Modernist Canadian Poets
20th Jan 2014Posted in: Modernist Canadian Poets 0
A Quebec Bouquet

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A Quebec Bouquet
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A Quebec Bouquet
Helen Slack Wickenden

The Stratford Company
Publishers, Boston, Mass.
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To A.A.W.
“As one flame kindleth another.”
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THESE are a few flowers which I, a New Englander, have picked in the gardens of New France, during my sojourn there. [unnumbered page]

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Sweet Grass


To Madeleine de Verchères


The Duck Islands


At an Old Hudson’s Bay Post


A Lone Squaw


A Habitant Rug


The Old Knocker




A Gaspé Mother’s Song


The Northern Lights


Noir, a Sleigh Dog


Winds of the North




A Vision in the Burn


Enter, the Spring


Song of la Soeur Marie


Pyramids of Pulpwood






The Singing Tree




The Elms of Trois Rivières


Arbutus Buds


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Sweet Grass

                                              Do you remember?
We smelled it here before, years and years ago?
Its low, sweet breath came back to me, just so.

I walked alone the other night,
Beneath the weltering stars;
The moon shed down its mystic light
Upon those weathered bars.
I knew it though I could not tell,
Like the small lark that near did dwell,
The when—nor how—nor where—
That fragrance on the air!

Again I felt your arm, your spirit wreathed with mine,
Our pulsing hearts were one, as fingers intertwine;
Silent, we strolled along,
Our souls one song.

I found it, like a guest unbidden,
Who, ages, back, knew where ‘twas hidden,
And that I still might smell and look,
Folded it in a dog-eared book,
Then home I sought.

Sleep I forgot;
But oh, my mind could not forget its asking,
What use is all this life,
The endless fretting, struggling,
Death stops so soon our strife! [page 1]

I caught again the odor of the yellowed leaves of grass,
Too unimpaired to pass;
What more could be,
Than to live with one dear scent in smitten memory?
The sweet grass with its mist-like flower
May last beyond our hurried hour,
And when at last man goes to rest,
‘Tis close by grass he likes it best.

The wind blows soft on field and wood,
Come, find again where once it stood. [page 2]

To Madeleine de Verchères

Affairs were growing troublous for Verchères,
He feared the sharp-faced redskins lurking there,
Within a stirring bush would be an eye,
Sometimes, an arrow at his feet might fly.
“I go to Frontenac,
For aid to drive them back.”
So he embarked; his wife was called that night
To Montreal, with sickness dire to fight.
“I leave both boys to you, Madeleine,”
She sighed, and left with many an anxious pain.

“Mademoiselle, the men I had to take,”
Said old Gauchet, “some stacks of corn to make.”
“But why, pray tell, is trouble brewing here?”
“You’re but a child, perhaps too much you’ll fear.”
“Take four, but leave me two,
I may have much to do.”
His look was veiled: “I’ll come when day is done,
I’ve eighty years, yet neither flinch, nor run.”

They turned—there came a shriek like frightened bird,
An awful dread.
“The Iroquois, monDieu!” was all she heard—
A man fell dead.
Swift arrows filled the air.
“The children—where, oh, where?”
Her feet were lead, yet dared she not to tarry,
“Come, Alexandre, Louis.” [page 3]
Inside the fort we’ll be!”
She caught their hands, oft whispering, “Be wary!”
They reached it, torn by brambles half forgot.
A man her kerchief seized, she loosed the knot.

Night came as het as pine trees when snow flies,
“Quick, to the blockhouse both men go!”
Commanded Madeleine, with dauntless eyes,
“Louis, the cannon set and let it blow!
The window holes are high,
But fire and we’ll reply.”
They heard the Indians through the storm and wind,
Alarmed at what the deep guns had to tell,
Prowling about like beasts undisciplined,
While all the night the children fired, “All’s well.”
Once Alexander’s head drooped down, he cried,
Half done with sleep and cold;
A pillow made she of some straw beside,
And with a snatch of song his grief consoled;
“We’re nearing victory,
The dawn, the dawn, I see!”

