Marjorie Pickthall

by Wanda Campbell


Marjorie Pickthall

Marjorie Pickthall was born on September 14, 1883, in Gunnersby, Middlesex, England, and moved with her family to Toronto at the age of six. Her first story appeared in the Toronto Globe when she was only fifteen, and her poem “Dawn” won the Mail and Empire Christmas competition in 1900. By 1908, she had published three novels, but her mother's death in 1910 affected her profoundly, leaving her unable to write for a time. In 1912, she went to England, leaving the production of her first volume of poems, The Drift of Pinions, in the hands of her mentors, Pelham Edgar and Andrew MacPhail, though fearing they would make a “fine hash” of it between them (qtd. by Campbell 83). In 1916, The Lamp of Poor Souls, which incorporated her first volume, was published. Ill health prevented Pickthall from using her training as an ambulance driver in the First World War and she returned to Canada in 1920. She lived in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island until her death in 1922 from an embolism following surgery.

    The Woodcarver’s Wife, and Later Poems appeared posthumously in 1922, to be followed by Little Songs: a Book of Poems (1925) and The Complete Poems of Marjorie Pickthall (1927). Though critics continued to acknowledge her craftsmanship, her reputation suffered rapid decline. As late as 1990, Donald Precosky said of her Complete Poems, “the verses are gentle, dreamy, and musical yet somehow empty. She has nothing to say but she says it harmoniously” (286). However, an increasing number of scholars are discovering that Pickthall, once labelled “Pickthall the Obscure,” did indeed have something to say, though it was often buried beneath traditional forms, decorative surfaces, and Pre-Raphaelite lushness. Both Diana Relke and Alex Kizuk explore aspects of a feminist poetic and offer new interpretations of individual poems. In her article “Framed by History,” Janice Williamson cites the title change for a posthumously published collection of stories from Pickthall’s choice, Devices [Page 377] and Desires, to the publisher’s choice, Angel Shoes, as one of many attempts to white-wash or deny the “subversive writing strategies” that she employed (178). “Whether her writing uses biblical, mythological, or literary quotation, her echoing denies the original while maintaining a dutiful surface of affirmation” (173). Williamson also points out that a text which mixes poems about fairies written by a fifteen year old with mature work “conspires against her being taken seriously by the literary community” (171). By the end of her life, Pickthall had left the nixies behind, describing life as “a feather / Blown from a careless lip into the dark…the lily of a day, / Brimming with blood and tears instead of dew.”

    A passage from a letter written from “Pinehurst,” the Thousand Islands cottage of poet Helena Coleman where, in the company of Wetherald, Machar, and others, Pickthall wrote “Three Island Songs,” provides a glimpse of her feminist sensibility and passionate engagement with the landscape.

We went to see a wonderful face in the rock on one island which was discovered some years ago—and which is now famous. I do not care generally for freaks of nature, but this takes one’s breath away. It springs suddenly out of a fringe of rock-fern and hemlock, the great, great face about five feet long. It is some living thing bowed down and blunted into the granite, waiting with awful patience. I call it Eve.
                                                                        (Pierce, 76)

Remembered for her sense of humour, Pickthall rejected the “fragile poetess” image that was imposed upon her:

To me the trying part is being a woman at all. I’ve come to the ultimate conclusion that I’m a misfit of the worst kind, in spite of a superficial femininity—emotion with a foreknowledge of impermanence, a daring mind with only the tongue as an outlet, a greed for experience plus a slavery to convention—what the deuce are you to make of that?—as a woman? As a man, you could go ahead and stir things up fine.
                                                                    (Pierce, 104)

Despite access to passages such as this in her letters, Pickthall’s biographer Lorne Pierce insisted on presenting her as a “shy, simple, lovable girl busy with paints and poetry…”(Marjorie Pickthall: A Book of Remembrance, 51). Sandra Campbell explains that Pierce had his own reasons for presenting Pickthall in this way, and argues for a reconsideration of her as “A [Page 378] woman writer of pain and presence whom we all, male and female alike, ought to read, hear, see, and assess with new eyes” (93).

