Of this edition of Twelve Poems, by Esme Isles-Brown, 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 Ryerson Press, Toronto.
The Ryerson Press
This is the second offering by Mr. Lionel Stevenson, Professor of English, State Teachers College, Tempe, Arizona. His former collection, A Pool of Stars, also appeared as a Ryerson Poetry Chap-Book. [unnumbered page]
The Rose of the Sea
By Lionel Stevenson
For two slow undulating days of wide Bright space, the crimson rose’s glow defied The ocean’s green light on the cabin wall, With its warm garden breath suffusing all The mordant air that tasted of the sea. Then, as our landfall neared, regretfully I brooded on the inevitable end Soon to befall my guileless glorious friend— The silent lapse of every ardent petal From that humiliated crest, to settle Into a withering heap that swiftly must Become a wisp of brown ignoble dust. Smouldering with revolt at such a doom I took the still-unviolated bloom Out to the windy stern and let it fall With brief and secret ceremonial Into the heart of the froth-marbled wake. The ice-green surges bore it like a flake Of living blood amid the white-foam roses, Brave as a cottage light when evening closes Across a snow-bound moor. And now I know That in my memory the rose will glow Transcending all our mortal pains and fears, Undaunted, lovely, deathless, through the years. [page 1]
Life, give me no apocalyptic power To know the sombre caverns of the soul, Or read man’s destiny secure and whole Traced in the ordered petals of a flower. Withhold foreknowledge of the ultimate hour When all the worlds win their supernal goal And the unfettered floods of chaos roll Over the rubble of our crumbled tower. But grant me, life, capacity to see All beauty—upstart weed or hoary elm— Along the glamorous road by which we fare, Grant joy and loving fellowship to me, The rapture which all living creatures share, And no foreboding gloom to overwhelm [page 2]
All wisdom and renown are worth Less than the goal that I have won— To lie upon unyielding earth And steep in golden drifts of sun. Tense fibres now can all unloose, For faithful earth sustains me well; Sinew and brain have sworn a truce To halt their warfare for a spell. Life is a distant droning bee, Faith is the sun’s warm unseen shower, And love itself becomes for me The fragrance of a trodden flower. I merge with earth as if I grew Deep in her breast; yet from the sun The bright rays penetrate me through Till they and I dissolve in one. [page 3]
As homeward through the dark He rides with slackened rein, No bush or boulder looms to mark The trail across the plain. Trusting his horse to know The homeward-tending trail, He lets the flame of thought burn low While rhythm and faith prevail. Before him and behind The distant hills are dim, But near and clear and unconfined The stars are over him.
Tho’ I were bred in some unhallow’d land Where no birds sing Nor random petals flutter from the hand Of timid daring spring; Tho’ never had I seen the regal sun Invade the skies But dwelt in livid darkness till it spun A web athwart my eyes; Tho’ all my life had been a wintry night Gloomy and dense, Yet loving you I should know spring’s delight And dawn’s magnificence. [page 4]
GODS IN A CALIFORNIA GARDEN
They dream no longer of their hallowed places, Nor mourn a banishment, But gaze with tranquil unreluctant faces From lordlier hills, over more lucent spaces, And are content. Their vain regrets for ancient glory, fading From memory at last— Time’s insults, to their dignity degrading— Give place to joy, new veneration aiding To dim the past. For here a valley that is Tempe’s rival And green Arcadian slopes Have waited centuries for their arrival, And welcome their beneficent revival With rapturous hopes. And so the gods exult in restoration To lovely living fanes, Bestowing in return the exaltation Of mortal artistry’s supreme creation That never wanes. [page 5]
THE ARBUTUS HAVEN
[NOTE—The arbutus tree of the British Columbia coast resembles the madrone of California. Twice each year it sheds its bark, revealing a smooth, dusky-red surface. Growing near the sea-shore, it always bends toward the water, often at a very acute angle, in its persistence curving around obstacles.]
FAR from all tumult of tempest, The haven is drowsy with air, And legions of lambent arbutus Have chosen to congregate there. They do not turn themselves landward Nor cravenly cower from the sea, But reach yearning arms to the water And writhe in the strain to be free. Flushed as the flame of the sunset, With garments drawn shyly aside, They wait in a tremulous ardour The kiss of their lover, the tide.
Three strange virtues has the wood— Wisdom, feeling, fortitude. Wise it is to read the lure Sent through harbingers obscure From its mighty friend, the sea, Laying claim to fealty; Wise to know the seasons, too, When to garb itself anew, Sheltering array to spin For its dusky gypsy skin. Sentient feeling it displays If the lightest sapling lays Fingers on its questing stem,— Gently it recoils from them, And enduringly inclines, Fettered by long-perished vines. Yet in valiant hardihood Every fibre of the wood [page 6] Lends indomitable aid To repel the grievous raid Of the keenest axe’s blade. Then the wise and gentle tree Shows its intrepidity.
