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My Pocket Beryl
My Pocket Beryl
Mary Josephine Benson
For, piece by piece and part by part, It is the crystal-gazer’s art To find Arcana’s chambered heart. Within my beryl the signs rehearse Faint murmurings from the Universe In runes that animate my verse.
McCLELLAND & STEWART, LIMITED
PUBLISHERS — — TORONTO
COPYRIGHT, CANADA, 1921
McCLELLAND & STEWART, LIMITED
PRINTED IN CANADA
|THE KNIGHT OF THE BELT OF HAIR||9|
|SONG OF THE MIRE||12|
|FOAM OF FANCY||15|
|THE GLISTERING GUEST||17|
|THE ISLAND OF FULFILMENT||20|
|THE AVENUE OF ELMS||23|
|LOVE, FAME AND THE YOUTH||24|
|POTENTIALITY VERSUS CIRCUMSTANCE||26|
|IN THE NIGHT WATCHES||27|
|ON WATTS’ “LOVE TRIUMPHANT”||28|
|HEREDITY AND EGO||31|
|DAY-LABOUR IN MOTLEY||35|
|AMONG THE LOOMS||41|
|RE-NAMING BLEEDING HEARTS||44|
|TO ROSES IN OCTOBER||45|
|THE PROTOTYPE OF THE GROVE||48|
|THE GHOST OF STEPHEN||50|
|THE HEALING OF THE LEAVES||53|
|THE ORCHID HUNTER||55|
|DEMETER IN NOVEMBER||57|
|BY THE UTTERMOST GATE||59|
|ON THE THIRD DAY||61|
|AT CANDLE TIME||63|
|THE SICK CHILD||65|
|RACHEL BEYOND RAMA||68|
|AT THE FOUNTAIN||70|
|THE RIVER MEANDER||72|
|NOON DAY ON LAKE ONTARIO||74|
|THE INTERCEPTING SPARK||80|
|THE CITY OF LOST LAUGHTER||84|
|THE NORTH SEA’S EMPTINESS||87|
|THE FANFARE OF PEACE||93|
|A FLIGHT THROUGH FABLELAND||101|
|A CONSTELLATION’S ADVENT||104|
|SONG OF THE MOON-SPIRIT||112|
|THE STARRY CHORUS||114|
|SONG OF THE FIRELIGHT||116|
|THE AURORA BOREALIS||120|
|THE VOICE OF THE VOLCANO||122|
|SONG OF FIREFLIES||124|
|THE GLORY OF A NIGHT||126|
And Eleanore for a token to Nigel cut off the locks of her yellow hair and plaited them into a belt with golden clasps.
I am girl with a cascade of light, with hearts of lilies, With yellow hair beyond all gold for shining. My young Love’s face in the midst was a flashing jewel, Her shoulders were pearls between the parted splendor That wavered whilst her steady eyes caressed me. My lady has shorn her head to plait my favour! My Love, most fair, has sacrificed her glory! A Queen has uncrowned her brow to weave this token! Stream, holiest light, where hair shone on her pillow, Lavish and golden-bright like out-poured treasure. Saint Eleanore, I have kissed your scented tresses. I have clasped them like Love’s tingling arms about me— A girdle of might, soft, passionate and lovely, That binds me like your starry-constant glances. Haste, Conquest, to my lance. I’ll win the guerdon! [page 9]
The horizon is a straight line that cuts the sky across, And flat between that line and me the prairie grasses toss, And here a flower is gypsy-red and there a flower is yellow And here a cluster-flower is blue that has a tale to tell O. The yellow spray is at my feet and by it blows the red, But the frail blue trumpets at my breast are blaring what he said; Although he said it very low, they’re shouting to my heart, And shouting to that rider far where sky and prairie part He held me close and rode away—that moving speck is he— At edge of earth ere yet has drooped the nosegay plucked for me! The horizon is a straight line that cuts the world in two— For when her love must ride to war, what can a woman do? [page 10]
I drank at your eyes and held you the beaker Of mine as you prayed, my spirit-seeker; And Joy foamed high as Mount Romance Till over your shoulder I caught the glance Of Time with his blade—who cut the trance. Ah, swift as the burst of our Love’s aurora, He gloomed in the midst of the shining aura, The Shadow, forelocked, toothless, grim— A devil betwixt the cherubim— That prayed us pause and drink with him! [page 11]
SONG OF THE MIRE
Can the flag grow up without mire? I am mire! What were the iris, silken and plush, Pencilled and tufted and leaved as lush As its neighbour, the brown becrowned bulrush, Were I not the hideous mire? I am mire! Can the flag grow up without mire? I am mire! Lilies of Egypt, lilies of France, Lilies of Isles that wait perchance A discoverer yet, could your state entrance Were it not that I am the mire? I am mire! Can the flag grow up without mire? I am mire! To beauty I give both hold and suck; Of beauty I’m life. Let them call me muck, But the iris floats on the marsh’s truck Of green, and beneath is the mire. I am mire! Can the flag grow up without mire? I’m the mire. No orchid rare of the jungle deep Where jeweled eyes of serpents keep [page 12] Perpetual watch though hunters sleep Is rarer than flags of mire. I am mire. Can the flag grow up without mire? I am mire. Fantastic glories of gold and blue And purple—what marvels of form and hue, What matter, what spirit, what breath of dew, A-root in the hideous mire! I’m the mire. [page 13]
I have made me a cloth for my delight That glows with three-score colours bright: Hues that I snared with a filament And fixed to fashion my intent. So, flower-petal and peacock-feather Shimmer and flow in the floss together, And here where the tracery takes a turn The gems of Ind in a passion burn. I borrowed the boss of a beetle’s back For a cluster here, and this drifting track Of sparks I caught from a torch’s flare— They never go out in the ’broidery there! And the reds that you see in the corner shine I found deep down in a cup of wine; And here you will guess an you are wise Is the crest of a bird of paradise. Yes, a river-bud with a fluted leaf I enchanted to make this tall motif. See when I give it a little shake The riot the wavering colours make Of silk-worm floss and a cunning wit And a needle small have I gladdened it! [page 14]
FOAM OF FANCY
If I were a mermaid clad in scales I’d spread my fins like Fancy’s sails And making a dart of my joined hands, so, Down in the green deep swift I’d go— So swift that the water would flow in streaks As it chortled along my laughing cheeks And back would brush my enveloping hair, A-stream as it blew in the upper air. I would challenge a dolphin friend of mine To a race like a gale through the tranquil brine Till it fumed in our wake like the rim of the rocks Where the Siren, combing her red-brown locks, Lures on the sailor with dulcet guile To wreck his bark on her haunted isle. I would choose a day that was fit for fun When the air was bright with a flood of sun So clear I could lie on a coral bed And watch through the crystal high o’erhead The seabirds swimming in vaulted sky, Careening, veering and sweeping by, And bulks go over—the hulls of ships— That the scene would suffer each brief eclipse As fields are dark when a cloudy fleet Sails inland over the sun-gold wheat. The denizens of the sea would stare And wheel, each one for his watery lair; [page 15] But I would bridle a white sea-horse And mount up, up, in a circling course, Till I galloped beside some speeding ship And kept the pace of her triumph trip, Whilst the passengers leaned, frog-eyed to see A fable appear like reality. I’d laugh at their scruples and kiss my hand, And, haply, I’d ride with them back to land. [page 16]
THE GLISTERING GUEST
There waits on my threshold a Glistering Guest Her finger aye on the summons prest And I, though I ope not, hear the ring Of her fairy-wild importuning. Within is the call of the grey goose-wing, The needle, the cauldron simmering, The vat that maketh all things white, That clamour aloud till the dead of night. But then, with the children soft abed And the cupboard secure of its golden bread, With gleaming plates in rows a-shelf And my chamber sweet as the garden’s self, The muslin slips from my heedless hands For my Guest on a sudden by me stands— Though I opened not to her ceaseless ring She stands beside me glistering! I look in her eyes and quake with joy As she bids me gird to her employ: For they who serve the Glistering Guest Are glad beyond the fabled Blest. Oh, many a token of love she brings In the wondrous wallet beneath her wings, [page 17] Inwrought with gems in a runic spell And ’broidered fair with asphodel. She gives me the heels of a mountain goat, Pink vans that into the evening float, A quill to flout in the eye o’ the Sun And a draught from the wells of Helicon. Then glides she forth with a strange adieu Of all tongues blent; and the midnight blue Receives her form, so strangely hid By the door no mortal hand undid! I write, I write, and I glory now, As the reindeer does in his antlered brow, In the glad white sheets, close-written, piled Where the Glistering Guest so lately smiled. [page 18]
When I escaped the prison clutch I tost my cap on high For joy that it could never touch The ceiling of the sky. I cut a sudden caper, too, So lightsome were my feet, And sent a pebble pinging through The quiet cobbled street! Beyond were ways with ne’er a wall To let or hinder me, I might meander over all Stream-like, or wind-like—free! The roadside grass ignored the fence, The path was overgrown; But trespassed sweetly to my sense That herbage gypsy-sown. I flung me down and loved the earth, The unfettered air, the blue, And blessed the bondage that gave worth To liberty so new. [page 19]
THE ISLAND OF FULFILMENT
There is an Island wrapped around with blue Where all I visioned, highly meant to do, Has body like the birds and butterflies That claim no spirit, form and frame for dream, Hearth-ruddy glory for a pearl-faint gleam, Splendor that friendly looks me in the eyes. Within that dripping fringe of murmurous caves, Pink as the lips of cherubs from the waves That aye returning, aye enraptured, kiss The happy shore, are garnered radiant things: The pictures, songs, the sculptures whose bright wings Pre-natal stirred but bided natal bliss. There, as the rose has form terrestrial, The tale I sensed but could not write, the call, The haunting urge I loved and far pursued Baffled, is read by one with shining eyes And parted lips, a book of Paradise, Complete, leaf-numbered, glistering and good. The canvas that my friend with burning heart Spent passioned colours on, his craving art Unsatisfied, there in a pillared hall Sun-girdled, cypress-guarded, rare is hung, [page 20] Precious ’mid treasure, largess greatly flung As God’s own hand had flashed along the wall. And where a jeweled fountain endless plays A statue lives; its sculptor spent his days Sketching to sell a roadster, but his nights Ranging the starry altitudes for flame Wherewith to kindle marble; his mute name An angel’s trumpet tells the echoing heights. Within an arbor hallowed like a shrine A mother sweet as Mary the divine, Beaming, caresses the desired boy That Life denied her long expectancy, Saying, “Nay, childless shalt thou earthly be.” His eyes are lift to hers in raptured joy. The honeyed fields are strange with wondrous flowers, The half-formed thoughts of over-crowded hours The pure in spirit strove for ’mid the moil That fettered hand and brain erstwhile on earth, Petalled beatitudes delayed of birth That firmamental star the Elysian soil. And, coloured with diviner beams of light Than stirred old Noah at the dripping sight Of the first rainbow lifted o’er the flood, Upheld by choirs that granting form and voice To song unsung celestially rejoice, A signing spectrum clasps the charmèd wood. [page 21] And ever shining folk with wreathèd brows People the pathways leading from the House Set in the Island’s midst where One tells o’er And counts as treasure what each greatly willed, Each nobly pressed for, what though unfulfilled, Knocking with effort at his holden door. With laughter on their lips and in their eyes The day-beam lustre of supreme surprise Fulfilment’s meads in happy bands they rove Plucking its scarce-dreamed flowers, its golden sands They range in converse sweet with joinèd hands And seek baptismally each waiting grove. [page 22]
THE AVENUE OF ELMS
They planted elms in two long rows to-day Betwixt the High Street and the riverside, And some stood by who wept and some in pride Looked tearless on, that voiceless went away. For to the Fallen rose that aisle of trees (And you, my Hero-love, among the slain!) That memory with each year made green again Might robe afresh within their sacristies. Oh, Philip, down the Avenue of Elms, What if summer night when they are grown, You should come, conjured when I pace alone Their shadows, shade-like, from your veilèd realms! What if within that Hall of Hallowed Dream Your image should grow substance; arms of flesh— Your very arms—enfold me; kisses fresh Supplant ghost-raptures; Death Life’s vows redeem? They planted elms in two long rows to-day Betwixt the High Street and the riverside. I thought of you alone of all who died, Looked blindly on and went my haunted way! [page 23]
LOVE, FAME AND THE YOUTH
Love and Fame Alternately Present
I give thee a rose,” said the maid with the melting eyes, “And a diadem, I,” she orbed like the basilisk. “My hands shall clasp thy hand when the mountains rise.” “And mine shall beckon thee follow, durst thou risk.”