    Like Crawford before her, Pickthall’s passing elicited several elegies, including one by Katherine Hale. Crawford wondered who held the key to the hidden room, but Pickthall was able to enter in to find beside the decorative border the dark gifts of a dead bird and a stifled thought. She found the key and the key was language.

Selected Bibliography

The Drift of Pinions (London: John Lane, 1913)
The Lamp of Poor Souls, and Other Poems (Toronto: Gundy,     1916)
The Wood Carver’s Wife, and Later Poems (Toronto:     McClelland, 1922)
Mary Tired (London: Stonebridge, 1922)
Little Songs: a Book of Poems (Toronto: McClelland, 1925)
Complete Poems of Marjorie Pickthall (Toronto: McClelland,     1927)
Selected Poems Ed. Lorne Pierce (Toronto: McClelland, 1957)

J.D. Logan, Marjorie Pickthall: Her Poetic Genius and Art (Halifax: Allen, 1922); Lorne Pierce, Marjorie Pickthall: a Book of Remembrance (Toronto: Ryerson, 1925); W.E. Collin, “Dream-Gardens,” The White Savannahs (Toronto: Macmillan, 1936): 43-79; Sister St. Cecilia, “Marjorie Pickthall, The Ethereal Minstrel of Canada” (MA Thesis: Ottawa U, 1941); Lorne Pierce, “Marjorie Pickthall,” Leading Canadian Poets, ed. W.P. Percival, (Toronto: Ryerson, 1948): 168-176; Desmond Pacey, “The Poems of Marjorie Pickthall,” Essays in Canadian Criticism 1938-1968 (Toronto: Ryerson, 1969): 145-50; Janice Williamson, “Framed by History: Marjorie Pickthall’s Devices and Desires,” A Mazing Space: Writing Canadian Women Writing (Edmonton: Longspoon, 1986): 167-78; Diana Relke, “Demeter’s Daughter: Marjorie Pickthall and the Quest for Poetic Identity,” Canadian Literature 115 (Winter 1986): 28-43; Alex Kizuk, “The Case of the Forgotten Electra: Marjorie Pickthall’s Apostrophes and Feminine Poetics,” Studies in Canadian Literature 12 (Winter 1987): 15-34; Donald Precosky, “Marjorie Pickthall,” Dictionary of Literary Biography 92 (1990): 285-86; Sandra Campbell, “‘A Girl in a Book’: Writing Marjorie Pickthall and Lorne Pierce,” Canadian Poetry 39 (Fall/Winter 1996): 80-95. [Page 379]




O keep the world forever at the dawn,
Ere yet the opals, cobweb-strung, have dried,
Ere yet too bounteous gifts have marred the morn
Or fading stars have died.
O, keep the eastern gold no wider than
An angel’s finger-span,
And hush the increasing thunder of the sea
To murmuring melody
In those fair coves where tempests ne’er should be.

Hold back the line of shoreward-sweeping surge

And veil each deep sea-pool in pearlier mist,
Ere yet the silver ripples on the verge
Have turned to amethyst.
Fling back the chariot of encroaching day
And call the winds away
Ere yet they sigh, and let the hastening sun
Along his path in heaven no higher run,
But show through all the years his golden rim
With shadows lingering dim
Forever o’er the world awaiting him.

Hold every bird with still and drowsy wing,
That in the breathless hush no clamorous throat
Shall break the peace that hangs on everything
With shrill awakening note;
Keep fast the half-seen beauties of the rose
In undisturbed repose,
Check all the iris buds where they unfold
Inpatient from their hold,
And close the cowslips’ cups of honeyed gold.

Keep all things hushed, so hushed we seem to hear

The sounds of low-swung clouds that sweep the trees;
Let now no harsher music reach the ear, [Page 380]
No earthlier sounds than these,
When whispering shadows move within the grass,
And airy tremors pass
Through all the earth with life awakening thrilled,
And so forever stilled,
Too sweet in promise e’er to be fulfilled.

