and Other Poems
Charles G.D. Roberts
Roberts’ father was born in 1832
and died on October 8, 1905 in Fredericton, of
pneumonia (Pomeroy 209). Roberts’ 1906 novel The
Heart That Knows was a tribute to his father
and his mother, Emma Wetmore Bliss Roberts (Pomeroy
the fourteen years at Westcock, Roberts’ teacher
was his father, to whom he still refers as his
dearest friend. At first there were no formal
lessons; he was only encouraged to read. Even
at that time his father would read aloud to him
favourite passages from Milton, Tennyson, and
Longfellow, inspiring him in his earliest days
with a love of poetry. When he was eight years
old, lessons became a trifle more formal. His
father then started him in Latin, Algebra and
Arithmetic. Geometry and French were introduced
a couple of years later, but rarely were more
than eight to ten hours a week devoted to lessons.
Of course, there was plenty of time for reading
and ample material of bewildering fascination
in the books of his father’s library (Pomeroy
in writing was always stressed by the senior Roberts:
"This needs improvement. Think it out for
yourself" (Pomeroy 13). In "Westcock
Hill" (1929) Roberts was mourning his loss
still. Lloyd Roberts’ poetic tribute to their
father is quoted by Pomeroy (288).
fruits: a biblical, liturgical and
feudal law expression: a thank offering
to ensure that the rest of the harvest
is as bountiful (L. primitiae);
the first year’s income or profits,
formerly paid by each new holder of
a benefice, or any office or profit,
to some superior.
lapidary dedication is bridged by the Epigraph
in Greek (with its Platonic and Keatsian echoes)
to "To the Spirit of Song" and anticipates
the final poetic "Dedication."
quotation from Plato’s Phaedrus (279).
Among the varied and rich themes of that dialogue
are rhetoric, myth, love, and the soul. Socrates
encounters the youthful Phaedrus outside the walls
of Athens after the latter’s intoxicating conversation
with the sophist Lysias. The two find a shady
spot by the stream of the Ilissos, where Phaedrus
reports what Lysias had said. In the course of
their conversation the four divisions of the divine
madness of inspiration are discussed, corresponding
to five gods: prophetic (Apollo), mystic (Dionysus),
poetic (Muses), and erotic (Eros and Aphrodite).
As the heat of the day eases, Socrates prays to
the spirits of the place in the words of the epigraph.
Socrates: "O beloved Pan, and any other
gods in this place: grant me, I pray, to become
beautiful within…and that my external possessions
accord with my inner self. May I regard as rich
the wise, and possess such riches myself as only
the prudent can bear or endure.—Do we require
more, Phaedrus? The prayer is enough for me."
Phaedrus: "Include me in that prayer, for
friends should share."
the possession or madness inspired by the Muses,
Socrates had earlier said (245): "It takes
possession of the pure and gentle soul, awakening
it and frenzying it to songs and other poetry;
and adorning countless deeds of men it instructs
those who come after. But anyone who comes to
the gates of poetry without the madness of the
Muses (persuaded, I suppose that art alone is
sufficient for a poet), is himself inadequate,
and the poetry of the sane vanishes away before
that of the mad."
L.R. Early has shown (10), this Platonic epigraph
was probably inspired by the prefatory sonnet
of Keats, "Dedication To Leigh Hunt, Esq."
("Glory and loveliness have passed away;
/ …But there are left delights as high as these,
/ And I shall ever bless my destiny, / That
in a time when under pleasant trees / Pan is no
longer sought, I feel a free, / A leafy luxury,
seeing I could please / With these poor offerings,
a man like thee"(1, 9-14). On the use of
Pan by the Confederation Poets see Bentley "Pan."
the Spirit of Song
in reduced type in Orion, and Other Poems as
a programmatic preface (proem). Also printed 1880
(CIN), 1883, 1887, 1889, 1901/7 (Pacey
15). 14 lines trochaic (-u-u-u-u-u-(u) [1-8,11,14],
(u) -u-u- [9-10], -u-u-u- [12-13]). A trochaic
lyric with sonnetal structure.
when the poet was but seventeen…. The verse
of this youthful period is marked by the note
of philosophical mysticism which was to become
perhaps the dominant characteristic of the poetry
of Charles G.D. Roberts. "A Blue Blossom"
and "To The Spirit of Song"…belong[ed]
to the philosophical-mystical group. (Pomeroy
reviewer of Orion, and Other Poems for
The Miramichi Advance (November 1880)
had probably discussed Roberts’ views on poetry
with him, and notes with satisfaction his faith
in his own powers—an assurance that the impulse
to sing is a genuine inspiration…. Here we have
at once the confidence and the humility of genius,—the
proud consciousness of power, and the reverent
recognition of its source. (cited by Pacey,
initial invocations to Pan and Apollo are appropriate
to the Greek ambience which unquestionably dominates
the volume, but which diminishes before countervailing
forces as our reading proceeds. (Early
poem recapitulates the themes of inspiration from
the Greek epigraph. The cloud image for the garments
of Apollo, Roberts’ "spirit" or "soul"
of song (Early 11) is another echo from Keats
("I stood tip-toe upon a little hill"):
"…the early sobbing of the morn. / The clouds
were pure and white as flocks new shorn, / And
fresh from the clear brook" (7-9). Roberts
proclaims a personal epiphany to the poet of the
god Apollo, reminiscent of Horace’s epiphany of
Bacchus (Odes 2.19), as his own spirit of song:
"white…garments…shining limbs…deep thy gaze
as morning’s flamed thro’ vapors riven…majesty
and wonder, / Beauty, might, and splendor of the
soul of song" (1-6). "By intensest music
from no throat of bird" (11) echoes Shelley:
"Hail to thee blithe spirit! / Bird thou
never wert—(1-2)…. Like a poet hidden / In the
light of thought / Singing hymns unbidden, / Till
the world is wrought / To sympathy with hopes
and fears it heeded not" ("To A Skylark"
36-40 [Palgrave CCXLI]).
of Song (cf. "Soul of song" 6):
Apollo as patron of poets (Early 11). Roberts
is likely thinking of the famous statue of the
"Apollo Citharoedus" with his elaborate
flowing robes and his magnificent lyre (1-2).
"Apollo is generally represented with long
hair,…as a tall beardless young man, with a handsome
shape, holding in his hand a bow, and sometimes
a lyre; his head is generally surrounded by beams
of light" (LCD 61).
in ancient thought the fiery,
glowing, purer, finer, upper air, extending
above our own earthly atmosphere, and
filling the higher regions of space.
printed 1880 (CIN),1887 (27-32, 53-59),
1901/7, 1936 (Pacey 18-28). Iambic pentameter
blank verse (1-237, 294-460); hemiepes [=half
dactylic hexameters: -uu-uu-] in 8-line stanzas
(238-69) as strophes (A,B) and antistrophes (A,B);
dactylic hexameters (270-93).
the title-poem, was written at a time when Roberts
was greatly under the influence of Swinburne
and of the Shelley of "Alastor" and
"Prometheus." Although written slowly,
as is the invariable custom of the poet, he
was so fully possessed by it that one day while
waiting for an hour at the dentist’s to have
a tooth extracted, he forgot entirely about
the ordeal before him and composed six lines
of the opening chorus. "Orion" was
completed well before the poet attained his
nineteenth birthday, yet it can hardly be classed
as juvenilia…. (Pomeroy 30)
in form: the blank verse, vigorous and musical,
bears the impress of no particular school, certainly
not that of the prevalent Tennysonian rhythms.
It is thoroughly Greek, and saturated with the
spirit of the glorious Greek art. Surely it
is like what Keats wrote and Shelley; that is
to say, it is true poetry, unmarked by mannerism
any more than Shelley is marked by it. (Rev.
in the Canadian Monthly 1880. 552)
principal poem…is a fragment of classic story
in stately blank verse. The onward flow of the
story is stayed at times by rhetorical inversions
and the beauty of the diction is marred by conceits
after the manner of the old masters, but its
current is so strong and deep, and its bosom
so bedecked with flowers of song that we would
not notice the faults if we were not reading
to review but merely to enjoy…. its beauties
are so many that they cannot be taken in at
once. (Rev. in the Miramichi Advance,
1880, cited by Pacey, Collected 373)
is a poem which Morris might not disdain, and
which has the advantage over that poet’s classic
themes that it is not dependent for its interest
on a sensuous imagination. (Rev. in the New
York Independent cited by Collins 465)
"Orion," "Actaeon," and
"Pipes of Pan" reflect somewhat the
majesty and strength of Homer and the brilliance
of those unsurpassed nature poems, the choruses
of the Greek dramas. (W. D. MacFarlane. Rev.
in the Dominion Illustrated Monthly, November
1891, cited by Pacey, Collected 373)
blank verse of "Orion"…has a highly
original quality, and at the same time shows
a curious mingling of many influences. It is
the workmanship of a student of Homer, influenced
largely by Milton and Tennyson, somewhat also
by Keats and Matthew Arnold…. On the whole it
is very fine; probably no better has been done
on this side of the Atlantic. (Lampman 411-12)
style is still a hollow and overwrought form…it
depends almost entirely on a vague impressionism….
This incohate, formless character of the imaginative
power…grandiose and empty…. His Arcadian personages,
although there are brilliant traits in their
make-up, stand for nothing. (Cappon, Roberts
"Orion" is typical of early Canadian
poetry in its predominantly Romantic form. In
attempting to express a vision of human experience
in mythological terms, it recalls "Endymion"
and "Prometheus Unbound", though it
is neither in the same scale nor of the same
rank…. Like their narratives, it reinterprets
classical myth as a reflection of the time,
spiritual forces which condition human life….
The Romantic mythological narrative is not so
much a sequence of events as a series of places,
or an orchestration of symbols. (Early
classical poems which Roberts produced between
his seventeenth and twenty-second year are more
akin to "Oenone" and the
"Ulysses" of Tennyson than they
were to anything else. They are basically monlogues
in which the narrator combines emotion with
the unfolding of a poignant event against a
background of picturesque detail expressed in
a dignified, rhythmic language. For this purpose,
Roberts’ remarkable command of grammar and his
grasp of involved sentence structure—particularly
learned in translations into and from the classical
languages stood him in excellent stead. (Cogswell,
additional critical views see Pacey’s summary
the coast of the Greek island of Chios.
