Frederick Philip Grove's "Poems"

Edited and with an Introduction by Terrence Craig

Grove's unpublished ninety-two page typescript, entitled simply "Poems," has received little critical attention beyond occasional disparaging comments. The poems are thought to be unrewarding and of limited significance, either by themselves as poems, or in relation to the novels.

     Certainly these poems are not marginalia to the novels as his stories often are. They are, in fact, focused on an event which seldom intrudes even indirectly into his fiction — the death of his first child, Phyllis May Grove, on July 20, 1927. The typescript is dedicated to her memory and most of the forty-nine poems express the grief of her parents. Thomas Saunders' suggestion of "In Memoriam" is somewhat appropriate, but there is lacking a consistent philosophical movement in any direction.1 Grove's poems seem short outpourings of despairing grief mixed with briefer hopes that his love and her beauty will survive them both. The sense of fatalism within a senseless universe and the agonized questioning expressed by Grove in his despairing loneliness show closer links with Hardy's work.2  Death is, ultimately, the theme of these poems, the child's death foreshadowing and mocking the adult's demise. Grove's sincerity in these poems can hardly be questioned. His characteristic aloofness, his pride in being a wandering lone wolf, buckled under the strain as he struggled for the strength to meet this unexpected tragedy. The poems mark his realization that death had anchored him in Canada, and that he would not rove again.

     The typescript is divided into four sections: "Thoughts," "The Dirge," "Landscapes," and "The Legend of the Planet Mars and Other Narratives." Three parts are included here, "The Dirge" being omitted. (Fourteen of the thirty-three poems of "The Dirge" plus seven of the poems below were published in the Canadian Forum in April, 1932.) Most of the poems of the first three sections seem to have been written soon after July, 1927, and there is some evidence for the suggestion that all had been written and the typescript compiled before 1930. In 1928 Grove recited some of his poems to the Victoria branch of the CAA. At this time he evidently announced the expected publication of a book of poetry in 1930 and, while this did not come about, it is possible that the typescript was compiled then or soon afterwards for that purpose3 Greve, of course, had published a book of poetry, Wanderungen, as early as 1902. At least six other poems exist in the Grove Collection apart from this typescript, according to Rath's 1979 Register of the Grove Collection.

     These poems deserve publication for what they reveal of Grove the man. It has been easy for some critics to disparage them for their poetic limitations. Certainly their often strained rhyme schemes, their complicated prosaic structure and punctuation, and their archaic diction ("forsooth," "anon," "thorpe") invite ridicule. However, one realizes from the sincerity of these poems Grove's integrity behind the authorial pose, integrity which overrides the revelations about his earlier life. His prose often presents an artifice behind which he hid his early misadventures; his poems reveal the mature man of experience who realizes there is no place to hide.

     The typescript contains errors, some of which were corrected in pencil, presumably by Grove or his wife. (Her handwriting does appear on one page.) These corrections I have made in the following text without mention, but the few uncorrected errors have been left. These are usually obvious typographical errors, but a few are curious. There are inconsistencies, for example in the placement of quotation marks, that suggest the typing was done by more than one person. Some poems are double spaced in the original. I have indicated pagination in Arabic numerals; the other numerals represent Grove's own divisions within his poems.

     I would like to thank Mr. R. Bennett, of the Elizabeth Dafoe Library, the University of Manitoba, for his helpful co-operation in the publication of these poems.

Notes to Introduction

  1. Thomas Saunders, "A Novelist as Poet," Frederick Philip Grove, ed. D. Pacey (Toronto: Ryerson, 1970), pp. 88-96.[back]

  2. Grove published an article on Hardy's work in the University of Toronto Quarterly in July, 1932. In it he praised Hardy's perseverance in exploring the pessimistic realities of life.[back]

  3. "To Catherine Grove," 5 Oct., 1928, Note #5, The Letters of Frederick Philip Grove, ed. D. Pacey (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), p. 166.[back]


In Memoriam Phyllis May Grove



Oh that my voice were a stout battle call
To wake sleep-walkers from their work or play —
Or sudden burst of thunder from a squall
Of shaggy cloud in heaven's pale disarray —

Or the deep roar of waves that shake the shore
And scatter spray aloft with shattering shock —
Or the great rumble of mountains such as pour
Fire from their rifts, and smoke, and molten rock —

Or the shrill trumpet that awakes the dead
So that they shiver from their gaping graves
To face a new dawn, dying anew with dread
As heavenly heralds herd them with their staves!

Then would that voice be fitting for this verse
Which I would make a lasting monument
To tell posterity in accents terse
How one man felt whom God had bent and rent.



The Gods

"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
"They kill us for their sport."

Ah, were't but so! Then could I still believe
That there were some sense left in this drear life;
That Atropos, she with the bitter knife,
Knew what she was about. I could relieve

The anguish of my heart by blasphemies
And scoffings against those who sit secure
As lookers-on and laugh as we endure
Birth, life, and death, and kindred flippancies.

Were it but so! I could at least rebel,
Defy, and rear against the stinging lash,
Provoking them to let their thunders crash
And by brute might my impotence to quell.

But it is not so! They, as we, are blind
And cannot see where leads their unled dance.
Above them, dangling, hangs the Spider Chance
And spins no meaning, balm to soul or mind.



