Isabella Valancy Crawford

by Wanda Campbell


 

Isabella Valancy Crawford
1850-1887


Isabella Valancy Crawford was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1850 and came to Canada at the age of eight. Her father was a doctor plagued by financial scandals and alcoholism, which forced the family to move from where they first settled in Paisley, Ontario, to Kingston, then Lakefield (where she was befriended by Susanna Moodie’s sister Catharine Parr Traill and her daughter Kate), and finally to Peterborough. After the death of her father in 1875, Crawford eventually moved to Toronto where she supported herself and her mother by publishing in numerous newspapers including the Mail, the Globe, the National, and the Evening Telegram. In 1884, the only collection of verse to appear in her lifetime, “Old Spookses’ Pass,” “Malcolm’s Katie,” and Other Poems, was published in Toronto at her own expense. Though the text was, in Crawford’s words, “decorated with press errors as a Zulu chief is laden with beads” (quoted by Farmiloe v) reviews were positive; however, only about 50 copies of 1000 were sold. Crawford was understandably disappointed and felt she had been neglected by “the High Priests of Canadian Periodical Literature” (Arcturus 84). Crawford died in Toronto of a heart attack on February 12, 1887, and was buried in Peterborough next to the Otonabee.

    In 1905, J.W. Garvin published The Collected Poems of Isabella Valancy Crawford. As Robert Alan Burns and others have pointed out, Garvin’s edition includes only sixty percent of Crawford’s poetry, and a true assessment of her contribution will have to wait until a genuinely complete and textually reliable collection including unpublished and fugitive material appears. In 1925, Garvin’s wife Katherine Hale published a book on Crawford in the “Makers of Canadian Literature” series from Ryerson press, introducing her as “a flaming but solitary figure singing…strange and brilliant songs” (1).

    As Burns points out in his critical overview of Crawford’s work in Canadian Writers and Their Works, serious critical assessment began in [Page 97] the mid-1940s with A.J.M. Smith, Northrop Frye, and E.K Brown, who called her “the only Canadian woman poet of real importance in the last century” (42). Discussion of her work accelerated in the 70s with the reprint of Garvin’s collection, with James Reaney leading the admirers, and Desmond Pacey and Louis Dudek as the most vocal detractors. D.M.R. Bentley, in his Introduction to an annotated critical edition of Malcolm’s Katie: a Love Story (1987), explores the many and varied readings prompted by that poem alone, including mythopoeic, nationalist, feminist, biographical, Marxian, and literary-historical. An unfinished manuscript published as Hugh and Ion by Glenn Clever in 1977 has yet to receive the same attention, though it expands “the range and resonance of her work” (Clever ix). “Crawford’s brilliant imperfections,” writes Burns in 1988, “continue to excite more interest and controversy than the more consistently polished achievements of her contemporaries” (28).

    In “Crawford, Davin, and Riel: Text and Intertext in Hugh and Ion,” Burns argues convincingly that a study of Crawford’s entire corpus reveals that the intellectual engagement and intertextuality of her work extends beyond the merely literary.

Only recently has critical opinion begun to shift away from the sentimental sexist view of Crawford as a shy, retiring, unconscious genius toward recognition of the incisively ironic critical intelligence revealed in an expanded examination of her texts. (62-63)

Curiously contradictory interpretations of her work reflect the contradictory descriptions of Crawford herself, with one contemporary describing her as “a slight, colourless, unnoticeable figure” (Farmiloe, xiii) and Susan Frances Harrison, then editor of the Week, describing her as a tall, dark young woman “with the air of a princess” (Hale, Leading Canadian Poets 67). She could enliven a party, playing passionately on the piano or “electrifying” her audience with the “sense of fun” (Farmiloe, xiii) and wit evident in her dialect poems, or she could lose herself in creating elaborate fabric sculptures of oriental scenes, one of which is on display at the Peterborough Centennial Museum. Crawford is increasingly being viewed as Canada’s first major poet. Continuing to reward those who approach with willingness and knowledge, her poetry is a “hidden room” to which we are still discovering the keys. [Page 98]

Selected Bibliography


“Old Spookses’ Pass,” “Malcolm’s Kate,” and Other Poems     (Toronto: Bain, 1884)
The Collected Poems of Isabella Valancy Crawford. Ed. John     Garvin (1905 rpt. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1972)
Hugh and Ion. Ed. Glenn Clever (Ottawa: Borealis, 1977)
Malcolm’s Katie: a Love Story. Ed. D.M.R. Bentley (London:     Canadian Poetry Press, 1987)

“Editorial,” Arcturus (19 February 1887): 84; Ethelwyn Wetherald, “Introduction,” Collected Poems of Isabella Valancy Crawford, (Toronto: Briggs, 1905): 15-29; Katherine Hale, Isabella Valancy Crawford (Toronto: Ryerson, 1923); E.K. Brown, On Canadian Poetry (Toronto: Ryerson, 1943): 41-45; Katherine Hale “Isabella Valancy Crawford” Leading Canadian Poets, ed. W.P. Percival (Toronto: Ryerson, 1948) 63-70; James Reaney, “Isabella Valancy Crawford,” Our Living Tradition Second and Third Series. ed. Robert McDougall (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1959): 268-88; Dorothy Livesay, “The Hunters Twain,” Canadian Literature 55 (Winter 1973): 75-98; Frank Tierney, ed. The Crawford Symposium (Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1979); Dorothy Farmiloe, Isabella Valancy Crawford: the Life and the Legends (Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1983); Robert Alan Burns, “Isabella Valancy Crawford,” Canadian Writers and Their Works: Poetry Series 1:21-71 (Toronto: ECW, 1988); Robert Alan Burns, “The Poet in Her Time: Isabella Valancy Crawford’s Social, Economic, and Political Views,” Studies in Canadian Literature 14:1 (1989): 30-53; Carole Gerson, “Isabella Valancy Crawford,” Dictionary of Literary Biography 92 (1990): 63-68; Wanda Campbell, “Isabella Valancy Crawford and Elizabeth Barrett Browning,” Canadian Poetry 29 (Fall/Winter 1991): 25-37; Elizabeth McNeill Galvin, Isabella Valancy: We Scarcely Knew Her (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 1994); Robert Alan Burns, “Crawford, Davin, and Riel: Text and Intertext in Hugh and Ion,” Canadian Poetry 37 (Fall/Winter 1995): 62-78. [Page 99]

 

The Vesper Star

 

 
Unfold thy pinions, drooping to the sun,
Just plunged behind the round-browed mountain, deep
Crowned with the snows of hawthorn, avalanched
All down its sloping shoulder with the bloom
Of orchards, blushing to the ardent South,
5
And to the evening oriflamme of rose
That arches the blue concave of the sky.

O rosy Star, thy trembling glory part
From the great sunset splendour that its tides
Sends rushing in swift billows to the east,

10
And on their manes of fire outswell thy sails
Of light-spun gold; and as the glory dies,
Throbbing thro’ changeful rose to silver mist,
Laden with souls of flowers wooed abroad
From painted petals by the ardent Night,
15
Possess the heavens for one short splendid hour—
Sole jewel on the Egypt brow of Night,
Who steals, dark giant, to caress the Earth,
And gathers from the glassy mere and sea
The silver foldings of his misty robe,
20
And hangs upon the air with brooding wings
Of shadow, shadow, stretching everywhere.
 

 

Mail                                                             Collected Poems 1905
24 December 1873 (3)

 

 

Esther

 

 
Unheard of others, voices called all night:—
The babble of young voices, the strong cries
Of men and women mourned amid the palms,
And gathered in mine ear, as winds that blow
About the earth and, gathering in some cave,
5
Give ghostly utterance of ghostly things—
“Esther, the Queen, arise and move the King [Page 100]
To sheathe the sword that lies upon the throats
Of thine own people!”

                                    When the sun sprang up
10
His tresses were as blood that stained the courts
And beat upon the walls, and sent its tide
To bathe my naked feet when I thrust back
The golden tissue of the door to catch
Some sweetness of the morn upon my brow;
15
And low! my God, a sweetness filled my soul
That came not from the morning but from Thee!

The winds that stirred the foldings of my robe
Were children’s fingers—ghostly, clinging clasps
That said, “O Esther, plead before the King!”

20
Ah me! how often when a little maid,
Playing amid the fountains and the flowers
Of mine own people, have such dimpled hands
Caught at my flying robe in mimic fright,
And great round eyes buried themselves therein;
25
But then the voices laughed, “O Esther, stay
That wicked brother, for he chases us,
And pelts with blushing roses.” Now I hear,
“O Esther, stay the King, he slaughters us!”

Alas! my courage is so weak a blade

30
It trembles at a breath. God, temper it to strength!
I perish if I go uncalled before the King.
Yea! let him smite me down a sacrifice
For Israel! Perchance that, dying thus, my blood
May creep about his heart and soften it
35
To those for whom I die. O God, when Thou
Didst veil Thy handmaid’s soul in this fair flesh
’Twas for some strait sore as the present need!

What is it that glimmers ready by my couch?
The symbol of my state, the crown the King

40
Hath set upon my brows. On, crown, and deck [Page 101]
My triumph or my death! O robes of state,
Ye jewelled splendours, how ye mock this flesh
That quivers with monitions of that hour
When this night’s moon shall peer above the palms
45
And find no life in Esther but that cold, cold life,
Blazing from diamond crown and golden robe,
Mocks of her life’s brief sun and briefer state.

But still will Esther go. Jehovah calls!
And if I die—Hark! as I go by court

50
And golden pillar, sweet, shrill voices cry,
Unheard of others, “Esther, stay the King!”
O yea, my lambs of Israel! how your hands
Cling to my robes and pluck me to the King!
God, lift his sceptre up before my face!
55
But if I die—I die!  

 

Mail                                                              Collected Poems 1905
7 March 1874 (3)

 

 

Canada to England

 

 
Gone are the days, old Warrior of the Seas,
When thine armed head, bent low to catch my voice,
Caught but the plaintive sighings of my woods,
And the wild roar of rock-dividing streams,
And the loud bellow of my cataracts,
5
Bridged with the seven splendours of the bow.
When Nature was a Samson yet unshorn,
Filling the land with solitary might,
Or as the Angel of the Apocalypse,
One foot upon the primeval bowered land,
10
One foot upon the white mane of the sea,
My voice but faintly swelled the ebb and flow
Of the wild tides and storms that beat upon
Thy rocky girdle,—loud shrieking from the Ind
Ambrosial-breathing furies; from the north
15
Thundering with Arctic bellows, groans of seas
Rising from tombs of ice disrupted by
The magic kisses of the wide-eyed sun. [Page 102]

The times have won a change. Nature no more
Lords it alone and binds the lonely land

20
A serf to tongueless solitudes; but Nature’s self
Is led, glad captive, in light fetters rich
As music-sounding silver can adorn;
And man has forged them, and our silent God
Behind His flaming worlds smiles on the deed.
25
“Man hath dominion”—words of primal might;
“Man hath dominion”—thus the words of God.

