Louise Morey Bowman

by Wanda Campbell


 

Louise Morey Bowman
1882-1944


Louise Morey Bowman was born on January 17, 1882, in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Her father was chief inspector for the Eastern Townships Bank, and Bowman was educated by private tutors and at Dana Hall in Wellsley, Massachusetts, where she specialized in literature and violin. In 1909, she married an electrical engineer by the name of Archibald Abercromby Bowman and moved with him to Toronto. It was there, in 1922, that she published her first book of poetry, Moonlight and Common Day, dedicated to her mother who died when Bowman was fifteen. Her poems had already appeared in prestigious American magazines including Poetry (Chicago), whose founder Harriet Monroe wrote a positive review of Bowman’s first book, drawing attention to her “modern and individual imagination” (43). The title poem appears to argue for an alternative feminine voice to expand the Canadian poetic scene then ruled by the “masculine” verse of Charles G.D. Roberts who had published Songs of the Common Day in 1893. Ever conscious of the “limitations of her power in a patriarchal literary structure” (Cimon 28), Bowman suggests that the story of “the sweet, wet earth” and the moonlight lies “written / Between the lines.”

    Two years later, Bowman published Dream Tapestries, which won the 1924 Prix David from the Quebec government and included the poem “Oranges,” which had won honourable mention in a 1922 competition judged by Amy Lowell. Reviews of this collection, however, were fewer and more mixed. Like many of the women in this anthology, she also wrote fiction, and her stories appeared in magazines such as Chatelaine and the Canadian Mercury and were recognized by Best American Short Stories.

    In 1926, Bowman moved to Montreal, the city that inspired the long poem “The Mountain that Watched.” She became active in the Montreal Branch of the Canadian Authors’ Association. Her last collection, Characters in Cadence, was published in 1938 and almost completely ignored. [Page 339]

    In her Introduction to Poetry by Canadian Women, Rosemary Sullivan asks “Where, for instance, is the name of Louise Morey Bowman in the history of Canadian modernism?” (xi). We know that she was a close friend of fellow Eastern Townships poet Frank Oliver Call whose 1915 collection Acanthus and Wild Grape was a seminal investigation of experimental forms. She was also a friend of Florence Randal Livesay, the mother of Dorothy Livesay who would go on to contribute significantly to the development of the modern idiom in Canadian poetry. As David Arnason points out in an article on Livesay, Bowman’s series of poems entitled “Waxworks,” published in Poetry (Chicago) in 1927, were “based on jazz rhythms” and marked a vast departure from traditional versification (8). He also points out that many of the poems in her last collection, Characters in Cadence (1938), were originally published in the 1920s. E.J. Pratt was then doing editorial work for Bowman’s publisher, Macmillan, and his role in determining the nature of her collections has yet to be explored.

    Though now completely ignored, Bowman is intriguing not only for her subject matter, which touches on a variety of feminist subjects including representations of women in art, mythology, and modern society, but also for her technique, which ranges from the haiku to the long poem. Readers may be disconcerted, as was one contemporary reviewer, by her frequent use of ellipses, but these appear to result from a sincere if awkward effort to find a formal equivalent for that which lies between the lines, or as Anne Cimon puts it, paraphrasing Emily Dickinson, “how she chose to tell the truth but tell it slant” (28). Whether or not one concurs with Donald Precosky that her “struggle to break free of techniques which she inherited from the nineteenth century proved ultimately futile…,” (108) one must consider her a pioneer of Modernism in Canada. She died in Montreal on September 28, 1944, and was buried in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

    As an epigraph for her last collection, Bowman chose a passage from Virginia Woolf’s Letter to a Young Poet that describes the poet’s task as one of finding “the relations between things that seem incompatible yet have a mysterious affinity…to rethink human life…not spun out at length in the novelist’s way, but condensed and synthesized in the poet’s way.” In her poem “The Creators,” Bowman equates those who prefer “the tired, obvious, conventional thing” with those who rejected Christ because they did not understand him. The “new-born things” of the world, she argues, are capable of “Illumining / Dim, darkened Beauty, / With new, blinding, light.” As a transitional figure, Bowman does not often achieve the clean, [Page 340] bold incandescence of those who followed after her, but there is enough moonlight in her work to illuminate the previously overshadowed contribution of women to early Canadian Modernism.

Selected Bibliography

Moonlight and Common Day (Toronto: Macmillan, 1922)
Dream Tapestries (Toronto: Macmillan, 1924)
Characters in Cadence (Toronto: Macmillan, 1938)

A.L.P., “The Library Table: Moonlight and Common Day,” Canadian Magazine 59 (July 1922): 254-56; Harriet Monroe, Rev. of Moonlight and Common Day by Louise Morey Bowman, Poetry: a Magazine of Verse 21 (1922-23): 43-45; E. Ritchie, Rev. of Dream Tapestries, by Bowman, Dalhousie Review 6 (April 1926): 130-31; John Garvin, ed. “Louise Morey Bowman,” Canadian Poets (Toronto: McClelland, 1926): 331-32; Donald Precosky, “Louise Morey Bowman,” Canadian Literature 79 (Winter 1978): 108-11; Avrum Malus et al., “Frank Oliver Call, Eastern Townships Poetry, and the Modernist Movement,” Canadian Literature 107 (Winter 1985): 60-69; David Arnason, “Dorothy Livesay and the Rise of Modernism in Canada,” A Public and Private Voice: Essays on the Life and Work of Dorothy Livesay (Waterloo: U of Waterloo P, 1986): 5-18; Anne Cimon, “Louise Morey Bowman,” Dictionary of Literary Biography 68 (1988): 27-29. [Page 341]