Oenopion arrives in procession with a
captive wolf as sacrificial victim.
of Orion, sacrifice of the wolf, Oenopion’s
boasts of clearing Chios of dangerous
beasts, and demands his promised reward,
the hand of Princess Merope.
agrees but then drugs Orion and leaves
him on the shore.
slave blinds Orion with poison; Orion
is left to die.
sea nymphs lament for Orion (commos[choral lament]
nymphs prophesy Orion’s redemption and
(Dactylic hexameter is the metre of oracles.)
laments and prays for healing.
divine voice grants his prayer: "Thou
shalt behold the morning" (337,
is led by the sound of Vulcan’s forge,
and guided by a smith to the gates
foreshadows a miracle.
is healed. Aurora appears and Orion is
overwhelmed by love for her.
and Aurora fly over the sea to Delos to
the joy of "every being of beauty
or of mirth"(440). They go hand-in-hand
into the wood.
style and form of "Orion," aside from
the choral elements, are those of the ancient
epyllion, a short, highly-wrought Alexandrian
mini-epic with clear Romantic affinities to
"Oenone" and "Endymion"—particularly
in their elaborate opening landscapes. There
is no single ancient source for the story of
Orion. Apollodorus (1.4.3-5) is the fullest;
basic details such as Orion’s size and beauty,
and his exploits on Chios come from the Odyssey
(5.121; 11.310, 572), with other details
from Hesiod and other writers. Lemprière (LCD,
526-527) is rich in details used by Roberts:
for example, the difficulty of Orion’s hunt
on Chios (70), the size of Orion (72), his demand
for Merope (125-131), Oenopion’s deceit (138)
and drugging of Orion (141-42), Orion’s lying
down to sleep (161-166), the blinding (203-214);
Orion is led by the sound of a neighbouring
forge (356-359), takes a smith on his shoulder
as a guide (363-67), turns his face "toward
the luminary" and immediately recovers
his sight (400-407); inspired by Venus, Aurora
carries Orion off to Delos (with dry feet) to
"enjoy his company with greater security"
(435-60). Parts of the varied versions Roberts
has excluded (even the ancients allowed wide
choice in their plots) include the rape of Merope
by Orion, Orion’s revenge, Diana’s jealousy,
and Apollo’s ruse to get rid of him (see Keith
91). Ovid contributes some details also: e.g.,
the wolf’s description (Met. 364-75)
and the yawning tawny ocean floor (499-500).
The lush eroticism of the conclusion is reminiscent
of "Endymion," and sets the tone for
many of the poems to follow in Orion, and
Other Poems. Law’s 1932 survey lists only
one poem on Orion earlier than Roberts’: Richard
Hengist Hornes’s Orion. An Epic Poem in Three
Books (1874), also written in blank verse.
It is very unlike Roberts’ version: it has many
allegorical characters, exploits the theme of
Artemis’ relationship with Orion, and takes
his story through to death, resurrection, reconciliation
with Merope, Artemis, and Eos, and transformation
into the constellation of Orion. It is highly
internalized and philosophical (see Horne’s
own "Brief Commentary" iii-xxvii).
(See below on "Hesper Appears"
loose and irregular clusters on
oats and grasses.
Oenopion: king of Chios, father
of Merope, and son of Dionysus and Ariadne
(a link to the following poem, III "Ariadne");
he had received his kingdom from Rhadamanthus.
Chios: "island in the Aegean
Sea between Lesbos and Samos, on the coast
of Asia Minor, which receives its name,
as some suppose, from Chione or chiôn,
snow, which was frequent there"
piercing and/or rasping, scraping, whirring.
"‘Nox’,one of the most ancient deities
among the heathens, daughter of Chaos.
From her union with her brother Erebus
[darkness], she gave birth to the Day
and the Light" (LCD 505).
daughter of Oenopion; not here the
bride of Cresphontes and Polyphontes (pace
Pacey), as is clear from Apollodorus (2.6,
words: a frequent Homeric expression
of uncertain meaning.
drug: Colchis was a "country
of Asia at the south of Asiatic Sarmatia,
east of the Euxine [Black] Sea, north
of Armenia….famous for the expedition
of the Argonauts, and as the birth-place
of Medea. It was fruitful in poisonous
herbs, and produced excellent flax"
son: Heracles (Hercules).
"a goddess of the sea, daughter of
Oceanus and Tethys. She married her brother
Nereus, by whom she had 50 daughters called
Nereides. Her name is often used to express
the sea itself" (LCD 265).
"Oceanus, a powerful deity of
the sea, son of Coelus [Sky] and Terra
[Earth]. He married Tethys, by whom he
had the principle rivers,such as
the Alpheus, Peneus, Strymon &c. with
a number of daughters who are called from
him Oceanides" (LCD 510).
"the youngest of the three Parcae
[Fates], daughter of Jupiter and Themis,
or according to Hesiod, of Night, was
supposed to preside over the moment we
are born. She held the distaff in her
hand, and spun the thread of life, whence
her name (klôthein, ‘spin’). She
was represented wearing a crown of seven
stars, and covered with a variegated robe"
Othus and Ephialtus, the adopted twin
sons of the giant, Aloeus, son of Titan
and Terra ( they were actually the sons
of Neptune and Aloeus’ wife, Iphimedia).
"They made war against the gods,
and were killed by Apollo and Diana. They
grew up nine inches every month, and were
only nine years old when they undertook
their war. They built the town of Ascra
[in Boeotia, birthplace of Hesiod] at
the foot of mount Helicon" (LCD
"A daughter of Sol and Perseis,
celebrated for her knowledge of magic
and venemous herbs" (LCD 185).
Ulysses visited her island of Aeaea,where
she turned some of his crew into swine.
He resisted her charms and spells with
moly on the advice of Mercury.
Homeric term for the sacrifices of many
stone: renowned brilliant white
marble from Paros, an island in the Cyclades.
a tiny island at the centre of the
Cyclades, near Myconos, and sacred to
Apollo, where he and Diana were born.
(It had been a floating island till then.)
Great festivals were held in their honour
there, and Apollo’s altar there was one
of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Dogs, birth and death were all forbidden
the sea-nymph daughters of
Nereus and Doris. Homer catalogued them
by name (Iliad 18.37-51, LCD
"a sea deity, son of Neptune
by Amphitrite…. He…could calm the ocean
and abate storms at pleasure. He is generally
represented as blowing a shell, his body
above the waist is like that of a man,
and below a dolphin" (LCD 793).
Cf. Wordsworth: "Have sight of Proteus
rising from the sea; / Or hear old Triton
blow his wreathèd horn" ("The
world is too much with us" 13-14).
printed 1887 (1-7), 1901/7. (Pacey 10-14) Iambic
pentameter 7-line stanzas (abaabab).
then this stanza [xv] impregnate with that soft,
delicate sensuousness to be found alone in Keats,
and in that poet only at his very best, that
deep breathing of what may be called the refinement
of intense passion, touched with a master hand.
and "An Ode to Drowsihood" were written
shortly after "Memnon" . (Pomeroy
could find no evidence to substantiate the further
statement by Pomeroy that "Ariadne"
had appeared previously in Scribner’s Magazine
[Collected Letters 370]).
[is] the poorest of Roberts’ mythological pieces.
Like "Orion," the poem concerns the
union of a betrayed mortal with a god. Once
more the contrast between corrupt human relations,
as represented by Theseus, and the divine order,
identified with Bacchus, is clearly drawn, and
Ariadne’s ultimate bliss is pictured in idyllic
terms, which recall the resolution of the longer
poem…. In "Ariadne," however, the
theme is hardly more than an occasion for word
painting, and unfortunately the poem is weak
at this level…. The descriptive opening stanzas
are filled with abstractions which make little
impression, and the remainder is largely taken
up with Bacchus’ windy speech, at best a cliched
pastoral invitation…. (Early 18-19)
story of Ariadne’s help to Theseus in killing
her brother the Minotaur and escaping the Labyrinth,
her desertion by him on Naxos, and passionate
rescue by Bacchus there is mentioned only briefly
by Ovid (Met. 8. 169-82; also Her. 10).
The fullest poetic treatment is Catullus 64. (See
also Lemprière and Bullfinch.) Roberts might also
have been familiar with a "Recumbent Ariadne"
sculpture in Boston (copy of an original in the
Vatican), and Titian’s sensuous painting. It was
a popular subject for poets; Helen Law lists six
works between 1832 and 1873 alone (Hunt, Ellsworth,
Bennett, Anon, De Tabley and Jackson.) Chaucer
and Cartwright (1635) had used the story; between
1886 and 1927 there were eight more versions.
develops Catullus’ sensuous description of the
beautiful Ariadne forsaken on the shore (64. 60-67)
into three full stanzas of erotic verse, replete
with white limbs and "heart-entangling store
of hair," amplified by pathetic fallacy (1-7,
15-21). Theseus himself is reduced to two lines:
"Toward Athens stretched her hands,—‘With
shouts they bring / Their conquering chieftain
home; ah me! Ah me!’"(34-35). Five stanzas
describe the approach of Bacchus and her response,
six (64-105) to the wooing, two (106-119) to her
yielding to the god, and one (120-126) to the
moral of the tale, a defence of her yielding:
"And who shall say her love was incomplete?
/ For she was a forsaken maid he wooed" (120,
beautiful Ariadne lies half dead of grief
on the shore of Naxos.
begins to revive.
approach of Bacchus and his rout, and her
wooing of Ariadne.
poet defends Ariadne’s yielding.
"daughter of Minos II, king of Crete,
by Pasiphae [mother also of the Minotaur],
fell in love with Theseus, who was shut
up in the labyrinth to be devoured by
the Minotaur, and gave him a clue of thread,
by which he extricated himself from the
difficult windings of his confinement.
After he had conquered the Minotaur, he
carried her away according to the promise
he had made, and married her; but when
he arrived at the island of Naxos he forsook
her, though she was already pregnant,
and repaid her love with the most endearing
tenderness…. According to some writers,
Bacchus loved her after Theseus had forsaken
her, and he gave her a crown of seven
stars, which after her death was made
a constellation" (LCD 91).
predicate of moon. (The inverted
and separating word-order is imitative
of Latin or Greek.)
Theseus was the son of Aegeus, king
of Athens (or of Neptune).
EVOES: ritual ecstatic cries of
Bacchus’ worshippers (usually female in
groups called thiasoi).
minor deities of the woods (sylvae:
L. for ‘woods’). Fauns: "certain
deities of the country, represented as
having the legs, feet, and ears of goats,
the rest of the body human. They were
called satyrs by the Greeks. The peasants
offered them a lamb or a kid with great
solemnity" (LCD 298). Satyrs:
"demigods of the country, whose origin
is unknown. They are represented like
men, but with the feet and legs of goats,
short horns on the head, and the whole
body covered with thick hair. They chiefly
attended on Bacchus,and rendered themselves
known in his orgies by their riot and
lasciviousness…. The Romans promiscuously
called them Fauni, Panes, and Sylvani"
"son of Jupiter and Semele, the daughter
of Cadmus…. As he was the god of vintage,
of wine, and of drinkers, he is generally
represented crowned with vine and ivy
leaves, with a thyrsus in his hand"
a rod of fennel wound with ivy and grape
leaves and tipped with a pine cone, carried
by Bacchus’ worshippers.
i.e., Athenians. (The Ionian Greeks in
Asia Minor were originally from Athens,
and spoke a very similar dialect of Greek.)
a drink mixed from wine (Gk oinos)
and honey (Gk mel).
vervain: here probably verbena
officinale, once used for medicinal
"an ideally sweet or luscious
substance" (1608 OED).
cf. "Fledge the hours" ("Rondeau
to A.W. Straton").
and the Four Queens
printed 1887 (8-19, 56-66, 275-282). (Pacey 38-46)
Trochaic 6-line stanzas: 5 tetrameters + 1 trimeter
(aabccb); 3 iambic tetrameter ballad quatrains
(abab) as prologues to each of parts I-III;
4 trochaic 9-line stanzas: 8 trimeters + 1 dimeter
(-u-) as the song of Launcelot. (This stanza form
was probably suggested by Tennyson, "The
Lady of Shalott").