If destiny is writ on night’s dusk scroll,
Then youngest stars are dropping from the hand
Of the Creator, sowing on the sky

30
My name in seeds of light. Ages will watch
Those seeds expand to suns, such as the tree
Bears on its boughs, which grows in Paradise.

How sounds my voice, my warrior kinsman, now?
Sounds it not like to thine in lusty youth—

35
A world possessing shout of busy men,
Veined with the clang of trumpets and the noise
Of those who make them ready for the strife,
And in the making ready bruise its head?
Sounds it not like to thine—the whispering vine,
40
The robe of summer rustling thro’ the fields,
The lowing of the cattle in the meads,
The sound of Commerce, and the music-set,
Flame-brightened step of Art in stately halls,—
All the infinity of notes which chord
45
The diapason of a Nation’s voice?

My infants’ tongues lisp word for word with thine;
We worship, wed, and die, and God is named
That way ye name Him,—strong bond between
Two mighty lands when as one mingled cry,

50
As of one voice, Jehovah turns to hear.
The bonds between us are no subtle links
Of subtle minds binding in close embrace,
Half-struggling for release, two alien lands, [Page 103]
But God’s own seal of kindred, which to burst
55
Were but to dash His benediction from
Our brows. “Who loveth not his kin,
Whose face and voice are his, how shall he love
God whom he hath not seen?”
 

 

Mail                                                              Collected Poems 1905
28 July 1874

 

 

War

 

 
Shake, shake the earth with giant tread,
    Thou red-maned Titan bold;
For every step a man lies dead,
    A cottage hearth is cold.
Take up the babes with mailèd hands,
5
    Transfix them with thy spears,
Spare not the chaste young virgin-bands,
    Tho’ blood may be their tears.

Beat down the corn, tear up the vine,
    The waters turn to blood;

10
And if the wretch for bread doth whine,
    Give him his kin for food.
Ay, strew the dead to saddle-girth,
    They make so rich a mold,
Thou wilt enrich the wasted earth—
15
    They’ll turn to yellow gold.

On with thy thunders! Shot and shell
    Send screaming, featly hurled—
Science has made them in her cell
    To civilize the world.

20
Not, not alone where Christian men
    Pant in the well-armed strife,
But seek the jungle-throttled glen—
    The savage has a life! [Page 104]

He has a soul—so priests will say—

25
    Go, save it with thy sword!
Thro’ his rank forests force thy way,
    Thy war cry, “For the Lord!”
Rip up his mines, and from his strands
    Wash out the gold with blood—
30
Religion raises blessing hands,
    “War’s evil worketh good!”

When striding o’er the conquered land
    Silence thy rolling drum,
And, led by white-robed choiring band,

35
    With loud “Te Deum” come.
Seek the grim chancel, on its wall
    Thy blood-stiff banner hang;
They lie who say thy blood is gall,
    Thy tooth the serpent’s fang.
40

See, the white Christ is lifted high,
    Thy conquering sword to bless!
Smiles the pure monarch of the sky—
    Thy king can do no less.
Drink deep with him the festal wine,
45
    Drink with him drop for drop;
If like the sun his throne doth shine,
    Of it thou art the prop.

If spectres wait upon the bowl,
    Thou needst not be afraid;

50
Grin hell-hounds for thy bold, black soul,
    His purple be thy shade.
Go, feast with Commerce, be her spouse!
    She loves thee, thou art hers;
For thee she decks her board and house,
55
    Then how may others curse

If she, mild-seeming matron, leans
    Upon thine iron neck, [Page 105]
And leaves with thee her household scenes
    To follow at thy beck?

60
Bastard in brotherhood of kings,
    Their blood runs in thy veins;
For them the crowns; the sword that swings
    For thee, to hew their chains.

For thee the rending of the prey;

65
    They, jackals to the lion,
Tread after in the gory way
    Trod by the mightier scion.
O slave, that slayest other slaves,
    O’er vassals crowned a king,
70
O War, build high thy throne with graves,
    High as the vulture’s wing!
 

 

Evening Telegram                                     “Old Spookses’ Pass,”
4 August 1879             “Malcolm’s Katie,” and Other Poems 1884

 

 

The Camp of Souls

 

 
My white canoe, like the silvery air
    O’er the River of Death that darkly rolls
When the moons of the world are round and fair,
    I paddle back from the “Camp of Souls.”
When the wishton-wish in the low swamp grieves
5
    Come the dark plumes of red “Singing Leaves.”

Two hundred times have the moons of spring
    Rolled over the bright bay’s azure breath
Since they decked me with the plumes of an eagle’s wing,
    And painted my face with the “paint of death,”

10
And from their pipes o’er my corpse there broke
    The solemn rings of the blue “last smoke.”

Two hundred times have the wintry moons
    Wrapped the dead earth in a blanket white;
Two hundred times have the wild sky loons [Page 106]
15
    Shrieked in the flush of the golden light
Of the first sweet dawn, when the summer weaves
    Her dusky wigwam of perfect leaves.

Two hundred moons of the falling leaf
    Since they laid my bow in my dead right hand

20
And chanted above me the “song of grief”
    As I took my way to the spirit land;
Yet when the swallow the blue air cleaves
    Come the dark plumes of red “Singing Leaves.”

White are the wigwams in that far camp,

25
    And the star-eyed deer on the plains are found;
No bitter marshes or tangled swamp
    In the Manitou’s happy hunting-ground! [Page 107]
And the moon of summer forever rolls
    Above the red men in their “Camp of Souls.”
30

Blue are its lakes as the wild dove’s breast,
    And their murmurs soft as her gentle note;
As the calm, large stars in the deep sky rest,
    The yellow lilies upon them float;
And canoes, like flakes of the silvery snow,
35
    Thro’ the tall, rustling rice-beds come and go.

Green are its forests; no warrior wind
    Rushes on war trail the dusk grove through,
With leaf-scalps of tall trees mourning behind;
    But South Wind, heart friend of Great Manitou,

40
When ferns and leaves with cool dews are wet,
    Blows flowery breaths from his red calumet.

Never upon them the white frosts lie,
    Nor glow their green boughs with the “paint of death”;
Manitou smiles in the crystal sky,
45
    Close breathing above them His life-strong breath;
And He speaks no more in fierce thunder sound,
    So near is His happy hunting-ground.

Yet often I love, in my white canoe,
    To come to the forest and camps of earth:

50
’Twas there death’s black arrow pierced me through;
    ’Twas there my red-browed mother gave me birth;
There I, in the light of a young man’s dawn,
    Won the lily heart of dusk “Springing Fawn.”

And love is a cord woven out of life,
55
    And dyed in the red of the living heart;
And time is the hunter’s rusty knife,
    That cannot cut the red strands apart:
And I sail from the spirit shore to scan
    Where the weaving of that strong cord began.
60

But I may not come with a giftless hand,
    So richly I pile, in my white canoe,
Flowers that bloom in the spirit land,
    Immortal smiles of Great Manitou.
When I paddle back to the shores of earth
65
    I scatter them over the white man’s hearth.

For love is the breath of the soul set free;
    So I cross the river that darkly rolls,
That my spirit may whisper soft to thee
    Of thine who wait in the “Camp of Souls.”
70
When the bright day laughs, or the wan night grieves,
    Come the dusky plumes of red “Singing Leaves.”
 

 

Evening Telegram                                     Collected Poems 1905
4 September 1880

 

 

  The City Tree

 

 
I stand within the stony, arid town,
    I gaze forever on the narrow street,
I hear forever passing up and down
    The ceaseless tramp of feet. [Page 108]

I know no brotherhood with far-locked woods,

5
    Where branches bourgeon from a kindred sap,
Where o’er mossed roots, in cool, green solitudes,
    Small silver brooklets lap.

No emerald vines creep wistfully to me
    And lay their tender fingers on my bark;

10
High may I toss my boughs, yet never see
    Dawn’s first most glorious spark.

When to and fro my branches move and sway,
    Answering the feeble wind that faintly calls,
They kiss no kindred boughs, but touch alway

15
    The stones of climbing walls.

My heart is never pierced with song of bird;
    My leaves know nothing of that glad unrest
Which makes a flutter in the still woods heard
    When wild birds build a nest.

20

There never glance the eyes of violets up,
    Blue, into the deep splendour of my green;
Nor falls the sunlight to the primrose cup
    My quivering leaves between.

Not mine, not mine to turn from soft delight
25
    Of woodbine breathings, honey sweet and warm;
With kin embattled rear my glorious height
    To greet the coming storm!

Not mine to watch across the free, broad plains
    The whirl of stormy cohorts sweeping fast,
30
The level of silver lances of great rains
    Blown onward by the blast!

Not mine the clamouring tempest to defy,
    Tossing the proud crest of my dusky leaves—
Defender of small flowers that trembling lie
35
    Against my barky greaves! [Page 109]

Not mine to watch the wild swan drift above,
    Balanced on wings that could not choose between
The wooing sky, blue as the eye of love,
    And my own tender green!
40

And yet my branches spread, a kingly sight,
    In the close prison of the drooping air:
When sun-vexed noons are at their fiery height
    My shade is broad, and there

Come city toilers, who their hour of ease
45
    Weave out to precious seconds as they lie
Pillowed on horny hands, to hear the breeze
    Through my great branches die.

I see no flowers, but as the children race
    With noise and clamour through the dusty street,
50
I see the bud of many an angel face,
    I hear their merry feet.

No violets look up, but, shy and grave,
    The children pause and lift their crystal eyes
To where my emerald branches call and wave
55
    As to the mystic skies.  

