The Poems of Christina Willey
Copyright, Canada, 1928
By Christina Willey.
Findlay I. Weaver, Publisher
In addition to the hitherto unpublished poems and those that have appeared in “The Canadian Bookman,” acknowledgments are due the “Manitoba Free Press,” “The Canadian Magazine,” “The Saskatoon Star” and “Saskatchewan and Its People,” for poems reprinted in this collection. [unnumbered page]
Grace for Joy
THE great Beatitudes are far too high For earthly souls like mine. A star too small to twinkle in the sky, Too dim a light to shine In such great company. I but essay A little place to hold a heart that’s gay, That sings a clear bird-note of gratitude, “The happy-hearted hath Beatitude.”
IRON-STILL the trees stood stark against sheer space, Bronze weeds and grass as metal-still as they. A mile of snow, embroidered with the lace Gods lesser children weave upon their way, And that tremendous Peace. Never a pulse of life, a sigh of sound, All frozen motion, and a holden breath, While the far stars wheeled on relentless round, And Time held rigid scales of Life and Death Awaiting that To Be. Then beyond sense a stir, so fine, so faint― An Angel Messenger had raised a wing― A lift of motion, as Seraph-Saint Had swept along, swift without haste, to bring A Portent to the earth. Above all sounds rang echoes, rather known Than heard, of voices more than earthly clear, Magnificat and Gloria, and a Throne, And a strong Love that overthrew a Fear, An anchored Hope revealed. No vision, but a waking, to the soul That for an instant saw the lifted Veil In night and silence knew the perfect Whole― The Manger and the Cross, the Ghost, the Grail, The Birthday of the Child. [page 3]
O THRUSH, lend me your golden throat, My love has asked me for a song, O nightingale, spare one clear note O thrush, lend me your golden throat, O swallow, traveller, near, remote, Carry a lover’s words along. My love has asked me for a song!
MY LOVER’S STEP
MY lover’s step in on the stair, And every shadow flashes light. O lips, be kind, O eyes be fair: My lover’s step is on the stair, The twilight warms to sunrise rare; There is no cold, there is no night; My lover’s step is on the stair, And every shadow flashes light.
WHEN the proud Sun is in the sky, Each mid-day marks his even flight, His watcher and his slave am I When the proud Sun is in the sky. But when the Lady Moon sails by We change our noon-tide every night! When the proud Sun is in the sky, Each mid-day marks his even flight.
AWAKING to far music in the night. A sudden sun-spear on a day of rain, Cold water at trail’s end. A happy phrase forgotten, found again, More calm than rapture, gentler than delight, The unexpected greeting from a friend! [page 4]
THE deaf man looked, and said: “Oh, beautiful! She is the vision of all loves of old.” The blind man heard, and whispered: “She is all The tales of joy that ever have been told.” The blind and deaf on whom she laid her hand Put palm to heart and brow, and bowed his head. His guardian whispered: “Thus he greets the sun, To praise its warmth. All other sense is dead.” She was to every man the whole of good, Or felt, or seen or heard. The crown of Victory, the song of bird, Flowers in the summer wood. You did not know Bright Helen? I, who live With all my world gone grey, For one brief hour of her day Would offer all, but what have I to give? Ah, she was more than lovely! Kind and sweet, And very gentle to all living things. The doves of Aphrodite, with white wings, And ruby eyes, and coral feet, Would fly about her, wooing her, and light Upon her shoulder and her glorious hair. She was so fair, Who met her in the streets of far-off Troy Went all that day with joy, For very pleasure that she tarried there. Once, in a gateway of the tunnelled wall, The long black arch of our beleaguered town, I saw a Goddess. Dreadful light was shed Around, above, below. With head cast down I went my way. Olympian beauty chilled My heart with fear. No goddess was the Queen, The Argive Helen; she was hope and peace, The future, and the dreaming might-have-been. Ah me! but I grow old Alone, and wandering very sad and far From that long War, Ah me! ah me! when I was glad and bold. [page 5] I think I journeyed to the outer seas, I think I saw the thundering waters fall Across the very edges of the world. I knew the Great Ones. I forget them all. I have lived much, but worn and aged am I. Oh, Stranger! if but once my living eyes Could see the tall towers rise Across that plain, I should be young again, I dream. Tall Troy is down; But wind-blown ashes is the mighty town, And I have lost Fair Helen many years. Who am I? I forget. I only knew That Time has robbed me even of my tears, And all my songs are sung. Perhaps I was that Paris, as men say, Wearied I am, and old and lost, and grey, But once I loved Gold Helen, and was young.
