Annie Charlotte Dalton

by Wanda Campbell


 

Annie Charlotte Dalton
1865-1938


Annie Charlotte Dalton was born December 9, 1865, at Birkby, Hud- dersfield, Yorkshire, England. By the age of seven she had developed an eye weakness and was hearing impaired. Educated privately, she turned, according to Lionel Stevenson, to writing as a refuge from the monotony accompanying her delicate health and deafness (Canadian Bookman 6:242). She married Willie Dalton in 1891 and the couple moved to Vancouver in 1904. With the support of the British critic Stopford Brooke, Dalton published her first collection of verse, The Marriage of Music, in 1910. Her 1924 collection, Flame and Adventure, which featured two long poems, was followed in quick succession by The Silent Zone (1926), The Ear Trumpet (1926), The Amber Riders and Other Poems (1929), The Neighing North (1931), and Lilies and Leopards (1935). She died in 1938.

    In an address entitled “The Future of Our Poetry” written for the Author’s Convention in Toronto in 1931, Dalton stated that the virtues she found in Lawren Harris’ painting Mountain Form would soon be the strongest characteristics of Canada’s poetry:

the refreshment of originality…its restraint and freedom, its gifts of spiritual illumination and expression; the extraordinary depth and quality of its feeling; its symbolism; and its wonderful suggestion of light.

And, indeed, in her own poetry she tried to achieve a Canadian voice, dwelling on Northern themes and leaning to a long rhythmic line. These were likely the qualities that attracted E.J. Pratt, who referred to her in 1938 as “one of the leading writers of this country” (11). Like Pratt, she was interested in a dialogue between science, religion, and poetry, and her “epic” poems, like his, sought to imbue historical details with mythic grandeur. She likened the role of poet to that of scientist and prophet and in her preface to Leopards and Lilies called for “reasonable optimism at this [Page 239] time, when bewilderment and pain overshadow our sense of the upward progress of Man.”

    Though honoured in her own lifetime as a member of the Order of the British Empire, the only woman poet then included, Dalton has not fared well at the hands of critics, in part because they have tended to assess her poetic achievement in the light of her disability. She speaks often in her poetry of the mental suffering resulting from deafness. In the Introduction to The Silent Zone, a title based on the “inscrutable and gigantic webs of silence” that are supposedly the cause of numerous shipwrecks, Dalton describes the “terrible hours of revolt and despair” that accompany deafness: “It is like being caged in a prison-ship off the Isles of the Blest; it is like being buried alive, to those who have known the utmost felicity of sound.”

    Her contemporaries compared her with numerous authors including John Donne, Andrew Marvell, William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but the effusiveness of the commentary lessens the value of their assessments. Lionel Stevenson wrote of her in 1936: “She is constitutionally incapable of triteness” (5). The fact that nothing has been written about her work since her death in 1938 reveals that new generations of readers disagree. Her work is uneven but she is nonetheless intriguing in her efforts to make science and anthropology acceptable themes in poetry, and in her efforts to voice the challenges faced by the deaf. Some of her most compelling poems are evocative studies of despair in which the speaker is imaged as an “unlit candle” or a dungeon where insects breed. She is intriguing also for her efforts to restore Lady Franklin to history, Hathor to the pantheon, and Canada to a role as motherland—strong, generous, and alive with music.

    Though she cultivated imaginative ties with the country of her birth in her tributes to figures such as Emily Brontë, Dalton was committed to Canada, the country where her writing career began. Through her work with the Canadian Authors’ Association and the Vancouver Poetry Society, she fostered the work of other writers and attempted to generate an atmosphere favourable to creative writing. Noting that “the golden days of English literature,” were the days when England came most inimately into contact with other nations, Dalton also believed that writers from different regions and countries should share their work. Her own poetry displays a juncture of influences, between tradition and innovation, the universal and the local, the grand idea and the intimate detail. At the time of her death, she was [Page 240] referred to as “The Poet Laureate of the Deafened,” but a close examination of her best poetry reveals that she has a wider appeal not only as one who spoke from silence, but also as one who yearned for music.