 

Evening Telegram                                         “Old Spookses’Pass,” 20 August 1881 (3)                                     “Malcolm’s Katie,” and                                                                             Other Poems 1884

 

 

A Wooing

 

 
Daughter of the House of Jackson,
Maiden of the amber chignon,
Damsel of the graceful tie-back,
Virgin of the natty ulster,
May I lay my heart before thee?
5
May I show my bank-book to thee?
May I, can I, dare I woo thee? [Page 110]
In the woodland’s dim recesses,
Shine the blue eyes of the vi’lets,
Like thine eyes of azure pensive,
10
In the dim and lone recesses,
Of a bank, the very safest,
Lie my bonds and lurk my coupons:
Shine my dollars like to Hesper—
Like to Hesper, star of beauty,
15
Golden star of love and beauty!
May I woo thee? May I wed thee?
“I do not know,” she answer’d sighing;
“I do not know,” the parrot echoed.

Daughter of respected Jackson—
20
Belov’d one clad in rays of beauty,
Blended by great Woerth, the wizard;
Woerth the toiler of the satins,
Woerth the Cæsar of the velvets,
Woerth the Merlin of materials,
25
Maiden moving as the fawn moves
In the graceful dip of Boston;
In the glide and in the lancers,
On the rollers, on the acmes.
Maiden, all the stars of evening,
30
Are the hoof-prints of the horses,
Horses which have whirl’d the red sun
All the day across the heavens.
Maiden, thro’ the parks and gay streets,
I will drive two spanking trotters,
35
Curried, burnished like the clear pools,
And their bits shall be of silver,
Silver, not electro-plated,
And the lining of the carriage,
Shall be blue as yonder heavens.
40
May I woo thee? May I wed thee?
“I am not sure,” she answered sighing.
“I am not sure,” the parrot echoed. [Page 111]

Daughter of esteem’d old Jackson;
Maiden of the pencil’d eyebrow,
45
Damsel of the songs of Schuman;
Virgin of the notes of Thalberg;
I have just foreclos’d a mortgage,
Mortgage on a beauteous mansion,
Builded with a hot-air furnance,
50
Builded with a spacious ball-room,
Lighted from the city gas-works.
On the pond the water-lily
Folds her dusky leaves about her,
Floats upon the swaying current,
55
Dances on its undulations.
So the walls of this, my mansion,
I would close about my lily,
May I woo thee? May I wed thee?
“Let me ask my heart” she answered,
60
“Let me ask” the parrot echoed.

Daughter of the honour’d Jackson,
Singer of the swelling anthem,
Warbler of the opera bouffe,
Of the notes of the Creation,

65
And of Madam Angot’s Daughter.
On thy silver thread of laughter,
I will string rare, shining diamonds,
I will hang the moonlit pearls,
And my heart shall bleed in rubies.
70
I will make a large insurance
On my life and on my mansion;
I will seek a larger interest
For my dollars Hesper shining.
Be more sure about my coupons,
75
Grub more closely in the gold dust.
Star of beauty, smile upon me,
Dear Miss Jackson, pray accept me, [Page 112]
“Ask papa,” she answer’d, blushing.
“They all do it,” said the parrot.
80

 

Evening Telegram
4 September 1880

 

At the Opera—A Fragment

 

I saw her in her box. A new star puls’d
Long notes of melody instead of rays,
And souls stretched misty hands to catch the sounds,
To bind their echoes in the prison house
Of memory. Lorgnettes were motionless,
5
Unrestful jewels rested in a trance
On sil’vry bosoms which forgot to throb,
Beneath the spell of that bewild’ring song
Which rippl’d, rippl’d from the fresh round lips
Of the fair north woman, with her gilded hair
10
And innocent soft eyes. I turn’d and ask’d
Of one beside me. “Who is she? Can you tell?”
“She? What she?” he asked, half-mocking me
With his light glance, “All Paris lends her she’s
To-night for us to gaze upon—from one
15
Who holds her crisp, new court in olden halls,
And shares a throne still glist’ning from the shop,
To one who holds a mightier court than hers,
And queens it on a throne as old as man,
Who plants the arch of her lascivious foot
20
On monarchs’ necks for footstools. O! I mean
The queen who mocks all holy love to death
And rests her immemorial throne upon
The broken walls of alabaster towers
Of Peace and Love and calm-eye’d innocence,
25
Or, to speak plainer, sells her am’rous eyes,
The lilied clasping of her soft, false arms.
For just such robes, as flashing tier on tier
Make rainbows pallid phantoms—Between both queens
Where sits this she you ask of?—point her out!” [Page 113]
30
He followed the swift answer of my glance.
“O—that tall woman with her noble brows
Majestic with the snowy crown of woe;
Her straight lips seal’d from smiles—her gentle eyes
Dark waters lying under sunless skies—
35
Lift your lorgnette—and with its brazen key
Unlock the sacred secrets of that face.
O fear not, friend! her spell for such as you
Has lost itself in loftier magic now;
The magic of the rose of maiden days
40
Is past with her—the magic of the star
Rests on her brow—the very star of stars—
As some still hold—the star of motherhood
Which changes the slight nature—pierces thro’
The feeblest bosom within its sacred rays
Making the earthliest soul a part of Heav’n:
45
Which—knitting its clear splendours on the brows
Love-bent above a child—grows to a sun!
“So gaze in peace—she has no spell for you.
That tall, slight lad, lip touched with yellow down,
With eighteen summers laughing in the eyes,
50
Which try to cheat the world into belief
That they are wise and weary with the weight
Of some three added years—her son, my friend.
That twink’ling jewel to the polish’d round
Of her fair arm clinging, is her child.
55
Between the bud of sixteen and the pink,
Half furl’d small flow’ret, she, of seventeen,
Those grand, maternal eyes, I dare to swear,
See past the slim, fair Marg’ret on the stage,
And hover, phantom stars, above the dreams
60
That knit their roses round a little cot;
Where lies a life scarce rounded to a year,
Her child again—and omnipresent, gleam
About a sturdy, saucy school boy, tied
And shackl’d to his tasks by dire, dark glare
65
In tutor’s watchful eyes—her other son!
A change, and yet no change, comes to their light— [Page 114]
Love still vibrates and reaches all its rays
From their sad splendours—but another love.
They stretch their frank, sweet glory thro’ the night,
70
And brighten on a vigorous, fine face,
With broad, clear brows, and somewhat iron lips,
And eyes that lack the weary, half disdain
That middle years breed in the gen’ral breast
Of life and men—a man, my friend, with soul
75
God-built for our Thermopylæs—whose voice
Rings in our chambers ever on the side
Of right in those mad jousts of politics:
Which, with their iron clamour, kill the souls
In the large questions of the growing age,
80
Prop the great corpses up before the world,
And move the slain puppets by their party strings.
A man with youth still in his eyes and thews,
And half slain laughter moving in his glance,
With broken wings and faintly crested head,
85
And the large arch of sorrow’s tyrant foot
Upon her rainbow bosom, still she strikes
For the dear world all the mellow strings
Left to her lyre. A man may weep in blood
Before his God (if God he have), but needs
90
Must mould trim smiles before the world, lest it
Should see, should understand, and pity him.
And Pity with her brows uncrown’d of love,
Has a dishonest glimmer in her glance,
Men hardly love, a little light of scorn!
95
On him she dreams and looks—her husband out
Beyond the painted walls—and her mild eyes,
Gracious with love and sorrow, reach his soul.
“Strange, strange!” I said, as, breaking off, my friend
Flung his “bravo” and bouquet to the feet
100
Of the flush’d, smiling singer. “O! strange, persistent doom!
You draw a noble woman, richly blest
With a large soul for love fill’d up with love,
A wife belov’d and loving much again—
A gracious mother-goddess in these days [Page 115]
105
When children’s hands are curses to the breasts
That yield their shameless snow to alien gaze;
And the clear violet of an infant’s eye
Rivals the basilisk to the mother’s glance.
Drug-brightened for the airy round of mirth,
110
I see the blush of the Hesperian fruit,
Mostly so dragon-guarded that few taste
The God-like flavour—rank and rosy wealth—
And yet you shade your picture with the hue
Which darkens ev’ry canvas, sorrow!”
115
“Hist! hist!” he laughed, “for, Margret sings and dies.
We’ll talk of sorrow out beneath the stars.
And vex its counterfeit beneath the gas
With our uncivil voices.”
The tale was simple, and was simply told,
120
The tragic muse but drapes her lofty form
In robes untinsell’d—and perforce she bore
On this soft midnight with the saucy cloud
Latakia-born which wrapped her careless bard,
And I, his friend, as homeward by a street
125
Tree-darkened and star-lighted slow, we paced.

 

Evening Telegram
27 October 1882

 

Said the Canoe

 

My masters twain made me a bed
Of pine-boughs resinous, and cedar;
Of moss, a soft and gentle breeder
Of dreams of rest; and me they spread
With furry skins and, laughing, said:
5
“Now she shall lay her polished sides
As queens do rest, or dainty brides,
Our slender lady of the tides!”

My masters twain their camp-soul lit;
Streamed incense from the hissing cones; [Page 116]

10
Large crimson flashes grew and whirled;
Thin golden nerves of sly light curled
Round the dun camp; and rose faint zones,
Half way about each grim bole knit,
Like a shy child that would bedeck
15
With its soft clasp a Brave’s red neck,
Yet sees the rough shield on his breast,
The awful plumes shake on his crest,
And, fearful, drops his timid face,
Nor dares complete the sweet embrace.
20

Into the hollow hearts of brakes—
Yet warm from sides of does and stags
Passed to the crisp, dark river-flags—
Sinuous, red as copper-snakes,
Sharp-headed serpents, made of light,
25
Glided and hid themselves in night.

My masters twain the slaughtered deer
Hung on forked boughs with thongs of leather:
Bound were his stiff, slim feet together,
His eyes like dead stars cold and drear.

30
The wandering firelight drew near
And laid its wide palm, red and anxious,
On the sharp splendour of his branches,
On the white foam grown hard and sere
    On flank and shoulder.
35
Death—hard as breast of granite boulder—
    Under his lashes
Peered thro’ his eyes at his life’s grey ashes.

My masters twain sang songs that wove—
As they burnished hunting-blade and rifle—

40
A golden thread with a cobweb trifle,
Loud of the chase and low of love:

“O Love! art thou a silver fish,
Shy of line and shy of gaffing, [Page 117]
Which we do follow, fierce, yet laughing,

45
Casting at thee the light-winged wish?
And at the last shall we bring thee up
From the crystal darkness, under the cup
    Of lily folden
    On broad leaves golden?
50

“O Love! art thou a silver deer
With feet as swift as wing of swallow,
While we with rushing arrows follow?
And at the last shall we draw near
And o’er thy velvet neck cast thongs
55
Woven of roses, stars and songs—
    New chains all moulden
    Of rare gems olden?”

