From plains that reel to southward, dim, The road runs by me white and bare; Up the steep hill it seems to swim Beyond, and melt into the glare. Upward half-way, or it may be Nearer the summit, slowly steals A hay-cart, moving dustily With idly clacking wheels. By his cart’s side the wagoner Is slouching slowly at his ease, Half-hidden in the windless blur Of white dust puffiing to his knees. This wagon on the height above, From sky to sky on either hand, Is the sole thing that seems to move In all the heat-held land.
Beyond me in the fields the sun Soaks in the grass and hath his will; I count the marguerites one by one; Even the buttercups are still. On the brook yonder not a breath Disturbs the spider or the midge. The water-bugs draw close beneath The cool gloom of the bridge.
Where the far elm-tree shadows flood Dark patches in the burning grass, The cows, each with her peaceful cud, Lie waiting for the heat to pass. From somewhere on the slope near by Into the pale depth of the noon A wandering thrush slides leisurely His thin revolving tune.
In intervals of dreams I hear The cricket from the droughty ground; The grasshoppers spin into mine ear A small innumerable sound. I lift mine eyes sometimes to gaze: The burning sky-line blinds my sight: The woods far off are blue with haze: The hills are drenched in light.
And yet to me not this or that Is always sharp or always sweet; In the sloped shadow of my hat I lean at rest, and drain the heat; Nay more, I think some blessèd power Hath brought me wandering idly here: In the full furnace of this hour My thoughts grow keen and clear.
We present this work in honor of the poet’s 200th birthday.
I stood upon the Plain, That had trembled when the slain, Hurled their proud defiant curses at the battle-hearted foe, When the steed dashed right and left Through the bloody gaps he cleft, When the bridle-rein was broken, and the rider was laid low.
What busy feet had trod Upon the very sod Where I marshalled the battalions of my fancy to my aid! And I saw the combat dire, Heard the quick, incessant fire, And the cannons’ echoes startling the reverberating glade.
I saw them one and all, The banners of the Gaul In the thickest of the contest, round the resolute Montcalm; The well-attended Wolfe, Emerging from the gulf Of the battle’s fiery furnace, like the swelling of a psalm.
I head the chorus dire, That jarred along the lyre On which the hymn of battle rung, like surgings of the wave When the storm, at blackest night,
Wakes the ocean in affright, As it shouts its mighty pibroch o’er some shipwrecked vessel’s grave.
I saw the broad claymore Flash from its scabbard, o’er The ranks that quailed and shuddered at the close and fierce attack; When Victory gave the word, Then Scotland drew the sword, And with arm that never faltered drove the brave defenders back.
I saw two great chiefs die, Their last breaths like the sigh Of the zepher-sprite that wantons on the rosy lips of morn; No envy-poisoned darts, No rancour in their hearts, To unfit them for their triumph over death’s impending scorn.
And as I thought and gazed, My soul, exultant, praised The Power to whom each mighty act and victory are due, For the saint-like Peace that smiled Like a heaven-gifted child, And for the air of quietude that steeped the distant view.
The sun looked down with pride, And scattered far and wide His beams of whitest glory till they flooded all the Plain; The hills their veils withdrew, Of white, and purplish blue, And reposed all green and smiling ‘neath the shower of golden rain.
Oh, rare, divinest life Of Peace, compared with Strife! Yours is the truest splendour, and the most enduring fame; All the glory ever reaped Where the fiends of battle leaped, Is harsh discord to the music of your undertoned acclaim.
As I was standing, all set for my exile, Doom staring at me from the road’s blinding end, The door, like a book’s heavy cover, opened, To bring forth a guest from the biblical land.
His body, half naked, a knife in his loincloth, In sheep-leather sandals his tanned, bronze-like feet, A bundle of firewood upon his shoulder— He said, with a smile very boyish and sweet:
“Good morning, my girl; remember me, dearest? You’ve waited for me so long—not in vain. I’m Isaac, your bridegroom, ordained by the Heavens … Through ages I’ve wandered to you, till I came.
Take off your dress. A sheet of plain linen Is sufficient to drape round your navel and hips. Undo your braids and let’s hurry, my sweetheart, Your hand clasped in mine and a chant on our lips.
