Modernist Canadian Poets
Of Four and Forty Years
6th Jul 2016Posted in: Modernist Canadian Poets 0

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OF FOUR AND FORTY YEARS
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OF FOUR AND FORTY YEARS
By
William H. Wise
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“The sins o’ four and forty years, all up an’ down the seas, Clack an’ repeat like valves half-fed....Forgie’s our trespasses.”
Kipling-M’Andrews’ Hymn. [unnumbered page]

FOREWORD

WHEN the youthful Browning published his first volume the venture, we are told, was financed by an indulgent aunt. The present volume has been put through the press by the author’s indulgent family: wife, children and grandchildren. The mention of this fact will he hopes together with the title put friendly critics on the guard against either predicting a bright literary future for him or being optimistic as to his possible improvement. He has in fact been unable, for reasons also implicit in the title, to give these verses the careful revision that at their best they sadly need. [unnumbered page]

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CONTENTS

Outlook 9
Thanksgiving 10
A Winter Night 11
To Sleep 13
R. L. Stevenson 15
The Spendthrifts 16
A Portrait 17
Ballade of Fate and Free Will 19
Joy the Wanton 21
A Sunset 22
Ebbing Light 23
Estranged 24
The Relief 25
Parting Day 26
Epigrams: Memory and Time 27
Art 27
Portia 27
Justice 27
[unnumbered page]
Epigrams: The Better Part? 28
Exceptional 28
Peace or Joy 28
Rondeau: Since She’s so Fair 29
Sonnets: Sleepless 30
The Shadow 31
The Harper 32
Time and Tide 33
Destiny 34
Broken for Us 36
A Psalm 37
An Old Story Re-Told 40
The River Flood 42
The Old Man’s Tale 50
To My Father 53
War Time: The Expeditionary Forces 54
Unnamed 56
In His Hand 57
Envoy 58
[unnumbered page]

OUTLOOK

God sometimes lets you stand with Him
   And, hardly less unmoved than He,
Look out on life and all the grim
   But kindly ways of Destiny.

With every heart’s desire subdued,
   You see Death’s gracious smile, and gain
A sense of Nature’s motherhood
   Behind the ruses fear and pain/

You see where still, in man’s despite,
   Too swift for thought, to sense unknown,
Throughout all darkness and all light,
   God’s sinous justice finds its own.

And then He softly drives you hence
   And downward to the teeming plain
Where ‘mid the coloured mists of sense
   You see the heart’s desire again. [page 9]

THANKSGIVING

If I sit before the fire,
   Brooding till I cannot see,
Just because an old desire
   Struck the rock of destiny:

Spinning webs about the blaze,
   Careless that my eyes are wet,
Seeing all things through a haze―
   Shall I name my mood regret?

Rather, I will render praise
   For old dreams albeit fled
For the sight of other ways;
   Than this better way I tread. [page 10]

A WINTER NIGHT

Fair lucent depths of star-dissolving blue’
Where floats the inviolate orb of the full moon!
And snow-apparelled earth around me spread
O’er towered with spires of motionless pines and strewn
With shadowy traces of a toil fulfilled!
And thou far-shining, snow-enfolded lake,
That in that white embracement lies at rest,
As ‘twere some armoured warrior knight did take
Soft slumber pillowed on his lady’s breast,―
Since not a breath the frost-chained boughs has stirred,
And no vibration of the world is heard,
I seem with you on God’s consummate height
Pausing a-dream with Him! Thus,―thus may Earth
If she perchance with robes washed fair and white,
Come through her tribulations to diviner birth,
Rest ‘mid the untried spaces yonder yet.
Thus do I figure her, her raiment white,
Thus crowned with holiness an aureole light
Her splendour pale and her dark hair star set.
Meeting the snow the dark horizon zone
Is star set and these stars beat beckoning me.
But for the tremour of my breath alone
And their bright signals, this were eternity,
And time by occult charms fast bound in sleep.
Future and past are shadows all absorbed
By the inviolate Now, that floats full-orbed [page 11]
A light transfiguring life, athwart the deep.
The very atmosphere of heaven is here,―
A conscious soul-expansion bold to draw
(Being folded in the fellowship of law)
Strength from the stars, and love which casts out fear! [page 12]

TO SLEEP

Lovely enchantress, I am thine once more;
Work then thy will, yet hear the boon I crave,
For I have breasted long the wave on wave
Of roaring hours that dash thine island shore:
And even here far inland there still hums
In my tired brain their tumult, therefore lead
Me now I pray thee to some hidden grot
Thou knowest of where never murmur comes,
Closed from the path of phantoms and their speed,
Away and where life’s echoes babble not. 