Selected Bibliography

The Marriage of Music (Vancouver: Evans and Hastings, 1910)
Flame and Adventure (Toronto: Macmillan, 1924)
The Silent Zone (Vancouver: Cowan and Brookhouse, 1926)
The Ear Trumpet (Toronto: Ryerson, 1926)
The Amber Riders, and Other Poems (Toronto: Ryerson, 1929)
The Neighing North (Toronto: Ryerson, 1931)
Lilies and Leopards (Toronto: Ryerson, 1935)

Lionel Stevenson, “Annie C. Dalton—A Personal Impression,” Canadian Bookman 6 (November 1924): 242; Constance Davies-Woodrow, “Two Vancouver Poets,” Canadian Bookman 9 (March 1927): 83-84; A. Ermatinger Fraser, “The Poetry of Annie Charlotte Dalton: an Appreciative Study,” Canadian Bookman 11 (August 1929): 179-84; Annie Charlotte Dalton, The Future of Our Poetry (Vancouver: privately printed, 1931); Agnes Joynes, “The Neighing North: an Appreciation of Annie Charlotte Dalton,” Canadian Bookman 14 (April 1932): 45-6; T.G. Marquis, “A Poet of Power,” Saturday Night 47:12 (31 Dec 1932); Lionel Stevenson, “Two Vancouver Poets,” Canadian Bookman 18 (January 1936): 4-7; E.J. Pratt, “Bookman Profiles: Annie Charlotte Dalton,” Canadian Bookman 20 (April-May 1938): 11; M.E. Colman, “Annie Charlotte Dalton, 1865-1938,” Canadian Author 15 (April 1938): 14, 16. [Page 241]

 

A Lunatic’s Will Done into Verse

 

I, Charles Lounbery,
Of disposing memory,
Being of sound mind,
Have myself designed
This, my latest Will and Testament.
5

Item.
God owns the world—
We are heirs of God—
Herewith I bequeath
My portion…I have trod
10
Full softly through this so-called vale of tears
And found it good.
Now of sound mind, and being full of years,
My Will I would
Devise, and leave
15
Not gold, nor yet the right to live—
I hold these not—
But, all good, endearing names
That childhood-grace and beauty claims,
All little quaint, pet names of love
20
I give to all good parents for
The children who their darlings are,
And for the benefit thereof,
Sweet praise, encouragement, in trust,
And I charge them to be generous, just.
25

Item.
Again I leave to children (but
Only whilst they, children still,
Dance and dance with heedless foot),
The harebell on the windy hill,
30
The heather on the sweeping moor,
The daisy at the cottage-door,
The willows, and the little brooks
With shining sands and mossy nooks, [Page 242]
The primrose on the steep, green bank,

35
(Oh, warn them of the nettle rank,
The thistle and the treacherous thorn),
And all the dew-gems of the morn—
Lowly things that please the poor.
Unlimited, the right to play
40
Throughout each golden summer day,
To glean the dropping ears of corn,
To blow upon the young Moon’s horn,
And in the long and sweet twilight
To crowd the crackling fire bright;
45
To listen to the tales of old
Of sleeping ladies, princes bold;
Dragons fierce, and treasure trove,
Guerdon of the truest love;
And the right sweetly to sleep
50
While the angels vigil keep,
Lanterns from the milky way
Guiding them lest they should stray,
And the moonbeams weaving white
Counterpanes of soft delight.
55
But I do charge you that the boon
Of starlight and the silver moon,
Must no lover’s rights impugn.

Item.
Now of sound mind, I do devise

60
All useful fields for exercise,
All pleasant waters good to swim
To every boy; also, to him
The bracing hills, the fishing streams,
The meadow where the hawk-moth dreams;
65
The secret woods and all their joys
Of squirrels, birds, and living toys,
Of echo, shadow, and strange noise;
Adventures, and all distant places too,
All weird, wild quests, O boy, I give to you.

70
At night [Page 243]
The fireside shall have a place
For you, and you shall trace
All pictures that in burning wood delight;
Nor let, nor hindrance,
75
Nor care-encumbrance,
Shall you annoy,
O happy, happy boy!

Item.
To lovers all I would devise

80
The rapture of the dreaming skies,
The red rose ’neath the sheltering wall,
The hawthorn snows that softly fall;
Sweet strains of gentle music, and
All beauteous things their love demand;
85
The tender touch,
The thrill, and such
Delights the world scorns overmuch;
In short, all budding joys that lie up-curled
Within their own imaginary world.
90

Item.
To young men, jointly, I bequeath
The glory of the victor’s wreath,
The sports of rivalry, and true
Disdain of weakness, and a due
95
Confidence in their own strength,
Friendships of a life-long length;
Companionship and merry songs,
Brave choruses, all that belongs
To lusty voices; and a life
100
Of healthy joy and strenuous strife.

Item.
To those who can no longer wage
Life’s war, nor give a lover’s gage;
Who tread no more the happy heath

105
With careless footstep, I bequeath [Page 244]
All fond memory of the past;
The strength of the enthusiast,
And sober pleasures that do last
And bring the olden days again
110
With freshened joy and chastened pain;
And, what many hold more dear,
Precious volumes of Shakespeare,
Burns, and if it can be told
There are others, I with-hold
115
None of them if they but raise
The glamour of the by-gone days.

