Edward John Chapman
East and West
21st Sep 2021Posted in: Edward John Chapman, The Confederation Poets 0

[handwritten: Can. [illegible word] Chapman, Edward J.]

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East and West:

          A Summer’s Idleness.

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[handwritten: by E.J. Chapman]

[unnumbered page]

[handwritten: Mrs. Seymour, with the author’s kind regards + remembrance]

EAST AND WEST:

A SUMMER’S IDLENESS,

—BY—

E. J. C.

“We look before and after,

And pine for what is not.”


TORONTO: CANADA.

TROUT & TODD, PRINTERS, 66 & 68 CHURCH STREET.

NOVEMBER, 1887.

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*

*                                          *

     This little poem was composed almost entirely during a brief holiday passed at a summer hotel on Kempenfeldt Bay, Lake Simcoe, in August of this year. To the friends whom he met there, the author dedicates it with all kind wishes.

     TORONTO: October 31st, 1887. [unnumbered page]

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THE PROLOGUE.

Art thou the old dream dreaming?

    Poor heart, of the morrow beware—

Death may lurk in the brown eyes’ veil’d gleaming,

    In the white throat so wondrously fair.

The tones that wild heart-throbs awaken—

    The sheen of the gold-shower’d hair—

The touch that thy soul hath so shaken—

    May lure thee, and leave thee—ah, where?

Trust it not, the wild treacherous gladness—

    The twin hounds of Passion and Pain

Are swift to arise—in their madness

    They rend, and they rest not again!

The day-dream is sweet in the dreaming,

    But dreamless the night’s dull despair,

When the voice, and the touch, and the gleaming,

    Have lured thee, and left thee—ah, where? [unnumbered page]

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EAST AND WEST.

“We look before and after,

And pine for what is not.”

THE WEST.

   The sultry day is well-nigh done,

Aflame is all the fiery west—

The giant snow-peaks, one by one,

Are crimson’d by the great red sun

Whose glory gilds each gleaming crest.

And far—upon the golden sky,

A black fleck floating silently—

A solitary eagle sweeps

Its way across those trackless deeps:

As trackless as a frozen sea

Whose waves have never stir nor sound

In all its weird immensity.

Below, the foot-hills stretch around

Mile after mile—untrack’d, untraced,

A desolate and dreary waste

Of shattered rock and clinging pine,

Deep-cleft by many a jaggëd line

Of lonely gulch and cavern hoar,

Where night is in the noon of day—

And months and years go on alway—

And still, as in the days that were,

Those western hills are wild and bare,

The eagle’s home, the lean wolf’s lair—

Unchanged, and changeless evermore! [unnumbered page]

   But deep within—the rocky core

Of those lone mountains, rent and old,

Is seam’d and vein’d with glittering ore,

And lurid with the gleam of gold.

So, to those savage wilds have come

A few wrecked souls, as savage. Some

By the fierce gold-thirst thither led,

And some from human vengeance fled,

And some world-chased by bitter wrong—

Rough, reckless, bearded, bold, and strong—

They come from far-off lands and climes,

But little speak of earlier times,

Each living as it seems him best,

Alone, and heedless of the rest.

   The daylight softly ebbs away,

Though lingering still with tender ray,

And still the sunset’s waning glow

Climbs slowly up those wastes of snow:

But here and there faint stars are seen

In the blue gaps that lie between

The glimmering peaks, and all below

Is gray with creeping mist. The stroke

Of restless pick, whose rhythmic clang

All day among the mountains rang

And many a wild weird echo woke,

Is silent row; but yet no sound

Or stir of life is there reveal’d

Among the scatter’d huts around.

To-night they linger long a-field,

Those toilers of Earth’s stony womb—

But now, slow-growing through the gloom

Dark forms in shadowy groups appear:

And two among them gently bear

A human burden—ghastly, wan,

And black with powder—one in whom

The likeness of a living man

Is well-nigh all crush’d out. And they,

Those hard rough miners—tender now [page 8]

As very women—softly lay

With silent footsteps, sad and slow,

Their comrade in his lowly hut,

Where gaunt and grey the rocks out-jut

Across the jaggëd rift below.

