Of this edition of A POOL OF STARS, by Lionel Stevenson, two hundred and fifty copies have been printed. This Chap-book is a product of The Ryerson Press, Toronto, Canada.
Copies of this Chap-book may be secured from the The Ryerson Press, Toronto, and from Macrae Smith Company, Philadelphia, U.S.A. [unnumbered page]
A Pool of Stars
By Lionel Stevenson
A POOL OF STARS
Snared in the dim pool’s restraint Far from their playmates on high, A bevy of stars glimmer faint Under the infinite sky. This is where fairy folk are, Wise in the earth’s quiet lore, Dancing on each mirrored star, Weaving their rings on the shore. Pan comes from revels to drain Water — star-flecked — from cupped hands, Satyrs and nymphs of his train Murmur of magical lands. Here in the pool one might learn All that the high stars conceal — Why so intently they burn, How they eternally wheel. . . . [page 1] Then a breeze suddenly stirs, Vagrant from limitless space, Glides on the water and blurs All the shy stars form its face. Intimate, mild . . . they are gone; Only the high stars remain, Vast beyond thought they wheel on, Fathomless, cold with disdain. Because I do not love you I can keep My pleasure in life’s varied loveliness Of which, as symbol and interpretess You make my joy more intimately deep. Lovers, when parted, agonize or weep, Pledge their souls’ liberty on a caress, But my delight in you is passionless As the pale morning star, tranquil as sleep. And as you do not love me you can give Graciously all that I desire of you; Our diverse ways will separate us soon, For we must seek strange wisdom while we live: My flawless memories will then be two — One is a cypress tree against the moon. Her beauty is no gaudy transient thing But a perpetual eminence of thought, Embodiment of impulses that spring From inner certitude, with grace unsought; Her body’s exquisite austerity And the unclouded candor of her face Are carven in mysterious harmony, Being the precincts of a holy place; Her vibrant spirit that abides therein Sees life without illusion, having found The hidden way by which the soul can win That sanctuary where fetters are unbound: In her the loveliest elements are combined — Consummate unity of form and mind. [page 2]
The unreturning rapture of the dream Dissolved into a litany of birds Whose bright inhuman notes forever seem Tidings of loveliness transcending words. They sang in quiet fields where amaranth bloomed, A gleaming palace by their song was wrought . . . And then the mind, a banished prince, resumed The tattered futile dignity of though.
Crouching beneath the rain And bent with Age’s load, An old man delves a drain Across the sodden road. A rusty pick he wields With feeble impact slow; The muddy gravel yields Before each painful blow. The strokes beat dull and thick Upon the dreary mire, And yet . . . the labour’d pick Flings dancing sparks of fire.
FOR A POET WHO DIED IN APRIL
All the lovely things she loved — hazel, thyme, and fern, Blueness of the hyacinth above its tender stem — April brings her back to us in their serene return, For she is one with them. Beauty is supreme again in blue and golden days, Beauty rises jubilant from every rood of sod, And she in beauty’s essence now, as once in beauty’s praise, Dwells in the heart of God. [page 3]
The sun-parched hills is dusty, bare, And elemental brown, That decent folk may clamber there To moralize on the town. The heat haze buoys a butterfly — A temperamental fellow — Jigging and dodging he goes by In motley black and yellow. In mad geometry below Gables and chimneys throng, With dull black asphalt strips to show The proper war along For sluggish motor cars to go, Monotonous of song. They carry families home from church To stodge like anything . . . The butterfly in random lurch Obscures one with his wing. [page 4]
ON THE PACIFIC
Beyond the moonset rolls on the sea To where pagodas are, Beyond the clouds whose riven wrack Reveals a single star; For it is day in green Cathay, Noon in strange lands afar. From north to south the marshall’d waves In discipline austere March endlessly with foam-plumed crest, Epaulettes greenly clear, To break no more on any shore For half a hemisphere.