O keep the world forever at the dawn,
Yet, keeping so, let nothing lifeless seem,

But hushed, as if the miracle of morn
Were trembling in its dream.
Some shadowy moth may pass with drowsy flight
And fade before the sight,
While in the unlightened darkness of the wall
The chirping crickets call;
From forest pools where fragrant lilies are
A breath shall pass afar,
And o’er the crested pine shall hang one star.


Mail and Empire                                                 The Drift of Pinions
December 1900                                                                         1913


Persephone Returning to Hades


Last night I made my pillow of the leaves
Frostily sweet, and lay throughout the hours
Close to the woven roots of the earth; O earth,
Great mother, did the dread foreknowledge run
Through all thy veins and trouble thee in thy sleep?
No sleep was mine. Where my faint hands had fallen
Wide on thy grass, pale violets, ere the day,
Grew like to sorrow’s self made visible,
Each with a tear at heart. I watched the stars
Wheeling athwart the heavens, and knew thy trees,
Olive and aspen, oak and sycamore,
And all the small dumb brethen of thy woods
Awake and sorrowing with me. And so staid
Until the shepherds’ songs awoke the morn. [Page 381]
Then I arose with tears. Yet, ere I turned
From these dim meadows to the doors of hell,
Gathered these sad untimely flowers, and found
Long beautiful berries ripening on the thorn,
With one wide rose that had forgot to die.
These I bore softly thence. But here within
This gathering-place of shadows where I wait
For the slow change, there cometh a sullen wind
Blown from the memoried fields of asphodel
Or Lethe’s level stream; and these my flowers
Slip from my hands and are but shadows too.

Why should I grieve when grief is overpast?
Why should I sorrow when I may forget?
The shepherd’s horns are crying about the folds,
The east is clear and yellow as daffodils,
Dread daffodils—
                    The brightest flower o’ the fields.
I gathered them in Enna, O, my lord.
Do the doors yawn and their dim warders wait?

What was this earth-born memory I would hold?
Almost I have forgotten. Lord, I see

Before, the vast gray suburbs of the dead;
Behind, the golden loneliness of the woods,
A stir of wandering birds, and in the brake
A small brown faun who follows me and weeps.


The Complete Poems of
Marjorie Pickthall


Père Lalement


I lift the Lord on high,
Under the murmuring hemlock boughs, and see
The small birds of the forest lingering by
And making melody.
These are mine acolytes and these my choir, [Page 382]
And this mine altar in the cool green shade,
Where the wild soft-eyed does draw nigh
Wondering, as in the byre
Of Bethlehem the oxen heard Thy cry
And saw Thee, unafraid.

My boatmen sit apart,
Wolf-eyed, wolf-sinewed, stiller than the trees.
Help me, O Lord, for very slow of heart
And hard of faith are these.
Cruel are they, yet Thy children. Foul are they,
Yet wert Thou born to save them utterly.
Then make me as I pray
Just to their hates, kind to their sorrows, wise
After their speech, and strong before their free
Indomitable eyes.

Do the French lilies reign
Over Mont Royal and Stadacona still?
Up the St. Lawrence comes the spring again,
Crowning each southward hill
And blossoming pool with beauty, while I roam
Far from the perilous folds that are my home,
There where we built St. Ignace for our needs,
Shaped the rough roof tree, turned the first sweet sod,
St. Ignace and St. Louis, little beads
On the rosary of God.

Pines shall Thy pillars be,
Fairer than those Sidonian cedars brought
By Hiram out of Tyre, and each birch-tree
Shines like a holy thought.
But come no worshippers; shall I confess,
St. Francis-like, the birds of the wilderness?
O, with Thy love my lonely head uphold.
A wandering shepherd I, who hath no sheep;
A wandering soul, who hath no scrip, nor gold,
Nor anywhere to sleep. [Page 383]
My hour of rest is done;
On the smooth ripple lifts the long canoe;
The hemlocks murmur sadly as the sun
Slants his dim arrows through.
Whither I go I know not, nor the way,
Dark with strange passions, vexed with heathen charms,
Holding I know not what of life or death;
Only be Thou beside me day by day,
Thy rod my guide and comfort, underneath
Thy everlasting arms.