She knew at light the savage disappears;
Rest, drink and food, for those young musketeers.
For seven nights, as soon as evening fell,
Crept up the foe—
How many fired those guns they tried to tell,
Yet none could know.
When all about her surged,
“Help soon must come,” she urged. [page 4]
Then from the palisades they heard a voice:
“Open your gates to me,
Captain la Monnerie;
I’ve forty men to help you guard, rejoice!
Let him who dare now linger in this part!
Well have you fought, O child of a soldier heart!” [page 5]

The Duck Islands

All jewel-like they gleam—the circling sea
Wards off the mind intruder from those shores,

Those islands are the ducks’! They gather there.
They nest in all the crannies, in the cliffs,
And tree-stumps bare.

What bed more soft than theirs of eiderdown,
Pulled from the mother’s breast with dear intent,—
Most tender brown!

With wafting of a wing, beyond man’s eye,
They glide, uncompassed, o’er the silver sea,
The glaciers by.

Their souls aloft would soar, though winter sun
Full speedily the purple curtain drops,
And day is done.

So when my thoughts seem pent within the walls
Of castles built by some old mastering pain,
And fear enthralls,

These islands let me seek, through frozen ways,
Seeing the eider ducks spring forth in joy,
High and away.

With necks like swords, they follow miles and miles,
Then home in sovereign state, to favoured mate,
Kings of the isles. [page 6]

At an Old Hudson’s Bay Post

          Red on the hill,
             Rosebuds and may
             Wander away,
           Pulling with will
Out of the wild weeds grasping here,—
Roses, in this bleak atmosphere!

          What tale of love,
             Intimate, glad,
             Fiery, mad,
           Had one to prove,
That he, in bliss, should mark this place,
With roses, peak of gentle grace?

           There stands his hall,
              Deserted, cold,
              Part of what’s old,
          Yet, at sun’s fall,
There comes a breath of fresh delight—
Roses, scenting all the night.

          Forest and fur,
              Knapsacks and gales,
              Dangerous trails,
For each voyageur.
But one o’erflowed with tenderness,
Roses his heart’s flame still confess! [page 7]

A Lone Squaw

I have no papoose there,
   On the arms of the poplar tree,
   On the cradling arms of the tree,
   (Bend not to me!)
These reeds no crêche shall make,
Ah no, my heart must ache.

But whist! I held a child,
   Near the leaves of the poplar tree,
   Near the twinkling leaves of the tree,
   (Gleam not for me!)
Some white folks passed our trail,
They stopped, he was so frail.

His hair was like the down,—
   Hear the twigs of the poplar tree,
   Hear the whispering twigs of the tree,
   (Speak not to me!)
His cheek was a wild rose pale—
Are we alone in the vale?

I had hung up the skin of a deer,
   From the boughs of the poplar tree,
   From the noisy boughs of the tree,
(Small shield for me!)
I hid with that precious star,
Till I heard their cries afar. [page 8]

“Someone has snatched my babe!”
   From the trunk of the poplar tree,
   From the moonlit trunk of the tree,
(Ghost-like to me!)
I watched one ride like a flame,
Calling his little name.

One kiss, most dear on earth,—
   At the root of the poplar tree,
   At the gnarly root of the tree,
(Moose-black to me!)
Soft on the earth he lay—
They seized him and dashed away. [page 9]

A Habitant Rug

I have made me a beautiful carpet,
   Leaf of rose, flower of blue,
Here is woven the whole of my garden,
   Rain in summer, sun and dew,
Exquisite buds and blossoms,
Roots of an ebony hue.
Through the constant clicking of heddles,
Came the thought, Maurice, of you.

With you have I walked in my garden,
   Leaf of rose, flower of blue,
With you seen the smile of springtime,
   When the gray silk orbs were new,
With you heard a bird in the plane tree,
   Break his heart e’er away he flew.
Glint of quivering gold in the border,
   Is the light in the eyes of you.

So I sit long hours in my kitchen,
   Leaf of rose, flower of blue,
My hand strays oft on the pattern
   As I fancy yours there, too.
Outside are the great drifts of winter,
   With the stiff, black pines in view.
The children play—they have wisdom—
   But I must dream of you. [page 10]

When the emerald ice comes floating,
   Leaf of rose, flower of blue,
And the river shows chasms of darkness,
   Where the white snow islands grew,
Down the opened way you are coming,
My silent watch to undo.
Then I shall show you my carpet,
   With its garden of joy for you! [page 11]

The Old Knocker

I saw one time a knocker,
   Curiously designed;
A lion’s head, with the face of a man
   And gold wings intertwined.