Within a lightless cave a sightless eft
That gropes his way along the oozy walls,
Exploring every nook and winding cleft
As he, from shelf to shelf proceeding, crawls —

And dreams of light because eons ago
His ancestors had eyes and lived abroad
Where shines the sun and where soft breezes blow
And in swift streams gleams many a glittering gaud —

And puzzles what it is that shuts him in
And hopes at every gallwry opening wide
That here at last sure knowledge must begin,
That he will reach new insight at a stride —

But every niche, though promising to lead
Behind the walls, proves but part of his cave
Where algous growths provide for every need
With which his appetite and body crave —

But leave the longing of his breast unfed:
The longing to embrace with soul and mind
What this cave is wherein his life is led,
And he himself and all his helpless kind —

And scorns at last the search that brings no light
And curls upon a smooth and jutting shelf
To dream a world not lost in utter night
But moulded to the nature of his self:


Where he exults in such a feeling out
Of the deep essence and the truth exact
That but to question is to banish doubt
And revelation every challenged fact —

And facts no longer limits that define
How far his giant ignorance extends,
But brother-beings, responsive and divine,
And conscious of their own and final ends —

Then crawls again, splashing through pools and ponds,
In eagerness along the walls to grope,
But finds, alas, that nothing corresponds,
Within this world, to dream and wish and hope —

And is a torture to himself because
Within him he remembers the delight
Which life in sight of open spaces was
And cannot understand the cloaking night; —

Such is, o God, man's high exalted state,
The dignity with which he was endowed
When he emerged from chaos inchoate
Erect, celestial-eyed, and astral-browed.

Yet will he, God, go on and build his dream
And in mute censure hold it up to Thee:
Perhaps, when he has perished, his frail scheme
Will serve as model for new worlds to be.


The Rebel's Confession of Faith

I cannot live, a stranger to my time,
With dead cosmogonies, in creeds out-worn;
Cannot receive concepts of the sublime
By which a child-like age was upward borne.

I cannot laud in many a storied deed
Heroic greatness or a god-like aim;
Cannot agree that every anxious need
Finds a relief provided for its claim.

I cannot think when we feel crushed and weak
That our afflictions visit us, a test
To prove us humble, suppliant, and meek;
Nor that all things are ordered for the best.

I cannot worship, in this universe,
A deeply pondered and benevolent plan,
Laid out, in charity, to reimburse
For his distress this writhing creature, man.

And would not if I could. I must decline
Thus to be mothered by a providence
Whose kindness is less provident than mine,
Whose justice is but bartering recompense.

I'd rather have my weakness than its strength;
I'd rather stand, a beggar, on my own
Than in reward receive the breadth and length
Of worlds or kingdoms for a lowly moan.


My needs I'd rather on an anvil place
And forge to protests with great hammer-blows;
The yearnings of my heart I would retrace
In rhyme and rhythm more lovely than the rose.

I would, a rebel, glory in the fray
And labour to my last and gasping breath
To live beyond myself, if but a day,
To challenge and defy the tyrant Death.


After the Blow

Yet still the days go by, a long, long line
Of figures bent beneath their dreary load
Of thus much time; and each ascends the road
From rise to noon, thence nightward to decline.

We try to bid them halt, implore in turn
Each one that comes his final boon to yield.
Each waves the staff which all the figures wield
And which denies what we were told to earn.

Thus go they by, grey, trailing greyer dust,
Stirred by their garmets cinder-grey and long.
Mercy is nought to them; nought right and wrong;
But on they go; they go because they must.

We sit and stare as, grey and in grey gown,
Each passes by beneath his load and sign.
And others rise and rise, an endless line:
We cannot stop them, can but live them down.



Thus people say, "Had we but known before!
"We could have guarded against this or that!
"Of this we could have done less, of that more!". . .
Fond fallacy for Him to wonder at

Who all disposes, good and ill bestows,
And knows that things run from their ancient source!. . .
But if you could, would you expectant throes
Add to the burden of your past remorse?

Is not that past enough that you would pile
On top of it the future yet to be?
Wait! Wait awhile before you climb the stile
That leaps the hedge o'er which you cannot see.

Was it in mercy that He made us blind?
Or was it cunning — since we were to live?
For who can say but it had been more kind
This gift of life He gave us not to give?

We spread our sail on some high glowing morn
To roam the seas no other yet had sailed;
And we came home, bewailing we were born;
We found what all had found: that we had failed'

And that, in sailing, we had suffered things
Which, in the bearing, seemed not to be borne:
That yet we bore them, is reproach that stings.
We tack to shelter, sail and riggings torn,


And hide our heads, bewildered with our shame;
For they that stand ashore had warned us oft:
They too, had sailed the seas and come home lame,
Instead of new worlds, glad to find some croft.

Such is the prescience we are allowed
By the Omniscient; but it we spurn
Till we, in turn, stand at the jetty, cowed,
And raise our warning voice — to teach not learn!

Veiled are the details ever — when they arrive
Is time enough to meet them with bold brow:
That we must suffer is knowledge we derive;
What we find for ourselves is only how.

Ironic comment this on life to make —
A precious gift for which we did not ask —
That, did we know, we should in anguish quake:
We must not know to be held to our task.


Questions Reasked

What are we? Whence? And whither are we bound?
O questions answerless which still we pose
As Plato posed them who could more deeply sound
Such problems than whoever went or goes.

What is this I?
         My body? But I can
Rescind these limbs and undiminished live.
My thought? But I can ever new thought plan
That will to worlds new glow and glory give.

Nor is my body now that which it was
But yesterday before today was born;
Nor is my thought the same; the binding laws
Which guide it now will shortly be outworn.

What is this I?
         Must we still search in vain?
Yet this one thing, the more we search, seems sure:
Whether we laugh in joy or wince in pain,
Something lives in us which will aye endure.