They hung the slaughtered fish like swords
    On saplings slender; like scimitars,

60
    Bright, and ruddied from new-dead wars,
Blazed in the light the scaly hordes.

They piled up boughs beneath the trees,
    Of cedar web and green fir tassel.
    Low did the pointed pine tops rustle,

65
The camp-fire blushed to the tender breeze.

The hounds laid dewlaps on the ground
    With needles of pine, sweet, soft and rusty,
    Dreamed of the dead stag stout and lusty;
A bat by the red flames wove its round.

70

The darkness built its wigwam walls
    Close round the camp, and at its curtain
    Pressed shapes, thin, woven and uncertain
As white locks of tall waterfalls. [Page 118]

 

Evening Telegram                                     “Old Spookses’ Pass,”
26 February 1884                                         “Malcolm’s Katie,” and                                                                             Other Poems 1884

 

Toronto

 

She moves to meet the centuries, her feet
All shod with emerald, and her light robe
Fringed with leaves singing in the jazel air.
Her tire is rich, not with stout battlements,
Prophets of strife, but wealthy with tall spires
5
All shining Godward, rare with learning’s domes,
And burning with young stars that promise suns
To clasp her older brows. On her young breast
Lie linked the fair, clear pearls of many homes,—
Mighty and lovely chain, from its white strength
10
Hangs on her heart the awful jewel, Hope.

She moves to meet the centuries, nor lies
All languid waiting, with the murmuring kiss
Of the large waters on white, nerveless feet,
And dim, tranced gaze upon the harbour bar,

15
And dusk, still boughs knit over her prone head,
And rose-soft hands that idly pluck the turf,
And rose lips singing idly thro’ her dream.

She hears the marching centuries which Time
Leads up the dark peaks of Eternity:

20
The pulses of past warriors bound in her;
The pulses of dead sages beat in her;
The pulses of dead merchants stir in her;
The roses of her young feet turn to flame,
Yet ankle-deep in tender buds of spring;
25
Till, with the perfumes of close forests thick
Upon her tender flesh, she to her lips
Lifts the bold answering trump, and, winding shrill
With voices of her people and her waves
Notes of quick joy, half queen, half child, she bounds
30
To meet the coming Time, and climbs the steps
Of the tall throne he builds upon her strand.

Toronto, joy and peace! When comes the day [Page 119]
Close domes of marble rich with gold leap up
From porphyry pillars to the eye-clear sky,

35
And when the wealthy fringes of thy robe
Sweep outward league on league, and to thee come
The years all bowed with treasures for thy house,
On lusty shoulders, still remember thee
Of thy first cradle on the lilies’ lap
40
In the dim woods; and tho’ thy diadem
Make a new sunrise, still, amid its flame,
Twine for the nursing lilies’ sake the glow
Of God-like lilies round about thy brows—
Honour and Peace and sweet-breathed Charity!
45

 

Evening Telegram                                     Collected Poems 1905
25 June 1884

 

The Hidden Room

 

    I marvel if my heart
    Hath any room apart,
Built secretly its mystic walls within,
    With subtly warded key
    Ne’er yielded unto me
5
Where even I have surely never been.

    Ah, surely I know all
    The bright and cheerful hall,
With the fire ever red upon its hearth;
    My friends dwell with me there,
10
    Nor comes the step of Care
To sadden down its music and its mirth.

    Full well I know as mine
    The little cloistered shrine
No foot but mine alone hath ever trod;
15
    There come the shining wings,
    The face of One who brings
The prayers of men before the throne of God. [Page 120]

    And many know full well
    The busy, busy cell
20
Where I toil at the work I have to do;
    Nor is the portal fast
    Where stand phantoms of the past,
Or grow the bitter plants of darksome rue.

    I know the dainty spot
25
    (Ah, who doth know it not?)
Where pure young Love his lily-cradle made,
    And nestled some sweet springs
    With lily-spangled wings—
Forget-me-nots upon his bier I laid.
30

     Yet marvel I, my soul,
    Know I thy very whole,
Or dost thou hide a chamber still from me?
    Is it built upon the wall?
    Is it spacious? Is it small?
35
Is it God, or man, or I who hold the key?

 

“Old Spookses’ Pass,”
“Malcolm’s Katie,” and
Other Poems
1884

 

His Clay

 

He died: he was buried, the last of his race,
And they laid him away in his burial-place.

And he said in his will, “When I have done
With the mask of clay that I have on,

“Bury it simply—I’m done with it,

5
At best is only a poor misfit.

“It cramped my brains and chained my soul,
And it clogged my feet as I sought my goal. [Page 121]

“When my soul and I were inclined to shout
O’er some noble thought we had chiselled out;

10

“When we’d polished the marble until it stood
So fair that we truly said: ‘’Tis good!’

“My soul would tremble, my spirit quail,
For it fell to the flesh to uplift the veil.

“It took our thought in its hands of clay,

15
And lo! how the beauty had passed away.

“When Love came in to abide with me,
I said, ‘Welcome, Son of Eternity!’

“I built him an altar strong and white,
Such as might stand in God’s own sight;

20

“I chanted his glorious litany—
Pure Love is the Son of Eternity;

“But ever my altar shook alway
‘Neath the brute hands of the tyrant clay.

“Its voice, with its accents harsh and drear,

25
Mocked at my soul and wailed in its ear:

“‘Why tend the altar and bend the knee?
Love lives and dies in the dust with me.’

“So the flesh that I wore chanced ever to be
Less of my friend than my enemy.

30

“Is there a moment this death-strong earth
Thrills, and remembers her time of birth?

“Is there a time when she knows her clay
As a star in the coil of the astral way? [Page 122]

“Who may tell? But the soul in its clod

35
Knows in swift moments its kinship to God—

“Quick lights in its chambers that flicker alway
Before the hot breath of the tyrant clay.

“So the flesh that I wore chanced ever to be
Less of my friend than my enemy.

40

“So bury it deeply—strong foe, weak friend—
And bury it cheaply,—and there its end!”

 

Evening Telegram                                     Collected Poems 1905
22 October 1884

 

The Ghosts of the Trees

 

The silver fangs of the mighty axe
    Bit to the blood of our giant boles;
It smote our breasts and smote our backs.
    Thundered the front-cleared leaves.
      As sped in fire
5
The whirl and flame of scarlet leaves,
      With strong desire
    Leaped to the air our captive souls.
While down our corpses thundered,
The Air at our strong souls gazed and wondered,
10
    And cried to us, “Ye
Are full of all mystery to me.
    I saw but your plumes of leaves,
    Your strong, brown greaves,
Your sinewy roots and lusty branches;
15
And, fond and anxious,
    I laid my ear and my restless breast
    By each pride-high crest;
      And softly stole
And listened by limb and listened by bole,
20
Nor ever the stir of a soul [Page 123]
      Heard I in ye.
    Great is the mystery!”

The strong brown Eagle plunged from his peak;
From the hollow iron of his beak
25
The wood pigeon fell, its breast of blue
Cold with sharp death all thro’ and thro’.
      To our ghosts he cried,
      “With talons of steel
      I hold the storm;
30
    Where the high peaks reel
      My young lie warm;
In the wind-rocked spaces of air I bide,
    My wings too wide,
Too angry-strong, for the emerald gyves
35
Of woodland cell where the meek dove thrives.
    And when at the bar
Of morn I smote with my breast its star,
      And under
My wings grew purple the jealous thunder,
40
    With the flame of the skies
Hot in my breast and red in my eyes,
    From peak to peak of sunrise piled,
That set space glowing
With flames from air-based craters blowing,
45
    I downward swept, beguiled
By the close-set forest, gilded and spread,
A sea for the lordly tread
    Of a god’s war-ship.
I broke its leafy surf with my breast;
50
      My iron lip
I dipped in the cool of each whispering crest.
    From your leafy steeps
    I saw in the deeps
Red coral, the flame-necked oriole;
55
But never the stir of a soul
      Heard I in ye.
    Great is the mystery!” [Page 124]

      From its ferny coasts
The River gazed at our strong, free ghosts,
60
    And with rocky fingers shed
    Apart the silver curls of its head;
Laid its murmuring hands
On the reedy bands;
      And at gaze
65
Stood in the half-moon of brown, still bays.
Like glossed eyes of stags
Its round pools gazed from the rusty flags
    At our ghostly crests,
At the bark-shields strong on our phantom breasts;
70
      And its tide
Took lip and tongue and cried:

            “I have pushed apart
              The mountain’s heart,
            I have trod the valley down;

75
              With strong hands curled,
              Have caught and hurled
            To the earth the high hill’s crown.

            “My brow I thrust
              Through sultry dust

80
            That the lean wolf howled upon;
              I drove my tides
              Between the sides
            Of the bellowing canyon.

            “From crystal shoulders

85
              I hurled my boulders
            On the bridge’s iron span;
              When I reared my head
              From its old-time bed,
            Shook the pale cities of man.
90

            “I have run a course [Page 125]
              With the swift, wild horse;
            I have thundered pace for pace
              With the rushing herds;
              I have caught the beards
95
            Of the swift stars in the race.

            “Neither moon nor sun
              Could me outrun;
            Deep caged in my silver bars,
              I hurried with me

100
              To the shouting sea
            Their light and the light of the stars.

            “The reeling earth,
              In furious mirth,
            With sledges of ice I smote;

105
              I whirled my sword
              Where the pale berg roared,
            I took the ship by the throat.

            “With stagnant breath
              I called chill Death,

110
            My guest, to the hot bayou;
              I built men’s graves
              With strong-thewed waves.
            That thing that my strength might do

            “I did right well.

115
              Men cried, ‘From Hell
            The might of thy hand is given!’
              By loose rocks stoned,
              The stout quays groaned;
            Sleek sands by my spear were riven.
120

            “O’er shining slides
              On my glossèd tides
            The brown cribs, close woven, rolled;
              The stout logs sprung [Page 126]
              Their height among
125
            My loud whirls of white and gold.

            “My great raft prest
              My calm, broad breast—
            A dream thro’ my shady trance;
              The light canoe

130
              A spirit flew—
            The pulse of my blue expanse.

            “Winged swift, the ships
              My foaming lips
            Made rich with dewy kisses,

135
              All night and morn,
              Thro’ fields of corn;
            And where the mill-wheel hisses,

            “And shivers and sobs
              With labouring throbs,

140
            With its whirls my strong palms played.
              I parted my flags
              For thirsty stags;
            On the necks of arches laid,

            “To the dry-vined town

145
              My tide rolled down:
            Dry lips and throats a-quiver
              Rent sky and sod
              With shouts ‘From God
            The strength of the mighty river!’
150

            “I, listening, heard
              The soft-songed bird,
            The beetle about your boles,
              The calling breeze
              In your crests, O trees,—
155
            Never the voices of souls!” [Page 127]

We, freed souls of the trees, looked down
On the River’s shining eyes of brown;
    And upward smiled
At the tender Air and its warrior child,
160
    The iron Eagle strong and wild.