But the thing about the pattern
   That caught and held me quite,
Were the marks of a lady’s fingers,
Which gleamed like a ruby bright.

There was a stillness in the manor,
   The silent dust of years;
The black pines cast their shadows,
   Where once were joy and tears.

The air was thick with snowflakes;
   Close by a sycamore,
I saw a strange old lady,
Creeping toward the door.

Her Paisley shawl was ragged,
   It blew in ripples three;
Her shoulders bent, distorted,
Her eyes squinting to see.

“Who may you be seeking?”
   I ventured to essay,
“This old house has been empty
Many a weary day.” [page 12]

“I’m looking for a soldier,”
   She talked in a broken tone,
“And a maid, wrapped warm in beaver,
   Over a well hooped gown.

“He promised his love undying,
   Through the snowy mist,
Yet begged that none should see him,
Keeping his winter tryst.

“Then a horn cried out in the distance,
   He seized his long thin sword,
‘I will come again, ma chérie,
   I give you my faithful word.’

“He grasped her close to his bosom,
   His eyes and lips were fire,
Away he tore to the battle,
Her heart wild with desire.

“She turned to lift the knocker,—
   Sadly she hung her head,
She knocked, none let her enter,
Then dropped, as a flower, dead!”

She slipped away with her whispers,
   Like a leaf the wind has caught;
I tried to seize her elbow,
   But before me there was naught. [page 13]

Suddenly, there in the moonlight,
   That over the branches gleamed,
The signs of delicate fingers
   Upon that knocker beamed.

The strangely twisted knocker,
   Waiting, unanswered still,
For a little hand, a pale white hand,
   And a soldier, over the hill! [page 14]


Back, Spring, go back to the silent loam,
For what can we wish of you now that Autumn has come?
All that the heart of existence one time concealed
Daily in dew and in sunshine now stand revealed.

Pale bud, gray bit of the delicate Spring,
Twin of the cricket still young, unable to sing,
Come, tell us that May inarticulate started the dream,
Though only November days show Nature supreme.

Rich corn, full bins, with fine testament,
Old apple trees, with your boughs’ enravishment,
Beautiful vine, trailing glory over the ground,
Under the blue of this sky I give thanks most profound. [page 15]

A Gaspé Mother’s Song

Night is creeping over the sky,
Close your little loving eye,
Running feet must quiet lie.
Ohé! Ohé!
Hush-a-by, my own.

Mid-summer moon is large and low,
The hazel leaves sway to and fro,
Drop your bonnie head down so.
Ohé! Ohé!
Hush-a-by, my own.

Sleep, thou babe, till morning light.
Fisher folk dream all the night,
Of a green gold sea in the starbeams bright.
Ohé! Ohé!
Hush-a-by, my own.

I hear outside the soft winds blow,
The white waves buffet the cliffs below,
Peace, deep peace, on your golden brow.
Ohé! Ohé!
Hush-a-by, my own.

The codfish boats that put to sea
Will pass the rocks, one, two and three,
And pull in safe at Gaspésie.
Ohé! Ohé!
Hush-a-by, my own. [page 16]

The Northern Lights

A hundred choppers’ axes in the woods
   Made earth resound;
One man among them all felt life a dream,
   A Heaven new found;
His was the soul that burned at poplars pale,
At giant pines with boughs that strongly swayed,
At tamarisks with lacy turn and twist,
At fresh-cut logs that smelled of ferny deeps,
The joy of dawn and peace of winter eve,
Where sky meets ground.

Though weary as the rest he could not sleep
   One bitter night,
He heard the baying dogs and wandered forth,
   The trail was bright.
He gazed upon the lake, but all was still;
A silence ominous was in the pines,
No branch was heard to crackle on the knoll;
The burnt lads stretched like death the lower side;
He longed for stir of rabbits in the snow,
Or ermined mite.

The riders of the clouds, the Northern Lights,
Coursed through the sky.
He cast his glance above, then called aloud,
   “I, too, would fly!
I see you, riders, pacing through the clouds,
I hear your voices trumpeting in air; [page 17]
I love your coats of green, your whips of fire,
The glint of silver harness and the gleam,
The scarlet and the purple and the rose,
Like famed Magi.”

