The Vagrant of Time

by Charles G.D. Roberts



(An Ode for Canada's Diamond Jubilee)




OH to be back where the oatfields are blowing
     In my own Canadian home;
Where the shadows chase the shadows across the water meadows
     And the deep grass seethes like foam!




So sang the exile, wearying for dead days;
     And homeward turned o'er the long-furrowed sea
To find new wonder in the old dear ways,
     And drown in dreams fulfilled the ache of memory.




Deliberate Time, toiling for age on age
     To chisel one lean channel down the steep,
Or grave in stone some enigmatic page
     Of aeons lapsed in immemorial sleep,
What impulse urged you to this ecstatic haste,
     Drove you to spurn the dragging centuries;
To beat blind oafish Ignorance to her knees,
     And, in a space as brief
     To immortal eyes as that twixt bud and leaf,
   To fling the marvel of a million hearths
And towered and teeming cities o'er the waste?




These three score fateful years!
   So swiftly have they sped, so fleetly wrought,
     Our eyes, confused by dust of toil and strife,
By turmoil of desires and hopes and fears,
   Have scarce perceived the miracles they wrought,
     Or sensed the splendours burgeoning into life;
Till now, on this proud day we celebrate,
   Pausing to count the cost and gain, we stand
With eyes unsealed, with wondering hearts elate,
   To view the task complete as our great Fathers planned.




Theirs was the vision, theirs the faith far-seeing,
     And theirs the force that forged our unity,
That called a nation into instant being
     And stretched its boundaries from sea to sea.
They snared a savage continent in steel.
     They bowed the eternal icepeaks to their will.
     The clamour of old hates they bade be still.
They tamed old factions to the common weal.
And one, our poet, statesman, seer combined,
Sealed with a martyr's blood the bond his faith had signed.




And are we worthy these heroic sires,
   These twain world-mastering peoples whence they sprang?
     Doth still the breed run true,
Still in our veins upflame the ancient fires?
Make answer, Fields of Flanders, Fields of France,
   Where late our young battalions marched and sang,
     Our airmen soared the shrapnel-shattered blue!
Bear witness, Ypres and Vimy, with what cheer,
And courage clear,
And high contempt of fear,
Embattled at the grim old Lion's side,
     Our scarred battalions triumphed, laughed and died!




Dying, they live imperishable, and proclaim,
     Our manhood's stature to the world, their blood
A sacrament of glory, and their fame
     The enduring pledge of that new brotherhood
Of equal nations which we "Empire" name,—
That Commonwealth in which we proudly own
Love to our peers, allegiance to our Throne.



And so I end my random song, returning
     To that which makes perchance its only worth,—
The patriot warmth within my bosom burning
     Through all my wanderings o'er the curious earth.
Friends have I found in far and alien places,
Beauty and ardour in unfamiliar faces,
But first in my heart this land I call my own!
Canadian am I in blood and bone!

Written for the New Brunswick Celebration of Canada's Diamond Jubilee at Fredericton.