Let in the morning if thou wilt or tell
Softly into mine ear a matin lay,
But now let only thine own self hold sway,
Silence my senses ‘neath thy spirit’s spell.
Even of enchantments make a grave for me
And all my weariness be buried deep:
So shall my body still as marble rest
As ‘twere upon that tomb mine effigy,
Whilst thou as sculptured guardian angel keep
Mute vigil with thine eyes upon the east. 

So would I lie before thy feet and lean
An aching head back on thy knees whilst thou
Over my sight thy shadowing head dost bow,
Pressing my temples thy soft hands between.
Wilt thou? Thou wilt. Ay, even now I feel
Thy loosened hair upon mine eyelids fall [page 13]
Thy fingers soothing langour into bliss
And o’er my forehead hovering to heal,
Thy breath is near me and thy lips seal all,
My life fluttering from me thy kiss. [page 14]

R.L. STEVENSON
(1894)

Blithe heart on whom death’s sullen door
   Swung to but yesterday,―
Scarce seem the bolts shot home, made sure,
   Your steps scarce died away!

Gaily you trod your sunlit lands
   Far round the convex sea,
With bright brave eyes and those deft hands
   Fingering man’s destiny.

You counted life a feast well-laid
   Where love with laughter comes,
Of time a serving-man you made,
   To death you tossed the crumbs. [page 15]

THE SPENDTHRIFTS

We had not chosen love like this,
   If love had choice for fate,
For we have found, ‘twixt kiss and kiss,
   Love more unkind than hate.

Unwarily we wandered down
   The unforbidden path,
The while above that day’s blue crown
   The gods prepared their wrath.

We knew not either hope or dread
   Of what the days devise,
‘Twas but the moment that we read
   And in each other’s eyes.

None moved against us then, save time,
   And time must still deceive,
Who set his swinging sun achime
   With splendour morn and eve.

That splendour of the hours flowed in
   On hearts already full:
To know such joy as ours was sin
   The gods could not annul.

We dreamed of love without alloy.
   Nor thought on times and tides;
Now we have squandered all our joy
   To learn that love divides. [page 16]

A PORTRAIT

At sundered roads irresolute, 
   He stands a loiterer still;
Incautious, only to impute,
   Uncertain, save in skill.

The ash of all the ages’ fire
   About him clogs and cools,
Blown by antipathies his ire’
   Smokes through the lore of schools.

Though bit of cynic unbelief
   To vex the fond devout,
He looks, with misty eyes of grief
   And dread, at thorough doubt.

With half-belief in half a God,
   Nor whole belief in fate,
He testifies beneath the rod:
   Evil exists―is great.

Distrusting man, he finds each act
   But fruit of Self the tree;
Distrusting God he would retract
   And prove man’s will is free.

In doubt if God be good or strong
   Convinced He is not both,
He knows his country must be wrong
   And that God should be wroth.  [page 17]

No higher hope he knows on earth,
   Or music of the spheres
Than this, the country of his birth
   Traduced in alien ears.

With faith in ill unfaltering,
   All else as sinking sand,
He waits assured that time will bring
   The curse upon his land.  [page 18]

BALLADE OF FATE AND FREE WILL

When Winter is forging the chains that bind;
When land and river lie shackled and still;
When you’ve stirred up the hearth and have drawn the blind
You may worry your brain over freedom of will;
But when Spring comes round, with a spray in its bill,
Atwitter with building that will not wait;
When you wake to its song at your window-sill,
It’s a little you’ll reck of the fetters of fate!

If you think love is common to all mankind;
If your blood is cold to a flounce or frill;
If you think of a maiden in terms of mind,
You may worry your brain over freedom of will;
But when a smile warms and a frown can chill,
And your heart beats wing like a bird for its mate;
If kisses are calling you over the hill,
It’s little you’ll reck of the fetters of fate!

If your creed of creation, as briefly defined,
Is “Time is a mill-race and Life is a mill”
And the moral,―”What use? We are grain let it grind,”
You may worry your brain over freedom of will,
But,―if some impudent squire of the quill [page 19]
Shall challenge that creed in the joust of debate,
As you leap to the stirrup to show him your skill,
It’s little you’ll reck of the fetters of fate!

ENVOY

When your life runs low and you’ve time to kill
   You may worry your brain over freedom of will:
But, O heart of love! and O heart of hate!
   It’s little you’ll reck of the fetters of fate. [page 20]

JOY THE WANTON

Joy’s a wanton, light-of-love;
   She will never marry thee;
Prizing freedom far above
   Honour, hope or chivalry,
She will mock thy foolish faith,―
   Take no heed of what she saith. 

But thou lov’st her very dearly?
   See thou then repress thy fervour,
For as courtier thou shalt merely
   Follow in her train, to serve her.
If she pass thee look not after,
   Lest she shame thee with her laughter.