 

Moonlight and Common Day

 

Listen—you very very Few who will care to listen—
And I will tell you a story
Of moonlight.
Don’t imagine because I try to tell stories of moonlight
That I am a poet—neurotic and mystic—
5
(Dearly as I love the things that some poets—neurotic and             mystic—
Can write!)
As for me I love good food and beautiful clothing,
And well-ordered, punctual living
Behind tall, well-clipped hedges;
10
And practical, common-sense people.
But still——

Let us open my casement window, Beloved,
Where the dark leaves stir in the silence,
And the sweet, wet earth breathes softly

15
And murmurs an exquisite word.
Any moment out into the moonlight may issue
White creatures, and elfin-formed things that we know not,
Quaintly and solemnly marching and chaunting inaudibly.
Something stirs by the willows—
20
Do you know what that sound is, so lovely and shuddering?
It’s the owl’s cry.
The grave, small, gray owl that in purple dusk comes sometimes
To sit on my window-sill, eyes open, dreaming,—
Hark how he is linking us in with the moonlight,
25
Like a horn faintly blown in blue heaven.
(Do you remember, Beloved, a night,
Glad years ago in a pine-wood,
In the moon-lighted darkness—
How the rhythmical thunder of waves on the white shore
30
Blended with us and our heart-beats, Beloved?)

Let us lean from the window
As if faintly-blown horns have called us to answer three questions.
Is Life food and raiment and conquest? [Page 342]
Is Love conquest and intrigue and passion?
35
Is Death a gaunt figure white-shrouded
Dealing blows out of blackness?
Let us fling back our eternal “No!” as an answer—
To the listening Silence,
While the sweet, wet earth still breathes softly
40
An exquisite word.

But tomorrow
I shall go right on living
As unworthy as ever of the moonlight
Locked up in my soul.

45

•    •    •

That is my story of moonlight—
No story at all, now say you?
But it all lies written
Between the lines.

 

Moonlight and Common
Day
1922

 

Darkness

 

It seems to be a foregone conclusion;
That if I worship the new gods
Sincerely, in the sunshine—
I must not pray in the moonlight,
By the shrines of the old gods,
5
Where the cherry blossoms still shine.
But sometimes in the darkness
I mistake the shrines.
And I kneel and pray and the gods speak to me.
And until I breathe suddenly
10
The scent of cherry blossoms,
I do not know whether they are really
The old or the new shrines— [Page 343]
And by then I have wept, and prayed,
And been answered.
15
So what does it matter?

 

Moonlight and Common
Day
1922

 

She Plans her Funeral

 

Bring to me then all passionate, crimson flowers
And lay them on my breast.
They shall be symbols of the love-lit hours—
And Love is best.
Folk who believe in Immortality,
5
Why should they pass in panoply of woe?
I would be linked with colour and ecstacy
That day I go.

Linked with glad dancers, their white limbs set free,
And rhythmical through veils of filmy green,

10
With children, rose-flushed with a mystic glee—
All these I mean
To leave as wishes for my funeral day.
But, lest I burden those I leave behind,
Let me add, hastily, that any way
15
They care to manage—
Will be to my mind!

•    •    •

Yet I crave mightily for that last hour
At least one dancer and one crimson flower. [Page 344]

 

Moonlight and Common
Day
1922

 

Timepieces

 

I

There are three wise clocks in the house.
In a winter night I heard them striking twelve…,
Answering each other,
Humanly.
The tall, ancient and beautiful clock in the hall,
5
In an inlaid case with the Prince of Wales’ feathers,
And the quaint, painted posies in the corners of the dial,
With the painted lady above the dial
Who sits on a green bank,
Holding a white cockatoo on her hand
10
So gracefully.
The cold, silver notes of this Clock began.…
And then there broke in lustily
The hoarser, more human note of the other old Grandfather’s             Clock
On the upper landing.…
15
In its plain, massive case, with the little, old ship
With wee white sails,
That rocks backward and forward… .
Backward…forward…
Charming
20
The eyes of generations of small, wondering children
Climbing up to nursery tea in the twilight.
And last came the slow, ghostly striking
Of a very, very old Clock, on the library mantel….
A Clock who has always worked very hard
25
And who has to be wound every evening,
And who has never been sure of a steady, aristocratic foundation
To stand on….
Like the others,
But who still strikes, feebly and truthfully,
30
Proud to give service.
Three old clocks very wise and human…. [Page 345]
And faithful,
Striking the hours on a winter night,
With the age-old Moon looking in at the windows.
35

II

In a house that is suddenly left empty,
Unlighted, alone,
Through the long mystical hours of a night
An old eightday Clock strikes.….
Twelve….
40
One….
Two….
Three….
Is there anything so silent….lonely….vast…
As a Clock striking hours in a house….
45
With no one to listen?
Is there no one to listen?