story is based on La Mort d’Arthure and the
Knights of the Round Table. Compiled by
Sir Thomas Malory Knt., ed. Thomas Wright, Esq.,
M.A., F.S.A., 2nd. ed., 3 vols., London: John
Russell (1866), Vol. I, Chapters C-CIII; see also
strain of mediaeval music clad in modern richness
of expression." (Rev. in the Canadian
Monthly, 1880. 533)
is Tennyson’s turn in "Launcelot and the
Four Queens," where the rhythm, the diction,
and even the morality are his. As in Tennyson,
the setting quite overshadows the story and
the characters. (Pacey, Sir Charles
and the Four Queens" is one of the principal
achievements of Orion, second only to
the title poem in length, and more successfully
executed…. As in Milton’s treatment of the Genesis
story, the central issue…is choice… The ‘shadows’
which dim Launcelot’s sleep have their counterparts
in the waking consciousness, and the prison
to which the queens carry him has its equivalent
in bondage to Guinevere. What Roberts conveys
here is the ambiguity which clouds all choice
in a world where motives remain ultimately obscure
and realities shift place with illusions…. Launcelot
is indeed ‘the fairest knight’ but he is also
an errant knight in more than one sense, and
Roberts’ poem is full of hints about his corruption.
sleeps under a blossoming apple tree (Malory,
I. C; Bullfinch, 351-53). "In
contrast to the sullen panorama of
‘Orion’ we are confronted with a landscape
where creatures, vegetation, even the
hour (‘languid noon’) are tinged with
dubious moral significance. It is the
landscape of enchantment, hinting everywhere
at entrapment and captivity" (Early
queens accompanied by four knights discover
Launcelot sleeping. They enchant him,
then bear him home where he will have
to choose one of them as his lover.
The natural world around becomes weirdly
awakes in a high-ceilinged chamber, richly-adorned
and barred: "No glamour ’tis, nor
song for Guinevere: "Hearken Guinevere!
/ Magic of love and pain potenter/ Than
hath bought me to this plight / Hath
thy bosom’s stir;/ Subtler witchery hath
thy whispering, / To make me foul before
my God / And false unto my king, / Guinevere"
(170-78) is a lyrical addition to Malory’s
must choose one of the queens—or death:
he chooses honour instead (199-201). The
four depart: the air in the chamber becomes
oppressive until a damsel enters with
food, and offers Launcelot his freedom
if he will help her father, King Bagdemagus.
He agrees to be ready at dawn.
and harmony is restored to nature. The
chamber bars open and the two depart.
Launcelot arms himself, then canters away
on his own horse in the freshness
of the morning. At a safe distance he
waves his "adieus" to his four
would-be royal mistresses. In Malory
(I. CVI), Launcelot enters a tournament
on the side of Bagdemagus, and wins the
day: "And then the knights of the
King of Northgales would just (joust)
no more. And the game was given unto king
Sir Launcelot of the Lake was the son
of King Ban and Queen Helen of Brittany.
The infant Launcelot was carried off by
Viviane, a lake-nymph and mistress of
Merlin ( The Lady of the Lake: hence his
own title). At age 18 he was brought by
Viviane to the court of Arthur at Camelot
for admission the knighthood. There he
and Queen Guinivere fell in love (see
eggs: Roberts has introduced
the North American robin to Arthurian
le Fay: sister of King Arthur.
eyes (archaic form).
wife of King Arthur, and daughter
of King Laodegar of Carmalide, whom Merlin
and Arthur assisted in defeating King Ryence
"a heavy silk fabric, sometimes interwoven
with gold, worn in the middle ages"
(Pacey, Collected 384).
high open country (as in "Cottswolds").
and argent: heraldric terms for red
defensive ditch around a castle (sometimes
filled with water as a moat).
more gladly willing.
honey-wine (cf. oenomel, "Ariadne"
tapestry, wall-hanging (cf. Hamlet
if (in this sense, a doublet for "an").
king of Gore and cousin by marriage
to Morgane le Fay.
wooden platter or carving board ("slicer").
Lucifer, the planet Venus appearing as the
of the Poet’s Thought
printed 1880 (CM), 1883, 1901/07,
1936 (Pacey 32-33). Ballade form
(see below)—first of four ballades.
you care for the ‘Ballade of the Poet’s Thought’?
Matthew Arnold spoke to me very cordially of
that poem. (Letters 14.xii.84)
mentioned several poems with special commendation,
particularly "The Ballade of the Poet’s
Thought." (Pomeroy 38-39)
poems which appear near the the middle of the
book, "Ballad of the Poet’s Thought"
and "A Ballad of Three Mistresses,"
describe the poet in more complex tones as caught
between his conflicting attachments to love,
nature, society, and art. (It is little wonder
that Arnold praised the former piece, which
deals with the primary tensions in much of his
own work). (Early 11)
correctly altered "Ballad" to "Ballade"
for the 1901/07 and 1936 printings of this poem,
and would likely have done so for the other three
ballades in the collection (poems 6-8) had they
ever been reprinted:
most important of the so-called OF forms and
the dominant verse form of Fr. Poetry of the
14th and 15th c. The most common type of b.
is made up of three 8-line stanzas rhyming ababbcbC
and a 4-line envoi rhyming bcbC.... The
b. of the great Fr. Period was imitated in England
by Chaucer and Gower.... In the later 19th
c. a group of English poets, including Austin
Dobson ["In After Days"], Andrew Lang,
and W. E. Henley revived the form with enthusiasm.
exploration of the dilemma of the poet committed
to his sacred calling as teacher and comforter
to the community. He can neither communicate adequately
and win appreciation thereby nor endure the burden
of that divine madness; but isolation and retreat
to Nature both charge him all the more with it
and deprive him of relief in imparting it to others:
"Then grieving he fled from the quiet spot,
/ To where men work, and are weary, and weep"
theme of the poet’s burden is continued in the
following ballade "Three Mistresses";
and that of the poet’s return to the world of
mortal miseries recurs in the "Epistle to
Bliss Carman." Roberts "was perhaps
inspired by Wordsworth’s ‘Nature and the Poet,’
suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm,
painted by Sir George Beaumont" (Palgrave
farewell the heart that lives alone,
Housed in a dream, at a distance from the
Such happiness, wherever it be known,
Is to be pitied; for ’tis surely blind.
But welcome fortitude, and patient cheer
frequent sights of what is to be borne!
Such sights, or worse, as are before me
Not without hope we suffer and we mourn.
to this link between Roberts’ and Wordsworth’s
poems is Palgrave’s note (332) on the latter:
soon after the death, by shipwreck, of Wordsworth’s
brother John. The poem should be compared with
Shelley’s following it ["The Poet’s Dream"].
Each is the most complete expression of the
innermost spirit of his art given by those great
poets:—of that Idea which as in the case of
the true Painter, (to quote the words of Reynolds,)
"subsists only in the mind. The sight never
beheld it, nor has the hand expressed it; it
is an idea residing in the breast of the artist,
which he is always labouring to impart, and
which he dies at last without imparting."
also Tennyson’s "The Palace of Art"
for a similar idea.
Ballad of Three Mistresses
printed 1879 (CIN) (Pacey 34-35). Ballade
poem continues the theme (from the previous poem)
of the poet’s burden, here in a Bacchic and erotic
mode. The heart of the poet is captivated by all
three mistresses, Wine, Woman, and Song (1-8);
but Woman is more "tyrannous" and "more
strong" than Wine (9-16) and Song is stronger
and "subtiler" than even Woman, as that
of the Lorelei is sweeter than the siren herself
(17-24). That enslavement is brought into its
sharpest focus in the ballade’s Envoi "Then
her I must serve without plea / Who doeth her
servants much wrong, / Queen Song of the Jove-given
three…" (25-27). The nature of that "wrong"
was explained in the refrain of the previous ballade:
"…the wealth of the poet’s thought / Is sweet
to win, but bitter to keep" (5. 27-28).
poem may have been inspired by two of Keats’,
("Women, Wine, and Snuff" and "Fill
for Me a Brimming Bowl), although the conclusions
of the two poets differ radically. In the former,
Keats praises all his "beloved Trinity"
(6); in the latter he calls for a "brimming
bowl" with wine and "some drug,
designed / To banish Women from my mind"
(1-4)—not for "fond desiring" (6), but
for "forgetting." The eroticism here
is also similar: "…melting softness of that
face, / The beaminess of those bright eyes, /
That breast— earth’s only Paradise" (14-16).
For Keats, the "Classic page, or Muse’s lore"
(20) lost their charms.
riming variation of "Lorelei"
or "Lurlei"; a rock in the Rhine
River near St Goar, on which local legend
placed the beautiful siren who tempted
fishermen with her sweet song. (Also the
hiding place of the Niebelung treasure.)
It may not be coincidental that a translation
by "F.R." of Barrie, Ontario
of the famous German song had appeared
in the Canadian Monthly (8 :122):
wonderful! O fairest! / Sweet maid that
sittest there! / Light gleaming from her
girdle, / And from her golden hair! /
With golden combs she combs it, / Singing
a glorious song, / Till all the hills
send back to her, / Its music sweet and
common re-latinized spelling for "subtler."
to a Kingfisher
only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 35).
tale of Ceyx and Alcyone is told in loving detail
by Ovid in the Metamorphoses (11.
382-748). Ceyx, the king of Trachiniae, was drowned
on a voyage to Claros. His devoted wife Alcyone
had longed to accompany him (441). Informed of
the wreck in a dream, she discovered his corpse
on the seashore and plunged into the sea herself
in grief. In pity, the gods changed them both
into seabirds (halcyones, kingfishers)
so that their love and marriage bond would be
eternal; they mated and produced offspring (coeunt
fiuntque parentes, 744). In legend, for a
period of 7 (or 11 or 14) days at the Solstice
the sea is miraculously calm while the Halcyons
build their floating nests and raise their young
(745-460; see also LCD 37). Hence the expression
"Halcyon Days." Keats mentions the kingfisher
in his "Imitation of Spenser": "There
the king-fisher saw his plumage bright / Vieing
with fish of brilliant dye below"(10-11).
ballade is a sustained Alexandrian allusion to
Ovid’s account. The poet’s indignant interrogation
is prompted by the sight in winter of a female
kingfisher peacefully fishing for minnows alone
on a river bank, apparently forgetful of the distant
sea and her duty to sailors and her celebrated
devotion to her husband. The poet’s scolding of
her for that forgetfulness and dereliction is
pointed in the refrains of the ballade (8, 16,
24), and concludes in a stern admonition: "Now,
Kingfisher, do not forget" (28). Ovid’s
authority for these charges is implicit throughout,
particularly Alcyone’s protested devotion (Met.
11. 684-707), the very thing she is not to
forget! That authority is further reinforced by
his appeal to "John Milton the vast, the
divine" (23): "The Windes with wonder
whist, / Smoothly the waters kist, / Whispering
new joyes to the milde Ocean / Who now both quite
forgot to rave, / While Birds of Calm sit brooding
on the charmed wave" ("Ode on the Morning
of Christ’s Nativity" 64-68).
fret, feel discontent, long.
of a Bride
only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 33).
epithalamium (song at the bridal chamber,
with echoes of Catullus 61 and 62) celebrating
the beauty and grace of the bride and the joy
of the couple as they depart from the wedding.
