Bliss Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley

Assisted by Margaret Maciejewski

Letter 5

Twilight Park

Haines Falls, N.Y.

30. August. 1927



O Margaret! Both your letters are here and are so wonderful. I am so thankful you have chosen to "come through." Those who do not know and do not count are so many. And when, so rarely in life, one of the understanding ones appears and smiles, so sure, so comprehending, it is a day of days. I want to cry. You must never go back, Margaret. It was so dear of you to want to tell me about the picture and the poem, and to tell me. I know so little, so [sic] nothing, about your life, but it will always be precious to me. I know enough from these letters to make a vita nova1 my dear.

I thought the lines you quote were from a Book called "Songs of the Sea Children", and when I looked them up I found them thereó No. 53 among a hundred or more.2 I have not read these particular verses in a score of years. There are so many of my things I have not read for years, and as I remember, it takes me by the throat. Not any old association. That is nothing almost. But the fact that I, me, have done so much. And that you, you of the Fifth Race,3 care for some of them. Margaret, I think it is part of wisdom to live so intensely in the present that there is no atom of room for regret of the past. I have none. And what I have cared for supremely I care for supremely still. You will understand.

Also it is more concern to me to be entrusted with the making of a new poem to-day, than all the verses that are done and gone on their errands. I have the artistís pride only until the job is finished.

Now I smile as I think of you watching me so often from the silence, and saying never a word, while I doubtless chattered words all forgetful that a visitor from Shamballah4 might be looking on. You must have many a misgiving. Never mind! Now that you have told, and confessed to the "tough old observer sitting inside" of you, we can go ahead perfectly. I also am one.

O yes, I laughed aloud at your reply to my suggestion that you do the bards in so many histories! Impossible, of course.

Yes, I know Cosmic Consciousness.5 One of my chiefest instructors of recent years has been Thomas Troward.6 Do you know him[?]. "Edinburgh Lectures" and "the Creative Process and the Individual," are two of his books. Do look them up. Not rare nor expensive. Should be in the Library. He builds a bridge for the confirmed rationalist and modern scientist to cross on.

As to mountains, you will easily catch up. When we have our first ride or hike on a wild mountain trail, you will have the gist of the matter, and I shall see them all again for the first time in seeing your happiness in them. I was far over thirty when I first saw them and began to love them. The earlier poems are full of the sea. Then I came to love the hills.


I am too old to be a chela, and too ignorant to have a chela.7 What can we do about that?

Of course I have always realized that any artistís work, when it is excellent, is not of his own rational devising. He knows not at all how it happens. It simply comes to him. Like all poets or painters or musicians, I have known this always, and have recognized it as part of natural law. Beyond this I have never had any conscious revelation, nor expected any. Though I believe in such things, that they must be and are. And I am sure others have had them. I am sceptical.8 Nor I am I disappointed. I only blunder along, and know it is all right. I have always been rather diffident and perhaps too aloof. At least that is what I have often been told. But I donít mean to be aloof. So that is why I value your friendship so much.

Do you know any of Krishnamurtiís writing? I met him three years ago in California, and liked him immensely. Again last winter in the Ojai valley. He is most charming and unaffected. Not in the least like a Messiah. The exquisite manners of a young English Public school man, and an Oxford man as he is.9 He is to have a camp next May in California, such as the Theosophists already have every year in Holland.10 A sort of Chatauqua11 where all students or artists will be welcome, thesophist or not. Arrangements will be made for most inexpensive accomodations [sic] and I have promised to be there. Wouldnít you like that? When you write and print any of your pioneer sketches,12 when any of them touch the Rockies and the far west, if you need to know the scenes at first hand, it ought to be easy for you to get transportation on the C.P.R. and C.N.R. Also you might do incidental impressionistic travel bits. Then from Vancouver to California is not so dreadfully far!

Yes? No?

*     *     *     *     *     *

Some hours later: Here my letter was interrupted by a telegram. I have to leave for New York to attend a funeral, and cannot finish what I was saying until I come back in a couple of days, when I return to the quiet hills. Meanwhile, be happy, dear heart, as I am


  1. New life (Latin). [back]

  2. In a letter of August 27, 1927, Lawrence quotes Song LIII of Carmanís Songs of the Sea Children (1904):

    I think the sun when he turns at night,
    And lays his face against the seaís,
    Must have such thoughts as these.

    I think the wind, when he wakes at dawn,
    Must wonder, seeing hill by hill,
    That they can sleep so still.

