Modernist Canadian Poets
21st Mar 2014Posted in: Modernist Canadian Poets 0
Counterpoint to Sleep


     Anne Wilkinson began writing verse about six years ago, when she was in her late twenties.  Her work soon came to the attention of Canadian editors, and poems of hers began to appear in Reading, Contemporary Verse, Here and Now and other magazines.  Among the first to recognize her promise was E. J. Pratt, who gave her valuable encouragement and assistance.

Her name is by now familiar to readers of poetry in Canada, and she is generally regarded as one of the most interesting of our contemporary poets.  Recently, her work has been introduced to English readers, through publication in Outposts and in Poetry Commonwealth.  It is hoped that the appearance of this, her first published volume, will add to her growing reputation both in Canada and abroad. [front cover]

to Sleep
[unnumbered page]

Some of the poems in this book first appeared in
Contemporary Verse, Northern Review,
Poetry Commonwealth, Outposts,
Reading and Here and Now.

Copyright, 1951, by Anne Wilkinson
[unnumbered page]


Summer Acres


Winter Sketch, Rockcliffe, Ottawa


A Folk Tale


A Poem of Anxiety


The Up and Down of It


A Poet’s-Eye View


Still Life




Black and White


Theme and Variation


Lake Song


I Know Not What to Do, Love


La Belle Dame Sans Dormi


Tower Lullaby


After Reading Kafka


The Puritan


The Great Winds


Time is Tiger




To a Psych-Neurotic


After the Ballad, Lord Randall, My Son




Climate of the Brain


[unnumbered page]

[blank page]



These acres breathe my family,
Holiday with seventy summers’ history.
My blood lives here,
Sunned and veined three generations red
Before my bones were formed.

My eyes are wired to the willow
That wept for my father,
My heart is boughed by the cedar
That covers with green limbs the bones of my children,
My hands are white with a daisy, sired
By the self same flower my grandfather loved;

My ears are tied to the tattle of water
That echoes the vows of ancestral lovers,
My skin is washed by a lather of waves
That bathed the blond bodies of uncles and aunts
And curled on the long flaxen hair of my mother;

My feet step soft on descendants of grass
That was barely brushed 
By the wary boots of a hummingbird woman,
The Great Great Grandmother
Of my mid-century children.



September born, reared in the sunset hour,
I was the child of old men heavy with honour;
I mourned the half mast time of their death and sorrowed
A season for leaves, shaking their scarlet flags
From green virility of trees. [page 5]

And the whine of autumn in the family tree.
How tired, how tall grow the trees
Where the trees and the family are temples
Whose columns will tumble, leaf over root to their ruin.

Here, in my body’s home my heart dyes red
The last hard maple in their acres.
Where birch and elm and willow turn,
Gently bred, to gold against the conifers,
I hail my fathers, sing their blood to the leaf. [page 6]


Down domestic roads the snow plough, snorting
Stacks a crop of winter, spills it high
To hedgerows alped with lilies; in the valley
White is wag, is daisy till
The sun aloft and hot with husbandry
Beheads the flowers.

Behind the plough the cold air flies a spume
As soft and adamant as swans
Where snow’s vacation is to etherize
The wood and choke the town’s
Hard arteries with drifts of chloroform.
And all the long excessive day the ploughman
Steers his dreaming over the hill
To the faraway hour that carries his frostbite home.

Such storm of white
Bound by the black extravagance of night
Makes winding sheet our myth-told-many-a-bed-time tale
Till April babble swells the shroud to breast
So milky full the whole north swills, licking
A world of sugar from encrusted nipples
Springful and swollen with love.

And tusked with icicles, the houses here
Bog stuporous in slow white sand, guard
Their docile lawns with walls that boast
Immaculate conception in a cloud
Made big by polar ghost.
In suburb of the forest, men walk shy,
Dismembered by two worlds;
Only the uncurled ears of children hear
The coyotes mating in a neighbour’s acre,
Theirs the only hands whose thumbs work free
To sculpt a tower leaning tipsy with unPisan laughter;
And being young, flexible pink tongues [page 7]

Rename a carrot, nose;
Nose on hump of snow they crystal christen
Christ, the stillborn man;
Then herd their feet to kick the undefiled
When eyes still whey with vision see
That chastity, though white, is wormed with sleep.

