Part 1 out of 3
Etext prepared by Andrew Sly
FLINT AND FEATHER
The Complete Poems of E. Pauline Johnson
To his Royal Highness
The Duke of Connaught
Who is Head Chief of the Six Nations Indians
I inscribe this book by his own gracious permission
IN MEMORIAM: PAULINE JOHNSON
I cannot say how deeply it touched me to learn that Pauline Johnson
expressed a wish on her death-bed that I, living here in the mother
country all these miles away, should write something about her.
I was not altogether surprised, however, for her letters to me
had long ago shed a golden light upon her peculiar character. She
had made herself believe, quite erroneously, that she was largely
indebted to me for her success in the literary world. The letters I
had from her glowed with this noble passion: the delusion about her
indebtedness to me, in spite of all I could say, never left her. She
continued to foster and cherish this delusion. Gratitude indeed was
with her not a sentiment merely, as with most of us, but a veritable
passion. And when we consider how rare a human trait true gratitude
is--the one particular characteristic in which the lower animals
put us to shame--it can easily be imagined how I was touched to find
that this beautiful and grand Canadian girl remained down to the
very last moment of her life the impersonation of that most precious
of all virtues. I have seen much of my fellow men and women, and
I never knew but two other people who displayed gratitude as a
passion--indulged in it, I might say, as a luxury--and they were
both poets. I can give no higher praise to the "irritable genus."
On this account Pauline Johnson will always figure in my memory as
one of the noblest minded of the human race.
Circumstances made my personal knowledge of her all too slight. Our
spiritual intimacy, however, was very strong, and I hope I shall be
pardoned for saying a few words as to how our friendship began. It
was at the time of Vancouver's infancy, when the population of the
beautiful town of her final adoption was less than a twelfth of what
it now is, and less than a fiftieth part of what it is soon going
In 1906 I met her during one of her tours. How well I remember it!
She was visiting London in company with Mr. McRaye--making a tour of
England--reciting Canadian poetry. And on this occasion Mr. McRaye
added to the interest of the entertainment by rendering in a
perfectly marvellous way Dr. Drummond's Habitant poems. It was in
the Steinway Hall, and the audience was enthusiastic. When, after
the performance, my wife and I went into the room behind the
stage to congratulate her, I was quite affected by the warm and
affectionate greeting that I got from her. With moist eyes she
told her friends that she owed her literary success mainly to me.
And now what does the reader suppose that I had done to win all
these signs of gratitude? I had simply alluded--briefly alluded--in
the London "Athenaeum" some years before, to her genius and her
work. Never surely was a reviewer so royally overpaid. Her allusion
was to a certain article of mine on Canadian poetry which was
written in 1889, and which she had read so assiduously that she
might be said to know it by heart: she seemed to remember every
word of it.
Now that I shall never see her face again it is with real emotion
that I recur to this article and to the occasion of it. Many years
ago--nearly a quarter of a century--a beloved friend whom I still
mourn, Norman Maccoll, editor of the "Athenaeum," sent me a book
called "Songs of the Great Dominion," selected and edited by the
poet, William Douw Lighthall. Maccoll knew the deep interest I
have always taken in matters relating to Greater Britain, and
especially in everything relating to Canada. Even at that time
I ventured to prophesy that the great romance of the twentieth
century would be the growth of the mighty world-power of Canada,
just as the great romance of the nineteenth century had been the
inauguration of the nascent power that sprang up among Britain's
antipodes. He told me that a leading article for the journal upon
some weighty subject was wanted, and asked me whether the book was
important enough to be worth a leader. I turned over its pages and
soon satisfied myself as to that point. I found the book rich in
poetry--true poetry--by poets some of whom have since then come to
great and world-wide distinction, all of it breathing, more or less,
the atmosphere of Canada: that is to say Anglo-Saxon Canada. But in
the writings of one poet alone I came upon a new note--the note of
the Red Man's Canada. This was the poet that most interested me--
Pauline Johnson. I quoted her lovely canoe song "In the Shadows,"
which will be found in this volume. I at once sat down and wrote
a long article, which could have been ten times as long, upon a
subject so suggestive as that of Canadian poetry.
As it was this article of mine which drew this noble woman to me,
it has, since her death, assumed an importance in my eyes which it
intrinsically does not merit. I might almost say that it has become
sacred to me among my fugitive writings: this is why I cannot resist
the temptation of making a few extracts from it. It seems to bring
the dead poet very close to me. Moreover, it gives me an opportunity
of re-saying what I then said of the great place Canadian poetry is
destined to hold in the literature of the English-speaking race. I
had often before said in the "Athenaeum," and in the "Encyclopaedia
Britannica" and elsewhere, that all true poetry--perhaps all true
literature--must be a faithful reflex either of the life of man or
of the life of Nature.
Well, this article began by remarking that the subject of Colonial
verse, and the immense future before the English-speaking poets,
is allied to a question that is very great, the adequacy or
inadequacy of English poetry--British, American, and Colonial--to
the destiny of the race that produces it. The article enunciated
the thesis that if the English language should not in the near
future contain the finest body of poetry in the world, the time
is now upon us when it ought to do so; for no other literature has
had that variety of poetic material which is now at the command of
English-speaking poets. It pointed out that at the present moment
this material comprises much of the riches peculiar to the Old World
and all the riches peculiar to the New. It pointed out that in
reflecting the life of man the English muse enters into competition
with the muse of every other European nation, classic and modern;
and that, rich as England undoubtedly is in her own historic
associations, she is not so rich as are certain other European
countries, where almost every square yard of soil is so suggestive
of human associations that it might be made the subject of a
poem. To wander alone, through scenes that Homer knew, or through
the streets that were hallowed by the footsteps of Dante, is an
experience that sends a poetic thrill through the blood. For it is
on classic ground only that the Spirit of Antiquity walks. And it
went on to ask the question, "If even England, with all her riches
of historic and legendary associations, is not so rich in this
kind of poetic material as some parts of the European Continent,
what shall be said of the new English worlds--Canada, the United
States, the Australias, the South African Settlements, etc.?"
Histories they have, these new countries--in the development of
the human race, in the growth of the great man, Mankind--histories
as important, no doubt, as those of Greece, Italy, and Great
Britain. Inasmuch, however, as the sweet Spirit of Antiquity knows
them not, where is the poet with wings so strong that he can carry
them off into the "ampler ether." the "diviner air" where history
itself is poetry?
Let me repeat here, at the risk of seeming garrulous, a few sentences
in that article which especially appealed to Pauline Johnson, as she
"Part and parcel of the very life of man is the sentiment about
antiquity. Irrational it may be, if you will, but never will it be
stifled. Physical science strengthens rather than weakens it. Social
science, hate it as it may, cannot touch it. In the socialist,
William Morris, it is stronger than in the most conservative poet
that has ever lived. Those who express wonderment that in these days
there should be the old human playthings as bright and captivating
as ever--those who express wonderment at the survival of all the
delightful features of the European raree-show--have not realised
the power of the Spirit of Antiquity, and the power of the sentiment
about him--that sentiment which gives birth to the great human
dream about hereditary merit and demerit upon which society--royalist
or republican--is built. What is the use of telling us that even in
Grecian annals there is no kind of heroism recorded which you cannot
match in the histories of the United States and Canada? What is the
use of telling us that the travels of Ulysses and of Jason are as
nothing in point of real romance compared with Captain Phillip's
voyage to the other side of the world, when he led his little
convict-laden fleet to Botany Bay--a bay as unknown almost as any
bay in Laputa--that voyage which resulted in the founding of a
cluster of great nations any one of whose mammoth millionaires could
now buy up Ilium and the Golden Fleece combined if offered in the
auction mart? The Spirit of Antiquity knows not that captain. In
a thousand years' time, no doubt, these things may be as ripe for
poetic treatment as the voyage of the Argonauts; but on a planet
like this a good many changes may occur before an epic poet shall
arise to sing them. Mr. Lighthall would remind us, did we in England
need reminding, that Canada owes her very existence at this moment
to a splendid act of patriotism--the withdrawal out of the rebel
colonies of the British loyalists after the war of the revolution.
