That wake us to the noblest war
Against each lurking ill and strife
45
That weakens now our growing life,
No line keep hand from clasping hand—
One is our young Canadian land. [Page 78]
McGee and Howe she counts her own;
    Hers all her eastern singers’ bays;

50
Fréchette is hers, and in her crown
    Ontario every laurel lays:
Let CANADA our watchword be,
    While lesser names we know no more;
One nation spread from sea to sea,
55
    And fused by love from shore to shore;
From sea to sea, from strand to strand,
Spreads our Canadian Fatherland!
 

 

Week 15                                                                 Lays of the “True
December 1887 (5:36)                                                    North” 1899

 

 

An August Morning

 

 
In gleam of pale translucent amber woke
    The perfect August day;
Through rose-flushed bars of pearl and amber broke
    The sunset’s golden way.

The river seemed transfigured in its flow

5
    To tide of amethyst,
Save where it rippled o’er the sands below,
    And granite boulders kissed.

The clouds of billowy woodland hung unstirred
    In languorous slumber deep,

10
While, from its green recessed, one small bird
    Piped to its brood asleep.

The clustering lichens wore a tenderer tint,
    The rocks a warmer glow;
The emerald dewdrops, in the sunbeams’s glint,

15
    Gemmed the rich moss below.

Our birchen shallop idly stranded lay
    Half mirrored in the stream, [Page 79]
Wild roses drooped, glassed in the tiny bay,
    Ethereal as a dream!

20

You sat upon your rock, enthroned a queen,
    As on a granite throne,
And all that world of loveliness serene
    Held but us twain alone.

Nay! but we felt another presence there,

25
    Around, below, above;
It breathed a poem through the fragrant air—
    Its name was LOVE.
 

 

Week 22                                                                 Lays of the “True
August 1890 (7:601)                                                        North” 1899

 

 

The Happy Islands

 

 
Past the Rocks in Deep Water*, winding its way to the sea,
Sweeps our mighty St. Lawrence, grand, majestic and free;
Yet methinks he tarries, as glad to linger awhile
Amid the mazy channels where the happy islands smile.
Fair do they seem as Eden, when Eden was newly made,
5
To the wearied city toilers who seek their grateful shade;
Far from the hurry and clamour, far from the bustle and din,
See the cool and shady recesses that lure the wanderer in!

Soft in the haze of morning, their shadowy masses seem
To rest on the calm blue water like the phantasm of a dream;

10
Dark in the glare of noonday their bowers of foliage stand,
Spreading their deep, cool shadow like rocks in a weary land;
But when at close of his journey the sun rides down the west,
Trailing his crimson and purple o’er the river’s opal breast,
Then, like isles of the blessed, bathed in celestial light,
15
They float between earth and heaven like a mystic vision bright. [Page 80]

Happy the careless paddler who steers his light canoe
O’er the mingling ruby and topaz, the purple shadows through
While the stroke of the ashen paddle beneath the skilful arm
Scarce clouds the magic mirror, or breaks the wondrous charm

20
And when the mystic moonlight, with its white unearthly spell
Like a vision of enchantment clothes river and rock and dell,
How the lights and shadows tremble with a hidden mystery,
And the silhouettes of the islands lie dark on the silver sea!
 
* Gananoque [back]  

 

“The Cliff” to “The                                                 Lays of the “True
Islands” 1891                                                                 North” 1899

 

 

A Woman’s Meeting

 

 
Said one lady to another, meeting in the market-place:
“The way this town is managed is simply a disgrace;
The men will not do anything, ’tis clearly plain to all
The women must take hold and at once a meeting call.”
And so the thing was done, and they came by twos and threes,
5
From every sort of fancy work to patching Johnnie’s knees.
All dressed in summer costume tipped with flowers of every hue,
And voted in their officers without too much ado.
The president took the chair with her easy, smiling grace,
Declared she’d no experience or fitness for the place.
10
Only one rule she was sure of, tho’ of many had a notion,
And it, “The amendment always goes before the motion.”
“Indeed!” “Ah, yes.” “Just so.” And then the buzz began,
Every bonnet nodded and fluttered every fan.
On either side, in front, behind, they all kept up a chat,
15
No one addressed the president—they hadn’t nerve for that.
At last she said: “Now, ladies, really something we must do.
The afternoon is passing, we must get the business through.
Let someone make a motion—now do not be afraid—
And I’ll put it to the voting, when the amendment’s made.”
20
“I move we meet on Tuesdays,” said a lady dressed in red.
“I second,” said a pretty one with snowdrops on her head.
“And now for the amendment,” said the lady in the chair.
“It must go before the motion, as you are all aware.” [Page 81]
“I move we meet on Fridays,” one carolled like a bird.

