Susan Frances Harrison

by Wanda Campbell

Susan Frances Harrison

Susan Frances (Riley) Harrison was born in Toronto on February 24, 1859, and was educated in Montreal. Though she published under the pseudonyms Medusa and Gilbert King, her favourite pen name was “Seranus” based upon a misreading of S. Frances, a name that was once “a household word in the homes of literary Canadians,” according to the Week (836). Recently her prose, particularly her novels about Quebec and the short fiction in Crowded Out! and Other Sketches, has received attention from critics such as Carole Gerson and Carrie MacMillan. MacMillan’s essay on Harrison in Silenced Sextet is a revealing and sympathetic study of the woman and her work.

    At the age of twenty, she married John Harrison, an organist and choirmaster from Britain, and they lived in Ottawa for seven years before moving to Toronto. In an article on Harrison in the Week, Ethelwyn Wetherald notes that musical composition, “were it not for the great difficulties attending it, would be her preferred and ideal profession” (267). Her skills as composer and recitalist are apparent in her attraction to complex lyrical forms such as the villanelle. In 1888, the Dominion Illustrated Monthly published one of her villanelles followed by a snippet of conversation between “two gentlemen”:

“Have you seen the last two Villanelles of Seranus,” said one, “both pitched in Lower Canada?”
“Pshaw! don’t mention Seranus. She’s too knowing.”
“You mean?”
“She is too clever by half.”
                                             (1[14 July 1888]:22)

Harrison had reason, it would seem, to feel her work was not fully appreciated. Though active in promoting the work of Canadian writers through [Page 181] projects such as her Canadian Birthday Book (1887), and as literary editor of the Week during which time she met Crawford, she herself experienced a decline in reputation. In 1916, John Garvin wrote, “S. Frances Harrison is one of our greater poets whose work has not yet had the recognition in Canada it merits” (124). By 1926, Garvin describes her merely as “one of our distinctive poets” (118). In 1990, Gerson writes in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: “Her best poetry, scattered among her various publications (most of them pamphlets), is light in texture, often in the form of the villanelle or the sonnet and usually about French Canadian or proletarian life.” Marjory Willison argued in 1932 that Harrison’s villanelles are not as “light” as they first appear: “This gay polite French form of verse, light as a bird’s feather, in Mrs. Harrison’s hand is held and turned like a flashing blade” (80). In some of her poems of habitant life, and in her tribute to the French writer George Sand, Harrison reveals that women in particular are “self-scathed with mortal scars” (“Villanelle” 185).

    Quebeçois life is a frequent theme of her poetry as well as her fiction, but as the title of her first and most popular collection of poems, Pine, Rose, and Fleur De Lis, reveals, her attention to French Canada was only one strand of her attempt to forge a Canadian identity from indigenous and imported materials. Though some of her poems speak of her passion for England, in “A Canadian Anthology” and other poems she speaks of Canadian flora with great knowledge and affection. Like Canadian poets before and after, she wrestled with finding a poetic language for a landscape which contains “No Goddesses at all, / No Gods, or hardly any, / No shapes that might recall / The classic miscellany” (“Parenthese” 194-95). Instead, Harrison accepts the loon, the lichen, and the breath-taking spectacle of Niagara Falls in winter. Canadian life as she describes it is often beautiful but rarely gentle.

    Harrison’s declining role in the Canadian literary sphere is revealed by the fact that, after her first book of poetry, she was forced to self-publish. Only Later Poems and Villanelles, according to MacMillan, was published by Ryerson after Harrison explained to Lorne Pierce that financial difficulties made it impossible for her to pay for the publication (134). Though she continued to write in fixed forms while others moved to free verse, her recognition that “art changes” was expressed in a pair of sonnets entitled “To the New Art” that appeared in Verse and Reverse (Toronto Women’s Press Club, 1922) along with her elegy for Tom Thomson. Though lured by nature’s spell and the vagabond life enjoyed by some of her male contemporaries [Page 182], like Leprohon and Machar before her, she reluctantly returns to duty and love convinced that “dreaming is not doing” (“April” 194).