Stanzas one (1-8) and three (17-24) are addressed
to the bridesmaids, who are to deck her with orange-blossoms
and red roses far less lovely than she (4, 9-14,
19-21); stanza two (9-16), to the garlands themselves.
Cf. Cat. 61. 6-7: "Cinge tempora floribus
suave olentis amaraci" [sweet marjoram].
As this ballade has a refrain (celebrating the
poet’s role in the festivities: "Hearken
a little to my lay"), so do both of Catullus’
epithalamia: "O Hymen Hymenaee io
/ O Hymen Hymenaee" (61) and "Hymen
o Hymenaee, Hymen ades o Hymenaee" (62),
addressed to the marriage spirit, Hymen. But the
bride’s thoughts are on her new husband, not on
the poet or his song (15, 23, 27), and there is
more than a hint of envy on the poet’s part for
the attention he is receiving from
her. (The poet is perhaps thinking of his own
songs in Greek are found in Homer, Hesiod, Aristophanes,
and Theocritus; Sappho’s epithalamia filled
the ninth book of her works (Greek Lyric xiii).
Ovid, Statius, and Claudian continued the tradition
in Latin, and it was revived in the Renaissance
(Tasso, Marino; Ronsard, Belleau, DuBellay; Spenser,
Sydney, Donne, Jonson, Herrick, Crashaw, Marvell,
and Dryden (PEPP 249-50). Spenser coined
the term prothalamium ("pre-wedding"
song), and that poem is included in Palgrave (LIII).
It has a refrain ("Sweet Thames! Run softly
till I end my song") and contributes the
phrase "Against the bridal day" (34;
cf. Roberts, 6) and the word "lay" (87)
to Roberts’ refrain. Spenser’s nymphs weave garlands
for themselves as bridesmaids decked like brides
(13-36, 91-108); Roberts’ bridesmaids weave them
for the bride. (Palgrave omits the more
famous "Epithalamium" Spenser wrote
for his own wedding "as not in harmony with
shine,: the nominative of
address (vocative) and verbal imperative.
printed 1887 (with 6-10, 16-20 omitted) (Pacey
46). 5-line iambic stanzas: pentameter x4, trimeter
Days" extends the world of eroticism and
lover’s fulfillment from the preceding epithalamium
to all loves of a singing, harmonious nature:
sea, wind, and trees (1-6). The poet
himself cannot sing, however, for of all those
loves his alone are unfulfilled: "My only
hope deferred and waitings long / Keep silent;
me these rich completions wrong: / Ah! When shall
I have leave my lips to gild / With a sweet marriage
song?" (7-10). Glad wedding songs from down
the ages ring in his ears, but their torches bring
tears of envy to his eyes (11-15). All loves are
satisfied, homes chosen, vows made—except for
theirs (16-20). The poem ends with a carpe
diem appeal to his beloved for many kisses,
an echo of lines 1-2 ("sweet-mouthed shore…winds
are joyous with their kissing chime") and
of the kisses-poem of Catullus (5), as escape
from the pain of delay and insurance against an
uncertain future. Roberts later omitted stanzas
two and three in the version printed in The
Canadian Birthday Book (1897), for they refer
with youthful ingenuousness to his own longing
for marriage, and by 1897 that marriage had certainly
gone sour. "Love Days" was probably
composed in Chatham in the spring of 1880, while
he was separated from his fiancee May Fenety.
harmony, agreement, sound produced
time: i.e., spring.
construed with "Me" as direct
object of "keep." hope deferred:
cf. Proverbs 13:12, "Hope deferred
maketh the heart sick: but when the desire
cometh, it is a tree of life."
associated with ancient weddings celebrated
whom yet no threshhold waits: eventually
Roberts rented a small cottage in Chatham,
furnished with his mother’s help. May, now
Mrs. Roberts, joined him there after their
marriage (29 December, 1880 and following
the publication of Orion, and Other Poems)
for the remainder of the school year (Pomeroy
temple’s gates have lifted: cf.
Psalms 24:7. The allusion here is to their
anticipated wedding in Fredericton at his
father’s parish church, which took place
29 December 1880.
weary way: cf. "Miriam—I."
printed 1879, 1901/07 (Pacey 5-9). Spenserian
stanzas (iambic pentameter 9-lines: ababbcbcc).
Written in 1877 (Pomeroy 28).
the rectory study one day he showed his father
some verses he had written beneath a tree on
his way down from college. His father saw at
once that they were good but intimated that
more verses were necessary to complete the poem.
His father suggested that he try to get it published
and was somewhat surprised to be told that a
letter to this end was already written and addressed
to Scribner’s Magazine. The poem was
sent, and in a few weeks the the young poet
was agreeably surprised to get a letter from
the editor enclosing a check in payment and
a statement to the effect that it was the best
poem he had received in three months, and that
other productions of like quality would be readily
accepted. (University Monthly, December
graduation in June came another triumph to crown
his work of the last three years. His poem "Memnon"
(126 lines in all) appeared in The Century,
one of the foremost North American monthlies
of the day. (Adams, Sir Charles God Damn
is virtually original in taking [Memnon] for
his central figure…. There are several…allusions
[to Memnon] in Tennyson which I note because
in "Memnon" Roberts emulates Tennyson’s
characteristic treatment of myth…. The structure…is
identical to that of Tennyson’s "Oenone"….
We are given a vivid picture reminiscent of
Shelley’s "Ozymandias," of desolate
reaches of rock, sand, and palm, strewn with
the rubble of ancient idols…. The suggestion
that Memnon’s soul is imprisoned in the statue
and that his mother is somehow responsible,
is Roberts’ idea…. Memnon, like his father [Tithonus]
is consigned to a limbo between mortality and
immortality…. As the tale of a figure tormented
by his link to divinity, "Memnon"
ironically qualifies th vision of "Orion"
and "Ariadne"…a parable about the
human spirit fated to grieve itself forever (Early
Lytton had also written a poem about Memnon in
1855. Ovid, Apollodorus, and other ancient writers
mention him. Lemprière (LCD 455) gives
a synthesis of details from these sources:
Ethiopians, over whom Memnon reigned, erected
a celebrated statue to the honour of their monarch.
The statue had the wonderful property of uttering
a melodious sound every day, at sun rising,
like that which is heard at the breaking of
the string of a harp when it is wound up. This
was effected by the rays of the sun when they
fell upon it. At the setting of the sun and
in the night, the sound was lugubrious…. This
celebrated statue was dismantled by order of
Cambyses, when he captured Egypt…. (LCD
to sleep, a traveller in the Egyptian desert
watches the moon set and the dawn rise from
outside his tent. He hears a "form
of stone" begin to sing at her coming:
He watches the desolate prostrate image
begin to glow in the first light, and hears
its sad lament to its mother, Aurora.
stay, or the scorching desert day will
stay, for even kindly Night feels no real
pity, and desert creatures mock me.’
your beloved Troy, and Tithonus, my father
how Scamander, his grandfather, would scold
you when we lived in Hyperion’s palace?’
Helen and the Trojan war, and how I perished?
How I wish you had left me dead there, soul
how you wept when I went out to meet Achilles
and was slain?’
how you begged Jove for special honours
how the clouds of birds flew out of the
flames of my fragrant pyre and fought screaming
to honour me as Jove decreed?’
how you scarcely waited for the libations
to dry, before flying off westward to mourn
over the Atlantic? And now the sun
Night will return with all her sounds, and
dirges of the ghost’s of Thebe’s past glories.
I wish you were here to make them go away.
O my Beautiful Mother, hear!’
see Lemprière’s above, and Frazer, Apollodorus
Apollo as god of the sun.
"a daughter of Air, and Tellus [Earth]….
She was deprived of the power of speech
by Juno, and only permitted to answer
questions put to her…. [She] fell in love
with Narcissus, and despised by him, she
pined away [into nothing but her voice],
and was changed into a stone, which still
retained the power of voice"( LCD
219). See Ovid, Met. 5. 358-99.
"a son of Laomedon, king of Troy,
by Strymo, the daughter of the Scamander.
He was so beautiful that Aurora became
enamoured of him and carried him away.
He had by her Memnon and Aemathion. He
begged of Aurora to be made immortal,
and the goddess granted it; but as he
had forgotten to ask the vigor, youth,
and beauty which he had enjoyed, he soon
grew old, infirm and decrepit; as his
life became insupportable to him, he prayed
Aurora to remove him from the world. As
he could not die, the goddess changed
him into a cicada or grasshopper"
a river of Troy, called Xanthus (‘tawny’)
by the gods. It swelled its banks to oppose
Achilles’ slaughter of the Trojans (Iliad
21.135-382). Juno, Minerva, and Venus
had once bathed in Xanthus’ waters to
prepare for the Judgment of Paris.
see on 61 above.
father of Aurora, and the sun and moon.
patronymic form for the son of Peleus
(king of Pythia), Achilles.
king of Pylos on the west coast of the
Peloponnesus, the most senior in age, wisdom
(and garrulity) of the Greeks before Troy.
When Memnon slew his son Antilochus in battle,
he challenged him to a duel, but Memnon
foolishly elected to fight Achilles, instead.
He returned safely to Pylos, where Telemachus,
son of Ulysses, visited him (Odyssey
"immediately a numerous flight
of birds issued from the burning pile on
which [Memnon’s] body was laid, and after
they had flown three times round the flames,
they divided themselves into two separate
bodies, and fought with such acrimony, that
about half of them fell down into the fire
to appease the spirit of Memnon. These birds
were called the Memnonides…"
a Latin term denoting the collective
spirits of the dead; cf. the standard formula
dis manibus ‘to the dead’ on Roman
‘western’; cf. Hesperus (‘evening
star’), and Hesperia (‘land of the
a wading bird with long slender legs,
and decurved bill, associated in antiquity
with Egypt, where the Sacred Ibis was worshipped;
they appeared at the rising of the Nile,
and were thought to protect Egypt from plagues
printed 1879, 1880 (twice), 1887 (1-9), 1915 (Pacey
29). First of 3 rondeaus (poems 11-13) in Orion,
and Other Poems.
inspired by Byron’s lines on the Angelus in Don
Juan III. 1-40: "Oh, Hesperus! Thou bringest
all good things— / Home to the Weary, to the hungry
cheer" (25-32)… "Sweet hour of twilight"
(17), "Soft hour" (33). Roberts evokes
the colours of both sunset and "purple gloaming…down
low orient hills" (5-6). The cri du coeur
of a lonely young man. See Catullus 62.1-2: "Vesper
adest: iuvenes, consurgite Olympo / expectata
diu vix tandem lumina tollit" (See also
15-line (originally 13) iambic tetrameters with
two rimes, stanzas of 5, 4, 6 lines (9 and 15
= refrain of first two feet of V. 1). "Aside
from the occasional r. in English as early as
c., the form did not flourish until it attracted
the attention of Swinburne, Dobson [‘In After
Days’], and other poets who experimented with
the Fr. forms" (PEPP 722). A well-known
example of a rondeau in English is "In Flanders’
Fields" by John McCrae.