The Youth Prefers Fame
The Youth looked long at the young bud dropping dew And long at the gem aflash in the eye of the sun: “Perish the flower will, winds its petals strew; Last will the crown I choose.” And the choice was done.
Love’s Gift Survives—Fame’s Guerdon Evanesces
Love’s arm fell sad, then hid the rose in her breast, Where it lived! Oh. Heaven-wrought miracle of trust! Fame’s hand late yielded her guerdon for the crest Of Youth grown old; and the clutching palm closed—dust! [page 24]
(As Arraigned by Mildred.)
Rough hands that stripped the colors from the dawn, That dried the dewy jewels of the lawn, That would unspot the leopard an you could, I do resent you with my hottest blood! There erst was treasure ’yond the iris-bow, And Youth made quest to measure allegro. Who stole the gold and stilled the pipes of Pan, That I should weep as only Woman can? I was a maid that would have been a queen Had King Cophetua more than legend been: I am a wife without companionship, Wedded to vows that withered on the lip. I cherished dreams most fond of home and love. What dart has slain the emblematic dove My heart hears yet in this vacuity— This house where Loneliness has married me? What was thy guerdon, Disillusionment, That by thy hand each charmèd veil is rent That showed Life, shimmering, rosy-hued to Youth— And hid the drab unkindliness of Truth? Oh, give me back my dreams, relentless Hand! “Traitor” I’d scorch thee with the traitor’s brand; But I must plead who hotly would arraign— “Oh, give me back my golden dreams again!” [page 25]
POTENTIALITY VERSUS CIRCUMSTANCE
A seed flung forth from the Sower’s hand. ’Twas sweet and full and sound. It curved and lodged at Fate’s command And fell on stony ground. The seed felt force of leaf and flower Bestir within its band; It swelled and burst its shard in power And took root in the land. But lamellated rock lay hard Beneath the surface mould; The rootlets from their course debarred Pushed strong to get a hold. They strove and dwarfed themselves in vain. The tender leaves above Put forth in hope to wind and rain, But withered ere they throve. The earth distressed that should have been Their comfortable bed; The sun was torture that their green Grew mortal sere instead. The other seeds the Sower flung Bore whole cascades of flowers, [page 26] A drip with honey-dews and sung By gay bee troubadours. This was the fittest seed that flew To earth from out his hand— This that encountered rock, that grew To perish in the land.
IN THE NIGHT WATCHES.
A king considered kingly state Under an Easter sky; Against his foot-stool, singing late, His knave doth sleeping lie. Sceptre and crown and gilded throne Hath David swift forgot, The drooping boy and skies alone Are lovely in his thought. Only the echo of a harp Has worth beneath the stars To David, pierced with pangs more sharp And deep than all his wars. David, the lust-soiled Victor-King, Erst shepherd pure as brave— The glowing youth of stone-and sling— Is envying his slave. [page 27]
ON WATTS’ “LOVE TRIUMPHANT”
Oh, who is this like a victor lithe That rears from a figure prone? Nay, two lie low; but He-with-the-Scythe And the Woman are but one. For the Woman is dead by the trackless sea, On the rocks ’neath a waste of sky, And the Man-with-the-Scythe is Death; and he And the Woman prostrate lie. Oh, wedded are He-of-the-Scythe and She And his hand her cold hand locks; Her brow is kissed by the winds that be And his is pressed by rocks. But who is this that calls amain Tip-toe with upstretched hands, To mightiest God between these twain That like a victor stands? Oh, who is this stepped forth in light Where Death and his pale bride lay That cloy his feet in his naked might Like a garment cast away? Oh, He-of-the-Scythe and She are Death; But the victor towered above, That flamed into life at their passing breath— This triumphing Form is Love! [page 28]
Her task is done, on her apron white Her hands are folded meet, On her brow uplift to the casement’s light The look is far and sweet. The window’s light is a glimmering square With a village street below. Is the gleam on her hair of the lamp lit there, Or the sunset’s afterglow? Oh, finer than village lamp the beams Of the tender aureole That crowns the temples of her who dreams With hushed and vibrant soul! Oh, fainter than glow of the vanished sun This hovering pallid ring Of grace that illumines this silent one Like a blessed and holy thing! ’Tis woven of ray and flash and glint Of a city near and far— Celestial summits of form and tint As the hopes of the sainted are. [page 29] Oh, is she the mother of soldier sons, Or is she a childless one— This woman telling her orisons By the light of a fadeless sun? A Book with a crimson mark is by And the mark is wrought with gold; She reads in the page full reverently And the words are deathless old. Oh, mother of men, or virgin nun, For that thy brows so shine, Communicant with the Holy One, Thy chamber grows a shrine! [page 30]
HEREDITY AND EGO
I with the seashell-sounding heart Have scarcely seen a boat, And I who tent on the plain apart Have sight of hills remote. Of lordly seas and mountains grand My blood has sudden sense, Although I live afar inland— With sky for recompense. My father was a sailor free, My mother from the hills, And hauntingly they share with me My desert’s joys and ills. Anon the trackless sea invites, And now the mountain wall Has peopled all the waste with sights I’ve never viewed at all. My father rules my errant heart, Or oft my prairie will My mother governs, though apart I dwell from any hill. And yet the sweeping plain for me With all its bending sky! Oh, much I owe heredity, But also I am I! [page 31]
Pick-pocketed by Time of youth and power And pride and hope they crouch ’neath Time’s high tower Of Time oblivious, striking loud Shame’s hour. St. James stands very old and very gray And venerable on King Street’s crowded way Of shops, hotels and banks in glossed array. The cars clang by incessant in their roar, Hoofbeat and footfall sound forevermore And mock with noise the Church’s quiet door. The tide pours down the panting thoroughfare, But sweeps within the churchyard’s little square Life’s derelicts that make no traffic there. The City Hall warns loud “Keep off the grass”, No tramp on Osgoode’s grounds may long trespass; The spent may rest here, while the spenders pass. Grey-bearded as the lichened ancient wall, Dingy as rooks that haunt the belfry tall, Wrinkled and seared and seamed and spent withal— They come to sit i’ the sun, from where God wot, And where they go at its passing I know not— Estrays—estrays—of Time and Place forgot! [page 32] Noon-shock bestirs them munch what fare they eat, Convenient board belike the church-yard seat, Careless of gibes from the affronting street. Ugly in old misshapen shoes and clouts, Unwashed, unshriven, unabashed—one doubts If they hear how the Clock at their wan wreckage flouts. Ah, Time, must thou accuse, who was the thief That left these creatures poor beyond belief And dead as graveyard’s dead to love and grief? Pick-pocketed by thee of youth and power And pride and hope they crouch beneath thy tower, To thee indifferent, crying out Shame’s hour. [page 33]
The erubescent flax curls crisp and dry To spend itself in blackness where its smoke Has spread and spired, like mortals who invoke God’s patience on man’s dullness—who would cloak Dead offerings in fires from the sky. But not in vain the aspiring lapsing flame, Smoke-smothered for the damps amid its fire, Ascends thus feebly, spark-starred, high and higher, Charring the while it leaps its quivering pyre, Feeling for Heaven with its sightless aim. For He Who bosomed in the boulder’s breast The spark to kindle fireside or fane Will not, capricious, quench in high disdain Man’s smoking sacrifice of heart and brain— Clay of his mould and to his image prest! [page 34]
DAY-LABOUR IN MOTLEY
There’s a log to hew and a town to map And a hidden star to see, But just to jingle a jester’s cap Is the task assigned to me. And I can ring you the chiming bells So cunningly in tune That the courtful, empty as painted shells, Has each a soul full soon. The king will grant if the beggar ask As I mount the motley’s stool And the queen has a face that was a mask At the coming of the fool. For many a caper I cut in mirth As many a thing I see, But never you’ll meet though you roam the earth, A soul that works like me. The poor come oft to the foot of the throne And the rich are always by. So mine is to be sad alone Though I jest for majesty Ah, mine it is to cavort and play Though my bauble gilt-and-red [page 35] Grow dull in my hand at the close of day As my image carved in lead. I bound and twinkle a figure gay, Beneath the canopy; But still I sit as I plot my play With naught ’twixt Heaven and me. For my wit is the blade that cuts intrigue And I must wield it true. Oh, the fool can never admit fatigue, So much is there to do. To one is given a trench to dig, To one to go to sea, But wisely to wear a motley’s rig Is a task that’s given me. [page 36]
There walketh one with wingèd feet As gilded air he trod, Where ninety trudge the common street In creaking leather shod. There stayeth one with eyes that see Where ninety pause astare At sign of smokeless burning tree, Or writing in the air. Where ninety chatter, silently One cups a hand to ear For Delphic rune which only he Of all the group shall hear. Where ninety baffled, mutely crave A Pentecostal tongue One passioned voice is lift to save— One soul like largess flung. Where ninety heavy pilgrims plod, Dull-browed, with clumsy feet, The Poet, ’ware of man and God, Comes signing up the street. [page 37]
(From the Poet’s Standpoint.)