THEY say, the little souls who cannot know, That Time at last kills all, That the proud memory of the brave shall god Beyond the world’s recall. But Israel’s golden shepherd overthrew The giant braggart of the Philistines. They say remembrance dies, that all in vain Are the great virtues shown, They vanish, like the summer sun and rain, And like the clouds are flown, Who now can tell the ranks of Agincourt, Or call the roster of the Victory? They do not know, the scoffers and the light― Perhaps the name is gone, What of a name? The deed shines strongly bright, The spirit still lives on. Leonidas alone has left a name, But his three hundred heroes live with him! This is the Feast Day of the Glorious Dead, This is our Day of Souls, We bow, remembering, left high the head, When the long signal rolls. Today the Empire hails, in grave salute, The Unknown Warrior and the Cenotaph. [page 6]
The Viking Heart
(To Laura Goodman Salverson.)
WHEN they went Viking-faring Across the grey North Sea, The Saxon in broad Mercia Could naught but fight and flee. They took the scythe and sickle, Nor put to sea again― A hundred generations Have made them Englishmen. A thousand years ago, with sword and shield, Scorning the Saxon arm, the beacon flame, Sea-robbers and the sea-rovers, ruthless, bold, The black Norse long-ships came. Conquering they came, and found the land was good, Forsook the barren fjords of the North, Learnt use of hoe and mattock, and forwent Their old sea-faring forth. They brought old gods, of thunder and of war, Old Sagas, mighty tales of blood and fight. Their sons forgot them utterly, and chose Meek saints, the Christian rite. Yet traces still endure of those lost times, Grimsby and Whitby, Lowestoft and the “thwaites” “Johnson” and “Swanson” and each week of days Upon a Norse god waits. Strange weird, that Lief the Lucky showed the way For us and them, after so many days, To make another Viking-faring West, Again to meet strange ways. They left their little land of ice and fire, The Viking-blood, and we, of their own strain, Left our soft island of the mist and fog, And here strike hands again. Great plains we have, for all our little fields, They have sweet waters for their bitter sea― They will be homesick for the northern sun, For English hedge-rows we. But, as of old, our children will forget, Their own new land will give their hearts content, And only we in dreams drive Dragon-ships The way our fathers went. [page 7]
ALL winter long the chickadees Have gossiped at my garden fence, They had a larder in my trees, The soft south wind now calls them hence To richer feasts than mine. My woodpeckers, through wind and snow, Mouse-like, have run up trunk and spray. Now summer breathes, they too will go, Their whistle will not cheer the day, Red-head and black depart. My grosbeaks, clipping maple seeds, Bright troubadours in brown and gold, Seek other places, other needs, I shall not hear their calling bold, The mating moon rides high. Can I regret! Great good was mine, Heaven’s almoner, allowed to give― To touch the hem of the Divine― The food by which small birds may live, Who seek their meat from God.
The New Crusade
(To the Red Cross Society)
WE, who have worn the brassard and the Sign Through the long years of heart-shock and of thrill, We have been amply paid! For, in all generous hearts, and lightly still Slumbers the old Crusader, he who strayed With Richard, on the hills of Palestine. Fully rewarded we! Our work was gain Our wages more than we deserved, our praise More than our best desire. We, humble, walked with heroes through the days, We were the servants of Life’s whitest fire, The ministrants in the grim House of Pain. Now do we go in sober garb arrayed, But on our steps the golden spirits wait, The Great Consoler leads. The saints who healed the stricken at the Gate, Each heart that comforts, and each hand that feeds, Upholds our banner in the New Crusade. [page 8]
The Song of Youth
WHY should we take the travelled way? We choose the winding lane. Who knows on what green day of spring May Lancelot ride again? We see a hawk sweep in the sky, A high, clear call we hear. Perhaps, perhaps it is the Queen, It might be Guinevere! Each day, a shining path unfolds, And fair tomorrow gleams, While night’s a curtain hung before The ivory gate of dreams. We needs must go to hunt Romance. Why should we stay at home? So much there is in life to see, So far there is to roam! And any turn may bring surprise, And all surprise is good. Adventure is upon the sea― Enchantment in the wood. We’ll sail along the great sea-lanes, Make land-falls in the morn. Perhaps we’ll find a sea-nymph there, Or hear old Triton’s horn! Our partner shall be Loveliness, We will take hands with Joy. Who knows? tomorrow we may see The towers of Helen’s Troy! Ah, youth is for adventuring, And youth is for romance. Come, follow, follow, follow fast The light winged feet of Chance. Oh, come with us, so high our hearts That Fortune must be kind. Oh, come, come, come, who knows what thrill Tomorrow has in mind! [page 9]
Return, O Shulamite!