Hesperus was the son of the Titan Iapetus,
and the brother of Atlas (or son), Prometheus
and Epimetheus; he gave his name to Hesperia
(Italia); also the name of the planet
Venus as the Evening Star when it appeared
after sunset (otherwise "Phosphorus"
or "Lucifer"" LCD
the sunset’s fervid sails: carried
the sun off on its voyage below the western
evening twilight, dusk.
humming, whispering; cf. "Orion"
4. Keats wrote ("Calidore" 160-61):
"…or that soft humming / We hear
when Hesperus is coming."
printed 1891 (Pacey 51).
"Hesper Appears" this poem evokes separation,
but here with a wry humour. "Parting one
night at the gate of Linden Hall [the Fenety residence]
after a little tiff, she [May Fenety] walked haughtily
into the house while the college boy went on his
way laughing repeatedly, ‘Without one kiss she’s
gone away’" (Pomeroy 39). Cf. the incident
reported by Adams (20) in which she hurled Charles’
gift of a specially bound copy of Shelley to the
floor in a tantrum—she was expecting jewellery.
blown: blowing in the wind.
personifications (Persuasion/Peitho was
the daughter or attendant of Venus).
to A.W. Straton
in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey
Straton (1858-1890) was an older cousin of both
Roberts and Bliss Carman, and a brother of Barry
Straton, their close school friend, and a fellow
poet (Pomeroy 15; Pacey, Collected 386).
refrain "To fledge the hours" is a nice
conceit, glossed in line 2: "And wing their
feet"; cf. also "Miriam.—II" 21-22:
"Ah! But full were the hours, full to their
heart’s desire;…golden their flying feet"
wing (give wings to) or feather, i.e.
hurry. ("To fledge" is subject
of "should please" 7).
names as these: the names of other
friends signed in the album.
once more in 1889 (Pacey 37-38). Meter: dochmiacs
(a Greek tragic meter used to express agitation)
uu-u-u- : 8-line stanzas ababccab.
Flight" and "One Night" are entirely
imaginative, founded upon nothing more substantial
than a mood. (Letters [14.vii.1884] 40)
may be the principal inspiration also for "The
Flight" and "One Night," which
are anomalies not only in Orion but in
Roberts’ whole oeuvre. They evoke the dark side
of romanticism, its gothic delineations of mental
states and fearful violence, but are not particularly
good specimens, lacking the impact and insight
of such kindred pieces as Browning’s "Porphyria’s
Lover," Rossetti’s "Sister Helen"
and Swinburne’s "The Leper." (Early
story is obscure, and its spirit certainly gothic.
Stories by Walpole, Radcliffe, Lewis,
Maturin, Le Fanu and the Brontës could have suggested
this setting and mood to the youthful Roberts.
only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 49).
Iambic tetrameter 4-line stanzas (abab).
inspired by Thomas Hood’s strange poem "The
Dream of Eugene Aram" (1839). P.G. Wodehouse’s
Bertie Wooster recollected (in the first of the
Jeeves stories) "as a kid having to learn
by heart a poem about a bird by the name of Eugene
Aram…. But I recollect the poor blighter spent
much of his valuable time dumping the corpse into
ponds and burying it and what not, only to have
it pop out at him again," ("Jeeves Takes
Charge" in Carry on Jeeves 11-12).
Bulwer Lythor had published his novel Eugene
Aram in 1831.
A Song of Morning
only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 55).
Dactylic 8-line stanzas, 2 2 2 2 4 2 2 3 (abcadbcd).
inspired by Shelley’s "To The Night"
(Palgrave, CLXXXVIII), but Roberts celebrates
the virtues of Night and Day, while Shelley’s
melancholy rejects Dawn and Day both.
Weird: mysterious. Night: "Some
of the moderns have described her as a
woman veiled in morning…" (LCD:
"Nox," 411). Shelley makes
her the mother of Sleep and sister of
Death ("To The Night"). The
phrase may have been suggested to Roberts
by C.P. Mulvany’s poem "Laura…No.1.—Putting
Out To Sea": "Wierd [sic] night,
that fallest on hill and meadow"(1).
tresses: cf. Shelley, "To The
Night" (10): "Blind with thine
hair the eyes of day".
cf. Shelley (5): "Thou wovest
dreams of joy and fear".
glamours: enchantments, allurements;
cf. "Lancelot" 113 (above).
Ode to Drowsihood
Also printed 1879, 1883, 1901/7,
1936 (Pacey 9-10). Iambic 11-line stanzas: 5 5
5 5 2 5 5 5 5 3 (abbabcdcdcd).
& "Drowsihood" were printed in
old  Scribner’s. (Letters
[14 vii 84] 40)
and "An Ode to Drowsihood" were written
shortly after "Memnon"…. (Pomeroy
worth noting are the "Ode to Drowsihood"
and "Ode to Night," both so redolent
of the stanzas, music and imagery of Keats’
odes as to approach pastiche. Roberts was fond
of the former poem, reprinting it in 1901 and
again in 1936. Undeniably ‘derivative stuff’,
these various lyrics nevertheless convey a certain
ebullience and panache. It is almost as though
Roberts was determined to make up at a dash
poetic ground which Canadian writers had largely
ignored. (Early 24-25)
to Drowsihood" continues the sentiments of
"Song of Morning" (1-8) and "Hesper
Appears," and is followed by "Ode to
Night." Palgrave had provided Roberts
with a number of poems to Sleep, Evening, and
the Evening Star, by Daniel, Campbell, and Wordsworth,
and Shelley’s "To The Night" (CLXXXVIII).
He would also have known Keats’ sonnet "To
Sleep" and "Sleep and Poetry."
His poem is also greatly indebted to Ovid (Met.
II. 585-709), in a long section
incorporated into the story of Ceyx and Alcyone
(see notes to "Ballad to a Kingfisher"
above). There Juno sends Iris to the cave of Sleep
(Somnus) to arrange for a dream to be sent
to Alcyone telling her her husband is dead. That
cave is near the cavern-dwelling Cimmerians. He
is called "ingnavus Somnus"
(‘lethargic Sleep’). Even Phoebus cannot enter
(595). Slumber-inviting Lethe flows up from its
depths (602-04); poppies and other herbs grow
from which Nox compounds sleep for mortals (607).
Iris flatters him as "Rest of all things,
most mild of the gods, Sleep, peace of the spirit,
from whom care flees, who soothest bodies weary
from hard service, and preparest them once more
for their toil" (623-25). Then Morpheus is
picked from Sleep’s thousand sons to carry the
dream to Alcyone, for he specializes in human
shapes (633-34), while Icelus does animals (638-41)
and Phantasus the inanimate (641-43). Then Somnus
droops his head in soft drowsiness (molli languore)
once more (647-49).
obvious poetic model for "Ode to Drowsihood"
was Keats’ "To a Nightingale" (Palgrave
CCXLIV) ("…a drowsy numbness pains my sense…and
Lethewards had sunk…Was it a vision or a waking
dream?…Do I wake or sleep?"). Keats praises
Sleep in "Sleep and Poetry" as bringer
of the visions of poetry: "Also imagining
will hover / Round my fireside, and haply there
discover / Vistas of solemn beauty, where I’d
wander / In happy silence, like the clear Meander
/ Through its lone vales (71-75)….yet I must not
forget / Sleep, quiet with his poppy coronet:
/ For what there may be worthy in these rhymes/
I partly owe to him" (347-50). Roberts’ "drowsihood"
is Ovid’s mollis languor, the soft prelude
to sleep. His flow of visions (14-51) from "aged
Druid" (15) to "arms and lips / Cream-white
and crimson" (50-51) is akin to Keats’ ("Sleep
and Poetry" 354-95). The "poppy baths,
juices expressed / In fervid sunshine" (34-5)
are Ovid’s (11. 605-6) and Keats’ "Baiae’s
skies" (45) are directly from Keats ("To
Charles Cowden Clarke," 29). The framing
image of Roberts’ poem is the "Moth-winged
seducer, dusky-soft and brown (7)…. / Fain would
I hold thee by the dark wing-tips/ Against a grievous
"minister of religion among the
ancient Gauls and Britons" (LCD
266). The word itself is Greek: ‘oak-people’
"certain inferior deities who
presided over rivers, springs, well, and
fountains…generally inhabited the country…represented
as young and beautiful virgins, often
leaning upon an urn, from which flows
a stream of water" (LCD 486).
(or woof) threads crossing from
side-to-side in a web on a loom (opp. warp);
cf. "Weaver of dreams" (2).
see "Sappho" 59.
town and bay (E. "bay" is a derivative)
west of Naples opposite Puteoli (Pozzuoli),
a resort famous in antiquity for its natural
beauties, climate and hot springs. According
to ancient legend, Baios, one of Ulysses’
crewmen died there.
Lago Maggiore, Italy’s second largest
lake, a popular resort area in the foothills
of the Alps.
wine from Tuscany.
Ode to Night
only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey
48). Iambic 11-line stanzas:
5 5 3 5 5 5 5 3 5 5 5 (abbabcdcddc).
Early’s remarks (24-25).
is an invocational (kletic) hymn to the
goddess of Night. Like Sappho’s "Hymn to
Aphrodite" it concludes in praise of and
longing for the poet’s beloved. Roberts resumes
the motif of the "Moth" from "Ode
to Drowsihood," no longer as "drowsihood,"
but "My spirit’s wings." The countervailing
motif is Night’s mystic rites for the poet (6,
14-15), lush with perfumes of syringa and the
zephyr (10, 7-8), heart’s ease and bitter marigolds
(22). For his beloved’s lips and cheeks, Night
with her "feather-sandaled-feet" will
tread out, in spurts of colour like new wine from
a vat, "rosy flushes" from the "dying
crimson of the day" (23-27). She is his only
refuge from the world’s Folly, Envy, and Spite
(30-33), and Night will speed him to her arms
mock-orange or lilac; this is a word-allusion
to Syrinx, the Arcadian nymph changed
by the gods to a reed to escape from Pan’s
passion (who fashioned that reed into
soft breeze from the west, the west
caprices, whims, vagaries.
Also printed 1889 (Pacey
2). Iambic-trochaic 4-stress liens, 6-line stanzas
poem of the same period [his first college year]
was "Amoris Vincula." "It was
inspired more or less by a poem of Charles Pelham
Mulvany, which had appeared in The Canadian
Magazine [sic], and whose haunting cadences
stayed with me for days." Although the
poet did not include "Amoris Vincula"
in his Collected Edition, its craftsmanship
justifies attention in any stage of the poet’s
early development. (Pomeroy 26)
his second year at College, Roberts joined the
Seventy-First Battalion. At that time Colonel
Maunsell was head of the Militia Department
of New Brunswick and of the Military School.
Roberts attended the school and passed successfully
the examinations qualifying him for Captain
in the Militia. (Pomeroy 29)
Then there was a moth-eaten scarlet tunic in
the attic that told you that father had once
been a soldier in the brave militia. But that
was long, long ago, and people didn’t go to
war any more, you were happily certain. (Lloyd
of a different sort are "Love-Days"
and "Amoris Vincula," which reach
back beyond the nineteenth century to the Cavalier
style of Herrick and Lovelace. (Early 24)
recollection about the Mulvany poem as reported
by Pomeroy is imprecise. The Canadian Magazine
did not begin publication until 1893. Nor
is there any appropriate poem by Mulvany in the
Canadian Monthly and National Review or
Rose-Belford’s Canadian Monthly. A
number of Mulvany’s poems were published
in Lyrics, Songs and Sonnets (1880), one
of which, wherever Roberts may have seen it, seems
to have a "more or less" correspondence.
