Michael John Collie
Poems
8th Oct 2021Posted in: Michael John Collie, Modernist Poets 0

POEMS

MICHAEL COLLIE

[illustration]

TORONTO • The RYERSON PRESS

[unnumbered page]

This is Chap-Book 182

OF THIS EDITION OF POEMS, BY MICHAEL COLLIE, TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY COPIES ONLY HAVE BEEN PRINTED.

Copyright, Canada, 1959, by The Ryerson Press, Toronto.

NOTE

Some of these poems have previously

appeared in Canadian Poetry Magazine

and Queen’s Quarterly.

PRINTED AND BOUND IN CANADA

BY THE RYERSON PRESS, TORONTO

[unnumbered page]

POEMS

FIRST PREMISE

THERE is no poem for sceptics who desire

a rigid logic behind each event,

who dare not watch the castles in the air

without the vain empiricist’s consent.

So do not read these lines unless

you’re free to feel for instance the night air

irrationally calm, and to confess

the quaint serenity of one’s despair

when faced with such ambiguous delight.

If therefore from one’s window one can hear

the distant children singing through the night

though with no possible cause, why fear

that incongruity, that casual pain?

Children will match the blood’s instinctive dance

though questing intellect may strain

to stigmatise each pleasure as mere chance.

AT CLEARWATER

IF a season’s gloss on the lustreless lake

renders too harshly what the mind fears,

that what falcons draw, or hawks delineate

has only the meaning that the lakeshore bears

when leaves are rankled by a chafing wind,

then why should man fret that his thoughts rescind

the laboured passions of his nettled flesh,

since all he knows is a febrile lust

where an apt wind whittles at the water’s edge,

and the rocks are ground to a pedant’s dust? [page 3]

But suppose man rows to a distant shore

where the falcon builds and the sun destroys,

where the rocks hide nothing that has gone before,

and he need not grope, or grovel, or toil

for a clue to the meaning that an old world holds,

is it not enough that the day withholds

the shame of his civilized hypocrite life,

and the sun draws up with the warmth of wine

the scents of the forest, and the air is light

with the brittle tang of the seasoned pine?

Or suppose where the harsh sun fires his flesh

(where the bay had only his swimming for form)

should the mind retain—like the innocent pledge

that a woman keeps when the child has gone—

some single thought too ingrained to fade,

as that crumbled book which he did not trade

for bread or wine while a war was fought,

is it not enough that this strain of fact

has the charm of some old ceramic art,

and a strength that mechanic nature lacks?

Then there is no need for the incense jar

that pitches the head to a fragrant dream,

nor cause that the fevered hands explore

each lake-washed stone for an ancient creed.

For the nerves are fretted to such design

as no Word may mark, nor bowl confine.

And the man who stands on the shore alone

(as a bell may construct a countryside

though the church is locked, and the priests are gone)

so inscribes the scene with his own delight [page 4]

that when he returns, the varnished lake

is distinctly glazed with the ordered stroke

of thought. And the stencilled pines, and the great

unreflecting creek, where the boat turns home,

have stiffened and set to a man’s hard sight.

No rendering will mitigate this slight

pain—this finger groping out for fact

and stubbing blindly at enamelled clues,

yet throbbing sometimes where the glaze is cracked

and a broken line seems to yield of truth.

THE JAY

NOW when the brash jay

ordered those woods

no longer he prayed

god always to let

each moment be understood.

Now when he walked no

friend he desired

but merely took note

to himself of the hare

that was trapped and had died.

Now when a bright flower

caught at his mind

and gave peace, that hint

of some glimpse of the truth

to himself was confined.

And now in his woods

if strangers came

no longer he talked

or showed them his jay

for all talk was in vain. [page 5]

AT LAC DU BONNET

WOOD strawberries or aqualegia have

more subtlety than I can feel,

or should I pause than words of mine can tell.