25
“But Friday can’t go first—why, the thing is too absurd.”
“But Fridays’s the amendment—” “But ’tis cart before the horse;
We’ll get in a perfect muddle; why, the men could not do worse.”
“The amendment must go first,” and a dozen tried to speak.
“Even so, that doesn’t change the order of the week.
30
Our husbands all will ridicule,” said one in pince-nose glasses,
“And if we weren’t women would simply call us asses.”
Then “logic,” “method,” “order,” I discerned amid the chatter,
But who’d the floor or proved a point it didn’t seem to matter.
The question had got subtle, the president looked perplexed,
35
The little secretary bit her pencil and looked vexed.
Whether “motion” or “amendment” went first or last in truth
I’m not prepared to tell you, for—I went before them both.
 

 

Saturday Night
3 December 1892 (6:8)

 

 

November

 

 
The children wade amid the sodden leaves,
    So lately glistening green in summer breeze,
    Now dropping slowly from the bare brown trees,
That stretch gaunt arms about the cottage eaves.
Stripped are the orchards; gathered in the sheaves;
5
    The wildfowl quits her haunts for southern seas
    Ere touched by silent frost the streamlets freeze,
And winter’s craft her icy mantle weaves!

About the woods there breathes the mystic spell
    That speaks of vanished beauty—lost delight;

10
The last belated robin flutes farewell;
    The sun, ’mid dun and purple, sinks from sight;
While the wild winds and rain-gusts rise and swell
    To wrap the world in storm and wintry night! [Page 82]
 

 

Canadian Magazine                                             Lays of the “True
November 1895 (6:46)                                                 North” 1899

 

 

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,
    That 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, [Page 83]
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!
 

 

Lays of the “True
North”
1899

 

 

In the Forest

 

 
Mid the cloistered forest arches,
    ’Neath the quivering hemlock shade,
Where the tassels of the larches
    Toss their incense through the glade,
Where the bracken’s clustered masses
5
    Wave beneath the sheltering pines,
And the sumach interlaces
    With a tangle of wild vines,

There—like touch of fairy fingers,
    Parting light the leafy screen—

10
Every ray of sunlight lingers
    Mid the mystery of green,
Many a web of shadow tracing
    O’er green stones and mosses bright,
Through the beechen covert threadings
15
    Quivering skeins of golden light.

Low amid the bending beeches
    Many a wilding blossom blows;
Scarce its tiny life outreaches
    The safe covert where it grows.

20
Waxen-pure or tender-tinted,
    In the solitude they bloom;
Scarcely is their presence hinted
    By their sutble, faint perfume. [Page 84]

Through the boughs light forms are winging,

25
    And—unseen but sweetly heard—
In a burst of low, sweet singing
    Comes the carol of a bird.
So, amid the silence dreaming,
    Many a vagrant fancy wakes,
30
Like the blossoms shyly gleaming
    Mid the tangled forest brakes;

And we listen to the murmur
    Of the wandering summer breeze,
Till we feel our kinship firmer

35
    With the birds, and flowers, and trees;
Till we reach its living centre—
    Till to us its heart is bare,
And the souls that reverent enter
    Meet God in His temple there!
40

 

Lays of the “True
North”
1899

 

 

The Indian Pipe

 

 
Amid the clustering beeches, hidden deep,
Where scarce at noon the July sunbeams creep,
Where on the bough the humming-bird’s small nest
Seems, like a knot of lichen, light to rest,
From the dead leaves of last year’s autumn ripe
5
Rise the white clusters of the Indian Pipe.

Is it an earthly flower or ghostly shade,
From fields Tartarean to our forest strayed?
Or wrought from stainless marble, carven fine
By cunning sculptor in a quaint design,

10
In mimic semblance of the pipe of peace
That warriors smoke when war and havoc cease? [Page 85]

All waxen white in stem, and leaf, and flower
It stands—a vision strange in summer bower;
But whence the form its bending blossoms wear?