Thus will l lead you beyond the horizon, Between north and south, through the west—to the east, Until we will reach Mount Moriah, my dearest, There to be married, to rejoice and to feast.
So come, let us hurry, the distance is calling. Pray, why do you shiver with anguish and cry? You’re asking why all that wood on my shoulder, The glittering knife on my hip—you ask why.
Then turn your soul to my soul, my beloved. Read your fate in my fate, while I explain: Out of the wood I will construct an altar And with love all redeeming set it aflame.
And the knife, my bride, I will file to its sharpest point Up there, at the peak, on a rough mountain stone. And who will be offered, you ask me?—then listen: The offering, my dearest, shall be you, you alone.
A gift of life to the God of All Being, As Abraham told me, his late-born son: If you trust in love and love wholly trusting, Then fear not, nor waver, dear girl, but come.
Though fire will blaze through the wood of the altar, Flames licking your body, yet you shall see: The knife will fall from my hand, and a miracle Will happen to you, as it happened to me.
The rivers and seas shall sing Hallelujah! The mountain pines, moved, will give praise to all life, While the Voice Divine will, with thunder and lightning, Proclaim me your husband, pronounce you my wife.
So hurry, my girl, the sky is already Spreading its canopy, preparing the rite. Come to the blue sacrificial fire— Your last maiden stroll—to the altar, my bride.”
Thus he spoke. I smiled, then said in a whisper, My eyes not on him, but fixed on the dark night, Where another road was tracing its outlines With the red of my blood, with signals of fright:
“Oh leave me, Isaac, you bronzed, sunny man. This road is not yours, not mine is your day. I head for those places you never have dreamed of, Where altars do smolder with their unwilling prey.”
As I spoke a gale swept towards my threshold. The tempest took hold of my hearth and my house, Whistling through streets, through the yards of the ghetto, Hissing with rage: “Juden raus! Juden raus!”
Thus I stepped forward with Abraham, my father, Who wrapped his arm round me as if with a shawl, While delicate Isaac, all tremble and flutter, Pressed his tanned sun-kissed frame to the wall.
“You’re frightened, Isaac?” said I. “I’m your nightmare. Awake and you’re back in your undying scroll, Where Rebecca, your true betrothed awaits you, To be taken with joy on her last maiden stroll.
Make haste, return to the Book that shall save thee. Hide yourself in the Bible’s fairytale land. For your God Himself walks with me and my father, Right now, to the altar; with us—to His end.”
We present this work in honor of the Canadian holiday, National Aboriginal Day.
Betty, if I set out to write this poem about you it might turn out instead to be about me or any one of my female relatives it might turn out to be about this young native girl growing up in rural Alberta in a town with fewer Indians than ideas about Indians in a town just south of the ‘Aryan Nations’
It might turn out to be about Anna Mae Aquash, Donald Marshall, or Richard Cardinal, it might even turn out to be about our grandmothers beasts of burden in the fur trade skinning, scraping, pounding, packing left behind for ‘British Standards of Womanhood,’ left for white-melting-skinned women, not bits-of-brown women left here in this wilderness, this colony.
Betty, if I start to write a poem about you it might turn out to be about hunting season instead about ‘open season’ on native women it might turn out to be about your face young and hopeful staring back at me hollow now from a black and white page it might be about the ‘townsfolk’ (gentle word) townsfolk who ‘believed native girls were easy’ and ‘less likely to complain if a sexual proposition led to violence’
We present this work in honor of the 115th anniversary of the poet’s death.
Bord á Plouffe, Bord á Plouffe, W’at do I see w’en I dream of you? A shore w’ere de water is racin’ by, A small boy lookin’, an’ wonderin’ w’y He can’t get fedder for goin’ fly Lak de hawk makin’ ring on de summer sky. Dat ‘s w’at I see.
Bord á Plouffe, Bord á Plouffe, W’at do I hear w’en i dream of you? Too many t’ing for sleepin’ well! De song of de ole tam cariole bell, De voice of dat girl from Sainte Angèle (I geev’ her a ring was mark “fidèle”) Dat ‘s what I hear.