Let her thy disdain discover,
   Then await her certain visit:
Now! Thou may’st, like and lover,
   Lift her face to thine and kiss it;
Now it is her mood to choose thee,
   Clasp her, she will not refuse thee.

Pledge her in the glass she proffers,
   Once,―nay twice or thrice unsparing;
Then, beware the waiting scoffers
   And the subtle drug preparing:
Fly, and swiftly, lest o’ertaken
   Thou to madness sleep―and waken! [page 21]

A SUNSET

The sun fell flaming on the bay,
   And burst among the clouds, and spread
His wreckage world-wide, bringing a day
   In glorious ruins round his head. 

The shoreward swells move soft as sleep,
   Long broadening shadows coming home;
Across the mirrored skies they sweep
   And, kindling, die in flames of foam.

The moon, that timidly afar
   Came feeling blindly for her own,
Now boldly beckons star and star―
   Day’s burning walls are toppling down!

Now crumbled are the shafts of gold,
   ‘Mid dust of purple, mists of green;
And splendours, o’er the world-end rolled,
   Are gone as though they ne’er had been. [page 22]

EBBING LIGHT

As thou the wilderness of life explorest,
   Urged to thy wandering by the heart’s desire,
Thou’lt see the sunset like a burning forest
   Fill all the west with drifting flakes of fire.

And clothing tier on tier of cloud with splendour,
   Veil every sky-rift with a web of light,
So soft and varied, passionate and tender,
   Thy soul on wings of sense takes eager flight.

Now when earth seems the city golden-gated,
   A land to all fulfilment blossoming,
Comes the dank moment when the soul is sated
   And beats to non-effect the sensual wing.

Then follows darkness and chill disillusion,
   In this thou’ret but as other mortals are;
‘Tis thine to breast unfaltering time’s confusion,
   Thou’lt find no night unplumbed of any star. [page 23] 

ESTRANGED

Last night in dream down unfamiliar ways,
   (I must have trod them once),
I talked of him unto himself, in praise,
   But gathered no response.

His silence brought a memory to my blood―
   “Once you were very ill,
And once as now in inattentive mood
   You silent were and still. 

“One praised you then, but you were unconcerned;
   Was it a little thing,
Her love for you?” As at a pang he turned
   With mute eyes questioning.

Then as our eyes met, lo, a cold fog slid
   Between us. I heard fall
The rumbling earth upon his coffin lid
   And woke remembering all. [page 24]

THE RELIEF

They’re here at last, the longed-for days,
   The vanguard of the Spring.
Unkempt they come through miry ways
   Greatly adventuring.

Before the sudden rain’s descent
   The foe is on the run;
Winter has struck his last white tent,
   The long-drawn siege is done.

Gone are his gleaming lance and sword
   And icy armoury;
And where his white artillery roared
   The starving grass goes free.

A rearguard fight may curb our boasts
   But days like these approve
The tiding that Spring’s bannered hosts
   Are all upon the move. [page 25]

PARTING DAY

A day of days, the season’s gift of gifts;
When Earth soft-burdened with her fruitfulness
Turns to the sun as a young mother lifts
Her breast and babe to meet the sire’s caress.
A day that was the summer’s full-blown flower
Droops; for the sunset’s cooling breezes wake
(Night’s sudden outstretched hand) and strike the hour,
Shattering the burnished splendour of the lake
To countless shards of rose and yellow gold,
Violet and silver, russet and dim grey.
Sweet to the brow, but to the heart how cold,
The airs that drive the sails of the passing day!
The stars come forth as fades the western gleam,
Earth murmurs on alone unreconciled,
And the dark waters for the broken dream
Fret on their pillow like a waking child. [page 26]

EPIGRAMS
MEMORY AND TIME

What you esteem but chaff, Time’s winnowing hand
   Shall quickly scatter from the threshing floor
Of memory: ‘tis your pleasure to command
   What worth shall be the season’s garnered store.

ART

Man who loves life (incarnate change) yet moans
   When change bids him and aught of life to part,
Fashions in changeless things, in pigments, stones
   And words, his changeling loves, and this is Art.

PORTIA

Of judges most renowned, but ne’er unsexed,
   Betraying not to equity that trust;
No cobwebbed laws her woman’s heart perplexed,
   Most tender, wise and witty―and unjust.

JUSTICE

Pity my pain, dear heart, whose pity flows
   Unmindful justice only is God’s pleasure:
God pities not: he knows,―God only knows!
   That joy―my joy, whereof these pangs are measure. [page 27]

THE BETTER PART?

Yours the dear hills and sky;
   Mine,―memories thronging;
You have the land, but I,―
   I have the longing.

EXCEPTIONAL

Shall gods who gave so much, let thee
   With all these millions be forgot?
Doubtless, exceptional is he
   Who in his own esteem is not!