LOST is the dewy rosiness of dawn, Gone is the splendour of the noonday light. The fruitful summer rain Waits, till you come again. Return, O Shulamite! A shadow dims the happiness of day, A brooding sorrow saddens all the night, Dark is the earth and cold― A wearied star, grown old― Return, O Shulamite! Loved wanderer, on you all blessings wait, Blessings of sound and colour, warmth and light. No dawn is here, no dew, No sun-glow, wanting you. Return, O Shulamite!
The Mothers of Canada
(For Armistice Day)
WE never heard the thunder of the guns As they―nor saw the menace in the sky. But we are kin, because we sent our sons Beside their sons to die. Healed are the scars? They bleed not but they ache, The ever-brooding loss is with us still. Ah, those who went―and stayed―for Honor’s sake, By trench, and wood and hill! We will be brave tomorrow; we will know That when the great call came they would not stay, We will remember that we bade them go; But let us weep today. Sisters in grief, we Empire-mothers hold, Hand clasped in hand, this one day of the year. Oh, sons we bore, careless, and young and bold, You were so dear, so dear! [page 10]
Follow the Gleam
“SURELY we are the people, and with us Shall Wisdom die,” they said, and passed away. Yet Wisdom lived, and Knowledge ever grew, When shadows all were they. Give worship not to Dagon, deaf and blind, The god who sees but his own grossness grow, Who cannot look before nor glance behind. The rattle of the golden chains that bind All that his dim ears know. Long are they dust The nations that grew vain, and in their pride Of wealth and power, said that Wisdom died. Ashes, and sand, and rust. Here is the man to follow, he who had But the two pence within his beggar’s bowl And traded one for bread, But, ah, the other one he gladly spent For sweet white hyacinths to feed his soul. Old Omar lives by song, not by the tent And Royal David’s victory was rue In that wild agony of fatherhood― Would I had died for thee, my son, my son! All men’s Lament. Never a trireme sails the Middle Sea, Never a phalanx forms in Thessaly. Yet Roman law still governs all our days, And Roman peace protects us on our ways By spirit heritage. Where there is Beauty, there the Greek endures, Where is calm Logic, there still lives the Sage, Still shines the Golden Age. Oh, land of mine remember, more than life Is spirit, more than fat Prosperity. Look to the wide horizons, bear with thee The Vision and the Dream. Remember, Midas still has ass’s ears, And golden loaves have little nourishment. Beg heavenly manna for thy soul’s content― Follow the Gleam. [page 11]
Saint Francis is the Saint for Me
IN the great Hierarchy of Heaven Are saints of high and low degree. To each on earth a Guide is given, St. Francis is the saint for me. Mary the Virgin, crowned in splendour, Of every woman is the friend. Paul, the great-heart, and James the tender To men their strength and comfort lend. St. Martin’s cloak the beggar covers, Elizabeth gives holy bread, St. Valentine guards all true lovers, By Michael is the warrior led. For children, all the Host of Heaven Encompass them upon their way, To every Saint their care is given, And every day is All Saints’ Day. But, Oh, God’s other, dumb creation, The children of the woods and plains, The humble, sinless generation Without our pleasures or our pains! The dwellers in the deepest thickets, My furry friends within the house, Bright butterflies and cheerful crickets, The little, dainty, fine-eared mouse, The fishes all, the birds that hover O’er hidden nests in many trees, Have they not each in me a lover, Should there not be a saint for these? Ah, yes, they have a saint these others, And in their Guide my own I see. They are my sisters and my brothers, Saint Francis is the saint for me! [page 12]
INTO the day, like white-winged birds I fling My little songs; and range they far or near, Somewhere, somehow, my message you will hear, Remembering. Into the night, a shower of sparks, wind-driven, My little flames of song shoot high and far To find you, in whatever world you are, Desired, forgiven. Ah, could you see, could your wild heart but hear, Some faint, far echo of the songs I sing, Some spark at night, some gleam of snowy wing, My dear, my dear!