And deep conjunctions of grey rock,

rose-tipped and blackcurrant, whose harsh

texture seems inscrutable, —these rocks I pass

knowing the language is too glib to catch

their truth. Mere granite is the working of my mind

that cannot name a rock’s ornate design,

or give account of sun-sealed days now done.

Bleached lakeshore roots and driftwood somehow show

more delicate sympathy than I yet know

for fact. My facts are grossly marked.

They have the imprint of crude glacial force,

stony austere and gaunt, without a trace

even of woodland flower marking their fertile depth.

A girl may wear wild roses in her hair

yet her tanned face delineates the vague

inconsequential beauty of the rock

as fashioned by the winter windspun lake,

or bleached lays bear mortality too late.

Or if behind that face I should perceive

wild stratagem, or delicate desire

somehow to live, to cradle thought, or bear

a more-than-natural distinctive strain

to truth, or think I read perverse delight

to be not call-girl to blind cultured lust, [page 6]

no words describe, nor pen can signify

what that asserts and fashions, how it tears

and rips, draws blood on nature’s face, and breaks

right through sophisticated poise, —

man wryly balanced to the earth’s trite law.

Were such the case, I should feel no more sure

perhaps, nor trust what I perceived,

than had these strawberries and columbine

woven some lakeshore fancy, and combined

tow minds within the fretted stiffening blood,

and the water’s play on the rocks and sand

had been all of that passion I could understand.

Nor have I tact to comprehend

the subtle marks of a soul’s quiet stir,

as even the lilies and vetch confer

mysterious limits to my probing mind,

confusing each granite day with their obscure

magic, and unnecessary lure

to make believe there’s meaning to be found,

where only indifferent birches bend

with a gentle grace to the earth’s end. [page 7]

AN ASSERTION

SUPPOSE two minds should accidentally meet,

—as though one heard slow footsteps on a stair

in some high house, and waited there

merely to know who else might come

to search this town with quaint deliberate care:

suppose one heard the stiffly muttered words

while room by room was rummaged, as by death,

and listened to the toiling heavy breath—

then saw the man, like Durer’s father, hard,

with eyes that pierced: suppose that each confessed

no practical aim to kill or loot or lust,

but turned and through the garret window saw

the town, and where no meaning was before

saw truth: would not such minds find sense

which might transcend all mere conformity to law?

CONVENTIONAL SONNET ON A MATCHBOX

THIS matchbox is the measure of my mind,

and silently my thoughts like drifting swans

group round, and without protest are confined.

Each instant is this pain that’s undergone

when by some chance coherence is achieved,

when Hume and Breughel do not seem opposed,

when soul meets soul, and beauty is conceived

behind these faces, passive and composed.

So memory is measured, though that night

nine swans inconsequentially brought peace,

then turned and beat the surface into flight

breaking its lucid image piece by piece.

But now my children, or the cleaning man

will take this box—I’m back where I began. [page 8]

SIX SONNETS

1

ALL morning I have wondered who the man

might be, who knew to work and fire and glaze

this local clay. Your face is porcelain white, and

hard, high-cheeked, and in a way

most like ceramic symbols in the east,

as I imagine their impassiveness. I am amazed,

however, holding this head, that I should feel

more than of delicately fragile craft,

and more than those features that are clearly real

impressions, moulded from life. Beneath this glaze,

eyes are too deeply fired for artist’s hands

and local knowledge, since his task

is not to catch the measure of the mind

but play his plastic pleasures on a mask.

2

REPRESS a river to conceive its roar

in Spring, yet sound has not its name,

nor has this ice the violence, flood the power,

to break the language, as before I came

they told me ice would move. All those Dakota Hills

produce is noise at nightfall like the linking trains

in shunting yards. One listens anyway until

some image comes to catch precisely faint

inflections—drag and catch of ice-floes as they move,

as by that river one may hope to tell

the neat distinction of his cautious love

with words well chosen, like a parable.

But I shall wait for violent ice next year;

what words can say I do not wish to hear. [page 9]

3

AT first the fir tree by my window side

was alien, stiff and dusty, with a green

matted dulness, in every way unlike

those English beeches with their clean

distinction, lining my youth.