PEACE OR JOY

Till lamb and lion lay them down together,
   Choose peace or joy, ye may not harness both;
The race-horse is not trained at stall and tether, 
   Seek not contentment where ye look for growth. [page 28]

RONDEAU

Since she’s so fair and God has lit
Her eyes with love, her speech with wit,
If she be false and cruel as well,
If in her joyous body well
The coward and the hypocrite;
In short, if this or that befell,
Is it a thing a man would tell,
Or marvel at? Or matters it,
Since she’s so fair?

I think we find it somewhere writ:
The ways of love are infinite,
Higher than Heaven, more deep than Hell:
Against the gods shall man rebel?
I deem it better to submit,
Since she’s so fair. [page 29]

SLEEPLESS

Sleep holds no door unbarred for me to-night;
   Still must I tread the interminable maze
   Of memory’s echoing streets, whereof all ways
Return,―return―upon the tracks of flight.
A low-hung sky with never a star in sight,
   Only the flare of thoughts whose brandished rays
   Pluck out my eyes or rake the vistaed days,―
Causeways accursed beneath a wind-rocked light.

Hark, how my words outfluttering from their nest
   Among the shadows, startle night with wings!
   How might not laughter bring what comfort brings,
If laughter might be?―Have we not for jest
   Faith wide-eyed wondering at the end of things?
   Ha! ha! Brave laughter!―Nay, these tears are best.[page 30]

THE SHADOW

If you, too, have a little son your own,
   You will not count it strange that I should keep
   A day in mind when we stole up to peep
(Wondering where all that flutter of mirth had flown)
And found him, with his shining curls, laid prone
   Pillowed upon his toys and fast asleep.
   Nor will you marvel we could almost weep
He seemed,―or was it we?―so all alone.

Know that he now can leap, run, climb great trees;
   But here again on lesson-book reclined
   He turns, disturbed, from my embrace to find
From me and all his world of cares release.
   Dear God! It is so like Thy perfect peace
   His cares with all our love so left behind. [page 31]

THE HARPER

With one firm hand God holds me to His heart,
   And in the silence I hear it beat!
   Yes, round me oft His pausing fingers meet
As fondling the tuned strings that serve His art.
Then, roused again, His folded hands dispart,
   And we resume what He counts incomplete;
   With one firm hand He holds me, and the sweet
Wild harmonies of joy and anguish start.

How rich and strange are the tumultuous tones
   He strikes from throbbing chords of sense! How deep
   And resonant the tingling cries and moans
With deeper joy! Still must I sometimes weep
   For gladness, gazing on cold slumbering stones,
   Knowing at last life murmurs into sleep. [page 32]

TIME AND TIDE

Love, were it ours in love’s enchanted land
   To will the sun to stand, as Joshua willed;
   If when joy’s ripples at life’s margin spilled
Their shuddering rhythm of content, God’s hand
Had stayed all tides, and that full-flood at stand
   Ebbing no ore, had one long now fulfilled,―
   Such golden hours God’s stardust could but gild,
Dumb were this clear strong music down the strand.

No, time turns on; the swift refluent tide
   Draws to the deep from whence as certainly
It rose, and shall again, again to hide
   The wonder here vouched-safe to you and me,
Of starlit lonely darkling sands spread wide,
   Wild sounding rivulets of tears made free. [page 33]

DESTINY

Doubt not that, though invisible to thee,
   Unearthy souls encompass all thy ways.
   These thou wouldst measure with thy puny phrase
Unskilled, “Coincidence”, “Fortuity”,
Because thy backward look may only see
   The shadow of their passing, not the blaze
   Of that approach which urges on thy days
Through light and darkness to thy destiny.

Yet doubt not thine own greatness; thou are shod
   And winged as these, all flames of Him the fire.
Beside the furnace of thine own desire
   Thou art the potter o’er thine own clay-clod.
‘Tis fashioned as thy love and faith require,
   Yes, if thou dare believe it thou art God. [page 34]

[page 35, includes illustration]

BROKEN FOR US

   This sonnet became very obscure in an effort to express something that would require an essay.
   A single musical note is in itself nothing. Only the extension of one note into combination with other notes can make music; sow with the things of life, its joy and sorrows. They are of themselves often meaningless, seemingly broken or tragically futile. It is their relation to one another that creates the music of the sphere or what Goëthe calls the “eternal fitness of things” or Kipling “that lovely truth the careless angels know”. 
You say life seems a thing of flaws and chips
   Of ragged shards and oozings of spilled wine
   As though long since a cup of rare design
Charged with such vintage as the Godhead sips
Were sntached or flung in anger from His lips;
   Still may we trace the handiwork divine
   Aching with severance, still the fragments shine,
Where the not-all-polluted purple drips.