Mulvany’s first poem in that collection (9-13)
is "Stella," which begins (1): "Only
a woman’s hair!" It is a lyric meditation
on "Stella’s…raven black tress" (5).
The love story of Jonathan Swift and his "Stella"
(Esther Johnson) is given a tragic colour. Swift’s
stormy career is described metaphorically as "battle
and darkness and need" (25), and Stella’s
love for him as one of both understanding and
passion. Mulvany’s stanzas begin with the ironic
refrain, "Only a woman’s hair," Swifts
word’s written on the lock’s paper wrapper. W.M.
Thackeray wrote in The English Humorists of
the Eighteenth Century that:
a note in his biography, Scott says that his
friend Dr. Tuke of Dublin has a lock of Stella’s
hair, enclosed in a paper by Swift, on which
are written, in the Dean’s hand, the words:
"Only a woman’s hair." An instance,
says Scott, of the dean’s desire to veil his
feelings under the mask of cynical indifference.
See the various
notions of critics! Do these words indicate
indifference or an attempt to hide feeling?
Did you ever hear or read four words more pathetic?
Only a woman’s hair—only love, only fidelity,
only purity, innocence, beauty; only the tenderest
heart in the world stricken and wounded, and
passed away now out of reach of pangs of hope
deferred, love insulted, and pitiless desertion;—only
that lock of hair left; and memory and remorse,
for the guilty, lonely wretch, shuddering over
the grave of his victim. (350)
title, "Amoris Vincula" (‘Bonds of Love’)
refers to "These fetters of caressing hair"
(4) which neither "gall" nor "smart"
(5). That hair is the symbolic antithesis to the
world of war and separation, like the tress Swift
kept to the end of his life.
knew Richard Lovelace’s "To Lucasta, On going
to the Wars" from Palgrave (LXXXIII).
Lovelace’s Cavalier sentiment ("I could not
love thee, Dear, so much, / Loved I not honour
more" 11-12) is quite the reverse of that
of "Amoris Vincula," Roberts’ ironic
refutation of it: "Ah, I too had girded me
/ And stood among the strong and free,— /…But
a girlish voice saith nay,… / Bids me stay, and
I must stay: / …" (13-14, 21-22). It would
appear, however, that the shift from Lovelace’s
focus on the beloved’s "chaste breast and
quiet mind" (3) to those "fetters of
caressing hair" was inspired by this poem
Appendix III for the text of Mulvany’s poem "Stella.")
again in 1880 (CM), 1901/7 (Pacey 29).
Sonnet (abbaabba cdecde).
(35) records this poem as the first written at
Chatham, where Roberts was appointed headmaster
of the grammar school (1879-1880): "a carefully-wrought
sonnet with lines of considerable beauty…exceedingly
serious note…but a mood or a passing phase…."
James Cappon (Influences 18-19) wanted
to find "a mournful farewell to Arcadian
legend" here, produced by the poet’s growing
awareness that he now had to choose between "high
traditional" literature and the more popular
types. (For the thought, compare Keats’ "To
George Felton Mathew" 24-25.)
unnamed speaker is a lyric poet who can sing no
more ("fallen the lyre, / And sobs in falling,"
9-10), whose violet eyes ("purple glow")
are faded (10-11) and who no longer finds Apollo
and his Muses’ inspiration in the mountain groves
(12-13), or Pan ("pipings," 4) in green
meadows, and doubts that they will ever be seen
again (14). The wind once blew upon this poet
from Thessaly (1), along with morning music (3)
and pipings from meadows by the sea (4-5). No
goddess or dryad sings now amid the laurel (6-8).
Who is this singer? The sigh of "Ah me!"
(1) strongly suggests a woman (cf. "Ariadne"
35, John E. Logan’s "A Blood-Red Ring Hung
Round the Moon" from "Barry Dane"
[Songs of the Great Dominion 35]), and
W.S. Gilbert’s ballad "Ah me!": "Yet
all the sense / Of eloquence / Lies hidden in
a maid’s ‘Ah me!’"—although Keats uses it
of a man [End. 4.71]). The purple glow
of the speaker’s eyes also suggests a woman, recalling
Keats’ "Woman, when I behold thee" ("Light
feet, dark violet eyes and parted hair" 15);
compare also Pindar’s epithet for Aphrodite, ioblepharos
"violet-lidded" (cited by Lucian, Imagines
8). Keats also uses this colour image, too:
"Light feet, dark violet eyes and parted
hair" ("Woman, When I Behold Thee"
15). Such a speaker should be Sappho herself.
The Thessalian wind used to blow upon her on Lesbos:
the setting of the poem may anticipate that of
"Sappho": Leucadia was the island on
the coast of Epirus where Sappho would later throw
herself into the sea after her rejection by Phaon.
The story was most fully told by Ovid in his
Heroides (15. 195-198): "dolor
artibus obstat, / ingeniumque meis substitit omne
malis/ non mihi respondent veteres in carmina
vires; / plectra dolore tacent, muta dolore lyra
est." See also Met. 15. 201:
"Daughters of Lesbos, where love has
made me of ill-repute, throng no more to hear
my lyre." For both Sapphos (Ovid’s and Roberts’),
grief (dolor) was the cause of the failure
of poetic powers. (If it also reflects Roberts’
own feelings, there could again be loneliness
on the separation from his fiancee May Fenety,
who had remained at home in Fredericton with her
family, leaving the young poet-lover without inspiration.)
‘Ever again?’ ‘Anymore?’ The Latin corresponds
to line 14 ("If I shall surely see
them anymore." Roberts later
omitted the question mark ( implicit in
the suffix -ne) in Poems (1901/7).
According to a computer search by IBYCUS,
the exact combination iterum-ne
seems to occur only twice in Latin literature,
both in Lucan’s Pharsalia. At 8.534
Pompey’s wife Cornelia asks rhetorically
if she is being left behind aboard ship:
"iterumne relinquor?" (Coincidentally
there is a reference a few lines below
to Lesbos also.) In any event, the very
choice of a Latin title for the poem strongly
suggests a classical context.
the large area of Greece bounded by
Epirus (W), Macedonia (N) and the Aegean
Dryad: wood nymph (daughter of
son of Zeus (Jupiter) and Leto
(Latona), god variously of the sun, the
bow, prophecy, healing, poetry and culture.
Associated frequently with the Muses.
He also had a renowned temple on Mt. Leucas
(Leucadia: Verg. Aen. 3. 275).
See the notes to "To the Spirit of
Also printed 1879 (CIN)
(Pacey 33). Sonnet (abba abba cdcd cd).
records that this poem was written at the back
of the science lecture room at UNB while Roberts
was wearing dark glasses because of some eye trouble.
That would have been in the third term of his
final year (1877-1878), for which the UNB syllabus
lists "Dynamical Geology" as the subject.
The text book for the course was the second edition
(1875) of James Dana’s Manual of Geology:
Treating of the Principles of the Science with
Special Reference to American Geological History.
Roberts clearly had his copy open to pp. 584-85,
on "Paroxysmal" events:
temple of Jupiter Serapis at Pozzuoli (Fig.
958) was originally 134 feet long by 115 wide;
and the roof was supported by forty-six columns,
each forty-two feet high, and five feet in diameter.
Three of the columns are now standing: they
bear evidence, however, that they were once
for a considerable time submerged to half their
height. The lower twelve feet is smooth: for
nine feet above this, they are penetrated by
lithodomous or boring shells; the remains of
the shells (a species now living in the Mediterranean)
were found in the holes. The columns, when submerged,
were subsequently buried in the mud for twelve
feet, and were then surrounded by water nine
feet deep. The pavement of the temple is now
submerged. Five feet below it, there is a second
pavement, proving that these oscillations had
gone on before the temple was deserted by the
Romans. It has been recently stated that, for
some time previous to 1845, a slow sinking had
been going on, and that since then there has
been a gradual rising.
modern description of the site, see A.G. McKay
171-172. The structure was in fact a large macellum
(meat and fish market), 190ft by 246, which also
housed a statue of Serapis in an apse. The volcanic
process at work in Puteoli is called "bradyseism"
inspired (along with "Memnon") by Shelley’s
sonnet "Ozymandias," (Palgrave CCXLVI)
and his "Stanzas Written in Dejection Near
Naples" (Palgrave CCXXVII): "I see the
Deep’s untrampled floor / With green and purple
sea-weeds strown" (10-11). Roberts’ evocation
of this ancient site becomes the vehicle for his
own youthful and gloomy uncertainties about the
future as his college years draw to a close (compare
"Epistle to Bliss Carman"), particularly
in the simile ( 8b-12b) "—like the ghost
/ Of youth’s bright aspirations and high hopes,
more real than castles in the air, and laid /
On some foundation, though of sand that slopes
/ Seaward to lift again,—it comes arrayed / In
olive sea-weeds; but a raven mopes / Upon its
topmost stone, and casts a shade." The moping
raven is a borrowing from Poe: it ends
Roberts’ poem on a low note of doubt and faint
hopes for the future, but without Poe’s wry humour
or the wisdom implicit in his bird ("perched
on a bust of Pallas"). The raven’s
shade is also a borrowing: "And the lamplight
o’er him streaming throws his shadow on
the floor; / And my soul from out that shadow
that is floating on the floor / Shall be lifted
ancient Puteoli, nine miles west of
Naples, Rome’s chief seaport until Claudius
developed Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber.
The city also boasted the third-largest
amphitheatre in Italy. Much of the city
has been uninhabitable since the earthquakes
behaves in a gloomy, listless manner;
cf. Grey’s "Elegy"
(Palgrave CXLVII) (10): "The moping
owl does to the moon complain / Of such
as, wandering near her sacred bower, / Molest
her solitary reign"; also W. S. Gilbert’s
poem "Ah Me!" 11-12: "When
maiden loves, she mopes apart, / As owl
mopes on a tree;…"
of Pozzuoli from Dana’s Manual
Printed only in Orion, and
Other Poems (Pacey 52-55). Iambic-trochaic.
Lines 1-94: lyric monody, 6-line phrases in variable
stanzas. Feet= 2 2 3 2 2 3, with variations in
1-2, 93 (aabccd); cf. E. Lear, "The
Owl and the Pussycat." Lines 95-126: choral,
trochaic tetrameter 4-line stanzas (abcb).
evening over the wine, Exechestides, nephew
of Solon the Athenian, sang a song of Sappho’s
which his uncle liked so much that he asked
the boy to teach it to him. When one of the
company asked in surprise, "What for?"
he replied, "I want to learn it and die!" (Aelian
qtd. Lyra Vol. 1, 140; Greek Lyric
with Pittacus and Alcaeus was Sappho—a marvel!
