Child of Nations, giant-limbed,
Who stand'st among the nations now
Unheeded, unadored, unhymned,
With unanointed brow!"
he opens his dignified ode on Canada. And in his verses
on Canadian streams he weaves the story and legend of
each with its musical name.
rivers rolling to the sea
From lands that bear the maple-tree,
swell your voices with the strain
Of loyalty and liberty!
. . .
inland stream, whose vales, secure
From storm, Tecumseh's death made poor!
thou small water, red with war,
'Twixt Beaubassin and Beauséjour!
"Dread Saguenay, where eagles soar,
What voice shall from the bastioned shore
tale of Roberval reveal,
Or his mysterious fate deplore?"
too the every day aspect of country life and the common-place
things of the Canadian landscape have moved Mr. Roberts
to love and sympathetic expression. "The Sower,"
"The Fir Woods," "Burnt Lands,"
"The Potato Harvest," "The Herring Weir,"-such
are the themes that he has treated in a series of sonnets
and published, along with other poems, in his most recent
volumes, "Songs of the Common Day." And it
is, of course, rather in these and similar themes that
such a poet will find his happiest expression. For however
the noble and brave and devoted story of his own country
may move him, it must still fail to touch his work with
fire unless he have himself personally heard the clash
of arms and drum roll at his own door. In times of peace
the world is one; and the more philosophic and meditative
subjects touch the artist fervently. I shall not quote
here any of those sonnets I have mentioned, but give
preference to two others which illustrate Mr. Roberts
in two admirable ways.
first sonnet I shall quote is an example of the simplicity-the
value of treating simple human themes in the simplest
lies a little city leagues away.
Its wharves the green sea washes all day long.
Its busy sun-bright wharves with sailors' song
And clamor of trade ring loud the live-long day.
Into the happy harbor hastening, gay
With press of snowy canvass, tall ship throng.
The peopled streets to blithe-eyed peace belong,
Glad housed beneath these crowding roofs of grey.
'Twas long ago this city prospered so,
For yesterday a woman died therein.
Since when the wharves are idle fallen, I know,
And in the streets is hushed the pleasant din;
The thronging ships have been, the songs have been;-
Since yesterday it is so long ago."
other sonnet is an example of the writer's power in
coping with the largest subjects. It is just here that
Mr. Roberts is at his best. His hand is too heavy for
bric-a-brac verse, but the most serious aspects and
aspirations of life are plastic in his sure grasp. There
is a dignity and fineness in his attitude towards the
problems of this little earth, characteristic of the
amplest-minded artists of all times. He is never petty
and never vindictive. Without superstition of any sort,
he is yet imbued with the ancient worship of Nature;
the quiet of a northern pantheism pervades all his deeper
work. For example, in these very lines:
the wide awe and wisdom of the night
I saw the round world rolling on its way,
Beyond significance of depth or height,
Beyond the interchange of dark and day.
I marked the march to which is set no pause,
And that stupendous orbit, round whose rim
The great sphere sweeps, obedient unto laws
That utter the eternal thought of Him.
I compassed time, outstripped the starry speed,
And in my still soul apprehended space,
Till, weighing laws which these but blindly heed
At last I came before Him face to face,-
And knew the Universe of no such span
As the august infinitude of Man."
Roberts places in the front of his book an invocation
that reveals the aim of his work:
the fog the moon lies fair.
Transfused with ghostly amethyst,
O white Night, charm to wonderment
The cattle in the mist!
Thy touch, O grave mysteriarch,
Makes dull familiar things divine.
O grant of thy revealing gift
Be some small portion mine!
"Make thou my vision sane and clear,
That I may see what beauty clings
In common forms, and find the soul
Of unregarded things!"
yet, it is not in "common forms," and "unregarded
things," that he touches his most consummate height
of song. For the larger, more wondrous and dim, pulses
of life beat through his imagination like the lift and
fall of the sea.
in my veins forever must abide
The urge and fluctuation of the tide,"
sums up the sentiment for nature, the sympathy with
the outer world and passion for its perfection of loveliness,
which make Mr. Roberts akin to Keats and the Greeks;
a sentiment that reveals itself in such minute an human
expression as in the two lyrics beginning
purple hang the pods
On the green locust tree!"
valley of the winding water
Wears the same light it wore of old."
then this sentiment for the beauty of the world is touched
with pathos, with an unstrained ancient childlike pathos,
in the "Epitaph for a Sailor Buried Ashore,"
perhaps its author's finest and most appealing brief
who but yesterday would roam
Careless as clouds and currents range,
In homeless wandering most at home,
Inhabiter of change;
wooed the west to win the east,
And named the stars of north and south,
And felt the zest of Freedom's feast
Familiar in his mouth;
"Who found a faith in stranger-speech,
And fellowship in foreign hands,
And had within his eager reach
The relish of all lands,-
"How circumscribed a plot of earth
Keeps now his restless footsteps still,
Whose wish was wide as ocean's girth,
Whose will the water's will!"