You say that God with wistful memory strives
   The long-lost perfect pattern to restore.
Nay, count not life so common, for our lives
   Are of the eternal. That which the Most High
Could share not, He has broken on Time’s floor,
   Where Life grows lovely, knowing it must die. [page 36]

A PSALM
I

I cried unto the Lord: Vouchsafe a keyword
   Or sign, to read Thy fearful riddle by,
To one that, on a long shore looking seaward,
   Sees only night beneath a low blind sky.

Seems here not either guide or guard or warder,
   Only the troubled void where heave and writhe
Billows, that whitening on the dark disorder,
   Swing ever shoreward like a ghostly scythe. 

Came answer: “I-I Am, the All-Creator;
   That I have made was, is and shall be good;
In me nor high nor low, now less nor greater,
   Passion I know not, nor the passing mood,

Seek no to know me for your curious pleasure,
   I am revealed according to your needs;
All space I hold as ‘twere a little measure,
   And time―I tell it like a string of beads.

While ye make finite gods to please your fancies,
   To me your ears are stopped, your eyes are blind;
Till washed with tears, the seeking eye of man sees
   His god obey the larger god behind. [page 37]

The toil of countless suns through planets seething,
   Yea all the toil wherewith the suns are made,
In me is less than is the even breathing
   Of one that worship in the temple’s shade.

Action and rest in me are on and single,
   As wave and trough and trough and wave are one.
In me as in the solar ray commingle
   The colours seven of which your dreams are spun.

Before ye were, I knew your joys and sorrows,
   I heard your prayers and savoured  of your praise;
So your bright yesterdays and dark to-morrows
   Are but bright morrows and dark yesterdays.

II

Call not on me unless ye call for justice,
   Plead not your lusts and longings, hopes and fears;
But if in mine integrity your trust is,
   Enter my house and sit among your peers.

Do not with pious protestations labour
   Your tale of injury done; be not afraid
That being wronged, or having wronged a neighbour,
   That debt shall not be most exactly paid. [page 38]

If it be coin thou owest, see thy payment
   Be timely, of full count and metal good,
Lest with regret thou learn that thy delay meant
   Compounded interest of tears and blood.

Or if in thy default I pay the lender―
   Since ‘tis my care no lender goes unpaid―
See thou with haste thy restitution render,
   Searching with zeal for such as need thy aid.

Not always kind for kind ye pay though mostly;
   For bankrupt body, mind must pay the toll,
And mind insolvent lapses to the ghostly
   Final and dread accounting of the soul.

III

By this are named all they that have the vision,
   And are not merely booklearned in belief;
They know my law observes the same precision 
   In a star’s orbit or a lover’s grief.

These have bought freedom from the nameless terror
   With a great price their childhood’s formless faith;
For them no fiend takes form ‘mid fumes of error,
   They woo not comfort from the twilight wraith.

They know the night and night’s swift flying arrow,
   I gave them life that thrives abhorring death,
Nevertheless they know there falls no sparrow
   Without me, and my arms are underneath. [page 39]

AN OLD STORY RETOLD

There was once that St. Peter was resting
   Beside the great High Road,
When there came round to jostle the weary apostle
   Ten travellers each bearing his load.

Said the first: “I’m a man and no weakling,
   I am willing to shoulder my share,
But my cause for disgust is,―the glaring injustice
   That gives me this burden to bear.”

Then a second man motioned St. Peter
   Aside: he was so, and was such,
And for his part was willing,―but this thing was killing,
   ‘Twasn’t his!‘Twasn’t fair!‘Twas too much!

And the third and fourth made their speeches.
   Said the saint, “I am anxious to learn;
But cease blowing bubbles, let’s come to your troubles,
   Seven others are waiting their turn!”

To the ninth cried St. Peter in anger:
   “Since I’m fond of short stories and rhymes
Will you on forever? Is that one so clever
   You must make a man hear it ten times?”

Said the tenth: “Can’t you see? Make things equal [page 40]
   Give each but his share and no more.”
Quoth Peter: “I can see! Is that what you fancy?
   Why didn’t you say so before?

“Well, since ye have done me the honour
   And are ready to do what is fair,
Leave your packs in my keeping and while I am sleeping
   Choose the one you are willing to bear.

“You will find all kinds on the highway;
   I’ll see that no man shall refuse,
And the burden ye borrow ‘twixt now and tomorrow
   Shall be yours to have and to use.”

They dropped their packs on the roadside,
   And plunged ‘mid the throng in their quest;
Each keen as a lover to seek and discover
   The burden that suited him best.

And St. Peter slept till the morning
   And woke to the sound of a voice:
“We just wished to say, sir: we’d wish you Good day, sire,
   We have found the load of our choice.”