Toronto Globe                                                     The Drift of Pinions
Christmas Number 1905                                                             1913



Kwannon, the Japanese goddess of mercy, is represented with many hands, typifying generosity and kindness. In one of these hands she is supposed to hold an axe, wherewith she severs the threads of human lives.

I am the ancient one, the many-handed,
The merciful am I.
Here where the black pine bends above the sea
They bring their gifts to me—
Spoil of the foreshore where the corals lie,
Fishes of ivory, and amber stranded,
And carven beads
Green as the fretted fringes of the weeds.

Age after age, I watch the long sails pass.
Age after age, I see them come once more

Home, as the grey-winged pigeon to the grass,
The white crane to the shore.
Goddess am I of heaven and this small town
Above the beaches brown.
And here the children bring me cakes, and flowers,
And all the strange sea-treasures that they find,
For “She,” they say, “the Merciful, is ours,
And She,” they say, “is kind.” [Page 384]

Camphor and wave-worn sandalwood for burning
They bring to me alone,
Shells that are veined like irises, and those
Curved like the clear bright petals of a rose.
Wherefore an hundredfold again returning
I render them their own—

Full-freighted nets that flash among the foam,

Laughter and love, and gentle eyes at home,
Cool of the night, and the soft air that swells
My silver temple bells.
Winds of the spring, the little flowers that shine
Where the young barley slopes to meet the pine,
Gold of the charlock, guerdon of the rain,
I give to them again.

Yet though the fishing boats return full-laden
Out of the broad blue east,
Under the brown roofs pain is their hand-maiden,

And mourning is their feast.
Yea, though my many hands are raised to bless,
I am not strong to give them happiness.

Sorrow comes swiftly as the swallow flying,
O, little lives, that are so quickly done!

Peace is my raiment, mercy is my breath,
I am the gentle one.
When they are tired of sorrow and of sighing
I give them death.


Temple Bar                                                         The Drift of Pinions
March 1906                                                                                 1913


Three Island Songs


After the wind in the wood,
Peace, and the night.
After the bond and the brood,
Flight. [Page 385]
After the height and the hush
Where the wild hawk swings,
Heart of the earth-loving thrush
Shaken with wings.

After the bloom and the leaf
Rain on the nest.

After the splendour and grief
After the hills and the far
Glories and gleams,
Cloud, and the dawn of a star,
And dreams.

•    •    •

O, the grey rocks of the islands and the hemlock green above             them,
The foam beneath the wild rose bloom, the star above the shoal.
When I am old and weary I’ll wake my heart to love them,
For the blue ways of the islands are wound about my soul.

Here in the early even when the young grey dew is falling,
And the king-heron seeks his mate beyond the loneliest wild,
Still your heart in the twilight, and you’ll hear the river calling
Through all her outmost islands to seek her last-born child.

•    •    •

I sat among the green leaves, and heard the nuts falling,
The broad red butterflies were gold against the sun,
But in between the silence and the sweet birds calling
The nuts fell one by one.
Why should they fall and the year but half over?
Why should sorrow seek me and I so young and kind?
The leaf is on the bough and the dew is on the clover,
But the green nuts are falling in the wind.
[Page 386]

O, I gave my lips away and all my soul behind them.
Why should trouble follow and the quick tears start?
The little birds may love and fly with only God to mind them,

But the green nuts are falling on my heart.


Saturday Night                                                 The Drift of Pinions
25 October 1913 (27:29)                                                         1913


Chanson de la Tour
Acadie, 1650.


Who goes down by the shining river,
Only the tall green rushes shiver,
And the tide with a voice of thunder
Sweeps to the surf on the sea-rocks under,
Cold and gray.

What do the dark trees tell together,
My foe laughed in the pleasant weather,
He left the fort in his lady’s keeping

And sailed south while the storms were sleeping,
Bold and gay.

Was there peace in the young sweet season,
The sun was hate and the wind was treason

When I and mine came up from the water
And ringed them round with the threat of slaughter,
Night and day.

