Later Canadian Poems

Edited by J. E. Wetherell


Captive! Is there a hell to him like this?
A taunt more galling than the Huron’s hiss?
He—proud and scornful, he—who laughed at law,
He—scion of the deadly Iroquois,
He—the bloodthirsty, he—the Mohawk chief,
He—who despises pain and sneers at grief,
Here in the hated Huron’s vicious clutch,
That even captive, he disdains to touch.

Captive! But never conquered! Mohawk brave
Stoops not to be to any man a slave;
Least, to the puny tribe his soul abhors,
The tribe whose wigwams sprinkle Simcoe’s shores.
With scowling brow he stoically stands by,
Watching, with haughty and defiant eye,
His captors, as they counsel o’er his fate,
Or strive his boldness to intimidate.
Then fling they unto him the choice: [Page 161]
“Wilt thou
Walk o’er the bed of fire that waits thee now—
Walk with uncovered feet upon the coals
Till thou dost reach the ghostly Land of Souls,
And with they Mohawk death-song please our ear?
Or wilt thou with the women rest thee here?
His eyes flash like the eagle’s, and his hands
Clench at the insult. Like a god he stands.
“Prepare the fire!” he scornfully demands.

He knoweth not that soon this jeering band
Will bite the dust—will lick the Mohawk’s hand;
Will kneel and cower at the Mohawk’s feet;
Will shrink when Mohawk war-drums wildly beat.
His death will be avenged with hideous hate
By Iroquois swift to annihilate
His vile, detested captors that now flaunt
Their war-clubs in his face with sneer and taunt,
Nor thinking soon that reeking, red and raw,
Their scalps will deck the belts of Iroquois.

The path of coals outstretches, white with heat,
A forest fir’s length—ready for his feet.
Unflinching as a rock he steps along
The burning mass—and sings his fierce war-song—
Sings as he sang when once he used to roam
Throughout the forests of his southern home, [Page 162]
Where down the Genesee the water roars,
Where gentle Mohawk purls atween its shores,—
Songs that of exploits and of prowess tell,—
Songs of the Iroquois invincible.
Up the long trail of fire he boasting goes,
Dancing a war-dance to defy his foes.
His flesh is scorched, his muscles burn and shrink,
But still he dances to death’s awful brink.
The eagle plume that crests his haughty head
Will never droop until his heart be dead.

Slower and slower yet his footstep swings,
Wilder and wilder still his death-song rings,
Fiercer and fiercer thro’ the forest sounds
His voice, that leaps to Happier Hunting Grounds,
One savage yell—
                                 Then, loyal to his race,
He bends to death—but never to disgrace.

[Page 163]


In Northern Skies.

Webs of silver, spun in the twilight’s travail,
    Spring into sight when the orange rim has pass’d;
Silver webs that a diamond dew-world spangles,
Webs of crystal glittering at glowing angles
    Flash into flame at the zenith, rosily massed;

Crowns of silver, colossal, shining, mighty,
    Serenely set upon brows, straight, bright, and bland;
Girdles that grace a priestess high in the azure,
Zones that encircle a queen in her safe embrasure,
    Gleam on the verge of midnight’s velvet strand;

Shields of silver, studded with fires of topaz,
    Harps that are silver-strung, rimm’d pure with pearls;
Rapiers rich with gems that the gloom encrusteth,
Scythes and scabbards that never a wet moon rusteth,
    Wheels of gold that a tireless helmsman twirls;

Sails of silver, spread to the silent ether,
    Ships of state that ride with a burnished keel;
Galleys grand that sparkle to magic measure,
Dipping divinely down in a radiant pleasure,
    Hulls of gold that round with the star-worlds wheel—[Page 164]

All go by—sails, shields, crowns, gems and girdles.
    Hearken the ring of the mighty silvern chains!
Hearken the clang and the clash, the reverberations,
The golden din, as the shining constellations
    Slowly swing and sink to the dusky plains!



Two Visions.

Where close the curving mountains drew,
    To clasp the stream in their embrace,
With every outline, curve, and hue
    Reflected in its placid face,

The ploughman stopped his team to watch
    The train, as swift it thundered by;
Some distant glimpse of life to catch,
    He strains his eager, wistful eye.

The morning freshness lies on him,
    Just wakened from his balmy dreams;
The travellers, begrimed and dim,
    Think longingly of mountain streams. [Page 165]

Oh, for the joyous mountain air,
    The fresh, delightful autumn day
Among the hills! The ploughman there
    Must have perpetual holiday!

And he, as all day long he guides
    His steady plough, with patient hand,
Thinks of the flying train that glides
    Into some new, enchanted land,

Where, day by day, no plodding round
    Wearies the frame and dulls the mind—
Where life thrills keen to sight and sound,
    With ploughs and furrows left behind.