It is 'the noblest epic migration the world has ever seen,' says
Mr. Lighthall, 'more loftily epic than the retirement of Pius
AEneas from Ilion.' Perhaps so, but at present the dreamy spirit
of Antiquity knows not one word of the story. In a thousand years'
time he will have heard of it, possibly, and then he will carefully
consider those two 'retirements' as subjects for epic poetry."
The article went on to remark that until the Spirit of Antiquity
hears of this latter retirement and takes it into his consideration,
it must, as poetic material, give way to another struggle which he
persists in considering to be greater still--the investment by a
handful of Achaians of a little town held by a handful of Trojans.
It is the power of this Spirit of Antiquity that tells against
English poetry as a reflex of the life of man. In Europe, in which,
as Pericles said, "The whole earth is the tomb of illustrious men,"
the Spirit of Antiquity is omnipotent.
The article then discussed the main subject of the argument, saying
how very different it is when we come to consider poetic art as the
reflex of the life of Nature. Here the muse of Canada ought to be,
and is, so great and strong. It is not in the old countries, it is
in the new, that the poet can adequately reflect the life of Nature.
It is in them alone that he can confront Nature's face as it is,
uncoloured by associations of history and tradition. What Wordsworth
tried all his life to do, the poets of Canada, of the Australias,
of the Cape, have the opportunity of doing. How many a home-bounded
Englishman must yearn for the opportunity now offered by the
Canadian Pacific Railway of seeing the great virgin forests and
prairies before settlement has made much progress--of seeing them as
they existed before even the foot of the Red Man trod them--of seeing
them without that physical toil which only a few hardy explorers can
undergo. It is hard to realise that he who has not seen the vast
unsettled tracts of the British Empire knows Nature only under the
same aspect as she has been known by all the poets from Homer to our
own day. And when I made the allusion to Pauline Johnson's poems
which brought me such reward, I quoted "In the Shadows." The poem
fascinated me--it fairly haunted me. I could not get it out of my
head; and I remember that I was rather severe on Mr. Lighthall for
only giving us two examples of a poet so rare--so full of the spirit
of the open air.
Naturally I turned to his introductory remarks to see who Pauline
Johnson was. I was not at all surprised to find that she had Indian
blood in her veins, but I was surprised and delighted to find that
she belonged to a famous Indian family--the Mohawks of Brantford.
The Mohawks of Brantford! that splendid race to whose unswerving
loyalty during two centuries not only Canada, but the entire
British Empire owes a debt that can never be repaid.
After the appearance of my article I got a beautiful letter from
Pauline Johnson, and I found that I had been fortunate enough to
enrich my life with a new friendship.
And now as to the genius of Pauline Johnson: it was being recognised
not only in Canada, but all over the great Continent of the
West. Since 1889 I have been following her career with a glow of
admiration and sympathy. I have been delighted to find that this
success of hers had no damaging effect upon the grand simplicity of
her nature. Up to the day of her death her passionate sympathy with
the aborigines of Canada never flagged, as shown by such poems as
"The Cattle Thief", "The Pilot of the Plains", "As Red Men Die",
and many another. During all this time, however, she was cultivating
herself in a thousand ways--taking interest in the fine arts, as
witness her poem "The Art of Alma-Tadema". Her native power of
satire is shown in the lines written after Dreyfus was exiled,
called "'Give us Barabbas'". She had also a pretty gift of vers de
societe, as seen in her lines "Your Mirror Frame".
Her death is not only a great loss to those who knew and loved her:
it is a great loss to Canadian literature and to the Canadian
nation. I must think that she will hold a memorable place among
poets in virtue of her descent and also in virtue of the work she
has left behind, small as the quantity of that work is. I believe
that Canada will, in future times, cherish her memory more and more,
for of all Canadian poets she was the most distinctly a daughter of
the soil, inasmuch as she inherited the blood of the great primeval
race now so rapidly vanishing, and of the greater race that has
In reading the description of the funeral in the "News-Advertiser,"
I was specially touched by the picture of the large crowd of silent
Red Men who lined Georgia Street, and who stood as motionless as
statues all through the service, and until the funeral cortege had
passed on the way to the cemetery. This must have rendered the
funeral the most impressive and picturesque one of any poet that
has ever lived.
20th August, 1913.
This collection of verse I have named "Flint and Feather" because of
the association of ideas. Flint suggests the Red Man's weapons of
war; it is the arrow tip, the heart-quality of mine own people; let
it therefore apply to those poems that touch upon Indian life and
love. The lyrical verse herein is as a
"Skyward floating feather,
Sailing on summer air."
And yet that feather may be the eagle plume that crests the head of
a warrior chief; so both flint and feather bear the hall-mark of my
E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) is the youngest child of a family
of four born to the late G. H. M. Johnson (Onwanonsyshon), Head
Chief of the Six Nations Indians, and his wife, Emily S. Howells,
a lady of pure English parentage, her birth-place being Bristol,
England, but the land of her adoption was Canada.
Chief Johnson was of the renowned Mohawk tribe, and of the "Blood
Royal," being a scion of one of the fifty noble families which
composed the historical confederation founded by Hiawatha upwards of
four hundred years ago, and known at that period as the Brotherhood
of the Five Nations, but which was afterwards named the Iroquois by
the early French missionaires and explorers. These Iroquois Indians
have from the earliest times been famed for their loyalty to the
British Crown, in defence of which they fought against both French
and Colonial Revolutionists; and for which fealty they were granted
the magnificent lands bordering the Grand River in the County of
Brant, Ontario, and on which the tribes still live.
It was upon this Reserve, on her father's estate, "Chiefswood,"
that Pauline Johnson was born. And it is inevitable that the loyalty
to Britain and Britain's flag which she inherited from her Red
ancestors, as well as from her English mother, breathes through both
her prose and poetic writings.
At an extremely early age this little Indian girl evinced an intense
love of poetry; and even before she could write, composed many
little childish jingles about her pet dogs and cats. She was also
very fond of learning by heart anything that took her fancy, and
would memorize, apparently without effort, verses that were read to
her. A telling instance of this early love of poetry may be cited,
when on one occasion, while she was yet a tiny child of four, a
friend of her father's, who was going to a distant city, asked her
what he could bring her as a present, and she replied, "Verses,
At twelve years of age she was writing fairly creditable poems, but
was afraid to offer them for publication, lest in after years she
might regret their almost inevitable crudity. So she did not publish
anything until after her school days were ended.
Her education was neither extensive nor elaborate, and embraced
neither High School nor College. A nursery governess for two years
at home, three years at an Indian day school half a mile from her
home, and two years in the central school of the City of Brantford
was the extent of her educational training. But besides this she
acquired a wide general knowledge, having been, through childhood
and early girlhood, a great reader, especially of poetry. Before
she was twelve years old she had read every line of Scott's poems,
every line of Longfellow, much of Byron, Shakespeare, and such books
as Addison's "Spectator," Foster's Essays and Owen Meredith.
The first periodicals to accept her poems and place them before
the public were "Gems of Poetry," a small magazine published in
New York, and "The Week," established by the late Professor Goldwin
Smith, of Toronto, the "New York Independent," and "Toronto Saturday
Night." Since then she has contributed to "The Athenaeum," "The
Academy," "Black and White," "The Pall Mall Gazette," "The Daily
Express," and "Canada," all of London, England; "The Review of
Reviews," Paris, France; "Harper's Weekly," "New York Independent,"
"Outing," "The Smart Set," "Boston Transcript," "The Buffalo
Express," "Detroit Free Press," "The Boys' World" (David C. Cook
Publishing Co., Elgin, Illinois), "The Mothers' Magazine" (David
C. Cook Publishing Co.), "The Canadian Magazine," "Toronto Saturday
Night," and "The Province," Vancouver, B.C.
In 1892 the opportunity of a lifetime came to this young versifier,
when Frank Yeigh, the president of the Young Liberals' Club, of
Toronto, conceived the idea of having an evening of Canadian
literature, at which all available Canadian authors should be
guests and read from their own works.
Among the authors present on this occasion was Pauline Johnson, who
contributed to the programme one of her compositions, entitled "A
Cry from an Indian Wife"; and when she recited without text this
much-discussed poem, which shows the Indian's side of the North-West
Rebellion, she was greeted with tremendous applause from an audience
which represented the best of Toronto's art, literature and culture.
