Modernist Canadian Poets
28th Jun 2016Posted in: Modernist Canadian Poets 0
Argosies at Dawn


The Ryerson Press
[unnumbered page]

This small collection of poems, Argosies at Dawn, by Aubrey Dean Hughes, is offered by the author as a sincere product of the period of apprenticeship to a supreme art, with a full realization of the many difficulties yet to be encountered along the road to maturity. [inside front cover]

Argosies at Dawn
By Aubrey Dean Hughes


No dulcet murmur bids me lend my heart
To rapt enslavement of your constant smile,
Nor feel the tremor of your scarlet lips,
Nor learn surrender while your eyes beguile;
For, alien-cold beneath the winter sky,
The ruthless miles deny me sight or sound
Or touch of you, and mock the fearfulness
Between my longing and your worshipped ground.

But tell me not the trust, our vows have forged
Upon love's sacrificial heights, shall pause
And yield because touch, sound and sight conform
To the relentlessness of spacial laws.
O, ever while moon, stars and seas endure
Must I conceive our trust, as they, secure.


I cannot die unknowing
   I shall not feel again
Young violets in my fingers,
   With petals warm with rain;

Nor hear the bugler, Springtime,
   Sound through the April wood,
A myriad buds to open,
   Each from its scarlet hood; [page 1]

Nor see an orchard hillside
   Wake to the morning light,
With tier on tier of petals
   Built depth on depth in white.

Hear me, O my Creator,
   Before the snows of Death
Shall chill my lips to silence
   And seal my labhoured breath.

Grant me the calm assurance
   That somewhere I shall rise,
And walk the roseate morning
   With April in my eyes.

I, who so love high beauty,
   Shall never dare to die
If death must mean surrender
   Forever of the sky!

O grant, before the summons,
   A symbol of the light
That floods the April hilltops
   Beyond Death's barren night.

Then I shall yield life's splendour
   Easily to the sod,
Knowing some hymn of springtime
   Shall waken me to God.


Mute are the tropic drums, the typhoon's scream;
The sea-surf's lyre drifts chordless by the shore;
For he who fused their sorcery in a theme
Of sombre-choralled beauty is no more.
Through maze of jungle and by dim lagoon
The word of death has sped its mystic way,
And prostrate on the torrid couch of noon
The Afric world gives up its grief to-day.

Over my heart a weary numbness steals,
And sorrow's psalm breaks from my trembling lips.
Still through my vision each lift of dawn reveals
The stately, silent drama of his ships;
For death and grief can never thieve from me
The lines he charged with Beauty's imagery. [page 2]


Up! Up! We have a day to spend.
The sun has won the East again.
The April slopes are jewelled with dew;
And from the greening fields the strain
Of gypsy rapture bids me be 
An errant child of Romany.

O, leave your petty dreams, grown cold!
Unteach your knowledge gained by rote!
And fare with me to learn the thrill
Of wisdom from a robin's throat;
For Spring has formed a tryst with me
To walk the fields of Romany.

Adown the columned forest ways
The scarlet buds of days ago
Have clothed their boughs in emerald,
And there a dreamer, bending low,
May learn some mystery of Spring
From every leaflet's whispering.

By silver swollen streams that gleam
From meadow's breast and woodland shades,
A floral reign is building now
A petalled kingdom through the blades
Of greenery, and there the sway
Of April lures my heart away.

Beyond the city's last drab street
The roads lead out and up and on
Through folds of hills until they lose
All semblance in the halcyon
Reaches of cloud. O, I would know
Where all the purple roadways go.

Then up! From bonds of craven cant
Break free! The splendid hours await
Our spending. Let the twilight find
Our faces set against the gate
Of sunset. There we'll stand and say
To the shaping stars, "We lived to-day." [page 3]


To each his cup of woe!
                                    The ruthless stroke
Of fate how often brands the artist's toil
With grievous failure, holds the poet's lines
From immortality, and stays the boon
Of friendship's balm from the despairing souls
Of losing men. Alone, against a world
Of irony, the spurnèd hearts beat on,
                                    So in my loss of you—
By your desire—my eyes and ears and hands
Have given up the elixir which late
Did bring fulfilment to my high endeavour
To bound life's perfect scope.
                                    But, though I yield,
What force can ever wrest from out my soul
The memories your presence there bestowed,
Now summoned to assuage my bitterness?

O, fast into the midnight of your hair,
On some floral hillside, now, another hand
Works petalled patterns from fresh-garnered piles
Of many scented blooms.
                                    But who shall say
How soon quick anger's heat shall breed vile words
To mar the fullness of that pastorale?
Not thus can speech destroy or fear assail
The sweet perfection of the tender hours
I live again, in memory's sanctuary,
The years our love was ripe.
                                    O, true to you
My days have been by being true to love.
And in your absence, now, though sorrow fills
My cup, the world is dressed in beauty's hues.
Such artistry did never reign until
The haunting spell of loneliness disclosed
The wealth your presence lent my meagre world.
Though loss has sought me out, I have not bent
Beneath the burden. Rather now my soul
Drinks of earth's marvels with a deeper zeal.
For have I heard not, through the trysting hours,
Your love-vow at my ear?
                                    Each birth of dawn, 
Adrift through Orient gates into the world,
Benumbs my senses like a mystic drug, [page 4]
As I recall the morns we scaled the heights
And gasped as one to see the argosies
Of pearl ride up the sky.
                                    Each smouldering fire
Of day, suffusing through the jewelled mould
Of Western clouds deprives my lips of power
To shape in phrase the transport of my soul,
For well I know such beauty mastered you
And bound your lips to silence in a spell.