The Hearth Fires
OH, when I was in London Town, I dreamt of Prairieland, And now I’m in Saskatchewan I’m thinking of the Strand. Wet pavements on the opera nights, flowers, ladies, shining cars, The while the house-logs crack with frost beneath the winter stars. For I have ridden prairie trails in smiling summer rain, But I have gathered blackberries in many a Surrey lane. By quiet creeks at fall of dusk I’ve heard the Whip-poor-will, Far cousin of the nightingale that sang upon Leith Hill! The river-gods of all the world nod wise wet heads, and say― Who drinketh of my waters I will call him back some day― And that perhaps is how indeed the happy strife began, The Thames, beneath the Cliveden Woods―the great Saskatchewan. The river-spell is on me, and I know not which is best, The English home of childhood, or the love-land of the West, The pagan gods are double-tongued, to me a heavy part― I have two hearth-fires for my cheer, and divided heart! [page 13]
THE sweet traditions of old lands Have little echo in our west, No dryad in our oak-tree strands, Our waters kiss no naiad’s breast. Yet still the Indian’s spirit broods, A shade along the prairie grass, Still on the rivers, in the woods Old voyageurs and couriers pass. The great adventurers have gone, And Selkirk’s kindly ghosts have met La Verandrye and Radisson― The noble past is with us yet! Blown by what winds of chance or fate From all the Seven Seas we come, And, passing through the Western Gate, Gain the adventure of a home. But Celt or Saxon, Norse or Dane, Or French, blood-brothers now are we Through those, our yearned-for ones, our slain In Flanders and in Picardy. We pledge ourselves the trust to keep, The flaming torch to bear ahead, So shall they rest in quiet sleep, And we be worthy of our dead. We plough the field, we guide the pen, By toil of brain, by toil of hand, Law-making, law-abiding men; Our heritage a pleasant land. “Now God be praised we gives good bread.” We trust the kindly earth with grain In faith, that nations may be fed, Nor find His rainbow promise vain. O, Manitoba, strong, austere, The nursing-mother of the west, Each season of the circling year Comes, to thy lover, as the best. [page 14] The glory of the Northern Lights, Thy thin clear-crystal Western air, What land can show such summer nights, And where is autumn half so fair? Thy prairie-rose, thy fields of wheat; Sometimes I think that when I die I’ll weary of the golden street And, even in Heaven, miss thy sky!
I AM so tired of this little land Where each today is linked with yesterday So close, that then and now walk hand in hand, And all the dead who have gone on their way Watch through the gates of Life― Crowd, even if kindly, on the steps of Life! Two thousand years ago the Romans made This road, still echoing Legion footsteps faint, A thousand years ago these stone were laid― The church of some old square, black-letter saint. Too near the living Past, Too heavy is the weight of all the Past! This land breeds men, but they are not my kind, Too many linked traditions bind them round, Too sweet the sunshine, and too soft the wind― Their roots are struck too deep in English ground. My careless foot is free! What do they know of wandering feet and free? On the wide prairies now the long winds roll. The great arch spans horizon-wide in rain. Oh, I would master Life, possess my soul If I were back in my own land again! And lift a joyful heart, For peace and solitude lift up my heart. I will go westward, where the old, sad tales Are not, or are forgotten, where each sun Rises a new creation. What avails The old World’s strife and clamor―I have done. I got to my own West, Avalon and Atlantis, and my West! [page 15]
The Western Year
WHEN the strong level west winds blow, And grosbeaks crack the maple seeds, When furry-headed Pasque-flowers show, And musk-rats stir amid the reeds, With running water everywhere, With high soft clouds and crystal air, Ah, thus, Comes spring-time to Saskatchewan! Slow lazy days of breathless heat, Piled thunder-heads and slanting rain, Cloud-shadows sailing o’er the wheat, Suns that but set to rise again, The sudden fire-fly’s fairy light, Shrill castanets of frogs at night. Oh, life, ‘Tis summer in Saskatchewan! When splintered ice-lace rims each pool, When trails are paved with fairy gold, When noons are hot, but nights are cool, And evening mists the sloughs enfold. When our dear swallows bid good-bye, And a red moon climbs up the sky, Ah, then, ‘Tis autumn in Saskatchewan! When bright Orion wheels his way, And overhead the witch-lights dance, When swift, from day to bitter day, The armies of the North advance, Blue-shadowed snow-drifts, fold on fold, Stark death-in-sleep, the crackling cold, Ah, heed― ‘Tis winter in Saskatchewan. So full our seasons, change on change, Hope and delight, and rest and fear, So wide we swing, so far we range, From Pole to Circle in a year. The wolf-fanged wind, the dust-dry snow, Then summer, and the after-glow, Oh, heart, Life’s living in Saskatchewan! [page 16]