We do not understand that it was we
Who did this thing or that, in days gone by;
Yet do we know, whatever we may be,
In us, somewhere, somehow, there lives this I,

And it is still the same as years ago:
A conscious centre unattacked by time.
Says Doubt,
         "Fool, fool! You err! It is not so!"
Says Faith,
         "By this assured belief I climb
"To heaven still!"
         0 questions numberless
Like waves wind-tossed! Is there no solid ground?
No, there is none. These questions urge and press:
What are we, whence, and whither bound?



Dimly define themselves entangled lanes
Through which moods flit, with thoughts a-wing behind:
Thoughts evanescent which I am at pains
Ere they have paled in clasping wors to bind.

Fain would I lift them from the enfolding gloom,
Poor corpses buried ere they were full-born,
Like infants that have withered in the womb,
Of life's first breath, of its first heart-beat shorn.

Thus are these lines which tentative I trace
Abortive efforts brooding to construe
Which, thus I supplicate, may help to brace
This heart of mine its courage to renew.

And words on thoughts, and thoughts on moods depend,
And moods on fate; and fate none can expound.
Thus shadow chases shadow; in the end,
Raising my head, I have but turned around.


The Spectral Past

Oh, many are the moods that come to me,
Sometimes of hope, more often of despair;
And each unlocks as with a magic key
A chest of treasure terrible and rare;

Where like a magic jewel I preserve
The memory of some moment sweet or keen,
With power yet to thrill or to unnerve
And to evoke things felt or heard or seen.

Let it be love or anguish, joy or pain
Which I revive by this occult device,
Yet do I taste the flavour once again
Of that which does not come to mortals twice.

Thus by a double mirror do I raise
The sleeping phantoms of a fossil past
Which has its limits in my length of days
For mood and memory also do not last.


The Voice


"Stop!" cried a voice from the revolving spheres
As, insolent, beyond man's goal I flew.
"Give your accounting! Long are your arrears:
"Stand now and speak! What is this world to you?"

"This universe?" I said. "A scene too small
"To limit aspiration and desire.
"This earth, explored, is but a deadened ball
"That rolls its orbit, soon to fag and tire.

"A continent gives space to travel o'er
"And fill the leisure of a holiday.
"An ocean is a link from shore to shore:
"That I have crossed it, is not much to say.

"What else were life? I was a rover bent
"On seeing all things that this earth affords.
"And, having seen, I scaled the firmament
"To pierce the air where but the eagle lords.


"And, home again, I'll set up glass and glass —
"To spy into the realms of distant stars
"Or isolate the atom from its mass.
"This world?
         A synonym for prison bars!"


"Stop!" cried the voice again.
         And there attached
Themselves to me two souls from out a throng.
I tarried. Were these two in flight well matched?
They were. Exultant cried I, "Come along!"

And on we flew and circled through the air
Where no one followed; for the nourishment
Which mortal lungs demand was there too rare.
But we soared, equipoised, our powers unspent.



A third time, from on high, that voice cried, "Stop!"
And this time did I tremble; for its breath
Hissed with a twang. Thus does an arrow drop
From off the string when it is winged with death.

Omit what then ensued. It matters not.
We are but motes of dust that flit and meet.
My world is bounded now: a flowered plot
Delimits it, sixteen by sixteen feet.


The Procession

"Mankind is on the march. Fall in! Step out!
"Or stand aside to make for others room!
"We have no time for hesitance and doubt."

   I stop and ponder in the dusk's pale gloom.
They call it progress that from place to place
Yearly they travel faster o'er this earth:
As if it could depend upon its pace
What life to anyone on earth is worth!

They call it progress that with wings of cloth
Bird-like they soar, as fish-like once they swam:
As if with aeroplanes to raise a froth
Were greater than to do so with a pram.

They call it progress that without a wire
The distant speak to them, with nought to say:
As if a voice without an inner fire
Could lengthen or could gladden their dull day.

And meanwhile they disguise their real traits:
Man cutting his moustache into a brush,
And woman mixing paint which overlays
With chalky whites and flaming reds her blush.

They mince along like panders and like whores,
Exhibit masks as if they were their flesh,
And laugh and jest as if their ugly chores
Performed themselves and left them young and fresh.


  Their thoughts they gather from huge printed sheets
  Which in themselves are void and meaningless;
  And he is counted wise who but repeats
  Their inane babblings. What a name, 'The Press'!

  From glaring posters by the road are shot
  These saving gospels to the surging crowd:
"Forget, forget! And seem what you are not!"
"Come, silence kills; but phonographs are loud!"

  Yet, underneath, concealed by their array,
  Remains in some a thought which drills and delves:
"What is at bottom? Why all this display?
"To hide the fact that we are still ourselves?

"And that means worms: with little strength to spare
"For ought but this: to realize our plight
"On this our earth where sorrow, grief and care
"Pursue and overtake our frantic flight

Still stand I in the dusk; then turn aside,
Bewildered by the din, and shake my head.
White gleams a stone: with thee let me abide!
Thee do I understand; for thou art dead.

(with a bow to R.M.Rilke)


Man Within the Universe


Oh, I agree. Who would not stand entranced
When he reflects how far, since Egypt's days,
How wondrously our knowledge has advanced?
We have telegraphy and ultra rays!

We know this earth to be a cooling ball
Hurled from some fiery nebula and spun
Through infinite space. We know its path a fall
Of spiral loops into a central sun

Where core and crust, with plain and highest crag
Rib-grass and oak, mollusk and vertebrate —
This whole and glorious world — will be a slag
To liquefy and to evaporate.

Great is our knowledge, variously compiled
Of how things happen. "Law" succeeds to "law"
And, true or false, all are carefully filed
We can but stand admiring, filled with awe.