O watch the child lie down and lusty swing
His arms to angel in his image, sing
“I dare the snow my wings to keep.” [page 8]

With a Warning to Lovers

I wish to tell
In words of one syllable
The plight of two lovers,
But like a war of roses
Love is never
At this or any
Season, a simple tale.

Yet these were lovers
Scaled to commonplace dimensions, wrecked
On nothing stranger than a reef
Of love’s unreason;
And they were wide aware
Of scarlet, brighter on the heart
When fusion follows the homing swing of flesh
From cerebral skies apart;
They’d watched the waning moon’s
Face fade from the earth and the earth
Still pale from the moon, embrace the dark.

O they determined on a bliss
Above the common sweetness of two moths
And all the dear etceteras of a kiss.
But why their greed was greater, why
They ventured farther
Than the garden love allows
I don’t pretend to know,

I only know the tide of their desire
Swung miles beyond
The ebb and flow that love demands;
Each one a rocket in a space
Too rare to nourish roots or green
The tree of grace.
They seemed to think the farther off they ran [page 9]
The greater the combustion 
When they doubled back and crashed, mad
For Adam and Evening and the apple, red
And waiting for the hollow of a hand.

One lack a day alas,
The muscle of the heart cried ‘Hold !Enough !’
And though the lovers turned
They did not move to take an outward step
But stood there, stiff and still
And gazing, each at Eden on a different hill.

It was a sullen Monday afternoon
It happened.  Say a quarrel
Enacted in the teeth of an ill wind
Caught them cold—and spine to spine.
In half the time it takes to sneeze
Their backs were joined, locked, laced, inseparable.

They were not One,
All warm as lovers are at dawn
But One as are sad Siamese,
Irreparably linked twins.
No going away now knowing winters
March or April of surrender,
An end to turning
When the milky way to eyes is blocked
By pools of pupils, slippery with lies.

And in the streets and fields and on the beaches,
Like orators they fought
The polar pull of blood, the needle 
Pointing North to recognition,
Twisting and yearning to trick the pulse
To the South position of love.
They bruised the beaches of their hearts
With breakers from endemic,
UnPacific storms, they slept,
Their torn roots bleeding, under eiderdowns [page 10]

Theatrical with snow.
And each one dreamed at night the other cried
“O foe is me.”
But morning watched them waken
Closer cleaved than lovers lie, close
Enough to pick the years away with scraping,
Each at the other’s scabless, yelping scar

Until one wholly Sunday afternoon
A second wind
Filled and lifted their lungs
In gusts that blew the bricks off chimney pots,
A supersonic rage above the wails 
Of babes, new born’
Their voices violated doors, clouding
The weather in the street
That runs from their house of storm.

They called the law and doctors and quacks, pled
For a severing of joined, ill-mated backs.
But the wise men shook their heads,
“Whichever road you choose”, the sage fools said,
Stacked high to heaven with hearts—
There is a hitch—
To set one free, we’re bound to cut
The other’s cord to life.”
And all the jesters in the weeping town
Were dumb to tell them which.

When last I’d news of them
One lover looked to morning, one looked west.
When one lay down to sleep, the other fell.
For all I know they lie there yet,
On the home sweet hearth of hell. [page 11]


All morning I go walking in the jungle,
Loving and sweet with snakes, a wag
With winged malarial hosts,
With each insidious and daylight trap
I’m gay to tangle.

My whole and body being sings
In dapple of day jungle, laughs
To meet a death, unviolent, say
From an adder or a fretted insect’s sting.

In acres spoked with noon
I ride the rim of danger, hoard
The pearl and swine of sweat
For one bright foe,
The striped, discerning tiger.

Though he stretches with the shadows
All the aftermath of the hay-high morning,
Yawning yet, nor turns
His golden menace from its lair,
The octave of his pads plays huge and soft
On my mouse timorous ear.

When night’s at large in the jungle
I go fearful
Lest I kiss or claw his eye.
Too whoo, too whit, who’s who
When all the jungle reeks?