Selected Bibliography

Canadian Birthday Book (Toronto: Robinson, 1887)
Pine, Rose, and Fleur de Lis (Toronto: Hart, 1891)
In Northern Skies and Other Poems (Toronto: Author, 1912)
Songs of Love and Labor (Toronto: Author, 1925)
Later Poems and New Villanelles (Toronto: Ryerson, 1928)
Four Ballads and a Play (Toronto: Author, 1933)
Penelope, and Other Poems (Toronto: Author, 1934)

Ethelwyn Wetherald, “Some Canadian Literary Women—I. Seranus” Week 5 (22 March 1888): 267-68; Anonymous. “Our Library Table,” Week (27 November 1891): 836; John Garvin, ed. “S. Frances Harrison (Seranus),” Canadian Poets (Toronto: McClelland, 1916): 123-132; Marjory Willison, “Mrs. J.W.F. Harrison—‘Seranus’,” Canadian Bookman 14 (July-August 1932): 80-81; R.G. Moyles, English-Canadian Literature to 1900 (Detroit: Gale, 1976):141-42; Margaret Whitridge, “The Distaff Side of the Confederation Group: Women’s Contribution to Early Nationalist Canadian Literature,” Atlantis 4 (1978): 30-39; Silvia Leigh, “Susie Frances Harrison: an Approach to Her Life and Work” (M.A. Thesis. U of Western Ontario, 1980); Carole Gerson, “Susan Frances Harrison,” Dictionary of Literary Biography 99 (1990): 145-47; Carrie MacMillan, “Susan Frances Harrison (“Seranus”): Paths through the Ancient Forest,” The Silenced Sextet: Six Nineteenth-Century Canadian Women Novelists (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1992): 107-136. [Page 183]



Niagara in Winter


Nor similes nor metaphors avail!
All imagery vanishes, device
Dies in thy presence, wondrous dream of ice!
Ice-bound I stand, my face is pinched and pale,
Before such awful majesty I fail,
Sink low in this snow-lichened slab of gneiss,
Shut out the gleaming mass that can entice,
Enchain, enchant, but in whose light I quail.

While I from under frozen lashes peer,
My thoughts fly back and take a homeward course.

How dear to dwell in sweet placidity,
Instead of these colossal crystals, see
The slender icicles of some fairy “force,”
And break the film upon an English mere!


Week                                                                         Pine, Rose and
18 February 1886 (3:188)                                 Fleur de Lis 1891


“J’ai Trop Bu la Vie”
(George Sand.)


Ah! what a wonderful draught!
    Now, was it ruby red,
        With heart of flame in the glass,
    A passionate crimson shed
    By the loves on which she fed?

Or with a golden hue
    Caught from the grapes that grow
        High in the sunshine of Fame—
    Thus with an amber glow
    Did her life’s elixir flow?

Or was it colourless, clear,
    White to her mortal eye, [Page 184]
        Pure from a mountain stream,
    Fresh from a fountain high,
    Losing itself in the sky?

Or was it none of these,
    Ripe and rare to the taste,
        Rose or gold to the eye,
    Brought in a beaker chased,
    Bearing a rim flower-graced?

But was it muddy and black?
    Bending over the brink
        Of a foul and stagnant pool,
    Loathing the draught, did she drink?
    Draining the cup, did she shrink?

What were its dregs to her?
    Ah! what a wonderful draught!
        Perhaps, as the dregs she drained,
    Perhaps, as the cup she quaffed,
    Her tempting angel laughed.


9 September 1886 (3:695)




Sprung from a sword-sheath fit for Mars,
    Straight and sharp, of a gay glad green,
My jonquil lifts its yellow stars.

Barter, would I, for the dross of the Czars,
    These golden flowers and buds fifteen,
Sprung from a sword-sheath fit for Mars?

Barter, would you, these scimitars,
    Among which lit by their light so keen
My jonquil lifts its yellow stars? [Page 185]

No, for the breast may burst its bars,
    The heart its shell, at sight of sheen
Sprung from a sword-sheath fit for Mars:

Miles away from the mad earth’s jars,
    Beneath a leafy and shining screen,
My jonquil lifts its yellow stars.

And I—self-scathed with mortal scars,
    I weep, when I see, in its radiant mien,
Sprung from a sword-sheath fit for Mars
My jonquil lift its yellow stars.