And yet I learned its beauty, came to see

within its cone a delicate truth

of intersecting line, and with this free

regard searched out the world.

                                 Even that face

which I first saw as stolid, hard and taut,

gaunt with the meanings that constrained the race

to type—even that face became a thought

of deeper grace, just as my fir tree had assumed

articulate gestures in this stranger’s room.

4

THE brake of owl at nightfall makes a breach

as lethal as the rasping failing cry

of falling mountain boy, or as the screech

of tyres at roadside, when an old man dies

uncommented. Its warning call breaks through

my doomsday peace, and forces me at dusk

stiffly to know that stench which once I knew

of woodland carnage, or of soldier’s lust.

But if across the river I should sight

its perch, erect and brazen to the sun,

or later watch its twilight downstream flight

to hunt, I would already have begun

to salve its wisdom to my finite tomb,

catching incongruous beauties from the gloom. [page 10]

5

AT daybreak I can hear its liquid song

yet should I put on clothes and go outside

despite my care the bird has always gone.

I read the books at breakfast which confide

the range of calls which local birds might make,

yet as I did not know her till she died

so now I cannot realize my mistake

in thinking I can hunt out beauty’s source,

and comprehend each day when I awake

why nature’s casual sounds should have such force.

Nor can I reconcile my being struck

by bird’s lost melody, or by remorse,

with dawntime clumsiness, or this absurd

ignorance of the silent flight of birds.

6

THIS lady is to me as laughing girls

in foreign streets whose language is obscure.

Whose voices are anonymous delight

sung to the pattern of a silent care.

At dawn I see her as she dusts her flowers,

iris from England, or deep peonies,

and perhaps in midsummer she will cut a bloom,

and carry it to a neighbour in a shallow basket.

Her veins are purple, ridging her skin

to something like a delicate transparency.

And should I pass, she speaks in metaphor

interpreting whatever I might say,

just as in youth her voice had melody,

when flowers were twisted in her stubborn hands. [page 11]

ST. BOLTOPH’S LANE

ST. BOLTOPH tolls my mind

and in its lane I pay my daily fee

and hear its bell, its resonant sound

and token of mortality.

The bell at sunrise calls me to my creed

and takes its toll of restlessness and doubt,

and yet I can only use that street

for the avoidance of the crowd

upon my daily trek to work.

And in addition when I see the church

and crocuses are flowering in the dirt

of all men’s lives, and roses search

the sunwashed sandstone for their life,

only old demons peer out from its porch

who scarred my childhood with their knife,

and blurred my vision with their ritual torch.

And yet I pause within the curving lane

to rummage out some paltry note

as change—bail out my mind again

avoiding both corrupt and the devout.

And through my day St. Botolph’s bell

sounds out my progress as I chart

a new existence and at evening tell

its antique meanings in my painful art. [page 12]

ON A PAINTING NOTICED BY CHANCE

AS photographers place an impersonal mask

over taut features, for example of men studied in a jail,

so one eye in that painting was rectangular, and deep

and black with a depth of heavy paint precisely laid,

and the other an inscrutable triangle freed

from its ligatures and blood, with the quality of still

water, unreflecting, immutable, in the quiet hills.

This painter’s artifice when he comes to his task

of constructing equivalents of life’s mystery, and the bland grief

of a Jewish girl, hollow-eyed, and arched in her wedding shawl,

is the power—when your look seems most open and frank—that I need.

I search as painters search your tense eyes. But all

I perceive, each movement and grace, has this quality of still

water, an unfathomable depth in the quiet hills.

THE PEMBINA HIGHWAY BY NIGHT

THE pulsing neon is the mountain stream

a lord diverted to his cobbled yard

with intricate mechanic skill, to learn

wisdom of movement, and to ease his heart

of seeing clearly his dispassionate life.

The highway is his avenue of elm, though here

not sunlight slants but potent primal light

pierces distracts and mitigates the fear

of seeing clearly a dispassionate town.