Exposed by five white columns of the moon
Our tracks bear witness, prove
The mating of our spoor.
Clear as criss-cross lies our love
On the forest floor. [page 12] 



As I came down
I met a man
Going up a narrow stair.
He wore a beard and hairy
Had the gall
To swear his name was God.
“Well met”, I answered, modest,
Lowering my catholic
Appetite of eyes,
“Alone, without a witness
I’ll confess:  I’m Mrs. Bloom,
The loitering Moon Goddess.”
He blushed, beard, gall and all
A heavenly red
And squeezed against the wall, afraid,
And I a simple witch
With only the silky power
To stroke the bat
That flaps the shutters in his belfry.
I mumboed a humble spell
I’d learned on earth from men
On burning terms with hell
Then let God pass.
Ascending on the right
He reached his tower.
I, two steps at a time,
Jumped my way to grass. [page 13] 



You are earth, loam, actual fields
And we are the green reed growing from your body;
You are solid, we are porous, ringed with chatter,
Stalks that echo water
Running in your under-worldly springs;
Your ribs crack in the sun, ridge with rain,
We lie boneless when our tissues fade;
You are stiff against the wind, we
Bend, arc’d with ague, by the storm
Are properly bowed down a day
Then up a daisy, green stalk straight, unbroken;
You, the earth, are bound to earth’s own axis,
We, who grown our down roots deep in you
Are multi-headed, spray out seed like dandipuff
To tickle the fabulous thin highborn skin of air
Before we fall, point every potent feather
Back into its spawning bed, your tethered body;
You are warped with rock, the woof of you
Is ore; in soul’s rough weather
Rock splits open at the giant tremor of the soil;
We, the green ones, laugh and add an inch
For each storm’s death, our knowing nonsense blowing
On and off the lode of your morality. [page 14] 



I’d love this body more
If graved in rigid wood
It could not move;
I’d cut it fresh in pine;
The little knots
Would show where muscles grew,
The hollows shadow ovals
Into eyes,
The grain be quick to point
The vein, be tendon’s clue;
I’d whittle hair
A solid armoured hood
And nothing here profane,
Nor rend the wood
But bind my fluid form
To forest tree,
Be still and let its green blood
Enter me. [page 15] 



I watch and mark the orchid; I have lamped
It carefully as a graded egg and stamped
The petal painted mauve as sick, not ill;
It vomits love-life from a dollar bill;

And for the White, red-centred White, red light
Is closer to the white of purity
Than this unhaloed flower.  It boasts of snow
Although its tongue has licked the blood of swans.

The third, exclusive bronze, the fourth, a lake,
Wet, green with thunder, date since God last met
A tiger in the Plaza, lost His faith,
To paint with elegance the orchid for Arts sake.

Absolve the orchid butterfly!  Blue, swift
And delicate!  Ignore, forget the tuft
Of yellow fungus growing on the tree—
The wing in flight transcends the seed’s morbidity! [page 16]



On still black water, water lilies
Are less lily than the swan;
Here, in still black water, two
White horses drinking, three white swans.

Two white horses turn and shake
The foaming from their mouths, three
Swans lift and spread snow-weighted wings,
Raise their breasts to drift on air,

Aloft, but lazy till the thud – 
Ding stallions’ hoofs sound bass on the hill;
Earth echoes their pleasure, waked from languor;
Wind is waiting for

Assault of white birds’ wings.  Here
On still black sky, three white swans
Above two horses galloping.
One swan breaks the air with smothered

Strength of feathers, and they’re off!
Look!  Suddenly the stallions rise!
The chase is on!  Two white horses,
Three swans flying on a still black sky. [page 17] 



This is the noisy silence of a tree
The rustle in the fern is the noise of fear
A twig is a nerve; it snaps the heart to pounding.

This is the swollen silence under the sea;
The hush and push of pressure soundless, sounding,
Drowning the human splash, the man-made tear.

This is the spiral’d silence in a cave
Where silence echoes itself; it echoes a jest
As a shell forever uncoils the thread of a wave.

This is the silence of love, and though the ear part
It cannot hear, it will not hear the rest,
The pause between compulsions of the heart. [page 18] 



Willow weep, let the lake lap up your green trickled tears
Water, love, lip the hot roots, cradle the leaf;
Turn a new moon on your tongue, water, lick the deaf rocks,
With silk of your pebble-pitched song, water, wimple the beach;
Water, wash over the feet of the summer-bowed trees,
Wash age from the face of the stone.