The Western Born
MY father says that in the land, his land of high renown, The rivers wander through the fields, full level with the grass, And down the middle of the street of his old, little town Are narrow, low foot-bridges, but which the people pass. My father talks of waves and spray, of sand-hills rolling wide, The only rivers that I know are down a mile of trail. The wonder and the beauty of the ever-moving sea, The smell of salt, the stir of weed, the surging of tide. I hear, but all his pictures are strange and dim to me. A river-lake, a prairie slough, I vision these alone. My father says, where he was born, are elm, and plane, and yew, And chestnut trees with candle-flowers, in mile-long stately row. Old beeches, rooted back in time, when Chivalry was new, Laburnum, gold in spring-time, and hawthorn, scented snow. But poplar, and the rough scrub-oak, I see no beauty here. My father laughs, “Look up, my son, look up and round about, “The tales I tell are true, but you should use your eyes to see. “There is no other land where Spring comes northward with a shout, “Where in a night of soft, wet wind, blooms the anemone.” I look, and lo, a lilac mist, ere yet the snow is gone! “Have ears, my son, hark to the blackbird’s tune, Go down, and watch the beavers build in your own pasture stream. “Remember roses’ sweetness, in dawn or dusk of June Live here and now, and leave to me the memory and the dream.” Ah, then I did not see, but now I know him kind and wise. My father sighs: “A man’s own land will always rule his heart, Far over-seas a thousand strands bind me to my own dead, But my own dust will one day become of this land’s dust a part, To seal your love of this your land through me―” my father said. With happy heart I wander now, and know my land is good! [page 17]
Prairie Born and Island Born
I WONDER, can the prairie-born forget The far-off bluff-gap with the marking blaze, The evening wood-smoke when the grass is wet, The river-valley, blue with bush-fire haze, The badger earth, the fox den on the hill, The rare, sad, ghostly evening whip-poor-will? The gopher, praying hands on velvet breast, Alert, inquisitive, a prairie clown, The great cranes, flying black against the west, Beauty’s own shadow, as the sun goes down, Green poplar-mist, the miracles of May, The vibrant, sun-drenched Western summer day? Do you remember, oh, prairie-born, The file of cattle on the distant view, The young new moon, a star within its horn, The silver foot-tracks in white morning dew, The glorious pageant of the turning year, So intimate, so everlasting dear? Remember you? As I remember still, The cliff-path where the coast guards walk began, The ancient beacon, lonely on the hill, The steps, down which the children, laughing, ran, The rough rock steps that marched so steeply down, To meet the red roofs of the little town. Wild winter storms, when little boats stayed home― Short summer nights, out with the fishing fleet― The flash of water, and the creaming foam, The soft, wet sand, silk-smooth to childish feet, The pulsing ladder-beams from Wrecker’s Light, The banshee fog-horn, howling through the night. Oh, who am I to dream to swinging ships, Of brown-sailed fishers beating in with dawn? But I have tasted spray upon my lips, Have loved rough weather, I am island-born. Ah, that grim headland and that gracious bay Are half a world and half a life away. Oh, prairie-born, we both have dreams to sell, Poor pedlars we, remembrance all our store! Today is good, and yesterday as well, Why should we sell, wiser to gather more. The happy present, the dear memory― I have your prairie, and you have my sea. [page 18]
Hudson’s Bay Company