The rasping flash across each brittle sore

which warms the traveller to his frigid home

mock innocent blue, like lilac sprays, or the raw [page 13]

red reassuring anatomy of the street,

that each quaint man should see his pulsing soul

illuminate the flashy hour, and feel

not fragmentary, insignificant, but a whole

man—these fluorescent fancies are the art

dispassionate lords and ladies on a bridge

applauded, when they watched the trembling rocket’s arch

of light, and sacrificed decorum while they judged

some smart mechanic’s pyro-technic skill,

and slept in comfort since their ordered world

had fireworks but no vehemence at all.

Movement and light no mysteries unfold:

the highway is man’s brash courageous flare

to catch chromatic fancies in cold light,

create his own perspective, and to fear

no specious artifice behind delight.

IN TIME OF AERIAL WARFARE

RECOLLECTION is kindled by that high kite flying

and flinging its string tail to the summer wind.

Its stress and balance is of children spinning

and tossing fine dreams to the quiet sky.

Its cord through raw fingers is a tearing

and searing, as love that parts at the break of day,

in a land where tired eyes are forever craving

the thrill of a kite’s climb from the heart’s care.

There was once a time when a high kite flying

was the contact simply between hand and wind,

though the tense hand weakened, and the wind died, —

and a time when a careless child was winding

his turning world on an innocent string

where no man feared to scrutinize his sky. [page 14]

THE CANDLE

A CANDLE flame betrays the mind

to gentle pleasures; like being caught

fingering the fretted stone of an old archway,

or found stretching at the taut

springtime buds of a familiar elm,

innocently testing their resilience

and probing their hard buds with solemn

delight. A candle is perversely persistent.

It distracts and teases the mind

already on guard for facile sentiment,

as a bandaged soldier who fears he will be blind.

There is anyway in a candle flame

something incongruous. The brash glare

as the mountain water pulses the highway

and the neon interrogates and tears

open one’s conception of solitude,

or the splash and spray of the multi-coloured lights

in the city square, blazing a crude

attempt at public festivity, these make the slight

assertion of taper and wax

an inconsiderable charm, like the casual bright

friendliness of a stranger who makes one relax.

But to picture your figure in a quiet room

with book held aslant to the candle light

has too much of sentiment. For should one assume

some faint imponderable sign

of grace (and not the chimerical delight of childhood)

there seems at least an even chance

brash light will flood one’s vision, and the rude

incoherence of the town’s lights dance

their rough rhythms on that head and book, and the face

of the stranger be averted or askance,

and the soldier grope unguided to his finite grave. [page 15]

SELF ESTEEM

IT sometimes happens that one’s weight in gold

lacks purchase: when fleece coats come in well,

(since brilliance has no virtue in the cold,)

or flasks or rum. Perhaps the eskimo might tell,

with ponderous accent, just who should survive,

whether he carried coins, or books, or no.

Still, as one froze and died, one might contrive

some verbal alchemy which eskimo

art, in all its rich utility, ignored.

Better, that man should barter off his goods

exchanging food and oil, for ancient lore,

than ever fear his motives understood.

But do not try to fleece the arctic sun,

good friends, or square the polar bears with rum.

A FAMILIAR VOICE

THREE centuries’ sophisticated thought

has not provided language to record

the meaningful inflections of a voice;

and man’s perceptions cannot be contained

within the crusted syntax of a horde

who use their ancient idiom without choice;

nor can new words be coined to catch the soul

of each new moment and its random joy;

nor may an image testify the sense

of real events, for metaphor conceals

the essence and its images destroy

the understanding which mere reticence

preserves, as now. For now I know the whole

frustration of communicating all

one’s thought, without half measure and without [page 16]

restraint. I know the glibness of all speech.

For subtlety is deadened by the drawl

of modern thinkers who still claim that doubt

will teach: to disbelieve is right.