He laughed, they kept exultant toward the east,
   One horse ahead,
“On, on, O radiant creature, heaven-born steed,
Earth-bent instead!”
It crossed the sky to that horizon far
Which veils the other lights and worlds from sight;
A Pegasus in truth, with happy wings
Flying, but scurfing well the path of stars
Half hid as in disorder, rank on rank
Now visible, now gone from mortal view,
With clouds o’erspread.

He turned to leave, the motions all were still,
   Empty the air;
His footsteps crunched with heavy tread the path
So rough, so fair.
The darkness, now more black, had many deeps,
The beauty of the sky was desolate,
Like love that proudly decked is swiftly gone
As age its ashes throws; he softly mused,
“Aurora borealis, breath of God,
      A dream most rare!” [page 18]

Noir, a Sleigh Dog

Sturdy dog of the north,
   Black against the snow,
Ready to voyage forth,
   Though the icy winds may blow,
“Marche!”comes the sharp, clear call,
   Provisions, stove, and pack,
You pull them all, through the blinding squall,
Over a difficult track.

Straining shoulder and leg,
   From dawn till set of sun,
With never a bone to beg,
   Nor a half for playful fun;
Steady, staunch, and wise,
   Alert before your sleigh,
With tireless thighs, you fall and rise,
   All life is but for a day.

But after you finish the trail,
   Down at the Nine Mile Cache,
They murmur Noir did not fail,
   They sigh at the long, hard dash.
One would like to pat your head,
   But you sniff for a wolf, or loon,
Or unaware, you only care
For the apples of the moon. [page 19]

Winds of the North

Winds of the North, your moaning makes me start!
Lifting your low, deep, poignant melody
All through the pines that bend their boughs toward me,
You sound like Grieg, so subtle seems your art,
Of splendid heights and wind-swept space a part.
In all the surge, there comes beneath to me
A haunting tune, one thrill of ecstasy,
The overtone of every lover’s heart.
The mysteries of winter now unfold,
With snowstorms twirling many a star-shaped flower,
While clouds must burst, as passions held at bay;
Still something in it all would fain be sung,
Some harmony above the shriek of power.
Can Springtime whisper in this blustering lay? [page 20]


The river ice has broken,
   Baptiste, I wait for you,
My lumberjack, with old brown pack,
   Shoulders that bend a bit,
   Face with lines deep, definite,
   Just looking for a place to sit
And chat, without that weighty sack.

The rossignol sang when you left,
   Baptiste, I wait for you;
The maple flamed with gorgeousness,
   The dead leaves breathed their sweet perfume;
   You stooped to pick a purple bloom,
   I saw your very eyes illume,
And blushed, lest I my love confess.

The ice boats make a pathway,
   Baptiste, I wait for you;
Come, speak again of love and truth,
   Saying as none could say
   The singing words of yesterday,
   And we shall be as birds at play,
Wildly rejoicing in our youth.

Telling the long, long hours,
   Baptiste, I wait for you;
It is that you’re not coming home?
   The rapid keeps a faithless tryst,
   I see from here the white foam twist,
   What boat those black deeps would resist?
It’s his! It falls, leaps on,—he’s come! [page 21]

A Vision in the Burn

I saw within the burn a maiden slender;
She stood behind a rock one summer night,
When lo,
Without a sound she seemed to run below,
Among the blackened stumps,—so still, so tender,
White, like a silver moth in candle’s light—
A nymph, or sprite.

Death hushed the burn; no sound of leaf or petal,
No bird to shake his wings at time of dew,
For play.
How came you there who could not wish to stay,
Yet loved the giant trunks where soot must settle,
As though you hated those red flames that blew,
And surging flew?

Why wandering, with the whiffs of smoke still whirling,
How dared you step your foot on uncooled land,
With unseen foes?
Within the burn the sword of Death still goes!
To veil the way a slow green mist was curling,
Some branches snapped, as beasts prowled on the sand,
And dead hares scanned.