As dolphins love the wave and hawks the air And moths the light and, blindly, moles the earth, So have I loved the element of Words. I have disported in their deep-piled sea, Breasted and breathed their tingling atmosphere, Singed my befeathered wings in their fierce heat, Groped God-ward for their fountain when words failed. I can build palaces with chiselled speech, With words e’en empty emulate the guile Of tinkling cymbal and of sounding brass Which, freighted, shame the music-laden reed And beggar the mood-mastery of strings. I’ve painted with rich language, framed sweet forms. Words are my bricks, notes, colours, marble, clay! Canvas and paint are feeble ministers In Raphael’s and Titian’s high despite, And vibrant chords are limited and frail, Let great Beethoven murmur as he will; The graven marble’s cold through Phidias’ hand Taught fleshly beauty to defy the tomb; For Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, wrought in words! [page 38] What harp can wring the spirit like “farewell”? What picture speak like “perish” of the void? What dazzling image of the sculptor’s grace Beatify like “beauty,” “youth,” and “love”? Art’s mightiest instruments—her more than tools, To which earth, water, firmament and flame, World-elements give place—are sovereign words. For “peace” once spoke prevailed upon the sea; When Hebrew lips breathed “Mizpah” the wide air Denied its altitude, its breadth of space; Hot syllables consumed as at a breath Belshazzar and his sin-besotten realm; And when I burrowed Silence toward a Voice, It rang, “In the beginning was the Word!” [page 39]
(As claimed by Sir Oliver Lodge.)
We’ll all come home for Christmas,” Raymond says, The astral Raymond, he whose empty chair Waits by the hearth this twelvemonth while his fair And strong young frame that we were wont to praise Tarries in France, restored to Mother Mold, Companioning her lot in sun and cold. For Raymond lives! He stood by me to-day, A Presence, Raymond’s, and a Voice, his own, Framing strange converse when he made essay To tell me how he’s faring There alone; But when he spoke of Here I understood. “Tell mother I’ll be present,” sounded good! “Expect us, greet us—sons who have been mourned. We’ll all be home for Christmas. ’Tis a shame Some chaps will not get welcomed,” so he warned. “A common spade should get its garden name: Fools are the grieving folk who call us dead And nail the bars up that were down,” he said. So when they troop from crystal spaciousness, From what close comradeship with Morning Stars, Let all our blinds be up the day to bless That hails the visit of these avatars To erstwhile Home. Let upward joyous eyes Acclaim the glory of the parted skies! [page 40]
AMONG THE LOOMS.
There is tumult, there is tumult in the boatful Magog looms, There is deaf’ning clash of iron in the long vibrating rooms, Where they crowd like angry men Who must shout and shout again, Who must beat upon the ear-drum their stentorian refrain— Labour’s song. There are rioters dismembered in each protestant machine, Their treading shanks and jointed knees and crooked fingers lean Ceaseless clutch and pass and tread— Whose the hard-won daily bread, That they ply, hie and fly in such a harried haunted dread Long day long? There is gruesome, grinding triumph in the textile Juggernaut That long since crushed the wheel and loom within the weaver’s cot— Bore down lifted arms of flesh— Are these men the frames enmesh? [page 41] In these grumbling iron workmen do dead strikers strive and thresh Ancient wrong? Grim Industry, is progress but a vampire fell that feeds On human blood—new Magog but old Manchester and Leeds? Is this rumbling but the ghost Of old issues won and lost? Or is Labour’s dirge-like rhythm Manufacture’s vaunt and boast, It is strong! [page 42]
The hepatica passed like the first faint breath Of Spring on a hostile day; But the breath was life and underneath The Earth that was strewn with the forms of Death Said, “Lo, I live alway!” And a great pulse throb from her quickened heart Surged warm through her members chill, That up through the matted leaves did start Buds white as the gone snow’s counterpart, Ten thousand on the hill. Like the fingers of prayer tip-closed they stood, Then opened to the sun; And each bud offered in ardent mood A heart in the sun’s own image good— Earth’s tribute every one. For the root of each was red as the comb Of the cock that crowed anon, As the squirrel frisked in the door of his home And a robin whistled of joy to come And by-gones all by-gone. Ten thousand buds ecstatic spread As Earth renewed her might, And the root of each sap was red, With the sap that was blood each root was red; But the hill was clothed in white. [page 43]
Who named the bleeding-heart? For not at all These fairy rosy bangles know the art Of shedding sorrow from each dripping point That honey-dews, not drops of blood, anoint. I’ll call the bleeding-heart A name more gay— “Fay-lantern”—for to play a festive part Elves strung them so upon a night in June, When fairies danced and gnats zig-zagged in tune. Two spiders stretched two ladders for the elves That lit the ball, And many-eyed, kept watch beneath, themselves, While light on light appeared within the bower Each fairy lamp at morn to be a flower. And so I give the bleeding-heart a name That likes me more— “Fay-lantern”, for just once by moon I came Upon that revel underneath the bush When flowers by day were lanterns in the hush. [page 44]
TO ROSES IN OCTOBER
O Beauteous Ones, why tarry you Though scatheless yet of wind, Though frosts be loath to harry you And autumn winds be kind? O Beauteous Ones, why not away When every bird is flown? Or lacked you wings, or willed you stay To meet the rack alone? The wet hath dewed each scented cheek As when the year was young— Or, be these beaded tears that speak Of ’bodings you among? O Beauteous Ones, a step of stealth Approacheth whiles you wait. Bestow those petals, hide that wealth, Before it be too late. [page 45]
In the savannahs of a western plain I found breast-feathers pitifully torn. The bird that suffered if alive or slain Left but this whitest trophy browned with stain That had been crimson, on the tell-tale thorn. But they were soft and wonderful and fair! What was the heart they covered? Did a brood Of young, confiding, wild things nestle there When savage eyes and teeth and bristling hair Prowled close, or thunders rumbled through the wood? How heaved this parent-plumage, mad with fear, Feeling that arch-fiend of hypnotic guile, The serpent, ripple dangerously near The nest, so well concealed, and disappear, She anguished lest her young should peep the while? What fell, unfeeling foe with ruthless fang, Or claw, or weapon could so perpetrate A crime against Love’s image; joy that sang Rend from its feathered chamber; bear the pang, Guilt’s own, of spoiling Beauty God-create? [page 46] Ah, there’s the ancient quip that Nature hurls: Her civil war! If Hunger’s circumstance, Brutality, or Mischief dyed these pearls Of breast-down ruby that yet gently curls Bird-like within my palm, God knows perchance. [page 47]
THE PROTOTYPE OF THE GROVE
Steadfast and patriarchal ’mid thy flock Of son arboreal, nursling, sapling, tree, To breeze and tempest lending equal mock Thou overspann’st the unstable greenery. Thy boughs uplift, as Moses on the height With upstretched hands plucked mercy from the sky On weakling multitudes, thou rear’st thy might To shield the frailties of this company. Only, unwearied looms thine unctuous form, Earth-rooted, Heaven-invading Parent Tree, And all the grove’s light tribe in sun and storm Is three times blessed prototyped in thee. [page 48]
That old musty cheese that we are.—THOREAU.
Forsake the peopled town, Thoreau, And live in the wood like apes You doubtless sprang from, chattering so, But I’ve a friend like grapes! Go hug the silences, Thoreau, And if you can forget us; But ere you do I’d have you know The chum I greet like lettuce. You call folk “Musty cheese,” Thoreau, Green-jaundiced of complexion— I love a maid like apple-snow And take profound exception. E’en Socrates, the sage, Thoreau, Declared Xanthippe’s level Bread-with-the-bran-left-in-the-dough: His due unto the devil. So Wordsworth, Christ, and every mind That taught the world aright Chid not the taste of humankind But cured the appetite. [page 49]
THE GHOST OF STEPHEN
(The Stranger Sees the Island Apparition.)
