Orion, and Other Poems

by Charles G.D. Roberts


Editorial Notes


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 198-99).

During 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 8-9).

Self-criticism 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).


first 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.

This 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."



A 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."

Of 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."

As 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."


To the Spirit of Song

Printed 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.

…written 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 30)

The 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, Collected 371)

His 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 11)

The 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]).

Spirit 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).


ether: in ancient thought the fiery, glowing, purer, finer, upper air, extending above our own earthly atmosphere, and filling the higher regions of space.


surely: unmistakeably, assuredly.


Also 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).

"Orion," 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)

…epic 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)

…the 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)

"Orion" 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)

…his "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)

The 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)

["Orion"’s] 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 16-17)

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 12-13)

The 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, "Introduction" xx)

(For additional critical views see Pacey’s summary [Collected 373-74]).




Setting: the coast of the Greek island of Chios.


King Oenopion arrives in procession with a captive wolf as sacrificial victim.


Arrival of Orion, sacrifice of the wolf, Oenopion’s libation.


Orion boasts of clearing Chios of dangerous beasts, and demands his promised reward, the hand of Princess Merope.


Oenopion agrees but then drugs Orion and leaves him on the shore.


Oenopion’s slave blinds Orion with poison; Orion is left to die.

Choral Lyrics


The sea nymphs lament for Orion (commos[choral lament] in hemiepes).

Choral Hexameters


The nymphs prophesy Orion’s redemption and healing. 
(Dactylic hexameter is the metre of oracles.)



Orion laments and prays for healing.


A divine voice grants his prayer: "Thou shalt behold the morning" (337, 352)


Orion is led by the sound of Vulcan’s forge, and guided by a smith to the gates of dawn.


Nature foreshadows a miracle.


Orion is healed. Aurora appears and Orion is overwhelmed by love for her.


Orion 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.

The 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).


crooning: humming, whispering. (See below on "Hesper Appears" 5.)


panicles: loose and irregular clusters on oats and grasses.

40  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.
41  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" (LCD 179).
43 griding: piercing and/or rasping, scraping, whirring.
119 Night: "‘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).
131  Merope: daughter of Oenopion; not here the bride of Cresphontes and Polyphontes (pace Pacey), as is clear from Apollodorus (2.6, 1.4).
132 wingéd words: a frequent Homeric expression of uncertain meaning.
141 Colchian 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" (LCD 197).
208 Alcmena’s son: Heracles (Hercules).
230 Doris: "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).
247 Ocean: "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).
250 Clôthô: "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" (LCD 194).
281 Aloides: 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 42).
289  Circe: "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.
316 hecatombs: Homeric term for the sacrifices of many (literally 100).
426  Parian stone: renowned brilliant white marble from Paros, an island in the Cyclades.
434 Delos: 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 there.
442 Nereids: the sea-nymph daughters of Nereus and Doris. Homer catalogued them by name (Iliad 18.37-51, LCD 793).
446 Triton: "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).



Also printed 1887 (1-7), 1901/7. (Pacey 10-14) Iambic pentameter 7-line stanzas (abaabab).

Hear 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. (Collins 472-73)

"Ariadne" and "An Ode to Drowsihood" were written shortly after "Memnon" [1877]. (Pomeroy 28)

(Pacey could find no evidence to substantiate the further statement by Pomeroy that "Ariadne" had appeared previously in Scribner’s Magazine [Collected Letters 370]).

"Ariadne" [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)

The 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.

Roberts 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, 126).



The beautiful Ariadne lies half dead of grief on the shore of Naxos.


She begins to revive.

(29-63) The approach of Bacchus and his rout, and her responses.
(64-105) The wooing of Ariadne.
(106-19) She yields.
(120-27)  The 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).


Hung: predicate of moon. (The inverted and separating word-order is imitative of Latin or Greek.)


chieftain: Theseus was the son of Aegeus, king of Athens (or of Neptune).


bourne: shore.


EVOES: ritual ecstatic cries of Bacchus’ worshippers (usually female in groups called thiasoi).


Sylvans: 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" (LCD 691).


Bacchus: "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" (LCD 123-24).


thyrsus: a rod of fennel wound with ivy and grape leaves and tipped with a pine cone, carried by Bacchus’ worshippers.