    Since this lyric is one of a series inspired by various women (Jessie Kappeler, Mary Perry King), it might well have had "old associations" for Carman. [back]

  3. According to Madama Blavatsky (see Letter 2 n.1) and other theosophists (see Letter 20 n.4), life on earth has evolved in a series of successive cycles, each of which has brought into being seven root-races that are, in turn, divided into seven sub-races. "The Fifth Race, our present Aryan, took its rise in northern Asia, spread south and west, and ran the course that is known to history," wrote Alvin Boyd Kuhn in 1930 in Theosophy: a Modern Revival of Ancient Wisdom, Studies in American Religion and Culture: American Religion Series 2 (New York: Henry Holt); "[t]he Anglo-Saxon is the fifth sub-race of the seven that will complete the life of this Root-Race. The beginnings of the sixth sub-race are taking form in America we are told [see Letter 2 n.1]. Mentality is the special characteristic of human development which our fifth sub-race is emphasizing" (225). [back]

  4. In the Buddhist mythology of Tibet, Shambhala (Sambhala, Shambala) is a "mystic kingdom ruled by lineage holders of the Kalachakra Tantra . . . the last of whom . . . is expected to return and establish Shambhala as a universal kingdom" (Penguin Dictionary of Religions, ed. John R. Hinnells [London: Allen Lane, 1984]). In Carmanís "Shamballah," which was included in his Far Horizons volume of 1925, "the mystic Shamballah" is a "Magian City" in the north from which have been "sent forth" "the Masters of Wisdom . . . the Sons of the Word," a company of "teachers and avatars" that includes Krishna, Jesus, Swedenborg, Blake, Plotinus, Browning, Beethoven, Handel, Raphael, Michelangelo, and FranÁois Delsarte (see Letter 18 n.2). "Oíer Rome, over London and Paris / The morrows of destiny wait," concludes the poem, "Yet who now seeks work from Shamballah? / Who knocks at the Ivory Gate?" (Poems [Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1929], 415-19). As Michele Lacombe notes in "Theosophy and the Canadian Idealist Tradition: a Preliminary Exploration," Journal of Canadian Studies 17.2 (1982), 117, stanzas from "Shamballah" were printed in the Canadian Theosophist, 4 (December, 1923), 154. [back]

  5. Cosmic Consciousness: a Study in the Evolution of Human Mind (1912) by Richard Maurice Bucke (1837-1902), the British-born psychiatrist, mystic, and biographer of Walt Whitman. Bucke defines "Cosmic Consciousness . . . [as] a higher form of consciousness than that possessed by the ordinary man" and suggests that a cosmically conscious race destined to possess the earth is in the process of coming into existence and power (see n.4, above). [back]

  6. Thomas Troward (1847-1916), who served for many years as a judge in India, was the author of several books and essays on religion and psychology, including The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science (1904; 2nd. ed. 1909; enlarged ed. 1909; rpt. 1921) and The Creative Process and the Individual (c. 1910). The stated purpose of the Edinburgh Lectures is "to indicate the Natural Principles governing the relation between Mental Action and Material Conditions, and thus to afford the student an intelligible starting-point for the study of the subject" and its governing principle is that "the subjective mind is the builder of the body, and that the body is subject to no influences except those which reach it through the subjective mind. . . . [W]hat we have to do is to impress this upon the subjective mind and habitually think of it as a fountain of perpetual Life, which is continually renovating the body by building in strong and healthy material. . . . When once we fully grasp these considerations we shall see that it is just as easy to externalize healthy conditions of body as the contrary. Practically the process amounts to a belief in our own power of life. . . . To afford a solid basis for this conviction is the purpose of Mental Science" (27-28). [back]

  7. Pupil, disciple (Hindustani): a student of religious mysteries and rituals under the guidance of a master or guru (see also Letter 20 n.4). [back]

  8. The gist of Carmanís remarks suggests that he might have meant to write "I am not sceptical." [back]

  9. See Letter 2 n.1. On March 28, 1927 Carman reported to Grace Fewster (see Letter 8 n.13) that he has recently called on Krishnamurti at the theosophical settlement in the Ojai Valley and been "charmed with his good manners, quiet modesty, and radiant smile" (Letters 339). Krishnamurti did not attend Oxford University, however, though this was the ambition of Besant, Leadbeater, and his tutors. The publication in 1926 of Besantís How a World Teacher Comes as Seen by Ancient and Modern Psychology: Four Lectures Delivered at the Queenís Hall, London, During June and July, 1926 made Krishnamurtiís status as Christ and Buddha a subject of much journalistic commentary on both sides of the Atlantic. See Geoffrey West, The Life of Annie Besant (London: Gerald Howe, 1929), 249-56. [back]

  10. Carman is referring to the annual gathering of the Order of the Star in the East on the Eerde Estate at Ommen in Holland. [back]

  11. Gatherings devoted to esoteric religion were also held each summer at Lake Chatauqua in western New York State (see also Letter 3 n.6). [back]

  12. See Introduction xi and xix n.5 and Letter 4 n.1. [back]