Beauty is fled to isles of blander day To dwell in iridescent gems of spray Where languid rollers whiten on the shore, Or fled to antique fanes that evermore Resound with anthems as the faithful pray. To lands of fabled splendour far away, Far from dim skies of unrelenting gray, Far from the pines that mumble gloomy lore Beauty is fled. . . . A rain-kissed girl with brown eyes clear and gay — Fairer than sea-foam in the sunlight’s play, Than any saint that the devout adore — Glows, like a cool and tranquil flame, before A dark pine’s graven column. And we say Beauty is fled? [page 5]
BRITISH COLUMBIA VIGNETTES
The Hand Logger
Like charging lancers suddenly held back The pine-tree hordes cling to the mountain walls; Their shadow keeps the inlet’s water black Where only the brief noontide sunshine falls. Below the gloomy precipice there creeps A skiff its rower obstinately rash: The ripple fades into the unstirred deeps And immemorial silence gulps the splash. From month to month in utter solitude He toils and sleeps and wakes to toil once more, Waging with sea and forest stubborn feud To dwell between them on the craggy shore. Do awe and beauty come within his ken? What are his thoughts of God and fellow-men?
Where the broad river meets the sluggish tide A dozen winding waterways are kissed To colour, where they slyly lead aside The mirrored sunset’s jade and amethyst. By fragile wooden bridges they are spanned, Arched steeply, leading into pile-built lanes Where you can touch the doors with either hand And hear a one-stringed fiddle’s acrid strains. With deft brown fingers spreading tangled nets Almond-eyed men and women hum a song: It may be of contentment, or regrets, Perhaps enjoying minds alert, hands strong, Or else, perhaps, beyond the passing booms Seeing dead sunsets flushing cherry blooms.
Bound for the city with high-piled canoe Of basket ware, labour of many days, To squat upon the kerb the long hours through Watching the traffic with impressive gaze, A wrinkled klootchman paddles, half-asleep Until a pleasure-steamer passes near And she must paddle frantically to keep Bow-on, her frail craft through the swell to steer. [page 6] Raging she curses, voluble and shrill, The passengers who stand to jeer her plight; She shrieks a torrent of abuse until The mocking sallow faces fade from sight. Then warmth and languor gradually efface The last assertion of her ancient race.
Upon the harbour’s grayness falls gray rain From clouds that veil the mountains to their feet The eye, famished for colour, seeks in vain To trace the shore where clouds and water meet. A grimy tug leads out a barquentine With bare poles bleak against the dismal sky; Her deck-load, yellow lumber fair and clean, Strikes as faint sunshine on the weary eye. Nourished by rain and sun, tested by storms, The timber grew through hardy northern years: Soon it will rise again in other forms Where no rain falls, and tropic sunlight sears; Soon will the ship through vivid seas advance, A moving tower of whitest radiance. Nothing bores me under the sun — Crowds or music or love or beer, All the folly I’ve ever done, All the talk I can ever hear. Baptist sermons are bully fun, A dog-fight rivals a high romance; Zest of hunger and rhythm of dance Are ever novel, are always dear. I can watch a whole night long Orion marching across the sky; Any casual traveller’s lie Chants me a snatch of ageless song; Helpless laughter at ribald tales Freshens my soul like mountain gales. Faithful muscles at last must tire, Moonlight kisses will sometimes cease; Then I’ll welcome the winter fire, Find delight in my hearth-side peace. I shall finish as I’ve begun, Bored by nothing under the sun. [page 7]
AN AUTUMN THOUGHT FROM THE SOUTH
I know a trail whereon my vagrant tread Could feel the soft resilience of pine needles — The gradual harvest of forgotten years — With here and there the crackle of a cone Crushed underfoot. And through the drowsy gloom, Pressing aside the lithe low-hanging boughs, I should be dazzled suddenly, and find A tiny clearing like a secret chapel Full of lavish sun’s illuminance, With a resplendent altar in the midst — A flaring sumach bush. There would I kneel And consecrate that altar with glad tears.
IN PRASIE OF INCONSISTENCY
I pray the ice of pedantry May never lay its grasp on me. I mean to cruise with unreefed sail, That every gust may have its will, In quest of an exalted grail — The splendidly improbable; To throw the compass overboard, Obeying each capricious breeze, And in the log-book to record A hypermetric line whenever I please; To make wild expeditions through All Time’s “dark backward and abysm” Enrolling a congenial crew In jubilant anachronism. Thus unabashed I take my vow And seal it with a solemn word, Upon my law-defying prow To set the palpable absurd. When booty overflows the hold I’ll scatter it till all is clear, Sell trash, and give away the gold — Still the fantastic buccaneer. Thus roving, may I never be Ice-bound by bleak consistency. [page 8]
GULLS AND DREAMS
White ocean birds that seek the land Before the storm — a drifting band Dipping and rising on the gale With wings unstirring, impotent To stem the wind that makes them sail Sideways as if their force were spent, — Against the aureate sunset light Grow vague, vanish and reappear, One moment silhouetted clear, The next, elusive, lost to sight. So all the fair imaginings That fain would flock on futile wings To the calm haven of my mind And leave the stress of life behind Are caught and wafted far astray By that eternal wind of truth, — The breath of heaven’s ageless youth That sweeps the sophistries away, — Till they are lost amid the glow Which finite words cannot express Nor mortal minds aspire to know, The universal loveliness.