“That is well,” yawned St. Peter, still weary,
   But he smiled and then sighed when they’d gone.
“Paul thinks,” he said sadly, “we should suffer ‘em gladly”―
   For each had come back for his own. [page 41]

THE RIVER FLOOD

Since hate was love’s shadow since time began
   And God gave the snake with the dove,
Shall anyone say how a man with a man
   May contend for the woman they love?
For she’s oftener won by a sword than a  song,
   And she treads what lies in her path;
She who yields her heart to the swift and strong
   And gives to him that hath.

Last night the ice-jam broke with the crash
   Of belching guns; by noon
The river banks are still awash,
   And blocks of ice are strewn
Far out on the fields, on either side,―
Like a battle’s dead, where some headlong ride
   Has broken the ranks of the foe―
And ice and wreckage crowd down with the tide,
The brown, dishevelled, exultant tide,
   To the falls, a mile below. [page 42]

There’ll be work for young carpenter Rob this day!
   From the door by his bench there’s a view,
Up to the long straight river-reach, away
   To the bridge, which hangs askew.
There are scantlings and planks that lean twisted apart,
And beams that are lifted and shifted athwart,
   And hardly a post stands plumb;
But work gives ease to an aching heart,
And the song of the tools will lighten the heart;―
   But why does the song fall dumb? 

It is Laura leading her horse around
   To the farrier’s forge to be shod;
Laura the queenliest girl uncrowned
   With the form to mate with a god.
She has eyes that will light to love or a jest,
And her throat and brow are the comeliest
   That ever were freckled and tanned;
And it’s Rob that has held that brow to his breast 
And one kiss that she gave has left that in his breast
   Which burns like desert sand.

She flashes a smile at Rob in the gloom
   Of his shop as she passes by,―
But when Laura’s cheeks is all abloom
   Big Ralph  is somewhere nigh.
Rob knows it well, and his wounded joy
   Cries out in a jealous throe:
“I could kill the man that should count her a toy,
Yet she counts herself but a trifler’s toy,―
   Or cannot a woman know?” [page 43]

Fiercely he turns to his work again
   And will over passion prevails;
I wish, I wi-sh-sh is the plaint of his plane,
   ‘Tis the hammer that damns the nails!
Through a torrent of anger and scorn and regret
He strives for an hour with his teeth hard set,
   (‘Tis the damp pine sobs and moans
To the rip-saw’s scoffing cough) till the sweat
Drips, drips from his face and he laughs, I’ll sweat
   This fever out of my bones.”

One hour has gone and erect stands Rob
   The finished work to scan:
“It took a man to make that job,
   And the job to make a man!
O, God! I’m not of the sort to shirk
   What’s given to me and when,
But so long as it lasts give me plenty o’work,―
While I cannot forget her, God give me work,
   And I’ll play the man. Amen.” 

“And what comes next?” He looks from his door
   At the landscape littered and wet;
To-morrow the bridge if the water’s lower―”
   On a sudden his eyes are set
On something that moves;―’tis a galloping horse!―
   ‘Tis Laura’s horse!―and she!―
That rides like a storm o’er the plashy course;
Is she holding back or urging her course?
   Rob shades his eyes to see. [page 44]

She must need his help, or why does she ride
   With neither rest nor reck,
With neither saddle nor bit and astride
   With her breast to her horses’s neck?
If she needs his help?―the thought is kind―
She needs him! Her voice comes down the wind
   With the thresh of her horse’s hooves;
She cannot turn or look behind,
But she trails a pointing hand behind,―
   But there’s none that follows or moves.

Naught moves save the ice-choked stream; that drives
   In a panic where none may lag,―
Ah! there where the grey ice jostles and strives,
   Like wolves about a stag,
Is a log that tramples and shoulders the throng,
And leaps like a driven stag still strong,
   From under the bridge’s span,
And now in mid-current comes racing along
Down the river reach which is wide and long,
   And there clings to the log―a man!

And it’s who? No time―no need to say,
   Though its over-far for the eye;
But when Laura’s cheek is as white as whey
   Big Ralph is somewhere nigh.
And it’s not for a workman to waste his breath
   When work’s to be swiftly planned;
A glance at the racing river of death,
At love and hate and the fear of death,
   And he’s taken the work in hand. [page 45]

He has bent a rope round the willow tree
   Ere Laura has leaped to the ground;
“O, Rob! you can save him,―you will―for me!”
   He has brushed her aside with a bound.
Swiftly and surely he chooses his place;
While her eyes are bent on life’s hopeless chase
   Of death, that’s away with the prize.
Ralph’s nearer now, she can see his far,
Near, she can see the fear in his face,
   And the whites of his staring eyes.