“Say now, good nurse, what face went by Blown round with ruddy hair?” Her hooded cheek was white as frost, “Doctor,” quoth she, “ ’twas Stephen’s ghost— Stephen that slew the paramour Of the lady he long since loved and lost, The loveliest maid on Pilley’s shore Though false as she was fair. “Blithe fisherman, brown as a weathered sail, In a flutter of red-gold locks, He ranged the sea like his cabin floor To the whinnying wind, or the thickening roar Of slob on the Banks, and the iceberg’s track, From the north-most stream to the Cove’s front door, He crossed with laughter, faring back With spoil to his homestead rocks. “He saw and loved white Alice O’Flynn And won her for an hour, Ere the dark philanderer, Ormand Brent, Drank up the goblet of sacrament At a single quaff and, satisfied, Bestowed light kisses, laughed and went [page 50] From the lady who wept and waned and died As passes the bee-spoiled flower. “So, Stephen spreading his toils to un Heard whispered, ‘She is dead.’ And a dull-red fire kindling slow, Blood-shot his eye, vein-fraught his brow, Inflamed his cheek beneath his tan— By the seething shore one saw him go Like Doom on the track of Guilty Man, In an aureole of red. “The nets of Stephen rotted and blew To tags on the storm-flung rain. His quest fulfilled, in a darkling cove The Avenger and Guilt for a moment strove And one was done to quivering death; But the Fury who struck in the name of Love, Though he quelled his foe like a furnace-breath, Himself came not again. “Or he comes as you saw,” said the Island nurse, “Blown round with tawny hair.” Sidelong I glanced at the window-pane: The blank night, eyeless, stared amain, The hospital shrank more close in space, But the step outside was a rush of rain. My grog was real and worth a grace And I sat in a firm arm-chair.” [page 51] So Pilley’ Island hugs a haunt And peopled is its dark, For all of the cross on the village church Where the buccaneering sea-birds perch In sudden shuddering piety When Stephen walks and the billows lurch And the one dare-devil boat at sea Rides lone as Noah’s Ark. [page 52]
THE HEALING OF THE LEAVES
The nurse and She and I, the Guide, Pressed through the umbrageous forest wide Of northern Canada to find God’s healing for the afflicted mind Of Genevieve, the beautiful, Whose voice in every wayward lull Of murmurous branches fitful strayed, Now pealing laughter, now afraid, Now casting fragments to the wind Of songs of her forsaken kind. And she would raise her ranging eyes, Star-lovely, to that Bridge of Sighs ’Twixt trouble and tranquility, The pine-top, sigh herself and see Ghost phials pouring potions rare Of grace adown the scented air; Or sit, thought-empty, underneath Some woodland creeper’s pendant wreath, Finger its verdured twine and feel Strange virtue through her member’s steal. Hard maples turned delivering keys In locks wherewith her mind’s disease Had made her brain a prison-house, Bidding the huddled captive rouse. And apostolic unctuous hands The chestnuts of those wooded lands [page 53] Laid on her shade-beleaguered brow That is so calm and thoughtful now. For Genevieve, the nurse and me (So honoured for the Cherokee That pulses darkly in my veins) Lay healing in the timber plains. From fronded fern to varnished oak The foliaged fluttering forest spoke Physicians’ counsel wordlessly, By each wise shrub and prophet-tree. And she, the sick, now well and wise But yesterday with shining eyes Repeated how an olive-spray Of dripping green in Noah’s day Was peace’s herald to a world Fresh to its destiny unfurled, Purged of its sickness mightily By the all-covering, fateful sea. “Strange, too, that calm the groves restored In gardens where our suffering Lord Took his tormented weary brain For soothing time and time again.” She paused, then mentioned quietly The apocalyptic wondrous tree That rears its life-bestowing stem To bless the New Jerusalem. I wondered if the speaker knew How leaves had kept their office true. [page 54]
THE ORCHID HUNTER
Pagan and pleased I ranged the Panic wood Betwixt pine-pillars holding up that dome Where under men have worshipped since the Dawn, Where every knoll the foot-path chanced upon Entreated homage like that fabled home Of gods, Mars’ Hill, where God’s strange altar stood. A cataract at hand with crystal cup Poured out libations, myriad psalteries Of bird-notes spilled sweet music from the loft, Leaf-curtained, all the while the vestments soft Of unseen vestals trailed among the trees And incense from their censers quivered up. Yet ’twas in joy not reverence I trod, Clove through the thicket’s armèd ranks of thorn, Undid the withewood’s tangle, left the spoil— All gold— of barren’s heather for the soil To gather, blew Childe Roland’s charmèd horn Before the Gates of Faery— gods for God. When flashed a fane before the infidel, Paused in its passing Glory’s garment-hem! The Unknown’s altar imaged in a flower— A shrine that had been bright beside the tower Of rosy sunset— gleamed upon a stem, [page 55] Earth-anchored, where Love’s fairest self might dwell. I caught and kissed the fluttering fringe of grace, Shed tears upon the cushion of the moss Where, kneeling, virtue ran in all my veins At that great touch of jacinth drenched with rains, That presence whorled with petals like a cross, Pure as Shekinah in an holy place. Grail-like the pitcher shone amid its rays, Love’s quintessence no bigger than a hand, Holding within its compass as the pink, Wet-gleaming shell upon the murmurous brink Of ocean cups the deep, sky, sea and land. I marvelled, loved and prayed and went my ways. Since when I seek the orchid, pilgrim-wise, In Edens serpent-haunted as of yore, In god, in forest, on the mountain height, Happy but to behold these temples bright Of Goodness, worship, bend the knee before Creation’s ark of shining mysteries. [page 56]
DEMETER IN NOVEMBER
Her fingers pluck at the window-ledge— Demeter’s, come like a graveless ghost— They pry and pluck like a rifting wedge And she calls with the voice of the wind in sedge, “Persephone—lost—lost!” The Mother of Earth grew crazed o’ernight— Demeter roams November-tossed— And her hair, erst twined with wheat-ears bright And poppies, is rent as she seeks in fright Persephone, her lost. The flowers of all the earth are dead, Transfixed and grey and rimed with frost, And its heavy corn is harvested— Demeter shivers and shrieks in dread, “Persephone is lost!” Has the scythe then circled thy fairest child, Demeter, and is thy questing crost, That thou go’st with mien so changed and wild? Is thy daughter by Death or Life beguiled, Persephone, thy lost? In at each curtain she peers and raves, Now here must pause, now hence must post, Then speeds to the ocean to scan the waves, [page 57] Or hastes to her furrows that gloom like graves— Persephone is lost. Athwart the rain and the riven cloud Demeter, gone like a driven ghost, At window of cot or castle proud Is wailing low and is calling loud— “Persephone—lost—lost!” [page 58]
BY THE UTTERMOST GATE
Out of the north came a Wind, and it roared: “Behold I am feathered in snow, From the wastes that are ice where no wing ever soared Save my own am I come full blow! “For the great auk turns back at the circle I pas In my sweep from the farthest Pole; And the green berg’s bear is a ponderous mass Of white with a shrinking soul. “But I rush forth from the Uttermost Gate Of the glittering creaking North, With never a thing of the Lord create So bold as I rush forth. “That Gate is a fierce and holy door With living flame for bars, That round it seven leagues and more The sky is wiped of stars. “The lithe flames flash like the crossing swords Of Eden’s guarded gate And the majesty of the Lord of Lords Seems just beyond to wait [page 59] “But never I pause for beast or bird As those confines I cleave Save once I stayed for a cry I heard Would any iceberg grieve. “The cry came forth from a dusky blur On the lamellated ice And my speed discovered the tumbled fur Of the Thing that had called me thrice. “But still it lay as I sobbed and plied My all-too-icy fan, So still by the Gate that no more it cried— And the Thing in fur was a Man!” [page 60]
ON THE THIRD DAY.
(A Hospital Madonna Soliloquizes.)
Tis passing strange these summer hours to lie With eye upon the window’s waving frieze Of verdure-crowded, nest-obscuring boughs, And hear with ear new-tuned, new melodies Bend with that quest-cry down the corridor That tells me I’m a mother in this house, With Knowledge where Surmise was all before— My first-born’s cry. Oh, tranquil hours— the doors of Pain passed through And all the space around a garden fair, With blooms new-found and fragrance limitless! Who tarries by the Gate when flowers rare Invite with passion-buds beyond to cull That spread, bring day for night— sweet miracle— And dreams make true? One bud my hand possessed when breathing first My babe’s cry tingled— such a starry flower! A second mystic aster petalled wide When that we called him “Son,” and that rife hour, His first upon my breast, or star or sun I know not rightly, but it bloomed to hide [page 61] That wicket the Madonna may not shun, Fear-ivied erst. My babe sleeps softly, flesh of life and love, Won and possessed and ours for all and aye! Joy floats fresh carols, Laughter makes mirth new, Prayer stilling both to worshipping straightway; For God’s to thank whose Son, a little Child, Earth-cradled lay while angels made ado Of jubilation and his mother smiled, With gaze above. [page 62]
AT CANDLE TIME
Not busy with the needle or the quill, But idle-handed richly as a queen, I’ll sit this next half hour till candle-time— The room where toys lie scattered is so still, The sunshot leaves and tendrils are so green Of vines that to the nursery windows climb! I’ll watch where falls their pattern light and shade Above thee sleeping in thy downy bed, Rosy and baby-round and wrapped in dreams; I and the toys will watch— but I’m afraid We have no pass to follow thee and tread Thy poppy-fields, where one Blue Flower gleams. Go find that blossom, darling, I will wait With mind as vacant as my empty lap, To see thee coming and hear thee exclaim, “I have it, mother!” Sure a kindly fate Will lead thee through the poppies to the gap Where blows the bud with Happiness for name! Or no, for I must kindle candles now And cupboard all thy playthings till the morn And close the twittering twilit casement up; But when thou comest back with lighted brow And azure-petalled trophy to adorn There will be water in thy birthday cup! [page 63] For, dear, it must not wither when ’tis found, The rare blue bud you’ll find beside the gap That leads from Gardens of Forgetfulness To Trees of Life where mysteries abound. When thou art gone from out thy mother’s lap Thy Blue Flower shall be lovely none the less! [page 64]
THE SICK CHILD
My child is sick, my child with the rose-sweet body, The bud-sweet body, dewy and fragrant and tender; The mouth I have kissed so oft in the midst of laughter Is hot, is parched; and his eyes, new stars of the morning, Are strange in the heaven of his face, are fever-lighted; His shining hair, like the milk-weed silk for softness And sheen and fineness, is tossed and dry and disordered; And his curving brows, like the wings of the flying swallow, Are drawn, are distressed, as the swallow’s wings were wounded— Were sorely wounded, staying flight and gladness. Where is the Evil hath stricken my child, my cherished? Let the Lizard crawl forth in his claws and his scale-like armour— Let him rear from his belly, the Worm, the Prince of Serpents, And grapple. And I, the child’s mother, will slay, will throttle, [page 65] Will stop his horrible breath, with my hands destroy him! But he hides and plies his traffic, and dares not meet me. My child suffers and tosses, crying faintly, And I, his mother, must knot my hands and hear him, Must wait and hear him, must wait and listen, tortured Must wait while Evil works and succour tarries. My heart drags like a stone in my rending bosom, My limbs are lead, and my bitter, bitter anguish Mounts like a flame that is all my life within me. And the flame is my voice and my tears and my burning passion Of Love, of Hate, of Entreaty— O Almighty, Let him not suffer, the child for whom I travailed, Let him not wither, the Flower that I have cherished! Show me the foe that I may fight and vanquish, Let me find and destroy the covetous twisting Presence Invisible, close by the cradle of my first-born. [page 66]