She was the only one on the programme who received an encore, and to
this she replied with one of her favourite canoeing poems.
The following morning the entire press of Toronto asked why this
young writer was not on the platform as a professional reader;
while two of the dailies even contained editorials on the subject,
inquiring why she had never published a volume of her poems, and
insisted so strongly that the public should hear more of her,
that Mr. Frank Yeigh arranged for her to give an entire evening
in Association Hall within two weeks from the date of her first
appearance. It was for this first recital that she wrote the poem
by which she is best known, "The Song my Paddle Sings."
On this eventful occasion, owing to the natural nervousness which
besets a beginner, and to the fact that she had scarcely had time
to memorize her new poem, she became confused in this particular
member, and forgot her lines. With true Indian impassiveness,
however, she never lost her self-control, but smilingly passed over
the difficulty by substituting something else; and completely won
the hearts of her audience by her coolness and self-possession. The
one thought uppermost in her mind, she afterwards said, was that she
should not leave the platform and thereby acknowledge her defeat;
and it is undoubtedly this same determination to succeed which has
carried her successfully through the many years she has been before
The immediate success of this entertainment caused Mr. Yeigh to
undertake the management of a series of recitals for her throughout
Canada, with the object of enabling her to go to England to submit
her poems to a London publisher. Within two years this end was
accomplished, and she spent the season of 1894 in London, and had
her book of poems, "The White Wampum," accepted by John Lane, of the
"Bodley Head." She carried with her letters of introduction from His
Excellency the Earl of Aberdeen and Rev. Professor Clark, of Toronto
University, which gave her a social and literary standing in London
which left nothing to be desired.
In London she met many authors, artists and critics, who gave this
young Canadian girl the right hand of fellowship; and she was
received and asked to give recitals in the drawing-rooms of many
diplomats, critics and members of the nobility.
Her book, "The White Wampum," was enthusiastically received by the
critics and press; and was highly praised by such papers as the
Edinburgh "Scotsman," "Glasgow Herald," "Manchester Guardian,"
"Bristol Mercury," "Yorkshire Post," "The Whitehall Review," "Pall
Mall Gazette," the London "Athenaeum," the London "Academy," "Black
and White," "Westminster Review," etc.
Upon her return to Canada she made her first trip to the Pacific
Coast, giving recitals at all the cities and towns en route. Since
then she has crossed the Rocky Mountains nineteen times, and
appeared as a public entertainer at every city and town between
Halifax and Vancouver.
In 1903 the George Morang Publishing Company, of Toronto, brought
out her second book of poems, entitled "Canadian Born," which was so
well received that the entire edition was exhausted within the year.
About this time she visited Newfoundland, taking with her letters
of introduction from Sir Charles Tupper to Sir Robert Bond, the
then Prime Minister of the colony. Her recital in St. John was the
literary event of the season, and was given under the personal
patronage of His Excellency the Governor-General and Lady McCallum,
and the Admiral of the British Flagship.
After this recital in the capital Miss Johnson went to all the small
seaports and to Hearts' Content, the great Atlantic Cable station,
her mission being more to secure material for magazine articles on
the staunch Newfoundlanders and their fishing villages than for the
purpose of giving recitals.
In 1906 she returned to England, and made her first appearance in
Steinway Hall, under the distinguished patronage of Lord and Lady
Strathcona, to whom she carried letters of introduction from the
Right Honourable Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada. On
this occasion she was accompanied by Mr. Walter McRaye, who added
greatly to the Canadian interest of the programme by his inimitable
renditions of Dr. Drummond's Habitant poems.
The following year she again visited London, returning by way of the
United States, where she and Mr. McRaye were engaged by the American
Chautauquas for a series of recitals covering eight weeks, during
which time they went as far as Boulder, Colorado. Then, after one
more tour of Canada, she decided to give up public work, settle down
in the city of her choice, Vancouver, British Columbia, and devote
herself to literature only.
Only a woman of tremendous powers of endurance could have borne up
under the hardships necessarily encountered in travelling through
North-Western Canada in pioneer days as Miss Johnson did; and
shortly after settling down in Vancouver the exposure and hardship
she had endured began to tell upon her, and her health completely
broke down. For more than a year she has been an invalid; and as she
was not able to attend to the business herself, a trust was formed
by some of the leading citizens of her adopted city for the purpose
of collecting, and publishing for her benefit, her later works.
Among these is a number of beautiful Indian legends which she has
been at great pains to collect; and a splendid series of boys'
stories, which were exceedingly well received when they ran recently
in an American boys' magazine.
During the sixteen years Miss Johnson was travelling she had many
varied and interesting experiences. She has driven up the old
Battleford trail before the railroad went through, and across the
Boundary country in British Columbia in the romantic days of the
early pioneers; and once she took an 850-mile drive up the Cariboo
trail to the gold-fields. She was always an ardent canoeist, ran
many strange rivers, crossed many a lonely lake, and camped in many
an unfrequented place. These venturous trips she took more from her
inherent love of nature and of adventure than from any necessity
of her profession.
After an illness of two years' duration Miss Johnson died in
Vancouver on March 7, 1913. The heroic spirit in which she endured
long months of suffering is expressed in her poem entitled "And He
Said 'Fight On'" which she wrote after she was informed by her
physician that her illness would prove fatal.
Time and its ally, Dark Disarmament
Have compassed me about;
Have massed their armies, and on battle bent
My forces put to rout,
But though I fight alone, and fall, and die,
Talk terms of Peace? Not I.
It is eminently fitting that this daughter of Nature should have
been laid to rest in no urban cemetery. According to her own request
she was buried in Stanley Park, Vancouver's beautiful heritage of
the forest primeval. A simple stone surrounded by rustic palings
marks her grave and on this stone is carved the one word "Pauline."
There she lies among ferns and wild flowers a short distance from
Siwash Rock, the story of which she has recorded in the legends of
her race. In time to come a pathway to her grave will be worn by
lovers of Canadian poetry who will regard it as one of the most
romantic of our literary shrines.
THE WHITE WAMPUM
(The following poems are from the author's first book, "The White
Wampum," first published in 1895.)
I am Ojistoh, I am she, the wife
Of him whose name breathes bravery and life
And courage to the tribe that calls him chief.
I am Ojistoh, his white star, and he
Is land, and lake, and sky--and soul to me.
Ah! but they hated him, those Huron braves,
Him who had flung their warriors into graves,
Him who had crushed them underneath his heel,
Whose arm was iron, and whose heart was steel
To all--save me, Ojistoh, chosen wife
Of my great Mohawk, white star of his life.
Ah! but they hated him, and councilled long
With subtle witchcraft how to work him wrong;
How to avenge their dead, and strike him where
His pride was highest, and his fame most fair.
Their hearts grew weak as women at his name:
They dared no war-path since my Mohawk came
With ashen bow, and flinten arrow-head
To pierce their craven bodies; but their dead
Must be avenged. Avenged? They dared not walk
In day and meet his deadly tomahawk;
They dared not face his fearless scalping knife;
So--Niyoh!--then they thought of me, his wife.
O! evil, evil face of them they sent
With evil Huron speech: "Would I consent
To take of wealth? be queen of all their tribe?
Have wampum ermine?" Back I flung the bribe
Into their teeth, and said, "While I have life
Know this--Ojistoh is the Mohawk's wife."
Wah! how we struggled! But their arms were strong.
They flung me on their pony's back, with thong
Round ankle, wrist, and shoulder. Then upleapt
The one I hated most: his eye he swept
Over my misery, and sneering said,
"Thus, fair Ojistoh, we avenge our dead."
And we two rode, rode as a sea wind-chased,
I, bound with buckskin to his hated waist,
He, sneering, laughing, jeering, while he lashed
The horse to foam, as on and on we dashed.
Plunging through creek and river, bush and trail,
On, on we galloped like a northern gale.
At last, his distant Huron fires aflame
We saw, and nearer, nearer still we came.
I, bound behind him in the captive's place,
Scarcely could see the outline of his face.
