Later Canadian Poems

Edited by J. E. Wetherell


In Memoriam.

Those killed in the Canadian North-West, 1885.

Growing to full manhood now,
With the care-lines on our brow,
We, the youngest of the nations,
With no childish lamentations,
Weep, as only strong men weep,
For the noble hearts that sleep,
Pillowed where they fought and bled,
The loved and lost, our glorious dead!

Toil and sorrow come with age,
Manhood’s rightful heritage;
Toil our arms more strong shall render,
Sorrow make our hearts more tender,
In the heartlessness of time;
Honour lays a wreath sublime—
Deathless glory—where they bled,
Our loved and lost, our glorious dead!

Wild the prairie grasses wave
O’er each hero’s new-made grave; [Page 137]
Time shall write such wrinkles o’er us,
But the future spreads before us
Glorious in that sunset land—
Nerving every heart and hand,
Comes a brightness none can shed,
But the dead, the glorious dead!

Lay them where they fought and fell;
Every heart shall ring their knell,
For the lessons they have taught us,
For the glory they have brought us.
Tho’ our hearts are sad and bowed,
Nobleness still makes us proud—
Proud of light their names shall shed
In the roll-call of our dead!

Growing to full manhood now,
With the care-lines on our brow,
We, the youngest of the nations,
With no childish lamentations,
Weep, as only strong men weep,
For the noble hearts that sleep
Where the call of duty led,
Where the lonely prairies spread,
Where for us they fought and bled,
Our loved, our lost, our glorious dead. [Page 138]


The Two Mistresses.

Ah woe is me, my heart’s in sorry plight,
Enamoured equally of Wrong and Right;
       Right hath the sweeter grace,
       But Wrong the prettier face:
Ah woe is me, my heart’s in sorry plight.

And Right is jealous that I let Wrong stay;
Yet Wrong seems sweeter when I turn away.
       Right sober is, like Truth,
       But Wrong is in her youth;
So Right is jealous that I let Wrong stay.

When I am happy, left alone with Right,
Then Wrong flits by and puts her out of sight;
       I follow and I fret,
       And once again forget
That I am happy, left alone with Right.

Ah God! do Thou have pity on my heart!
A puppet blind am I, take Thou my part!
       Chasten my wandering love,
       Set it on things above:
Ah God! do Thou have pity on my heart! [Page 139]


The Frenzy of Prometheus.

The ocean beats its noontide harmonies
Upon the sunlit lines of cragged coast,
And a wild rhythm pulses thro’ my brain
With pauses and responsive melodies,
And sky and ocean, air and day and night
Topple and reel upon my burning blood,
Run to and fro, whirl round and round and round,
Till, lo! the cosmic madness breathes a strain
Of perfect music thro’ the universe.
I hear it with my ears, eyes, hands and feet,
I drink it with my breath, my skin sucks in
At every fevered pore fine threads of sound,
Which plunge vibrations of the wind-swept harp
Of earth and heaven, deep into my soul,
Till each sense kindles with a freshened life,
And thoughts arise which bring me ease from pain.

O peace, sweet peace! I melt and ebb away,
On softened rocks outstretch relaxèd limbs,
With half-shut eyes deliciously enthralled.
What passion, what delight, what ecstasies!
Joy fills my veins with rivers of excess;
I rave, I quiver, as with languid eyes [Page 140]
I see the hot air dance upon the rocks,
And sky, sea, headlands blend in murmurous haze.

Now grander, with the organ’s bass that rolls
The under-world in darkness thro’ despair
Of any day-dawn on its inky skies,
The music rolls around me and above,
From shattered cliffs, from booming caverns’ mouths,
Pierced by the arrow-screams of frightened gulls.
Now strength subdued, but waxing more and more,
Reanimates my limbs; I feel my power
Full as the flooding ocean, or the force
Which grinds the glaciers on their boulder feet.
My hands could pluck up mountains by the roots,
My arm could hurl back ocean from the shore
To wallow in his frothy bed. What hate! what scorn!
What limitless imaginations stretch
And burst my mind immense; I stand apart,
I am alone, all-glorious, supreme;
My huge form like a shadow sits and broods
Upon the globe, gigantic as the shade
Eclipsing moons. With bowed head on my hand
In gloom excessive, now, behold, I see
Beneath my fee the stream of human life,
The sad procession of humanity. [Page 141]

They come, the sons of Hellas, beautiful,
Swift-minded, lithe, with luscious laughing lips,
That suck delight from every tree of life;
Born of the sunshine, winds and sounding sea.
They pass, and, lo, a mightier nation moves
In stern battalions trampling forests down,
Cleaving the mountains, paving desert lands
With bones that e’en when bleaching face the foe:
Welding soft outskirt nations into iron,
An iron hand to grasp and hold the world.