III

The Sundial is very, very old
To be counting the hours in my modern garden,
Where flowers bloom in wild riot of colour,
50
And modern poets read vers libre
Under the shade of a jolly young maple tree.

I think I shall plant tall, stately white phlox
All around the Sundial
Next summer.

55
And try to have more spaces of green, velvet turf.…
And perhaps buy a peacock.

For we cannot read only Elizabethian lyrics and sonnets
Beside the sundial,
And it is so aloof and so old for my modern garden,

60
Although, in the sunshine, so faithful….
Yes, it should have a peacock! [Page 346]

IV

The winter moonlight is streaming down
Into the sunken garden.
Yesterday I laid a vivid spray of red Autumn berries
65
Upon the sundial,
Over the calm old motto….
“Light and shade by turns but Love always.”

Now the first snow has fallen, and in the pale moonlight
The Sundial stands as aloof as ever on its slender pedestal….

70
Holding quietly a white crown,
Dropped lightly upon it
From the mysterious sky that holds the Sun and the Moon.

V

I have written these sketches of clocks and a sundial
Waiting in the power-house of a great factory.….
75
Where a chair is courteously placed for me
In a bare, lofty room
Between two monstrous whirring engines
Apparently ceaseless.
At first their rush and their crashing roar
80
Terrified me.
I wanted to scream and to run.…gasping…
Now the noise has become rhythmical.…awesome…
And I think, queerly, of deep, green caverns
Far under the roar of the ocean.
85
How slow….slow….slow
The old clocks striking at midnight….
In comparison
With this hurrying, rhythmical beat of these mighty engines,
Timed to the fraction of a second.
90
High over my head, on a brick wall
A shrill piercing gong strikes now and then rapidly…. [Page 347]
Cleaving the roar and the rhythm….
I understand nothing….

•    •    •

Now I shall simply write down, laboriously….
95
As a child writes….
And very reverently.…
GOD
SUNDIALS
CLOCKS
100
ENGINES
TIME AND ETERNITY.

 

Moonlight and Common
Day
1922

 

Oranges

 

A small New England village in the hills:…
The date?
Oh, many, many years ago…the season very late…
November!
The conquering colours that a year must always hold
5
Have vanished.
Pale Northern Spring in tints of lilac, softest green and rose;
The short hot Summer’s purple and dark green and yellow gold;
The tawny richness of the harvest’s close…
All past and vanquished in this sullen cold,
10
By sombre grays and browns, dead white and black.
The tall-spired meeting-house, the school,
The stiff white houses built by rigid rule,
Even the village store,
With hospitable, easily-opened door;
15
And their human owners reared in godly fear,
Austere, repressed,
Severe…
How it all lies, before our modern eyes, [Page 348]
So grim.
20
Dressed in that rigid livery of nature’s gloom that suits it best.
Hear their stern hymn…
Dignified, slow,
Sung in proud, solemn majesty of menace and woe.
“Our days as grass…all earth is but a tomb”…
25

What unfathomed gloom…
Smouldering!

(2)

Keen bitter winds have stripped the great elm trees,
And swept the one long street
Ruthlessly neat;
30
Quite bare of all the withered, dead, brown leaves,
Except for small dry heaps that meet,
Trembling and mournfully rustling,
Caught
In the corners of the neat, white, picket fences;
35
Or drifting
Behind the pillars in the porch of the white meeting-house,
Unused through the long week
Except for Death.
How the winds shriek about the meeting-house!
40
(But wait before you shudder and turn away!)
With the keen, icy breath of the New England hills
Sharp in your nostrils,
Step over the threshold of the village store,
With its easily-opened door.
45
Breathe this different air,
Heavy with curiously mingled odours
As if another wind had blown in there
Heaps of rare
Drifted salvage…
50
Some wild, rich wind from wild rich worlds beyond,
That folk cannot entirely withhold,
Even from a Puritan village long ago. [Page 349]

Beware…ye righteous folk of old…
Beware!
55

(3)

Here are the great foreign boxes, wisely and deftly made,
That hold teas from the Orient, compactly laid;
And coffee beans.
Here spices, pungent and hot;
Tall, blue-wrapped cones of sugar; fine and coarse salt,
60
And finest quality of figured delaine;
Dark, serviceable calico dotted and plain;
Sheer delicate muslin, white as milk,
And thick black silk;
And broadcloth heavy and black;
65
And much, much more…
Of quantity and quality no lack—
For this is the “general store,” of a prosperous man
Old and wealthy and wise,
In the village eyes.
70
Oh, Puritan New England would be clothed fittingly;
And Puritan palates know,
Both high and low
The wholesome savour of good food
When in the mood;
75
As well as very fine
Flavours in sermons by some “great divine;”
Or savour of ethics proved and tried,
And flavours in doctrines never very wide…
But high and pure…
80
(That you’ll acknowledge!)
God…but they were sure…
Those grim fine people of ours!…another hymn…
“Only such things as are godly and pure,
Saved from consuming wrath they shall endure.”
85
Is that the echo of the bell
From the tall-spired white meeting-house? [Page 350]
Its bell is silent through the week, except for Death…
Hear the wind shriek about the meeting-house!
But this small bell
90
Fastened above the door
Of the old village store,
Tinkles continually, where through the week,
They barter and buy and sell.