Item.
Lastly, to each loved one,
With folded hands and labour done,

120
With snowy wreath
And faded eyes,
I do bequeath,
I do devise,
Their children’s love and gratitude to keep
125
Till He shall give His own beloved sleep.

 

The Marriage of
Music
1910

 

The Robin’s Egg

 

The drenched earth has a warm, sweet radiance all her own
The wakening chestnut flings upon the air
Her crumpled loveliness of leaf.
Lovely and brief,
The daffodil stands deep
5
In arabis full-blown—
There, early honey gatherers come.

Gold dawns along the spare,
Sleek buds of leopard’s-bane,
Beneath the autumn-planted dog-wood still asleep; [Page 245]
10
Lovely and vain,
The slim, young plum
Flaunts her white bridal veil
Beyond the garden pale.

Fallen, fallen amongst the daffodils,

15
A robin’s egg half-crushed—
Bluer than any sky could be,
Blue with a tense divinity
As if some god had brushed,
Impatiently, a jewel from his hand—
20
Ah! who shall understand
This radiant mystery!

A moment, and the beauty of our garden has rushed
Away; my heart with some strange rapture fills—
This rapture of this robin’s blue

25
Holds all my soul in thrall,
As if I heard and knew
Some strange, sweet, foreign call;
As if I saw and knew
Some secret in the robin’s precious blue.
30

This scrap of jelly which should be,
Potentially,
A singing robin in our tree—
I sorrow for its tiny life, but still,
Intoxicating, leaps the thrill
35
That ravishes, that satisfies my soul,
Soothes me, and makes me whole—

So strangely are we made! If I could tell
Whence this pure rapture, this dumb spell—
So strangely are we made that I must know

40
Why this small thing doth move me so;
Why, for an amulet, I fain would beg
The turquoise of some robin’s egg. [Page 246]

 

Flame and Adventure
1924

 

The Sky

 

There is no glad return for us, but on
    We go to Nature still unknown;
Our secret fear of lonely fields has gone,
    Nor greater fear has grown,
    Though now we seek to rove the lonelier field,
5
    The vast, uncultivated weald,
    Where man has never walked nor flown.
    This nature, this fair sky,
    This new adventure-land for man,
    Whose dim and ancient hills we scan,
10
    Whose cliffs we hail, whose echoing cliffs reply—
From what dust-clouded space,
Come first the far beginnings of our race?
Infinitesimal emigrants who brought
Chaos and solitude in chains of thought,
15
The outlaw elements of some distracted star;
Atoms, who fashioned our broad commonage, and are
The evocative hostages of time;
Serfs, who have whirled their way
To light of common day;
20
Serfs, who have bound perpetual spring
Within the universe’s frigid ring;
Through stolid labour, turpitude of chance,
In ever-during pleasure still they dance;
In ever-during rapture, too, they sing;
25
In ever-during patience still they plod;
    Inimitable regiments of God;
    Inimitable, allegiant, sublime. [Page 247]

 

Flame and Adventure
1924

 

To Viola Meynell*

 

I

We were just saying—I had not thought
That anyone so moving tale could tell
Of those experiences too dearly bought,
That on them knowing hearts should care to dwell.

We were just saying—Have you thus said

5
With kindly gesture to a bursting heart?
Have you?…Then blessing be upon your head!
Like Mary, you have chosen the loving part.

We were just saying—Was that kind word
Once said to you waiting in silent pain?

10
And did you know the joy of hope deferred—
The joy of having some dear soul explain?

We were just saying—O simple thing!
But, ’tis the simple things that make life glad;
Deaf though the ears, birds in the heart can sing,

15
Thrice deafened are the ears when the heart is sad.

We were just saying—Strange tale well told—
How many hearts will bless the loving thought?
How many callous ones will fear the bold
Light, you have thrown on the havoc they have wrought.
20
[Page 248]  

II

They were just saying
But you I may not tell,
‘Tis such a dreadful story
It must have been thought out in hell.
The story of your father—
25
Who died;
The story of your mother too—
A guiltless homicide;
And you sit there in innocence,
In semi-silence, trustful ignorance,
30
The misery unheard!
Oh, not by a word,
Or ever a glance
Of mine, must pass
To you….
35

This frightful tragedy that was
Of one, the slain, and one that slew,
Two lovers to each other true.