Yet of our souls which in this flesh are bound
We know no more than a few fairy tales
Which so-called seers, anxious to compound
A consolation for the heart that ails,

Out of desires and longings and cold fears
Have forged and spread as helps and means to grace.
They all repeat what ever reappears
In new disguise of varied time and place:

The myth of some new life, not of this star,
For which ending life has never been
But a brief prelude, echoing from afar
Uranian bliss purged from all things terrene.

A subtle and pervasive irony
Speaks through these stories meant to make our lives
Appear less shattering to our dignity
Which struggles and, in spite of all, survives.



God, long ago, by kindly impulse fired —
Thus tell the tales — from heaven's window-bar,
By his great fiat created and inspired
The race of men and placed them on a star.

But soon he felt with groans his heaven shake
And doubted of the effort he had spent.
In his great wisdom he resolved to make
A thorough test of his experiment.

He set aside of his own self a part
Deputing it to live the human life;
And, that unbiased might remain his heart,
He was to own nor home nor friend nor wife.

Thus he came down to share our human lot
And preached to us: we must not aim too high;
For fastened were we to one hour and spot
And, having lived awhile, were doomed to die.



He pointed to the lilies of the plain
And to the birds that haunt the pleasant air
That lived and died and did not think it vain
But to exist a season and be fair.

Yet to himself, I think, he smiled and found
An artful means his message to convey
Which after-ages might perhaps expound
In their deep search for what he meant to say.

For he resolved that he himself would die.
"He who has eyes to see with, let him see!"
Thus did he say and then, with rousing cry,
Fixing his eye on death, called, "Follow me!"

Then spoke such things before a festive crowd,
Provoking them, that they, in angry mood,
Hurried him down the street, with clamour loud,
And raised him high and nailed him to the rood.



There, like a common mortal, did he die
And in his agony obscured the sun.
With his last breath he said, "Telelestai!"
Or, anglice, "That much, at least, is done!"

He who came down and lived the life of man,
Himself a God, to make a probing test —
Believe the story as it stands who can —
Decided once for all that Death was best.

And left things as they were. Oh, yes, we move
A little faster o'er this weary earth.
Yet follows life its ancient, rutted groove
And leaves us free to ask what is is worth. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Still shall the feeling of our impotence
Fire us from day to day with new resolve
And be a challenge consciously prepense
To roll through space where stars on stars revolve.


The Palinode


Life travels highways on this swinging earth,
And they are now what they were eons past:
From birth to death, and back perhaps to birth.
It ever travels, at its self aghast.

Yet, obstinate in spirit, men still try
To catch up with the mystery they are
By looping byways, loud with hude and cry
Of science and research. 'It' flies afar.

They have described the living universe —
Thus it appears to their thrice-sharpened sense, —
As if it were a sort of rolling hearse
In which to bear our ache and longing hence.

What underlies it, no one yet has found,
It still eludes their over-subtile grasp.
A cradle rocks us; buries us a mound:
That much they may to their bold bosoms clasp.

Though geologic ages they explore
And sound the way one thought brings forth the next —
Still piling up their inconclusive lore —
The mystery remains a barren text.

For ought we know we still are solemn toys
To make those laugh who wrought us as a jest;
For ought we know we still are but alloys
Of beast and angel, human at the best;

And what that means no one will ever tell
— if then — till his last voyage he has tried.
One single truth can we securely spell:
For eons men were born, have lived, and died.



Stesichorus (traditionally)

Yet are there hours in which the soul expands,
Freed from the thronging press of sense and thought:
When eyes are closed; at rest the striving hands;
And silence vaults the night-hours found unsought.

Then do we soar as in a sudden trance
And seem to grasp as in some steep survey
So birth as death, our twin inheritance,
As parts of the same pattern — yea and nay

Of some vast intercourse 'tween heaven and earth:
Matter with soul inwoven, intertwined,
And one the other imbuing with its worth
Till each seems other: mind body, body mind.

As if this clay lent what but it can give,
The form of clay, the one which we can scan,
To body forth for us what else must live
Unseen, unknown, unsought, unthought by man.

So that, by tracing it, we may begin
Even here to bode the thing that flits behind
And in the curving beauty of a chin
A soul's immortal excellence to find.

And if that form in earthly wise decays,
Yet lives the knowledge that the soul, once there,
But now departed, going its own ways,
Must surely live though we do not know where.

Yes, there are hours when, growing prophets, we,
Conscious of nought but being, placed aloof,
From all distractions and all trammels free,
Know of a knowledge subject to no proof.


The Sacred Death

Sacred makes death him who has done his task,
Forgotten though he be down to his name
And to the features of his stiffened mask:
His life was seed from which new blossoms came.

They say the gods rule this revolving earth
And send us peace and war, sunshine and rain,
Welcome abundance or the parching dearth.
Perhaps they do. I grudge them not the gain

Of praise and high renown from human lips.
They rule but matter, give the body bread;
They feed our eyes and arms and finger-tips.
But our deep souls are nourished by the dead:

By those who lived and strove or sang or thought:
Whose core lies in us as ore in a mine
That needs but pick and hammer to be wrought
Into pure gold and ornament divine.

         (1924. Death of P. McI.)






At Sea

I hear the sounding sea from out the dark —
Not as she lisps or thunders on the beach —
But from the taffrail of a labouring barque
         For which waves claw and reach.

They clash and splash, whipped serried by the gale,
And roll and tumble, flinging shattered spray
Aloft into the sole and reefed-in sail
         Kept up for steerage way.

The stays are violoncello strings stretched tight
On which the wind performs its lilting tune —
That wind blows from the very edge of night
         Or from beyond the moon:

A sibilant whistle now; and now a hum
That drones and groans as driven by a prod —
Thus drones in hollow dawns the rousing drum
         That calls a firing squad.