WE came before the land was made; We sailed the Bay, we tramped the plain. Adventurers all, stark, unafraid, Romance we sought as well as gain. And so, for full two hundred years, Ho, Ho, we were the Pioneers! We took the man from London Town, We lured the lad from Liverpool, From distant Isle and heather brown The Celt came West, and made our rule. We never knew the townsman’s fear, Ho, Ho, we were the Pioneers! We went by rivers, wild, unknown, We made the trails for men to tread, By lakes seen by the loon alone We built our fire and made our bed There, where the Dancing Light appears, Ho, Ho, we were the Pioneers! “Pro pellecutem” skin for skin, Sometimes we faltered―we were men― But still we kept the Light within― “So deal you may return again” Portage and rapid heard our cheers, Ho, Ho, we were the Pioneers! We saved an Empire for our land, We took the Flag where’er we went, Justice we dealt with even hand, We saw our work, and were content. East, West, and North our long call hears, Ho, Ho, we were the Pioneers! Our heads were high, we had the right, We stood four-square, as man to man, We fought, when there was need to fight, We finished that which we began. We are, we have been, through the years, Adventurers and Pioneers. [page 19]
The Green Door
ONE day, when I was going home I walked right past my mother’s door, And there I found, across the road A fence I’d never seen before. I turned around―there was the grade, The station, and the railway track, The trees, the houses, and the school― All just as usual, looking back! In front, there was that high board fence. A little door, all painted green Was slowly opened, and appeared The queerest birds I’d ever seen. They beckoned with their long black claws, “Come in, come in,” I hear them yet― Oh, I am Crusoe’s parrot, dear, And this is Long John Silver’s pet.” I did not think to be afraid― The little Green Door opened wide― And there were summer flowers in bloom― It was our bluff on Sunnyside! But every animal was there That I had read about, or knew, And all the birds from story-books, As much alive as I or you. A lion with a little mouse Curled up upon his head, was there, “O, I’m the lion of the net,” “And I’m the mouse that gnawed the snare.” A pretty yellow cat came up, And close behind a white dog ran, “I am your brother’s Snowy, dear,” “And I am your own Sandyman.” A flock of little birds flew down, “I cannot know you all,” I said, “You fed us one long winter through, You saved us by your scraps of bread.” [page 20] They crowded round, “Sit down,” they cried, “Here on the ground, beneath a tree, “We want to talk about ourselves, “Don’t you remember me, and me? “I am a horse you used to rise,” “I am a dog you used to feed,” “You met us all in Wonderland.” “I’m Puss-in-Boots, I am indeed!” “I had to go away from you, But I am here,” a black cat said― A big black cat with snowy paws― “I often went with you to bed.” We talked and talked a long day through It seemed to me. I understood Exactly how it was, at last That day, in the enchanted wood. Then, when we had to say good-bye, “Come back again, you have the key, You only have to think of us, Think hard enough, and you will see!” “When one remembers it is well, When all remember, ah, that’s the best! You’ll find the little door again, And Fairyland will do the rest!” When I turned round the fence was gone, There was the trail of every day, I walked back to the house, and found I’d not been half an hour away! But it was real, and not a dream. I wonder if you understand? You will, if one day you, like me, Find the green door to Fairyland. [page 21]
“JUST think, the children at the school,” Said brother to Louise, “Have sent us Valentines, and we Must thank them well for these.” “The lady who keeps house for us,” Said yellow brother cat, “Tells me that children don’t eat mice, What do you think of that!” “They don’t eat mice, nice tender mice, Who live on cake and cheese? How very queer these people are, How silly!” said Louise. “We’ll have to stay awake and think,” Said both the pussy-cats, “Although we’d rather purr and sleep, And catch the mice and rats.” “The lady who keeps house for us Is pretty good at times. She gives us milk, she gives us meat, And sometimes she makes rhymes.” “Although we talk quite well, you known, We have not yet learnt to write, So we will tell her what to say― I hope she gets it right!” “―We thank you for the valentines, We wish that you liked mice, Then we would catch you three or four, They really are quite nice!” “But if you are quite certain, then―” Said Brother and Louise― “We will catch all the mice, and you’ll Have all the cake and cheese.” [page 21]
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