But you were there, my empty heart astounding;
That fair, soft smile, though evening winds were chill—[page 22]
Sweet, And gentle, even to your running feet.
Come yet again, like careless fawn a-bounding,
Answering the murmur of a mountain rill,
My soul to fill! [page 23]

Enter, the Spring

Have you seen the new-born Spring?
With rosy feet that even now are dancing,
With tears unknown and heart attuned to singing,
Bewitching eyes, in which the stars are glancing,
And gay thoughts prancing;
Tempting hearts most staid to go romancing,
With all the vigilant birds and buds advancing,
   Lovely, alone,
   Unto her own,
Though banks drift snow,
And brooks are blocked below,
By draggled cakes of ice that will not go,
When cows too long enstabled bellow so,—
   In bitterest night,
   Enwrapped in light,
In one of those strange intervals of peace,
And fevered nerve’s release,
Straight from the womb of winter, lost in pain,
Leaps forth the Spring, dew-kissed with gentle rain!

O heart of mine, are there no measured days,
No end of travailed ways,
That may call winter done?
No softer sun,
When cycles are outrun,
No halcyon? [page 24]
   Then shall I know an end of troubled fear,
   And midnights drear,
   Great winds severe,
My longing soul shall wake to love and mirth,
Reborn, I shall see Heaven on this earth. [page 25]

Song of la Soueur Marie

You think it strange that I’m in love with life,
   I, who so longed to shroud myself and die?
To me there came the rain and sun and wind,
   And Spring’s sweet things that bitter death belie.
         O budding branch, you know!

You think it strange that I wish lovers yearn?
   Ah, but you never saw Jean’s golden smile,
When first he touched my lips, though even then
   My heart was all aflame with God, the while.
          O fiery stars, you know!

You think it strange that I press to my heart
   Such ragged ones and wan, in cast-offs dressed?
Perhaps I dream of those who did not come
To lean upon my arm kissing my breast.
          O hungry birds, you know!

You think it strange that joy transcends my soul
   Beneath these fluttering raven folds each hour?
E’en good St. Francis could not tell me this—
That every child would be to me a flower.
          Curtain of night, you know! [page 26]

Pyramids of Pulpwood

Pyramids of pulpwood, sun-kissed and tall,
Only the slaves of the sawmill’s call!
   Where wind and water beat
   Logs sailed the river fleet,
Jostling each other, a rough and sturdy throng,
Upon the giant woodpile to belong.

Pyramids of pulpwood, with a mighty roar,
Dynamite and thunder make you jump before
   They grind you in the mill,
   To make more paper still,
Whistles shriek, dark clouds are hanging low,
But with a noise of singing through the door you go.

Pyramids of pulpwood, massed against the sky,
I’m spellbound by your little light, shining like an eye;
   It heaps its radiant gold
   Upon the river cold,
Constant the signal of industry’s own shrine,
Acknowledged by the workmen in their endless line.

Pyramids of pulpwood, once our forest trees,
Bending feathered branches, in the summer breeze,
   Speak yet of hidden brook,
   Where Pan creeps down to look,
Of balsalm air, of greenwood’s spell,—
Of emerald groves most beautiful let the pulpwood tell! [page 27]


Your words are calling through the May,
   Sweet, musical, a sonatine,
“I love you, dear,” they seem to say.

The little birds repeat the lay,
   What else could silver trebles mean,
All in the lovely month of May?

The little brooks that near us play,
   Where yellow willows droop and lean,
“I love you, dear,” they seem to say.

The white winged moths that float and stray,
   No whiter are than your robe’s sheen,
All in the lovely month of May.

Night’s shadows take the theme from day,
   And long chords play where trills have been,
“I love you, dear,” they seem to say.

Cupid could not say me nay,
   It’s plain what sonatinas mean,
All in the lovely month of May,
“I love you, dear,” they seem to say. [page 28]


Swiftly I walk by the old, winding river,
Hoping my love to see.
Fulness of joy in the summer sun!
My heart’s aflame before day’s begun!
With a whimsical smile the morning sky
Seems to understand,
Half guessing why
I rejoice to tread the dazzling sand
Where the droll little pipers run.

For Phyllis, Phyllis is waiting for me!
A short mile,
A short while,
And I my love shall see.
Following on I keep by the river

That leads me to my own.
The whistles of tug-boats scurrying now,
A white leviathan, a Portuguese scow,
A sail-boat with sun-silvered wing alone,
Rushing along
With merriest tone
Join in one sparkling up-springing song,
As clouds from smoke-stacks blow.