Ionians: i.e., Athenians. (The Ionian Greeks in Asia Minor were originally from Athens, and spoke a very similar dialect of Greek.)


oenomel: a drink mixed from wine (Gk oinos) and honey (Gk mel).


vervain: here probably verbena officinale, once used for medicinal purposes.


honey-dew: "an ideally sweet or luscious substance" (1608 OED).


fleet-shod: cf. "Fledge the hours" ("Rondeau to A.W. Straton").


Launcelot and the Four Queens

Also 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").

The 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 Bullfinch 351-353.

"A strain of mediaeval music clad in modern richness of expression." (Rev. in the Canadian Monthly, 1880. 533)

It 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 44)

"Launcelot 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. (Early 19-21)


Part I


Launcelot 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 19).

Part II


Three 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 silent (95-97).

Part IIIa


Launcelot awakes in a high-ceilinged chamber, richly-adorned and barred: "No glamour ’tis, nor painted dream"(113).

Part IIIb


Launcelot’s 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 tale.

Part IV


Launcelot 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.

Part V


Brightness 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 Bagdemagus".



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 Bullfinch 350).


blue eggs: Roberts has introduced the North American robin to Arthurian Britain.

67 Morgane le Fay: sister of King Arthur.
68 eyne: eyes (archaic form).
101 Guinevere: wife of King Arthur, and daughter of King Laodegar of Carmalide, whom Merlin and Arthur assisted in defeating King Ryence of Ireland.
117 samite: "a heavy silk fabric, sometimes interwoven with gold, worn in the middle ages" (Pacey, Collected 384).
124 wold: high open country (as in "Cottswolds").
129 gules and argent: heraldric terms for red and silver.
141 foss: defensive ditch around a castle (sometimes filled with water as a moat).
186 dight: bedecked.
202 liefer: more gladly willing.
221 Collops: slices, steaks.
221 mead: honey-wine (cf. oenomel, "Ariadne" 81).
226 arras: tapestry, wall-hanging (cf. Hamlet 2.3.28 etc.)
230 And: if (in this sense, a doublet for "an").
239 Bagdemagus: king of Gore and cousin by marriage to Morgane le Fay.
243 trencher: wooden platter or carving board ("slicer").
245 Phosphor: Lucifer, the planet Venus appearing as the morning star.


Ballad of the Poet’s Thought

Also printed 1880 (CM), 1883, 1901/07, 1936 (Pacey 32-33). Ballade form (see below)—first of four ballades.

Did you care for the ‘Ballade of the Poet’s Thought’? Matthew Arnold spoke to me very cordially of that poem. (Letters 14.xii.84)

[Arnold] mentioned several poems with special commendation, particularly "The Ballade of the Poet’s Thought." (Pomeroy 38-39)

Two 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)

Roberts 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:

The 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. (PEPP 65)

An 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" (90-91).

The 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 291-92):

Farewell, farewell the heart that lives alone,
Housed in a dream, at a distance from the Kind!
Such happiness, wherever it be known,
Is to be pitied; for ’tis surely blind.                                  52
But welcome fortitude, and patient cheer

And frequent sights of what is to be borne!
Such sights, or worse, as are before me here:—
Not without hope we suffer and we mourn.                   56

Decisive to this link between Roberts’ and Wordsworth’s poems is Palgrave’s note (332) on the latter:

Written 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."

See also Tennyson’s "The Palace of Art" for a similar idea.


A Ballad of Three Mistresses

Also printed 1879 (CIN) (Pacey 34-35). Ballade form.

This 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).

This 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.


Lorelie: 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 [1875]:122):

"O 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 strong" (9-16).


subtiler: common re-latinized spelling for "subtler."


Ballad to a Kingfisher

Printed only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 35). Ballade form.

The 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).

This 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).

13 repine: fret, feel discontent, long.
14  yet: still


Ballad of a Bride

Printed only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 33). Ballade form.

An 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 coming marriage.)

Wedding 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 modern manners.")


blossoms shine,: the nominative of address (vocative) and verbal imperative.


Love Days

Also printed 1887 (with 6-10, 16-20 omitted) (Pacey 46). 5-line iambic stanzas: pentameter x4, trimeter x1 (abbab).

"Love 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.


chime: harmony, agreement, sound produced by striking.


the time: i.e., spring.

7 only: 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."
13-4 lotus-flutes…torches: associated with ancient weddings celebrated by poets.
17 we, 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 38-39).
18-19 inner 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.
21 a weary way: cf. "Miriam—I." 1-2.