I smiled, and laid my cheek against his back:
"Loose thou my hands," I said. "This pace let slack.
Forget we now that thou and I are foes.
I like thee well, and wish to clasp thee close;
I like the courage of thine eye and brow;
I like thee better than my Mohawk now."
He cut the cords; we ceased our maddened haste
I wound my arms about his tawny waist;
My hand crept up the buckskin of his belt;
His knife hilt in my burning palm I felt;
One hand caressed his cheek, the other drew
The weapon softly--"I love you, love you,"
I whispered, "love you as my life."
And--buried in his back his scalping knife.
Ha! how I rode, rode as a sea wind-chased,
Mad with sudden freedom, mad with haste,
Back to my Mohawk and my home. I lashed
That horse to foam, as on and on I dashed.
Plunging thro' creek and river, bush and trail,
On, on I galloped like a northern gale.
And then my distant Mohawk's fires aflame
I saw, as nearer, nearer still I came,
My hands all wet, stained with a life's red dye,
But pure my soul, pure as those stars on high--
"My Mohawk's pure white star, Ojistoh, still am I."
 God, in the Mohawk language.
AS RED MEN DIE
Captive! Is there a hell to him like this?
A taunt more galling than the Huron's hiss?
He--proud and scornful, he--who laughed at law,
He--scion of the deadly Iroquois,
He--the bloodthirsty, he--the Mohawk chief,
He--who despises pain and sneers at grief,
Here in the hated Huron's vicious clutch,
That even captive he disdains to touch!
Captive! But _never_ conquered; Mohawk brave
Stoops not to be to _any_ man a slave;
Least, to the puny tribe his soul abhors,
The tribe whose wigwams sprinkle Simcoe's shores.
With scowling brow he stands and courage high,
Watching with haughty and defiant eye
His captors, as they council o'er his fate,
Or strive his boldness to intimidate.
Then fling they unto him the choice;
Walk o'er the bed of fire that waits thee now--
Walk with uncovered feet upon the coals,
Until thou reach the ghostly Land of Souls,
And, with thy Mohawk death-song please our ear?
Or wilt thou with the women rest thee here?"
His eyes flash like an eagle's, and his hands
Clench at the insult. Like a god he stands.
"Prepare the fire!" he scornfully demands.
He knoweth not that this same jeering band
Will bite the dust--will lick the Mohawk's hand;
Will kneel and cower at the Mohawk's feet;
Will shrink when Mohawk war drums wildly beat.
His death will be avenged with hideous hate
By Iroquois, swift to annihilate
His vile detested captors, that now flaunt
Their war clubs in his face with sneer and taunt,
Not thinking, soon that reeking, red, and raw,
Their scalps will deck the belts of Iroquois.
The path of coals outstretches, white with heat,
A forest fir's length--ready for his feet.
Unflinching as a rock he steps along
The burning mass, and sings his wild war song;
Sings, as he sang when once he used to roam
Throughout the forests of his southern home,
Where, down the Genesee, the water roars,
Where gentle Mohawk purls between its shores,
Songs, that of exploit and of prowess tell;
Songs of the Iroquois invincible.
Up the long trail of fire he boasting goes,
Dancing a war dance to defy his foes.
His flesh is scorched, his muscles burn and shrink,
But still he dances to death's awful brink.
The eagle plume that crests his haughty head
Will _never_ droop until his heart be dead.
Slower and slower yet his footstep swings,
Wilder and wilder still his death-song rings,
Fiercer and fiercer thro' the forest bounds
His voice that leaps to Happier Hunting Grounds.
One savage yell--
Then loyal to his race,
He bends to death--but _never_ to disgrace.
THE PILOT OF THE PLAINS
"False," they said, "thy Pale-face lover, from the land of waking morn;
Rise and wed thy Redskin wooer, nobler warrior ne'er was born;
Cease thy watching, cease thy dreaming,
Show the white thine Indian scorn."
Thus they taunted her, declaring, "He remembers naught of thee:
Likely some white maid he wooeth, far beyond the inland sea."
But she answered ever kindly,
"He will come again to me,"
Till the dusk of Indian summer crept athwart the western skies;
But a deeper dusk was burning in her dark and dreaming eyes,
As she scanned the rolling prairie,
Where the foothills fall, and rise.
Till the autumn came and vanished, till the season of the rains,
Till the western world lay fettered in midwinter's crystal chains,
Still she listened for his coming,
Still she watched the distant plains.
Then a night with nor'land tempest, nor'land snows a-swirling fast,
Out upon the pathless prairie came the Pale-face through the blast,
Calling, calling, "Yakonwita,
I am coming, love, at last."
Hovered night above, about him, dark its wings and cold and dread;
Never unto trail or tepee were his straying footsteps led;
Till benumbed, he sank, and pillowed
On the drifting snows his head,
Saying, "O! my Yakonwita call me, call me, be my guide
To the lodge beyond the prairie--for I vowed ere winter died
I would come again, beloved;
I would claim my Indian bride."
"Yakonwita, Yakonwita!" Oh, the dreariness that strains
Through the voice that calling, quivers, till a whisper but remains,
I am lost upon the plains."
But the Silent Spirit hushed him, lulled him as he cried anew,
"Save me, save me! O! beloved, I am Pale but I am true.
I am dying, love, for you."
Leagues afar, across the prairie, she had risen from her bed,
Roused her kinsmen from their slumber: "He has come to-night," she said.
"I can hear him calling, calling;
But his voice is as the dead.
"Listen!" and they sate all silent, while the tempest louder grew,
And a spirit-voice called faintly, "I am dying, love, for you."
Then they wailed, "O! Yakonwita.
He was Pale, but he was true."
Wrapped she then her ermine round her, stepped without the tepee door,
Saying, "I must follow, follow, though he call for evermore,
And they never saw her more.
Late at night, say Indian hunters, when the starlight clouds or wanes,
Far away they see a maiden, misty as the autumn rains,
Guiding with her lamp of moonlight
Hunters lost upon the plains.
THE CATTLE THIEF
They were coming across the prairie, they were
galloping hard and fast;
For the eyes of those desperate riders had sighted
their man at last--
Sighted him off to Eastward, where the Cree
Where the cotton woods fringed the river, miles and
Mistake him? Never! Mistake him? the famous
That terror to all the settlers, that desperate Cattle
That monstrous, fearless Indian, who lorded it over
Who thieved and raided, and scouted, who rode like
But they've tracked him across the prairie; they've
followed him hard and fast;
For those desperate English settlers have sighted
their man at last.
Up they wheeled to the tepees, all their British
Bent on bullets and bloodshed, bent on bringing
down their game;
But they searched in vain for the Cattle Thief: that
lion had left his lair,
And they cursed like a troop of demons--for the
women alone were there.
"The sneaking Indian coward," they hissed; "he
hides while yet he can;
He'll come in the night for cattle, but he's scared
to face a _man_."
"Never!" and up from the cotton woods rang the
voice of Eagle Chief;
And right out into the open stepped, unarmed, the
Was that the game they had coveted? Scarce fifty
years had rolled
Over that fleshless, hungry frame, starved to the
bone and old;
Over that wrinkled, tawny skin, unfed by the
warmth of blood.
Over those hungry, hollow eyes that glared for the
sight of food.
He turned, like a hunted lion: "I know not fear,"
And the words outleapt from his shrunken lips in
the language of the Cree.
"I'll fight you, white-skins, one by one, till I
kill you _all_," he said;
But the threat was scarcely uttered, ere a dozen
balls of lead
Whizzed through the air about him like a shower
of metal rain,
And the gaunt old Indian Cattle Thief dropped
dead on the open plain.
And that band of cursing settlers gave one
And rushed like a pack of demons on the body that
writhed and fell.
"Cut the fiend up into inches, throw his carcass
on the plain;
Let the wolves eat the cursed Indian, he'd have
treated us the same."
A dozen hands responded, a dozen knives gleamed
But the first stroke was arrested by a woman's
strange, wild cry.
And out into the open, with a courage past
She dashed, and spread her blanket o'er the corpse
of the Cattle Thief;
And the words outleapt from her shrunken lips in
the language of the Cree,
"If you mean to touch that body, you must cut
your way through _me_."