Week                                                                         Pine, Rose and
14 June 1888 (5:458)                                         Fleur de Lis 1891


In March


Here on the wide waste lands,
Take—child—these trembling hands,
Though my life be as blank and waste,
My days as surely ungraced
By glimmer of green on the rim
Of a sunless wilderness dim,
As the wet fields barren and brown,
As the fork of each sterile limb
Shorn of its lustrous crown.

See—how vacant and flat

The landscape—empty and dull,
Scared by an ominous lull
Into a trance—we have sat
This hour on the edge of a broken, a gray snake-fence,
And nothing that lives has flown,
Or crept, or leapt, or been blown
To our feet or past our faces—
So desolate, child—the place is! [Page 186]
It strikes, does it not, a chill,
Like that other upon the hill,
We felt one bleak October?
See—the gray wood still sober
‘Ere it be wild with glee,
With growth, with an ecstacy
Of fruition born of desire.
The marigold’s yellow fire
Doth not yet in the sun burn to leap, to aspire;
Its myriad spotted spears
No erythronium rears;

We cannot see

Or heart-lobed brown hepatica;
There doth not fly,
Low under sky,
One kingfisher—dipping and darting
From reedy shallows where reds are starting,
Pale pink tips that shall burst into bloom,
Not in one night’s mid-April gloom,
But inch by inch, till ripening tint,
And feathery plume and emerald glint
Proclaim the waters are open.

All this will come,
The panting hum
Of life that will stir,
Glance and glide, and whistle and whir,

Chatter and crow, and perch and pry,
Crawl and leap and dart and fly,
Things of feather and things of fur,
Under the blue of an April sky.
Shall speak, the dumb
Shall leap, the numb,
All this will come,
It never misses,
Failure, yet— [Page 187]
Never was set
In the sure spring’s calendar,
Give me one of your springtime kisses!
While you plant some hope in my cold man’s breast—
Ah! How welcome the strange flower-guest—
Water it softly with maiden tears,
Go to it early—and late—with fears;
Guard it, and watch it, and give it time
For the holy dews to moisten the rime—
Make of it some green gracious thing,
Such as the Heavens shall make of the Spring!

The trees and the houses are darkling,
No lamps yet are sparkling
    Along the ravine;
A wild wind rises, the waters are fretting,

    No moon nor star in the sky can be seen.

But if I can bring her with thinking
The thoughts that are linking
    Her life unto mine:
Then blow, wild wind! And chafe, proud river!

    At least a Star in my heart shall shine.

Had I not met her, great had been my loss,
    Had I not loved her, pain I had been spared.
So this life goes, and lovers bear the cross,
    Burden borne willingly, if only it be shared.


Had I not met her, Song had passed me by,
    Had I not loved her, Fame had been more sure.
So this life goes, we laugh, and then we sigh,
    While we believe ’tis blessed to endure. [Page 188]


Week                                                                     In Northern Skies
17 May 1889 (6:378)                                                     1912




The Lark at dawn, the Nightingale at eve
Conspire to make it beautiful. I had dreamed
Of some such Beauty—lo! it rose around me
More exquisite than any dream, more fair,
Than even the favourite dreams of cherished children,
And what those are—how strange, how sweet, how rare,
We all remember—when a touch, a sound,
    Startles us, and we look
Backwards—ten, twenty, thirty, forty years.
    Yet fairer even than those
    Cloud-visions capped with rose,
My England—with her abbeys framed in green;
Gray Tintern set not too far from the sea
By subtle monks, safe in its rim of hills,
And gayer Furness, clad in mellow reds
That glimmer warm through many an ivy-mat,
And tall cathedrals tipped with shimmering spires,
    That hang over hut and hall,
    And satin poppies, scarlet, wild,
Clasped in the hands of the labourer’s child,
And tangled cottage gardens gaily drest
In all their rustic Sunday summer best.
    O blame them not who evermore
    Upon a cold colonial shore
Feel their hearts burn within them at the thought
Of all that Beauty! Let it be said of such—
Not that they loved their Canada the less
But only—England—the more. Let it be said
Of them, that nature did so feed their souls
With all that was grand, illimitable, potent, fresh,
That poesy failed them. Nature was all in all;
Too self-sufficing, strong, relentless, masterful,
To aid the human spirit. Then there stole
From English valleys, leafy lanes, high hills,
From sloping uplands, farms and lichened towers,
From roofless ruins gracious in decay— [Page 189]
Something—a sentiment, aspiration, wish—
That soothed, inspired at once, that gave for wild
Dissatisfaction, peace. Dear England! I—
I have not—yet I fain had been—thy child!