I am a hearer of water;
My ears hold the sound and the feel of the sound of it mortally
My skin is in love with lake water,
My skin is in love and it sings in the arms of its lover,
My skin is the leaf of the willow,
My nerves are the roots of the weeping willow tree. 

My blood is a clot in the stone,
The blood of my heart is fused to a pit in the rock;
The lips of my lover can wear away stone,
My lover can free the blocked heart;
The leaf and the root and the red sap will run with lake water,
The arms of my lover will carry me home to the sea. [page 19] 



I know not what to do, love
I know not what to do.
O hand your clothes on the hickory tree
And bathe in the shallow dew
And open an ear to the earth, love
That’s beating under you.

I know not where to sleep, love
I know not where to sleep.
O cradle into the hay, love
And curl in close to the sheep
And the sheep and the little black lamb, love
Will bleat you into sleep.

I know not if I be, lobe
I know not if I be;
I do not know if I touch, love
Or if ought touches me.
O hang yourself on the weeping birch
And very soon you’ll see. [page 20] 



She did not dress
Except to wear
A word across her groin
She wore no jewels
Bu the snake
Living on her arm
She could not sleep
For sleep would watch
The flies stroll on her face
She did not dare
To lose her web
In that dark webbèd place. [page 21] 



Climb, as a child easy with circles
Spins to the tower
Or turn, an old man
Shaking out a route
With eighty journeys dragging at your back.

Swing to the tower
High as a child swings, higher and higher,
Swing on plenty of rope,
Or warily 
Test the ascent
On the thread of your pulse.

Wheel, as a child is a swallow
Flying to spiral
Or plodding, string a necklace out of sweat
And stagger step by bead
Bead by step.

The stair is soft; 
Little moon-lit lawns
Of lichen moss;
The stair is bare-faced stone;
So creak on curv – 
Ing rock or leap
From turf to the top, to the turret.
Then, panting, lean
The moment, prop
It on the parapet
Before it tumbles
Over and old again
Climb again 
Young again
Sleep. [page 22] 



Here at my door I swing between obsessions:
Hall by day, corridor by night.
I am obsessed with exits, bound
To qualify the latitude of light,
To mourn the quantity of shadow
Beaked and flocked in flight across the meadow,

Spreading eagles on the stubble in the hall.
The hall is my terrain. I pace 
Its length from where I am to who I’ll be
When the sun falls from the sill;
It falls away from the window,
Window wedged in the narrowing ends of the wall;

I walk it every day, love summer months
When air and time and I are white with searching;
I name its flora, feed its fawn,
My eye is on the storm across the ceiling;
Leaking drains spread a cloud, streaks 
Of hail crack and flake the paint in drifts
About the floor. I stare

Until an ounce of light and two of space
Trace a stain to the bearded face of God.
Pity him, a King, dependent now
On my erratic eye to right his halo;
He begs my eye to stay,
Begs my tongue call holy holy holy;
I yawn and as I turn he fades away.

The down-rays focus on the baseboard, spot
The dirt, the crunched and crunching cockroach, in
And on the wood in warts.
Though I remember in my head
This house where I born, my feet forget
And pound the alleys, bruise their soles in byways [page 23]

Leading nowhere from the hallowed hallway
And eyes forget their little blink of time, 
The wasting of the worn thin planes of day
Flying lower, closer to the ground.

And yet, in June when time is light and big
I’ve come so near the end of it, if I’d a stick
I could have held the blind;
Before my last lid fell
I saw beyond the heel of Caliban to Ariel. 

Light is my Love!  I dallied, lost
The white years in a wink.
Do flora deera fawn breathe on?
Can they outwit the dark?
I shield a traitor
Am betrayed by the off-beat of a tock-sick heart.

Reassemble, join the scattered stems,
Fumble for an ankle in the black,
Put back the flesh; send broken feelers
Out to spy along the wall—Signal 
If you touch an opening in the line to home!

Delicate as ears, fingers fest
(Walls are seeping)
Weeping blisters cry out from their tips,
Cry up upup the arm to the sky in my head;
I scold but still the blisters rise,
Hang glutinous in streamers from my eyes.

Can the wounded walk the voyage back?
Feel their door distinct from a hundred doors?
A key is cut for cunning
Is not strength to try a hundred locks.