They were just saying
Nay! but those innocent eyes,

40
So eloquently praying
To share the eagerness, the great surprise
Upon their animated faces,
Pierce to my very heart—Ah! what sweet lies
Shall I call up to fill the places
45
Of those grim tales, so grossly nurtured, vile?
Dear lady with the wistful smile!
Ask me no more what the tart tongues say—
Cold, evil spite their speech debases,
And I—I can but pray,
50
“Ask me no more!”
Hot is my heart and sore,
Pure is the air without the door,… [Page 249]
Ah! come away,
The very furniture grimaces!
55

 

* “To Viola Meynell,” a poem in two parts; the first one addressed to the author of a striking short story, entitled “We Were Just Saying,” illustrates that phrase, with which a thoughtful person usually begins an explanation of a conversation to one who is partially deaf, and which is always so welcome and productive of delight.
The second half of the poem portrays the thoughtlessness with which people so often discuss the affairs of the deafened in their presence.
The story is included in Mrs. Meynell’s book, “Young Mrs. Cruse.” —Harcourt, Brace & Co. [back]

 

 

The Ear Trumpet 1926

 

Listening-In

 

My Country! I who may not go
The venturous way thy lovers know,
Who, timid traveller, hath but seen
Green fringes of thy wide demesne,
Know well unfit am I to sing
5
Of thee, yet my love-lyrics bring.
Half-whispers of thy wandering wind,
Of beauty, stream and bird entwined,
I dare to sing who never heard
The song of water, wind or bird,
10
Who cons thy strenuous joy or dearth
On garden-seat or flame-lit hearth,
And who would all that comfort give
For strength with thee awhile to live.

II

My country towers from granite hewn,
15
Snow-purified and purged with fire,
A noble land with Edens strewn.
She can give all men their desire.
High lands and seas her strong sons rove,
In quietness I sing my love.
20

My love of all her frozen crests
That know no comrade but the stars,
Her ever-covered virgin breasts
Hiding a thousand rugged scars.
Knees deep in pine and cedar grove,
25
She strides her streams and calls for love. [Page 250]

My day is spent, my night half-gone,
And I am given to helpless rage,
If I of all my hopes have none,
What shall illume this heritage?

30
How vain love’s loyalty to prove—
There’s nought to do but sing for love.

For love of her, great lonely land!
Whose state and worth are still unknown,
Whose stubborn fastnesses withstand

35
Yet claim the strong ones for her own;
But me, how should her heart approve,
Who must sit still and chant for love?

For love of beauty, for the soul
Whose veil the rising sun hath drawn,

40
The promise and the aureole
Attendant on her star-rimmed morn,
For those heroic ones who strove,
And gave her glory, honour, love.

I sing of all I may not win,

45
Her dangerous sport, her strenuous task,
The friendship, love, and closer kin,
The young and strong alone may ask.
I, who in dreams to all things clove,
In rath renouncement prove my love.
50

If nothing from my hope is born,
That hope still lives, beloved land!
And, not entirely forlorn.
Grows green as meadows rainbow-spanned.
Air, land, and sea thy great ones rove,
55
In quietness I sing my love. [Page 251]

III

How would I sing if I could fly,
And see thy beauty underspread,
Those ancient trails, thy streams, espy
From ocean-bar to mountain-head—
60
Tremendous thought! to measure thee
As wild geese do, from sea to sea.

To leave thy green Pacific isles
Fretting the mists of rosy morn,
To hail when changeful Venus smiles,

65
Fair Madeleine, Atlantic-born;
So crush thy beauty in the cup
Of one short day and drink thee up.

But such intoxicating draught
Is for Olympian youth alone,

70
Nor can imaginative craft
Make such rare ecstacy mine own,
But I can sip a simpler wine
While love doth make my heart thy shrine.

IV

No slender wireless tops our roof,
75
No strange magicians there are found,
Weaving with unseen warp and woof
Their scintillating web of sound;
Though silence takes me in her springe,
Far-reaching thoughts on me impinge.
80

Here is no care for space or time,
Well-ordered hours no line deploy,
The morning bird and evening chime
Together pour the cup of joy;
And while it’s young and lusty day,
85
Sweet vespers call from far Grand Pre. [Page 252]

I hear a song from tossed sea-folk,
From muffled maids at prairie wells—
From where Columbian hot springs smoke
To Labrador’s remoter fells,

90
A song all other songs above,
A song of labour-sweetened love.

I hear a glacier creep; a stream
Roars to the torrent-strangled wall;
I hear a hunter, and the scream

95
Of wounded wild things ere they fall;
Hoarse avalanches, moaning bights,
And whispers born of Northern Lights.

I hear the sawmill’s monstrous wheel
And dreadful arm of fate—Oh, see!

100
That grim, relentless clasp of steel,
Hear the wild shriek of some gripped tree!
Tree! tree! you taste of death again,
As when you first fell down amain.