Week                                                                         Pine, Rose and
16 August 1889 (6:583)                                     Fleur de Lis 1891


Tintern Abbey


To wear its image—seal’d—fix’d mentally,
Pinn’d to my heart’s eyes—old, smooth-worn, gray stone,
Green-lichen’d, ivy-curtain’d, blossom-blown
In stray sweet crevices—this is fealty!
O, I could never look enough, but see
Some new divinity each second, grown
By the potent centuries—guardians. There, alone,
Girdled by hills it rested, and to me
The great rose window form’d a glorious fane,
Mightier than other I had ever seen,
And when I lifted awed eyes, finite brain
To the open blue, where once a roof had been,
I knew from innumerable, awful winnowings
There was more room for our great God’s wide wings.


Week                                                                          Pine, Rose and
25 October 1889 (6: 745)                                 Fleur de Lis 1891




I long for a noble mood. I long to rise,
Like those large rolling clouds of ashen pink
That deepen into purple, over strife
And small mechanic doings. How superb
That landscape in the sky to which I walk,
And gain at will a spacious colour-world,
In which my finer self may feel no fear!
The distance far between that goal and me
Seems lightly bridged; breathless, I win that goal—
The shores of purple and the seas of gold. [Page 190]
Below, how flat the still small earth—a sphere
That only the leaden soul takes solace in!
The long stretches, barred in sombre black,
Cross at right-angles fields that are gray with snow—
Not white, but gray, for all the colours is here,
Colour—a new sacrament—melted gems,
The hearts of all water-lilies, the tips of their wings—
Young angels’, plumed in topaz, garnet, rose—
The dazzling diamond white, the white pearl.
How poor a place the little dark world appears,
Seen from this gold-cloud region, basoned in fire!
Only a step away, and nothing is seen
Of the homes, huts, churches, palaces it bears
Upon its dry brown bosom. There remains
But the masterful violet sea, that angrily
This moment somewhere gnashes its yellow teeth
Against a lonely reef. What’s most like God
In the universe, if not this same strong sea,
Encircling, clasping, bearing up the world,
Blessing it with soft caresses, then, for faults,
Chiding in God-like surges of wrath and storm?
But the ocean of cloud is placid, and the shores,
Rolled up in their amethyst bulk towards the stars,
Fade noiselessly from pearl to purple dark.
The shades fall even here. Here—not exempt
From death and darkness even these shining airs—
The night comes swifter on than when on earth,
The fringes of faintest azure, where the bars
Of paler cloud are fading into gray,
Are dulled and blotted out. Opaque has grown
The molten in one moment; fleecy pale
And ghastly all the purple—lonely then,
And awed to horror of those glacial peaks,
I bridge the vaporous barrier once again,
And tread the despisèd earth. Then how too dear
Doth the rude, common light of earth appear—
That of a street lamp, burning far, but clear!
The sign of human life, of human love, [Page 191]
Of habitation sweet, of common joys
And common plans, though precious, yet not prized,
Till in a moment’s fancy I had lost them.


Week                                                                          Pine, Rose and
25 October 1889 (6:6)                                      Fleur de Lis 1891




While others hug the fire, I gladly go,
Blown along beneath April skies to one broad path
That winds away from the town and drops below
A rude plank bridge, to glades that soon shall glow
With violets velvet sheathèd, op’d full rath.

April—the opal month of all the year,
With pearly skies, and blue, and sudden snows—
The opal April of my thought is here,
And I am happy when a star doth peer
From the brown bed of leaves wherein it grows.

I would not touch one downy drooping bud!
The fingers of the wind, alone hath power
To give such life, and soon its peers shall stud
The greening bank that now is caking mud.
I go, return, and wait that magic hour.

The eager children throng about the glade,
They do not know the signs, they falter—doubt
There will be flowers, mistrust the cooling shade
That meets them on the wood’s edge, not the fray’d,
Crisp curl’d last winter’s leaves the winds still route.