My heart is light because of the child That plays before my door. There is sun on his hair. Ah, there he smiled! Two dimples that lurk played peep once more In the chin up-tilted for Love’s caress. God bless! His feet are like arrows of light that glance On a sea in sun, So fleet they hie, so free they dance At the whimsical will of my little one; So keen they pierce in elusiveness! God bless! A leaf winds down from my reddening tree To brush his sleeve. ’Tis a touch from Old Mortality, Arresting fingers that aye must weave Their strand in the web of Happiness— Distress. I lock his arms about my neck And crush him close; But hold so frailly! Nod or beck From behind the Curtain— straight he goes. Oh, my prayer is the cry of helplessness— God bless! [page 67]
RACHEL BEYOND RAMA
O Motherhood of Earth, the sword is bare— Where is thy lamentation, voice and tears? No angel comes to still thy midnight fears With, “Speed thy son to Egypt, hide him there.” Herod’s red ghost is out with fire and sword And men, not babes, must seal his ghastly tomb; The first-born and the last-born of thy womb, Their blood of life like wine must be out-poured! Where is thy noise of weeping, Rachel-heart, That inly bleeds with every mortal stroke That falls upon thy children? Rama woke To sobbing ’neath her monster’s bloody smart. Where is grief’s agitation in this land Of mothers robbed of grown but cherished sons? ’Twould seem the tide of mourning silent runs As through the narrowed Hour-glass sand on sand! Like sand on sand dark woe adds ruth to ruth; But Rama lies long centuries behind And agony to-day has drawn a blind Where Rachel fain would screen her passion’s truth. O Motherhood that sorrows without plaint, The Fountain reached, the pitcher and the cup Are idle vessels: thy bruised heart held up, The Spring will comfort that thou shalt not faint. [page 68] Rachel that wailed in Rama by the gate, Lets fall her tears now secret in the night, Mourning her sons, grown heroes in the fight! Rachel must weep, but is not desolate. [page 69]
AT THE FOUNTAIN
O Crystal River, fill my water-skin. My child’s eyes thirsting seek my face, As the drinking-cup is lifted to the pitcher. Grant the draft I pour be deep and fleckless; May it be cool as grotto-lilies; Let it delight like guileless ruddy wine. My child has eyes wherethrough look seraphim. Draw I for angels’ chalices? My child cries “Tell me. Tell me. Tell me.” ever. O Crystal River, fill my water-skin, For my child’s eyes thirsting seek my face. The drinking-cup is lifted to the pitcher! [page 70]
I breasted water plush as air Beneath a kindly sun, Felt it adown my arms so bare Like liquid zephyrs run; But southern water, limpid, mild, Was rough to thee, enfolded child! I gathered flowers in a sheaf All feather-soft and cool And smiled with pleasure past belief To feel them wonderful. But petalled treasures ne’er beguiled My arms like thee, enfolded child! I clasped thee to my bosom warm, Body and soul of thee, And all my being quaked with storm Of subtlest ecstasy. My heart was passionate and wild Holding thee so, enfolded child! [page 71]
THE RIVER MEANDER
There’s a river as long as the fabled way To Tipperary Town Where a boat may loiter the live-long day A-drifting softly down. A-drifting down through parted reeds Besprint with iris blue And lilies white and water-weeds Of gold-and-garnet hue. Green dragon-flies spread glancing wings Ashine with colours seven, And butterflies, elf-painted things, Alight and flit to heaven. The dappled sky’s an azure flood And the river like a cup Is full of sky, as a vintner good Had lately filled it up. And the floating clouds in the stream are deep As the heavenly tufts are high. They sail and sail with brooding sweep Like white swans drifting by. [page 72] Save here where the bank casts sudden shade And the river-bed grows rock, And a dusk of the glooming branches made Has blotted out the flock. Instead, the little silver fish In crescent curves leap out And a fawn as close as heart could wish Uplifts a startled snout. A heron winks, one-legged astream, Whilst jenny-wren coquets With a blackbird brave in gilded gleam Of scarlet epaulettes. And a porcupine, that was a nose That drew a rippled fork Of the river, is drying out his clothes There, rattlingly at work. Oh, the river is only a modest flit Of the crow from spring to lake, But it’s many a mile if you follow it For old Meander’s sake— If you follow it, twist and turn, a day In a vagabond canoe, If you follow it Stream Meander’s way As an idler ought to do. [page 73]
NOON DAY ON LAKE ONTARIO
The sun strode laughing through the unguarded heavens, His darts that dealt mortality but yesterday to the clouds, Now idle, sportive, he shook at the fugitives herded on the horizon, Fainting afar to the limbo of forms forgotten. Oh, fiercely merry he rattled his half-full quiver And into the sea-broad Lake, a sapphire fable, He spilled ten thousand arrow-heads of glory. So quenched he his ire and took his Victor’s pleasure. I saw the Lake leap up like Love’s quick bosom, At every barb’s keen point a mortal splendor— A wound, a star, a diadem of rainbows! Ten thousand pangs the ecstatic water suffered; Ten thousand shafts rained down through panting ether. So marched the Conqueror-Wanton through his zenith. [page 74]
The fields are poppy-vaporous, the wind’s a feather fan And Morpheus puts his charm upon the Hours’ caravan Who pause in full procession to hear his faery rune, Falter, forget and sleep upon the breast of afternoon. And all the South is captive, too, in flowery chains of sloth, The butterfly is motionless, the burning tiger-moth Sleeps deeper in the passion-flower’s pendulous festoon, The bee’s gold thigh grows leaden ’neath the spell of afternoon. All pilgrimless the panting road that toiled to meet the sky Has found a cloudy pillow and is dreaming blissfully; The sluggish river glides to sea and to its sleepy tune My eyelids yield, enchanted by the drowse of afternoon. Oh sweet the long siesta where the Solomonic ant Has ceased from troubling dozers with its energetic cant, Where the Tent od Dreams is shifted from the slumberer too soon Who eats the lotus-berry of the tropic afternoon! [page 75]
I saw flame on a smoky wing— They called him Oriole— But when I heard the phantom sing ’Twas Liquid-Fire’s soul. Oh, each note, a flashing spark Of music, few to drown In song’s cascade, against the bark, That brightly twinkled down! The sprite glanced at shuttle-pace Amid the apple-bloom And drew behind his burning grace A filament of gloom. A drenched bough extinguished him Where swung that mossy hold, His nest, with fledglings at the rim, To quench Sir Oriole. But live flame is living glee— The gay paternal elf Sparked on about the family That glorified himself. [page 76]
I am Medusa, the serpent-tressed. My glance is mortal. My hissing curls I toss, and the towering factory furls, Or the forest withers and writhes distressed. I am the Gorgon, tawny-locked, That stalks by night in frenzied lust; That feeds unsated leaving dust For flax or flesh consumed and mocked. I am the Fury, One of Three Snake-crowned that own the Serpent lord, Whose seething crests but bide his word To scatter woe impartially. I am the Fiend of the twisting hair, Whose gaze transfixes, whose scorching breath On fair or foul is the bite of Death, For I strew the foul as I foul the fair. I am Medusa, viper-rayed. I raged, I raven, I glut my fill— I follow my own and my Master’s will Till Earth recoils and Man’s afraid! [page 77]
Green leaves are beautiful in sun and shade Spread, each, and fluttering like a fairy fan Fit for Titania when her caravan Had clashed with Oberon’s train athwart the glade. But I would sing the loveliness of bark, The cryptic sheath of trunk and bough and twig; Barbarian mouth that spouts the whirligig Of fountainous green aloft in sheen or dark! I’ve stroked the stems of trees with charmèd hands, And this was satin like a dryad’s cheek, And this had scales like armour, braided meek Like Minnehaha’s hair, another’s bands. The birch stood white as Una in the wood; Othello-dusk the acacia’s fluted form; And here a pine-Laocoon bore the storm Of coilèd onslaught, ivied red as blood. Small house-doors sweet that ever open stood, The very holes that marred the sharded trees; Safe sanctuaries from snow, snug treasuries For guileless Ali Babas of the wood. Then saw I Egypt in the enchanted grove Where each time-harried obelisk of oak Spelled out against the spoliating stroke, What legends in what characters of love! [page 78] What vanished tribes of folk with mailèd wings Grooved their fleet histories in the runic bark! Lo, not a tree in all the umbrageous park But bore the record of their wanderings! Wood-peckers haunt these hulks like argosies Despoiled by red-fezed, roistering buccaneers— Is it their drum, or Drake’s, the coppice hears? My gray-boled elm, or golden Spanish Seas? A velvet, foliate fungus, sunset-bright, Shone like a lantern in the shadowy mart Of lichens’ gold-and-silver, rich apart From jade-and-emerald mosses’ jewel-light. But hallowed was the spot where greensward swells Altar-wise upward to a sycamore— A tryst-tree—where some lover years before Carved out two bark-enshrinèd syllables! [page 79]
THE INTERCEPTING SPARK
One chap had seen General Mercer, with his aide-de-camp by his side, crossing a fire-swept field, deliberately stop in the middle of it to light his pipe.
Everybody agreed that the General was the coolest man in sight that day. The aide himself assured me that it took several matches to light the pipe and that the matches were the slow-burning variety; he said that it seemed to him to have taken about an hour to light that pipe and all the time he was wishing himself in the shelter of a ditch. It had not been mere bravado on the General’s part, but a deliberately planned act to steady his men.
I only have to shut my eyes to see the bandaged head Of “Dickie” fresh from reeking Ypres, his one eye seeing red, His tongue unloosed—a raconteur to hear and hear again, Once heard, up-piling glory to his country’s fighting-men. Quoth he: “The coolest man that day (I had it from his aide Who wished himself a mole or hare he was so d—— afraid) Was Mercer, tow’ring statue-still, a blinking match in hand, The fight-glow on his weathered cheek. Men thrilled to see him stand! [page 80] “The lids were off inferno, but he paused in open field And lit his pipe, thrice lit it, while the earth heaved up and reeled, And heaven crisped like parchment on a blasting Judgement Day— And the Huns had only Canada between them and Calais! “You know, the gas fumed mountain-high, all yellow-green and brown; It caught the Allies unawares. We gasped like men who drown. The Turcos shrank like troops of leaves before a blighting frost And broke. Our men filled up the breach— we know now what it cost! “Shells screeched, and shrapnel bounced like hail, the serpent-woods spat red; The living fought like spectres, strangely tall among the dead; Yet there shone Mercer’s match and bowl as at his own hearth-side, That every man who saw it kindled hot with racial pride. “They say there was a chap in Greece who stole Hephaestus’ coals And fired up the human race to be more worthy souls; Where Mercer got his lucifers let advertisers tell, I only know he struck a light to thwart the smiths of hell. [page 81] “Ah, deem not our Commander but a braggadocio; The fellows tell a better tale who saw his pipe aglow! That smoke was censer-holy ’mid the fireworks display Of Satan at his revels and the Kaiser at his Day. “Its light was white as tapers and as red as sacrament— A flame of hero’s heart and soul in quiet passion blent. The man shone High Exemplar of the grace of keeping cool And drilled us little-boys-at-war in Valor’s Upper School. “Each man caught fire, became a brand, touched up the conflagration And spent himself— a vital spark of glory to his nation; For we scorched and singed the Boches and they say we saved the day When Canada was all between the Kaiser and Calais!” So Dickie wound his story up, the while I dressed his head, Poor Dickie, gassed and gashed and game! I see him on his bed, A turkey-cock with one good eye and half a smile to boot Cut off midway by bandages. Those Huns know how to shoot! [page 82]
Red poppies ne’er again shall fan My spirit to forgetfulness, What though their fumes since Earth began Breathed sloth and slumber passionless. No matter what the garden’s grace Where she unveils in charmèd air, Each poppy lifts a haunting face That I have seen somewhere— somewhere. Can one forget the flowery field Where, speaking yet, dumb lips of clay Shout challenge? Can the poppy yield Nepenthe to the name “McCrae”? Oh, fringèd mentors, fan for aye The flames of memory and of pride! Like Vestal virgins feed alway Love’s altars for our brave who died. [page 83]
THE CITY OF LOST LAUGHTER
The people here (Courtrai) have suffered too much to have any complete reaction, yet some of them called out ‘Good Morning!’ and all their men doffed their hats to us, but with a gravity and a kind of dullness like people who had long been stunned by misery.