And that band of cursing settlers dropped
backward one by one,
For they knew that an Indian woman roused, was
a woman to let alone.
And then she raved in a frenzy that they scarcely
Raved of the wrongs she had suffered since her
"Stand back, stand back, you white-skins, touch
that dead man to your shame;
You have stolen my father's spirit, but his body I
You have killed him, but you shall not dare to
touch him now he's dead.
You have cursed, and called him a Cattle Thief,
though you robbed him first of bread--
Robbed him and robbed my people--look there, at
that shrunken face,
Starved with a hollow hunger, we owe to you and
What have you left to us of land, what have you
left of game,
What have you brought but evil, and curses since
How have you paid us for our game? how paid us
for our land?
By a _book_, to save our souls from the sins _you_
brought in your other hand.
Go back with your new religion, we never have
Your robbing an Indian's _body_, and mocking his
_soul_ with food.
Go back with your new religion, and find--if find
The _honest_ man you have ever made from out a
You say your cattle are not ours, your meat is not
When _you_ pay for the land you live in, _we'll_ pay
for the meat we eat.
Give back our land and our country, give back our
herds of game;
Give back the furs and the forests that were ours
before you came;
Give back the peace and the plenty. Then come
with your new belief,
And blame, if you dare, the hunger that _drove_ him to
be a thief."
A CRY FROM AN INDIAN WIFE
My forest brave, my Red-skin love, farewell;
We may not meet to-morrow; who can tell
What mighty ills befall our little band,
Or what you'll suffer from the white man's hand?
Here is your knife! I thought 'twas sheathed for aye.
No roaming bison calls for it to-day;
No hide of prairie cattle will it maim;
The plains are bare, it seeks a nobler game:
'Twill drink the life-blood of a soldier host.
Go; rise and strike, no matter what the cost.
Yet stay. Revolt not at the Union Jack,
Nor raise Thy hand against this stripling pack
Of white-faced warriors, marching West to quell
Our fallen tribe that rises to rebel.
They all are young and beautiful and good;
Curse to the war that drinks their harmless blood.
Curse to the fate that brought them from the East
To be our chiefs--to make our nation least
That breathes the air of this vast continent.
Still their new rule and council is well meant.
They but forget we Indians owned the land
From ocean unto ocean; that they stand
Upon a soil that centuries agone
Was our sole kingdom and our right alone.
They never think how they would feel to-day,
If some great nation came from far away,
Wresting their country from their hapless braves,
Giving what they gave us--but wars and graves.
Then go and strike for liberty and life,
And bring back honour to your Indian wife.
Your wife? Ah, what of that, who cares for me?
Who pities my poor love and agony?
What white-robed priest prays for your safety here,
As prayer is said for every volunteer
That swells the ranks that Canada sends out?
Who prays for vict'ry for the Indian scout?
Who prays for our poor nation lying low?
None--therefore take your tomahawk and go.
My heart may break and burn into its core,
But I am strong to bid you go to war.
Yet stay, my heart is not the only one
That grieves the loss of husband and of son;
Think of the mothers o'er the inland seas;
Think of the pale-faced maiden on her knees;
One pleads her God to guard some sweet-faced child
That marches on toward the North-West wild.
The other prays to shield her love from harm,
To strengthen his young, proud uplifted arm.
Ah, how her white face quivers thus to think,
_Your_ tomahawk his life's best blood will drink.
She never thinks of my wild aching breast,
Nor prays for your dark face and eagle crest
Endangered by a thousand rifle balls,
My heart the target if my warrior falls.
O! coward self I hesitate no more;
Go forth, and win the glories of the war.
Go forth, nor bend to greed of white men's hands,
By right, by birth we Indians own these lands,
Though starved, crushed, plundered, lies our nation low...
Perhaps the white man's God has willed it so.
There's a spirit on the river, there's a ghost upon the shore,
They are chanting, they are singing through the starlight evermore,
As they steal amid the silence,
And the shadows of the shore.
You can hear them when the Northern candles light the Northern sky,
Those pale, uncertain candle flames, that shiver, dart and die,
Those dead men's icy finger tips,
Athwart the Northern sky.
You can hear the ringing war-cry of a long-forgotten brave
Echo through the midnight forest, echo o'er the midnight wave,
And the Northern lanterns tremble
At the war-cry of that brave.
And you hear a voice responding, but in soft and tender song;
It is Dawendine's spirit singing, singing all night long;
And the whisper of the night wind
Bears afar her Spirit song.
And the wailing pine trees murmur with their voice attuned to hers,
Murmur when they 'rouse from slumber as the night wind through them stirs;
And you listen to their legend,
And their voices blend with hers.
There was feud and there was bloodshed near the river by the hill;
And Dawendine listened, while her very heart stood still:
Would her kinsman or her lover
Be the victim by the hill?
Who would be the great unconquered? who come boasting how he dealt
Death? and show his rival's scalplock fresh and bleeding at his belt.
Who would say, "O Dawendine!
Look upon the death I dealt?"
And she listens, listens, listens--till a war-cry rends the night,
Cry of her victorious lover, monarch he of all the height;
And his triumph wakes the horrors,
Kills the silence of the night.
Heart of her! it throbs so madly, then lies freezing in her breast,
For the icy hand of death has chilled the brother she loved best;
And her lover dealt the death-blow;
And her heart dies in her breast.
And she hears her mother saying, "Take thy belt of wampum white;
Go unto yon evil savage while he glories on the height;
Sing and sue for peace between us:
At his feet lay wampum white.
"Lest thy kinsmen all may perish, all thy brothers and thy sire
Fall before his mighty hatred as the forest falls to fire;
Take thy wampum pale and peaceful,
Save thy brothers, save thy sire."
And the girl arises softly, softly slips toward the shore;
Loves she well the murdered brother, loves his hated foeman more,
Loves, and longs to give the wampum;
And she meets him on the shore.
"Peace," she sings, "O mighty victor, Peace! I bring thee wampum white.
Sheathe thy knife whose blade has tasted my young kinsman's blood to-night
Ere it drink to slake its thirsting,
I have brought thee wampum white."
Answers he, "O Dawendine! I will let thy kinsmen be,
I accept thy belt of wampum; but my hate demands for me
That they give their fairest treasure,
Ere I let thy kinsmen be.
"Dawendine, for thy singing, for thy suing, war shall cease;
For thy name, which speaks of dawning, _Thou_ shalt be the dawn of peace;
For thine eyes whose purple shadows tell of dawn,
My hate shall cease.
"Dawendine, Child of Dawning, hateful are thy kin to me;
Red my fingers with their heart blood, but my heart is red for thee:
Dawendine, Child of Dawning,
Wilt thou fail or follow me?"
And her kinsmen still are waiting her returning from the night,
Waiting, waiting for her coming with her belt of wampum white;
But forgetting all, she follows,
Where he leads through day or night.
There's a spirit on the river, there's a ghost upon the shore,
And they sing of love and loving through the starlight evermore,
As they steal amid the silence,
And the shadows of the shore.
"Yes, sir, it's quite a story, though you won't believe it's true,
But such things happened often when I lived beyond the Soo."
And the trapper tilted back his chair and filled his pipe anew.
"I ain't thought of it neither fer this many 'n many a day,
Although it used to haunt me in the years that's slid away,
The years I spent a-trappin' for the good old Hudson's Bay.
"Wild? You bet, 'twas wild then, an' few an' far between
The squatters' shacks, for whites was scarce as furs when things is green,
An' only reds an' 'Hudson's' men was all the folk I seen.
"No. Them old Indyans ain't so bad, not if you treat 'em square.
Why, I lived in amongst 'em all the winters I was there,
An' I never lost a copper, an' I never lost a hair.
"But I'd have lost my life the time that you've heard tell about;
I don't think I'd be settin' here, but dead beyond a doubt,
If that there Indyan 'Wolverine' jest hadn't helped me out.
"'Twas freshet time, 'way back, as long as sixty-six or eight,
An' I was comin' to the Post that year a kind of late,
For beaver had been plentiful, and trappin' had been great.
"One day I had been settin' traps along a bit of wood,
An' night was catchin' up to me jest faster 'an it should,
When all at once I heard a sound that curdled up my blood.