is in a still higher flight, however, a still more ambitious
sphere of poetry, that we shall find our author at his
best. Matthew Arnold has said that poetry "interprets
in two ways; it interprets by expressing with magical
felicity the physiognomy and movement if the outward
world, and it interprets by expressing, with inspired
conviction, the ideas and laws of the inward world of
a man's moral and spiritual nature." In a few of
his poems, in the sonnet I have quoted above, and in
one or two lyrics lately published in the magazines,
Mr. Robert shows, as it seems to me, "the faculty
of both kinds of interpretation, the naturalistic and
the moral." In the opening of a lyric called "Afoot,"
the lure of green things growing,
Comes the call of waters flowing-
the wayfarer desire
Moves and wakes and would be going.
"Hark the migrant hosts of June
Marching nearer noon by noon!
the gossip of the grasses
Bivouacked beneath the moon!"
in the closing of another lyric, a prayer to Nature,
me how some sightless impulse,
Working out a hidden plan,
God for kin and clay for fellow,
Wakes to find itself a man
"Tell me how the life of mortal,
Wavering from breath to breath,
Like a web of scarlet pattern
Hurtles from the loom of death.
"How the caged bright bird, desire,
Which the hands of God deliver,
Beats aloft to drop unheeded
At the confines of forever;
"Faints unheeded for a season,
Then outwings the furthest star
To the wisdom and the stillness
Where thy consummations are."
passages like these poetry is at its best; it is doing
for us what nothing else can; it is interpreting for
us the beauty of the outward world and the inward mysterious
craving of the human mind. Poetry, the poetic quality
in all art, has in it something of the hushed wonder
of a child in the face of the unknown; it is the rapt,
not quite coherent, exclamation of the spirit, awaking
to a consciousness of itself, allured at once by the
outward passion for beauty, and teased by the inward
curiousity for knowledge. To translate the cryptogram
of Nature, that strange traditional record in an unknown
tongue, whose cypher has not come down to us, is the
joyful self-rewarded labor of the poet; then to this
translation so magically divined, to add the comment
of his own meditation. For poetry is to be a commentary
on nature as well as a criticism of life. It is no scant
praise, then, and yet I think that it is not unjust,
to say that Mr. Roberts in the work he has so far done
has shown power in both these directions, both as a
loving prophet of Nature and as a critic of the human
aspiration. It is just so, by devotion to both these
aims, that he will come to earn a secure place in English
have said that Mr. Roberts had best be considered in
connection with his national surrounding. There is in
Canada a small body of men, the more earnest perhaps
for their very isolation from the centers of thought
and civilization, who are keeping alive a very real
and pure worship of Nature. The ennui of a closing
age has not sapped their enthusiasm; the discouraging
triumph of a corrupt plutocracy has not yet touched
their country; and while they are cut off from the mental
activity which underlies the scientific and socialistic
and philosophic speculation of London, they are also
saved from the deadly blight of New York, that center
of American letters, that gangrene of politics on the
body of democracy. With their Loyalist traditions, their
romantic history, their untold resource, their beautiful
land, their vigorous climate, their future all to make,
their days of immeasurable leisure, it is little wonder
their songs should have all the genuine assurance of
youth, the freshness of the fields. And with these conditions,
it is a matter of course, too, that their poetry should
deal chiefly with Nature and the interpretation of her
names of Mr. Archibald Lampmen and Mr. Duncan Campbell
Scott, along with Mr. Roberts's, have attracted our
attention from time to time, and all three will be found,
I think, not only devoted but imaginative interpreters
of the beautiful outward world, not unworthy children
of Keats and Emerson and Wordsworth. Upon its sensuous
side their interpretation is near to that of Keats;
upon its spiritual side it is near to the disinterested
idealism of Emerson. And in the small but choice and
significant body of verse which this school of young
writers has given us, nothing will be found, I think,
more perfect than the two lyrics I have quoted from
above. Indeed, it is only in poets of the first order
that we will find the haunting quality of the couplet,
the migrant hosts of June
Marching nearer noon by noon,"
the terse penetration of the stanza,
me how some sightless impulse,
Working out a hidden plan,
God for kin and clay for fellow,
Wakes to find itself a man."
these two poems the note which the Canadian cult is
sounding so sincerely, if not very forcefully as yet,
reaches its clearest utterance, the note of a worship
of Nature from which modern knowledge has cast out fear,
the note of a religion that was on earth before Paganism
had a name. To keep this note unstrained and pure will
not be easy; to make it distinctly audible not to say
dominant, in English letters even for a season, would
be a task for Byron's force or Browning's unquenchable
vigor; and this is the task set my friends by their
love of the outward world, by their bent for blithe
seriousness; yet there are influences at work in their
aid, so that in the end their devotion will not be altogether
fruitless or unavailing. "He that believeth shall
not make haste."