Night’s Sabbath gun to labour calls,

105
The waiting fishers draw their breath,
From each dark boat the great seine falls,
Life must snare life to cozen death…
I thought the shock of life to bring,
And death, and death again, I sing.
110

Ah! listen to the hum of bees
Building their combs of honey and wax,
Ah! listen to the song of these
Strong, sturdy peasants spinning flax,
Or weaving with grave, Slav delight,
115
Fair linen and embroideries white.

Around a campfire Indians sing,
The tom-tom quicker, quicker beat, [Page 253]
One in their midst—his closed hands swing—
La Halle! fast game and joyous feat!
120
Around, around in laden lines,
The golden-green, perfumed hop vines.

These care-free native children love,
They love but know not half their dower,
The freedom set by cedar grove,

125
By tropic spring or alpine bower;
By sea-long lake, by rock-girt isle,
In stately fir-cathedral aisle.

Gay songs from river-boats, sweet hymns
From steeple, cupola, or dome,

130
From mountains, valleys, prairie rims,
Wherever souls may find a home,
And, drowning saint and Lorelei,
Sweet Israfel flutes from the sky.

His flute with witchery overflows,

135
The rhythm through creation runs,
He sings of Orion’s labouring throes,
The splendid wane of dying suns.
Sing! sing! Thy tuneful wonders tell,
My soul can hear thee, Israfel!
140

Oh! now on my Canadian hills,
Michael is girding on his sword,
While Gabriel’s horn each valley fills,
Calling the armies of his Lord,
And, marching with the valiant band,
145
Spirit and god walk through the land.

Their radiance whirls the mists away—
The country’s full of secret runes;
At dawn, at noon, at close of day,
The country’s full of lovely tunes. [Page 254]
150

Ah, unsealed ears and opened eyes,
This Canada is Paradise.

•    •    •

O God! in spirit I have walked,
And all things sang their song for me;
Deafened and baffled, I have talked
155
With earth and man, I talk with Thee!
Humbled with joy, my thanks I give
For this divine reparative.

Ah! long ago Thy giants ruled
Their ancient city, fort and fen,

160
By gold and dwarfs shall we be schooled?
Gives us great chiefs! Give us great men!
And that tremendous mother bless,
Who made us heirs of righteousness!
 

 

The Silent Zone 1926

 

 

Monotony

 

 
Now life’s intolerable tameness,
        Subtle and dangerous,
Has smitten into deadly sameness,
These fleeting hours which have no fleetness,
These strong sweet hours which have no strength nor sweetness.
5
Flame and adventure no more,
        Ashes and monotony
Falling fast to stifle thee,
        Dull is the treeless shore,
        Dull is the waveless sea. [Page 255]
10

 

The Silent Zone 1926

 

 

Silence

 

God bound about the world a zone
Of haunting music and a moan
Of tender dirge set on the seas;
To his dear death all ecstasies
He gave of grief and rapture known,
5
And round her frozen brow was thrown,
The crown of his sublimities,
His aching, aching, silences.

 

The Silent Zone 1926

 

To Emily Brontë

 

    O heart that could not break,
Wild moorland heart forever strong and free!
    Thy song this song doth make,
Across the hills of time I answer thee.

    I see thy moorlands grim,
5
Harsh matrix for a soul unborn to roam;
    Tender the moors and dim
The eyes that see them from a distant home.

    How should a bright world guess
Thy bursting heart, the fulness of thy woe,
10
    Thy love, thy loneliness,
The strength a moorland-sheltered heart must know.

    No coward soul is thine,
Eternal God shines in thy fearless face;
    No coward soul is mine,
15
Across dim worlds thy footsteps I would trace.

    I know not where thou art;
But this I know, when time shall call for me, [Page 256]
    When soul and body part,
That I shall search this universe for thee.
20
    
O heart that would not break,
Wild moorland heart forever strong and free!
    Thy song my song doth make.
Across what hills, what worlds I follow thee!

 

The Amber Riders 1929

 

Out of Work

 

There is a street down-town, where all day long,
Go silent men with lagging feet that look
As they were more familiar with rough ways
Than greasy pavements and the crowded streets;
Grey men with lagging feet and mutinous mouths—
5
Oh, fear those mutinous mouths, those lagging feet,
Those unseen, unraised eyes that brood and brood
            on living death.