Bord á Plouffe, Bord á Plouffe, W’at do I smoke w’en I dream of you? Havana cigar from across de sea, An’ get dem for not’ing too? No siree! Dere ‘s only wan kin’ of tabac for me. An’ it grow on de Rivière des Prairies- Dat ‘s what I smoke.
Bord á Plouffe, Bord á Plouffe, How go I feel w’en I t’ink of you? Sick, sick for the ole place way back dere- An’ to sleep on ma own leetle room upstair W’ere de ghos’ on de chimley mak’ me scare I ‘d geev’ more monee dan I can spare- Dat ‘s how I feel.
Bord á Plouffe, Bord á Plouffe, W’at will I do w’en I ‘m back wit’ you? I ‘ll buy de farm of Bonhomme Martel, Long tam he ‘s been waitin’ a chance to sell, Den pass de nex’ morning on Sainte Angèle, An’ if she ‘s not marry -dat girl- very well, Dat ‘s w’at I ‘ll do.
We present this work in honor of the poet’s 175th birthday.
My masters twain made me a bed Of pine-boughs resinous, and cedar; Of moss, a soft and gentle breeder Of dreams of rest; and me they spread With furry skins, and laughing said, ‘Now she shall lay her polish’d sides, As queens do rest, or dainty brides, Our slender lady of the tides!’
My masters twain their camp-soul lit, Streamed incense from the hissing cones, Large, crimson flashes grew and whirl’d Thin, golden nerves of sly light curl’d Round the dun camp, and rose faint zones, Half way about each grim bole knit, Like a shy child that would bedeck With its soft clasp a Brave’s red neck; Yet sees the rough shield on his breast, The awful plumes shake on his crest, And fearful drops his timid face, Nor dares complete the sweet embrace.
Into the hollow hearts of brakes, Yet warm from sides of does and stags, Pass’d to the crisp dark river flags; Sinuous, red as copper snakes, Sharp-headed serpents, made of light, Glided and hid themselves in night.
My masters twain, the slaughtered deer Hung on fork’d boughs—with thongs of leather. Bound were his stiff, slim feet together— His eyes like dead stars cold and drear; The wand’ring firelight drew near And laid its wide palm, red and anxious, On the sharp splendor of his branches; On the white foam grown hard and sere On flank and shoulder. Death—hard as breast of granite boulder, And under his lashes Peer’d thro’ his eyes at his life’s grey ashes.
My masters twain sang songs that wove (As they burnish’d hunting blade and rifle) A golden thread with a cobweb trifle— Loud of the chase, and low of love.
‘O Love, art thou a silver fish? Shy of the line and shy of gaffing, Which we do follow, fierce, yet laughing, Casting at thee the light-wing’d wish, And at the last shall we bring thee up From the crystal darkness under the cup Of lily folden, On broad leaves golden?
‘O Love! art thou a silver deer, Swift thy starr’d feet as wing of swallow, While we with rushing arrows follow; And at the last shall we draw near, And over thy velvet neck cast thongs— Woven of roses, of stars, of songs? New chains all moulden Of rare gems olden!’
They hung the slaughter’d fish like swords On saplings slender—like scimitars Bright, and ruddied from new-dead wars, Blaz’d in the light—the scaly hordes.
They piled up boughs beneath the trees, Of cedar-web and green fir tassel; Low did the pointed pine tops rustle, The camp fire blush’d to the tender breeze.
The hounds laid dew-laps on the ground, With needles of pine sweet, soft and rusty— Dream’d of the dead stag stout and lusty; A bat by the red flames wove its round.
The darkness built its wigwam walls Close round the camp, and at its curtain Press’d shapes, thin woven and uncertain, As white locks of tall waterfalls.
We present this work in honor of the poet’s 160th birthday.
The leafless forests slowly yield To the thick-driving snow. A little while And night shall darken down. In shouting file The woodmen’s carts go by me homeward-wheeled, Past the thin fading stubbles, half concealed, Now golden-gray, sowed softly through with snow, Where the last ploughman follows still his row, Turning black furrows through the whitening field. Far off the village lamps begin to gleam, Fast drives the snow, and no man comes this way; The hills grow wintry white, and bleak winds moan About the naked uplands. I alone Am neither sad, nor shelterless, nor gray, Wrapped round with thought, content to watch and dream.