(4)

(In this short passing hour we shall see more…)
95
He is a man of vision and breadth of mind…
This storekeeper.
Back in the dusky depths of the old store
Are rows of books in sober black and brown;
Books for his town
100
That are not all volumes of sermons or hymns,
Or a “Garland of Sacred Poetry from Friend to Friend.”
(Does not some stern voice ask “Where will this end?”)
For here are books of perilous voyages, tales of human ways,
And human lives, and of the great, historic, coloured days
105
Of far-off empires…Ah….here are William Shakespeare’s mighty             plays!

(But we must not stop to read more titles now. . .the hour is almost             past)
Daylight is fading fast…
And heaped on the dark, well-rubbed old counter lies his last
And latest venture on seas of commerce…

110
Oranges!

(5)

Oranges…oranges…
Great balls of golden wonder…round, perishable globes…
Here a ripe pyramid most carefully laid
Beside sad-toned materials for matrons’ robes,
115
And piles of iron-gray wool for their men’s winter stockings. . . [Page 351]
Plain comfortable sight…proof against sharp frost bite
Of the Northern Winters.
See how the oranges have caught up all the light!
What joyous tones they hold
120
Of vivid, bold,
Hot colour!
They glow like balls moulded of molten gold.
Above them from the rafters hang thin strings and strings,
Innumerable strings
125
Of dull, dried apples!
Nothing is here akin to the oranges at all…
Nothing in all
This colourless, inanimate hoard…nothing’s akin
Except that vague, enduring richness, so alluring,
130
That we smell,
When the small bell,
Over the door tinkles…and we come in…
Out of the keen, pure coldness of the wind.

(6)

So…the scene is set…for good and ill.
135
Over the highest hill
New winds blow wild and shrill:
For “the old order changeth” still.
Who now is sure what shall endure?
The street is empty…in the dusky store,
140
Holding the eye with a voluptuous lure,
The oranges burn through the smouldering gloom.

 

Canadian Magazine                                           Dream Tapestries
March 1923 (60:442-44)                                                            1924

 

Green Apples

 

The garden lies spattered with wet green moonlight
Spilled from the night’s dark goblet;
And the wraith in the garden huddles mournfully [Page 352]
Silently watching,
Upon the broad marble seat,
5
Where white lilies and roses bloom.
Wine of pale silver-green drenches the garden.
The little gray wraith huddles mournfully,
Silently watching.

•    •    •

On that broad marble seat to-day
10
Sat a beautiful lady…
Through the hot golden hours of the long afternoon…
Oh a beautiful lady!
With a warm wicked beauty of white, and of rose,
And of ebony.
15
Over her white breasts a long green scarf falling…
Wet, bright, apple-green.
Out in the orchard, laughing
With clear, evil laughter…
Ice laughter…
20
She had gathered some little green apples
And bit them with strong white teeth.
“I am Eve! I am Eve in the garden…
Come! Adam!”
And he followed…poor, passionate lover…
25
To the seat by the heavy white lilies and roses.
(Oh far far away lie the wise castle windows
Behind the rose gardens and lime trees!)
But after the lovers…after them, swiftly, swiftly,
Like a fleeting gray shadow,
30
Speeds the little gray wraith…
With feeble weak fingers of dampness
Pulling with tremulous touch at his heart-strings…
Prickling like impotent tiny thorns;
Nipping, and pinching, and pricking
35
The shrivelled, black conscience of the rosy and beautiful lady.
See! from the shrivelled black conscience
One drop of bright, red blood, [Page 353]
As from prick of a rose thorn…
And his heart-strings are drawn tight and knotted
40
With tiny, weak, slipping knots
Tied by feeble, damp fingers…
Slipping…slipping…oh slipping!
But what does that matter?
For Time has come to the help of the gray wraith…
45
Grave, gray Father Time with a handful of moments—
Dust? Ashes?…
He has set the rose-shrouded sundial in shadow.

•    •    •

Now the broad marble seat is empty
Except where gray wraith has sunk down in the moonlight
50
Victorious.
Ah!…the lady had dropped her bright, apple-green scarf,
And it stirs like a sinuous, long snake.
Is it only that one pointed corner is lifted
By the stealthy, stealing, night wind?
55
Slowly, slowly…so feebly…
The snake lifts itself with the wind’s help,
Revealing
A little green apple,
With some black dents where strong white teeth
60
Have bitten it.
And the small, gray wraith noiselessly moans and shudders.
But what matter?
For the long night passes.
Only the green scarf lies harmlessly, softly,
65
On the empty marble seat where the little gray wraith sits
And watches,
Victorious…
Though the green wine of moonlight is drenching
The perilous garden. [Page 354]
70

 

Dream Tapestries
1924

 

 

The Mountain that Watched

 

 
“In the beginning”…“The heavens and the earth”…
“Let there be light”…
After all we can’t improve on Genesis
For the condensed beginning of a tale!
But earth is much more earth, and heaven much more heaven
5
When it’s our own old Mountain, touching sky
Like this, right up in the middle of the island,
Than when it’s a mountain range across the oceans.
That’s to my way of thinking anyhow.
Mountain and city…Edinburgh now…but that’s another’s story…

10
Sonnet form!
And now…to mine, to-day.
To-day! To-day is written in curling smoke
Before the Mountain, dumb above the city.…
Our Mountain…trying to make us understand,
15
By secret code, sign language…what you will.