"It was the howl of famished wolves--I didn't stop to think
But jest lit out across for home as quick as you could wink,
But when I reached the river's edge I brought up at the brink.
"That mornin' I had crossed the stream straight on a sheet of ice
An' now, God help me! There it was, churned up an' cracked to dice,
The flood went boiling past--I stood like one shut in a vice.
"No way ahead, no path aback, trapped like a rat ashore,
With naught but death to follow, and with naught but death afore;
The howl of hungry wolves aback--ahead, the torrent's roar.
"An' then--a voice, an Indyan voice, that called out clear and clean,
'Take Indyan's horse, I run like deer, wolf can't catch Wolverine.'
I says, 'Thank Heaven.' There stood the chief I'd nicknamed Wolverine.
"I leapt on that there horse, an' then jest like a coward fled,
An' left that Indyan standin' there alone, as good as dead,
With the wolves a-howlin' at his back, the swollen stream ahead.
"I don't know how them Indyans dodge from death the way they do,
You won't believe it, sir, but what I'm tellin' you is true,
But that there chap was 'round next day as sound as me or you.
"He came to get his horse, but not a cent he'd take from me.
Yes, sir, you're right, the Indyans now ain't like they used to be;
We've got 'em sharpened up a bit an' _now_ they'll take a fee.
"No, sir, you're wrong, they ain't no 'dogs.' I'm not through tellin' yet;
You'll take that name right back again, or else jest out you get!
You'll take that name right back when you hear all this yarn, I bet.
"It happened that same autumn, when some Whites was comin' in,
I heard the old Red River carts a-kickin' up a din,
So I went over to their camp to see an English skin.
"They said, 'They'd had an awful scare from Injuns,' an' they swore
That savages had come around the very night before
A-brandishing their tomahawks an' painted up for war.
"But when their plucky Englishmen had put a bit of lead
Right through the heart of one of them, an' rolled him over, dead,
The other cowards said that they had come on peace instead.
"'That they (the Whites) had lost some stores, from off their little pack,
An' that the Red they peppered dead had followed up their track,
Because he'd found the packages an' came _to give them back_.'
"'Oh!' they said, 'they were quite sorry, but it wasn't like as if
They had killed a decent Whiteman by mistake or in a tiff,
It was only some old Injun dog that lay there stark an' stiff.'
"I said, 'You are the meanest dogs that ever yet I seen,'
Then I rolled the body over as it lay out on the green;
I peered into the face--My God! 'twas poor old Wolverine."
What saw you in your flight to-day,
Crows, awinging your homeward way?
Went you far in carrion quest,
Crows, that worry the sunless west?
Thieves and villains, you shameless things!
Black your record as black your wings.
Tell me, birds of the inky hue,
Plunderous rogues--to-day have you
Seen with mischievous, prying eyes
Lands where earlier suns arise?
Saw you a lazy beck between
Trees that shadow its breast in green,
Teased by obstinate stones that lie
Crossing the current tauntingly?
Fields abloom on the farther side
With purpling clover lying wide--
Saw you there as you circled by,
Vale-environed a cottage lie,
Girt about with emerald bands,
Nestling down in its meadow lands?
Saw you this on your thieving raids?
Speak--you rascally renegades!
Thieved you also away from me
Olden scenes that I long to see?
If, O! crows, you have flown since morn
Over the place where I was born,
Forget will I, how black you were
Since dawn, in feather and character;
Absolve will I, your vagrant band
Ere you enter your slumberland.
THE SONG MY PADDLE SINGS
West wind, blow from your prairie nest,
Blow from the mountains, blow from the west.
The sail is idle, the sailor too;
O! wind of the west, we wait for you.
I have wooed you so,
But never a favour you bestow.
You rock your cradle the hills between,
But scorn to notice my white lateen.
I stow the sail, unship the mast:
I wooed you long but my wooing's past;
My paddle will lull you into rest.
O! drowsy wind of the drowsy west,
By your mountain steep,
Or down where the prairie grasses sweep!
Now fold in slumber your laggard wings,
For soft is the song my paddle sings.
August is laughing across the sky,
Laughing while paddle, canoe and I,
Where the hills uplift
On either side of the current swift.
The river rolls in its rocky bed;
My paddle is plying its way ahead;
While the waters flip
In foam as over their breast we slip.
And oh, the river runs swifter now;
The eddies circle about my bow.
How the ripples curl
In many a dangerous pool awhirl!
And forward far the rapids roar,
Fretting their margin for evermore.
With a mighty crash,
They seethe, and boil, and bound, and splash.
Be strong, O paddle! be brave, canoe!
The reckless waves you must plunge into.
On your trembling keel,
But never a fear my craft will feel.
We've raced the rapid, we're far ahead!
The river slips through its silent bed.
As the bubbles spray
And fall in tinkling tunes away.
And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocking its lullaby,
Its emerald wings,
Swelling the song that my paddle sings.
Night 'neath the northern skies, lone, black, and grim:
Naught but the starlight lies 'twixt heaven, and him.
Of man no need has he, of God, no prayer;
He and his Deity are brothers there.
Above his bivouac the firs fling down
Through branches gaunt and black, their needles brown.
Afar some mountain streams, rockbound and fleet,
Sing themselves through his dreams in cadence sweet,
The pine trees whispering, the heron's cry,
The plover's passing wing, his lullaby.
And blinking overhead the white stars keep
Watch o'er his hemlock bed--his sinless sleep.
AT HUSKING TIME
At husking time the tassel fades
To brown above the yellow blades,
Whose rustling sheath enswathes the corn
That bursts its chrysalis in scorn
Longer to lie in prison shades.
Among the merry lads and maids
The creaking ox-cart slowly wades
Twixt stalks and stubble, sacked and torn
At husking time.
The prying pilot crow persuades
The flock to join in thieving raids;
The sly racoon with craft inborn
His portion steals; from plenty's horn
His pouch the saucy chipmunk lades
At husking time.
Across the street, an humble woman lives;
To her 'tis little fortune ever gives;
Denied the wines of life, it puzzles me
To know how she can laugh so cheerily.
This morn I listened to her softly sing,
And, marvelling what this effect could bring
I looked: 'twas but the presence of a child
Who passed her gate, and looking in, had smiled.
But self-encrusted, I had failed to see
The child had also looked and laughed to me.
My lowly neighbour thought the smile God-sent,
And singing, through the toilsome hours she went.
O! weary singer, I have learned the wrong
Of taking gifts, and giving naught of song;
I thought my blessings scant, my mercies few,
Till I contrasted them with yours, and you;
To-day I counted much, yet wished it more--
While but a child's bright smile was all your store,
If I had thought of all the stormy days,
That fill some lives that tread less favoured ways,
How little sunshine through their shadows gleamed,
My own dull life had much the brighter seemed;
If I had thought of all the eyes that weep
Through desolation, and still smiling keep,
That see so little pleasure, so much woe,
My own had laughed more often long ago;
If I had thought how leaden was the weight
Adversity lays at my kinsman's gate,
Of that great cross my next door neighbour bears,
My thanks had been more frequent in my prayers;
If I had watched the woman o'er the way,
Workworn and old, who labours day by day,
Who has no rest, no joy to call her own,
My tasks, my heart, had much the lighter grown.
April 1, 1888
Lent gathers up her cloak of sombre shading
In her reluctant hands.
Her beauty heightens, fairest in its fading,
As pensively she stands
Awaiting Easter's benediction falling,
Like silver stars at night,
Before she can obey the summons calling
Her to her upward flight,
Awaiting Easter's wings that she must borrow
Ere she can hope to fly--
Those glorious wings that we shall see to-morrow
Against the far, blue sky.
Has not the purple of her vesture's lining
Brought calm and rest to all?
Has her dark robe had naught of golden shining
Been naught but pleasure's pall?
Who knows? Perhaps when to the world returning
In youth's light joyousness,
We'll wear some rarer jewels we found burning
In Lent's black-bordered dress.
So hand in hand with fitful March she lingers
To beg the crowning grace
Of lifting with her pure and holy fingers
The veil from April's face.