             No will of ours,
The captive souls of our barky towers;
             His the deed
Who laid in the secret earth the seed,

165
And with strong hand
Knitted each woody fetter and band.

 

“Old Spookses’ Pass,” Collected Poems 1905
“Malcolm’s Katie,” and

Other Poems 1884

 

All Men are Born Free and Equal

 

I

 

 
“All are born free and equal.” A matron, proud and fair,
Smil’d as they whisper’d to her, “Lo, see thy lusty heir!”
All are born free and equal. In a loathsome cellar lair,
A nameless babe came wailing in the bitter winter air.

 

II

 

“All are born free and equal.” In the silken silence lay,
5
The strong babe of the rich man, like a lily of the day;
All are born free and equal. In the shadows grim and grey
The gaunt babe of the lost one moan’d upon the cellar clay.

 

III

 

“All are born free and equal.” Walk’d thro’ minster arches bold
The proud and tender matron, when her heir’s high names were

10
            told;
All are born free and equal. In the river’s wild, wan gold,
The nameless babe’s dead mother to the distant ocean roll’d. [Page 128]

 

IV

 

“All are born equal and free.” Lean Learning left his cell,
And Wisdom lifted high his torch to guide the child-heir well;
All are born free and equal. From the first it still befell
15
The gutter-babe’s staunch teachers were all graduates of hell.

 

V

 

“All are born free and equal.” Strong love like a giant stood
And he warm’d all the rich man’s child with gifts of his red blood.
All are born free and equal. Slunk, mid Famine’s ghastly brood,
The wolf-cub of the city, with man’s hate and fear for food.
20

 

VI

 

“All are born free and equal.” Lo, the very sun lean’d down
To gild the young heir’s curls, to bronze the dimpl’d cheeks with             brown;
All are born free and equal. Lo, before his blest ring frown,
Plagues rose and with the gutter-child stalk’d thro’ the quaking             town.

 

VII

 

“All are born free and equal.” Up, still up the purple hill,
25
The wing’d feet of the rich man’s heir fled thro’ the flow’rs still.
All are born free and equal. By a seal’d and awful will
The gutter-child grop’d downward in the blinding mists of ill!

 

VIII

 

“All are born free and equal.” Upon the funer’al cope
Above the son of wealth, shone out the God-lit eyes of hope.
30
All are born free and equal. At the bottom of life’s slope
Lay the son of famine shadow’d by the Christian drop and rope. [Page 129]

 

IX

 

“All are born free and equal.” God! behold these vast, grand lies:
These sphinxes with the desert-glare upon their man-hewn eyes!
We know them stone, we know them blind, yet they so greyly rise,
35
We dream thy wisdom still hath made their pulseless granite             wise!

 

X

 

“All are born free and equal.” God-like lie of all the host
That build false beacons on the line of life’s terrific coast!
All are born free and equal. Down, down, thou shiv’ring ghost
Hear if thy Rhadamanthus will repeat men’s brazen boast.
40

 

Globe
18 November 1885

 

Egypt, I Die!

 

Egypt, I die! Thy hand, thy lip, thy kiss
Press thy wild pulses into mine; ay, this
I borrow from thee that will plume my shade
Strong as a god to Hades—not every man
Breathes out his ghost like strong Falerian poured
5
On the cold marble set before the gods!
I die! ay, Queen, as dies thy mighty Nile,
Which vaster swells the large, calm, waiting sea!

I die! I die! I die! O gods, to feel
The shard burst back and let my unarmed head

10
Rise to the clouds, my giant arms swing out
O’er hills and vales and deserts, and my feet,
Colossus-wise, tread down two separate worlds!

Egypt, this death? Was I before a man?
Did I thrust spear in battle? Was it I

15
That wedded Fulvia? Methinks I dreamed,
With moments half aroused in which I loved [Page 130]
Thee, Egypt,—ay, that was the fiery cloud
Which wrapped the ardent sun that now I feel
Strike on these eyes. When thou again shalt look
20
Up to the stars—why, Antony’s crest is there;
When the wild lightning leaps before the roar
Of purple-fronted thunder, Antony’s glance
Seeks for his Queen before he shouts her name.

I die—I live! Man is a god enchained,

25
Blinded by motes, deafened, my Queen, by sounds
No louder than the murmuring of a gnat.
Egypt and I will course amid the stars
With veins enlarged for those more crystal fires
Rolling through space to pour their clear flames through
30
This pulsing flesh. Unlace my helmet. Know,
The bite of a sword, the little loathsome nip
Of an asp, can free a god! I never guessed,
Save in chance moments which but came and went
Swift as the dip of gilded oar upon
35
Deep-bosomed Cydnus, how this passing pang
Might mean a godhood!

                                        Nay, my love, my Queen,
Kiss not again this little mask of clay
Which shrouded Antony even from himself,
But follow, Egypt, follow! Our great ghosts

40
Shall tower together while all time is told
On beads of dying worlds. I die—I live!

 

Collected Poems 1905

 

Hugh and Ion

 

I

 

She had the full, fell frankness of her kind
Nor made a rose-ball of the saucy “No”
She flung across her tea-cup at his heart. [Page 131]
She had within the strong stone of her soul
A little feeble seed of womanhood,
5
That stirr’d, and pitied when the blow went home.
“Now, now,” she said, “for comfort here’s a tale.
For some fell tyrant’s freak, once was a man
Condemned to crucifixion. In deep dark
They laid his long, strong limbs upon a cross
10
And bound his great thews to it with thin cords
Then said, ‘lie there, thou valiant fool, and die.’
And so he lay, and wither’d inch by inch,
In the dense dark—nor mov’d a finger-tip
To test the ropes that bound him. Came a day,
15
The Sultan miss’d his beauty and his sword,
And said ‘If still he live, why, bring him forth.’
Then the grim goaler flash’d a torch on him
And seeing he still liv’d, cried ‘Up, and come—
The Sultan needs thee.’ As the light stream’d wide
20
He saw his cross—a shadow built of wings
Of moth and butterfly, and wither’d limbs
Of feeble rose-vines—and about him blaz’d
The long, free halls that once had own’d him lord
And nought had held him to his deadly cross,
25
And Liberty had waited for one leap
Of his into wide arms—a Sultan’s jest,
With death its grim wit-sparkle. Come, my friend
Leap from thy phantom little cross of love,
Burst on the world unshackl’d by thy dreams—
30
My ‘no’ the torch to light thy freedom up.
Love is the deep dense darkness of the soul
Beaten by arms that passionately grope
And catch the void. Away with Love, away!”

“And give us up Barabbas,” said the man

35
Looking to where the other lover lean’d
A portly shoulder by a distant door
And cup in hand, laid all the little light
Of dull and dreamy eyes—not on his love
But on the phantom of the dead days “deal” [Page 132]
40
On stocks and margins, “long” and “short,” and all
The licens’d weapons of the world’s wild war
Against large Plenty, where, all pitiful,
She holds to Want the wealth of weighty sheaves.

She laugh’d—the light, shrill laughter of her kind,

45
The fell frank music of a hard, high soul,
That knows not Love, lie, tenderness, nor shame.
“Barabbas was a robber. Lack-a-day!
We of the golden tissues floating far
And sandals jewel-lac’d—we need our thieves
50
Our Benedict Barabbas who can steal
With such bland gestures, and wise brows bent down
In plans financial, that the feeble folk
Stand all at gaze in envy and delight
Yes—even while he plucks the crusts from lips
55
Blue with their torture for it. Away with Love
Dark God of voids. And if his frame be knit
Of any tissue tougher than a dream
Crucify him—pierce him to death with doubt,
Loose us Barabbas—we of the Jewell’d coifs!”
60
She sleek’d the pansy darkness of her robe
With the pale pearl of a rose-lin’d palm
And drove the rubied arrow through the dusk
And stormy purple of the raven braid
That built its blackness over falcon eyes
65
Hooded by lashes like the fall of night
Over sharp, shining waters. Then she smote
Him in the heart with that keen, kindly smile
(Sharp coup de grace for many a sturdy stag)
Of wider wisdom—and she knew he knew
70
Her soul was blind, and could not look on Love.
“Blind, blind so safe,” she answer’d to the scorn
That slowly rose against her in his gaze.
“If there be pits, I pass them on a hair
If there be heights, they breed no whirling brain;
75
If Love bask like a serpent by my feet
If Love lie like a lion in my way [Page 133]
If Love lure like a lily to dark deeps
I see him not—so blind and blessèd pass!”

“So creeps the slow-worm, blind and blessed thing
80
Not knowing heights nor depths, nor if it cling
To the peak’d mountain lording all the land;
Or to the leaf that rolls along the mire
In Autumn’s blast. But you, fierce falcon soul
You pluck the jewell’d hood across keen eyes
85
And dash bold wings against the face of God
Who loos’d you to the air—and cry ‘Blind, blind!
Blame not the blind!’ And when you plunge your beak
In some strong quarry breasting up the sky
You cry for pardon with that lying plaint
90
‘Blind, blind, blame not the blind!’ O wing’d keen curse
Blind by strong willing that you will not see!”