 

The Amber Riders 1929

 

The Candle

 

At night when God looks down
Upon this bright, lamp-studded town,
Each bright lamp winks and winks;
      I wonder what God thinks,
      I wonder if He knows
5
      Each tiny lamp that glows,
And if through darkness He can see
This unlit candle which is me. [Page 257]

 

The Amber Riders 1929

 

The Sounding Portage

 

The wind roars and the river roars;
    Strange footsteps hurrying by,
To the roaring wind and the roaring stream
    Tumultuously reply.

The wind sinks and the river sinks;

5
    And the footsteps dwindling by,
With the fainting wind and the falling stream,
    Pause, hesitate, and die.

This is the Sounding Portage where
    A mort of years ago,

10
Fur-trappers bound for the hunting-ground
    Came tramping to and fro.

The red men first with their birch canoes,
    The white men next prevail;
Together, they in hardship tread

15
    An immemorial trail.

Here, by the camp-fire, tales are told,
    And stranger things are said,
How the highway then is a by-way now
    And portage for the dead.

20

The hurrying sounds make a man’s flesh creep;
    Though he strive to laugh and joke,
When the steps draw nigh, none make reply,
    And the scarlet embers smoke.

The steps draw nigh and the rapid roars,

25
    The listeners breathe a prayer,
They think they hear faint words of cheer
    From struggling mortals there. [Page 258]

When the stars come out with a rapturous shout,
    The nodding campers peer

30
Through the fringe of trees to the ghostly stream,
    And lose in sleep their fear.

But the wind roars and the river roars,
    And the footsteps hurrying by,
To the roaring wind and the roaring stream

35
    Tumultuously reply.

Then the wind sinks and the river sinks
    With the footsteps dwindling by,
But the fainting wind and the falling stream
    Like them can never die.

40

It is dawn and the deer are drinking,
    For the hasty camp is gone;
And the wind roars and the stream roars
    As the tramping dead move on.

 

Beaver                                                                         The Neighing
September 1931                                                             North 1931
(262:286)

 

The Skraelings

 

Thousands of leagues away men shiver and burrow in caverns,
Thither they grope, light lamps, and carve their ideals of magic,
Then leaving their rude fireplaces, they follow the Mammoth and             Musk-ox
Over the broad low valley where now rages the turbulent ocean;
So winds the first Folk-way to your North, so come the first
5
            migrants.

So came the first Migrants to that desolate region, “The             Barrens,”*
Driven by their hunger to wander far from the European             meadows,
Forced from the hillsides of Gallia, urged by the raging             flood-waters,
Or by their brothers, the Herdsman, who shrewdly tamed horses             and cattle,
Ages before the proud Gauls had given their name to that country.

10
[Page 259]

There in “The Barrens” they stayed, in that waste where nothing             but lichen,
Mosses and heather and cold-warped willows can temper its             stretches;
And whether they starved awhile, or whether the gods gave them             plenty,
Happily there they abode till came the clear voice of the Stallion,
Turning them Northward to him, to the home and the spoil of the

15
            hunter.

Thither they went, taking each beautiful lance and harpoon-             thrower,
Singing harpoon and bird-dart, toys and tools of ivory and deer-             horn,
Carrying the bow-drill with which they cunningly bored, and made             fire,
Swinging the small smooth stones with tough thongs tethered             together,
Whirling them round like chain-shot and smiting the swiftest of
20
            wild-fowl.

Nameless they lived till the Norsemen christened them             Skraelings, the Fairies,*
Nameless as those of their sires who hunted the seal and the             salmon,
Spearing them both in Gaul with their carved and deadly barbed             lance heads;
Magdalenians we call them, who chiselled the chase on stone in             their houses,
Showing that this and that folk were one and the same pleasant

25
            people.

Fiercely he called to these people and made them great hunters,
Whether they sailed the summer seas in their kayaks of seal-skin,
Chasing the bow-headed whale, the narwhal, and trumpeting             walrus, [Page 260]
Or crouched on the ice by the blowholes in winter with harpoon             uplifted,
Or harried the Musk-Ox and Amarok* over the timberless tundra.

30

Time keeps no tally, Kanadiens, of those years in your             Northlands,
Thousands of years whose days were uneventful and barren,
Gods immortal and myth-men sitting no longer together,
Sitting no longer together and sopping in crimson communion,
Whilst in the warm South empires were buried and builded.
35

When was Odin born—when Apollo—who may declare it?
What is the lapse of years, of aeons, in the lives of the Immortals?
What care the Skaelings for Apollo and what for One-Eyed             Odin—
They who hunt the sea-unicorn, the leviathan, and the sea-lion,
Undisturbed by the passions of heaven or its crying.
40

Slyly they play with cat’s cradles, catching the Sun fleeing             Southward;
Poising the cup and the ball to assist him when Northward             returning;
Charming the souls of the sea-beasts caught in the reek of the             slaughter,
Charming the souls of the landbeasts, gently forgiveness             imploring—
Such is the homelier magic wrought by the need-driven
45
            Skraelings.