                Rustling of leaves—
                Pale green, dark amber, scarlet, crimsoning brown—
                Deep coloured sighs and long deep breaths of earth—
                Rustling of leaves—
20

“In the beginning”—
The river, the island, and the rustling leaves,
Arrows and mating and life and birth and death,
Silence and solitude;
But always the Mountain, touching cold blue sky
25
When the white men landed in their little boats,
When holy dreaming men and women came,
And built their funny little forts and towers,
And sacred shrines,
And made a new-world city.
30
And all the while the Mountain watched and watched. [Page 355]

                Dirt? Well you certainly can’t expect a city’s docks,
                or a great station at an entrance port,
                to be like a Quaker meeting-house
                on a seventh-day noon.
35

Docks! There’s a magical word! Not unpoetical
let me tell you, if you’ll only close your eyes
and use that “inward eye” your Wordsworth used
for daffodils. My God! you’d think he had secured that “eye”
to be hereafter used for “daffodils,” and “solitude” and “thrills”
40
exclusively!
Come now! Just try it on for once to-day
with river docks filled with the motley throng…
old world and new.
Deep searching eyes that seek the “golden West”—
45
wild eyes that hold the primal hunger lure,
young eyes that hold the secrets of the dawn,
sad eyes that hold the fury of the night—
We’ll have to stand the dirty docks I think,
and the crowded station—
50
holding a daffodil to your nose to smell
you’ll soon forget the nose and the daffodil!
What’s that you’re murmuring?
“It’s all like a magic casement opening out
on perilous seas…” Bless you for those kind words!
55
Though that’s John Keats that sees our docks—not you!
Wait just a moment—here is something now
that’s well worth watching! It’s the Jewish New Year,
and those are orthodox Jews who have come down
to cast their sins away in running water.
60
Mumbling in their beards…from books, and some from             memory…
punctilious enough they are…
shaking their overcoats…(those two men, look!)
Into deep river…old Father St. Lawrence running to the sea.
Old men, believers—and a few young ones too.
65
You see? Turn round and look at the motor cars.
Look at that old old woman from the slums— [Page 356]
Grandmother of Isaac and Jacob and Abraham—
Look at her! Carefully shake, shake, shake, old Mother!
Strong, wrinkled, kindly face—those toil-worn hands—
70
Come, let us try the “inward eye” again…
Verily—see! Her sins do drop and float away from her
on the dirty oily water—little sins
that float like tiny, bright-red maple leaves
cast from a lusty old tree in the Fall.
75
She’s known the life of the full ripe seasons through…
carefully and punctiliously shake, shake, shake!

Let us go too from the docks with lightened hearts,
groping our way on upward through the slums.
Listen to the lilt and whimsical chattering

80
of alien tongues.
“And have not charity”—”Through a glass darkly”…see?
We’ve dropped our classic daffodils and trod
upon them! But we’ve really seen—something.
To-day.
85
What else does the Mountain see?
Churches! Hotels! Domes, palaces and towers,
Steep hilly streets, shops, hovels, factories.
Limestone tradition!
Romance! Romance! Raw gold!
90
Merry-men, jesters, in a surging crowd
mingling with Holy Folk—
Miracles, shrines, and glorious, honest doubts—
raw gold, black, red,—
new thoughts breed sacraments—
95
white dreams and tawny sins—
the half-good, the half-bad—Humanity!
Groping humanity—
Who judges? How? Or why?
The Mountain watches.
100

Snow-dusted silent streets. The midnight mass—
with quiet thronging worshippers that pass
from darkness into glimmering ecstasies.— [Page 357]
Another mood…
The blizzard—
105
The swirling wall-like drifts, while through the streets
the snow-ploughs move like huge primeval beasts
glutted with power;
wallowing through the mists of drifting powdery particles,
ploughing the snow.
110
The Mountain watches and possesses now
a festival afternoon of sparkling white,
pierced by the thrilling flights of vivid glancing skis—
pierced by the shooting downward in death-like dive,
of flat toboggans on the mountain slide.
115
Impertinence the Mountain tolerates!

The flashing facets of an ice palace
reared in a square beside a towering church of massive stone,
for half a continent to gaze upon if it so desires,
and feast between whiles.

120
(“H-mmm—Good advertising this—
Hush! Watch your step! Deliver the goods!”)
Ah well—Mount Royal, graven on a “souvenir!”
The Mountain watches.
“Truly an ice palace is a beautiful thing—a fairy tale!”
125
“You poets are so fantastic!” “You should worry!”
“My word I’m nearly dead for tea!” “Do hurry!”
“Ice plants for making artificial ice”—“Efficiency”—
“Gold seal—good jazz”
“The cafeterias are the thing to-day—
130
take up your tray
and walk!”
“What blasphemy!”
“Ice plants for making artificial ice”
“Fine bargain furs there if you’ve got the price”
135

“Gods! what a day!”
Then much the same in French—the rapid glancing tongue.
“Day uttereth speech” indeed.
“Night shewth knowledge.” [Page 358]

The Mountain watches.
140
Night! Zero night—
like a dense black velvet skin
drawn tightly over the city;
and lights pricking, pricking, pricking—
like fiery pin-points in a million eyes
145
behind black skins, blazing with jungle light…
a gay old city is sinister at night.