(Did Noah save obsessions, two by two
Or did the green sea suck
At hall and corridor, deposit coral [page 24] 
Where the drowning drift from hide to seek?)

I tear my foot (a nail was detoured in the sun
An hour ago) but if it bleeds
I do not know, I cannot see in the dark;
The stream may be red or white or the old flood
Forcing twin obsessions into the sea
Or up the traffic’d gangplank to the ark.

The storm is gone from the ceiling;
God is not there;
I cannot comfort him, say “let beards be”
Or smile and shave him when I cannot see.

Half-way home or where?
Fingers burn as brassy knobs rebuke them;
The key is grown, is heavy and 
The python, patient, waits, across the corridor;
He does not hurry me;
We struggle, never touching skin to scale;
The end is at my door
My own two hands move docile to my throat
I choke, I splutter “Hands!,”  I call them off;
I chide them, while “You trespass, Hands, take care!”
But they are deaf
Or death is shouting and they do not hear. [page 25] 



The earthquake’s shock
Has cut a new grey Puritan
Whose ear refutes the lily note
For clank of cloven.

He cleaves to rock
And shaded stone, esteems the dark
(Excepting fireflies civil light
And stars’ old spark).

How rough his word—
“’Til they have bread I can’t approve
The cherry snow, so soft so close
Is white to blue.”

Cool is his bed
And warm, so he must ruffle it
With hate; his scorn takes to a stone
To ease whose fret?

His rutted frown
Projects a whip to shrivel those
Who over ten admit the sap
That rushes them;

For blood has mown
The fields and laps the wheat in red—
“Is mine not crusted yet from seeing
Others bled?”
(Hot is the loaf that chokes the throat
That’s in his head)

But still the song
Sings straight into his drum
And white the cherry floats
Though it is wrong [page 26]

(Did devils deck it there?)
And still his bed
Is cool and warm and sap
Climbs up his stair
And fireflies light him home
At night, all unaware. [page 27]



I’ll tell you why the great winds trouble us:
Once upon a briny while ago
The sea was home and land lay sunning, cliff
In unproved element of air;
A gale ago the ocean granaries
Ran low in the sea one harvest season,
Foes swam surly through a hedge of friends
And Sea Lords fought for each sea-stalk of pasture.
One among them, Marco Polo
Swimming low in shallow water, slid to shore;
He conjured solid land, he raised a flag,
A lung, our pledge to plunge from stilla water
No more moving of a mother’s womb.
Each birth repeats the first howled breath in time,
Reversing all the levels of the world
Till seas come up on land,
Submerged in you and me; in bog and swamp
Released, they sing amphibian noel.

The great winds trouble when a summer storm 
Breaks, blowing waves from hiding, drowning
Land-baked puff and pride in childish seas
Till we’re unbeached, awash,
A native-stranger in contrary gardens;
Green and liquid shutters dim the sun
Where coral builds pink cities on the sand;
Little horses chase their tails
Among a maze of cockle shells and silver-sides
And sea-cows, udderless,
Hung, tethered to the herd by tongue-tied bells.
Here flotsam is the sloughed-off memory,
Delirium or octopus or clue
To beat the walls of water in escape,
Though tentacles are ours, were always there
Growing in the harvest of our hair;
Here sharks, all lazy but their teeth [page 28]
Come swimming sweet and slow, the easier
To you know what, my dear;
And tiny barnacles that love too much
Stick, clinging till their millions anchor us;
Here mouths are raw, are filled with sorrow, washed
With salt by shocked sea-silence when we scream.

The great winds trouble till a winter storm
Breaks, frosting brine to flesh and wrecking
With a breath our web to earth;
And long before the wind’s cried out
We’re bound in six cold feet of arctic ice;
No leaway anywhere to move as in
A glass-walled room, and nothing here molests
But the weight of the dying albatross
Whose two white sings lie cooling on our breast. [page 29] 


Time is tiger.
NOW is wooly-witted lamb.
Time is tiger
(Purple shoes with crimson soles
And crimson linings deck his ears).
NOW is barefoot, black boy,
Little lost Sambo.
Time is tiger.
NOW is Mowgli, hunted, hunting Khan.
Time is tiger.
NOW is wooly-witted lamb. [page 30] 



