Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
28th Jun 2016Posted in: Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets 0
A Pool of Stars

Of this edition of A POOL OF STARS, by Lionel Stevenson, two hundred and fifty copies have been printed. This Chap-book is a product of The Ryerson Press, Toronto, Canada.

Copies of this Chap-book may be secured from the The Ryerson Press, Toronto, and from Macrae Smith Company, Philadelphia, U.S.A. [unnumbered page]


A Pool of Stars
By Lionel Stevenson


Snared in the dim pool’s restraint
   Far from their playmates on high,
A bevy of stars glimmer faint
   Under the infinite sky.

This is where fairy folk are,
   Wise in the earth’s quiet lore,
Dancing on each mirrored star,
   Weaving their rings on the shore.

Pan comes from revels to drain
   Water — star-flecked — from cupped hands,
Satyrs and nymphs of his train
   Murmur of magical lands.

Here in the pool one might learn
   All that the high stars conceal — 
Why so intently they burn, 
   How they eternally wheel.  .  .  . [page 1]

Then a breeze suddenly stirs,
   Vagrant from limitless space,
Glides on the water and blurs
   All the shy stars form its face.

Intimate, mild  .  .  . they are gone;
   Only the high stars remain,
Vast beyond thought they wheel on,
   Fathomless, cold with disdain.

Because I do not love you I can keep 
My pleasure in life’s varied loveliness
Of which, as symbol and interpretess
You make my joy more intimately deep.
Lovers, when parted, agonize or weep,
Pledge their souls’ liberty on a caress,
But my delight in you is passionless
As the pale morning star, tranquil as sleep.

And as you do not love me you can give
Graciously all that I desire of you;
Our diverse ways will separate us soon,
For we must seek strange wisdom while we live:
My flawless memories will then be two —
One is a cypress tree against the moon.

Her beauty is no gaudy transient thing
But a perpetual eminence of thought,
Embodiment of impulses that spring
From inner certitude, with grace unsought;
Her body’s exquisite austerity
And the unclouded candor of her face
Are carven in mysterious harmony,
Being the precincts of a holy place;
Her vibrant spirit that abides therein
Sees life without illusion, having found
The hidden way by which the soul can win
That sanctuary where fetters are unbound:
In her the loveliest elements are combined —
Consummate unity of form and mind. [page 2]


The unreturning rapture of the dream
   Dissolved into a litany of birds
Whose bright inhuman notes forever seem
   Tidings of loveliness transcending words.

They sang in quiet fields where amaranth bloomed,
   A gleaming palace by their song was wrought  .  .  .
And then the mind, a banished prince, resumed
   The tattered futile dignity of though.


Crouching beneath the rain
   And bent with Age’s load,
An old man delves a drain
   Across the sodden road.

A rusty pick he wields
   With feeble impact slow;
The muddy gravel yields
   Before each painful blow.

The strokes beat dull and thick
   Upon the dreary mire,
And yet  .  .  .  the labour’d pick
   Flings dancing sparks of fire.


All the lovely things she loved — hazel, thyme, and fern,
   Blueness of the hyacinth above its tender stem —
April brings her back to us in their serene return,
   For she is one with them.

Beauty is supreme again in blue and golden days,
   Beauty rises jubilant from every rood of sod,
And she in beauty’s essence now, as once in beauty’s praise,
   Dwells in the heart of God. [page 3]


The sun-parched hills is dusty, bare,
   And elemental brown,
That decent folk may clamber there
   To moralize on the town.

The heat haze buoys a butterfly —
   A temperamental fellow —
Jigging and dodging he goes by 
   In motley black and yellow.

In mad geometry below
   Gables and chimneys throng,
With dull black asphalt strips to show
   The proper war along
For sluggish motor cars to go,
   Monotonous of song.

They carry families home from church
   To stodge like anything  .  .  . 
The butterfly in random lurch
   Obscures one with his wing. [page 4]


Beyond the moonset rolls on the sea
   To where pagodas are,
Beyond the clouds whose riven wrack
   Reveals a single star;
For it is day in green Cathay,
   Noon in strange lands afar.

From north to south the marshall’d waves
   In discipline austere
March endlessly with foam-plumed crest,
   Epaulettes greenly clear,
To break no more on any shore
   For half a hemisphere.


Beauty is fled to isles of blander day
To dwell in iridescent gems of spray
Where languid rollers whiten on the shore,
Or fled to antique fanes that evermore
   Resound with anthems as the faithful pray.

To lands of fabled splendour far away,
Far from dim skies of unrelenting gray,
Far from the pines that mumble gloomy lore
   Beauty is fled.  .  .  .