What of the high hope then that graced thee,

Fifty men and a woman faced me.
And “O,” she cried, “if your swords are rusted,
Ye throw shame on a heart that trusted,
Far away!” [Page 387]

All the birds of the sky were singing,
O the song of the gray swords ringing,
“Think,” said she, “of the one that bore you,
And fight like ten if I stand before you.
Fight and pray.”

What of the walls her brave heart shielded,
Into my hands the gate was yielded.
Faith was fled and a lie was master,
And Wolf Death followed them faster, faster,
From the fray.

What of the brave men who defended,
On a high tree the fight was ended,
And she, when her great soul did not falter,

I bound her neck in a hempen halter,
Even as they.

Did God weep for the heart that broke there,
Only the lips of the dead men spoke there,

And she who dared them, she who led them,
Drank her death in the death I fed them,
Cold on clay.

She in the flowers of God upstanding,

Sees the hosts of the heights disbanding,
Spear on spear of a lilied splendour,
Hears them hail her, hears the tender
Words they say.

With the great watch captains seven,

She shall guard the towers of heaven. [Page 388]
Gabriel, Michael, these shall hold her
Brighter than the wings that fold her
Either way.

She shall see the lost souls drifting,
She shall see thy stained hands lifting
To the warded walls of the City,
And the face of God’s own pity
Turned away.


University Magazine                                     Little Songs: A Book
October 1913                                                             of Poems 1925

Note from Campbell’s History of Nova Scotia.—“Charnisay, learning in the spring of 1645 that De la Tour was absent and that his fort was only garrisoned by fifty men, determined to attack it. Madame de la Tour, inspired with heroism equal to that of her husband, resisted. Charnisay proposed a capitulation, which was agreed to. The villain having thus obtained entrance, hanged all the brave defenders save one, and compelled the noble woman to witness, with a halter round her own neck, the execution of her courageous soldiers. Madame de la Tour, broken in health, died soon after.”


On Amaryllis
A Tortoyse


My name was Amaryllis. I
From a harde Shell put forthe to fly
No Bird, alas; with Beautie prim’d,
Hath Death th’inconstant Fowler lim’d.
No antick Moth on Blossoms set
Hath Judgement taken in a Net.
So dull, so slowe, so meeke I went
In my House-Roof that pay’d no Rent,
E’en my deare Mistresse guess’d no Spark
Could e’er enlight’n my dustie Dark.
    Judge not, ye Proud. Each lowlie Thing
    May lack the Voyce, not Heart, to sing.
    The Worme that from the Moulde suspires
    May be attun’d with heavenlie Quires,
    And I, a-crawling in my Straw, [Page 389]
    Was moved by Love, and made by Law.
So all ye wise, who ’neath your Clod
Go creeping onwards up to God,
Take Heart of me, who by His Grace,
Slough’d off my Pris’n and won my Race.


The Lamp of Poor Souls
and Other Poems


The Chosen


Called to a way too high for me, I lean
Out from my narrow window o’er the street,
And know the fields I cannot see are green,
And guess the songs I cannot hear are sweet.

Break up the vision round me, Lord, and thrust

Me from Thy side, unhoused without the bars,
For all my heart is hungry for the dust
And all my soul is weary of the stars.

I would seek out a little roof instead,
A little lamp to make my darkness brave.

“For though she heal a multitude,” Love said,
“Herself she cannot save.”


The Woodcarver’s Wife
and Later Poems




Desolate strange sleep and wild
Came on me while yet a child;
I, before I tasted tears,
Knew the grief of all the years. [Page 390]

I, before I fronted pain,
Felt creation writhe and strain,
Sending ancient terrors through,
My small pulses, sweet and new.

I, before I learned how time
Robs all summers at their prime,

I, few seasons gone from birth,
Felt my body change to earth.


September 1917                                         The Woodcarver’s Wife
and Later Poems


Summer Casualty Lists


Sad beyond words? Yea, words have found an ending.
Comes music now, and the diviner strife
Of note on note, like flame on flame, ascending
Toward the crown of life.