Spirits they fear and miracles wax, but no wonder
Breeds in their minds for them, the Awful is ever transcendent,
Daily the monstrous is born, impossible marvels surround them,
Never assuaging their hunger, but luring and binding a people
Free as the sparrows that build in the eaves of a cottage or
50
            castle.

Who like the Skaelings can know how to appease that keen             hunger,
Born of the treeless waste where hope often with horror goes             hunting?
Happy and cheerful are they, their substance with poorer ones             sharing,
Living and spirit-men equally sharing the dolphin and seal-head,
Precious, more precious to them than the storied horn of the
55
            unicorn.

Skirting the frozen coasts they fly, driving their dog teams before             them,
Straining, struggling specks of endurance, four-footed heroes; [Page 261]
Savage and faithful to death, wolf-blood or dog-blood ascendant,
Staining the fair white snow with unwavering, crimsoning             footprints,
Bringing the hunters home to the village with triumph and
60
            gladness.

Who like the Skraelings love laughter, who hath a heart that is             lighter?
Who like them bid the weary guests welcome to food and warm             shelter,
Building for them a snow dance-house, beating the drum in the             dance- house,
Singing their own peculiar songs, swaying their bodies and             dancing.
Who like the Skraelings love laughter, who hath a heart that is
65
            lighter?

 

* In all the history of Canada, one place has stood forth as the most bitter of all districts; death has lurked there eternally. It is “The Barrens.”—Courtney Ryley Cooper, Go North Young Man, p. 251. [back]

 

* “Nansen suggests that the lack of mention of them (the Skraelings), in the Sagas may have been due to the superstitious feeling that it was unwise to say anything about supernatural beings, as the Norse name implied.”—The Polar Regions, p. 1.
    Others have interpreted the word “Skaelings” or “Skrellings” as “Weaklings” or “troll-women,” both of which seem doubtful. “Skroelingjar are mentioned as having attacked Thorwald, son of Eirek the Red, on his visit to Vinland, and were probably Indians, as Eskimo did not live so far south.”—Paul B. DuChaillu, The Viking Age, Vol. II, p. 525. [back]

 

“Dr. Henry Mac Ami, one of Canada’s outstanding scientists died Sunday, January 4, 1931, at Mentone, France. Dr. Ami startled the world of science a few years ago by his discovery of evidence tending to show that the Eskimo races, now found exclusively in the Canadian Arctic, at one time lived in France.”—Canadian Press Dispatch. [back]

 

* “The Amarok, a fabulous wild creature…probably the wolf.”—The Polar Regions, p. 129. [back]

 

The Neighing
North
1931

 

Flowers for Lady Franklin

 

O bring no flowers for this great lady’s grave
Which draw their scornful splendour from the South!
No flowers for her but those the Arctic gave,
Shy mute companions in her Dear One’s drouth:
With him they felt the grinding blizzard blow,
5
With him they slept in peace beneath the snow.

If you would honour this illustrious dead,
Bring daisy, saxifrage, and small sweet fern;
The pale anemone whose sudden head
Gave ever-failing promise of return,

10
And cones from that old spruce which with a sigh
Saw stumbling bands of Franklin’s men go by.

Bring trembling Arctic heather-bells of bloom,
The lovely lupin rallying sullen skies,
And rosy spires whose gracious rare perfume

15
Cheers frozen bumble-bees and starving flies;
Bring frosty willow-catkins “white with seed”*
No gaudier blossoms fit her simple need. [Page 262]

Bring snow-white buttercups and beaten grass
From sodden meadows near the Arctic shore;

20
Flowers cannot stop the crushing years which pass,
Nor bring again the heart that waits no more;
But these, of all which blow, will likelier prove
Emblems of bitter stress and quenchless love.

O bring no careless offering to this grave,

25
No scarlet scornful splendour from the South!
No flowers for her but these—the strong, the brave,
Like them her hope-starred eyes and patient mouth.
With him they loved the North Wind long ago,
No lesser flowers for Franklin’s lover blow.
30

 

* A.E. Porsild in “Arctic Wild Flowers,” The Canadian Geographical Journal, May, 1930. [back]

 

The Neighing
North
1931

 

To the Young Man Jesus

 

Where is the word of Your youth and beauty,
Your young courage and Your desire to roam?
Where is the song of Your gay companions,
    Your laughter, and joy at home?
We have been fed with tales of bearded men.
5
          
          The old still sit in their high seats,
          Weaving thin webs of silver and gold;
          The old still kill, and eat strange meats—
          Strange are the ways of the old.