A rain-kissed girl with brown eyes clear and gay —
Fairer than sea-foam in the sunlight’s play,
Than any saint that the devout adore —
Glows, like a cool and tranquil flame, before
A dark pine’s graven column. And we say
   Beauty is fled? [page 5]


The Hand Logger

Like charging lancers suddenly held back
   The pine-tree hordes cling to the mountain walls;
Their shadow keeps the inlet’s water black
   Where only the brief noontide sunshine falls.
Below the gloomy precipice there creeps
   A skiff its rower obstinately rash:
The ripple fades into the unstirred deeps
   And immemorial silence gulps the splash.
From month to month in utter solitude
   He toils and sleeps and wakes to toil once more,
Waging with sea and forest stubborn feud
   To dwell between them on the craggy shore.
Do awe and beauty come within his ken?
What are his thoughts of God and fellow-men?

Fishing Village

Where the broad river meets the sluggish tide
   A dozen winding waterways are kissed
To colour, where they slyly lead aside
   The mirrored sunset’s jade and amethyst.
By fragile wooden bridges they are spanned,
   Arched steeply, leading into pile-built lanes
Where you can touch the doors with either hand
   And hear a one-stringed fiddle’s acrid strains.
With deft brown fingers spreading tangled nets
   Almond-eyed men and women hum a song:
It may be of contentment, or regrets,
   Perhaps enjoying minds alert, hands strong,
Or else, perhaps, beyond the passing booms
Seeing dead sunsets flushing cherry blooms.


Bound for the city with high-piled canoe
   Of basket ware, labour of many days,
To squat upon the kerb the long hours through
   Watching the traffic with impressive gaze,
A wrinkled klootchman paddles, half-asleep
   Until a pleasure-steamer passes near
And she must paddle frantically to keep
   Bow-on, her frail craft through the swell to steer. [page 6]
Raging she curses, voluble and shrill,
   The passengers who stand to jeer her plight;
She shrieks a torrent of abuse until 
   The mocking sallow faces fade from sight.
Then warmth and languor gradually efface
The last assertion of her ancient race.

Ocean Traffic

Upon the harbour’s grayness falls gray rain
   From clouds that veil the mountains to their feet
The eye, famished for colour, seeks in vain
   To trace the shore where clouds and water meet.
A grimy tug leads out a barquentine
   With bare poles bleak against the dismal sky;
Her deck-load, yellow lumber fair and clean,
   Strikes as faint sunshine on the weary eye.
Nourished by rain and sun, tested by storms,
   The timber grew through hardy northern years:
Soon it will rise again in other forms
   Where no rain falls, and tropic sunlight sears;
Soon will the ship through vivid seas advance,
A moving tower of whitest radiance.

Nothing bores me under the sun —
Crowds or music or love or beer,
All the folly I’ve ever done,
All the talk I can ever hear.
Baptist sermons are bully fun,
A dog-fight rivals a high romance;
Zest of hunger and rhythm of dance
Are ever novel, are always dear.
I can watch a whole night long
Orion marching across the sky;
Any casual traveller’s lie
Chants me a snatch of ageless song;
Helpless laughter at ribald tales
Freshens my soul like mountain gales.

Faithful muscles at last must tire,
Moonlight kisses will sometimes cease;
Then I’ll welcome the winter fire,
Find delight in my hearth-side peace.
I shall finish as I’ve begun,
Bored by nothing under the sun. [page 7]


I know a trail whereon my vagrant tread
Could feel the soft resilience of pine needles —
The gradual harvest of forgotten years —
With here and there the crackle of a cone
Crushed underfoot. And through the drowsy gloom,
Pressing aside the lithe low-hanging boughs,
I should be dazzled suddenly, and find
A tiny clearing like a secret chapel
Full of lavish sun’s illuminance,
With a resplendent altar in the midst —
A flaring sumach bush. There would I kneel
And consecrate that altar with glad tears.


I pray the ice of pedantry
May never lay its grasp on me. 

I mean to cruise with unreefed sail,
   That every gust may have its will,
In quest of an exalted grail —
   The splendidly improbable;

To throw the compass overboard,
   Obeying each capricious breeze,
And in the log-book to record
   A hypermetric line whenever I please;

To make wild expeditions through 
   All Time’s “dark backward and abysm”
Enrolling a congenial crew
   In jubilant anachronism.

Thus unabashed I take my vow
   And seal it with a solemn word,
Upon my law-defying prow
   To set the palpable absurd.

When booty overflows the hold
   I’ll scatter it till all is clear,
Sell trash, and give away the gold — 
   Still the fantastic buccaneer.