Roubaix sang and Lille rang in our triumphal way, At Tourcoing the dying year sat up with eyes of May, We entered Bruges to storms of joy with banners streaming gay—— But the City of Lost Laughter was the remnant of Courtrai! Oh, four years of war tears had dried the wells of woe, The townsfolk had no cistern left to bubble up and flow In rainbow showers of happiness; they let us come and go As voiceless as their belfries, struck to silence long ago. From each dug-out they flocked about with leaden, hungry eyes, Young children grown too old for joy at freedom’s strange surprise, [page 84] The aged that could not straighten to behold the tranquil skies, And wondered at the stranger in the Liberator’s guise. Deliverance disturbed their trance of misery— no more. Dumb sheep of slaughter, piteous beneath the axe of war! We trod their ways where autumn leaves lay red as trails of gore And listened to the echo of the dying cannon’s roar. The fiendish guns of fleeing Huns still swept the streets with fire, And shards of Death flew thick as rooks about St. Martin’s spire; Joy could not make her matins heard against that warring choir— The mart was a necropolis, each curb a smoking pyre. I paused beside the teeming tide that cleaves the town in twain, Where yesterday we British closed the Hohenzollerns’ reign, And wept for citizens too crushed to feel or joy or pain Who dully told me nightmare-tales and went their ways again. [page 85] “The Prussian dread is gone,” they said, “but to return, forsooth! Old men and infants cannot fight. They’ve taken all our youth.” For peace was only one day old, nay, hardly that in truth, And a thousand and five hundred days had steeped Courtrai in ruth! The seven first who braved the worst and ranged the prison town Were clutched by frantic hands, like straws snatched at by men who drown; They took the pent-up welcome for the hosts in khaki-brown Ere hope sank back to sullenness and doubt that would not down. Oh, towns bloomed and towers boomed on our triumphal way, And all along the dying year looked up with eyes of May—— The khaki-coats had banished all the hordes in leprous gray, But a city of lost laughter was the phantom of Courtrai. [page 86]
THE NORTH SEA’S EMPTINESS
He had eyes as empty as the North Sea.—
(A Tragedy Based Upon Facts of the Recent War.)
Poseidon needs his trident, let him smile inscrutably At storms and wrecks! A maniac is all he’s left of me. He needs his pitchfork-sceptre when he rules the heaving sea, To poke the spectres under when they rise accusingly. The North sea Has a masked face, Its features dread No man has read Save only the dead And me— and me! Abysmal sphinx And charnel place; I know its glooms, Its haunted rooms, Its greedy tombs, Like the soul that sinks. For I was mate (Lord lend me grace.) On the fishing-smack, [page 87] “Audacious Mac”, That sailed in the track Of Fate— of Fate! A Zeppelin fell In its fiendish race To the Kentish coast. ’Twas a wreck at most; ’Tis a restless ghost In the North Sea’s hell! We watched her throws Till the only trace That the vortex gave Of the demon’s grave Was a wraith “Save! Save!” That shrieked— God knows. A waterspout Is a commonplace And I’ve seen a snake That an ocean-quake Compelled forsake Its lair, but I doubt If the sea have a fear In all its space More dread than the slain Who rise again— The dead of the main Who re-appear. [page 88] Of the Zeppelin’s crew I pinned a brace With the glass— mere boys: They spun like toys In the whirl and noise And we— withdrew! Our ears were stone As they sank apace. We were all too few For that armèd crew Whose fame we knew From the fighting-zone. We let them die— ’Twas not disgrace— But a man must rave Who has heard “Save! Save!” And has let the grave Reply to the cry. And still they rise, That populace Of the empty sea, To share with me Eternally Their paradise! Oh, Neptune needs his trident, let him smile inscrutably At storms and wrecks! A maniac is all he’s left of me. The lord of greedy waters needs his prongs of mastery To lay his victims under when they lift above the sea! [page 89]
A tale of the Exodus from Lille at Easter 1916.
Ah, broken Lily of Lille, Therese, I saw you torn away I heard your mother’s bootless pleas, I marked your grandsire’s faltering knees, That dawn of an Easter day. From your lace-hung room and your maiden bed And your blushing dreams of love, They hurried you forth through the door of Dread, Through the streets of Shame, with your glimmering head Strained back, in that piteous drove. For twice four thousand delicate girls Wound weeping through the town, Hun-called, gun-goaded, casting pearls Of grief ’fore the mastering swinish churls Who drove with thrust and frown. I saw your face like a fainting star And your wide dilated eyes, Your white arms lift to a God afar, Your youth that slid— swift avatar— Into Age in Sorrow’s guise. [page 90] You passed by the velvet-mills, Therese, And on by the bleaching-ground; So, out where the blood of the Dove of Peace Was blight on the flax-fields’ fair increase, In anguished rain you wound. A many hundred miles from home What agonies were borne! With never a laver, never a comb, Nor roof by night save the starry dome, You slaved in the alien corn. Wild fear possessed your shuddering frame In the fields of Frightfulness: They gave you blows in the Kaiser’s name; They thought to sully your angel’s fame With the deadlier caress. Six months you hungered and toiled and bore Such death in life, Therese, And told on your truss on the cloud-roofed floor, Such tremulous pater-nosters o’er As troubled Heaven’s peace. Then you came gain, bruised Lily of Lille, On a shivering autumn day, So spent, so spent! I saw you reel And fall on the door-sill, rise and feel Through tears, your blinded way. [page 91] Your mother fingered your pallid cheek And kissed your haunted eyes; Choked back her grief, but could not speak. Your grandsire cursed that Age is weak And wept for Youth that dies. Poor, broken Lily of Lille, Therese! Forgiveness cannot dwell In a heart so hurt, though songs of Peace And carillons of glad Release Have stilled the bruit of hell. [page 92]
THE FANFARE OF PEACE
The world sent up a shout that shivered Heaven And clanged the joy-bells in the Towers Seven That guard the Gate and all the soldiers brave Who fought and died the cause of Right to save, With angels flocked along the ramparts bright To see the Earth-star flash a sudden light In colours that spelt Victory and Peace And to the bond in Christendom, Release! The streets of Earth drew instantly more near And drowned the choirs of Heaven in the cheer That echoed and re-echoed through the Dome Making the Heroes weep glad tears for home. They saw the wave ecstatic, like a flood, Move healingly across the fields of blood And, like a mantle, fold around the sea, Stilling the watery warfare wondrously. They saw a thousand boroughs reached and lit By all the Heaven-high iris shafts of it. Each door and lane poured life into the street: Hoarse men, glad women, little children fleet, And headlong dogs that burrowed in their wake, All out for joy and jubilation’s sake. For scarce a house in any quiet town But lent heart’s blood to put the Tyrant down [page 93] And some recalled how they completely gave— And laid Love’s pansies on a distant grave. But every stack and spire that had a throat Stormed Heaven with din and all the flags afloat Made mad ado in joyous, frantic hands To shouts and laughter and the bruit of bands. Arms ached for tugging at the belfry ropes, Nor heeded, while long pent-up fears and hopes Gave place to cataracts of certain joy That spent itself in pranks of man and boy, In gay attire, with parasols and gauds, And guns and effigies and smirks and nods, And all the bright parade of happy pelf Snatched hurriedly from cupboard and from shelf. Old ladies at the windows smoothed their curls And leaned forth, beaming, wishing they were girls To jostle through the throng and laugh and shout; And babies, wondering what ’twas all about, Drummed on their mothers’ breasts and stared an crowed At coloured concourse in the common road. Some eyes looked forth, but saw not, wistfully, And yearned for wounded boys across the sea. And some were blind with tears for valiant men Who, though Right triumphed, would not come again. Yet Earth’s cry reached the still, supernal Dome And listening Heroes cheered the news from home! [page 94]
That the first crossing of a lighter-than-air ship should lack none of the excitement connected with a sea-going voyage, there was a stowaway.