Waste beyond count? Who then shall count or weigh them,

Call down the darkness, bid the splendour close?
Pain could not break their youth nor hatred slay them
Who triumph with the rose.

Rich out of price the long field and the fallow
Where elm-tree shadows loose a tenderer sun.

What spring could lift the cup, what harvest hallow
More than these deaths have done?

Dawn to great dawn shall tell the English story,
Noon on far hills shall know them lovelier yet,
Twilight shall fall the fairer for their glory,

The stars shall not forget. [Page 391]


Saturday Night                                         The Complete Poems of
12 January 1918 (31:17)                             Majorie Pickthall 1927


Marching Men


Under the level winter sky
I saw a thousand Christs go by.
They sang an idle song and free
As they went up to calvary.

Careless of eye and coarse of lip,

They marched in holiest fellowship.
That heaven might heal the world, they gave
Their earth-born dreams to deck the grave.

With souls unpurged and steadfast breath
They supped the sacrament of death.

And for each one, far off, apart,
Seven swords have rent a woman’s heart.


The Woodcarver’s Wife
and Later Poems


Mary Tired


Through the starred Judean night
She went, in travail of the Light.
With the earliest hush she saw
God beside her in the straw.

One poor taper glimmered clear,

Drowsing Joseph nodded near.
All the glooms were rosed with wings.
She that knew the Spirit’s kiss
Wearied of the bright abyss.
She was tired of heavenly things.
There between the day and night
These she counted for delight:

Baby kids that butted hard
In the shadowy stable yard; [Page 392]
Silken doves that dipped and preened
Where the crumbling well-curb greened;
Sparrows in the vine, and small
Sapphired flies upon the wall,
So lovely they seemed musical.

In the roof a swift had built.

All the new-born airs were spilt
Out of cups the morning made
Of a glory and a shade.
These her solemn eyelids felt
While unseen the seraphs knelt.
Then a young mouse, sleek and bold,
Rustling in the winnowed gold,
To her shadow crept, and curled
Near the Ransom of the world.


University Magazine                                 The Woodcarver’s Wife
December 1919                                         and Later Poems 1922


The Indian Dancer


Over his feet the fringes fell,
The fox-fur fringes, white as noon;
It seemed his feet were musical.
They never stayed in the slow tune
That ran and rippled and changed its bars
And chimed for ever in falling notes,
As when the summer sings in stars
Of music born in bobolink throats.

All his wild strength was given in grace.
Scarce-plumed, the year’s young grasses bent,

The warm airs touched his brooding face
Along the pathway that he went;
Giving no light, the full moon stood
Behind the birches on the hill,
The summer silence of the wood
Was a gold cup for love to fill. [Page 393]

Red lily-buds and blackening grapes,
And mandrakes gemmed with ivory bloom,—
The forest held a thousand shapes
Like music in the scented gloom.
She saw, as flower or song made fair,
The last light glow on crest and limb.
One barred owl-plume was in his hair,
Like a white moth it danced with him.

Into her willow flute she breathed

Her soul with delicate outs and ins,
Her soul was with the dew that sheathed
Love’s bead work on his moccasins.
Her soul was in the fern that laid
Love’s sweetness for his moving feet.
Between the moon-dawn and the shade
Her soul danced with the Malicete.


Canadian Home Journal                         The Complete Poems of
September 1920                                         Marjorie Pickthall 1927


When Winter Comes


Rain at Muchalat, rain at Sooke,
And rain, they say, from Yale to Skeena,
And the skid-roads blind, and never a look
Of the Coast Range blue over Malaspina,
And west winds keener
Than jack-knife blades,
And rocks grown greener
With the long drip-drip from the cedar shades
On the drenched deep soil where the footsteps suck,
And the camp half-closed and the pay-roll leaner,—
Say, little horse, shall we hunt our luck?