Also printed 1879, 1901/07 (Pacey 5-9). Spenserian stanzas (iambic pentameter 9-lines: ababbcbcc). Written in 1877 (Pomeroy 28).

Entering 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 1904)

With 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 21)

Roberts 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 21-23)

Bulwer 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:

The 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 455)



(1-36)   Unable 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.



‘Mother, stay, or the scorching desert day will torture me.’


‘Mother, stay, for even kindly Night feels no real pity, and desert creatures mock me.’

(55-63) ‘Remember your beloved Troy, and Tithonus, my father .’
(54-72)  ‘Remember how Scamander, his grandfather, would scold you when we lived in Hyperion’s palace?’
(73-81) ‘Remember Helen and the Trojan war, and how I perished? How I wish you had left me dead there, soul and body!’
(82-90) ‘Remember how you wept when I went out to meet Achilles and was slain?’
(91-99) ‘Remember how you begged Jove for special honours for me?’
(100-108) ‘Remember how the clouds of birds flew out of the flames of my fragrant pyre and fought screaming to honour me as Jove decreed?’
(109-117) ‘Remember how you scarcely waited for the libations to dry, before flying off westward to mourn over the Atlantic? And now the sun has risen!!’
(118-126) ‘Soon 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 213.


Phoebus: Apollo as god of the sun.


Egypt’s hero: Memnon.


matin: morning hymn.


Echo: "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.


Tithonus: "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" (LCD 785).


Scamander: 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.


Aemathion: see on 61 above.

72 Hyperion: father of Aurora, and the sun and moon.
74 Pelides: patronymic form for the son of Peleus (king of Pythia), Achilles.
86 Nestor: 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 3).
104-5 birds: "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…" (LCD 455).
108 manes: a Latin term denoting the collective spirits of the dead; cf. the standard formula dis manibus ‘to the dead’ on Roman grave inscriptions.
113 Hesperean: ‘western’; cf. Hesperus (‘evening star’), and Hesperia (‘land of the west’: Italy).
120 Ibis: 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 and serpents.


Rondeau—"Hesper Appears"

Also printed 1879, 1880 (twice), 1887 (1-9), 1915 (Pacey 29). First of 3 rondeaus (poems 11-13) in Orion, and Other Poems.

Probably 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 62.26-31.)

Rondeau: 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 the 18th 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 344).


filled the sunset’s fervid sails: carried the sun off on its voyage below the western horizon.


orient: eastern.


gloaming: evening twilight, dusk.


crooning: humming, whispering; cf. "Orion" 4. Keats wrote ("Calidore" 160-61): "…or that soft humming / We hear when Hesperus is coming."


Rondeau—"Without One Kiss."

Also printed 1891 (Pacey 51).

Like "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.


Persuasion…Love: personifications (Persuasion/Peitho was the daughter or attendant of Venus).


Rondeau to A.W. Straton

Only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 51).

Andrew 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).

The 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"


fledge: wing (give wings to) or feather, i.e. hurry. ("To fledge" is subject of "should please" 7).


such names as these: the names of other friends signed in the album.


The Flight

Printed once more in 1889 (Pacey 37-38). Meter: dochmiacs (a Greek tragic meter used to express agitation) uu-u-u- : 8-line stanzas ababccab.

"The Flight" and "One Night" are entirely imaginative, founded upon nothing more substantial than a mood. (Letters [14.vii.1884] 40)

Swinburne 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 24)

The 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.


One Night

Printed only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 49). Iambic tetrameter 4-line stanzas (abab).

Possibly 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

Printed only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 55). Dactylic 8-line stanzas, 2 2 2 2 4 2 2 3 (abcadbcd).

Partly 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).


Black tresses: cf. Shelley, "To The Night" (10): "Blind with thine hair the eyes of day".


sleep-woven: cf. Shelley (5): "Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear".

8 lethe: forgetfulness.
16 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).

"Memnon" & "Drowsihood" were printed in old [1879] Scribner’s. (Letters [14 vii 84] 40)

"Ariadne" and "An Ode to Drowsihood" were written shortly after "Memnon"…. (Pomeroy 28)

Also 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)

"Ode 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).

Another 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 season" (54-55).


Druid: "minister of religion among the ancient Gauls and Britons" (LCD 266). The word itself is Greek: ‘oak-people’ (cf. Dryad).


Naiad: "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).