Close-wrapped I stand and listen to it all
And strain my eyes to see the tumbling hosts
That chase the barque and rise and rear and fall
         And blot themselves like ghosts.

Are these the souls that thronged about life's barque
And pressed up close awhile and sank away
And left on shore or cliff no smallest mark
         To tell the coming day


That here a wave broke, tossed by some vast force
Not of its own? Yea, but for it, the wave
Would not have been, would not have run its course
         Into its swinging grave.

Yet, while it was, that wave seemed to exist:
It rose and grew and reared, its spray to fling
Into an alien element, and hissed
         Its one-toned song to sing.

Perhaps it, too, throughout its breadth and length
Knew glorious impulse and desire high-flown
And felt the triumph of its tossing strength
         As if it were its own?

Who can say nay? For, adding each to each
The grains of knowledge that so precious seem,
We judge all science but a trope of speech
         And wisdom but a dream.

Perhaps we, too, by such a tempest tossed
As rocks this barque are fragments of some sea
From which we rise and into which are lost
         When we must cease to be?

For, as the wind strums through the anguished shrouds,
It mocks and, like a teacher sorely tasked,
It answers not but, mixing waves and clouds,
Flings merely back the questions which we asked.

         (Nova Scotia, 1909)


Embattled Skies

Embattled skies frown down upon the field
That stretches level like a sleeping sea.
Humped, in its centre, broods a single tree:
Low hang the clouds like fringes from a shield.

Thus has it been for hours. I stand and wait;
And nothing happens. Idle hangs my cloak.
Yet do I know somewhere a master-stroke
Prepares itself, slow like a patient hate.

Still nothing seems to stir; but as I stare
And drowse and look, there is of shifting scenes
A subtle sense: a soaring bird careens,
Tossed by some unfelt currents of the air.

And suddenly a dark-grey cloud turns pale:
Thus does a sleeping eye raise a white lid:
Far down at the horizon, half still hid,
The scorpion lightning flicks its vicious tail.



Night in the Hills

The world lies quiet; in the sinking west
A fevered day has slowly bled to death.
Engulfing shadows, like a chilling breath,
Rise from the valley to this wooded crest.

Blotted is all that is but of the hour
And nought remains but the enduring lines:
The framework of the hills. A crescent shines
Low in the sky, above the clouds that lower.

But as I listen to the night that hoods
The landscape with its domes and dipping slopes,
I hear a murmer or a sigh that gropes,
A stifled sob astray in the great woods.

Thus, too, sobs in the night the ancient sea
Stilled though it be. The sun has sunk away;
Yet there remains this echo of the fray;
And wearily leans a shape against a tree.




I never thought a day could be so stale
And drag its weary hours as this one did.
Thus leaves a slimy slug a shiny trail
On shingly shale beneath the sky's low lid.

Beneath that sky my soul, distended, lay,
Recipient of nought but what would steep
More deeply in dejection, grey in grey,
Scarce dented by the hours' reluctant creep.

Now comes, a mere enhancing of the gloom
That was the day, though less relaxed and slack,
At last the night, another day's dark womb,
And wraps all things, eclipsing grey in black.

My soul, scarce moving, breathes like the tide,
Or as this marshy upland heaves a sigh
Which meets the mists and rose but to subside,
Relief or end — which of the two is nigh?



The Dunes

Come, let me sit behind this wind-built dune
And look upon the slumbering lagoon.
This is my life's belated afternoon;
How can I sit and silently commune
With her who left me, ah, too soon, too soon,
And trace her name in sand with cryptic rune.

Who gave her to me as life's crowning boon?
I was the accompaniment; she was the tune;
I was nightfall; she was the day's high noon;
I was November; she, the rose-blown June!
Ah, that she left me so, too soon, too soon!
It seems she lived with me but one short moon.


The Sluice

Each moment is and was; and each divides
What was and what will be: a needle's eye
Through which all time must rush with quickening slides,
Vast though it be as is at dusk the sky.

Thus pours this river through its narrow sluice
The uproar of its floods which, drop by drop,
Foam up and thunder, savage beasts let loose
To wreck what was; and never can they stop;

Then lie, transfigured, as if they had not stirred
And form the mirror of a drowsy lake
Where bathe the stars and gaze at us, unblurred,
As if with looks our yearning love to slake.

What was the future has become the past,
Immovable and not to be reversed,
With stars to twinkle as in silver cast
And lapses of blank spaces interspersed.




This is the coldest and most silent hour
Of all the night, the last before the dawn.
Bare hills and woodlands cosmically tower
About a void whence all life is withdrawn —

Withdrawn into a dreamland of sweet sleep,
Paved with dark columbine and meadow-rue,
With nodding grass and mosses soft and deep
That droop with darkness and with beads of dew.

Yet pale the stars; and into lowered skies
From somewhere filters light. All life still rests;
But yawns and turns and peers with furtive eyes
As unfledged birds twitter within their nests.

Then streams that light in flakes like driving sleet;
And, new created, shelves a breathing lawn
Above the river's steaming mirror-sheet
Where, silver-mailed, the little fishes spawn.

And colors brighten; flutes a meadow-lark;
And sparrows chirp; and rabbits leap and run:
Into the valley, firing spark on spark,
Above the hill-crest, slants the sun, the sun!




The year rolls on; October blasts are blowing
And groaning round the house beneath its eaves;
       Autumnal days have come and are fast going,
             For hours keep flowing.

The year rolls on; the swaying trees are moaning,
And past the window hurtle sodden leaves;
       Autumnal rains against the panes are droning,
             Their dirge intoning.