   He wakes again to life at last,

But not to consciousness or pain—

The throb of agony has pass’d

Though life doth still awhile remain.

And they, who stand beside him there

And bathe with rough but pitying care

His blood-stain’d breast and fever’d brow,

He knows them not—his spirit now

Is far away from that lone spot

In scenes long-left, but unforgot—

A stately terraced walk he sees,

Pale-tinted by the crescent moon:

The odour of the summer breeze,

The whisper of the swaying trees,

Falls softly on his soul—and soon

A clinging form is by his side—

Their lips are one—the whole world wide

Has not so fair a form for him—

His heart beats fast, his senses swim

Under her whisper’d words. Alas!

That such should be, and come, and pass,

Even as the wind that stayeth not.

   Well may the listeners shrink—God wot!

A laugh from dying lips to hear:

In sooth, it hath a ghastly sound

That well may cause a throb of fear

In hearts as bold as those around—

And bitterly, though faint and low,

From those pale lips the accents flow:

   I told thee, when thy fantasy

Had sicken’d and had ceas’d to be— [page 9]

When thou, unmoved, my name couldst hear,

Or hear it with a shrinking fear—

When hand met hand, and no quick thrill

Came, as of old, thy heart to fill—

And that one memory had become

A blear’d ghost, wan and wearisome—

Thou hadst but one brief word to say,

Or look—and I no more would blot

The brightness of thy life’s young day,

But drop from out that life away,

And be as thou hadst known me not.

   I told thee, when the thing was said,

I would go down without a cry—

A bubble—and the wave goes by,

And all the past is blurr’d and dead.

Why should I curse thee? All around

The dead leaves drop. The wintry ground

Is bare and black, that once was green—

The song-birds of the summer’s sheen

Where bleak winds blow no more abide—

All life’s poor glamours wax and wane—

Then how shouldst thou unchanged remain,

In all this change of time and tide!

   The damp of death is on his brow,

The flame but feebly flickers now—

A struggle for the strangled breath,

A gasp that faint and fainter grows:

And then the long, deep, calm repose,

The one long hush of death!

They draw the hood across his face,

And leave him to his Maker’s grace! [page 10]

THE EAST.

(ONE YEAR LATER.)

Blithe, and bright, and debonair,

Is Deercliffe Court this afternoon—

The roses in their flush of June

On terrace, lawn, and gay parterre,

In glowing masses fill the air

With summer fragrance. All around

Fair forms are floating, and the sound

Of light patrician laughter blends

With faint-heard strains of melody—

And friends are gaily greeting friends—

And warm and bright the summer sky

Its cloudless azure dome extends

O’er all that courtly company.

   Within the vast ancestral rooms,

The noble hosts of Deercliffe stand,

With winning smile and ready hand

To greet their throng of guests. Rich glooms

Upon the blazon’d arras throw

On Parian groups their purple glow:

And bowers of tropic plants, between,

Roll back the sunlight’s rippling sheen:

And high above, in long array,

Steel-coated warriors grim and grey,

And ermin’d judges, stern and cold,

And plumëd gallants, gay and bold,

Who many a roaring catch had troll’d

In those old halls, in days that were;

And maidens in their bloom of May,

White-throated, with their pearl-deck’d hair

And poor dead smiles, long pass’d away,

Look down upon as bright a scene

As in those halls hath ever been. [unnumbered page]

   She stands beside a marble fawn,

Gold-crown’d above her low pale brow

With sun-flush’d tresses, and a glow

On lips and cheek of pearly dawn.

Lithe as a tawny lioness,

Her form has still, in its slim grace,

A girl’s young beauty. One may trace

In all its swaying loveliness

The natural pose and pride of race

Subdued by inborn tenderness.