                Rustling and creaking of black naked branches
                On the old Mountain—
                Stark twisted branches black against the snow
150
                Snapping and cracking of frost-tortured trees—
                Rustling—

Something has happened! The Mountain almost seems to tremble.
Down its sides rush the melting snows in torrents;
155
tumbling, tumultuous, most untidy rivers
through icy blackened parapets that still stand.
Washing day for the Mountain!
Ah but wait!—
Silver-green city in a rosy mist—Spring dawn!—
160
As Life has waked with a soft stirring
Of pouting leafy lips
And curling velvet finger-tips,
Through all the ages while the Mountain watched.

                Rustling of leaves—
165
                Silver-green, rose-red, amber, scarlet, brown—
                Deep coloured sighs and long deep breaths of earth—
                Rustling of leaves—

Against my hand a little crumbling dust
Is softly blown—
170
Before my eyes a glory—sunset? Dawn?
And in my ears a great triumphant song—
Is it a song? [Page 359]
Or but the quiet breathing of a child
Who holds its coloured toys and drifts to sleep?

175

The Mountain watches and is very still.

 

Dream Tapestries
1924

 

Twelve Hokku on a Canadian Theme

 

(1)

                                    How strangely they float,
                                    Pale gold and ivory cups,
                                    On wilderness lakes.

(2)

                                    The loon’s weird laughter
                                    Holds Indian deviltry,
5
                                    Long, long forgotten.

(3)

                                    Indian cradle
                                    Swung from bough, rocked by Four Winds:
                                    Christ lay in manger.

(4)

                                    Silver-haired Marquise!
10
                                    You were transplanted, one Spring,
                                    Into wild New France. [Page 360]

(5)

                                    The sugar maples…
                                    Benevolent goddesses
                                    Who offer honey.
15

(6)

                                    Snow-shoes: like strong wings
                                    Bound on the feet of victors
                                    Conquering snow-fields.

(7)

                                    On city pavements
                                    Two muffled, sombre nuns pace
20
                                    Behind laughing girls.

(8)

                                    You set narcissus
                                    Amidst your silver birches
                                    By Northern lakeside.

(9)

                                    Five o’clock! You pause…
25
                                    Handle frail, old cups, pour tea,
                                    And become grande dame.

(10)

                                    When Loneliness stalked…
                                    Black panther through gold wheat-fields…
                                    You used Love’s arrows. [Page 361]
30

(11)

                                    Puissant woman!…
                                    Sheltering tiny things like
                                    English primroses!

(12)

                                    Fast the new trails lead
                                    From wilderness to city!
35
                                    Years pass…Canada!

 

Dream Tapestries
1924

 

Life Sequence
(In The Hokku Manner)

 

(Unready)

Close-folded fern…
So stiff; so coldly self-sustained:
But summer passes.


(Motherhood)
5

Puss watches the world,
Troubled: but knows she is linked
To a miracle.

(Home)

Empty room; fire dies;
10
Moon shines in: chairs and tables converse;
Books croon songs. [Page 362]


(Awakening)

Gray old tree
Has breasted winter storms; but is vaguely
15
Worried by March.

(Memorial Tablet)

Sunshine on storied bronze:
Love on the whirling earth:
And you on my heart.
20

 

Dream Tapestries
1924

 

City Child’s Easter

 

                                    Fragrance
                                    Of Hot Cross Buns:
                                    Pots of white lilies: sunshine: magic eggs:
                                    New skipping-ropes—but old old winds
                                    Of Faith.
5

 

Dream Tapestries
1924

 

Prayer in Scarlet and White Paint

 

There is a marvellous washing
creamy and snowy-white
hung high on lines
stretched from upper and lower balconies
in the back-yard, across the narrow lane
5
behind my rusty apple-tree
and dusty lilac hedge;
and a great splendid ‘woman-by-the-day’
comely and fat, with a bronzed skin
and tumbled blue black hair, [Page 363]
10
and an ugly and joyous scarlet gown,
is hanging out the clothes…
wet heavy clean white clothes…
soft liquid splashes of light amidst dull dusty trees
and sombre dirty bricks.
15
The laden lines begin to ripple seductively
in the cool sour east wind.
There is no sun to-day,
but the great splashes of high-hung white,
the competent brown arms,
20
the comfortable strength in vivid scarlet…
they have given me the warmth and wonder
and the refreshment
of tumbling woodland waters
and blazing sun.
25
I thank you…Life!
I daub it in on a bit of canvas
(with a copy of a Botticelli madonna on the other side!)
so I may remember……
the sordid back lane has become quite immaterial…
30
I thank you…Life!

