The Last Waltz

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 90th birthday.

Alden Nowlan
Canadian
1933 – 1983

 

The orchestra playing
the last waltz
at three o’clock
in the morning
in the Knights of Pythias Hall
in Hartland, New Brunswick,
Canada, North America,
world, solar system,
centre of the universe—

and all of us drunk,
swaying together
to the music of rum

and a sad clarinet:

comrades all,
each with his beloved.

The Winter Lakes

We present this work in honor of the 105th anniversary of the poet’s death.

William Wilfrid Campbell
Canadian
1858 – 1918

 

Out in a world of death far to the northward lying,
Under the sun and the moon, under the dusk and the day;
Under the glimmer of stars and the purple of sunsets dying,
Wan and waste and white, stretch the great lakes away.

Never a bud of spring, never a laugh of summer,
Never a dream of love, never a song of bird;
But only the silence and white, the shores that grow chiller and dumber,
Wherever the ice winds sob, and the griefs of winter are heard.

Crags that are black and wet out of the grey lake looming,
Under the sunset’s flush and the pallid, faint glimmer of dawn;
Shadowy, ghost-like shores, where midnight surfs are booming
Thunders of wintry woe over the spaces wan.

Lands that loom like spectres, whited regions of winter,
Wastes of desolate woods, deserts of water and shore;
A world of winter and death, within these regions who enter,
Lost to summer and life, go to return no more.

Moons that glimmer above, waters that lie white under,
Miles and miles of lake far out under the night;
Foaming crests of waves, surfs that shoreward thunder,
Shadowy shapes that flee, haunting the spaces white.

Lonely hidden bays, moon-lit, ice-rimmed, winding,
Fringed by forests and crags, haunted by shadowy shores;
Hushed from the outward strife, where the mighty surf is grinding
Death and hate on the rocks, as sandward and landward it roars.

Angelus

We present this work in honor of the 75th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Duncan Campbell Scott
Canadian
1862 – 1947

 

A deep bell that links the downs
To the drowsy air;
Every loop of sound that swoons,
Finds a circle fair,
Whereon it doth rest and fade;
Every stroke that dins is laid
Like a node,
Spinning out the quivering, fine,
Vibrant tendrils of a vine:
(Bim – bim – bim.)
How they wreathe and run,
Silvern as a filmy light,
Filtered from the sun:
The god of sound is out of sight,
And the bell is like a cloud,
Humming to the outer rim,
Low and loud:
(Bim – bim – bim.)
Throwing down the tempered lull,
Fragile, beautiful:
Married drones and overtones,
How we fancy them to swim,
Spreading into shapes that shine,
With the aura of the metals,
Prisoned in the bell,
Fulvous tinted as a shell,
Dreamy, dim,
Deep in amber hyaline:
(Bim – bim – bim.)

Penance

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 150th birthday.

John McCrae
Canadian
1872 – 1918

 

My lover died a century ago,
Her dear heart stricken by my sland’rous breath,
Wherefore the Gods forbade that I should know
The peace of death.

Men pass my grave, and say, “‘Twere well to sleep,
Like such an one, amid the uncaring dead!”
How should they know the vigil that I keep,
The tears I shed?

Upon the grave, I count with lifeless breath,
Each night, each year, the flowers that bloom and die,
Deeming the leaves, that fall to dreamless death,
More blest than I.

‘Twas just last year—I heard two lovers pass
So near, I caught the tender words he said:
To-night the rain-drenched breezes sway the grass
Above his head.

That night full envious of his life was I,
That youth and love should stand at his behest;
To-night, I envy him, that he should lie
At utter rest.

Heat

Archibald Lampman
Canadian
1861 – 1899

 

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.

Loyal

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

Sarah Anne Curzon
Canadian
1833 – 1898

 

O Ye, who with your blood and sweat
Watered the furrows of this land,—
See where upon a nation’s brow
In honour’s front, ye proudly stand!

Who for her pride abased your own,
And gladly on her altar laid
All bounty of the older world,
All memories that your glory made.

And to her service bowed your strength,
Took labour for your shield and crest;
See where upon a nation’s brow
Her diadem, ye proudly test!

The Plains of Abraham

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 200th birthday.

Charles Sangster
Canadian
1822 – 1893

 

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.

Isaac’s Dream

06-24 Rosernfarb
Chava Rosenfarb
Canadian
1923 – 2011

 

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.”

Helen Betty Osborne

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

06-21 Dumont
Marilyn Dumont
Canadian
b. 1955

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’

Betty, if I write this poem.

Dreams

We present this work in honor of the 115th anniversary of the poet’s death.

04-06 Drummond
William Henry Drummond
Canadian
1854 – 1907

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.