The year rolls on; oh could time stop its soaring
While yet her memory to our fibre cleaves!
       All this has been but that we sit deploring
             And on her poring.

The year rolls on; was ever time for sowing?
A harvest came; but it was one that grieves.
We shiver; on the earth lie embers glowing
But no cheer throwing.


Indian Summer

This is a day of days; for sombre fall
Has dropped his cloak of trailing mist and cloud;
The light is fluid gold, pervading all;
The trees are gathered up, in prayer bowed.

This is a day to stand on some great height,
Soaked full of silence; calmly to look down
A last time, stripped of self, whence, grey and white,
Rock slopes away to warmer green and brown.

Thus might some Moses stand on Nebo Mount
And look and ponder what he is denied,
And life and death, and God, of both the fount.
Thus did he stand and look, unmoved, clear-eyed.

And I, too, stand and look, clear-eyed, unmoved,
And ponder that which is and scorn the tear
But know this face of mine is deeply grooved
And nothing matters since thou art not near.


First Frost

The year stands poised once more. Through thin white haze
A dimmed sun sends his ineffectual rays

The gliding river curls with misty locks
That rise along the hills like vapour flocks.

In thin festoons there lean upon the air
White-beaded gossamers like floating hair.

And spectral stand the trees with bare black boughs
As if recalling unfulfilled spring vows.

Thus poised, too, stands my soul, of promise stripped.
There has been frost; its winter buds were nipped.


First Snow

Soft-footed, overnight, this snow stole down,
Crystalline vapours of the frozen vault,
And hid the earth that yesterday was brown
With virgin white which knows not flaw or fault.

Like a beginning lies this virgin snow
In glade and wood; and boughs of spruce and pine
Are bent and loaded till they touch below
The very ground with branched and bristling spine.

Like a beginning or an end, forsooth!
For who can tell what life it had to kill,
What but to bury for another youth
To rise again, another spring to fill?

Thus, too, when ends the day, the night begins
And is itself but rest against the day;
And rhythmically, like a top, time spins
And traces idle spirals on its way.

And day and night and spring and winter weave
The pattern of past seasons and past years
While faces rise and fall and greet and leave:
We smile at cradles, and we sob at biers.



This night is like a giant spectral bird
That flaps torn wings against these trembling walls
And fills the startled darkness with cries heard
As from a world that from its orbit falls.
And we sit up, with strange disquiet stirred.

Or like a huge beast with a shaggy breast
That comes with crashing and destructive tread
And crouches down on every sleeper's chest
So that he groans and yells, transfixed with dread —
Then travels on into an unknown west.

This is a night to open dead men's graves,
Confounding living worlds with worlds gone down —
To link comingled bones in fossil caves —
With skulls of murdered kings dead clowns to crown!
Oh for a light that frees from fear and saves!

And where art thou, my child, in these weird blows
Of tossing blackness, thou, among the dead?
I hope thou shrinkest not among things gross,
But that my thought may draw thee to this bed:
I, living, still would shield thee: hover close!


The Pool

From all sides sloped the glades to where I stood
And gazed at their reflection in the pool:
There slept the hills, inviolate and cool,
Their summits circled by a dark-green wood.

So clear and fine-drawn lay that image viewed —
Yes, lovelier almost than reality —
That I inclined to think it might well be
A world inverted but a world renewed.

I thought of her whose years I still relive
And daily mirror in a silent soul
And backward trace to birth from death and goal —
And asked, What else could living presence give?

"Her life was beauty; and that beauty must
"Forever be since once it did exist
"In me, her mirror, whether autumn mist
"Creep up the hills or leaves fall down to dust.

"And beauty, of soul and body, made this love
"For her spring in my heart, a magic flower
"That cannot fade; whose scent this very hour
"Fills me as with a blessing from above."

But suddenly, from the valley's circling rim,
Down ran a breath of wind o'er wood and grass.
The image shivered into sherds of glass.
Will thus this mirror shiver or grow dim?




The Eagles

Three eagles soared against a mountain chain,
Still surging forward, driven by their being;
They flew apace, grasping the air amain,
And placed peak after peak behind, unseeing.

A check to them was never but a spur:
It might retard, it could not stop their going.
Flight was their life; their song, a winged whir,
Let winds benign, let winds adverse be blowing.

They knew as they were heading for the sun
That they were victors; for, the fates defying,
They felt that life had barely yet begun:
It mattered not though both of them were dying.

For with them was the third who forward would
Their own flight carry though they might be falling:
That third one looked not back; like them it could
See but the distance which kept calling, calling.

But that one fell. Then were there four wings lame:
Two birds alighted, flight and goal forgetting.
They that were fierce anon were dull and tame
And knew but one thing: that their sun was setting.

Never could life be life to them again:
Surging forward, driven by their being.
For all they flew apace and strove amain,
They now sit humped and grope about, unseeing.


The Legend of the Planet Mars

He spoke his fiat; and there lived a race
Of searchers after truth on some dim star.
It ever seemed to them they had come far
From some world sunk, some Eden lost in space.

That Eden ever sought they with their soul
And pictured it, a garden passing fair;
There they had lived, they thought, not knowing care;
And now it gleamed across their dreams, a goal.

Much they debated, and they doubted more
And strove for faith where knowledge was denied
Till many taught that memory still espied
That land unknown where they had lived before.

These boldly averred theirs was a twofold cast:
A mould of matter, with a core of soul;
The mould could break and leave its contents whole,
Yes, set it free to fly into its past.

None of them yet had died; the race was young
And very perfect from the hands of God;
Nor did they dream as yet of mounds of sod
To cover those who had done, thought, or sung.