And Phyllis, who with such radiance shone!
Stray gull winging,
Billows singing,
Waft me to my own! [page 29]

I turn the final bend in the river,
Soon, soon to touch her hand!
Faith cannot doubt where the sea-pink grows.
Acre on acre like fire it glows,
Never a sunset with lovelier rose,
Soft and fair
It nods and blows,
I pluck a bud for Phyllis’ hair.

Ah, Phyllis, bonniest flower of the land,
Divinely blest,
Joy and rest,
I touch her welcoming hand! [page 30]

The Singing Tree

I walked alone by the early moon,
   Musing on questions rife,
   As to what were best in life;
   I saw by a window a peasant mild
   Cradling a dear and drowsy child;
Ah, is not this the greatest thing that happens late or soon,
When mothers hold their own in arms soft lullabies to croon?
   Gently the leaves swayed by my door
   Telling me there was something more.

I heard the boys march home from war,
   Glitter of sharp steel at their side
   Trophies hanging on shoulders wide;
   Their faces a smile of triumph wore,
   Though some of them were limping sore;
And is not this the greatest thing that happens near or far,
To fight for what one feels is right under a foreign star?
   But the red leaves held their tale in store,
   Whispering there was something more.

I left my cottage small and bare,
   To cross the mountain, to pass the lake,
   Far beyond my way to take,
   Exploring north, east, south, and west,
   Somewhere to find the islands blest; [page 31]
And is not this the greatest thing that Nature can declare,
New beauties ever to unfold, by earth, or sea, or air?
   But the ancient tree sang all earth’s lore,
   And it sang at home by my low, green door. [page 32]


Aurora comes in singing,
A red cock mounts on high,
An oriole’s trill through the wet leaves lifts,
A glint of sunshine softly sifts;
The merriest of madrigals
From a hundred quivering throats now falls,
While Ariel floats through the sky.

Dawn trails a morning glory,
Lets fly her golden hair,
Dances in clouds of pansy and rose
Over a river that wine-red flows,
Plays with the stars that scamper along,
Joins in the lyrical morning song,
“Sing all! For the day is fair!”

She paints the lakes in carmine
Re-flowers the fallow moor,
The hills leap out in the shimmering sun
“Hide no more, for night is done!”
She pokes up a bear that hates to rise,
From his lair to a woodland spring he hies,
With a sweep of her wand including all, “Arise!
Dawn knocks at your door!” [page 33]

The Elms of Trois Rivières

Beautiful elms, that bend and sway
With wind, or storm, on the river’s edge,
Were you there when a loyal red coat band
With glittering armor climbed the ledge?

The murmuring elms remember yet
La Verendrye and Laviolette.

Did you watch the Hurons on their knees,
Lurking low in the shade of the wood,
Their white-tipped feathers like fleck of sun,
Creeping along where the Iroquois stood?

The leaves of the elm trees whisper still
How the Indians mounted over the hill.

O elms, your billowing tops in the clouds,
What of the men who pass below,
Wending their weary way to work,
Long gaunt lines in the winter’s snow?

The bride of the sky holds still in mind
How the greenwood smiled, where the mills now grind.

Who were the men who loved their homes
So well they planted trees like this?
Were they caught by the magic of the Spring,
Tassels and song and azure bliss?

Home loving elms were ever dear
To the habitant and the pioneer. [page 34]

Arbutus Buds

What garden of the gods is this, half hid beneath a pine!
Did Pan rest here his pipes to play
That twig and maybud seem a-quiver?
In such a cloistered mystic dell Parnassians might dine,
Upon an April day,
The bustling world away,
Lazily listening to the murmuring river.

Sweet smells the earth,
Rejoicing in new birth.
The little children run to find where willow buds have stirred.
A new brook laughs and rushes
Among the osier bushes,
While high over it all carols a bird.

Sun-flecked shadows creep along the grove,
Fresh winds blow,
Magic is the fragrant air that makes one long to rove,
Forgotten is the snow.

Black stands the tree,
So let it be,
For paler still, more exquisite in hue,
Is this first flower of Spring I pluck and give it to you. [page 35]

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