She drew the golden glamour of a rose
Across her eyes. “Hooded with joys and blind
To dreams and ghosts and phantoms of delight,

95
Where is this Love? God! if he have his birth
As love—but watch him as he walks the world
And see him at the end, stretch’d stark, and chang’d
To Hate, and dead, with cold veins virus fill’d.
These wedded lovers—like twin seraphs clasp’d
100
Within the arms of a meek, bright moon
Whose light is honey dripping from clear cusps
Eternity is theirs—until Time rounds
Some twenty fiery pathways round the world
Lo, then the man—why, watch him stand at gaze
105
At ev’ry budding girl that matches May,
His wife the pale, wan priestess at a shrine
Whose star has faded to a ball of dust,
Dead in dark space! O if Love be born
Strangle the imp while yet the dimples stray
110
Across full baby cheeks—before he change
To virile Hate—or to languid Loathing
Or merge his modern monogamic mind [Page 134]
For patriarchal mood plus many wives.”
She laugh’d, and he that lov’d her sigh’d and went.
115

 

II

 

Without the West drew flaming gates across
The grey, gaunt distance of the wintry street
Low down were welded fast against the sky
Dull, purple bars that held the first, fine snow.
Lower, the old unutterable pray’r
120
That glows in golden script behind the day
Stretch’d its still strength about the dark’ning world
And as a cobweb delicately spun
Bare black thin boughs hung orb’d against the sky
And in their subtle lacings seem’d to cling
125
Arachne-like, the round, full Evening Star
Dark on near hills the primal forest heav’d
Its haughty heart against the City’s claws
That lengthen’d towards its ramparts day by day;
Dark on near sands the tideless waters stood
130
Meek with dun mist—moaning against wan wharves
Dying to dumbness as the fierce young frost
Gaz’d on the shudd’ring world, ere serpent-wise
He coil’d chill crystal folds about its breast.
On such an eve despair seems no strange growth,
135
But a chief vein that feeds the chilling heart,
With pausing billows stiff’ning as they burst
And Hope an alien flame fall’n from the wick
Of a cold lamp that chills the failing hand.
Dust, sharp as spear points in the rising frost
140
Whirl’d in keen simoons, and, sullen orbs
The base stars of the city lamps, leap’d up.

 

III

 

Where’s speech in auguish? O she never throve
On the high swell of Sorrow’s bursting heart.
Two groans are hers that give themselves to speech [Page 135]
145
“God, God!” with this she wails Him up before
Her Bar of Desolation—then, “Why? Why?”
Spurts through her hollowed graves and empty shrincs
For who will fling the iron doors apart
Where naked Sorrow sits, and free her shriek
150
To beat in strength against the granite world?
One caught the mutter of his cag’d despair
And passing, struck a light, lascivious palm
Upon his arm, and serpent-like her glance
Curv’d at him over plump and ruddy cheeks
155
For she no draggled weed, but tense and hale
Strong Flower of Vice, and foliag’d soberly
In rich demureness of all sombre hues
A fine aesthetic motion of the mind
To suit her colours to the tow’ring walls
160
Of churches churches pressing on her path
And the grave grey-beards tottering in her wake.
Behind the springing of her sudden look
She solv’d swift problems on the problem, man;
So laugh’d and pass’d, and, looking at the gates
165
He stood by, mutter’d, “Aye—he freezes now
Before some sudden frost in woman’s shape,
Or in some blast that burst some shard apart
And let the half-blown, half-seen bud he lov’d
Swing all its stinging poison on the air.
170
Lord, what an interchange of wonderment
There is when man finds ev’ry woman foul
And woman weeds her dreams away, and through
Clear spaces sees the strong, smooth tiger, Man.
Tush! let him be—he’s in the wonder-throe—”
175
And the sharp dust caught, and veil’d her, and she pass’d.

 

IV

 

The bitter eve grew vocal as he went.
The infant city nursing on the breast
Of unhewn woods found virile voice to shout
The cry of eighteen hundred years ago. [Page 136]
180
The church tow’rs roar’d it on their ev’ning chime
“Loose us Barabbas!—he will rear us high;
Will lay his gold upon our organ pipes;
Will beat his stolen silver in our bells;
And stain our windows with the blood he robs
185
From the free Helot’s heart. O Christ, O Christ!
Thy robe is sordid and Thy palms are hard
Hang on Thy cross! Loose us Barabbas, yes!
And while Christ hangs, the thief shall build to Him.”
“Loose us Barabbas!” all the busy marts
190
Buzzed with the cry, “for none but robber thews
Can wrestle with fierce Fortune, now-a days.”
Vice rear’d its supple, serpent-head and hiss’d
“Loose us Barabbas—let our fellow free.”

Want, lean, lank giant, honest hunger-blind

195
Stood groaning ’tween the cries, and questioning
Might not Barabbas be a newer Christ?
With newer gospel fitter for the time?”

 

V

 

With the illimitable wilderness around
From the close city hives rang up the groan
200
“So little space!—we starve—we faint, we die!
Lord! Lord! to see the gaping city sewer
Beaded with haggard heads—and hungry eyes
Peering above the heaving of the drains
And hear the harsh, unreasonable cry
205
“We starve, we starve!” While half a world lay fresh
And teeming, out beyond the city gates!
Alas, for him who feels a Samson soul
Within the sinews of a medium mind
And lays weak willing hands on lion jaws
210
And clasps strong columns in a flaccid arm.
One such there was—the Samson in him grew
At sight of pillars bearing wrongs aloft
On firm, flint shoulders, and of lions crouch’d [Page 137]
To guard grim evils tott’ring on their staves,
215
By the fierce, tender wonder of his mind
That what man calls “a man,” should choose to pave
The city kennels with his juiceless bones,
To lick the city dust with siccous tongue,
To raven at its flesh marts with fierce eyes,
220
And feel the iron soles of rushing feet
Crush his lean breast, trample his puny babes
And bring the dark divorce of hunger pangs
Between all life and him—while prairie breasts
Mounded, all teeming with the milk of life,
225
And forests shouted to his leaden ears
Of food and shelter. He who pities man
Has keener sword pricks on his tender breast
Than the gaunt bosom of the victim bears
Aye, though the sword is hilt deep in his heart
230
And he who sees the mountain reel and fall
Had more of death than him that falls with it.
For Hugh, the giant in him hurl’d the clay
He groan’d in, blindly up against the rocks,
And flung it on the levell’d spears, and thrust
235
It close against the furnaces, and play’d
A thousand antics with the shade of earth
It scorn’d, and lov’d and loath’d; and the poor ghost
Of flesh and blood lay at the strong soul’s feet
Trembling to dust, and smitten with despair.
240
Then, almost free, the soul had clearer light
And lifting high the pale clay on its breast
Mourn’d the young fury of its holy rage
And on its necessary brother blew
The strong breath of its mouth, and sought to slip
245
The vital fetter in its place again.

“Up, up, thou weakling! Wouldst thou lay thy palms
Against a stubborn world, to hurl it fair
Into a truer orbit—up, up and forge
Strong sinews for the deed: I, fed of God,

250
Grow lusty—feed thy fainting flesh beside [Page 138]
His lowlier fountains running for thy lips—
Weld strength with strength, so let us face the world.
I err’d in hate of thee—arise—forgive!”
So spake his Soul, and pluck’d him from the town
255
With its young walls and venerable sins,
The smell of primal woods upon its air
The groans of Ancient Famine in its slums.

 

VI

 

There came an April day all tremulous
And shaking like a shining reed between
260
Two soft winds blowing at it with purs’d lips
That drove its polish’d stem now into shade
Now into sunshine. Then there came a night
That bore between its dark still palms a cloud
An alabaster box that held the balm
265
Bright, in the sunset, as a yellow gourd—
She bore it to the peak of midnight—there
With thunder claps she burst its darken’d sides
And through warm blackness fell the bless’d spring balm
Of rain upon the world. All through the night
270
Life loos’d the awful fountain of his heart,
And earth grew tremulous with pulsing seeds
And leaping stems, and juices rushing up
From her wide veins along the barren woods.
And all the budding boughs in that short night,
275
Did dimple with small leaves a dew drop large.

 

VII

 

Hugh caught the dove of Spring between his palms,
And unasham’d before his large thew’d soul
Drew her soft plumes against his worn breast
And held her to his ear to coo her rime
280
Of deep green woods, and creeks and purple hills.
“I’ll plunge to drowning depth in leaf-built waves,
And let them wash me from this clanging world [Page 139]
That shrieks with steam—where mostly men are merely ghosts
That tend on iron tyrants—solid kings
285
That turn and rend the dream-like flesh and blood
That forms and serves them—I saw one monster take
A serf that serv’d it, in its mighty maw
And comb his sweating flesh sheer from his bones
With glitt’ring fangs. The leafy waves shall wash
290
The roaring of the city from my ears
And drive before their sibilant strong rush
The weak despair that sickens all my soul,
Bores through my brittle bones, and nips apart
The very sinews of my straining mind
295
Then will I come again when I am heal’d
And shout such gospel of the woods and plains
As, like the music of the lean Hindoo,
Shall drag from sewers and drains, and noisesome holes
The worm-like men who bore their abject way
300
In pain and darkness through the city mire,
Who crack their stiff’ning sinews for a crust
And need an alms to screw their coffin-lids.
I’ll have them out!—a saviour of their flesh—
Yes—even while they howl about the streets
305
‘Loose us Barabbas—we will cheapen toil
For him, and throne the robber on our necks’
I’ll have them out! God, knit my sinews up.”

 

 

VIII

 

The primal savage in him shook his gyves
And stirr’d great shoulders in his narrow cell
310
And star’d with lusty looks about the earth
And like a hawk peer’d up the very sky
For quarry, and asham’d he felt great throbs
Wing his dull heels behind the scudding deer
Beat at his wrists above the bending rod [Page 140]
315
And leap from out his very breast along
The keen, clear sky behind some dappl’d wing.
What honey made the marrow of the food
He chas’d and slew? And like a hunter God
The fumes of little lives rose round his heart
320
And strengthen’d it. And from the very leaves
Joy wrung strong wine into his weary soul.

“Now see,” he said to one that shared his tent,
“How buxom Hope becomes with Diane’s bow
Laid on her shoulder, and her rosy foot

325
Inlaid with dew from fern and from flag.
Come, grasp her hand, and stumble to your feet.”

“Nay,” answer’d his plagu’d friend, “Hope built to brawn
From venison and trout and oxygen
Has so much clay knit in her throbbing flesh

330
That clay will pluck her back to clay again—
Could I clasp Hope, she should be all a God
The Builder not the built—and move strong wings
Wide as a world cleft into semi-spheres
And have great arms to thrust malignant stars
335
Back from her course along the universe
And a broad foot to crush the serpent’s head
That lifts, and spits his poison in her face.
Hopeless the Godhood—bury her for me!”

“There cries a loon,” said Hugh. “And all our tent

340
Glows shiftingly; and on its canvas roof
Dance the dark shadows of deep leaves above.
Come, burst our linen lintels, and behold
Hope swimming up the dawn upon the world!”