Now dust, like smoke, from Asia’s central steppes
Darkens the rigid white of mountain peaks,
And the plains bristle with the Tartar hordes,
Suckled of mares, flat-faced, implacable,
Deadly in war, revengeful, treacherous,
Brown as the craggy glens of Caucasus.
They pass, and nations pass, and like a dream
A throne emerges from the western sea,—
The latest empire of a dying world.
E’en as I look its splendor melts away,
And round me, gathering volume, music rolls,
Till sinews crack and eyes are blind with power,
Till struggles, battles mixed with smoke and blood,
Men, nations, life and death, and desolate cries, [Page 142]
Melt in the inner pulses in my ears
And a wild tempest blows the daylight out.

And now I am alone beneath the stars,
Alone, in infinite silence. Am I God,
That I am so supreme? Whence is this power?
Cannot my will repeople these waste lands?
I cry aloud, the vault of space resounds,
And hollow-sounding echoes, from the stars
Rebounding, shake the earth and crinkle up
The sea in million furrows. Lo, the stars
Now fade, the sun arises, it is day,
Half day, half night; the sun hath lost his strength.
I am his equal, nay I am his king!
I rise and move across the earth, the seas
Have vanished, and I tread their empty beds,
And crush down continents of powdered bones.

O great light, late supreme, what need of thee?
For all are dead, men, nations, life and death,
And God is dead and here alone am I,
I, with strong hands to pluck thee from the sky,
Boundless is passions, will, omnipotent.
The impulses concentre in my heart
Which erstwhile shook the universe. O Sun,
Acknowledge now thy king, put down thy head
Beneath my feet, and lift me higher still [Page 143]
To regions that out-top the adoring spheres,
And bask in primal thought, too vast to shape
Into similitude of earthly things.

I would have all, know all. I thirst and pant
And hunger for the universe. Now from the earth,
Beneath thy rays, O Sun, the steams arise,
Sheeting the world’s dead face in film of cloud,
The voices of the dead. Peace, let me be,
Go on thy way, spent power, leave me here
To reign in silence, rave and scorn and hate,
To glory in my strength, tear down the skies,
Trample the crumbling mountains under foot,
Laugh at the tingling stars, burn with desire
Unconquerable, till the universe
Is shattered at the core, its splinters flung
By force centrifugal beyond the light,
Until the spent stars from their orbits reel,
And hissing down the flaming steeps of space
With voice of fire proclaim me God alone. [Page 144]



Imperial city, slumb’ring on the throne
    Of vanished empire, once thy voice and hands
    Rocked the wide world; thy fingers wove the lands
Into they girdle; who for crown alone
Didst wear the stars. Yet still in undertone
    Man hears thy deathless utterance, tho’ Time’s sands
    Roll centuries; thou clasp’st the earth with bands
Of speech, art, law, and subtle powers unknown.

Thou wast not meant to die; thy mighty heart
    Pulsed with the universe. Thy deeds of old
        Flame like sunset skies thro’ clouds which throng
They blazon on thy throne a name apart
    In red of mighty victories, in gold
        Of all things valorous and great and strong. [Page 145]



Unseen in the great minster dome of time,
    Whose shafts are centuries, its spangled roof
        The vaulted universe, our master sits,
And organ-voices like a far-off chime
        Roll thro’ the aisles of thought. The sunlight flits
    From arch to arch, and, as he sits aloof,
Kings, heroes, priests, in concourse vast, sublime,
        Glances of love and cries from battle-field,
    His wizard power breathes on the living air.
Warm faces gleam and pass, child, woman, man,
        In the long multitude; but he, concealed,
Our bard eludes us, vainly each face we scan,
    It is not he; his features are not there;
        But, being thus hid, his greatness is revealed. [Page 146]



He caught the words which ocean thunders hurled
    On heedless eastern coasts, in days gone by,
    And westward with the stars on midnight sky
His strong thought travelled ’gainst the moving world.
So, onward to the line of mist which curled
    Around the setting sun, with steadfast eye,
    He pushed his course, and trusting God on high
Threw wide the portals of a larger world.

The heart that watched through those drear autumn nights
    The wide dark sea, and man’s new empire sought
        Alone, uncheered, hath wrought a deed sublime,
Which, like a star behind the polar lights,
    Will shine through splendours of man’s utmost thought
        Down golden eras to the end of time. [Page 147]



I saw Time in his workshop carving faces;
    Scattered around his tools lay, blunting griefs,
    Sharp cares that cut out deeply in reliefs
Of light and shade; sorrows that smooth the traces
Of what were smiles. Nor yet without fresh graces
    His handiwork, for ofttimes rough were ground
    And polished, oft the pinched made smooth and round;
The calm look, too, the impetuous fire replaces.