“O, Rob! O, Rob! You will be too late!”
   But his arm is lopped in the line
And crouching he looks towards Ralph to wait
   As a racer waits for the sign.
On comes the log in the torrent’s mid-sweep.
“O, Rob!―” She is dumb as he takes the steep
   Like a snow-slide after rain;
He is into the air with a mighty leap,
And in boisterous welcome the waters leap,―
   Close, and drive on again.

He is there! And there! He has risen twice,
   His face is showing blood;
He is swimming and plunging under the ice
   Hewing his way through the flood.
Hewing his way like a man in strife
   Single against the field;
As a prisoned miner delves for his life,
As a comrade delves for the miner’s life,
   He toils, and the slow yards yield. [page 46]

“He has saved you, Ralph, if you do your part!
   He is close to you now,―strike out!”
But the freezing dread has found Ralph’s heart
   And he holds to his place in doubt.
Just out of reach and racing by
   While the ice-blocks crowd and clog,―
When Rob lifts a sudden hand on high,
And whirling the loop of the rope on high,
   Has flung it over Ralph’s log.

Laura is torn ‘twixt horror and hope,
   By passions too swift for thought,
As she sees Ralph clutch at the slipping rope
   And plunge as it straightens taut.
It’s Ralph turn now! If he’s quick! If he tries!
   “Get Rob before he is down!
Give a hand to Rob! Are you mad?” she cries.
As Ralph swings to the bank alone she cries,
   “You coward you’d let him drown!” 

Huddled and limp but with eyes of the wild
   Ralph breaks from death’s icy hold,
And clings to the earth like a frightened child
   Or a miser hoarding his gold.
But her eyes are for Rob as for Ralph before;
Holding out helpless hands that implore
   Like a wind-tossed reed she is swayed;
Then she leaps to her horse’s back once more,
She is racing the river of death once more!
   But who is there now will aid? [page 47]

Valiant in vain Rob fights to the last,
   Bravely he rides the stream;
But the strong man’s hatred of death has passed
   From his face, and his eyes are adream.
To his rushing fate he is ready to bow,―
   When his soul leaps forth to the girl,
For it’s into the river she’s riding now,
And her horse is arching his strong neck now
   To question the angry swirl.

Strong with new terror Rob calls and she hears;
   “Laura dear love go back!
The sweet words beckon above her fear;
   She urges her horse, and for lack
Of whip or spur with her open hand
   She goads his rebel will;
She has forced him in where he cannot stand,
In the buffeting torrent he cannot withstand;
   But needs must farther still.

She is into the water above her waist,
   In its grasp she is losing her hold,
Her horse has swerved in his frantic haste
   And plunges uncontrolled.
And its ill for those lovers the battle fares,―
   But they ask not overmuch;
They ask for love and love is theirs,
The desire of each for the other is theirs,
   And they stretch out hands that touch. [page 48]

Strong and swift is Death; and a faithless steed 
   Is Life,―its riders thrown.
But there’s more to count than strength and speed
   When lovers find their own!
They have lived in each others’ arms for the breath
   That knows neither  future nor past
In each others’ eyes they see not death,
Lost in love’s light is the shadow of death,
   ‘Tis love lives on to the last. 

Since hate is love’s shadow from now to the end,
   And God gives the snake with the dove,
Shall anyone say how a man may contend
   With a man, for the woman they love?
For she’s oftener won by a sword than a song,
   And she treads what lies in her path;
She who yields her heart to the swift and strong
   And gives to him that hath. [page 49]

THE OLD MAN’S TALE
(Based on an incident of my father’s childhood as told by him.)

Often I’ve heard the old man tell
   His kindly eyes abrim with tears,
How like the rain God’s goodness fell
   About him in his early years.

Father, that spring, took ill; (he’d say)
   Sister was still a babe at breast,
And I just old enough to play;
   Our parents bitter joy at best.

Parents whose care was breadth and length
   Of life to me: in my alarms
They were my refuse and my strength,
   Their arms the Everlasting Arms.

My mind was of too tender growth
   To grasp the mystic Love of God;―
Blest he His name He spared them both
   Till I had learned his chastening rod.

One day when faith began to droop,
   The board being bare, they sent me out
Upon the street to,―troll my hoop,
   And hide from me their shame of doubt.

So down the muddy gutter’s course
   I pranced and clanked my hoop along,
Dreaming I spurred a trampling horse
   That trod the child’s vague sense of wrong. [page 50]

Came I must urge my steed to leap
   The broad-barred grating of a drain;
Judging with care how wide and deep
   The slime, I looked, paused, looked again.

A ha’penny? Smaller―yellow―and―
   It overhung the grating’s edge!
I stooped with eager unskilled hand
   To snatch it from its perilous ledge.

Small fumbling, undeft hand! But He
   Directed it. I clutched my prize,―
“Hey young’un, what yer find, show me”―
   A street-bred urchin twice my size.