And yet a voice still lingers in my mind

that cancels rage, and lingers like the sound

of homing waggons in the autumn sun:

or like the owl that still calls through the night

haunting with meanings that are not designed

and yet accord completely with the truth:

or like unfashionable music that still finds

response despite the intellect and strikes

down through rich treasures that one’s age preserves:

still this voice lingers, like the call that winds

its distant melodies about my soul,

for in its casual utterance it can chart

more meaning than three hundred years of art.

THE RIVER

I KNEW all beauty and had measured it

against the fine-spun complex of my soul.

I knew each insect’s markings, how they fit

its need, observed of nature’s art its whole

functional gaudiness—as tinsel lines

reveal the wealth and structure of the rock:

or superficial portraiture defines

the random pattern of an ancient stock.

My mind had hardened to mere visual right

relationship—each splendour was no more

than mere coincidence to form: delight,

like measurable fact, conformed to law—

and yet this river’s sullen, noiseless flow

asserts dim meanings that man cannot know. [page 17]

NOTES FOR A POEM OF MEANING

THE clockmaker Giovanni de’Dondi

knew more than Aristotle taught

at least on that one point, or thought he did.

His random guess was thought

for all quaint men who studied hot salt springs

and volcanoes, or who dabbled in alchemy.

In physics, Giovanni Battista Benedetti

had some notion of truth, and in a way

helped to redirect inquiry away from the accepted

norm. But he could not say

exactly why Leonardo was right

or what could be meant by weight and gravity.

But even his guesswork is a substantial

assertion, comparable to the harsh

hand hacked chiselling of the hard stone

and the stubborn clash

with a man’s mind, though certainly no proof exists

that man or stone entails identity.

Still there is something fine in that delicacy

which first balanced and geared

Chaucer’s may mornings in a wrought iron clock,

or in making clear

how stars may neatly be ordered and put to use,

or in weighing infinity.

And perhaps if these early scientists

had something of truth which now touches my soul,

perhaps that talk we had together in the high room

was not without meaning, the whole

world being ordered by the fragrance of pear-blossom,

and words toughened by uncertainty. [page 18]

EXPERIENCE

THEY told me that the river when it cracked

would break my sleep, and grate and roar, and cut

to pieces all a winter’s dream.

The told me that the water when it rose

would break my peace, and when I fought the flood

all vague imagining would be destroyed,

since danger was the mind’s securest stay,

surviving no dream.

They told me that the ice was not my thought

that no-one crossed or recrossed at his will:

the owl I watched at nightfall was my foe,

and should it fly across the water still

that would not mean

more than I pondered while the old world changed,

and kept its snowflecked crossings to my dream.

They told me when the frost had left the soil

my peace would end,

since pungent odours would afflict the brain,

brash sounds would break my woods, startle the fields,

and finally the lift and strain

of axe and plough shatter my winter’s dream.

They told me that the river when it cracked

would force my speech,

or else, in silence, you should feel the wind

sift with a southern fragrance the dank woods,

or watch arriving all the summer’s birds

and catch the lilting softness of their song

out of my reach. [page 19]

OF MOMENT

WE give no credit to the flesh that stirs,

nor ponder on its feigned inconsequence.

Across the hearth steeled eyes detect the glance

as though that intimate stranger merely rose

to eat, or search some text, or dance

his formal acquiescence to our law.

But eyes had marked that strategy before

when blood rose to its antique rage:

we therefore watch him amble to the door

and feign indifference to his genteel lust.

We give no credit to the mind, nor trust

its unrelenting arrogance and wit.

By ember light impassively we watch

the elegant figure deftly cracking nuts

and, to annoy us, re-assembling shells,

just like an archaeologist, and then

brush to the fire his casual specimen.

His words make sense and manufacture joy.

And therefore, when he leaves, no looks condemn

the vain flamboyance of his self deceit.

We give no credit to the ember light

 that seems to lend our apprehension depth.

The room is empty and we do not speak.