Long time I stood and watched; with hideous grin
    He took each heedless face between his knees,
        And graved and scarred and bleached with boiling tears.
I wondering turned to go, when, lo! my skin
    Feels crumpled, and in glass my own face sees
        Itself all changed, scarred, careworn, white with years.
[Page 148]


The Feud.

“I hear a cry from the Sansard cave,
    O mother, will no one hearken?
A cry of the lost, will no one save?
A cry of the dead tho’ the oceans rave,
And the scream of a gull as he wheels o’er a grave,
    While the shadows darken and darken.”—

“Oh hush thee, child, for the night is wet,
    And the cloud-caves split asunder,—
With lightning in a jagged fret,
Like the gleam of a salmon in the net,
When the rocks are rich in the red sunset
    And the stream rolls down in thunder.”—

“Mother, O mother, a pain at my heart,
    A pang like the pang of dying.”—
“Oh hush thee, child, for the wild birds dart
Up and down and close and part,
Wheeling round where the black cliffs start,
    And the foam at their feet is flying.”—

“O mother, a strife like the black clouds’ strife,
    And a peace that cometh after.”—
“Hush, child, for peace is the end of life, [Page 149]
And the heart of a maiden finds peace as a wife,
But the sky and the cliffs and the ocean are rife
    With the storm and thunder’s laughter.—

Come in, my sons, come in and rest,
    For the shadows darken and darken,
And your sister is pale as the white swan’s breast,
And her eyes are fixed and her lips are pressed
In the death of a name ye might have guessed
    Had ye twain been here to hearken.”—

“Hush, mother, a corpse lies on the sand,
    And the spray is round it driven;
It lies on its face, and one white hand
Points thro’ the mist on the belst of strand
To where the cliffs of Sansard stand
    And the ocean’s strength is riven.”—

“Was it God, my sons, who laid him there?
    Or the sea that left him sleeping?”—
“Nay, mother, our dirks where his heart was bare,
As swift as the rain thro’ the teeth of the air;
And the foam-fingers play in the Saxon’s hair,
    While the tides are round him creeping.”—

“Oh, curses on you, hand and head,
    Like the rains in this wild weather, [Page 150]
The guilt of blood is swift and dread,
Your sister’s face is cold and dead,
Ye may not part whom God would wed
    And love hath knit together.”



Plunged in night, I sit alone
Eyeless on this dungeon stone,
Naked, shaggy and unkempt,
Dreaming dreams no soul hath dreamt.

Rats and vermin round my feet
Play unharmed, companions sweet,
Spiders weave me overhead
Silken curtains for my bed.

Day by day the mould I smell
Of this fungus-blistered cell;
Nightly in my haunted sleep
O’er my face the lizards creep.

Gyves of iron scrape and burn
Wrists and ankles when I turn, [Page 151]
And my collared neck is raw
With the teeth of brass that gnaw.

God of Israel, canst thou see
All my fierce captivity?
Do thy sinews feel my pains?
Hearest thou the clanking chains?

Thou who madest me so fair,
Strong and buoyant as the air,
Tall and noble as a tree,
With the passions of the sea,

Swift as horse upon my feet,
Fierce as lion in my heat,
Rending, like a wisp of hay,
All that dared withstand my way,

Canst thou see me through the gloom
Of this subterranean tomb,—
Blinded tiger in his den,
Once the lord and prince of men?

Clay was I; the potter, Thou
With Thy thumb-nail smooth’dst my brow,
Roll’dst the spittle-moistened sands
Into limbs between Thy hands. [Page 152]

Thou didst pour into my blood
Fury of the fire and flood,
And upon the boundless skies
Thou didst first unclose my eyes.

And my breath of life was flame
God-like from the source it came,
Whirling round like furious wind
Thoughts upgathered in the mind.

Strong Thou mad’st me, till at length
All my weakness was my strength;
Tortured am I, blind and wrecked,
For a faulty architect.

From the woman at my side,
Was I woman-like to hide
What she asked me, as if fear
Could my iron heart come near?

Nay, I scorned and scorn again
Cowards who their tongues restrain;
Cared I no more for Thy laws
Than a wind of scattered straws.

When the earth quaked at my name,
And my blood was all aflame, [Page 153]
Who was I to lie, and cheat
Her who clung about my feet?

From Thy open nostrils blow
Wind and tempest, rain and snow;
Dost thou curse them on their course,
For the fury of their force?