Sweet, rosy April--laughing, sighing, waiting
Until the gateway swings,
And she and Lent can kiss between the grating
Of Easter's tissue wings.
Too brief the bliss--the parting comes with sorrow.
Good-bye dear Lent, good-bye!
We'll watch your fading wings outlined to-morrow
Against the far blue sky.
A dash of yellow sand,
Wind-scattered and sun-tanned;
Some waves that curl and cream along the margin of the strand;
And, creeping close to these
Long shores that lounge at ease,
Old Erie rocks and ripples to a fresh sou'-western breeze.
A sky of blue and grey;
Some stormy clouds that play
At scurrying up with ragged edge, then laughing blow away,
Just leaving in their trail
Some snatches of a gale;
To whistling summer winds we lift a single daring sail.
O! wind so sweet and swift,
O! danger-freighted gift
Bestowed on Erie with her waves that foam and fall and lift,
We laugh in your wild face,
And break into a race
With flying clouds and tossing gulls that weave and interlace.
THE FLIGHT OF THE CROWS
The autumn afternoon is dying o'er
The quiet western valley where I lie
Beneath the maples on the river shore,
Where tinted leaves, blue waters and fair sky
Environ all; and far above some birds are flying by
To seek their evening haven in the breast
And calm embrace of silence, while they sing
Te Deums to the night, invoking rest
For busy chirping voice and tired wing--
And in the hush of sleeping trees their sleeping cradles swing.
In forest arms the night will soonest creep,
Where sombre pines a lullaby intone,
Where Nature's children curl themselves to sleep,
And all is still at last, save where alone
A band of black, belated crows arrive from lands unknown.
Strange sojourn has been theirs since waking day,
Strange sights and cities in their wanderings blend
With fields of yellow maize, and leagues away
With rivers where their sweeping waters wend
Past velvet banks to rocky shores, in canyons bold to end.
O'er what vast lakes that stretch superbly dead,
Till lashed to life by storm-clouds, have they flown?
In what wild lands, in laggard flight have led
Their aerial career unseen, unknown,
'Till now with twilight come their cries in lonely monotone?
The flapping of their pinions in the air
Dies in the hush of distance, while they light
Within the fir tops, weirdly black and bare,
That stand with giant strength and peerless height,
To shelter fairy, bird and beast throughout the closing night.
Strange black and princely pirates of the skies,
Would that your wind-tossed travels I could know!
Would that my soul could see, and, seeing, rise
To unrestricted life where ebb and flow
Of Nature's pulse would constitute a wider life below!
Could I but live just here in Freedom's arms,
A kingly life without a sovereign's care!
Vain dreams! Day hides with closing wings her charms,
And all is cradled in repose, save where
Yon band of black, belated crows still frets the evening air.
Idles the night wind through the dreaming firs,
That waking murmur low,
As some lost melody returning stirs
The love of long ago;
And through the far, cool distance, zephyr fanned.
The moon is sinking into shadow-land.
The troubled night-bird, calling plaintively,
Wanders on restless wing;
The cedars, chanting vespers to the sea,
Await its answering,
That comes in wash of waves along the strand,
The while the moon slips into shadow-land.
O! soft responsive voices of the night
I join your minstrelsy,
And call across the fading silver light
As something calls to me;
I may not all your meaning understand,
But I have touched your soul in shadow-land.
A thin wet sky, that yellows at the rim,
And meets with sun-lost lip the marsh's brim.
The pools low lying, dank with moss and mould,
Glint through their mildews like large cups of gold.
Among the wild rice in the still lagoon,
In monotone the lizard shrills his tune.
The wild goose, homing, seeks a sheltering,
Where rushes grow, and oozing lichens cling.
Late cranes with heavy wing, and lazy flight,
Sail up the silence with the nearing night.
And like a spirit, swathed in some soft veil,
Steals twilight and its shadows o'er the swale.
Hushed lie the sedges, and the vapours creep,
Thick, grey and humid, while the marshes sleep.
A meadow brown; across the yonder edge
A zigzag fence is ambling; here a wedge
Of underbush has cleft its course in twain,
Till where beyond it staggers up again;
The long, grey rails stretch in a broken line
Their ragged length of rough, split forest pine,
And in their zigzag tottering have reeled
In drunken efforts to enclose the field,
Which carries on its breast, September born,
A patch of rustling, yellow, Indian corn.
Beyond its shrivelled tassels, perched upon
The topmost rail, sits Joe, the settler's son,
A little semi-savage boy of nine.
Now dozing in the warmth of Nature's wine,
His face the sun has tampered with, and wrought,
By heated kisses, mischief, and has brought
Some vagrant freckles, while from here and there
A few wild locks of vagabond brown hair
Escape the old straw hat the sun looks through,
And blinks to meet his Irish eyes of blue.
Barefooted, innocent of coat or vest,
His grey checked shirt unbuttoned at his chest,
Both hardy hands within their usual nest--
His breeches pockets--so, he waits to rest
His little fingers, somewhat tired and worn,
That all day long were husking Indian corn.
His drowsy lids snap at some trivial sound,
With lazy yawns he slips towards the ground,
Then with an idle whistle lifts his load
And shambles home along the country road
That stretches on, fringed out with stumps and weeds,
And finally unto the backwoods leads,
Where forests wait with giant trunk and bough
The axe of pioneer, the settler's plough.
A stream of tender gladness,
Of filmy sun, and opal tinted skies;
Of warm midsummer air that lightly lies
In mystic rings,
Where softly swings
The music of a thousand wings
That almost tones to sadness.
Midway 'twixt earth and heaven,
A bubble in the pearly air, I seem
To float upon the sapphire floor, a dream
Of clouds of snow,
Drift with my drifting, dim and slow,
As twilight drifts to even.
The little fern-leaf, bending
Upon the brink, its green reflection greets,
And kisses soft the shadow that it meets
With touch so fine,
The border line
The keenest vision can't define;
So perfect is the blending.
The far, fir trees that cover
The brownish hills with needles green and gold,
The arching elms o'erhead, vinegrown and old,
Beneath me far,
Where not a ripple moves to mar
Shades underneath, or over.
Mine is the undertone;
The beauty, strength, and power of the land
Will never stir or bend at my command;
But all the shade
Is marred or made,
If I but dip my paddle blade;
And it is mine alone.
O! pathless world of seeming!
O! pathless life of mine whose deep ideal
Is more my own than ever was the real.
For others Fame
And Love's red flame,
And yellow gold: I only claim
The shadows and the dreaming.
From out the west, where darkling storm-clouds float,
The 'waking wind pipes soft its rising note.
From out the west, o'erhung with fringes grey,
The wind preludes with sighs its roundelay,
Then blowing, singing, piping, laughing loud,
It scurries on before the grey storm-cloud;
Across the hollow and along the hill
It whips and whirls among the maples, till
With boughs upbent, and green of leaves blown wide,
The silver shines upon their underside.
A gusty freshening of humid air,
With showers laden, and with fragrance rare;
And now a little sprinkle, with a dash
Of great cool drops that fall with sudden splash;
Then over field and hollow, grass and grain,
The loud, crisp whiteness of the nearing rain.
Lichens of green and grey on every side;
And green and grey the rocks beneath our feet;
Above our heads the canvas stretching wide;
And over all, enchantment rare and sweet.
Fair Rosseau slumbers in an atmosphere
That kisses her to passionless soft dreams.
O! joy of living we have found thee here,
And life lacks nothing, so complete it seems.
The velvet air, stirred by some elfin wings,
Comes swinging up the waters and then stills
Its voice so low that floating by it sings
Like distant harps among the distant hills.
Across the lake the rugged islands lie,
Fir-crowned and grim; and further in the view
Some shadows seeming swung 'twixt cloud and sky,
Are countless shores, a symphony of blue.
Some northern sorceress, when day is done,
Hovers where cliffs uplift their gaunt grey steeps,
Bewitching to vermilion Rosseau's sun,
That in a liquid mass of rubies sleeps.
The scent of burning leaves, the camp-fire's blaze,
The great logs cracking in the brilliant flame,
The groups grotesque, on which the firelight plays,
Are pictures which Muskoka twilights frame.
