Stone Breaking

In honor of Civic Day, we present this work by a noteworthy Canadian civil servant.

Duncan Campbell Scott
Canadian
1862 – 1947

 

March wind rough
Clashed the trees,
Flung the snow;
Breaking stones,
In the cold,
Germans slow
Toiled and toiled;
Arrowy sun
Glanced and sprang,
One right blithe
German sang:
Songs of home,
Fatherland:
Syenite hard,
Weary lot,
Callous hand,
All forgot:
Hammers pound,
Ringing round;
Rise the heaps,
To his voice,
Bounds and leaps
Toise on toise:
Toil is long,
But dear God
Gives us song,
At the end
Gives us test,
Toil is best.

Le Canada

We present this work in honor of Canada Day.

Octave Crémazie
Canadian
1827 – 1879

 

There is a blessed land under the sun,
Where heaven has poured out its brightest gifts,
Where, responding to its goods, enlarged nature
With its vast forests mingles its giant lakes.

On these enchanted edges, our mother, France,
Has left of its glory an immortal furrow,
Precipitating its waves towards the immense ocean,
The noble Saint-Laurent repeats its name again.

Happy who knows it, happier who lives in it,
And never leaving to seek other heavens
The banks of the great river where happiness invites him,
Knows how to live and knows how to die where his ancestors sleep.

Illumined

We present this work in honor of the Canadian holiday, Discovery Day.

Tom MacInnes
Canadian
1867 – 1951

 

I woke in the Land of Night,
With a dream of Day at my heart;
Its golden outlines vanished,
But its charm would not depart;
Like music still remaining,
But its meaning–no man can say
In the Land of Night where they know not
Of Day, nor the things of Day.

I dwelt in the chiefest city
Of all the Land of Night;
Where the fires burn ever brighter
That give the people light;
Where the sky above is darkened,
And never a star is seen,
And they think it but children’s fancy
That ever a star hath been.

But out from that city early
I fled by a doubtful way;
And faltering oft and lonely
I sought my dream of Day;
Till I came at last to a Mountain
That rose exceeding high,
And I thought I saw on its summit
A glint as of dawn from the sky.

‘Twas midway on that Mountain
That I found an altar-stone,
Deep-cut with runes forgotten,
And symbols little known;
And scarce could I read the meaning
Of the legends carven there,
But I lay me out on that altar,
Breathing an ancient prayer:

‘By the God of the timeless Sky,
O Saint of the Altar, say
What gift hast thou for me?
For I have dreamed of Day:
But I seek nor gift nor power,
I pray for naught but light;
And only for light to lead me
Out of the Land of Night!’

Long I lay on that altar,
Up-gazing fearfully
Through the awful cold and darkness
That now encompassed me;
Till it seemed as I were lying drowned
Under a lifeless sea.

There shone as a pale blue Star,
Intangible–serene–
And I saw a spark from it fall
As it were a crystal keen;
And it flashed as it fell and pierced
My temples white and cold;
Then round that altar-stone once more
The awful darkness rolled.

But there was light on my brow,
And a calm that steeled me through,
And I was strong with a strength
That never before I knew;
With a strength for the trackless heights,
And scorn of the world below–
But I rose not up from that altar-stone,
I would not leave it so.

‘O Saint of the Altar, say
How may this light redeem?
For though on my brow like a jewel
Its Star hath left a gleam,
O Saint, ‘tis a light too cold and cruel
To be the light of my dream!’

Anon ‘twas a crimson Star
That over the Altar shone,
And there sank as a rose of flame
To my heart ere the Star was gone;
And out from the flames thereof
A subtle fragrance then
Went stealing down the mountain-side
O’er the lowly ways of men.

The Star was gone, but it brought
To light in its crimson glow
The lovely things forgotten
I dreamed of long ago;
And gladly then I had given
My life to all below;
Yet I rose not up from the altar-stone,
I would not leave it so.

And at last was a golden Star;
But I scarce know how nor where;
For it melted all around me,
And the other Stars were there;
And all in one blissful moment
The light of Day had come;
Then I reeled away from that altar-stone,
Old, and blind, and dumb.

I dwell again in the city,
I seek no more for light;
But I go on a mission of silence
To those who would leave the Night;
And for this–and this thing only,
Through the evil streets I stray;
I who am free to the timeless Sky
Illumined forever with Day.

War

We present this work in honor of the Canadian holiday, National Aboriginal Day.

Lee Maracle
Canadian
b. 1950

 

In my body flows the blood of Gallic
Bastille stormers and the soft, gentle
ways of Salish/Cree womanhood.

Deep throated base tones dissipate,
swallowed by the earth; uproarious
laughter sears, mutilates my voice.

Child of the earth-tear of west
coast rain; dew drop sparkling in
the crisp, clear sun of my home.

Warm woman of the Mediterranean sunscape,
bleaching rough cotton-sweatshop
anniversary.

Thunderous, rude earthquakes that
split my spirit within. Tiny grapes
of wine console me.

Can I deny a heritage blackened by
the toil of billions, conceived in
rape, plunder and butchery?

In the veins, that fight to root themselves
in the wondrous breadth of my
homeland, races the blood of base
humanity.

European thief; liar, bloodsucker.
I deny you not. I fear you not. Your
reality and mine no longer rankles me.