Tortured am I, wracked and bowed,
But the soul within is proud;
Dungeon fetters cannot still
Forces of the tameless will.

Israel’s God come down and see
All my fierce captivity;
Let thy sinews feel my pains,
With thy fingers lift my chains.

Then, with thunder loud and wild,
Comfort thou thy rebel child,
And with lightning split in twain
Loveless heart and sightless brain.

Give me splendour in my death,
Not this sickening dungeon breath,
Creeping down my blood like slime
Till it wastes me in my prime. [Page 154]

Give me back for one blind hour,
Half my former rage and power,
And some giant crisis send
Meet to prove a hero’s end.

Then, O God, Thy mercy show—
Crush him in the overthrow
At whose life they scorn and point,
By its greatness out of joint.


In Via Mortis.

O ye great company of dead that sleep
    Under the world’s green rind, I come to you,
With warm, soft limbs, with eyes that laugh and weep,
    Heart strong to love, and brain pierced through and through
        With thoughts whose rapid lightnings make my day—
        To you my life-stream courses on its way
Through margin-shallows of the eternal deep.

And naked shall I come among you, shorn
    Of all life’s vanities, its light and power,
Its earthly lusts, its petty hate and scorn,
    The gifts and gold I treasured for an hour; [Page 155]
        And even from this house of flesh laid bare,
        A soul transparent as heat-quivering air,
Into your fellowship I shall be born.

I know you not, great forms of giant kings,
    Who held dominion in your iron hands,
Who toyed with battles and all valorous things,
    Counting yourselves as gods when on the sands
        Ye piled the earth’s rock fragments in an heap
        To mark and guard the grandeur of your sleep,
And quaffed the cup which death, our mother, brings.

I know you not, great warriors, who have fought
    When blood flowed like a river at your feet,
And each death which your thunderous swordstrokes wrought,
    Than love’s wild rain of kisses was more sweet.
        I know you not, great minds, who with the pen
        Have graven on the fiery hearts of men
Hopes that breed hope and thoughts that kindle thought.

But ye are there, ingathered in the realm
    Where tongueless spirits speak from heart to heart,
And eyeless mariners without a helm
    Steer down the seas where ever close and part
        The windless clouds; and all ye know is this,
        Ye are not as ye were in pain or bliss,
But a strange numbness doth all thought o’erwhelm. [Page 156]

And I shall meet you, O ye mighty dead,
    Come late into your kingdom through the gates
Of one fierce anguish whitherto I tread,
    With heart that now forgets, now meditates
        Upon the wide fields stretching far away
        Where the dead wander past the bounds of day,
Past life, past death, past every pain and dread.

Oft, when the winter sun slopes down to rest
    Across the long, crisp fields of gilded white,
And without sound upon earth’s level breast
    The grey tide floods around of drowning night,
        A whisper, like a distant battle’s roll
        Heard over mountains, creeps into my soul
And there I entertain it like a guest.

It is the echo of your former pains,
    Great dead, who lie so still beneath the ground;
Its voice is as the night wind after rains,
    The flight of eagle wings which once were bound,
        And as I listen in the starlit air
        My spirit waxeth stronger than despair,
Till in your might I burst life’s prison chains.

Then mount I swiftly to your dark abodes
    Invisible, beyond sight’s reach, where now ye dwell
In houses wrought of dreams on dusky roads [Page 157]
    Which lead in mazes whither none may tell,
        For they who thread them faint beside the way
        And ever as they pass through twilight grey
Doubt walks beside them, and a terror goads.

And there the great dead welcome me and bring
    Their cups of tasteless pleasure to my mouth;
Here am I little worth, there am I king,
    For pulsing life still slakes my spirit’s drouth,
        And he who yet doth hold the gift of life
        Is mightier than the heroes of past strife
Who have been mowed in death’s great harvesting.

And here and there along the silent streets
    I see some face I knew, perchance I loved;
And as I call it each blank wall repeats
    The uttered name, and swift the form hath moved
        And heedless of me passes on and on,
        Till lo, the vision from my sight hath gone
Softly as night at touch of dawn retreats.

Yet must life’s vision fade and I shall come,
    O mighty dead, into your hidden land,
When these eyes see not and these lips are dumb,
    And all life’s flowers slip from this nerveless hand;
        Then will ye gather round me like a tide, [Page 158]
        And with your faces the strange scenery hide
While your weird music doth each sense benumb.

So would I live this life’s brief span, great dead,
    As ye once lived it, with an iron will,
A heart of steel to conquer, a mind fed
    On richest hopes and purposes, until
        Well pleased ye set for me a royal throne,
        And welcome as confederate with your own
The soul gone from me on my dying bed. [Page 159]