Thus roving, may I never be
Ice-bound by bleak consistency. [page 8]


White ocean birds that seek the land
Before the storm — a drifting band
Dipping and rising on the gale
With wings unstirring, impotent
To stem the wind that makes them sail
Sideways as if their force were spent, —
Against the aureate sunset light
Grow vague, vanish and reappear,
One moment silhouetted clear,
The next, elusive, lost to sight.

So all the fair imaginings
That fain would flock on futile wings
To the calm haven of my mind
And leave the stress of life behind
Are caught and wafted far astray
By that eternal wind of truth, —
The breath of heaven’s ageless youth
That sweeps the sophistries away, —
Till they are lost amid the glow
Which finite words cannot express
Nor mortal minds aspire to know,
The universal loveliness.


“The Gods who dwell beyond the sun
   Hold banquets all day long:
They eat ambrosial bread to live
   For ever young and strong.

Each night they shake the tablecloth 
   And spill crumbs overhead,
And every now and then they drop
   A whole round slice of bread.

The crumbs are scattered there so thick
   You’d never miss a han’ful
And so I grab some every night
   To make me gay and manful. [page 9]

The slice, at first so round, becomes
   Diminished — more’s the pity —
Because I nibble bit by bit
   To keep my young and pretty.”

Thus Tom o’Bedlam sang in glee
   And capered on the hill;
But when the next day’s sun was high
   They found him sprawled and still.

“He starved hisself, poor imbecile.
   He were moon-struck,” they said.
But Tom was up among the gods
   Eating ambrosial bread.


Why should we be pale and glum,
   Careful of our manners,
When reeling sunsets come
   Brandishing red banners?

Why should we be so precise,
   Never taking chances,
While the rabbits and the mice
   Frisk in moonlight dances?

What advantage do we reap
   Worthy of the sowing,
That we lie in rooms asleep
   When the dawn is glowing?

Thus we tread a passage dim,
   Shutting joy behind us,
Not obeying any whim
   Until death shall find us.

And when we are laid away
   Past all chance of folly,
Like as not our sons will say
   “Now let’s all be jolly.”

So while there’s a trace of sap
   Still in circulation,
ʹFaith, we should not care a rap 
   For good reputation. [page 10]


Wind of dawn, —
Lustily you blow into the Sun’s face,
Yet, benign in his majestic levee
He takes no offence at your impudent pranks,
Jubilant child of morning.
From the West,
Your playground in Infinity, you come
Rushing in mighty bounds across the width of the world;
Those jagged peaks,
Cold, harsh, and dazzling,
Incredibly white in the sunrise luminance,
Are but a playful barrier for your leaping;
Your breath gains freshness
From their vigorous chill.

Your western sky is void,
But in the East
Slight tracery of clouds, broidered of purest down,
Curtain the smoke-blue roof —
Steeped in the liquid brightness of the Sun —
Filmy swaddling clothes of the naissant day.

You blow among my thoughts, O Wind.
You make them shine bright as the splendour-shedding Sun,
Taste pure as your own tonic gusts;
I feel that I am as evanescent
And as eternal
As those clouds, your playthings,
Wind of the dawn.


A surf of cloud with crests of golden foam
   Against the duple promontory breaks,
And flings upon the glass of heaven’s dome
   A spume of amber flakes.

The buttressed peaks, with livid cloud behind
   And glass-clear deeps above the cloud-bank’s rim,
Loom through the dusk, each wrapt in its own mind,
   Impassive, silent, dim. [page 11]

Their eyes are fixed on scenes beyond the world,
   Tempest or midnight cannot blind their gaze;
All wisdom is a tapestry unfurled
   Before them on the haze.

They need not turn those stately heads to see
   Aught of the changes passing at their base —
Since man was not they knew what was to be
   And what will yet take place.

For them there is not future and no past,
   Both are beheld in one vast changeless “now”:
To Time’s restraining yoke of First and Last
   They are not forced to bow. 

The two-fold entity in silence broods —
   Not that with human consciousness it thinks,
But knows, without inconsistency of moods,
   The wisdom of the sphinx

The twin crest stand as portals of the years;
   In their serenity mankind may see
A solace meet for mortal doubts and fears
   Through all eternity.

(Offenbach’s Barcarolle Melody)

Pipes of Pan are lilting low,
   A mystic cadence blending;
Dreamy echoes come and go  .  .  .
The pipes of Pan lilt low.

Lightly drift enchanted feet,
   The lissome form is bending,
Troops of vagrant shadows meet
Before the drifting feet.

   Just a snatch of tune,
      Scarcely heard before ending  .  .  .
   Life’s eternal rune
   In a rapturous tune. [page 12]

All the air is faint with love
   The radiant nymph attending;
Dimly glows the moon above,
Her eyes are veiled with love.

Pipes of Pan are fluting clear
   And souls in concord blending .  .  . 
Oh! why did mortal ever hear
The pipes of Pan flute clear?