Even so, to each the untrod ways
    Of life are touched by fancy’s glow,
That ever sheds its brightest rays
    Upon the path we do not know.

[Page 166]



What of the days when we two dreamed together?
    Days marvellously fair,
As lightsome as a skyward-floating feather
    Sailing on summer air—
Summer, summer, that came drifting through
Fate’s hand to me and you.

What of the days, my dear? I sometimes wonder
    If you too wish this sky
Could be the blue we sailed so softly under
    In that sun-kissed July;
Sailed in the warm and yellow afternoon,
With hearts in touch and tune.

Have you no longing to relive the dreaming,
    Adrift in my canoe?
To watch my paddle blade all wet and gleaming
    Cleaving the waters through?
To lie wind-blown and wave-caressed, until
Your restless pulse grows still?

Do you not long to listen to the purling
    Of foam athwart the keel?
To hear the nearing rapids softly swirling [Page 167]
    Among their stones, to feel
The boat’s unsteady tremor as it braves
The wild and snarling waves?

What need of question, what of your replying?
    Oh! well I know that you
Would toss the world away to be but lying
    Again in my canoe,
In listless indolence entranced and lost,
Wave-rocked, and passion tossed.

Ah me! my paddle failed me in the steering
    Across love’s shoreless seas;
All reckless, I had ne’er a thought of fearing
    Such dreary days as these,
When through the self-same rapids we dash by,
My lone canoe and I.

[Page 168]


The Wind of Death.

The wind of death, that softly blows
The last warm petal from the rose,
The last dry leaf from off the tree,
To-night has come to breathe on me.

There was a time I learned to hate
    As weaker mortals learn to love;
The passion held me fixed as fate,
Burned in my veins early and late;
    But now a wind falls from above—

The wind of death, that silently
Enshroudeth friend and enemy!

There was a time my soul was thrilled
    By keen ambition’s whip and spur;
My master forced me where he willed,
And with his power my life was filled,
    But now the old-time pulses stir

How faintly in the wind of death,
That bloweth lightly as a breath! [Page 169]

And once, but once, at Love’s dear feet,
    I yielded strength, and life, and heart;
His look turned bitter into sweet,
His smile made all the world complete;
    The wind blows loves like leaves apart—

The wind of death, that tenderly
Is blowing ’twixt my love and me.

O wind of death, that darkly blows
Each separate ship of human woes
Far out on a mysterious sea,
I turn, I turn my face to thee.

[Page 170]


The City Tree.

I stand within the stony, arid town,
    I gaze for ever on the narrow street;
I hear for ever passing up and down,
    The ceaseless tramp of feet.

I know no brotherhood with far-lock’d woods,
    Where branches bourgeon from a kindred sap;
Where o’er moss’d roots, in cool, green solitudes,
    Small silver brooklets lap.

No em’rald vines creep wistfully to me
    And lay their tender fingers on my bark;
High may I toss my boughs, yet never see
    Dawn’s first most glorious spark.

When to and fro my branches wave and sway,
    Answ’ring the feeble wind that faintly calls,
They kiss no kindred boughs, but touch alway
    The stones of climbing walls.

My heart is never pierc’d with song of bird;
    My leaves know nothing of that glad unrest
Which makes a flutter in the still woods heard,
    When wild birds build a nest. [Page 171]

There never glance the eyes of violets up,
    Blue, into the deep splendour of my green:
Nor falls the sunlight to the primrose cup
    My quivering leaves between.

Not mine, not mine to turn from soft delight
    Of woodbine breathings, honey sweet, and warm;
With kin embattl’d rear my glorious height
    To greet the coming storm!

Not mine to watch across the free, broad plains
    The whirl of stormy cohorts sweeping fast;
The level, silver lances of great rains
    Blown onward by the blast.

Not mine the clamouring tempest to defy,
    Tossing the proud crest of my dusky leaves:
Defender of small flowers that trembling lie
    Against my barky greaves.

Not mine to watch the wild swan drift above,
    Balanced on wings that could not choose between
The wooing sky, blue as the eye of love,
    And my own tender green.

And yet my branches spread, a kingly sight,
    In the close prison of the drooping air: [Page 172]
When sun-vex’d noons are at their fiery height,
    My shade is broad, and there

Come city toilers, who their hour of ease
    Weave out to precious seconds as they lie
Pillow’d on horny hands, to hear the breeze
    Through my great branches die.

I see no flowers, but as the children race
    With noise and clamour through the dusty street,
I see the bud of many an angel face—
    I hear their merry feet.

No violets look up, but shy and grave,
    The children pause and lift their crystal eyes
To where my emerald branches call and wave—
    As to the mystic skies.