I am moved by my love for human life;
by the firm conviction that all the world
must stop the butchery, stop the slaughter.

I am moved by my scars, by my own filth
to re-write history with my body
to shed the blood of those who betray themselves

To life, world humanity I ascribe
To my people… my history… I address
my vision.

As the Heart Hopes

Lucy Maud Montgomery
Canadian
1874 – 1942

 

It is a year dear one, since you afar
Went out beyond my yearning mortal sight¬
A wondrous year! perchance in many a star
You have sojourned, or basked within the light
Of mightier suns; it may be you have trod
The glittering pathways of the Pleiades,
And through the Milky Way’s white mysteries
Have walked at will, fire-shod.

You may have gazed in the immortal eyes
Of prophets and of martyrs; talked with seers
Learned in all the lore of Paradise,
The infinite wisdom of eternal years;
To you the Sons of Morning may have sung,
The impassioned strophes of their matin hymn,
For you the choirs of the seraphim
Their harpings wild out-flung.

But still I think at eve you come to me
For old, delightsome speech of eye and lip,
Deeming our mutual converse thus to be
Fairer than archangelic comradeship;
Dearer our close communings fondly given
Than all the rainbow dreams a spirit knows,
Sweeter my gathered violets than the rose
Upon the hills of heaven.

Can any exquisite, unearthly morn,
Silverly breaking o’er a starry plain,
Give to your soul the poignant pleasure born
Of virgin moon and sunset’s lustrous stain
When we together watch them ? Oh, apart
A hundred universes you may roam,
But still I know¬I know¬your only home
Is here within my heart!

After Rain

We present this work in honor of the 10th anniversary of the author’s death.

P.K. Page
Canadian
1916 – 2010

 

The snails have made a garden of green lace:
broderie anglaise from the cabbages,
chantilly from the choux-fleurs, tiny veils-
I see already that I lift the blind
upon a woman’s wardrobe of the mind.

Such female whimsy floats about me like
a kind of tulle, a flimsy mesh,
while feet in gumboots pace the rectangles-
garden abstracted, geometry awash-
an unknown theorem argued in green ink,
dropped in the bath.
Euclid in glorious chlorophyll, half drunk.

I none too sober slipping in the mud
where rigged with guys of rain
the clothes-reel gauche
as the rangy skeleton of some
gaunt delicate spidery mute
is pitched as if
listening;
while hung from one thin rib
a silver web-
its infant, skeletal, diminutive,
now sagged with sequins, pulled ellipsoid,
glistening.

I suffer shame in all these images.
The garden is primeval, Giovanni
in soggy denim squelches by my hub,
over his ruin
shakes a doleful head.
But he so beautiful and diademed,
his long Italian hands so wrung with rain
I find his ache exists beyond my rim
and almost weep to see a broken man
made subject to my whim.

O choir him, birds, and let him come to rest
within this beauty as one rests in love,
till pears upon the bough
encrusted with
small snails as pale as pearls
hang golden in
a heart that know tears are a part of love.

And choir me too to keep my heart a size
larger than seeing, unseduced by each
bright glimpse of beauty striking like a bell,
so that the whole may toll,
its meaning shine
clear of the myriad images that still-
do what I will-encumber its pure line.

Questions

Al Purdy
Canadian
1918 – 2000

 

What shall we say to Death
you and I
when time is short and breath
scant for you and I?

How can I answer Yes or No
my dear my dear
when we’re far away from the cold
but near to each other here?

But what shall we say to Death
when it comes night comes
there is no cheating it unless
we’re blind and deaf and dumb?

What shall we say to Death
with Yes defeated by No
there’s only the winter of loving left
only the snow?

I have no answer to give you
my dear my dear
only that I was always with you
and I am still here

Dark Pines Under Water

Gwendolyn MacEwen
Canadian
1941 – 1987

 

This land like a mirror turns you inward
And you become a forest in a furtive lake;
The dark pines of your mind reach downward,
You dream in the green of your time,
Your memory is a row of sinking pines.

Explorer, you tell yourself, this is not what you came for
Although it is good here, and green;
You had meant to move with a kind of largeness,
You had planned a heavy grace, an anguished dream.

But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
In an elementary world;
There is something down there and you want it told.

The Cattle Thief

E. Pauline Johnson
Canadian
1861 – 1913

 

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 encampment lay,
Where the cotton woods fringed the river, miles and miles away.
Mistake him? Never! Mistake him? the famous Eagle Chief!
That terror to all the settlers, that desperate Cattle Thief—
That monstrous, fearless Indian, who lorded it over the plain,
Who thieved and raided, and scouted, who rode like a hurricane!
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 blood aflame,
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 Cattle Thief.
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,” said he;
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 triumphant yell,
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 high,
But the first stroke was arrested by a woman’s strange, wild cry.
And out into the open, with a courage past belief,
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 understood,
Raved of the wrongs she had suffered since her earliest babyhood:
“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 only claim.
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 your race.
What have you left to us of land, what have you left of game,
What have you brought but evil, and curses since you came?
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 understood
Your robbing an Indian’s body, and mocking his soul with food.
Go back with your new religion, and find—if find you can—
The honest man you have ever made from out a starving man.
You say your cattle are not ours, your meat is not our meat;
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.”