And Night, star-crested, wanders up the mere
With opiates for idleness to quaff,
And while she ministers, far off I hear
The owl's uncanny cry, the wild loon's laugh.
THE BIRDS' LULLABY
Sing to us, cedars; the twilight is creeping
With shadowy garments, the wilderness through;
All day we have carolled, and now would be sleeping,
So echo the anthems we warbled to you;
While we swing, swing,
And your branches sing,
And we drowse to your dreamy whispering.
Sing to us, cedars; the night-wind is sighing,
Is wooing, is pleading, to hear you reply;
And here in your arms we are restfully lying,
And longing to dream to your soft lullaby;
While we swing, swing,
And your branches sing,
And we drowse to your dreamy whispering.
Sing to us, cedars; your voice is so lowly,
Your breathing so fragrant, your branches so strong;
Our little nest-cradles are swaying so slowly,
While zephyrs are breathing their slumberous song.
And we swing, swing,
While your branches sing,
And we drowse to your dreamy whispering.
Sleep, with her tender balm, her touch so kind,
Has passed me by;
Afar I see her vesture, velvet-lined,
O! Sleep, my tired eyes had need of thee!
Is thy sweet kiss not meant to-night for me?
Peace, with the blessings that I longed for so,
Has passed me by;
Where'er she folds her holy wings I know
All tempests die;
O! Peace, my tired soul had need of thee!
Is thy sweet kiss denied alone to me?
Love, with her heated touches, passion-stirred,
Has passed me by.
I called, "O stay thy flight," but all unheard
My lonely cry:
O! Love, my tired heart had need of thee!
Is thy sweet kiss withheld alone from me?
Sleep, sister-twin of Peace, my waking eyes
So weary grow!
O! Love, thou wanderer from Paradise,
Dost thou not know
How oft my lonely heart has cried to thee?
But Thou, and Sleep, and Peace, come not to me.
'Tis morning now, yet silently I stand,
Uplift the curtain with a weary hand,
Look out while darkness overspreads the way,
And long for day.
Calm peace is frighted with my mood to-night,
Nor visits my dull chamber with her light,
To guide my senses into her sweet rest
And leave me blest.
Long hours since the city rocked and sung
Itself to slumber: only the stars swung
Aloft their torches in the midnight skies
With watchful eyes.
No sound awakes; I, even, breathe no sigh,
Nor hear a single footstep passing by;
Yet I am not alone, for now I feel
A presence steal
Within my chamber walls; I turn to see
The sweetest guest that courts humanity;
With subtle, slow enchantment draws she near,
And Sleep is here.
What care I for the olive branch of Peace?
Kind Sleep will bring a thrice-distilled release,
Nepenthes, that alone her mystic hand
And so she bends, this welcome sorceress,
To crown my fasting with her light caress.
Ah, sure my pain will vanish at the bliss
Of her warm kiss.
But still my duty lies in self-denial;
I must refuse sweet Sleep, although the trial
Will reawaken all my depth of pain.
So once again
I lift the curtain with a weary hand,
With more than sorrow, silently I stand,
Look out while darkness overspreads the way,
And long for day.
"Go, Sleep," I say, "before the darkness die,
To one who needs you even more than I,
For I can bear my part alone, but he
Has need of thee.
"His poor tired eyes in vain have sought relief,
His heart more tired still, with all its grief;
His pain is deep, while mine is vague and dim,
Go thou to him.
"When thou hast fanned him with thy drowsy wings,
And laid thy lips upon the pulsing strings
That in his soul with fret and fever burn,
To me return."
She goes. The air within the quiet street
Reverberates to the passing of her feet;
I watch her take her passage through the gloom
To your dear home.
Beloved, would you knew how sweet to me
Is this denial, and how fervently
I pray that Sleep may lift you to her breast,
And give you rest--
A privilege that she alone can claim.
Would that my heart could comfort you the same,
But in the censer Sleep is swinging high,
All sorrows die.
She comes not back, yet all my miseries
Wane at the thought of your calm sleeping eyes--
Wane, as I hear the early matin bell
The dawn foretell.
And so, dear heart, still silently I stand,
Uplift the curtain with a weary hand,
The long, long night has bitter been and lone,
But now 'tis gone.
Dawn lights her candles in the East once more,
And darkness flees her chariot before;
The Lenten morning breaks with holy ray,
And it is day!
I may not go to-night to Bethlehem,
Nor follow star-directed ways, nor tread
The paths wherein the shepherds walked, that led
To Christ, and peace, and God's good will to men.
I may not hear the Herald Angel's song
Peal through the Oriental skies, nor see
The wonder of that Heavenly company
Announce the King the world had waited long.
The manger throne I may not kneel before,
Or see how man to God is reconciled,
Through pure St. Mary's purer, holier child;
The human Christ these eyes may not adore.
I may not carry frankincense and myrrh
With adoration to the Holy One;
Nor gold have I to give the Perfect Son,
To be with those wise kings a worshipper.
Not mine the joy that Heaven sent to them,
For ages since Time swung and locked his gates,
But I may kneel without--the star still waits
To guide me on to holy Bethlehem.
So near at hand (our eyes o'erlooked its nearness
In search of distant things)
A dear dream lay--perchance to grow in dearness
Had we but felt its wings
Astir. The air our very breathing fanned
It was so near at hand.
Once, many days ago, we almost held it,
The love we so desired;
But our shut eyes saw not, and fate dispelled it
Before our pulses fired
To flame, and errant fortune bade us stand
Hand almost touching hand.
I sometimes think had we two been discerning,
The by-path hid away
From others' eyes had then revealed its turning
To us, nor led astray
Our footsteps, guiding us into love's land
That lay so near at hand.
So near at hand, dear heart, could we have known it!
Throughout those dreamy hours,
Had either loved, or loving had we shown it,
Response had sure been ours;
We did not know that heart could heart command,
And love so near at hand!
What then availed the red wine's subtle glisten?
We passed it blindly by,
And now what profit that we wait and listen
Each for the other's heart beat? Ah! the cry
Of love o'erlooked still lingers, you and I
Sought heaven afar, we did not understand
'Twas--once so near at hand.
The sun's red pulses beat,
Full prodigal of heat,
Full lavish of its lustre unrepressed;
But we have drifted far
From where his kisses are,
And in this landward-lying shade we let our paddles rest.
The river, deep and still,
The maple-mantled hill,
The little yellow beach whereon we lie,
The puffs of heated breeze,
All sweetly whisper--These
Are days that only come in a Canadian July.
So, silently we two
Lounge in our still canoe,
Nor fate, nor fortune matters to us now:
So long as we alone
May call this dream our own,
The breeze may die, the sail may droop, we care not when or how.
Against the thwart, near by,
Inactively you lie,
And all too near my arm your temple bends.
Your indolently crude,
Is one of ease and art, in which a perfect languor blends.
Your costume, loose and light,
Leaves unconcealed your might
Of muscle, half suspected, half defined;
And falling well aside,
Your vesture opens wide,
Above your splendid sunburnt throat that pulses unconfined.
With easy unreserve,
Across the gunwale's curve,
Your arm superb is lying, brown and bare;
Your hand just touches mine
With import firm and fine,
(I kiss the very wind that blows about your tumbled hair).
Ah! Dear, I am unwise
In echoing your eyes
Whene'er they leave their far-off gaze, and turn
To melt and blur my sight;
For every other light
Is servile to your cloud-grey eyes, wherein cloud shadows burn.
But once the silence breaks,
But once your ardour wakes
To words that humanize this lotus-land;
So perfect and complete
Those burning words and sweet,
So perfect is the single kiss your lips lay on my hand.
The paddles lie disused,
The fitful breeze abused,
Has dropped to slumber, with no after-blow;
And hearts will pay the cost,
For you and I have lost
More than the homeward blowing wind that died an hour ago.
To-night the west o'er-brims with warmest dyes;
Its chalice overflows
With pools of purple colouring the skies,
Aflood with gold and rose;
And some hot soul seems throbbing close to mine,
As sinks the sun within that world of wine.
I seem to hear a bar of music float
And swoon into the west;
My ear can scarcely catch the whispered note,
But something in my breast
Blends with that strain, till both accord in one,
As cloud and colour blend at set of sun.