Deep in the orient glowing, pure is the moon’s silver light,
   Like a sublime water-lily afloat in a shadowless pool,
Almost the opening petals revealing her heart to the night,
         Luminous, cool.

Ripples below on the ocean, gaily dispelling her beam,
   Mirror a legion of footprints hasting away from our strife,
Trodden by infinite armies in quest of the confines of dream,
         Fleeing from life.

These are the traces remaining after the labours of men,
   After their visions of beauty, after their hate and their love;
Still the divine water-lily, enfolding her secrets again,
         Watches above.


I must go forth to see nations and men, 
   All they have every thought or done,
To make their aspirations live again,
   Feeling them every one.

To see the dim-arched aisles of Notre Dame,
   Hallowed with centuries of prayer;
The Maid of Orléans’ bright oriflamme
   And Dagobet’s bronze chair;

Sinister strongholds perched beside the Rhine,
   Haunted by sins of long ago;
The sculptured visions, tranquil and divine,
   Of Michael Angelo; [page 13]

And all the affluent heritage of Greece,
   Recovered from the jealous Past;
Thus my craving spirit purchase peace,
   Knowing the best at last.

And yet  .  .  .  I shall turn thankfully from these —
   Thralled with perfection as a charm — 
To seek a lane through flowered hawthorn trees
   Toward a Suffolk farm.

Or else to breast the wind on Cornish heights,
   And linger where the houses climb
From some dark harbor, where the days and nights
   Escape their shepherd Time.

There not in monuments the Past is shrined,
   Emotion not in Art is expressed,
Yet the vast heritage of all mankind
   Serenely is possessed.

Then the transcendent meaning I shall learn
   Of the illustrious things I saw,
 In marble forms a vital truth discern,
   In noble lives a law.

Artist and sage the Hidden World have shown — 
   For truth and beauty are its poles — 
Yet it dwells not in poems nor in stone,
   But in men’s hearts and souls.


Said one blade of grass to his fellow,
   “What pity the sky should be blue;
It ought to be green — rich and mellow — 
   The only legitimate hue.”

“We shall to the sky ere we wither,”
   Replied the more practical blade.
“As soon as our height reaches thither
   We’ll insist that the changes shall be made.” [page 14]


Fourteen hundred grasshopper clacking, 
Thirty-seven blunt saws hacking,
All Queen Juno’s Peacocks squalling — 
Noise entrancing and appalling.  .  .  .
BOOM goes the big drum, BOOM — boom — BOOM —
Solid sound in the writhing room,
Pounding rhythm through the din,
Hammer — hammer — hammering it in.
Under the smoke and the orange light
Lips are scarlet, eyes are bright;
Bodies sway like willows in a gale,
Goaded by the orchestra’s tyrannous flail;
Couples cling in intricate embraces,
Drugged by the nearness of each other’s faces,
Knowing nothing but the drum’s command — 
DANCE it thunders, and they understand. 
Somewhere amid the undulating mass
Maybe two dreamers serenely pass,
Certain that the moment of ecstasy survives,
Promise of fulfilment in recurrent lives,
Seeing in each sinuous girl and boy
Universal rhythm and eternal joy.  .  .  .
Thus revealed to their enchanted eyes
Pandemonium is paradise.


Bring over here that urn:
The ashes of a monk are in it
Who sinned a sin
For which we gladly went to burn.
Wait now a minute;
Distract me not while I put in
Nine drops of oil
That turn from grey to ruby red
And seethe and boil:
That oil, blessed by the pope,
Served as the holy unction for a maiden
Dying ere she was wed. [page 15]
Where she lay dead
I wrung it from her heavy hair
—  You do not mind the incense fumes, I hope,
Or the sudden glare?
I kindle hangings from a Quanzu shrine
Stiff with the blood of heathen girls
Sacrificed with moaning there,
While to placate the idol’s gaze malign
Priests writhed in prayer.
As the rich smokes upcurls
I speak the potent words, above the fire
Making the mystic sign.
To gain your deep desire
Join your will with mine,
Send out your yearning fierce and whole.
When I have said the spell 
She whom you hunger for shall dwell
For ever utterly in your control
Body and soul.  .  .  .

Weakling! Why came you here with spirit frail?
You cross yourself. We fail.

Life's a rag-and-bone shop
Crazily assorted —
Twisted bits of metal,
Lots of broken glass:
Man is ever thwarted
When he tries to settle 
Into decent order
All the muddled mass.

Why should he be ever
Bent on scheming, gaining?
In the hostel narrow
Nought remains his own;
No need for complaining
While the rags are gaudy
And a trace of marrow
Clings about a bone. [page 16]

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