Her picture: you may see it there—

It hangs upon the southern wall

Among the rest, more fair than all,

With its great waves of tawny hair,

And tender mouth, and gold-brown eyes

Wherein a wistful yearning lies.

   Beside her stands the Earl,

In act and instinct, to the core,

True to his rank, if nothing more:

All coldly courteous. In the whirl

Of public life, no passing blame

Had ever touched his ancient name.

Noblesse oblige, his motto ever:

And so he held without endeavour

The world’s respect, his peers’ esteem,

His young wife’s love—well, so ’t was said—

But love, the passion and the dream,

Scarce troubles now a young girl’s head.

What, if without our world it lies—

Shall hearts for that be void and sore?

Rank, wealth, world-homage won—what more

Is wanted for a paradise?

   Gay goes that garden festival!

Around, the glorious roses glow;

Their fanfares gay the bugles blow;

The tennis-lawns and pathways all [page 12]

Are bright with beauty and the gleam

Of radiant gems and silk and lace,

And many a memory-haunting face.

Within the rooms, in dazzling stream

(Fit pageant for a painter’s dream)

The guests move onward. Some have pass’d

With their young hostess, free at last,

Through all the glittering living maze,

Within the noble gallery,

Where paintings of the old art-days—

Of Rubens, Titian, Veronese—

Rank upon rank, unbrokenly,

Enshrined in deathless glory, shone—

With many of our modern day,

Fit co-mates—so the world will say,

When Time’s slow touch shall o’er them stray,

And mellowing years have come and gone.

   A passing group has paus’d before

A strange weird painting—done by whom

None knew—its legend only bore

The picture’s name: “a lonely tomb.”

So fraught the scene with sense of pain,

That many a passer turns away:

But those who stop, perforce must stay,

And look, and lingering, look again.

A sunken cross—the sea—the shore—

A levelled sand-heap—nothing more

To tell the lonely sleeper’s tale—

A grave beside a storm-blown sea.

And on the land, nor leaf, nor tree,

And on the sea no gleam of sail

Or glint of wild bird’s restless wing,

Or sight or sign of living thing—

A scene that doth the soul oppress

With its wide utter loneliness.

   Between the lines the tale is read,

A voice amidst the silence said— [page 13]

Certes! the scene is sad and drear;

But in the Western wilds, last year,

I came across a scene as dread,

A grave as silent, lost, and lone—

The cloven ice-cliffs overhead,

And shatter’d rocks around it thrown!

In truth, a strange titanic tomb

Whose walls were never built or plann’d

By human skill or human hand—

But in their silence wide and dread,

Those walls will hold their lonely dead

Close-curtain’d till the crack of doom!

   They turn’d—and in the speaker knew

A soldier and a traveller too,

A paladin of high renown

In all the most exclusive sets:

One met to-day in ducal halls,

At midnight crushes, masques, and balls,

Then heard of in some far-off town

Among the moslem minarets—

Or where the Calmuck deserts lie

In their untamed immensity—

Or pillar’d date-palms stately stand,

Green islands in a sea of sand,

Within the Nubian’s burning land—

Or where the wide Marañon flows,

And forest upon forest grows,

And Cotopaxi’s gleaming snows

Are white against the Western sky!

All gathered round, and eagerly

The colonel question’d—what and where

Was that strange tomb of which he said?

And who was he, the lonely dead,

Who slept his last long slumber there?

   And so his tale the traveller told:

Last year, he said, when western woods

Were flush’d with autumn’s red and gold, [page 14]

I cross’d the rocky solitudes

Among the cloud-girt mountain chains

That rise from Arizona’s plains,

By sombre gorges deeply cleft,

Where Time’s denuding hand has left

Stern record of his patient toil,

And hurrying streams in wild turmoil

Leap darkling to the distant sea.

And there, in those far wilds, did we—

I, and my silent Indian guide

And our brave mules—climb patiently,

Until one sultry eventide,

Slow toiling up the mountain side,

Across a miners’ camp we came:

The topmost peaks were still aflame

With the red sunset’s dying glow,

But all was grey and dark below.