Indeed, it asks for faith, when all the road
Is furrowed deep in slowly drying ruts,
And farmers gently urge with sparing goad
Their morning teams, conscious of pressing load,
And squirrels count their yet full store of nuts, [Page 192]

And frosty films on tree and sward are cast,
And rivulets run cold, nor yet too free,
And the old grass is sodden, lump’d and mass’d
On either side the fence, while a March blast,
Blows April’s trumpeter in triumphant key.

Afar stretch fields exceeding grey and wan,
Of sterile stubble; here are flying leaves,
And clouds of dust the wide highway upon.
It seems some mid-October morn; all gone
The splendour of the gay autumnal sheaves,

And only left, the longing for the snow
To veil defect and compensate for loss.
But not a blossom ever seeks to blow
Until the time be ripe. Let rains but flow,
And stumps shall cushion’d be, with emerald moss,

And every bank shall wear a coronet
Of azure stars and yellow bells; pale plumes
Of slow uncurling green be rootwise set,
And higher, where the forest parapet
Its fringe of faint new foilage assumes.

O! I have felt the high poetic mood
While lingering there, far from the troubled ways
Of duty and desire; have lov’d to brood
For hours in the open air—my faith, my food,
Until there clung around my brow the bays!

And I have felt, too, like the vagabond,
Who knows no duty, has but one desire—
To keep within the pale of Nature’s bond;
Who sleeps beside the edge of some clear pond,
And sees each morn the scarlet sunrise fire

Bleak hill and budding forest—I would give [Page 193]
Much, in such moods, to drop the life I lead,
All ties, all dear expectancies, and live
As carelessly as that poor fugitive
Of all demands which now I daily heed.

Must heed—for dreaming is not doing. Base,
Base should I be to dream my days to death
In this sequester’d glade, where shadows chase
The chequered phantom. To each man his place—
He who neglects his, curses with latest breath

The trend and disposition of his life.
Yet spells, dew-laden, odorous, warm and soft,
Like these sweet April omens, purely rife
With soothing promise of an end to strife,
Are dangerous. No more then, high aloft,

I lift ecstatic eyes to sheer bright blue,
Or seek the curlèd cup beneath my foot.
I wander homeward, longed for by the few
Who love me, loving, too, the work I do—
See—I have brought them one arbutus root!


Week                                                                          Pine, Rose and
25 April 1890 (7:328)                                       Fleur de Lis 1891




No Dryad in the oak,
    No Nymph within the valley,
No fairy little folk
    To frolic, dance and dally;

No Pan along the shore,
    No Nereid in the water,
No savage shape of boar,
    No fair Demeter’s daughter; [Page 194]

No Satyr in the vine,
    No Faun anear the fountain,
No magic in the mine,
    No myth upon the mountain;

No honey amber clear,
    No gleam of waxen laurel,
No stags beside the mere,
    No high Olympic quarrel;

No breath of lowing herds,
    No pastoral sweet singing,
No dish of snow-white curds,
    No mellow milk-bells ringing;

No Goddesses at all,
    No Gods, or hardly any,
No shapes that might recall,
    The classic miscellany;

Dramatis personæ,
    Theocritus, were wanting,
Save that perchance to thee,
    Would prove as surely haunting,

The sumach fringèd cliff,
    The oriole low flying,
The open yellow skiff,
    The languid loon’s far crying,

The resinous keen breeze,
    The water’s lazy lapping,
The silver coated trees,
    The eagle’s idle flapping. [Page 195]


Pine, Rose and
Fleur de Lis


Rhaposdie (II)


Ring’d round with the dark green St. Laurent our isle as a jewel is             set,
Moss’d agate in emerald rimm’d with an amethyst rare,
One link in the leafy green chain, one star in the stone coronet,

That crowns and encircles the brow of the peerless and proud             rivulet,
A diadem Deity-plac’d—and a mortal’s despair!
Ring’d round with the dark green St. Laurent our isle as a jewel is             set,

While glowing with feverish garnet, its sands sparkle bright in the             wet,
And clear as Brazilian topaz its summits declare
One link in the leafy green chain, one star in the stone coronet.

The lichen upon it is writing in God’s orange own alphabet,
And dimly we measure its message, while past all compare
Ring’d round with the dark green St. Laurent our isle as a jewel is             set.

And here as we stand on its summit, glad warders on grey             parapet,
A thousand such jewels are sparkling in midsummer air;
One link in the leafy green chain, one star in the stone coronet,

One gem, and but one—of a thousand—is this whereon rest has             been met,
And dimly we worship its beauty, while shining and fair,
Ring’d round with the dark green St. Laurent our isle as a jewel is             set,
One link in the leafy green chain, one star in the stone coronet.