And I, unlearned to play a part,
   Had told him but God stopped my throat
And put into my guileless heart
   The rabbit’s knowledge of the stoat.

I turned and ran; my hoop I left.
   He’d seized it. I being winged with hope,
He the same instant winged with theft,
   We parted like a snapping rope.

My feet they did not slip, as sung
   The Psalmist, and without mishap
I reached my home and panting flung
   The gold upon my mother’s laps.

She’d taught me truth and had no fears,
   My simple narrative sufficed;
Then o’er me flowed her love and tears
   As though she washed the feet of Christ. [page 51]

You, too, my child shall know His grace
   As I have known and shall again;
Spread out your hands, lift up your face
   And feel the love come down like rain. [page 52]

TO MY FATHER ON HIS BIRTHDAY
(November 26, 1904)

Still young at heart because the heart is pure,
   Its own wounds washed in pity for its kind;
In spite of pain, still strengthened to endure
   By right of wholesome clean-lived days behind.

With eye still flashing and with ear alert
   For all the hues and melodies of life;
Sharing all laughter not designed to hurt,
   And fearing no one since he sought not strife.

Copy of none, no borrowed plume of grace
   Wins him the love of them that know him best:
For these,―for all that lights his noble face
   We send congratulations and the rest. [page 53]

THE EXPEDITIONARY FORCES

Glad to be going forth, who go
   To hold the nations free,
Blind Arrogance in arms your foe,
   Your comrade Liberty!

Without compulsion and without
   Divided counsels sent,
It shall not be for you to doubt
   Your cause or the event.

Vienna’s pliant dotard hangs
   O’er-ripened to his fall,
And waits the last of countless pangs
   To loose him free of all.

But still the infatuate Emperor-King,
   The Berlin egoist,
Defies the day of reckoning;
   Still shakes the mailed fist.

A nobler call ye scarce can ask
   Than this that bids you face
The huge, but not uncertain task
   To plunge him from his place.

Glad be your going, ye shall find
   The guerdon of the brave;―
The bounding heart, the lifted mind
   The recks not of the grave. [page 54]

Yours be the richest gift of earth,
   The single seeing eye,
The light as of the soul’s new birth,
   To read your duty by.

Ye shall not con our common fate,
   The end that comes to all,
Or long or short your day is great
   Let whatsoe’er  befall.

Your homage yield to life, not death,
   Going, not to die, but live;
Good life that, to its latest breaths
   Is yours to have and give. [page 55]

UNNAMED

If―if these mothers’ breasts have fed
   The France and Flanders soil in vain;
If sires their dearer blood have shed
   To mark the Beast with one more stain;
If where our graves grow sweet with grass
The heel of the abhorred shall pass;

If we give ground whereon is graved
   In deeply chiselled character
The tale of how it once was saved―
   If there the obscene foe shall blur
The writing of their faith and hope;
If earth henceforth in darkness grope;

‘Twill be because God could not rid
   The stricken land of men like thee.
Whose fatuoutous pride would fain forbid
   What feeds not their poor vanity;
If freedom to the dust must bow,
‘Twill be because of such as thou. [page 56]

IN HIS HAND

I have no ear that, now or any time,
   These gorged blood-gluttons and their flatuous lord
   (Loathsome to memory but more abhorred
By sweet oblivion) shall revert to slime
Their posturing malice and lascivious crime
   Unpunished. For God’s armouries are stored
   With occult weapons. More than fire and sword
Are hates and lusts that eat the soul like lime.

But let not sloth with impious faith make pale
   Our leaping blood. We, too, are in His hand
   To serve the vengeance that Himself has planned.
God is not mocked. He surely shall prevail.
   Only forbid the we, His chosen brand,
Broken or rusted in the scabbard fail. [page 57]

ENVOY

Had Fortune lent me time to brood
   On wrongs and woes with proper care,
Not thus should I in trifling mood
   These twisted twigs of crypress wear.

Had I remorse, the sort that tells
   Of silly flappers that have wept
Disconsolate on a cad’s farewells
   I doubtless mightier chords had swept.

Were I again that dreaming youth
   Who thought, and did not think it odd,
That folk who say so, “crave the truth”,
   I’d justify the ways of God.

In short, I often think ym life
   Waits to compel a loftier lyre;
If little done, much sense of strife,
   If little gained, a large desire.

But when I took pens, ink and pot
   From facts and figures for a time,
And strove to throw a trope, and what-
   Soever else makes great a rhyme,

My half-fledged Pegassus fell lame,
   Life’s fever took a normal turn,
And ‘twas not poesy to name
   The things for which my soul did yearn. [page 58]

So there you are! What more’s to say?
   But for a friend, with eyes to see,
Like straws, these trifles show the way
   The winds of life have blown for me. [page 59]

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