In all the centuries since history began we
know of no woman who could be said with any
approach to truth to have rivalled her as a
poet. (Strabo qtd. Lyra Vol. 1,
142; Greek Lyric Vol. 1, 8)
Lesbian of Mitylene, a lyre player. She threw
herself from the Leucadian cliff for love of
Phaon of Mitylene. Some authorities say that
she composed lyric poetry. (Suda
Lexicon qtd. Lyra Vol. 1, 142;
Greek Lyric Vol. 1, 6)
say of those who are attractive and haughty,
"You are a Phaon"; that this Phaon
was loved by many women, among them Sappho,
not the poetess but another woman of Lesbos,
who, failing to win him threw herself from the
Leucadian cliff. (Suda Lexicon qtd. Lyra
Vol. 1, 152)
tender passions were so violent that some have
represented her attachments to three of her
female companions, Anactoria, Atthis, and Megara,
as criminal…. She conceived such a passion for
Phaon, a youth of Mitylene, that, on his refusal
to gratify her desires, she threw herself into
the sea from mount Leucas….who for the sublimity
of her genius was called the tenth Muse…. One
of these pieces, the Ode to Anactoria,
occurs in Dioysius of Halicarnassus and is imitated
by Catullus in Latin [Carm. 51]; the
other, an Invocation to Aphrodite, is
in Longinus. [ Lyra Vol. 1, 182; Greek
Lyric Vol.1, 52-54] (LCD 687)
editions of Lemprière could add that "a large
number of papyrus and vellum codices, written
between the second and seventh centuries A.D.,
have been found in Egypt containing fragments
of her work." (Those were first published
Sappho, with that gloriole / Of ebon hair on
calmëd brows— / O poet-woman! None forgoes /
The leap, attaining the repose. (E. B.
Browning, "A Vision Of Poets" 318-21)
all the tributes of her contemporaries show
reverence not less for her personality than
for her genius is…sufficient also to warrant
our regarding the picturesque but scarcely edifying
story of her vain pursuit of Phaon and her frenzied
leap from the Cliff of Leucas as nothing more
than a poetic myth, reminiscent, perhaps, of
the myth of Aphrodite and Adonis—who is, indeed,
called Phaon in some versions…. It is a myth
which has begotten some exquisite literature,
both in prose and verse, from Ovid’s famous
epistle to Addison’s gracious fantasy and some
imperishable dithyrambs of Mr. Swinburne. But
one need not accept the story as a fact in order
to appreciate the beauties which flowered out
from its coloured absurdity. (C.G.D. Roberts,
Introduction to Sappho vii-viii)
"Sappho," the last and briefest classical
narrative in Orion, and Other Poems, Roberts
made only a mediocre contribution to the voluminous
literature on this subject…Roberts’ poem of
1880, whatever his intentions, falls short of
the exquisite and scarcely avoids the indignity
of crude melodrama…. The rich colours which
abound in the lyrics seem merely gaudy here.
As represented by Roberts, perhaps she is the
first of the many ‘doomed poets’ in Canadian
literature. (Early 23)
main narrative source for this lyric poem is (as
he suggests in his introduction to Carman’s collection)
Ovid’s Heroides XV, a fictional epistle
in elegiac couplets from Sappho to Phaon, the
charming (Venus had favoured him with irresistible
beauty through the gift of a magical unguent)
ferryman of Lesbos. It is not likely that Roberts
knew much more than the poems and fragments of
Sappho that had survived through quotations in
ancient authors, since the newly-discovered papyri
were not published until 1882. The dramatic-lyric
form chosen, complete with choral sections for
chorus and semi-chorus, was perhaps inspired by
Swinburne’s "Atalanta in Calydon" (the
"dithyrambs" Roberts was referring to
above?), Keat’s "Endymion," and Shelley’s
dramas Swellfoot the Tyrant, Hellas,
and Prometheus Unbound. Part one (1-94)
covers the moments before her leap (1-50), the
leap (51-53), and the response of the sea and
the sea nymphs who bear her to the shore (54-94).
Part two is the concluding choral lament (95-end)
for her by the young people of Lesbos.
Mitylenian youth: Phaon, from the
town of Mitylene on Lesbos; also the home
the sea nymph daughters of Nereus
and Doris. For Homer’s catalogue of them
by name, see Iliad 18.37-51;
"…an island in the Ionian Sea now
called Santa Maura, near the coast
of Epirus, famous for a promontory called
Leucate, Leucas, or Leucates,
where desponding lovers threw themselves
into the sea. Sappho had recourse to this
leap to free herself from the violent
passion which she entertained for Phaon.
The word is derived from leukos [Gk],
white, on account of the whiteness of
its rocks" (LCD 402-403).
"Ionia, a country of Asia Minor,
bounded on the north by Aeolia, on the
west by the Aegean and Icarian Seas, on
the south by Caria, and on the east by
Lydia and part of Caria…. An ancient name
given to Hellas, or Achaia, because it
was for some time the residence of the
Ionians" (LCD 368). Here it
must mean ‘from the island of Lesbos,’
off the coast of Ionia.
Pacey’s note here (1985, 387) is misleading.
The chorus would split into two half-choruses
and sing antiphonally. Strophe and
antistrophe are independent of
such choral divisions, being just metrically
identical pairs of stanzas.
nine: Sappho was called the tenth
Muse (Palatine Anthology 9.506;
only in Orion, and Other Poems
(Pacey 47). Sapphic stanzas (first
of two poems in Aeolic meters).
Sapphic metre is known from antiquity in the works
of Sappho (for whom Roberts knew the then two
surviving poems plus fragments), Catullus, Horace,
and Seneca. It consists of three Sapphic hendecasyllables
(-u—-uu-u— x3) +one Adonic (-uu—). Swinburne and
Tennyson included Sapphics among their classical
meters (PIPP, 737), as D.C. Scott and Lampman
were to do.
account of a mystical walk with "Miriam"
on a summer’s noon, where bright-coloured flowers,
scents, sunlight and birdsong are transformed
by the glow of first love. But Miriam grows weary
of the way, and tired and cross, a reaction the
poet cannot understand as he pleads with her to
continue. Miriam (Hebrew for Mary) likely represents
May Fenety, whose perverse behaviour and hostility
to poetry was quite incomprehensible to her beau
("Without One Kiss": Pomeroy, 39; Adams
1986, 20). If this poem refers to a flare-up between
the young lovers, it does so through a sustained
allusion to the Orpheus and Eurydice myth (Vergil,
Georg. 4.453-527; Ovid, Met. 10. 1-163).
In both versions Eurydice fades and slips away
from the singer Orpheus when he steals his forbidden
glance back, and vainly stretched out his arms
to grasp her. Eurydice did not upbraid her foolish
lover, however, who erred on the side of love:
"iamque iterum moriens non est de coniuge
quicquam / questa suo (quid enim nisi se queretur
amatam)" (Met. 10.60-61), but
Miriam does: "Cease thy upbraiding! / Cease
thy upbraiding, ah, my widowed spirit!" (20-21).
Roberts’ images of sun, moon and flowers seem
Elysian (for example, Aen. 6.846-81),
and the simile of the
falling autumn leaves also has its archetype in
Vergil (Aen. 6.637-41), evoking the swarms
of shades thronging the Styx. Uncertain moonlight
is a simile describing Aeneas’ progress through
Hades. Whereas Miriam is herself decribed as "bright
one" (8, 24), Dido is described as a new
moon behind a cloud bank (Aen. 6. 451-54).
sapphic meter, the Orphic-epic imagery, and the
myth itself lend a weird aura to the lovers. He
finds his girl weary, bored, and irritated that
he has brought her so far. His final response
is sad but gentle, his love undiminished by her
petulance and peremptory refusal to go on. This
Miriam is very much the stormy young woman of
the kissless goodnight and the petulantly spurned
volume of Shelley’s poems. (See note on "Without
a Hebrew name and trisyllabic metrical
doublet (-u-) for Mary/May.
my widowed spirit: the shade of
Miriam, separated from her lover.
only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 47-48).
— -uu- -uu- u- (x3), -uu- u- (second of two Aeolic
poems: Sapphics and Choriambics). This specific
meter is the second Asclepiad.
choriambic meters were used by Sappho, Alcaeus,
and Horace. Roberts’ models in English were probably
basic images of "Miriam.—I" were warmth,
light, and beauty in the countryside, those of
"Miriam.—II" are cold and darkness of
the ocean surf, and isolation from the loved one
across the water: "Ah, Love, where is the
light? / Why is the way so long?… / Harken how
sad their roll" (7-8). The crashing waves
have an hypnotic effect: "Ay, sad surely,
but sweet! Why do they always call,— / All night
through the thick dark calling me out to thee?
/ Lured by surf-whispers soft, feebly my footsteps
fall / Toward the enfolding sea" (9-12).
This call is Siren-like in its spell: "Nay!
I cover my ears; ’tis not the way to thee. / Why
doth it play me false now that my paths are blind?
/ When they lay in the light born of thy love
to me, / Never it seemed unkind" (13-16).
That way is the shore with its blissful memories
of walks hand-in-hand over shells and pebbles,
as "Sweet it sang in the light, scarce could
it dream a dirge" (17). The air then was
"Deep and sweet…shining and clear like fire,
/ Vital with balmy heat" (23-24). Warm, cold,
bright, wild, and dark are contrasts between past
and present as memories and yearnings call out.
The apostrophe to Miriam is an appeal to strengthen
and stay him (29-30), to come to him—but in vain:
"Peace! Peace! Vainly I call; thou will not
quit thy home; / Wait; I will come to thee"
(31-32). In the context the sea is another symbol
of separation and death. For setting and mood
see Swinburne’s "Hesperia."
written while Roberts was separated from May,
he at Chatham on the Miramichi, she at Fredericton,
during the winter of 1879-1880.
A Blue Blossom
Also printed 1879 (1-14), 1893,
1901/7 (Pacey 36). Iambic tetrameters in 7-line
strophes (abbacca) (Pacey 36).
more interesting poem although it begins unpromisingly
enough as a late entry in a tradition hackneyed
at this point in the nineteenth century. A humble
wildflower inspires an epiphany which illuminates
the universe…. Discovery of profundity in the
commonplace and the idea of the privileged moment
are familiar enough in Wordsworth, Tennyson,
and Browning. Roberts’ lyric, however, becomes
a commentary on this tradition, specifically
upon the limitations of the epiphany at the
heart of so much nature poetry…. His conclusion,
however, tempers this vision with a strong measure
of Victorian perplexity. (Early 25)
couples this poem to a Forget-me-not blossom with
"To the Spirit of Song" as an illustration
of the "note of philosophic mysticism which
was to become perhaps the dominant characteristic
of the poetry of Charles G.D. Roberts" (30).
Roberts had no shortage of "To a Flower"
poems to serve as his models in his school reader,
Palgrave’s Golden Treasury: "Diaphenia"
(Constable), "To Blossoms" and
"To Daffodils" (Herrick), "To the
Daisy" and "The Daffodils" (Wordsworth—Roberts’
phrase "A flash, a momentary gleam"
(5) shows a link to this last). The flower
is one of the "shapes of Beauty" that
speak of "past scenes of paradise" in
a tongue we have long forgotten.
dull our ears, our eyes too blind: cf.
Matt. 13:13-16 (Early 25).
The Shannon and the Chesapeake
Also printed 1879 (Pacey 30-32).