Pine, Rose and
Fleur de Lis


The Thousand Islands


We are tired of the tumult and turmoil of water around us,
Our boat would we bear to a bright and blossoming shore,
The Islands appear and as longing for land they have found us. [Page 196]

And their beauty of birch and their selvedge of shadow hath             bound us
In bonds that bewitch as we blindly approach and adore—
We are tired of the tumult and turmoil around us,

And are fain to forget all the winds that have sear’d and             embrown’d us,
All we pray for—to land, but to enter, escape, we implore,
The Islands appear and as longing for land they have found us.

Like Odysseus the deep that for days upon days darkly wound us
Becomes but a bane and a blight in its breadth evermore,
We are tired of the tumult and turmoil of water around us.

Bid farewell to the Lake for its fetterless floods have nigh drown’d             us,
Like the sea can it smite, like the ocean can rage and can roar,
The Islands appear and as longing for land they have found us.

Like Odysseus again do we dream of delights that once crown’d             us,
We would slip sheer to the grass and give over the oar,
We are tired of the tumult and turmoil of water around us,
The Islands appear and as longing for land they have found us.


Pine, Rose and
Fleur de Lis


At St. Hilaire


Combien des enfans? Why, twenty-five!
    Now, by all the Gods and every Saint,
I wonder the woman is left alive

To tell the tale! How many survive?
    She answers me, calm and without constraint,
Combien? Mossieu? Why, twenty-five.”

Not one ever lost? Not one; they thrive,
    Do little ones in this parish quaint.
I wonder the woman is left alive, [Page 197]

Who has less than twelve. The bigger the hive,
    The greater the honour, no sign of complaint—
Combien des enfans? Why, twenty-five.

The men don’t care and the priests contrive
    At mass the duty of parents to paint,
I wonder the women are left alive.

Here come Antoine, Josephe, Mac, who drive
    The rest—fifteen. At the sight you faint.
Combien des enfans? Why, twenty-five!
I wonder the woman is left alive.


Pine, Rose and
Fleur de Lis 1891




These are the days that try us; these the hours
That find, or leave us, cowards—doubters of Heaven,
Sceptics of self, and riddled through with vain
Blind questionings as to Deity. Mute, we scan
The sky, the barren, wan, the drab, dull sky,
And mark it utterly blank. Whereas, a fool,
The flippant fungoid growth of modern mode,
Uncapped, unbelled, unshorn, but still a fool,
Fate at his fingers’ ends, and Cause in tow,
Or, wiser, say, the Yorick of his age,
The Touchstone of his period, would forecast
Better than us, the film and foam of rose
That yet may float upon the eastern grays
At dawn to-morrow.
                                    Still, and if we could,
We would not change our gloom for glibness, lose
Our wonder in our faith. We are not worse
Than those in whom the myth was strongest, those
In whom first awe lived longest, those who found
—Dear Pagans—gods in fountain, flood and flower. [Page 198]
Sometimes the old Hellenic base stirs, lives
Within us, and we thrill to branch and beam
When walking where the aureoled autumn sun
Looms golden through the chestnut. But to-day–
When sodden leaves are merged in melting mire,
And garden-plots lie pilfered, and the vines
Are strings of tangled rigging reft of green,
Crude harps whereon the winter wind shall play
His bitter music—on a day like this,
We, harbouring no Hellenic images, stand
In apathy mute before our window pane,
And muse upon the blankness. Then, O, then,
If ever, should we thank our God for those
Rare spirits who have testified in faith
Of such a world as this, and straight we pray
For such an eye as Wordsworth’s, he who saw
System in anarchy, progress in ruin, peace
In devastation. Duty was his star—
May it be ours—this Star the Preacher missed.


Pine, Rose and
Fleur de Lis




Shadows of the distant pines outlined aloft
Against the blue of some bright summer sky;
Veins in a delicate eyelid, or the eye
Itself, an Irish eye, of violet soft;
Tips of proud thistles, purple after raining;
Throat of the pigeon, the harebell’s timid spire;
Edges of sunset cloud when skies are waning
To a pale brightness from a field of fire—
All these caught up, commingled, reappear
In one deep lake of Amethyst unpriced.
Jewel auspicious, worn in winter sere,
For thy dear sake are gladly sacrificed [Page 199]
The richer emblems of a season tender,
The gayer gems that wait on Summer’s splendour.