[Page 173]


At Husking Time.

At husking time the tassel fades
To brown above the yellow blades
    Whose rustling sheath enswathes the corn
    That bursts its chrysalis in scorn
Longer to lie in prison shades.

Among the merry lads and maids
The creaking ox-cart slowly wades
’Twixt stalks and stubble, sacked, and torn
        At husking time.

The prying pilot crow persuades
The flock to join in thieving raids;
    The sly racoon with craft inborn
    His portion steals—from plenty’s horn
His pouch the saucy chipmunk lades
        At husking time.

[Page 174]


Drifting Among The Thousand Islands.

Never a ripple upon the river,
    As it lies like a mirror, beneath the moon,
—Only the shadows tremble and quiver,
    ’Neath the balmy breath of a night in June!

All dark and silent, each shadowy island
    Like a silhouette lies on its silver ground,
While, just above us, a rocky highland
    Towers, grim and dusk, with its pine-trees crowned.

Never a sound save the wave’s soft plashing,
    As the boat drifts idly the shore along,—
And the darting fire-flies, silently flashing,
    Gleam, living diamonds, the woods among;

And the night-hawk flits o’er the bay’s deep bosom,
    And the loon’s laugh breaks through the midnight calm,
And the luscious breath of the wild vine’s blossom
    Wafts from the rocks like a tide of balm.

—Drifting! Why may we not drift forever?
    Let all the world and its worries go!
Let us float and float with the flowing river,
    Whither—we neither care nor know! [Page 175]

Dreaming a dream, might we ne’er awaken;
    There is no joy enough in this passive bliss,—
The wrestling crowd and its cares forsaken,—
    Was ever Nirvana more blest than this?

Nay! but our hearts are ever lifting
    The screen of the present, however fair;
Not long, not long, can we go on drifting,—
    Not long enjoy surcease from care!

Ours is a nobler task and guerdon
    Than aimless drifting, however blest;
Only the heart that can bear the burden
    Shall share the joy of the victor’s rest.



A Plaint.

How sad to gaze on thee and find
In thy stern eyes no answer kind,
No languorous liftings of those lovely lids,
That tell me love half wishes, half forbids;
To know henceforth we are estranged,
That much is past and all is changed. [Page 176]
And though, for your dear sake, I know
It is but right it should be so,
How sad to gaze on thee and find
In thy stern eyes no answer kind—
How sad it is—Alas—how sad!

How hard to leave thy hand unclasped,
The hand which mine so oft hath grasped,
To watch thy upturned delicate white wrist,
And watching wearily, leave it unkissed!
To gaze with longing evermore,
And yearn to be as once before;
O, though for your dear sake I dare
Not show my grief and my despair,
How hard it is to leave thy hand unclasped—
How hard it is—Alas—how hard!

[Page 177]


At Sunset.

To-night the west o’erbrims with warmest dyes,
        Its chalice overflows
With pools of purple coloring the skies,
        Aflood with gold and rose,
And some hot soul seems throbbing close to mine,
As sinks the sun within that world of wine.

I seem to hear a bar of music float,
        And swoon into the west,
My ear can scarcely catch the whispered note,
        But something in my breast
Blends with that strain, till both accord in one,
As cloud and color blend at set of sun.

And twilight comes with gray and restful eyes,
        As ashes follow flame,
But oh! I heard a voice from those rich skies
        Call tenderly my name;
It was as if some priestly fingers stole
In benediction o’er my lonely soul.

I know not why, but all my being longed
        And leapt at that sweet call, [Page 178]
My heart reached out its arms, all passion-thronged,
        And beat against Fate’s wall,
Crying in utter homesickness to be
Near to a heart that loves and leans to me.



“O Love Builds on the Azure Sea”.

O, Love builds on the azure sea,
    And Love builds on the golden sand;
And Love builds on the rose-wing’d cloud,
    And sometimes Love builds on the land.

O, if Love build on the sparkling sea—
    And if Love build on golden strand—
And if Love build on rosy cloud—
    To Love these are the solid land.

O, Love will build his lily walls,
    And Love his pearly roof will rear,—
On cloud or land, or mist or sea—
    Love’s solid land is everywhere!

[Page 179]


The Song My Paddle Sings.

West wind, blow from your prairie nest,
Blow from the mountains, blow from the west.
The sail is idle, the sailor too;
O! wind of the west, we wait for you.
Blow, blow!
I have wooed you so,
But never a favor you bestow.
You rock your cradle the hills between,
But scorn to notice my white lateen.

I stow the sail, unship the mast:
I wooed you long but my wooing’s past;
My paddle will lull you into rest
O drowsy wind of the drowsy west,
Sleep, sleep!
By your mountain steep,
Or down where the prairie grasses sweep,
Now fold in slumber your laggard wings,
For soft is the song my paddle sings.