I sway, I sway, The stowaway, As well as the captain and crew, In the keel of the ship that rose when Day Was yet in sheath, in proud essay To colonize the Blue. In silver sheen We slipped between A roof and a floor of cloud And heard far under the nether screen Thin echoes that farewells had been, Less loud and aye less loud. O loneliness, Must I confess Thy fear in the breast of night? We flew a ghost of the wilderness, With never a pin-point star to bless The burdened eye with light. [page 95] The rolling floor Turned o’er and o’er; We moved before the push Of Heav’n who kept the whispered score Of the Flying Game for us and more Disturbers of her hush. We nothing spoke. The senses woke. The thick night oozed like tar Between the fingers. ’Twas a joke For gods, to hear each soul invoke Its horoscopic star. Then for a mock Jove sent a shock Of storm to flout the sky; With lightnings played at shuttlecock. A wren became our battle-hawk That cowered painfully. We ploughed the fleece Without surcease Till from the jagged Dark, Like Orpheus piping the Shades to peace For lost Eurydice’s release, The moon redeemed our bark. [page 96] Through seven rings, Prismatic things Slung out by the merry moon, We leapt in our tinsel furnishings— A circus-sprite that had found new wings In the gas-bag’s gray cocoon. Then came the Dawn At the clarion Of Duty to her station; Bade Pluto’s lingering hordes begone And spread her glist’ring hosts upon The chasms of Creation. So soft I slid From where I hid ’Twixt pockets Six and Seven, That none perceived, gainsaid, or chid, And I was there to see the lid Lift bodily off Heaven! Oh, roofless height That beggars sight! Oh, sea without a floor! We drew together as we might At that cerulean panel bright, The Universe’s door! [page 97] No more alone: To the undertone Of engines, sun or fog, And jazz tunes ripped from the graphophone Each talked, or laughed, or sang, as prone And some on kept the log. We munched pink ham And made salaam Before our joint-invader Of Space— a pond-bug boat that swan The crinkled sea for Rotterdam— Like Zenith’s nod to Nadir. Withal I’d quail In hammock frail When hollow night rolled over And cloud-horizons told a tale Of wrath, in fear some ambushed gale Would rend our linen cover. From out th’ abyss, The conquering kiss Of Firmament to Ocean We bore, yet moved in doubting bliss, As air comports the chrysalis Strange to its wings’ commotion [page 98] Flashed far beneath The mighty wreath Of emerald-glassy mountains, Then spice for ice assailed the breath As Shore shook off its Arctic sheath And played its verdured fountains. Then voices— folk! Spark-stuttering spoke The Wireless from its towers. Field, bay and quay to cheering broke As Triumph from her trance awoke To smother us in flowers. Oh, ’twas a trip In the wonder-ship— And none the less romantic That I, the stowaway did sip Elixir sweet to the captain’s lip Who bridged the wide Atlantic! [page 99]
BUG O’ NIGHT
Ghost of Icarus, rise and see This boast of Old Mortality, Called, “Bug-O’-Night” by men that ride In wingèd, sharded, whirring pride, On fateful mission high intent— Invaders of the firmament. What is this triumph, bold and new, That drops its bolt from out the blue— This armoured bug whose buzzing steel Has made the world its terror feel? And what can be the monster thing Provokes it prove its deadly sting? The hate that from its narrowed eye Has struck adown the startled sky Is fixed upon a hamlet small Where spire-chimes to vespers call And Age responds while Childhood sports And Youth to trysting-tree resorts. Its tongue has dartled lightning red: Gaffer and swain and child are dead, The bells are strewn that lately rung And the shattered Cross to earth is flung, And Bug-o’-Night of the Flying Corps Is gloating over one exploit more! [page 100]
A FLIGHT THROUGH FABLELAND
Based on an Aerial Journey Made from Cairo to Karachi (India)
Oh, not by land and not by sea From Cairo unto Karachi We follow the trail of Old Romance— Nay, blaze it, amid the dizzy dance Of stars by night and clouds by day; We scatter the sky in Medea’s way! Old Pharaoh sleeps with dignity As we set forth for Karachi, And Cleopatra lies forbid, I guess, in a crumbling pyramid; Only three boys and a beggar stare At the ship we loose for the glamored air. But the course rolls out, a glittering road Where wheel nor keel e’er grooved its trode. It takes the breath like an open door That slams as we cross its threshold o’er— Two airmen bold with a purpose old As Daedalus’ vans in the Age of Gold. Three boys look up and the beggar begs And we quit the Land of the Dozen Plagues; The ooze of the inundating Nile, The Sphinx and “the cunning crocodile” [page 101] Have shrivelled far under our gloating eyes To mud-pie, doll and lizard size. We fly, we fly, and the helmsman smiles Like a glutton gulping the spicy miles. Damascus throws up an anxious glance As we startle her out of her midnight trance; A buzzard beating against the stars High over the peace of her hushed bazaars. A few short hours and Bagdad’s hive Gapes up at her legend come alive— A Wishing Carpet carrying two Desire-swift through the breathless blue. “The Devil’s in it,” exclaims a Turk And he blesses himself as he goes to work. In a twinkling Bandar Abbas slips Mirage-like under our Ship of ships, With all her masts of dwarfish size To a downward glance from the swinging skies And, pilot, I swell with the birdsman’s pride To mark them over our wingèd side. The sea embraces Abushehr Like a lover, ’tis sport to spy on her Unblushing but lovely in scents and dyes And priceless woollens, with wanton eyes That lazily lift as our shadow blots Her sun, unwist as the Argonauts [page 102] In a day and a half— for Kismet’s kind— The Garden of Eden shrinks behind; Omar’s forgot and we quote Tagore As India stretches her rolling floor, More rich than a carpet of Karachi, Our goal and her gate by the harbored sea. So tread we the sky on our flying horse, Pegasus, Pegasus, keeping the course! In troth ’tis a plane, but we feel him prance As we venture this route of quaint Romance, Over pyramid, mosque and temple fair, First couriers of enchanted air. [page 103]
A CONSTELLATION’S ADVENT
Written while the fate of Hawker and Grieve was yet unknown.
Where is the sky-ship, where the gallant crew, That sped from Newfoundland but yester-eve, Columbus-like to blaze through trackless blue A highway to new epochs of commune ’Twixt world and world? They should be coming soon. Where is brave Hawker? Where intrepid Grieve? So young, so strong, so bold the adventurous pair! Why tarries overlong the exultant car That like an unhooded falcon took the air In a fair weather for the sport of kings, Set its stern beak and rattled out its wings And fix’t its eye for Ireland afar? Green Ireland looks vainly toward the west. Comes there no speck with triumph-broad’ning vans? Blank, wingless, empty as a last year’s nest, Voiceless of tidings as the insensate sun That Occident, his goal— so safely won! Did Phoebus’ car encounter hapless man’s? They meant to cross the gulf of teeming night And hail that unswerving kingly charioteer, Coursing the heavens by primeval right, As fellow-princes of his wide domain. [page 104] Did they presume too richly— dare in vain? The world’s great heart is bursting with the fear. Consult Marconi’s children. Have they word— His little pitchers with the egregious ears, Sensitive, eager? Nay, they have not heard Or shout or whisper from the westward void. Let every art or search be straight employed: “They failed” must not go ringing down the years. Failure and Death were one unto these twain. “Our goal or else the grave,” they cried and sped Like Triumph’s swift evangel o’er the main— The covetous Atlantic that lay still, Astounded like a brute that feels the will Of man laid on at last, in couchant dread. Did the scorned ocean wait but for the night To curl his sable lip and bare his teeth And rally all his forces for the fight? Did he prevail on his ethereal clan, The Clouds, to hurl him down his master, Man, Whilst he crouched ready, ravening beneath? Oh, ocean cannot be their stopping-place! Nay, nay, for I believe the garnering sky Had need of one more glory for her space, Like Charles’ bright Wagon tethered to her poles, And claimed the sky-ship with its starry souls To light the firmament eternally. [page 105]
Companion Poem to “A Constellation’s Advent”.
They have come back! The dead are quick again! Shout, Ithaca: Odysseus has returned To that Penelope whose faith yet burned When the world watching wept, “It is in vain!” Not ghosts but heroes has the abysmal tomb Of Doubt and Dark Surmise in these up-given— Their feet star-dusty from the roads of heaven, Their garments mouldy with sea-bitter rheum. In clothes, not cerements, they walk the street, Back from that seven-days-long eternity ’Twixt chasmic sky and un-horizoned sea, And dear as life is every soul they greet. Oh, kindly seas of faces, hands that wave! Oh, Lode-Star beaming in a Surrey town, You are more precious than Earth’s best renown More fair than letters on a Victor’s grave! Yet ’twas Death’s hand-clasp made Life’s doubly dear. Without that sun-high, sea-profound essay, Earth had been earthy, people haply clay, Hawker and Grieve but men—not these we cheer. [page 106] They have come back who crossed uncharted bars. The dead are quick. Odysseus who was lost Returns to Ithaca, a hero-ghost. Britain has plucked her children from the stars! [page 107]
Tongues of Light
(A PHANTASMAGORIA IN SONG)
The day that seven learned doctors fixed an enormous telescope on the University campus and, bat-like in vision as in habiliments, peered through it skyward toward a dimness of the Sun, in a knot of villagers following suit with fragments of smoked glass, remarked one wiseacre to his horny-handed neighbor, “Hast heard that Heber. the bard, is in a trance?”
Now Heber alone in the village was aware that the shadow upon the Sun which the wise had not predicted, in reality was the Sun’s soul absent, even as the poet’s own soul that day was absent from his body. For the soul of the Sun exulted in light and, said he, “I will now assert my kingship. Each child of Light upon earth shall declare his being: the Spirit of Moonlight, the Spirit of Starlight, Lightning, Volcanoes, the Hearth, the Glow-worm—each shall declare his soul in song before me. And I, the Sun, will proclaim my soul in song.”
Forthwith had the mind of the poet leapt free and whilst his wife, Netta, fingered the pallor of his eyelids [page 108] and placed his harp at hand against his waking, and whilst his erstwhile floating hair clung like a glory furled about his temples, he sped along the Sun’s glistering pathway heavens-high, beholding in space the Assemblage of the Lights, jewel-like in a universe of darkness, and heard while each proclaimed his soul in song.
Quiescence fell on the Lesser Lights and blindness for a space upon the poet as the Sun rose almighty from the aurora of his throne and sang forth the pæon of his spirit. [page 109]
Splendor is mine and power and loneliness! Hast thou not seen the gull at noon With bill like gold and breast like snow Up, up, through the naked heavens go To drop light-blinded ’mid the swoon Of heedless sun-seas soon—too soon? Splendor is mine and power and loneliness! Mine is that palette, the seven-ribbed bow, Alive with colors that change and shine On gossamer wings, on lakes divine, On summits ruddy with painted snow, On cities bathed in my afterglow. Glory is mine and power and loneliness! Do I not hold the seasons tight In leash? Lead on the stars? Man may have named them Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn; but I delight To station each in the curtained night! Splendor is mine and might and loneliness! [page 110] In wrath I scourge and pitiless beat On the thirsting earth till it cracks and cries, Till every cistern shrinks and dries And grass is crisp with fervent heat And beast and man are spent for meat. Power is mine, yea, power and loneliness! But yellow poppies can I unseal With fingers subtle and sweet and mild; Caress the limbs of a bathing child Soft as its mother; gently steal Through chinks of woe to help and heal. Splendor is mine and might and loneliness! So ride I high in glorious might, Lonely as God who made me great, Loneliest spirit of all create, Splendid, exultant, I stalk the height— First-born son of the Father of Light. Splendor is mine and power and loneliness!
Heaven rocked and reverberated dazzlingly to the Sun-song. Then whilst the singer put a silence upon the echoes and gathered his glory about him like an evening, his handmaiden, the Moon, arose trailing her beauty out of the thickened shadows and lifted up her voice before her lord. [page 111]
SONG OF THE MOON-SPIRIT
Mine is the spirit of mystery, Of tears and sweet solicitude. The white moth hidden waits for me To spend his life in one brief hour Before that night-blown mystic flower That dies in daylight rude. I silver o’er reality. Hast seen my foam on frail cascades? My path to heaven upon the sea? Beheld old ghostly histories Breathless re-lived ’neath cypress trees And moonstruck colonnades? My soul in lovers’ balconies Is breathed in voiceless ecstasy And philomel among the trees Declares my spirit to the night— Kindles in tearful pale moonlight The song that voices me. Mine is the spirit of mystery. With bristling hair and haunted throat The tense gray wolf-hound bays at me, High on a rock beside the deep Dark forest wrapped in restless sleep He feels my spell remote. [page 112] The fugitive of the desert night Has seen my mantle’s grace unfold. The empty desert is my delight To people, to whiten, to glorify! Fierce joy in the wilderness have I Though men have called me cold! My slave, the ocean, follows me Watchful afar what time I turn His bosom heaving ardently; But all my countenance must be Fixed on the Sun eternally. So do I shine—and yearn!