15
Does the pale bloom a runic legend bear?
Then murmuring rose the breeze of eventide,
And, whispering low, an ancient sorrow sighed!

Here, long ago, amid this sylvan shade,
There grew, in budding bloom, an Indian maid,

20
Her father’s only child—his joy and pride;—
She seemed a lily by a cedar’s side.
Careless she roamed, until one fatal day
A pale-face stranger stole her heart away.

Could a chief’s daughter with such lover go?

25
Leave sire and nation for her people’s foe?
Nay! better death than baseness such as this!
Yet youth and joy went with his parting kiss;—
And, like another Iphigenia brave,
Swift-ebbing life for sire and race she gave.
30

But one last boon she sought with parting life—
That with her death should end the vexing strife:
’Twixt white and red man war and feud should cease,
While o’er her grave they smoked the pipe of peace;
And there, ere maize and wilding rice were ripe,
35
Sprang the pale clusters of the Indian Pipe!  

 

Lays of the “True
North”
1899

 

 

The Passing of Clote-Scarp*, or Glooscap

 

 
Hark! through the twilight stillness,
    Across the sleeping lake, [Page 86]
What notes of mournful cadence
    The charmèd stillness break!

Is it a wailing spirit
5
    That lingers on its flight,
Or voice of human sorrow
    That echoes through the night?

Nay, not from man or spirit
    Does that weird music flow;
10
’Tis the bird that waits Clote-scarp,
    As ages come and go.
 

 

•    •    •

 

 
Still in the Mic-mac lodges
    Is the old story told
How Clote-scarp’s passed, and ended
15
    Acadia’s age of gold;

In the primeval forests,
    In the old happy days,
The men and beasts lived peaceful
    Among the woodland ways—
20

The forest knew no spoiler,
    No timid beast or bird
Feared fang or spear or arrow;
    No cry of pain was heard;

For all loved gentle Clote-scarp,
25
    And Clote-scarp loved them all,
And men and beasts and fishes
    Obeyed his welcome call.

The birds came circling round him
    With carols gay and sweet;
30
The little wilding blossoms [Page 87]
    Sprang smiling at his feet.

All spake one simple language,
    And Clote-scarp understood,
And, in his tones of music,
35
    Taught them that love was good.

But in the course of age
    An alien spirit woke,
And men and woodland creatures
    Their peaceful compact broke.
40

Then through the gloomy forest
    The hunter tracked his prey;
The bear and wolf went roaming
    To ravage and to slay;

Through the long reeds and grasses
45
    Stole out the slimy snake;
The hawk pounced on the nestling,
    Close cowering in the brake;

The beaver built his stronghold
    Beneath the river’s flow;
50
The partridge sought the covert
    Where beeches closest grow.

In mute and trembling terror
    Each timid creature fled,
To seek the safest refuge,
55
    And hide its hunted head.

In sorrow and in anger
    Then gentle Clote-scarp spake:
‘My soul can bear no longer
    The havoc that ye make!
60

‘Ye will not heed my bidding; [Page 88]
    I cannot stay your strife,
And so I needs must leave you
    Till love renew your life.’
 

 

•    •    •

 

 
Then by the great wide water
65
    He made a parting feast;
The men refused his bidding,
    But there came bird and beast.

There came the bear and walrus,
    The wolf with bristling crest;
70
There came the busy beaver,
    The deer with bounding breast;

There came the mink and otter,
    The seal with wistful eyes;
The birds in countless numbers,
75
    With sad, imploring cries!

But, when the feast was over,
    He launched his bark canoe;
The wistful creatures watched him
    Swift gliding from their view.
80

They heard his far-off singing
    Through the fast-falling night,
Till on the dim horizon
    He vanished from their sight.

And then a wail of sorrow
85
    Went up from one and all,
Then echoed through the twilight
    The loon’s long mournful call. [Page 89]
 

 

•    •    •

 

 
But all in vain their wailing,
    In vain that wistful cry,
90
Alone, through deepening shadows,
    The echoes made reply.
 

 

•    •    •

 

 
Still through the twilight echoes
    That cadence wild and shrill,
But on a blessèd island
95
    Clote-scarp is waiting still.