Then one of them, grey-bearded, deemed it best —
Yea, in their plight, deemed it imperative:
For without knowledge who would care to live? —
That some one dared to make the final test;


And rose at last himself to try it out.
And all assembled as he stood prepared
For his great flight, his limbs and bosom bared;
Yet, as they stood, they shook in fear and doubt.

But he upraised his hand with hammer armed
And spoke to them and cried with steady voice.
"Brethern, do not shed tears. This is my choice.
"Here shall we part; but I go unalarmed.

"This token will I leave: you know as I
"That this mould, broken, writhes with its pain.
"So watch it closely: I shall come again
"If I find not what we to find must try.

"But if I find it, I shall not return;
"For who would, having found the blessed shores,
"Leave them and that which to true life restores?
"And after three days' watching you shall burn

"These clayey remnants which I leave behind.
"You shall fell trees and pile a decent pyre
"And on it place my sherds and kindle a fire
"Which will consume them: they are but the rind.

"And do not doubt but that what they contained
"Has reached the land of which our memory tells,
"The land of perfect things, where knowledge dwells
"And happiness by no more doubt constrained.


"And these my ashes gather in an urn
"To be an emblem for our striving youth
"Who cherish life; an emblem of the truth
"That we must die if we would homeward turn."

Down came his hammer; and with might he smote
His brittle mould which shivered into sherds.
The doubters groaned; but like the song of birds,
Triumphant, rose the faithful's cheering note.

And forward surged they the remains to touch
And loving crouched about the broken corpse.
Deserted were their hamlets and their thorpes,
Such was their press, their eager crowding such.

But as night came, they lay about the hill,
Lighted by torches stuck into the glades.
Behind them, in the woods, up rose the shades
And furnished fearful souls with many a thrill.

Then, as in eastern realms of glowing skies
Day broke and sober reasonings restored,
The doubtful stretched and yawned as deeply bored,
And turned as to their daily tasks to rise.

They looked with scorn at those who still crouched low
And watehed the corpse which mystifies and awes;
Then, shrugging, went away.
                                                               And thus it was
Another day; a third day it was so.


At last had lapsed the thrice recounted hours:
The remnants of the martyr had not stirred!
Then was a shout through vale and forest heard
Such as shook ancient hills and new-built towers.

Back came the doubtful, keen to see the throng
As they felled trees and heaped the funeral pile;
Into the forest they had cut an aisle
And still were dragging brush and logs along.

There, on a neighbour ridge, the doubters stood
And sneered and scoffed, a loudly clamouring group.
Derisive gestures flung they at the troop
Of willing workers glowing for the good.

And cried, "He broke his shell; that is the end
"Of such as he and you! We know full well
"There is no life beyond that of the shell!
"End it, end all! The marred we cannot mend!"

Thus they implanted doubt in many a mind
That stopped to ponder. Was it true perhaps?
Did, with the body's life, all living lapse?
Did death, from blear-eyed, make us wholly blind?

Yet, with the fall of dusk, up flared the pyre
And threw its flames into red-glowing clouds
Of steam and smoke which, like celestial shrouds,
Reflected upward, onward, starry fire.


Below, there knelt the reverent multitude
Whose shadows leapt, behind, among the trees.
They called and prayed, bowed over aching knees,
And sobbed, exulting, in the witness' mood.

For who could say that he whose body flames
Reduced to ashes there was impotent
To turn back into life? The firmament
Held many blazing stars with godly names

Of which one or the other might well be
That half-remembered other-world abode
Whence they had come when into life they rode
On moon-beams or across some ghostly sea.

Thus was their ebbing faith greatly renewed;
And they sang hymns, in ecstasy conceived;
They felt consoled and of their fears relieved,
Yes, with new virtue as from heaven endued.

Assembled stayed they throughout all the night
When long the pyre had into embers sunk;
But slept not.

                      For, with faith and promise drunk,
A few fanatics urged them on to fight.

There were the scoffers in the towns and thorpes
Who had refused to share the mysteries;
Loud had their words been with rank blasphemies,
Denying homage to the sacred corpse.


The faithful, weak in their own quaking faith,
Lent ear to listen till, profoundly swayed
By impulse weird and never to be stayed,
They thought themselves called by the martyr's wraith

Which rose and beckoned in misty forest dales
And lured them to the threading of their aisles
And to the search through narrow hill defiles,
The haunts of plover, thrushes, cranes, and quails.

As day broke o'er the star, the hunt was on;
With hue and cry they flooded plain and dell
And drove the doubters over field and fell.
These fled and shrank who had been bold anon

Till they were cornered 'twixt pursuing ranks
And double inlets of the fearful sea;
Where they surrendered.
                             Great was then the glee
Among the faithful rendering barren thanks

For that the wraith, their guide, into their hands
Had thus delivered all the blasphemous crew
Of those who had denied him homage due;
And they proclaimed themselves the god's own bands.

There lay they camped through one more wearing night
And slept not, singing hymns and eulogies,
By torches lit; listening to prophecies
When hoarse their voices grew. Till came the light.


Of one last day and sobered reeling thought.
But those fanatics, knowing what combines —
Though blind to reason, cunning — read the signs
And rose to act, their will and sinew taut.

And they divided all their hesitant host
Into twain armies, one to watch the throng
Of captives taken; one to work along
The forest aisles above the sloping coast;

Where they felled trees and dragged them to the plain
Behind the watchers, closed by crescent hills
From which, to slake their thirst, gushed mountain rills
That joined their mother in the mighty main.