“Strong with deer’s flesh,” laugh’d Ion, “and the curd

345
Of tricky trout—stand you, my friend, at gaze.
I’ll build the fire, and brew the natant maid
A draught to cheer the kernel of her heart.
Hope, without breakfast, has a swooning trick.” [Page 141]

Dawn swam the east; against her breast the night
350
Broke purple, and her curving arms beat back
The starry surf—she reach’d the shining shoals
And slipp’d the crimson of her lusty foot
On the firm ground and from her breast and knee
Her opal shoulder, and the ruddy palms
355
That smote the misty tresses from her eyes
Light fell, in half heard music, on the earth.
Naked, a second, on the shore she stood
With all the innocent, small feather’d things
Flying to touch the scarlet, lucid bars
360
Of her stretch’d fingers, and against her knees
Rubb’d the soft sides of shadowy deer, and high
The squirrels chatter’d at her from rich boughs
Then warmer wound the blood wide in her veins.
She mov’d an ardent palm, and drew the mists
365
From lakes, and swamps and valleys; and their folds
Spic’d with the cedar and the balsam—bright
On their curl’d edges with a saffron dye
She upward drew along her rosy knees
Her ivory thighs, the silver of her breast.
370
So veil’d and drap’d she waited for the sun.

“These mists are prophets of a torrid day,”
Said Ion, wearily, “a fierce, red day
Of zenith summer, snorting in sharp peals
Of dry, short thunder, as a stallion snorts

375
At gaze at midday on an arid plain
The herd afar—wher’ere the fever’d palm
Falls on him, leaps an artery of fire.
What see you in the dawn—come, prophet, speak!”
“I see dead night,” said Hugh, “and tears that dry
380
In aching eyes turned on the growing light.”

“But that dead night!” said Ion, “many slaves
Died at his burial; where may be their dawn?
Stark at his feet they lie—their leaping hearts [Page 142]
Dust on his sere cloths! Lo, for some the dawn
385
Is named despair!—and you—you call her Hope!”

“Aye, Hope,” said Hugh, “and by her sturdy side
And ruddy kertle clings my flutt’ring soul.
No Goddess she—but god’s own very breath
Shap’d into one grave splendour of the East.

390
Come, Ion, love her! clasp strong palms with her.”

“Your Dawn,” laugh’d Ion. “Often times she smites
The last nail in the gallows—and the wretch
Wakes to the rope beneath her rosy palms.
O God, your Hope! A smoke wreath of the soul.

395
Despair a firm flint rock beneath the feet!
Give me despair’s strong certainty—I’ll stand
On that grim cliff, and dominate the world
Aye—use it tripod-wise, and sybil-like
Look from it through the universe, and see
400
The birth of ruins, and the horrid flames
Of bursting worlds—the man who hopes and laughs
Is Nature’s fool and wears her motley well.”

“Then am I grateful for my cap and bells,”
Said Hugh, “and Nature’s zany is her king!

405
Shame, Ion, shame! You of the feeble folk
Who bend their own weak knees and wav’ring spines .
To God, and chitter-chatter of despair
Of ruins and of chaos—nor have sheer strength
To clamber up God’s breast, and look abroad
410
From thence across the universe, and see
All His broad purpose.”

                                            “An ultimate of calm,”
Said Ion, “and a plain of stolid peace
The world dew-pure—and stormy souls of men
Tether’d with rose-boughs—the tiger’s tawny paw
415
Laid round the lamb for love—the lion’s cub
Cradl’d with babes. O mild millennial days [Page 143]
Your round ey’d Hope may see their dulcet dawn
Strong with prime ven’son she, and tip-toe with
Warm wealth of blood, and wine of kindliness.
420
Despair is cold and lean, and logic-full,
Seasons her rue with reason—from the past
Builds up the dreadful future—O God, your Hope
Full-fed and grating peace from dimpling lips.”

“Aye so,” said Hugh, “and mild millennial days

425
Where brawny Peace shall lie, fair and full stretch
Upon charg’d Gatlings, smiling in the sun
And ev’ry man shall sit beneath his vine
A snug torpedo buried by its roots
To greet a foe with! So my round ey’d Hope
430
Sees Peace in her best prime upon this world.
Not on this shaping-place of souls broods Peace
Unarmed—As in the horrible long crash
Of falling mountains and conflicting seas
God shapes His earth—so are the souls of men
435
Caught from the secret spaces—in the war
Of circumstances moulded, and sped on
Along eternity from sphere to sphere
Polish’d in speeding—O this clanging world
Is no snug nest for doves! My Hope, you see
440
Faces eternities—Archangels hold
Her torches high against the mysteries
Their soaring wings still seek—and yet she smiles
Into the violet on the drying grave,
And leaves the dewy jewel of her dawn
445
Starr’d in its with’ring breast. Despair, Despair!
Have I not seen that hooded spectre steal
Among my many graves? have I not fought
His misty arms? Where be your rounded graves
That hold the seeds of sorrow? O patience yields
450
To see you standing in the very sun
And chanting lamentations! While neck deep
The many from black waters reach at Hope.” [Page 144]

“I hope,” said Ion, “faith, so keenly hope
I see some half hour hence the flashing trout
455
Yet snug in yonder pool—yield mellowly
His rose-leaf flakes, and opal curds to us.
In the meanwhile I’ll sing the Dawn, I love.

    A startl’d stag the blue grey night
    Leaps down beyond dark pines
460
    Behind, a length of yellow light,
        The Hunter’s arrow shines
    His moccasins are stain’d with red
        He bends upon his knee
    From cov’ring peaks his shafts are sped
465
    The blue mists plume his mighty head!
        Well may the dark stag flee!

    The pale moon like a snow-white doe
        Bounds by his dappl’d flank;
    They beat the stars down as they go

470
        As wood-bells growing rank.
    The winds lift dew-laps from the ground
        Leap from dry shaking reeds
    Their hoarse bays shake the cedars round—
    With keen cries on the trail they bound—
475
        Swift, swift the dark stag speeds!

    Roar the rent lakes, as through the waves
        Their silver warriors plunge
    As vaults from core of crystal caves
        The vast, fierce Maskelonge.

480
    Red torches of the sumach glow
        Fall’s council fires are lit
    The bittern, squaw-like scolds the air
    The wild duck splashes loudly, where
        The waving rice-spears knit.
485

    Shaft after shaft the red sun speeds—
        Rent the stag’s dappl’d side, [Page 145]
    His breast to fangs of hoarse winds bleeds
        He staggers on the tide.
    He feels the hungry waves of space
490
        Rush at him high and blue
    The white spray smites his dusky face
    Swifter the sun’s swift arrows race
        And pierce his strong heart through.

    Away! his white doe far behind

495
        Lies wounded on the plain
    Yells at his flank the nimblest wind—
        His large tears fall like rain
    Like lily-pads shall clouds grow white
        About his darkling way
500
    From her bald nest upon the height
    The red-ey’d eagle sees his flight
    He falters—turns—the antler’d night
        The black stag stands at bay!

    His feet are in the waves of space

505
        His antlers broad and dun,
    He low’rs, and turns his velvet face
        To front the hunter sun,
    He stamps the lilied clouds and high,
        His branches fill the west—
510
    The lean stork sails across the sky—
    The shy loon shrieks to see him die
        The winds leap at his breast.

    His antlers fall—once more he spurns
        The hoarse hounds of the day

515
    His blood upon the crisp blue burns
        Reddens the mounting spray.
    His branches smite the wave—with cries
        The shrill winds pausing, flag
    He sinks in space—red glow the skies;
520
    The brown earth crimsons as he dies,
        The stout and lusty stag! [Page 146]

Later they laid the silver birch canoe
On the fresh tide—and paddl’d from the shore.

“Hush, hush,” said Hugh, “O paddle, noiseless slip

 
525
Through velvet waters dusky, deep and still,
As hearts of unblown flowers; and thou, canoe,
Make smooth thy birchen sides, and like a beam
That pushes night all noiselessly aside
Part the still lake—Lo, all the little aisles
530
Seem at a mid air, mystic anchorage
Sky lav’d at granite plinth, and cedar crest
As though a God stood doubting—holding them
Between the wave and sky.”

                                                “And shall I pluck
Them up to gem my calm immortal lakes?
535
Or shall I spare them yet a space to man?”

“Eastward the large, long shadows lie and gaze
Into brown waters—westward on gold feet
The sultry light stands on the polish’d lakes
And eyes the raven thunder cloud that flies

540
With plumes all rent far down the curving wave.
Ion, behold!—here lies the old, moss’d crib,
Knit to yon isle by weft of reaching vines,
Fring’d with round lilies; and a bubble floats
On the sleek wave—a little rainbow world
545
With isles and pines and lilies set in it!
Cool, cool the smooth brown shadows! lo, how quakes
Yon lily in the deep core of the shade!
“There drop the line—there lurks the spangl’d fin!”

Said Ion, “we will bait the hook with Hope

550
And with keen hope the trout will nibble it!
And then to one—despair—to trout or man!”

“The trout is welcome to the hope a trout
Can nibble from the hook” Hugh laugh’d. “Now draw [Page 147]
The paddle in—like a swan’s foot it shines
555
And frights the fish—Against this lily bed
We’ll lie—and silence gild our dangling bait.”

 

IX

 

Hugh’s eyes held all the heritage of light,
From Council fires that fac’d a thousand moons,
And warm’d the tribal wisdom into life,
560
From age to age—so loved he prairie crests
And awful forests, and the might of hills,
The surfs of quaking lakes—and like a net
His heart cast out at men to draw them up
From swarming city shallows, light the locks
565
Of Saxon yellow fell on Saxon brows
And the stern humour of the Saxon stood
Built of firm flint within his steadfast soul
With flames to leap against a trial touch
Of cynic steel, and all his creeds and faiths
570
Had flinty feet, and iron in their veins.
For Ion, ere the ague of despair
Shook his young soul, the hale and healthy pang
Fame-famine, nipp’d him, through the very mists of Death
He saw, with eager vision, and beheld
575
The white, strong swan-wings over Lethe’s wave,
And heard the mighty music of their sweep
As down the dark they hurl’d—beheld the bird
Seize from the dreamless terrors of the stream
His name, his name! And upward from the mists
580
Bear it, star-burning, to immortal fanes
To blaze across all ages to all men—
Nor knew the longest fame the longest death.
Yet fame’s keen pang is pulse of God that stirs
In the strong soul that fain would help to mould
585
A Universe, or, like the Titan, leave
An awful foot-print sunken in the rock
God-eloquent of giants in the earth.
He lov’d the wilds, Athenian-wise, so lov’d [Page 148]
His little Athens more—his canvas best
590
His patient and impatient eyes beheld
The leprosies of Nature, and her soul
Of beauty hidden under twisted limbs
And so his spirit at his canvas stood
And painted spirit—never burst a vine
595
Of Spring beneath his brush, but men beheld
The grapes of Autumn on it, and foresaw
The vintages, and felt the soft winds move
Behind its leaves, and all its juices steal
Luminous from the pulses of the God.
600
Then Love came troublous with his languid lutes
And danc’d before Despair, whose canker’d
Bled on Love’s arm’d roses—and Ion flung
His canvas to the dust—and being young
Built a large pompous guest-room on his heart
605
For bleak Despair; and Love, well mask’d in weeds
And prettily demure, with dimples dark
With ashes, and his arrows hidden in
A cypress wreathéd urn, play’d the page part
To the grim guest, and waiting for his day
610
Laugh’d in the darkness of the tyrant’s shade.
And Ion winged his heels, and hurri’d far
Into the wilds from his false falcon love.