Yet…I don’t know…there’s an hour at night [Page 394]
When the clouds break and the stars are turning
A thousand points of diamond light
Through the old snags of the cedar-burning,
And the west wind’s spurning
A hundred highlands,
And the frost-moon’s learning
The white fog-ways of the outer islands,
And the shallows are dark with the sleeping duck,
And life’s a wonder for our discerning,—
Say, little horse, shall we wait our luck?


The Woodcarver’s Wife
and Later Poems


The Woodsman in the Foundry


Where the trolley’s rumble
Jars the bones,
He hears waves that tumble
Green-linked weed along the golden stones.

Where the crane goes clanging

Chains and bars,
He sees branches hanging
Little leaves against the laughing stars.

Where the molten metals
Curdle bright,

He sees cherry petals
Fallen on blue violets in the night.

When the glow is leaping
Redly hurled,
He sees roses sleeping,

Forest-roses in a windy world. [Page 395]


The Woodcarver’s Wife
and Later Poems


Christ in the Museum


Bronze bells and incense burners, and a flight
Of birds born out of iron, and fine as spray;
A dial that told the longest summer day
How sure, how swift the night:
And o’er the silent treasury, so high
No lips may kiss, no grieving hands have clung,
Numbered and ticketed, the Christ is hung.
The many pass Him by,
None pause. Here come no agonies, no dreams.
Nothing is here to hurt Him, nor to wake.
Year after year the golden iris gleams
A little paler by her lacquered lake,
And the dust gathers on the hands, the side,
The lonely head of Love the crucified.


Daily Press                                                 The Woodcarver’s Wife
21 April 1922                                             and Later Poems 1922


Snow in April


Over the boughs that the wind has shaken,
    Over the sands that are rippled with rain,
Over the banks where the buds awaken
    Cold cloud shadows are spreading again.
All the musical world is still,
    When sharp and sudden, a sparrow calls,
And down on the grass where the violets shiver,
Through the spruce on the height of the hill,
Down on the breadths of the shining river
    The faint snow falls.

Last weak word of a lord that passes—
    Why should the burgeoning woods be mute?
Spring is abroad in the spiring grasses,
    Life is awake in the robin’s flute.
But high in the spruce a wind is wailing, [Page 396]
    And the birds in silence arise and go.
Is it that winter is still too near
For the heart of the world to cast out fear,
When over the sky the rack comes sailing
    And suddenly falls the snow?


Little Songs: A Book
of Poems


Two Souls
A Letter from Père Jogues.


Most reverend Father, I have borne all wrong,
Agonies, griefs, revengements. Yet not I,
But rather He Who knew and loved us long,
And came at last to die.
In my maimed hands ye see Him, in my face
His poor abiding place,

“Lo, they will hear My voice and understand;
Go, seek My wandering sheep,” the Shepherd saith,
So, o’er the world I sought them, hand in hand
With that dark brother of our Order, Death.

Under the shadow of his bitterest rod,
Behold, two souls for God!

Like the reed-feeding swans that cannot choose
But hear the voice of summer, in the swift flight
Up from Three Rivers came the long canoes

Through calm of day and night,
I in the foremost, Coupil and Couture,
Whose fiery crowns are sure.

Sweet shines the summer over Normandy,
And bright on Arles among her blossoming vines,

But O, more sweet than any land or sea
The northern summer shines.
Each night a silvered dream to cast away,
Each golden dream a day— [Page 397]

So we went on, and our dark Hurons smiled,
Singing the child-songs of the woodpecker,
Through clear green glooms and amber bars enisled
Of tamarack and fir.
Till one cried, “Lo, a shadow and a dread
Steals from the isles ahead!”

Death laid a sudden silence on his lips.
In tumult of torn waters at the side.
Crashing, he fell, and all our little ships
Shook on that reddening tide.
Then the blue noon was torn with steel and flame,
And the Five Nations came.


