Eos: An Epic of the Dawn, and Other Poems

By Nicholas Flood Davin



Preface



    The following attempts were written from time to time as impulse prompted. “I lisped in numbers for the numbers came,” such as they were. But soon after I began to earn my bread, I arrived at the conclusion that with the cream skimmed off the mind by newspaper writing, and engaged in the exacting study of law, I could not, even if I had the native gift, hope to write poetry which should be at once original and of high workmanship. The terror of

                                Mediocribus esse poetis
Non homines, non dii, non concessere Columnæ,

was on me; and save one work which was well advanced, but which now may never see the light, the tragedies, comedies, idylls, epics I contemplated, died unborn.
    Why then do I publish these things? I am probably not so vain as I was in my twenty-third year. I have learned to be afraid of nothing but God and wrong-doing, and hold it cowardice to shrink from endeavour thro’ fear of failure. I am a North-West man, and I think the cultivation of taste and imagination as important as the raising of grain. The raising of grain will bring us wealth, but intellectual progress, on which again the highest development of our material sources depends, will be slow unless all the faculties of the mind are stimulated. The greatest merchants the world ever saw were highly cultivated men, great and discriminating patrons of literature, with not merely a keen eye to the profit of a commercial transaction, but a quick and true sense [Page v] of literary excellence; and I rejoice to know we have on many of our farms educated men, and that the Saskatchewan can boast of a successful merchant who has won a high place in the ranks of Canadian poets.
    We need in Canada generally a broader intellectual air; redemption from the domination of sciolists, with hearts often as contracted as their culture; the consciousness that we have within ourselves all that can make a great people; and every step towards the creation of a Canadian literature tends to hasten the new and better era in whose advent I believe. The late Mr. Arnold denounced the English Philistine; the Philistine is not the pest we have to complain of. Wherever we turn we are met by people without respect for decency or truth. The Philistine of Arnold is a man with inherited ideas, dominated by prejudice and intolerant of enlightenment. But while thankful for brilliant and instructed publicists, we cannot deny that we have gorillas who presume to instruct mankind on every subject, and express what they call public opinion, whose teaching is degrading, and the weapons of whose warfare are calumny and lies.
    Again, before a great poet can arise there must be a large number of writers to prepare, not merely the mind of the nation for him, but to accumulate material on which his more plastic hand shall work. The extraordinary versatility of Shakespeare, his command of every note in the human soul,ÿ this is not due to his genius alone; it is due, in great part, to the fact that he absorbed, adopted, exploited the works of other men, many of whom thought and wrote amid conditions wholly different from those of his own country and time.
    A great critic has pronounced the main idea of Eos “undeniably happy.” One not less competent wrote me it was “original and happy,” and regretted I had not made all that could be made of it. I have endeavoured to do more justice to the opportunities it presents, bu t I know well how much more might have been done; and perhaps hereafter a cunninger hand, and one more favourably circumstanced, will [Page vi] take it up and sing a song worthier than mine. Even then, though my little star will be lost in the blaze of his, I shall have done something in my humble way for literature.
    These verses came as the fly stung, or as I was urged by friends, (some of whom might have stood up rivals to the Muses), to write, with an exception in the case of the second edition of Eos, as now published, and another work already referred to, written before I had grown to manhood.
    While wandering about London and Paris in 1887, I wrote the verses to “The Critics.” I had intended publishing what now appears and something more in London, but the readers of the publishing houses were away holiday making, and I had not time to await their return. Some of the smaller pieces are purely imaginary; some were written in very early life.
    The first edition of “Eos” had the distinction of being dedicated to Lady Macdonald. I here recall the fact that I may put on record the regard I bear a great and good woman, and express my gratitude to her for her ennobling influence. To know her is to be a better man. While writing “The Critics” a dedication of this volume was made impulsively, and not unnaturally, to another lady, not so great, but not less, by reason of every womanly virtue, an honour to her sex.
    This is the first purely literary work printed and published in the North-West Territories. Let us hope it is the small beginning of great things. It is the product of stray moments in a busy, and, for some twelve years, a turbulent life.
    I have in “The Critics” dealt with those criticisms on “Eos” which were capable of being treated in verse. With regard to such criticisms as that I ended some of the lines with a preposition, all I have to say is I do not agree with the view that this is always a fault. Milton, Byron, and other great masters, frequently close a line with a preposition. I am inclined to think in the present day the poet is lost in the artist, and that we need a reaction analogous to that which Cowper unconsciously led against the imitators of [Page vii] Pope. Where I could, I have bowed to my judges. I have even changed the title to please those who objected to my calling it “a prairie dream.” I may say, however, the description of the home of Eos was composed in sleep, and when I awoke I wrote it down. This suggested the poem.
    The descriptions of Paris and London in this edition of Eos are founded on careful observation. I saw the sun rise over Paris from the Arc de Triomphe. In order to correct and guide the imagination, I read the accounts of their impressions published by balloonists. “Eos” is, I hope, now less open to the charge of want of balance and proportion.
    Many men engaged in active life as I am, would shrink in our community from publishing verses; but to my thinking, it is a duty to educate the people out of the narrow, not to say brutal view, that a man must be a mere specialist. In all times, and all countries, the highest ability for practical affairs has been conjoined with versatility, and a Canadian politician need not fear an ignorant sneer which could have been flung at a statesman like Canning.
   I will probably never write another verse. Despairing of leisure in the future, I throw these on the stream with all their imperfections—and as, while the book was passing through the press, I was hurried from one end to the other of a vast constituency—the defects, in mechanical workmanship alone, cannot be few or far between. Let them sink or swim. If they sink, they will find themselves in very good company; and if they swim a little day, it is about as much as most modern works can hope for.

REGINA, Jan. 21st, 1889.
[Page viii]

 

 

  My mother! o’er wide leagues of land,
    And over belts of roaring brine,
I reach thee this unworthy hand,
    And strain to touch these lips with thine.

For as when day’s bright glare is o’er,
5
      And stealing shadows longer dawn,
The moments, sad and swift, restore
    Effects like those of early dawn;

And as the Autumn storms tear
    The whirling leaves from swaying boughs,
10
  Revealing, mid the branches bare,
    Some nest where birds were used to house;

So, as life’s shadows longer grow,
    And passion’s power and dreams of youth
Decline, the child’s heart’s outlines show
15
      Amid the bare bleak boughs of truth;

And tho’ that heart be well nigh dead,
    And never more new joys can thrill,
Its every fluttering impulse fled,
    Its build is as you made it still; [Page 5]
20
 
Still strong with bonds of home-knit love,
    And your own will, which did not quail
Amid all trouble, high above
    What’s mean, it rocks in life’s wild gale.

The cloudlet’s frown that did deface
25
      Our strong love’s all-embracing joy—
Long past—has left behind no trace;
    I love you now as when a boy;

And blend with this small book your name,
    Which breathes of babblings round your knee—
30
  Whereat you smiled, half-posed—of fame,
    Great deeds, glad fights o’er land and sea;

And therein songs you’ll lightly scan,
    Wherein my heart for love was fain;
They show me weak; they prove me man;
35
      They’re bursts of joy, or births of pain. [Page 6]