His cedar paddle, scented red,
He thrust down through the lily-bed.

615


Cloak’d in a golden pause he lay
Lock’d in the arms of the bay.

Trembl’d alone his bark canoe
As shocks of bursting lilies flew—

Through the still pulses of the tide,

620

And smote the frail boat’s silv’ry side.

Or when, beside the sedges thin [Page 149]
Flash’d the sharp jewel of a fin.

Or when, a wizard swift and bold
A dragon fly dash’d out in gold

625


And fire and flame, the wid’ning rings
Of waters whispering to his wings.

Or when, like wing’d and burning soul
Dropp’d from the gloom an oriole—

On the cool wave, as to the balm

630

Of the Great Spirit’s open palm—

The freed soul flies. Soft silence clung
To the still hours as tendrils hung,

In darkness carven, from the trees
Sedge-buried to their burly knees.

635


Stillness sat in her lodge of leaves,
Clung golden shadows to its eaves:

And on its spicy floor like maize
Red-ripe fell sheaves of knotted rays.

The wood, a proud and crested brave;

640

Bead-bright, a maiden, stood the wave.

And he had told his tale of love
With voice of eagle and of dove

Of loud, peak’d pines his tongue had made
His lips soft blossoms of the shade

645


That kiss’d her silver lips—hers cool
As lilies on his inmost pool.
[Page 150]

Till now he stood in triumph’s rest
His image in her crystal breast.

One isle, ’tween blue and blue did melt

650

A bead of wampum from the belt,

Of Manitou—a purple rise
On the far shore slipp’d up the skies.

His cedar paddle scented red
He drew up from the lily-bed.

655


All lily-lock’d, all lily-lock’d
The light bark on the blossoms rock’d—

Their cool lips round the sharp prow sang
Their soft palms to the pale sides sprang.

With breasts and lips they wove a bar—

660

Stole from her lodge the Ev’ning Star

With golden hand she grasp’d the mane
Of a red cloud on the azure plain—

It by the con’d red sunset flew
Cool winds from its bright nostrils blew.

665


They sway’d the high dark trees and low
Swept the lock’d lilies to and fro.

With cedar paddle, scented red
He push’d out from the lily-bed!


Thus Ion sang, and rustl’ing through the rice
670
They met the shining fingers of the moon
Thrust through the woods to touch the shining lake;
She lifted mellow lips to dying day
And all her kisses quiver’d into stars.
Then from the large rose of the lake leap’d up [Page 151]
675
A million little lillied mists that play’d
And curl’d before the prow like naiad hands
Bore the birch bark in snowy palms, and hid
The rice, the lilies, and the flashing wave.
A camp-fire flared far on an ebon spear
680
Of pine-black land that split the lake, and pale
Their tent gleam’d in the light—And Hugh beheld
And sang a paean to its canvas eaves.


There stands my tent secure between
Two pointed pines—twin guards of green.

685


My palace of mid-June delight!
The canvas walls no longer white:

By smoke from camp-fires keenly kist
Into a dim, dun coil of mist.

By past long summers, bronz’d as brown

690

As cones from pine peaks shaken down.

Would I thy mellow walls exchange
For snowy canvas fresh and strange?

Perish the thought there’s not a rent
Or stain, I’d spare from thee, my tent!

695


Lo, that long wound heal’d with a seam
Thou hadst it in Walpurgian dream,

Of branches bellowing through the night
As when strong, leafy giants fight.

A smitten pine, his dying grip

700

Laid on thee with faint finger tip—

And jagg’d thee sore—that russet stain
The fire-kiss of flaming plain! [Page 152]

That patch—tis victory’s squalid flag
Against thee hurl’d the hounded stag—

705


Fangs at his throat. He reels! he falls!
His antlers in thy yielding walls.

Thy linen lintel bears a blot
I would not move a single jot.

Oh misty, mellow, murm’rous eves,

710

Oh crooked sticks displum’d of leaves

I hung beneath thy trembling thatch,
The scaly treasures of my “catch”

The speck’ld sweetmeat of the stream—
The darling of the angler’s dream.

715


The silver spirit of the creek
That leaps, a pale nymph, from the peak

Of woody hill, and on her way,
Snares such sun flashes, as she may;

And from the glittering rays, small doubt,

720

Evolves her jewell’d sprite, the trout!

Then later, simple ecstasy
That grew between my pipe and me,

Impletion of serene content—
Joy to thy smoky walls, my tent!”

725

So sped the eve, and lying on piled spruce
Beside the red camp-fire, Hugh mused and planned
And Ion smok’d, or sang his sorrow songs
That sounded merrily, to say the least.

Thus Hugh, with eyes large on the ebon woods [Page 153]

730
“A fine, full soil—free grants for every soul—
Pure water—timber—hills for little towns—
Shelter for cattle in the valley dips
I’ll search no further—hither my colony
Shall tramp; here tent, and touch red Plenty’s robe.”
735

Thus Ion: “Yes—and yonder frowning isle
That burst the lake so furiously at birth,
The wave still hisses round it—there your jails
Can cage their birds—Oh, all fits well!
Heights for your towns and temples—rugged rocks
740
To hold your ready rogues, meek murderers,
Your multi-marri’d, and the hoary heads
That whiten’d churches, while their hungry hands
Pluck’d at the public placket—or betray’d
The orphan’s trust—Oh! all fits very well.
745
Prepare the wilderness for crime—and Man!”

“Nay—man and crime,” said Hugh, “Name man the first,
He is the stronger—yield him all his rights.”

“O optimist! O owl that through the pitch
Of midnight gazes clearest! And small doubt

750
Sees the grim ruins gay to his round orbs!”

Then Hugh: “Behold this bay, how firm the sweep
Of the high headlands heav’d from its deep heart.
Here wharves shall grow, and docks, and sails shall set
To this large shelter—from the furious leaps

755
Of yon unsalted sea.”

                                “True, true,” said Ion, “true
And to their slimy lips shall steal at night
Lost mothers with their bastards at their breasts—
And stare a moment at the town behind,
A moment at the stars—then make the choice
760
Of filthy water. Spurn’d merrily by Fate
The madmen of Despair shall leap from them
And rotting ships, brave in fresh paint, shall swing [Page 154]
Loose from them to the wrecking. Thus it holds
In my young, leafy Athens—thus it holds
765
In Babylon.”

                                “And thus,” said Hugh, “it holds
Round our rude star—from hurricane’s slip up
Sleek calms and healthier airs—and hideous slimes
Labour with lilies—O, God’s moulding place
Is full of riot, roar of furnaces
770
Glaring of metal, running in fierce tides
Smoke, violence, and strife—but ever tends
The storm to music, and the strife to peace
Mayhap the music sounds dim aeons hence
Perchance the Peace shapes on immortal shores.”
775

“Hope is your creed,” said Ion, “and you cling
To rainbows, like the elves in picture books!
You ride the moth, and clasp the trembling reed!”

“Ion I worship—sets my soul that way,
And Hope is Pythia to the God I know

780
Utters His will, and looks along His Hand
Stretch’d through the coming ages shaping them.
Shall I pass sentence and condemn myself
To present Hell, and consort with damn’d souls?
Kiss future fiends? and touch the tender hand
785
That yet shall glow in torment? bow before
The sage, and see him, kernel-wise, set in
Ripe flames? Nay, pledge my constant friend
And see, by faith, the wine kiss on his lips
Already hot with Hell? Shall I behold
790
The earth round out with dust by devils shed
And dwarf tremendous Hope to that slight thing
That from man’s billions culls her, here and there,
A Soul she fancies? God is God and Hope
His chiefest Prophet!”
795

                                         “Prove that!” said Ion [Pge 155]
“I’ll be your pupil then—yes, faith, I will.”

“Proof, proof!” said Hugh. “Nay, work the problem out
Alone; nor waste your toil on it unless
You feel at times the passionate, plain pang
Of adoration paining all your soul
800
And hear ’Tis well to worship!’ from her lips.
Then seek my God, and you shall find His Hope.
In the mean-time, roll up that lusty log
Astride the flames—the night grows pale and chill.”

 

X

 

Hugh lay and dream’d, with movements of the feet
805
And starting fingers, and with pricking ears
Full of the crash of stags, through brush and fern
And ripping of deep waves by dappl’d breasts
And so his spirit struggl’d with the earth
Then upward burst to the clear airs of sleep.
810

 

XI

 

He clung against the blackness of a cliff
With bat-sharp nails, and felt against his lips
The awful granite that he could not see.
Against his naked soles he felt a cloud,
Rub its dark down as if an eagle pass’d.
815
Thunder fill’d space: the thunder spirits roll’d
Their balls in such hot sport, the roaring orbs
Smote side to side—then to the south some sped
A riot of red arrows rushing down
On the swift bird that ever flies before
820
Their ruddy shafts yet never drops to them.
Below him leaped the thunders of the lake;
Against his breast, reverberant, the cliff
Belch’d brittle echoes; burst from ev’ry pass
Responsive floods of sound, as to the joy
825
Of the wild thunders they lent their rocky throats. [Page 156]
Night! was this night, or some space set apart
For lasting dark scorch’d with the lightning’s blast?
His soul stood tip-toe for the groan of woods
For forests grow by sun—but stone and wave
830
Made all this world—and thunders all its voice.
Deep dawns of newer darkness fill’d the east
Till, like a swamp-bred monster’s hide, the sky
Grew wrinkl’d with them—and the lightning’s shafts
Broke on their thicker blackness—wave on wave
835
Sprang as a brawny buck leaps on his foe
That fights him for his mate, and rearing high
Grew lank against his stretching foe, and roar’d
And with white branches lock’d they strove and reel’d
And crashed to death together—Then there fell
840

[MS breaks off here] [Page 157]

 

Hugh and Ion 1977