A NEW DIETETIC PRESCRIPTION, AND HOW ITS INVENTOR SUFFERD THE USUAL FATE OF INNOVATORS
“The Gods who dwell beyond the sun Hold banquets all day long: They eat ambrosial bread to live For ever young and strong. Each night they shake the tablecloth And spill crumbs overhead, And every now and then they drop A whole round slice of bread. The crumbs are scattered there so thick You’d never miss a han’ful And so I grab some every night To make me gay and manful. [page 9] The slice, at first so round, becomes Diminished — more’s the pity — Because I nibble bit by bit To keep my young and pretty.” Thus Tom o’Bedlam sang in glee And capered on the hill; But when the next day’s sun was high They found him sprawled and still. “He starved hisself, poor imbecile. He were moon-struck,” they said. But Tom was up among the gods Eating ambrosial bread.
THE FOLLY OF BEING DIGNIFIED
Why should we be pale and glum, Careful of our manners, When reeling sunsets come Brandishing red banners? Why should we be so precise, Never taking chances, While the rabbits and the mice Frisk in moonlight dances? What advantage do we reap Worthy of the sowing, That we lie in rooms asleep When the dawn is glowing? Thus we tread a passage dim, Shutting joy behind us, Not obeying any whim Until death shall find us. And when we are laid away Past all chance of folly, Like as not our sons will say “Now let’s all be jolly.” So while there’s a trace of sap Still in circulation, ʹFaith, we should not care a rap For good reputation. [page 10]
WIND OF THE DAWN
Wind of dawn, — Lustily you blow into the Sun’s face, Yet, benign in his majestic levee He takes no offence at your impudent pranks, Jubilant child of morning. From the West, Your playground in Infinity, you come Rushing in mighty bounds across the width of the world; Those jagged peaks, Cold, harsh, and dazzling, Incredibly white in the sunrise luminance, Are but a playful barrier for your leaping; Your breath gains freshness From their vigorous chill. Your western sky is void, But in the East Slight tracery of clouds, broidered of purest down, Curtain the smoke-blue roof — Steeped in the liquid brightness of the Sun — Filmy swaddling clothes of the naissant day. You blow among my thoughts, O Wind. You make them shine bright as the splendour-shedding Sun, Taste pure as your own tonic gusts; I feel that I am as evanescent And as eternal As those clouds, your playthings, Wind of the dawn.
THE LIONS IN TWILIGHT
A surf of cloud with crests of golden foam Against the duple promontory breaks, And flings upon the glass of heaven’s dome A spume of amber flakes. The buttressed peaks, with livid cloud behind And glass-clear deeps above the cloud-bank’s rim, Loom through the dusk, each wrapt in its own mind, Impassive, silent, dim. [page 11] Their eyes are fixed on scenes beyond the world, Tempest or midnight cannot blind their gaze; All wisdom is a tapestry unfurled Before them on the haze. They need not turn those stately heads to see Aught of the changes passing at their base — Since man was not they knew what was to be And what will yet take place. For them there is not future and no past, Both are beheld in one vast changeless “now”: To Time’s restraining yoke of First and Last They are not forced to bow. The two-fold entity in silence broods — Not that with human consciousness it thinks, But knows, without inconsistency of moods, The wisdom of the sphinx The twin crest stand as portals of the years; In their serenity mankind may see A solace meet for mortal doubts and fears Through all eternity.
(Offenbach’s Barcarolle Melody)
Pipes of Pan are lilting low, A mystic cadence blending; Dreamy echoes come and go . . . The pipes of Pan lilt low. Lightly drift enchanted feet, The lissome form is bending, Troops of vagrant shadows meet Before the drifting feet. Just a snatch of tune, Scarcely heard before ending . . . Life’s eternal rune In a rapturous tune. [page 12] All the air is faint with love The radiant nymph attending; Dimly glows the moon above, Her eyes are veiled with love. Pipes of Pan are fluting clear And souls in concord blending . . . Oh! why did mortal ever hear The pipes of Pan flute clear?