August is laughing across the sky,
Laughing while paddle, canoe and I, [Page 180]
Drift, drift,
Where the hills uplift
On either side of the current swift.

The river rolls in its rocky bed;
My paddle is plying its way ahead,
Dip, dip,
When the waters flip
In foam as over their breast we slip.

And oh, the river runs swifter now;
The eddies circle about my bow:
Swirl, swirl!
How the ripples curl
In many a dangerous pool awhirl!
And far to forward the rapids roar,
Fretting their margin for evermore;
Dash, dash,
With a mighty crash,
They seethe and boil and bound and splash.

Be strong, O paddle! be brave, canoe!
The reckless waves you must plunge into.
Reel, reel.
On your trembling keel,
But never a fear my craft will feel. [Page 181]

We’ve raced the rapid; we’re far ahead:
The river slips through its silent bed.
Sway, sway,
As bubbles spray
And fall in tinkling tunes away.

And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocking its lullaby,
Swings, swings,
Its emerald wings,
Swelling the song that my paddle sings.

[Page 182]


Sometime, I Fear.

Sometime, I fear, but God alone knows when,
    Mine eyes shall gaze on your unseeing eyes,
    On your unheeding ears shall fall my cries,
Your clasp shall cease, your soul go from my ken,
Your great heart be a fire burned out; ah, then,
    What shall remain for me beneath the skies
    Of glad or good, of beautiful or wise,
That can relume and thrill my life again?

This shall remain, a love that cannot fail,
    A life that joys in your great joy, yet grieves
        In memory of sweet days fled too soon;
Sadness divine! as when November pale
    Sits broken-hearted ’mong her withered leaves,
        And feels the wind about her warm as June.

[Page 183]


The Swiftest Thought.

Oh, sounding winds, that tirelessly are blowing
    Through the wide star-lit spaces of the night!
    Oh, eager rains, that sweep the distant height,
And restless streams impetuously flowing,
And clouds that will delay not in your going,
    And ships that sail, and vanish from the sight,
    And happy birds that stay not in your flight,
And suns upon your skyey pathway glowing:—

Poor laggards all! One tender thought outstrips you:
    Go, little thought, and tell my love from me
        I care for him to-day as yesterday;
Ah, how its strength and swiftness doth eclipse you,
    For now the answer comes invisibly
        And instantly—and in the surest way!

[Page 184]


At Parting.

Good-by! good-by! my soul goes after thee,
    Quick as a bird that quickens on the wing,
    Softly as the winter softens into spring,
And as the moon sways to the swaying sea,
So is my spirit drawn resistlessly;
    Good-by! yet closer round my life shall cling
    Thy tenderness, the priceless offering
That drifts through distance daily unto me.

O eager soul of mine, fly fast! fly fast!
    Take with thee hope and courage, thoughts that thrill
        The heart with gladness under somber skies;
O living tenderness! that no sharp blast
    Of bitter fate or circumstance can chill,
        My life with thine grows strong—or fails—or dies.

[Page 185]


A Forgotten Grief.

In the silence of the morning, while the dews are yet leaf-hidden,
    And all the rare pale lilies lift their faces to the sun,
And the birds are singing madly, all unbidden, all unchidden,
    And the morning glories echo the sweet chorus when ’tis             done,—

My Heart and I sit singing too for very joy of being—
    So bright the yellow sunlight through the leafy boughs above—
For very joy of knowing, and for very joy of seeing,
    My Heart and I sit singing too for very joy of love.

And one by one the bright-winged hours dally and fly over,
    And not a cloud in all the golden day can we espy,
For all the world’s in love with us, the world that loves a lover,
    And we’re in love with all the world, my happy Heart and I.

And the lambent air is thrilling with a passionate desire:
    “To love and live, to live and love, and this is all,” we sing;             [Page 186]
And our song is sweet with laughter and in triumph waxes higher,
    As it floats across the garden where our hopes are             blossoming.

Oh, strange! A sound of measured feet that trample on our             gladness—
    I will not look, I will not know, I will not turn my head!
But my Heart will see despite me, and with sudden sighing             sadness
    She tells me that the measured feet are following the dead.

A hush upon the bird-notes and a shadow on the flowers,
    And an ancient Grief upspeaks to us and chides our joyous             song,
And spreads abroad her mantle clouding all the golden hours,
    And sits with us, and talks with us, so long—so long!

For love and life, for sun and flower, we have but sorry greeting:
    “To love and live, to live and love!” O foolish roundelay!
Ah, happiness! thou laggard dove, swift only in the fleeting!
    Ah, dolor! thy dark pinions bear thee never far away!

[Page 187]