   And in the camp there was no sound

Or stir of life; but all appear’d

Lone and deserted, till we near’d

A distant hut in which we found

The miners gathered, mute, around

A dying comrade. As I gazed

Upon the dying face, its eyes

Turn’d upon the mine with sad surprise

In their last lingering look. Amazed,

I stood, till memory found the clue,

And then the poor dead face I knew—

Poor Geoffrey! everybody’s friend!

Who thought that such would be his end?

Countess! I think you knew him, too:

Young Geoffrey Vernon! Was it not

At Deercliffe—at this very spot,

I met him once, two years ago?

With sudden effort she suppress’d

The wild fierce throb that tore her breast,

And turn’d, and slowly answer’d—No! [page 15]

I do not think it!—all the same,

I do remember, now, the name—

I pray, let us hear the rest.

   Her voice was hard, and strange its tone,

As voice of one that would subdue

A moan’s low cry. A livid hue

Came o’er her cheek, and then, anew,

As quickly as it came, was gone—

Unseen, unheeded. And again,

With voice that held no touch of pain,

She said, I pray you, then, say on!

   Well, there is little more to say—

I kept the death-watch till the day

Came greyly, and the stars were gone.

Then follow’d the strange burial:

The strangest that has ever been

Before or since, or ever shall

In all the coming years be seen.

The hills above the camp, that night,

Threw back a lurid spectral light:

And suddenly among them shone

A sofatara’s fiery cone,

Between the fissured rifts upthrown.

And with the dawn, a seething flood

Of pitch-like, black, and trailing mud

Pour’d from its throat and forced its way

Far down the narrow gorge that lay

Darkly beneath it. There they placed

(Within a few rough boards encased)

The body of the silent dead.

And one they call’d “the preacher” there,

Uncover’d, and with low voice said

A few scant words of hurried prayer.

Then came the wave: a moving wall,

It crept around the coffin-lid,

And rose and rose—and all was hid

Beneath its black and massive pall [page 16]

That froze of solid rock, anon!

And ever as the years roll on

The secret of that silent stone

Lock’d darkly in its hidden core—

The goad that drove its tenant forth

From home and kin, o’er sea and earth,

To perish there—remains unknown,

And so remaineth evermore!

    *            *            *            *            *

   It seem’d as though the cruel day

Would never end—and all the while

To force upon the face a smile,

And this and that, O God! to say,

Whilst all the thought was far away—

And all the glitter and the gleam,

The greeting forms that came and went,

Seem’d but the glamour of a dream

That work’d to her bewilderment.

But now at last the day has pass’d,

The lingering, gleaming, ghastly day—

The carriages have roll’d away—

And she is free—at last—at last!

    *            *            *            *            *

   She stands alone within her room—

The night has come: the moon, on high,

Sails softly through the summer sky—

The floor is flecked with light and gloom—

The glory of her loosen’d hair

Is all about her—white and bare

Her shoulders and her white feet shew

Like marble in the pale moon-glow.

And light as one that moves in dream

She seeks the costly cabinet

Wherein her rarest jewels gleam,

And stooping, wildly takes from it

A few poor letter—three or four,

She had not dared to treasure more— [page 17]

And these, why keep them new, she said:

To keep them were a bitter jest

On this great lie of life, at best,

And here they do but mock the dead!

   No need has she to scan again

Those words of passionate power and pain,

That branded were in heart and brain.

One lingering, clinging kiss—the last—

And through their leaves the swift flame pass’d,

And the grey ashes, one by one,

Dropt silently, and all was done.

But as the last gleam o’er them swept,

Through all her soul a terror crept

And shook with sobs her shuddering breast—

Her hands across her eyes she press’d,

But that dead face she needs must see—

And all the yearning Past is there—

And low she moans, in her despair,

O Jeff! poor Jeff!–it had to be!

[illustration]

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