Little Songs: A Book
of Poems


Canada’s Century
“Behold, a people shall come from the north, and as a great
nation.”—Jeremiah 50:41



Out of the north, O Lord,
Out of the north we have come at Thy word;
The forests have heard,
Yea, the tall cedars have heard, and they bow;
The plains have rejoiced at the wound of the plow,
They have laughed, they have laughed at the kiss of the rain
In the bountiful beauty of grain;
The waters have sung of the ships to be.
We are come, a people new-risen, and free
As our wide deep rivers that run from the snows to the sea.
[Page 398]  


Into our hands they are given, the unknown opening years,
That, like a seed close-furled,
Hide all their growth and sovereignty and fears
And glories from the world.
Ours is the coming time, and ours the stress
To hold from Thee Thy gifts in worthiness,—
Honour and labour, law to right the wrong,
Courage and peace divine,
Life, clean as prairie of the north, and strong
As the rock-rooted pine,—
These shall be ours, and ours, of all, in all, is Thine.


Speak yet again,
Thou Who of old to wandering Israel came
In cloud and flame;
But not in wrath
Of human words, nor show an unveiled sword.
Lead us in mercy, Lord.
Behold, the long sweet year Thy word fulfills.
We see Thy prophets’ visions on the plain,
Thy signs and wonders writ upon the hills,—
The free hills of the North.


The Complete Poems of
Marjorie Pickthall


Modern Endymion
In the Asylum Garden


You stealing violets where the snail-tracks glisten
In the dew.
And little secret roses when the doctor’s back is turned,—
Listen, and I’ll tell you how my window burned! [Page 399]

Burning silver ran about the pane in fires,
Piercing silver fires, and their points went creeping
All along the sidewalks and the branches and the wires
And the chimneys of the houses where the smoke was sleeping
O, white, white, white,
Was my window of the night,
And the glass was dripping in the old cold flame,
And soon, soon, soon,
Underneath the little bars that barricade it black,
With the whiteness and the brightness dripping from her back,
The bare moon came,
Came the moon!

They cannot keep her out, O my secret, O my white
Silver-throated goddess of the night, of the night.

They may stifle me all day, but by night I am free,
Waiting for the goddess to climb the walnut tree
In the gray asylum grounds
Where the watchman goes his rounds.
He never sees her mounting, limb by silver limb.
He never sees her counting the stairway of the stars
With her bright hair twining,—
She’s just the moon to him,
Shining through my window with the black strong bars.

And close, close, close,
Closer than the dew-shine to the rose,
And near, near, near
I am holding her all night, my terrible, my dear.
And the four gray walls
Run a drowning sluice of silver, and it falls
Where it will,—
Fierce and still,
Fierce and still— [Page 400]

The little doctor’s coming to take away your flowers!
If you run, run, run
Round the candleberry bush
In the pathway of the sun,
Maybe he won’t find you, he won’t follow you for hours.
But he can’t touch me.
He can’t find her, he can’t feel her, he can’t see, see, see
Her climbing to my window by the silver fruited tree.


The Complete Poems of
Marjorie Pickthall


The Princess in the Tower


I was happier up in the room
At the head of the long blue stair
Than here in the garden’s gloom
With roses to wear.

When stars my window were riming

I would lean out over the snow
And hear him climbing, climbing
A long way below.

But I was happy and lonely
As the heart of a mountain pool,

With stars and shadows only
Made beautiful.

Then he came. He said, “How chill is
This height I have won!
I will love you among the lilies,

And ride ere the sun.”

So I followed him into the night
A long way down. [Page 401]
I would I were back on the height,
With dawn for a crown.


The Complete Poems of
Marjorie Pickthall


The Bird in the Room


Last autumn when they aired the house
A bird got in, and died in this room.
Here it fluttered
Close to the shuttered
Window, and beat in the airless gloom,
No space for its wing, no drop for its mouth,—
A swallow, flying south.

And the velvet-creeping unsleeping mouse
Trampled that swiftness where it fell
On the dusty border

Pattern’d in order
With a citron flower and a golden shell,—
But it might not fly and it might not drink,
On the carpet’s sunless brink.

A thought of you beat into my mind,

Empty and shuttered, dark, and spread
With dusty sheeting
To hide the beating
Tread of the hours. But the thought was dead
When I opened the door of that room, to find
If the Spring
Had left me anything— [Page 402]


The Complete Poems of
Marjorie Pickthall