But, knowing well the basis of their power,
Well of its enemy, sun-lit thought, aware,
The high-priest leaders took exceeding care
Not to let thought prevail. And every hour

They let the watchers those who worked replace,
Till, feverish, all strove, driven by the spur
Of vying zeal; the plain rang with their stir.
By night a giant pyre loomed into space,

High as the hills, as their foundations wide,
And blotting, like a cliff, the western stars.
Built in, braced up, a line of jutting spars
Protruded as a ladder along one side.


And to the east, along the watching line,
There were twelve smaller pyres of which none knew,
Except the priests, what they were destined to;
These they had built of resin-dripping pine.

Late in the dusk they gathered countless takes
And willow witches, captive limbs to bind
Once more their zeal had drooped; they worked as blind,
Or as work those in whom a doubt awakes.

Then was the wisdom of the leaders shown.
For they to kindle the twelve smaller pyres
Gave order now; up flamed twelve blazing fires
And hissed and crackled as by bellows blown.

Meanwhile the leaders swiftly had dispersed
Throughout the double host and raised the call,
"Look how our martyred brother waves his pall!"
Well had they, all day long, their parts rehearsed.

Up rose the host and thought they saw the wraith
Stand like a summoner in the swirling smoke.
And every leader groaned and sang and spoke,
"This is demanded as an act of faith!"

Then, like a wave, wind-driven, flooding, surged
Forward the multitude; and each one brought
Or stake or withe; exaltedly all thought
Their fury with the martyr's will was merged.


Soon was the scoffers' courage wholly downed.
They fled and crouched; they begged, implored, and prayed;
And fled again and were not even stayed
By the deep sea; and many a one was drowned.

But those who were not were securely bound,
Each fastened to a stake as to a cross.
Each stake two faithful ones would upward toss,
On to their shoulders, rising from the ground.

Hollowly rang the plain there by the coast
With cries of anguish and ecstatic shouts
Which pierced the air much as a geyser spouts;
Back echoed from the cliffs their clamour's ghost.

Thus many thousand ruthlessly were ta'en
And carried westward to the funeral pile
Which darkly loomed and chill for yet awhile.
But in the northward sky revolved the wain

Its pole suspended like a pointing limb;
And Cassiopeia curled her starry lips
And went behind a cloud into eclipse
Not to behold things monstrous, stark, and grim.

Within an hour one third of the whole race,
Tied to stout stakes, stood bristling on the pyre.
The brushwood all about was set on fire,
And little flames licked upward from the base.


Then, on the plain, to passion fell a truce,
A silence, vast as of abated breath.
The multitude recoiled; for wholesale death,
The second mystery, they had let loose;

And many a one would fain the flames have stayed
That, hissing, crackling, bit into the logs
And inward leapt, like playful tumbling dogs
That somersault, the pyre's core to invade.

And upward, ever upward rose the flames;
And lambent flickered their bifurcate tongues,
And roared as blown by subterranean lungs
Or like a lion whom no harness tames.

Yet once more seemed the flames to pause and choke
As if they halted of their own accord
Or as if downward a cold current poured
And hooded the whole scene in stifling smoke.

Then was there heard a dull and ghastly moan
As of one breath, breathed foul dreams to dispel.
That moan was pierced by one fierce, rousing yell;
And died away as a lost ghostly groan.

It was a second only till a flue
Was opened up through the resistant air;
And upward soughed the flames again, to tear
White-glowing rifts from out the vaulting blue.


No smoke remained to choke the leaping fire
Which stood, a pillar, motionless and white,
And with fierce heat scorched plain and wooded height
Till, all about, the forest flamed entire.

Thus were the faithful in their plain entrapped,
Walled in by withering heat and by the sea.
Dazed swarmed they first; then, frantic, turned to flee;
But had to find that their great strength was sapped.

For in their shells their flesh was shrivelling
Like that of ants that from a burning log
Which long has lain embedded in a bog
Clamber in haste, driven by the fiery sting.

As morning came, the race that knew not ruth
Was quite extinct; their life had been but brief.
They perished, turning search into belief:
Thus had they loved, thus had they sought the truth.

           * * * * * *

Throughout the universe, from many stars,
That night, were eyes strained, glued to telescopes.
On earth, man flashed the message, full of hopes,
"Soon shall we know! They signal us from Mars!"




All life has exiled me. A welcome guest
I rarely was except when I was young,
In some dim past which has, from rung to rung,
Slipped down time's ladder to the sunken west

Where I am bound.
                                   In some subsided sea,
Thus dreamt I, stretches there a continent
Where anyone, if he be so intent,
Can read and con his life's epitome.

This continent is like a moulded map,
But that all things, though on a smaller scale,
Are living forest, field, and hill, and vale,
From torrid zone to the great polar cap.

So that a single glance will all survey
That any living man in life has seen;
But filled are all the stretches in between
With uniform and unrevealing grey.

He who can find it, sees a lucent line
Recording all his aimless wanderings;
With larger dots, like gleaming pearls on strings,
To indicate his stops with brighter shine.


I see that continent within my soul;
And if that which the ancients say be true,
Then means that sight the end; thus they construe
The dreamt-of vision of this wished-for goal,

West of this earth where it is said to be.
Still for awhile must I increase the load
Of age and knowkdge, fruitage of the road,
Till that dim shore I find on that dim sea.

Much of my path I travelled unrelieved
By cheering company; the few who gave
Of soul and heart soon lagged into a grave:
Much have I longed; and still more have I grieved.

Now am I quite alone; men look aghast
When they encounter me; as at some sham
That but mocks life. I know, to them I am
The resurrected horror of the past.

Yet, thus I dreamt, there looms a ruinous arch
On that dim continent's most westward shore:
Who passes through it, drops and is no more.
There will I go to end my weary march.