Between us only is a fragrant night

when once a child woke to be with the stars,

and while we slept was framed, and caught

within that windowed terror of a thought

that was himself. But here no tentative glance

betrays our mutual knowledge, for we sought

to probe beyond the comforts of mere chance. [page 20]

[blank page]

The Ryerson Poetry Chap-Books

Lorne Pierce-Editor

_______

    1. THE SWEET O’ THE YEAR˚ [1925]

Sir Charles G. D. Roberts

  33. LATER POEMS AND NEW VILLANELLES

S. Frances Harrison

  52. THE NAIAD AND FIVE OTHER POEMS˚

Marjorie Pickthall

  70. THE THOUSAND ISLANDS

Agnes Maule Machar

  77. SONGS

Helena Coleman

  82. THE MUSIC OF EARTH˚

Bliss Carman

  83. LYRICS AND SONNETS

Lillian Leveridge

  87. DISCOVERY

Arthur S. Bourinot

100. SALT MARSH

Anne Marriott

115. VOYAGEUR AND OTHER POEMS

R. E. Rashley

116. POEMS: 1939-1944

George Whalley

124. THE SEA IS OUR DOORWAY

Michael Harrington

126. AS THE RIVER RUNS

Dorothy Howard

127. SONGS FROM THEN AND NOW

Ruby Nichols

132. NOT WITHOUT BEAUTY

John A. B. McLeish

133. NEW YORK NOCTURNES

Arthur Stringer

135. SCRUB OAK

Thomas Saunders

139. TANAGER FEATHER

Kathryn Munro

141. THREE MERIDIANS

Geoffrey Drayton

142. THE FLUTE AND OTHER POEMS

Katherine Hale

143. CALL MY PEOPLE HOME

Dorothy Livesay

145. EAST COAST

Elizabeth Brewster

146. CITY HALL STREET

Raymond Souster

147. THE SEARCHING IMAGE

Louis Dudek

150. VIEWPOINT

Myra Lazechko-Haas

151. PORTRAIT AND OTHER POEMS

R. E. Rashley

*Out of Print

[unnumbered page]

152. ON FRIENDSHIP

William Sherwood Fox

153. LILLOOET

Elizabeth Brewster

155. TOM THOMSON AND OTHER POEMS

Arthur S. Bourinot

156. QUEENS AND OTHERS

I. Sutherland Groom

157. PRESSED ON SAND

Alfred W. Purdy

158. COMPASS READINGS AND OTHERS

Goodridge MacDonald

160. THE WHITE MONUMENT

A. Robert Rogers

161. MOBILES

Thecla Bradshaw

162. REMEMBER TOGETHER

Myrtle Reynolds Adams

163. CENTAURS OF THE WIND

Marion Kathleen Henry

164. THE HALOED TREE

Fred Cogswell

165. ORPHAN AND OTHER POEMS

Freda Newton Bunner

166. SYMPHONY

Ruby Nichols

167. BIRCH LIGHT

Lenore Pratt

168. THE TESTAMENT OF CRESSEID

Fred Cogswell

169. THE ARROW-MAKER’S DAUGHTER

Hermia Harris Fraser

170. RECENT POEMS

Goodridge MacDonald

171. MYTH AND MONUMENT

Theresa E. and Don W. Thomson

172. THROUGH THE GLASS, DARKLY

Joan Finnigan

173. OF DIVERSE THINGS

Mary Elizabeth Bayer

174. ROADS AND OTHER POEMS

Elizabeth Brewster

175. DAZZLE

Dorothy Roberts

176. SAMSON IN HADES

Ella Julia Reynolds

177. MORNING ON MY STREET

Myrtle Reynolds Adams

178. APHRODITE

John Heath

179. SOMETHING OF A YOUNG WORLD’S DYING

Thomas Saunders

180. AND SEE PENELOPE PLAIN

Fred Swayze

181. FACES OF LOVE

Mary Elizabeth Bayer

182. POEMS

M. J. Collie

183. IN HER MIND CARRYING

Verna Loveday Harden

184. THE HEART IS FIRE

Douglas Lochhead

One Dollar

[unnumbered page]

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