Surely the deep divinity of hours,
When memory's fugues restore my wounded heart,
Shall lead me up from darkness to the light
Of peace.
                      Then let old sorrow's knell die out,
And let remembrance ever blend rich chords
Of harmony to match with perfect note
The perfect movement of the sacred hours
Our love was one.
                                    Thus let my life flow on,
Nurtured by rich perfection's crystal springs,
And fearless of the serpents that attend
The trysting place of thoughtless burning lips.


A loft in Fancy's realms I hear
Youth's elfin prelude at my ear;
See, as a child, the artist pines
Mouldering the heights to emerald lines;
Feel the lithe river rushes sway
Against my body stripped for play
In crystal depths.
                                Let Memory swing
The dim years’ gates. Let boyhood fling
Its gifts against my fragile heart
To give me solace ere I part
With Life's worn shell.
                                O what mad joy
I found in flinging, when a boy,
My body down against a hill
To let the streaming sunlight fill
My skin with bronze!
                                O, loved the days
I fared with Nature through her ways
Of tree and flower, fern and stream, [page 5]
Turning to watch the last blood-gleam
Of sun drain down the Western wall
Of clouds, and leave my soul in thrall;
When through the dusk, with pace of snail,
The kine, milk-heavy, found the trail
Before my brandished staff; the nights
When Heaven trained her boreal lights
Against my trancèd eyes; the rain
Low muttering against the pane
While, bent in book, I lost the hours,
Or watched the sable-draped cloud towers
Go crumbling down; the redolence
Of breezes, bearing on the sense
From lilac-laden lanes of June.
What madness stirred to feel the boon
Of first snow jewel-flakes in my hair,
As, poised with sled on hill yet bare,
I planned the winter's run—see now,
Between those pines, to miss that bough,
Down past the mill, to flash across
The creek—to watch the daring moss
Grope through March snow to plead the sun
For succour; see the first clean run
Of mellow sap in maple grove
In springtime’s warming days; to rove
Alone, each dusk, the hills and hear
Darkness, the panther, coming near,
But crouching then awhile to know
That God would lift His hallowed glow
Again, and flood the field's dark loam
With pearl to guide my footsteps home.

Countless the daybreaks when I crept
Out from my bed to intercept
The sun before its disk of gold
Swung up to gild that gnarled and old
Low elm bough; the nights when rapture
Stirred my senses to the capture
Of things I fain would understand.
A wondering child in grown-up’s land
I was.
                                O, how I thrilled to feel
The tide of moonlight softly steal
Against my cheek, as still I lay,
Adream, to wake to midnight’s day
And watch a loose star hurtle by
Between my body and the sky. [page 6]
O days and nights of mystery
When, throbbing through the heart of me,
Always some new-found love awoke
New colour to my cheek, or broke
My lips apart with wonder, stirred
My soul to passion like a word
Of sweetest sound; the web of dew
Which bound the meadow-land and drew
Patterns of silver through the brake
To lure my hurrying feet; the lake
Fretting her velvet midnight shores,
As armed with spear, with muffled oars,
I sought the red-fin’s hidden lair;
The thrill of grey wings high in air
In Autumn; Winter’s robes of white;
The emerald springtime’s lengthened light;
Brown summer lands; the smell of hay,
New-mown; the lark’s impassioned lay;
Young streams in flight; the soughing breeze;
Ripe harvest fruit; the storm-swayed trees;
Bronze wheat in bins; the swamill's whine;
Birds; flowers; brooklets, crystalline;
Ploughed fields; green hedges; garden plots;
Lost woodland paths; forget-me-nots.

O myriad loves, and myriad hosts
Of memories,—like ageless ghosts
Crowding the fancy of my brain
In some Elysian home, again,
Where I shall bide eternally,—
Give back the days of youth to me.
Then make me strangely wise once more
With the old wealth of childhood lore.

O never let Life teach me aught
But worths evoked through boyhood’s thought;
And let me ever learn from truth
Gleaned from the litany of youth.

Thus would I live again and grow
In priceless wisdom, never know
The long, deep agony of dreams
Destroyed, but move where Beauty gleams
From petal, leaf and wing and cloud,
Not wishing but to be endowed
Forever with the changeless joy
I knew in earthtime as a boy. [page 7]


That I may come
To the grave’s edge with knowledge that my days
Have not been trammeled by the world’s shrill praise,
Or fortune’s largess, laughter’s alien note,
Give me the hand of sorrow at my throat.
Beneath the rose and myrtle strew for me
A course of thorns to teach humility.
To give me sufferance, O Life, invest
My rarest hours with a sad unrest.
Temper my smug complacency with fears
That I shall not have garnered from the years
Lore from the Muses’ shrine to make me wise,
Before Death lays cold fingers on my eyes.
Shatter the concepts of my foolish pride,
That in Life’s quest I shall not be denied
The careless rapture that the ancients knew,
On finding, at the source of beauty’s hue,
The perfect jewel of truth.
   Then I shall go
Full-armed into the shadows where the slow
And ominous murmuring Stygian tides will claim
My soul, and musically sound my name
Across the shades, into the Judgement Halls
Of the Unknown, beyond Death’s petty walls.
As thus I die, across the whirling spheres
Swiftly I’ll hear the words and know my years
Were plundered not. . . . [page 8]

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