 

Dream Tapestries
1924

 

Garden in Agra

 

Cool-blossomed English garden! What wide fate
Set you in burning breathless India?
Yet perhaps phantom wind from England came
To ring, in Agra, Canterbury-bells?—
To blow the hollyhocks to rose-red flame,
5
And cool the tall white lilies by the gate?…

We know each flower. We gather pink sweet-peas,
And smile to think how small the world—how sweet.
Outside the low wall, crouching at their ease,
The cobra charmers we have summoned, wait. [Page 364]

10
And now with that veiled power we do not know
they twist the writhing cobras round dark feet,
And offer up for us their “passing show”…

While in the garden, with brown Ayah there,
Plays English Baby-boy, with flaxen hair

15
And eyes like blue-bells when the woods are green,
And only that low stone wall lies between
The cobra charmers, with their age-old spells,
And chiming of the Canterbury-bells!

 

Canadian Author’s
Association Poetry Year
Book
1926-1927

 

Dragon Orchard

 

(1)

Her grave gray days
Were filled with starved monotony
Of pale and wan routine.
The increasing weirdness of her silent ways
Passed quite unnoticed by her grim gray mate.
5
He was absorbed, content, proud of his heritage,
Loving his fertile fields with all his heart;
While she had accepted, quite unquestioning,
The woman’s part.
She grappled with her stark, lack-lustre tasks
10
Unshaken by weak self-pity for her fate.
Within the weather-beaten time-stained walls
Of the old farm-house all the grave gray days
Passed and repassed
Through pallid placid years.
15
But when sometimes she suddenly realized
That she was whispering to herself all day
She would leave baking, ironing,
The butter, dishes or mending, and look out
Where close about the house the apple trees
20
Saved and redeemed,
And sanctified her world. [Page 365]

(2)

But what she thought of the orchard, none but kind gods could             know.
When buds unfolded in the glad green Spring
It seemed to her a throbbing melody
25
Poured from the trunks and branches twisted and brown—
A melody quite apart from the bubbling throats
Of golden orioles and bobolinks—
A melody that filled her weary eyes
And soaked her thirsty soul
30
With glory!
She loved the orchard in the winter-time—
The rich, dark-brown bark of the gnarled old trees
Holding their miracle bloom all deep and warm—
Strong, friendly, and sheltering through a drifting storm—
35
She thanked God for the orchard on her knees.

(3)

And then at last when she was very old,
One April, the weird silver-green terror came.
A sinister shuddering spell over her fell:
To her it never, never had a name.
40
“That orchard should be sprayed” her nephew said.
She listened and shivered with queer nervous dread.
The men discussed old and new ways with zest
Deciding “copper solution—that’s the best.”
One day she set her straining shrivelled face
45
Against the window pane, stood gazing there.
Gnarled trunks and twisted branches all had turned
To sinister writhing dragons! Her eyes burned
With horror in a fascinated glare.
Ghastly green dragons in their orchard lair
50
Possessing it wholly? In the cool damp air
They writhed with night-mare grace of silvered green, [Page 366]
And passers-by grinned mockingly between
The unearthly shapes.
She clutched the window-ledge
55
She shivered—
Then she fled
With one long shuddering cry,
Frantic and stumbling, up the steep narrow stair,
And fell upon her patchwork covered bed.
60

(4)

Her folk were kind to her. They tried and tried
To reassure and comfort—to explain.
“Now listen Auntie—now I’ve never lied.
Those apple trees will all come brown again”…
“Your orchard’ll be much better than before”….
65
“Your apples—you’ll have ever so many more”….
“I don’t see why you feel so—all the stains
Will be washed off with some good heavy rains”….
And then she lay and waited for the rain
While haunted days passed with bright cloudless skies.
70

•    •    •

At last in a gray dawn she woke and heard
The rustling, rhythmical patter of the rain.
“Look! Look! The Orchard!—Is it—real again?”—
Then quivering peace crept into her frightened eyes.
In the gray morning light she smiled—and died.
75

(5)

 
And in the dragon orchard apple-bloom
Like rosy snow,
Drifted—
Then sifted
To the brown earth below. [Page 367]
80

 

Dalhousie Review
July 1927 (7:156-58)

 

 

Waxworks
John Knox and Mary Queen

 

 
“Honeypot,” he called her,
Hurling words like javelins—
Stern John Knox with the flame in his eyes.
Steeled against shocks
Was great John Knox!
5
Target for surprise
From those side-glancing eyes?
Nay, I trow not—
“Honeypot.”

How they’ve all rhymed her,

10
Storied and chimed her,
Stern-eyed scholars on a primrose way!—
Tried to shut her cut-and-dried
In a history book—
Music of a galliard,
15
Rhythm of a sermon,
Sweet strange poison of that side-long glance!
That was a tribute
When the pastry-cooks of Edinboro’
Tried to make petits gateaux by recipe from France.
20
“Petticoat-tails,” they call them still
In many a Scottish manse.

Hot tears dripping beside cold Lochleven,
Red heart breaking with the twist of a key!
Strange now how metres halt—

25
Tap— tap-tap— tapping,
Dancing feet in Holyrood
Tap— tap— tapping!—
So those little ghostly feet
In Scottish hearts today…
30
Interrupting measured beat—
Tap— tap— tapping— [Page 368]
For stern-eyed scholars
On a primrose way.