We crawl through craniums, stare
Beneath the bone at spasms, redden
At the grey twitched ultimatum when
We touch the guilty puddle where the nerve roots
Launch their tippy boats to shoot the heart.
The towering head observes which curled inch
Controls the meadow of the hand, which pipe
Dictates the course of sewers in our city;
It clocks the ragged pulse
That hammers out our imagery, unravels
Every sleeping snake
And travels to the threshold of its sting.
And while we squint to focus microscopes,
Dissect each bleeding head,
Sun bursts in splendour from the attic skull,
An angel shedding glory, come to free
The puppet dangling from a mildewed coil. [page 31] 


You are each man’s plight, distorted;
Therefore we cannot bear with you
Or the image of our near defeat
Written in black and white and pain
Across your face.
We stuff our ears against the wolf
That howls for thee and me.
We jolly you and say the sky is blue
And flowers are sweet and morning dew
A tonic for what ails the world and you.
But underneath we breathe
Your soul’d predicament;
We know the torture-chamber of the will
That ‘will not,’
The blanket that wraps ‘do,’
In ‘do not,’
We know the pressure of persisting
We love and hate you; being us
You’re doubly vulnerable—
Once in yourself, once in our lusty bluff.

Accept this truth:

You are no stranger in this rare assembly
Where the gods clutch bleeding heads
When the audience sleeps;
At worst you house an abdicated king
Who tossed away his crown.

Before you settle in despair
Listen, I pray you listen
To our voices; they are weak
But audible.

(We do not offer you child’s comfort) [page 32] 
Two conditions of man are fixed:
The quick and the dead.
Beware the drowsy twilight bait
That lures a man from home
And traps him, traitor
In a strangers’ camp.
Throw in your widow’s mite,
Defend the quick,
Their victory is here and now
And will not shrink
Though they concede the ultimate defeat. [page 33] 


“O where have you been, my baby, my son?
O who scratched your face, my poor little one?”
“The rose tore my cheek; Mother wrap me up warm
And hold me and rock me and keep me from harm.”

“You’re bruised near to dying, my school-boy, my son,
Your nose is all bloody; who bullied my man?”
“The girls are so rough; Mother, wash my face clean
And stay close beside me and feed me ice-cream.”

“What makes you so sad, my young man, my son
Who dares to refuse you, my handsome one?”
“She laughed at my love; Mother make my bed soon
And kiss me good-night for I fain would lie down.”

“You’ll not go to war, my only, my son?
Your heart has a murmur, you’re barely full grown.”
“You cut off my feet, Mother, stumps cannot stand,
And look, they still bleed, for you’re licking your hand.” [page 34] 



You’d sleep?  Then come, I’ll tell you where to go—
As angel or as eagle to a cloud;
Float, barely bruised, new-born, with lullalulla
Rock-a-bye, white is the gull as the star
Is white and the snow.

But if I smother,
Breathe a feather
As a shroud?

Too soft?  I know another place for sleep—
Love, shed your skin and throw your bones on sand;
The waves rest curled; they break with lullalulla
Rock-a-bye, white is the foam as the fleece
Is white on the lamb.

But sand—the pain
From one small grain
Has drenched my eye.

You cry?  A King!  Awake to guide the dream!
In sleep the crown’s awash, unwound the grief—
Come, cradle on your feet, with lullalulla
Rock-a-bye, white is the dawn and the spray
Is white on the reef. [page 35] 


Climate of the brain, convert your Africas;
In weather white with Christmas stall creation.
Polar days wake black, and as they lock and lash
Their lid against the eyeball of the sun
So brains grow lustful for a snowy bed
Where shroud blizzards flock their flakes, mock lethe
On budding head.

Hot hasty seed, I’d cover every sprouting one of you
With winter! There, go doze awhile
That love may hang its heart with mistletoe
Or wreathe and halo it with holly, green
And thorned and dropping blood red berries.
Season of possum death, swaddle the anxious
Seed with sedative.

Till seed in-buds, digs down below the frost
And sucks at the springs of sleep.
Then, all the underworld achieved, sap
Run free at the big blessing of the sun!
What hubbub in the meadow, cock a doodle dawn
When skull ablaze with golden flowers
Fools the April morning. [page 36]

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