          We would see You, Jesus!

10
          Not as the old men see,
          But, as Youth would have You,
          Young eternally.

          Not in the Temple confounding
          The Wise with sacred themes,
[Page 263]
15
          But as a young deer bounding
          Over secret streams.

          Not as a Seer unsealing
          Fault unconfessed
,
          But as a bird wide-wheeling
20
          About a nest.

          Not on a crude cross panting—
          Pale remove—
          But on this rich earth wanting
          Life and Love.

25

          For You were Life indeed,
          And Life was rough;
          For You were Love indeed,
          And Love was not enough.

          For You were Youth discrowned

30
          And thrown to Death,
          For You were Truth unfound
          Of Nazareth.

          The old sat in high seats
          Weaving webs of gold;

35
          The old ate strange meats—
          Strange were the ways of the old.

          Alas for youth and beauty so
          Put to shame!
          Alas for the Young companions

40
          Who cried Your name!

We have been fed with tales of bearded men. [Page 264]

 

Lilies and Leopards
1935

 

Green Leopards

 

Cloud-rinsed hands, patient in mid-air,
Holding on leash Three Leopards, the Three
Green Leopards of Despair.
And before them stood, upright, a Form Threefold:
One beauty-bold, one wisdom-wrinkled, old;
5
Assault of light—one unbearably bright!
    Against these Three pounced the Green Leopards,
Snarled the Green Leopards,
Whimpered the Green Leopards;
And the straining leash was not shortened
10
Nor the clutch on the Leopards loosened—
Strange!
Strange—how strange? oh no, to none unusened,
It is the all of strife, the unity of Life.

 

Lilies and Leopards
1935

 

The Praying-Mantis

 

The Praying-Mantis
In the dark dungeons of the mind,
Strange creatures walk and breed their kind;
    The Mantis mounts the stair,
    With movements free as air.

The Praying-Mantis mounts the stair,

5
Her tiny arms upheld in prayer.
    In chasuble and stole,
    She stands to read my soul.

I know not what dark thing is there,
Nor why my soul must feel despair,

10
    Nor why she turns away
    And bids the Mantis slay. [Page 265]

In the deep dungeons of the mind,
Strange creatures walk and breed their kind;
    With arms upheld in prayer

15
    The Mantis mounts the stair.

 

Lilies and Leopards
1935

 

To Hathor the Mistress of Turquoise

 

Not offering for dear souls departed,
But for my own alive, adoring soul,
I burn before you, Hathor, gracious-hearted,
I burn the incense in the altar bowl.

High Egypt’s lords, likewise adoring,

5
Crossed the grim desert to your hill-top shrine,
Bearing proud gifts—one gift from you imploring,
The turquoise harvest of your hidden mine.

When the blue Nile rose overflowing,
They turned to you, your mines, your desert cold,

10
With golden sistrum, amber incense, showing
Reverence for one so long revered, so old.

Old—you were old when Jacob’s blessing
Stirred his young soul in Sinai’s holiest spot;
Strange to your ears his thankless cry confessing,

15
“Surely the Lord is here—I knew it not.”

Old—you were old before the coming
Of the first Pharaoh filled your ancient cave,
And set the stark and beetling mountains humming
With mingled toil of overlord and slave.

20

Great grew your temple—now white ashes
Of sacred flames like barren snows are spread; [Page 266]
Bare lies each court and shrine; the tempest lashes
On the prone pillars, on your wind-worn head.

Fallen is your glory, Hathor, gleaming
25
Altar and sleeping-shelter overthrown;
Gone are the dreamers, you alone lie dreaming,
Left in the desert on a broken stone.

Old—you are old, but tranquil beauty
Broods like a dove above your wide-spaced eyes;

30
You I would praise—and love—and ancient duty—
Oh, of your ageless wisdom make me wise.

Strait was your cave, what walls now measure
This sudden joy with which the bright hours teem,
When common things outpour their turquoise treasure

35
Past the fair promise of your sacred dream.

Arching the skies, on earth and ocean,
In robins’ homes, on temple roofs, your blue
Glows pure and rare, and in my heart devotion
Sprung like a flower, Hathor, I worship you.

40

Fallen is your temple, Hathor, gleaming
Altar and sleeping-places overthrown;
Still in the world some worshippers are dreaming,
Lulled by dim memory woven round a stone.

Not offering for dear souls departed,

45
But for my own alive, adoring soul,
I burn before you, Hathor, gracious-hearted,
I burn the incense in the altar bowl. [Page 267]

 

Canadian Poetry
October 1937 (2:20-22)