Verse and Reverse 1921                                 Later Poems and
                                                                        New Villanelles 1928


To Tom Thomson*


You sought to paint your country’s savage side,
    Grim, lonely, naked—in hues that should not fade,
Red Sumach blazed a path for you, a braid
    Of tangled fires reflected in the tide
Of northern waters beneath whose waves you died—
    Wild suns awestering witched you; stars full-rayed
Burnt low while lone you watched, near where there swayed
    Those black-fringed trees you painted in your pride.

I too have felt the power of some dark shore
    To draw and lift the spirit hermit-wise,
Not, not for us the City with its roar,
    Its languorous shapes silk-clad in Orient guise,
But ours to face the silences, the sweep
    Of that grey Wilderness as yet asleep.

And then, it is not always Winter there,
    Not always Autumn; Spring too casts her spell
With pale green flags, a waxen star, a bell
    Of delicate blue; Linnaea everywhere
A rosy carpet spreads on stony stair.
    The sheen of yellowing willows in the dell,
The stir of sap in root and stem and cell,
    The glories of a northern Spring declare.

All this you knew. The little hidden things
    Of fur and feather found in you a friend,
The muskrat made the slower scamperings, [Page 200]
The heron from his high nest deigned to descend.
    Knowing it all and by its soul possessed,
Your heart was in the North and there you rest.


* Lamented Canadian Artist, 1875-1917. [back]


Verse and Reverse 1922


To a Garden Thistle (8 Feet High)


Thistle! I charge thee, fling away ambition!
Grow not so quickly, neither grow so tall,
The higher pinnacle, the greater fall,
So meet thy end with dumb if fierce submission
Thy barbed leaves of downy green will shrink,
Thy Tyrian purple pale to withered grey,
Thy form will dwindle as thy limbs decay,
Till drooping wanly on the ground they sink.
Strive how thou wilt, thou canst not conquer Fate,
For doomed art thou to lie in common cart,
Thy crown dishevelled, overthrown thy state,
Trampled, forgot, like any poor upstart.
Yet, Thistle, hearken. Think also thou sharest
The final lot of many, the noblest, fairest.

If Death must come, why were things made so fair?

A little less—and grace had not diminished,
Nor had it mattered were there left unfinished
A million stars, a yard of sky left bare;
Three strands to rainbow, a hundred leaves to tree,
The underwings of a butterfly greyly netted,
The horse’s flowing mane less richly jetted,
A harsher note in some loved melody,
Music, that lifts the spirit, less enthralling,
Beauty, a courtesan, bold and badly painted,
Art, but a generous impulse foiled and tainted,
Nature, both cold and cruel to appalling;
Thus Life with turmoil, strife and pain impending,
Breaks down and off, Death’s near approach commending. [Page 201]


Songs of Love
and Labour


The Lumberjack


What colour lurks in Lac Labelle,
As summer comes and summer goes,
Young Philemon can easily tell.

His home is near, at La Chapelle,
He cannot read or write, but knows

What colour lurks in Lac Labelle.

Pink, in the sunset, like a shell,
From emerald, back to jade, it flows—
Young Philemon can easily tell

By purplish black of angry swell

The coming storm that hourly grows.
What colour lurks in Lac Labelle?

All colours that on earth do dwell,
Peacock, and turquoise! Lovely rose?
Young Philemon can easily tell.


A “Lumberjack,” in whom the spell
Of Poetry has conquered Prose,
What colour lurks in Lac Labelle
Young Philemon can easily tell.