In some far-off enchanted year, The Indian legends say, A maiden watched her lover steer His gaunt canoe away To toil with fishing-net and spear Till close of day. But never did his paddle stir The calm lagoon again; His labour’s end was lonelier Than that of prudent men; And bird-song and sunbeam for her Were banished then. Whether the rain of winter beat Upon its forest drum Or summer’s minstrelsy of heat Entuned a drowsy hum, She waited on a rocky seat For him to come. The gods approved her constancy, In pity looking down; They changed her to a mourning tree, Still lovely rosy brown, Who twice a year by their decree Renews her gown. [page 7]
THE HIGH HEARTED
Till the end, without endeavour, Let me love the gay and bold; Let me cherish youth forever Lest the world grow old. Doubt and care are unavailing Logic is precious time misspent, Wisdom constantly is paling In bewilderment. Youth alone through all the ages Never falters, never fears; Youth is wiser than the sages, Lovelier than the spheres.
MESSAGE TO A FRIEND
To space the hours apart A flock of birds I send From cages in my heart, Each winging to a friend. A rook with mellow tales, A perky wren for fun, A gull to ride the gales, A lark to greet the sun. Their flight is swift and true, Their song like golden chimes; So from your heart won’t you Send me a bird sometimes? [page 8]
The wizards of science will turn From the marvels of planets and seas; In the hearts of us all they will learn To find miracles greater than these. Below and around and above They will mesh us in webs of their schemes, Computing the voltage of love, Recording the wave-length of dreams. For my love is attuned to my friends, No matter how distant they are; And in dreaming my mindsight extends To summon them all from afar.
My home is where slim palms applaud the sun, Yet under pines mist-canopied no less; With troops of dominant mountains, or with none: Places do not determine happiness. The spirit’s avarice will not be bribed With transient charms that any scene can lend; So my allegiance is not circumscribed, My home is anywhere I have a friend. [page 9]
THE WOODEN WIFE
[Being the legendary origin of the Cowichan tribe of Indians.]
When Stut-zen was sent down to earth A friendless man was he; The elder tribe of heaven-born Refused him company. Sadly he built his lonely lodge, Tended his lonely fire, While all his soul was inly seared With one intense desire. He sound a block of yew-tree wood And wrought with patient care Until three moons had waned above His silent long despair. He rudely carved a woman’s form— In his eyes beautiful— And set a spindle in her hand Enwound with wild-goat’s wool. Beyond the hills Tee-com-it ruled, A chief of noble race, Whose daughter conquered all men’s hearts By her surpassing grace; Yet not a brave had ever won A smile from that proud face, She scorned their courtship, one and all; But when the news she heard That sons of God had come to earth She rose without a word. She crossed the hills, she reached the grove Where Stut-zen’s dwelling stood; She flung the image in the flame And straight-way anguished moanings came Out of the scorching wood. She sat her down where it had sat And set herself to spin Till Stut-zen from the chase returned, Called by the mournful din. [page 10] “Who art thou?” faltered he, amazed, And quietly she said, “Thy wooden wife, transformed by God To flesh and blood instead.” “Not so! I loved the wife I wrought, So beautiful and mild, But thou art hideous. Fiend, avaunt!” Gazing at him, she smiled. “If I be not thine ugly stick, I am no fiend, I trow; And . . . I will be thy wife instead . . .” Growled Stut-zen, “Be it so.”
EASTBOUND FROM CALIFORNIA
After three years to see the snow By moonlight, in the mountain ranges, Gives me the certitude to know Beauty that never changes. The black rigidity of pines With grim and rigid shadows under More truly than all art defines The sorcery of wonder. For time-disdaining certainties Henceforth my symbol can be only The snow-befriended sombre trees In silence there, and lonely. [page 11]
CHANT OF THE UNSUBDUED
Why linger with the shades to hold the phantom hand Of some departed joy that impotently fades Despite your wild command to be your comrade still? Why recklessly employ your treasured hour so ill, Dejected and dismayed, consorting with a shade? And why become a thrall to tyrannous events, Determining to fall before their brutal feet In menial reverence? the helots who entreat Such insolent oppression through agony and fear Surrender man’s most dear and glorious possession. Defy the arrogance by which the present rules And shun the past’s dark pools where futile spectres dance; Your birthright is to rove untrammeled and serene On the supernal hill that dominates the world, Visit the poles at will and all the zones between And claim each dawn’s impearled array as treasure trove.
HER NAME IS JOY
All the world’s dominions render less delight Than the ardent pinions of her spirit’s flight; Undeterred by danger of dismay or grief, Holding gloom a stranger creed than unbelief, Gaily she will travel where the mystery lures With adoring cavalcades of troubadours Till a last capricious venture summon her Into more delicious dreams and loftier, Goal of her converging roads, with star above, Ecstasies all merging in one ecstasy of love. [page 12]