32 weft: (or woof) threads crossing from side-to-side in a web on a loom (opp. warp); cf. "Weaver of dreams" (2).
43 Nereids: see "Sappho" 59.
45 Baiae: 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.
46 Maggiore: Lago Maggiore, Italy’s second largest lake, a popular resort area in the foothills of the Alps.
50 Tuscan: wine from Tuscany.


Ode to Night

Printed only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 48). Iambic 11-line stanzas: 5 5 3 5 5 5 5 3 5 5 5 (abbabcdcddc).

See Early’s remarks (24-25).

This 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 (33).


syringa: 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 his pipes).


zephyr: soft breeze from the west, the west wind.

15 lustral: purificatory.
28 freaks: caprices, whims, vagaries.


Amoris Vincula

Also printed 1889 (Pacey 2). Iambic-trochaic 4-stress liens, 6-line stanzas (aabbcc).

Another 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)

During 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 Roberts 23)

Anomalies 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)

Roberts’ 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:

In 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)

Roberts’ 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.

Roberts 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 of Mulvany.

(See Appendix III for the text of Mulvany’s poem "Stella.")



Published again in 1880 (CM), 1901/7 (Pacey 29). Sonnet (abbaabba cdecde).

Pomeroy (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.)

The 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.


Thessaly: the large area of Greece bounded by Epirus (W), Macedonia (N) and the Aegean (E).

Dryad: wood nymph (daughter of oak).


Apollo: 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 Song" (above).


At Pozzuoli

Also printed 1879 (CIN) (Pacey 33). Sonnet (abba abba cdcd cd).

Pomeroy 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:

The 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.

For a 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" (slow quaking).

Partly 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 nevermore."

1 Pozzuoli: 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 of 1980.
13 mopes: 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;…"

Illustration of Pozzuoli from Dana’s Manual of Geology.



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).

One 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 Vol.1, 12)

Contemporary 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)

A 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)

They 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)

Her 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)

Later 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 in 1882.)

And 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)

That 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)

In "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)

Roberts’ 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.


the Mitylenian youth: Phaon, from the town of Mitylene on Lesbos; also the home of Sappho.


Nereids: the sea nymph daughters of Nereus and Doris. For Homer’s catalogue of them by name, see Iliad 18.37-51; LCD 402-3.


Leucadian: "…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).


syrenal: siren-like


Ionian: "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.


Semi-chorus: 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.


Muses nine: Sappho was called the tenth Muse (Palatine Anthology 9.506; LCD 687).




Printed only in Orion, and Other Poems (Pacey 47). Sapphic stanzas (first of two poems in Aeolic meters).

The 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.

An 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).

The 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 One Kiss.")


Miriam: a Hebrew name and trisyllabic metrical doublet (-u-) for Mary/May.


my widowed spirit: the shade of Miriam, separated from her lover.




Printed 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.

Various choriambic meters were used by Sappho, Alcaeus, and Horace. Roberts’ models in English were probably Swinburne’s Choriambics.

If the 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."

Probably 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).

…a 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)

Pomeroy 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.

23 Too 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 tetrameters).

The 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)

The 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 Sea" (CCV).


fair-starred 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.)


Watt: 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.


The Maple

Also published 1887 (1-8), 1889, 1891, 1901/7, 1907 (Pacey 3). Anapestic 8-line stanzas, alternate 4- and 3-stress lines (ababcded).

It 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 26)

On 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.


catkins: 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.


maple…tower of flame: the sugar or red maple, both native to New Brunswick. Both turn scarlet in autumn (Native Trees 266-67, 274-75).


Ode to Winter

Also printed 1887 (1-18, 40-59, 66-79), 1889 (Pacey 3-5). Trochaic trimeters : -u-u-u-[-] in rhyming couplets.

It 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)

More 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)

Poems by Grey, Campbell, Keats and Shelley on the seasons are found in Palgrave.

Surface 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.


high-consulting 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" 97-104).


Epistle to W. Bliss Carman
September, 1878

Also printed 1887 (27-32, 53-59), 1901/07, 1974 (Pacey 15-17). Heroic couplets.

This shrinking from life, this clinging to sheltering walls of tradition and academic retirement is expressed in the "Epistle to Bliss Carman." (Stephen 53)

One 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)

Repudiation 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 discussion)

The 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).


Fundy: 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.


wise 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" (20).



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).

Considered 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)

Roberts’ 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.

8 Miramichi: 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).
16 bewray: expose, divulge, betray