The singer drawing her sleeve before her features fainted into a limbo of cloud-forms and whilst the hosts of light yet listened, the void echoed her passing like a sob.
Then from out space behind the universal curtain passionless, eternal, magnificent, selfless issued the congregation of the stars. Together sang they as when the world was formless, declaring the spirit of starlight toward the earth. The poet as one new stripped of the flesh perceived his being swept by that chorus as harps yield to the fingers of their lords. [page 113]
THE STARRY CHORUS
Eternal calm, supernal grace, Sing we the kindling soul of space, The breath of God upon the void ’Mid worlds create and worlds destroyed. Riddle of childhood’s wondering ken, Sing we the destinies of men! Riddle of manhood’s dimming eyes. Sing we the life beyond the skies! Comets may pass and meteors rain, But we and God and good remain! Selfless and passionless, pure and far, Tabernacles of faith we are, Veilèd and curtained and hushed and bright, Revealing and hiding the Lord of Light; For priest, the abyss, for worshiper Earth and the endless ache of her. Poet and savage and anchorite And child who gaze in the starry night Hearing the silent, seeing the sealed, Counting the countless, these are healed Of restlessness and woe and strife, Stilled with the deathlessness of life. The door of David’s midnight tent With Heaven’s gate makes covenant And stars between sing far and wide Man and his Maker unified! [page 114] Eternal calm, supernal grace, Sing we the kindling soul of space, ’Mid worlds create and worlds destroyed God’s breath upon the insensate void!
The chorus ceased not but became the inaudible receding into the profundities of space and the sun that had shrunk in the universe of stars to the magnitude of one of its slightest members, came forth as a monarch waking and reassumed the glory of his presence; the moon that had been engulfed shone palely; and the poet trembling roused him from the spell.
Then came Firelight, ruddy and gentle, signing of hoes and terrestrial blessedness so that the poet drew nigh to warm his hands. And Firelight sang as it sings upon the hearth, in sconces and in the windows of lone dwellings. [page 115]
SONG OF FIRELIGHT
Starlight sings of infinite spaces, But Firelight, I, of mortal places— Fanes and homes and camps where men Love me and bid me love again, Ashes am I when my light is done; Ashes are they when their race is run. Folk and faces I sing to God, Sparks like me of the kindled sod! Out of the heart of the rock came I. Out of the dust came they who die. Oh, faces friendly and faces fell, Faces of men, I love you well! Young choiring faces rapt, uplift; Seamed faces where old memories drift; Hearths encircled with friendliness; Tapers lit where the holy bless; Faces of sorrow drawn and white; The face of the engineer at night; Faces of mates in the camp-fire glow Warming themselves in a world of snow; A face at the window small and sweet When lamps beam down the village street; A painted face by the garish light Of a gainful gate nor straight nor slight. Oh, starlight sings of the Infinite Mind, But I of the face of humankind— [page 116] Of fanes and homes and camps where men Love me and bid me love again.
Firelight small in the limitless confines of space lapsed from the flutter of its flamingo-wing-like rhythm and whilst its embers still purpled and pulsated and the poet warmed his shivering soul before them, lo the drums of omnipotent thunder and the fierce naked presence of the lightning. [page 117]
The swift dread sword of the terrible Lord Lifted to smite amain— And man was dust with the reeking crust Of the Cities of the Plain. I was the angel when that swift change fell, Sodom was great and dread. I kindled the blight of a terrible night, And kingdoms proud lay dead! The swift dread sword of the terrible Lord, Cycles I circled his throne And wherever I smote from that height remote The prey of his wrath lay prone. Ere Might repented his anger vented On Frailty mortal and low And his sword forsook for a pruning-hook To make his tree to grow. ’Twas one with a key laid hold of me And dragged me from the sky, Taught me the path that thraldom hath And the irk of slavery. [page 118] Yet fierce I leap when man’s asleep To ravage and smite and lay, While thunders beat my crazed retreat From Peace-and-Order’s sway. Oh, I was the sword of the terrible Lord; But bent is his blade of blight. As you read in the book, to the pruning-hook That trims his tree of Light!
The drums of thunder resonated and Lightning concluding his savage chant with fiery coruscations was gathered back to the cities of his toil. “So have I seen a barbarian prince led captive”, mused the poet and whilst his yet bedazzled vision repeated the pinnacles limned on the dark by lightning, lo, northward a presence quickened, fantastic, colorful, magical, elusive and glorious as a thousand dawnings magnified and beatified into one—the Northern Lights. And thus sang. [page 119]
THE AURORA BOREALIS
Ice hath a halo and cold a crown Where Phœbus forgetteth his going down To sue at a portal sans bolt or lock, To wait without while the echoes mock The voice of his bidding, the lordly knock Of the sceptre of his renown. I am a queen and an angel bright, The glistering bride of the Arctic Night. Swart is the face of my chosen lord, With terrors masked, with passions scored. Ice-fields quake at his whispered word, But I break forth in light. When Phœbus has left my stubborn door And my dark love doth stand before, Breathless a moment yet I hide, Then flinging my emerald portal wide Glide forth to his breast and his cry “My bride, My bride forevermore!” Only the bold of the sons of man Have gazed on my marital caravan Possessing the heavens, though bear and auk For ages have stared at the glory-shock Of my door flung wide to my bridegroom’s knock, Betrothed since earth began! [page 120] Ice hath a halo and cold a crown Where I flutter the hem of my bridal gown, The moon and the stars in their tents of light Pale as I pass in my garments bright, But glad is my husband, the Arctic Night, In the palace of his renown.
The singer failed like an apparition through the veil of which in the last mist of its visibility the voluminous throat of a form like a volcano poured rumblingly forth its lurid chanson. Head and shoulders above the abyss and elbows wide on the wall of nether chasms, the giant flung back the plume of his pride and stormed the upper fault with his song of terror. [page 121]
THE VOICE OF THE VOLCANO
Destruction is my name, My veins are wrath, My hour knows no shame Save aftermath. Stained is my vengeful hand, My eyeballs red; Prepared my firebrand For quick and dead. Beneath my smouldering trance Lie cities deep, Scorched by my fevered glance In fitful sleep. The torch of Doom, I smoke Keeping my station Till Man and Time evoke Earth’s consummation!
Long did the echoes assail the universe fainting at last in the purlieus of blank Nothing when Heber perceived a commotion of light points as though some far-off nebulæ of the heavens were suddenly near without increase of the earth, fairy o’ summer nights with [page 122] fireflies, and knew that a swarm of the little light-bearers had arrived to do the bidding of the Sun-god.
But vainly the ears of the poet were strained to catch the delicate chime of their choric psalm for so faint was its voice within the gulf that Heber, yielding to the impulse of long habit, sang forth the unheard sweetness for them. And this was Heber’s. [page 123]
SONG OF FIREFLIES
Spray of the moon By the pale lagoon, Fireflies start Where the rushes part— Fireflies, moon-sprinkled, kndle and pass Thorough the maze of the lush morass. Dust of the Sun Though day is done! Feeble and fey Glimpse whither away The little winged brethren of Phœbus-o’-Might, Children, like him, of the Father of Light? Frail fluttering spark ‘Broidered bright on the Dark, Your burden is slight As the bearer of light; But great is your beauty albeit a quip From Him with the finger of hush on his lip. For why should just you Of the shining hosts who Have comforted space With features and face Have will to direct you and wings to sustain When Suns may not swerve from their path and remain? [page 124] E’en lightnings that scorch, E’en Vesuvius’ torch, Flare forth to return Though they struggle and burn The bosom that hides them to flee and resist Fast manacled to the Omnipotent Write. But fireflies flit And the marshes are lit Here, there, by and yon, Lamps tingling and gone While stars keep their stations and garland the night Free, free little sons of the Father of Light!
Then it was that as Netta stood by, Heber fumbled for his harp above his pillow and flashing his lighted eyes upon her countenance, his dream and his reality joined hands melodiously while they, the wise of the University, by candle-light made crooked marks on parchment. [page 125]
THE GLORY OF A NIGHT
A profundity waits in the infinite, wherein abide the creatures of God which yet are uncreated. Petals were there ere they yielded the scent which wastes not though they blossom in a desert. Wings of unthought brilliancy are sheathed there, biding their hour to make His sport in places imaged only, yet unmade. Mountains, embowelled yet, rest in that mighty compass; and unborn seas! And Adam, the red clay like to us though unlike, to be proof against a fall, is Possibility crying there, “How long wait I existence?” In which abyss a clod hung, void and shapeless.
“Be a star!” The Omnipotent Will exulted. “Be a star!”
The clod trembled, its vein ran fire, it blazed till every planet was wan, by and in farther distance; then yielded its frame to the Palm that plucked it forth with unscorched fingers. “Be a token”—so willed the Creator—“hang thou a space near earth. I hurl thee down. This ere I snuff thee out. My Son is born!” [page 126]
The elder stars strained in their rings at this Almighty word, with vibrant rhythm, and all their ordered worlds sang in accord, “Hosanna!” Comets, hoary with æons of haste, came swinging in their orbits swerved while the miracle burned by, consuming flight toward Earth; then swept to join the passionate chorus of the spheres.
Magi upon their way beheld a sign. It discovered to their ken where a Young Child lay, hard by stalled beasts. Above, a Virgin’s eyes. About, effulgence that rose in waves and met, midway, the beams of that new star. The shaft was peopled with angels’ smiles, their hands’ beatitudes, their lips that moved with singing, strong, but not for ears of mortals—until the floor of heaven broke with the weight of leaning seraphs, thronging to look forth.
The air was quick, on a sudden, and rife with song. Shepherds were frighted on the pale Judean hills, unmindful even of timid lambs that bleated to be carried, had roused the town but for the spirit’s arresting voice and comforting “Fear not!” And then they hasted with crook and staff and bowed their simple hearts before the Manger—offered their gift in the midst of myrrh, and frankincense, and gold the Magi brought.
The shepherds worshipped the sleeping Child, the Wise Men worshipped, the mother prayed; the angels in farthest paradise rained down their adoration. And [page 127] God on His throne sat motionless. In that swift hour, His universe—was it but Bethlehem—one little white-walled town with cypress spires? Haply ’twas so to the angels. But God said: “He shall redeem my creatures—my One Son!”
Then High God reached and took His star, spilled out its light, and tossed it to the void. Foul fiends upon their mischief, blind to light, perceived the falling of the finished husk; they fled; they troubled hell, telling their Prince: “He’s come—Emmanuel!”
Warwick Bro’s & Butter, Limited,
Printer and Bookbinders, Toronto, Canada.
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