Traditional ballad quatrains (abcb, iambic-anapestic
ballad of "The Shannon and the Chesapeake"
was an early effort which the poet himself criticized
severely in later years, but which the late
Rufus Hathaway always maintained was one of
Roberts’ finest ballads. (Pomeroy 29-30)
subject is a celebrated naval engagement during
the War of 1812 between the frigate HBMS Shannon
and the larger American frigate
Chesapeake. The American
captain, Captain James Lawrence (1781-1813) had
served with distinction at Tripoli, and earlier
that year (1813) as captain of the Hornet sank
HBMS Peacock. Newly promoted to Captain,
and in command of the Chesapeake, he unsuccessfully
engaged the Shannon off Boston on June
1. Mortally wounded (he died as a prisoner-of-war
on the way to Halifax), his cry "Don’t give
up the ship!" would become a part of US Naval
tradition. The British captain, Philip Bowes Vere
Broke (1776-1841, later Rear-Admiral Sir Philip)
received a serious head wound while leading the
boarding party during a 13-minute engagement,
and subsequently retired from active service.
Roberts’ chief source for the story could have
been the documentary account of the battle by
J. G. Brighton: Admiral Sir P.B.V. Broke, Bart.,
K.C.B., &c.: a Memoir. London: Sampsonbow,
Son, and Marston (1866), esp. pp. 153-335. The
battle was watched from the American shore and
from the many small boats that ventured out from
Boston for the event. Roberts’ sentiments in relation
to British-American harmony (65-68) do not reflect
that source, but his final rallying cry to the
Royal Navy (69-77) does: "May the necessity
never, never again arise. May Britain’s course
henceforth be only one of peace on earth, union
with all nations, and love to mankind; but should
the All-Supreme ordain it otherwise, and in His
all-conquering name send forth our legions and
our navies under the sacred British flag,
may this generation emulate (exceed they cannot)
the skill and bravery of the men who served our
country then" (208-209). A challenge to Roberts
to produce a poem on the event comes on p. 318:
"There was a general stringing of the lyres,
in either land, on this occasion, but the feeling
between the countries was too bitter for either
to produce a poem likely to endure. This which
follows, by Lieut. M. Montegue, R.N., is probably
the best" (Brighton 318, quotes Montegue’s
poem and four others). But this very battle had
also been previously incorporated into John S.
Cummins’ 1849 novel, Altham (Vol. 1, 264-278).
The youthful James Annesley serves aboard the
Shannon. Cummins relates the events. He
spells the British captain’s name "Brooke."
(See MacDonald’s article on this novel.) Palgrave
contains two patriotic poems about sea-battles
by T. Campbell: "Ye Mariners of England"
(CCVI) and "Battle of the Baltic" (CCVII);
also A. Cunningham, "A Wet Sheet and a Flowing
first of June: Pacey (380) points
out that Roberts had taken liberties with
the date of the battle of Lowestoff between
the Dutch and the British led by the Duke
of York and Admiral Sir William Penn (June
3, 1665). (Admiral Richard
Howe did defeat the French
on June 1, 1794.)
Lt. George Thomas L. Watt, First Lieutenant
of the Shannon, and five seamen
were killed in action by grapeshot from
their own ship’s guns when the boarding
party accidentally raised the Stars and
Stripes above the British
flag aboard the captured Chesapeake.
Also published 1887 (1-8), 1889,
1891, 1901/7, 1907 (Pacey 3). Anapestic 8-line
stanzas, alternate 4- and 3-stress lines (ababcded).
was during his first year at college that Roberts
began writing in earnest. Almost as soon as
the term opened he wrote "An Ode to Winter"
and "The Maple." The latter was one
of the few poems by which his work was represented
in Canadian school textbooks for many years. (Pomeroy
Dec 4, 1892, Roberts wrote to James Elgin Wetherall,
who was collecting verse for his edition of Later
Canadian Poems (Toronto: Copp Clark, 1893):
"Should prefer, also, if you would not
use ‘The Maple’ from Orion, and Other Poems,
as I don’t like the technique of it. For its sentiment
& its lilt I like it, but its change of form
is objectionable methinks" (Collected
Letters 14 Dec. 1992, 161). Roberts may be
referring to the formal shift from the priamel
to reflective close (19), narrowing the scope
to a single distant tree of memory.
flower-clusters of birch trees: "a
slender flexible stem with closely spaced
stalkless flowers" (Native Trees
252). Yellow, grey and white birch
are all native to New Brunswick.
of flame: the sugar or red maple,
both native to New Brunswick. Both
turn scarlet in autumn (Native Trees
Ode to Winter
Also printed 1887 (1-18, 40-59,
66-79), 1889 (Pacey 3-5). Trochaic trimeters :
-u-u-u-[-] in rhyming couplets.
was during his first year at college that Roberts
began writing in earnest. Almost as soon as
the term opened he wrote "An Ode to Winter"
and "The Maple." (Pomeroy 26)
than the obligatory poem on the popular Canadian
subject or a mere rehearsal of the seasons convention
which descends from classical literature via
Pope, Thomson and Blake…. Winter, then, is associated
with the incorrupt realm of the spheres—or of
Orion’s constellation—to which the speaker prefers
sublunary life with its plenitude, fertility,
and moral difficulty. (Early 26)
by Grey, Campbell, Keats and Shelley on the seasons
are found in Palgrave.
links between this poem and "The Maple"
are obvious. Both conclude with a celebration
of the autumn crimsons of maples as the college
term unfolds. "To Winter" begins with
carefully measured praise of imperious Winter’s
austere beauties, sun on frost, bare trees and
snow (1-24). Controlling is the image of Winter
as an "intermediate land" (2) between
the "bordering realms" (26) of Spring
(27-40) and Autumn (64-79, 85-87). These descriptions
are far lusher with warmth, colour, sounds and
odours, in a kind of pastoral symphony. The rapid
tumbling trochees express an endless flow of riches
for the senses. Winter deprives the poet’s
world of sound: "But what magic melodies…?"
(25); he recreates those sounds with words: "liquid
sobbing…gurgling rills…lisping wavelets…wooings,…cooings…orchestra
of leaves" (27-44). He grants that the very
music of the spheres may lurk behind the silence
of winter nights (47-55), unheard by his "mortal-cloakéd
ear" (63). The final eight lines form a coda
or refrain of lines 1-2.
spheres: imaginary "concentric,
transparent, hollow globes imagined by
the older astronomers as revolving around
the earth and respectively carrying with
them the several heavenly bodies (moon,
sun, planets, and fixed stars…[a] harmonious
sound [was] supposed to be produced by
the motion of these spheres" (OED).
Cf. Milton, "Ring out ye crystal
spheres! / Once bless our human ears,
/ If ye have power to touch our senses
so; / And let your siver chime / Move
in melodious time" ("The Hymn"
Epistle to W. Bliss Carman
Also printed 1887 (27-32, 53-59),
1901/07, 1974 (Pacey 15-17). Heroic couplets.
shrinking from life, this clinging to sheltering
walls of tradition and academic retirement is
expressed in the "Epistle to Bliss Carman." (Stephen
of the most important poems in Orion
from a philosophic as well as a personal standpoint
is "An Epistle to Bliss Carman" which
was written in September, 1878, welcoming Carman
to the University and paying tribute to Parkin,
his master. (Pomeroy 372)
of an inauthentic art is also a theme in "Epistle
to Bliss Carman," which effectively concludes
Orion (the "Dedication," unlisted
in the Contents, follows). Appropriately, the
"Epistle" is the most distinctive
and important poem in the book. Roberts employs
heroic couplets in the manner of Keats’ early
verse epistles—which also generally deal with
nature, poetry and the poet’s relation to his
art—but he succeeds in making this form the
vehicle of his own form and purpose. The "Epistle"
course of the volume and states a considered
point of view which is conceived as a starting
point. (Early 26: an indispensable
unity this epistle gives to the collection (rightly
appreciated by Early) is partly achieved through
the themes of autumn and school term ("The
Maple," "To Winter"), and uncertainty
about his future vocational paths as they lead
away from college (46ff—cf. "At Pozzuoli")
into the world of men and their sorrows; the "songless
ways" diverge from "the only one which
lures me, which is sweet" (61): the way through
idealistic service to becoming a poet to the common
man. "Might I but hope that path belonged
to me" (97). The epistolary mode is reaffirmed
in lines 97-105 (and by the interrupting asterisks
following line 36), with a modest appeal for Carman
to overlook his poet-friend’s meandering excesses,
his "blots and spots" (103): "Scan
not its outer but its inner part; / ’Twas not
the head composed it but the heart" (104-05).
the Bay of Fundy, into which the St. John
River empties at St John, NB, lies between
the shores of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
master: (Sir) George R. Parkin (1846-1922),
then Headmaster of Fredericton Collegiate
School. For Roberts’ own account of him
as a teacher see Pomeroy (20-22): "So
stimulating, so inspiring was the relationship
that in after years he continued to regard
the influence of Parkin on his life and
work as second only to that of his father"
Also printed 1901/07, 1936, 1974
(Pacey 36-37). Alcaic 4-line stanzas. For true
English Alcaics see Tennyson, "O mighty-mouthed
inventor of harmonies" (PEPP 10).
singly, the poems in Orion hardly seem
to support Roberts’ claim that they reveal his
deepest feelings; considered as a sequence they
do map out his fundamental commitments. It is
appropriate, then, that the volume’s last words,
subscribed to the dedicative stanzas, register
his own time and place. (Early 29)
choice of the Alcaic stanza for the concluding
poem of his collection of thirty poems is programmatically
significant. This is ( as the ancients labeled
it) the poet’s sphragis, or "seal."
The number (30) and the Alcaic meter acknowledge
a debt to Horace’ Odes, of which
Book III begins with six impressive poems, "The
Roman Odes," all in Alcaics, and also contains
30 odes. Roberts’ allusion is to the Theban bees
that fed the divine poet Pindar with the honey
of inspiration (Aelian 1.12). Horace put
his own spin on this image at Odes 4.2.27,
an ode extolling Pindar, to project that spirit
of the ancient lyric poets. The "first fruits
gathered by distant ways" for his father
echo his lapidary dedication at the opening of
the book, also to Canon Roberts. (Pace
Early, however, Roberts’ claim here to have "laid
bare his inmost heart" seems altogether justified,
and it applies to this poem as much as any.) His
individual poems about poetry and the poet and
inspiration reflect a devoted and humble reading
of the ancient and English classics—and of the
Romantics and Victorians. Others (for example,
"Epistle to Bliss Carman") reveal his
consuming desire to take up the poet’s mantle,
his abiding love of nature, his spirit of friendship,
his hopes and confusions, his youthful erotic
longings, the joys of his college days, his strenuous
and lonely life in Chatham, and of course his
abiding affection and respect for his father.
Those "distant ways" are both
diverse and far away. Canon
Roberts would have understood that, and it was
meant to be clear to Roberts’ contemporaries.
a river 220 km long, rising in central New
Brunswick, and flowing mile-wide past Chatham
into Mirimachi Bay. Roberts must have spent
much of the first of his two years as headmaster
of Chatham Grammar School (1879-80) preparing
Orion, and Other Poems for publication.
It appeared in November 1880, and his long-awaited
marriage took place Dec. 29 of that same
year. His bride joined him in Chatham in
January, 1881. Everything must have seemed
perfect now—except, perhaps, for giving
up his ambitions to go to Oxford, in order
to satisfy his wife (Adams, Life 23).
expose, divulge, betray