Later Poems and
New Villanelles


A Canadian Anthology
(Of Flowers)


As once the Greek Meleager wove in verse
A chaplet for the bards of his own land,
Theocritus, and Simmias, Plato too,
All, all of flowers, with ivy, cypress, grape,
Roses of Sappho, crocus, cyclamen— [Page 202]
So, for the dear Unknown across the seas,
And under Afric stars, and where the smoke
Of pulsing geysers rises in Maori-land,
And even where Ganges rolls its lamp-lit flood,
For all who make the Empire (and all are friends),
I make a song in Canada to-day,
The song of her own flowers, not England’s, nor
Another’s, but her own. See—I have plucked
In fancy, some of the ivory blood-root buds
And twined with them the yellow violet,
No shrinking blossom this, but strong and erect
From sturdy clumps, encompassed by its leaves
Of fearless mien, protectress too of one
Like to itself, but timid, scented, white—
Viola blanda is her gentle name;
And further in the forest paths I sought
And found (for you) the ruby-tinted bells
Of sweet Linnæa, with perchance a stalk
Grey-curved and curious, of Indian Pipe,
Pale Monotropa, loving not the sun
Yet nurtured near the Trillium, all in threes,
Bravest of blossoms born in moist mid-May,
The children’s choice, the nation’s favourite,
Giving its light to darkest interlace
Of fallen log and fern. Still other prize
I have for you—in windy open fields
Blow saffron lilies and Asclepias
The orange Butterfly-Weed, Lupinus blue;
Calypso, Arethusa, Orchids twain,
I’ll find, be sure, with Kypris’ Moccasin-Flower,
The Painted Cup, all redolent of Spain,
Gay Castilleia, Sarracenia
Or Pitcher-Plant in hooded vesture drest,
Weird marvel of the marsh and irised pools;
Rhodora’s clusters purple-rose in hue,
Andromeda, and Kalmia, Wintergreen;
Mitchella’s scarlet berries, and the odorous
Arbutus, I must have, and the wild Calla [Page 203]
Gleaming in streamlets like a patch of snow,
And where the clearing slides along the rail
Pink Epilobium spires I’ll gather in
With blackberry and vivid Golden-Rod,
Still on the prairie waves the fair Wind-Flower,
Anemone, but so unlike the frail
Anemone nemorosa of the wood!
And these are not all. Our Northern Rivers yield
Tall spikes of Cardinal flower and sumach bright,
And on the mountain slopes, corollas rare
(Celestial azure, crystal-cinctured) grow,
With gentian and azaleas. Maiden-hair
From dripping cliffs, and birch bark satin-smooth,
I must not miss, nor Nuphar’s lovely cup;
Waxen Nymphæa and the Dragon-Root,
Wild rice, and Indian hemp, and plumed beach-grass,
Polygala’s fringes and the fairy star
Of Trientalis whorled in emerald—
Must I not wait for these, Dicentra too,
And pearly “everlastings” and the spoils
Of fruited moss and cinnamon fungi, mats
Of hemlock twigs and tassels of the larch?
Yet are there more. What of the radiant lanes
Where warm peach-petals colour the fragrant air
For miles and miles of old Niagara’s strand—
Not only for the rich, not glassed nor walled
But full in sight for all. What of the bloom
Where eastern orchards burst their bonds in spring,
(And apples grow more rosy toward the sea);
And then—the misty berries of the North,
Blue as an infant’s eye and kindly spread
O’er leagues Laurentian, plateau, stone, and dyke!
These will I add, and many a marvel more,
And I will dream that he, Meleager, came
And saw these wonders, and, working in his mind
Came Envy, Malice, and all Uncharitableness,
Fears, lest his own Anthology be found
Wanting, till later, better feelings filled [Page 204]
His heart; at last he spake—I hear the names
Of Græcia’s Nymphs and Goddesses given to flowers
Growing in this far land, new land, of snows
And boundless waters—I marvel much at this.
—And I, divining, answered—It is true,
And true of other things, for, like the Greek,
We love all waters. Mariners all are we,
Each one a proud Odysseus sailing thro’
The island channels or on craggy shores
Building the beacons that shall lead us home
Across the many-rivered, rocky plain,
Spangled with lakes and foaming waterfalls.
Mirth-merry at the thought I gave him roots
Of Aquilegia, gallant, spurred and gay—
Of Erythronium, saying—“Go and plant
These (if you have them not) in Ithaca
And watch if they flourish.” But for all the rest
They are for all the friends in distant climes,
For all who make the Empire (plucked by one,
A lover of her country, coast to coast)
For whom this floral wreath I weave to-day
Bound with a branch of crimson Maple Leaf,
And may my loving Coronal of Song
“Be for all such as love these holy things.” [Page 205]


Canadian Bookman                                             Later Poems and
December 1928                                             New Villanelles 1928