Mary quite contrary—
35
Mary Queen of Scots!
Poetry and history—
Plots, plots, plots.
Never better plot
For story short or long—
40
Heart-beat for a song—
“Honey-pot!”

 

Poetry: a Magazine of                                 Characters in Cadence
Verse
3:5 (August 1927)                                                             1938
267-68

 

Mermaid

 

Fra Lippo Lippi’s women had your breasts,
And your great curving forehead—but your ears
Are delicate crinkled shells God must have clapped
Upon a mermaid’s head on either side
When He created her in deep sea caves,
5
Finishing with a lovely sea-green tail,
But your white limbs are purely Eden made.

When your veined eyelids droop, then Lippi paints
Your portrait till you lift your gaze again.
Such eyes are far beyond Fra Lippi’s power,

10
For Eve’s were not so simple and profound
I think, and Lilith’s not so darkly gray.
Yours are the eyes that, in those green sea-caves,
Reproachful, stared at God, and at your tail. [Page 369]

 

Dalhousie Review                                     Characters in Cadence
July 1931 (11:192)                                                                     1938

 

Delicate Sandals

 

Once I said:
“I will cast my saint and my devil out of my head,
Or my heart, or whatever it is that may chance to abide.
I will lay my saint and my devil,
Like little twin sons side by side,
5
In a dark clay bed.
And I will go forth as a virginal goddess
And walk pure and high,
With my feet in delicate sandals,
My eyes on the sky.
10
I will find white islands where never a tail nor a horn,
Nor the cruel pale hands of a saint
Have stirred in the corn
One silken white poppy, or gathered
One floating seed.
15
Of a far white island of purified ocean shell-dust—
That is my need!”

But the brown earth split at my feet with a crocus—
A purple cup
Filled to the brim with dew.

20
Then—the Sun was up!
All the world was lordly and regal with purple and gold,
And deep in red clover my saint and my devil rolled
With the glee of two rollicking, frolicking babes, until I
Forgot my delicate sandals, pellucid sky
25
Over far white islands of purified shell-dust and unstirred corn,
And I laughed in the face of my devil and patted his horn.
And the other’s long fingers, all formed for the hand of a saint—
I vowed that the good, brown earth should form them and
            bend them
With work’s restraint. [Page 370]
30

We battle barefooted through emerald thickets
All prickled with sharp blackthorn.
Oh, still I see dimly the silken white poppy,
Pure shell-dust and unstirred corn!—
I am glad because of my visions of far white islands
35
Where one walks in delicate sandals
Untouched by strife—
But I could not put my little twin sons—
My saint and my devil—
Out of my life.
40

 

Queen’s Quarterly                                     Characters in Cadence
February 1932 (31:130-31)                                                     1938

 

Pink

 

Loudly we all discussed
Colour—within a modern studio.
A little mussed
Our thoughts—by frantic flitting to and fro
Of ego, and small green-winged jealousies,
5
And Black’s desires to prick Brown’s sophistries.
Discussion grew too hot.
The child upon the hearth-stool listened, too.
We quite forgot
That clear small personality with blue
10
Sea-coloured eyes. She huddled there intent,
Explorer of an unknown continent.

And all at once she said
With a decisive nodding of her head,
“But I like pink!

15

The small voice floated there
Like a pure rosy butterfly
Upon the air,
Dank, heavy, charged with rancour and with doubt.
Then green-winged jealousies were put to rout. [Page 371]
20
“Pink! the child-colour! Well—why not?”
Black smiled.
“Remember strange dull pinks Velasquez used?
His portrait of the Infanta—
Fine wise child!”
25
And silence fell. In vibrant peace we mused.
Pink seemed a new dimension, undefiled.

 

Characters in Cadence
1938

 

Portraits of Five Sinners

 

(1)

Her one dynamic quality was Courage.
It saved her birthright from a mess of potage.
She failed Law but not Love.
Unfortunately one cannot lift one’s eyebrows
As one would wish to when she passes by.
5

(2)

Her little window-sills were all too narrow
To hold her pots of lilting daffodils.

(3)

It shocked them more than a little to discover
That wood of crucifix or the church pews
Were no more sacred to her than the poplar
10
Under whose whispering leaves her lover had kissed her.

(4)

She said, “I only know Reality,
And Truth,
And Righteousness.” [Page 372]
Then three black shapes slipped in and guarded her.
15
But three white, shining, smiling ghosts slipped out,
Sighing,
“Not so—not so.”

(5)

They said he blasphemed. I heard his words
And thought them over.
20
In the white dawn I woke and heard them again
Like running brooks
Set free all through the ice-locked woodlands
By keys of Spring.
It was as if great rivers rushed in wilderness exultation to the sea.
25
But they were only his wildly lovely words
That men called blasphemy!

 

Characters in Cadence
1938

 

Bonnet over the Mill

 

                                    She touched the freesia in a jar
                                    As if she re-arranged
                                    The Milky Way to hold a star
                                    And left it subtly changed.

                                    They say of her, “Why bother?
5
                                    To fathom her you’ll need
                                    A microscope for monocle
                                    And victory in speed.” [Page 373]

 

Characters in Cadence
1938