Deep in the orient glowing, pure is the moon’s silver light, Like a sublime water-lily afloat in a shadowless pool, Almost the opening petals revealing her heart to the night, Luminous, cool. Ripples below on the ocean, gaily dispelling her beam, Mirror a legion of footprints hasting away from our strife, Trodden by infinite armies in quest of the confines of dream, Fleeing from life. These are the traces remaining after the labours of men, After their visions of beauty, after their hate and their love; Still the divine water-lily, enfolding her secrets again, Watches above.
I must go forth to see nations and men, All they have every thought or done, To make their aspirations live again, Feeling them every one. To see the dim-arched aisles of Notre Dame, Hallowed with centuries of prayer; The Maid of Orléans’ bright oriflamme And Dagobet’s bronze chair; Sinister strongholds perched beside the Rhine, Haunted by sins of long ago; The sculptured visions, tranquil and divine, Of Michael Angelo; [page 13] And all the affluent heritage of Greece, Recovered from the jealous Past; Thus my craving spirit purchase peace, Knowing the best at last. And yet . . . I shall turn thankfully from these — Thralled with perfection as a charm — To seek a lane through flowered hawthorn trees Toward a Suffolk farm. Or else to breast the wind on Cornish heights, And linger where the houses climb From some dark harbor, where the days and nights Escape their shepherd Time. There not in monuments the Past is shrined, Emotion not in Art is expressed, Yet the vast heritage of all mankind Serenely is possessed. Then the transcendent meaning I shall learn Of the illustrious things I saw, In marble forms a vital truth discern, In noble lives a law. Artist and sage the Hidden World have shown — For truth and beauty are its poles — Yet it dwells not in poems nor in stone, But in men’s hearts and souls.
Said one blade of grass to his fellow, “What pity the sky should be blue; It ought to be green — rich and mellow — The only legitimate hue.” “We shall to the sky ere we wither,” Replied the more practical blade. “As soon as our height reaches thither We’ll insist that the changes shall be made.” [page 14]
Fourteen hundred grasshopper clacking, Thirty-seven blunt saws hacking, All Queen Juno’s Peacocks squalling — Noise entrancing and appalling. . . . BOOM goes the big drum, BOOM — boom — BOOM — Solid sound in the writhing room, Pounding rhythm through the din, Hammer — hammer — hammering it in. Under the smoke and the orange light Lips are scarlet, eyes are bright; Bodies sway like willows in a gale, Goaded by the orchestra’s tyrannous flail; Couples cling in intricate embraces, Drugged by the nearness of each other’s faces, Knowing nothing but the drum’s command — DANCE it thunders, and they understand. Somewhere amid the undulating mass Maybe two dreamers serenely pass, Certain that the moment of ecstasy survives, Promise of fulfilment in recurrent lives, Seeing in each sinuous girl and boy Universal rhythm and eternal joy. . . . Thus revealed to their enchanted eyes Pandemonium is paradise.
Bring over here that urn: The ashes of a monk are in it Who sinned a sin For which we gladly went to burn. Wait now a minute; Distract me not while I put in Nine drops of oil That turn from grey to ruby red And seethe and boil: That oil, blessed by the pope, Served as the holy unction for a maiden Dying ere she was wed. [page 15] Where she lay dead I wrung it from her heavy hair Spice-laden. — You do not mind the incense fumes, I hope, Or the sudden glare? I kindle hangings from a Quanzu shrine Stiff with the blood of heathen girls Sacrificed with moaning there, While to placate the idol’s gaze malign Priests writhed in prayer. As the rich smokes upcurls I speak the potent words, above the fire Making the mystic sign. To gain your deep desire Join your will with mine, Send out your yearning fierce and whole. When I have said the spell She whom you hunger for shall dwell For ever utterly in your control Body and soul. . . . Weakling! Why came you here with spirit frail? You cross yourself. We fail. Life's a rag-and-bone shop Crazily assorted — Twisted bits of metal, Lots of broken glass: Man is ever thwarted When he tries to settle Into decent order All the muddled mass. Why should he be ever Bent on scheming, gaining? In the hostel narrow Nought remains his own; No need for complaining While the rags are gaudy And a trace of marrow Clings about a bone. [page 16]