No darkness, cold or tempest
    Comes near that happy spot;
It fears no touch of winter,
    For winter’s self is not.
100

And there waits gentle Clote-scarp
    Till happier days shall fall,
Till strife be fled for ever,
    And love be Lord of all.
 

 

* Clote-scarp or Glooscap is the Mic-mac Hiawatha, with something of the Western Balder and Hiawatha combined. [back]

 

 

Lays of the “True
North”
1899

 

 

A Misunderstanding

 

 

His Reminiscence

 

 
Methinks I see it once again—
    That sunset of the past,
The flood of slanting golden rays
    Athwart the pine-trees cast;

I hear the murmur of the wave

5
    Upon the pebbly shore,
Soft plashing on the light canoe;—
    I hear your voice once more! [Page 90]

I see the shady, sheltered nook
    Where you awhile would stay;—

10
The lichened granite crag that rose
    Above the quiet bay.

Before me rise the moss grown rocks
    With crests of plumy fern;
The very fragrance of the pines
15
    Seems almost to return.

I hear again the cat-bird’s cry,
    The cawing of the rook,
The while you sat and sketched in haste
    With grave abstracted look,
20

Until at length I spoke, resolved
    At least my fate to try,
And hushed the beating of my heart
    To catch your low reply.

Ah well! it changed my life for me,
25
    From hope to long regret,
Swiftly as fled the evening glow
    When that bright sun had set!

All silently, across the lake,
    Our bark retraced its way,
30
While the rich hues of wave and sky
    Were fading into gray.

I rowed—you steered—no spoken word
    The woodland echoes woke;
Your white hand dipping from the stern
35
    The quivering wavelets broke.

I did not blame you—well I know
    Love may not be compelled; [Page 91]
I would not take a heart that must
    In golden links be held;
40

And well I know—few are the hearts
    That grasp their brightest dreams;—
Some day, perchance, we yet shall know
    Why life so futile seems!

Since then, my feet have wandered far
45
    And wide by land and sea;
And, love! I trust that life has brought
    More joy to you than me.

For nothing—spite some lingering pain—
    Can sweeter memories wake
50
Than this dried blossom from the shore
    Of that Canadian lake!
 

 

Her Reminiscence

 

 
’Tis such a fair June eventide
    As one remembered well—
In those old days the sunset rays
55
    With softer radiance fell!

They would not let me stay behind,
    Although I vainly pled;
Nor could I try to tell them—why
    The spot so much I dread.
60

Ah! how the scene, the woodland scent,
    Recalls the vanished grace
Of that past sunset glow, that still
    Lives in this haunted place!

Not many words, that eventide,
65
    There passed between us twain; [Page 92]
Yet such an hour can never more
    Come back to me again.

He asked if I could leave my home
    With him to cross the sea,
70
And strangely cold for lover bold
    His manner seemed to me!

I knew not then how surface calm
    A glowing heart may hide;
His words seemed weak true love to speak,
75
    Or please my maiden pride!

They called him rich, and I had said
    My love should ne’er be sold;
My heart was numb, my lips seemed dumb,
    And words came few and cold.
80

Scarce can I tell what words were said;
    He bowed a grave assent,
And silently across the bay
    With heavy hearts we went.

The lake, as now, lay glassy calm,
85
    Soft in the evening light;
In pain and pride I turned to hide
    The tears that dimmed my sight.

I hoped, in vain, that he would speak
    Again, but one word more;
90
But nought was said, the moment fled;
    We parted on the shore!

Such things no doubt must always be;
    Yet still returns again
The thought—how different life had been
95
    Had he but spoken then! [Page 93]

He bade us all a calm good-bye—
    The while I stood apart,—
With eyes averted, pressed my hand,
    Nor saw the vain tears start.
100

No doubt he has forgotten long
    The love he uttered then;
But here that hour resumes its power
    And breathes for me again!

 

•    •    •

 

 
But here comes little Alice,
105
    And someone by her side,
Whose words I know have waked the blush
    She vainly tries to hide.

No more of dreaming now for me;
    Such fancies all are past;
110
Yet I would pray that many a day
    Her happy dream may last.

And yet perchance the love that here
    Its fuller growth may miss
Shall find new spring and blossoming
115
    In happier clime than this! [Page 94]  

 

Lays of the “True
North”
1899