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The Height of Land

Written by: Duncan Campbell Scott | Biography
 Here is the height of land:
The watershed on either hand
Goes down to Hudson Bay
Or Lake Superior;
The stars are up, and far away
The wind sounds in the wood, wearier
Than the long Ojibwa cadence
In which Potàn the Wise
Declares the ills of life
And Chees-que-ne-ne makes a mournful sound
Of acquiescence.
The fires burn low With just sufficient glow To light the flakes of ash that play At being moths, and flutter away To fall in the dark and die as ashes: Here there is peace in the lofty air, And Something comes by flashes Deeper than peace: -- The spruces have retired a little space And left a field of sky in violet shadow With stars like marigolds in a water-meadow.
Now the Indian guides are dead asleep; There is no sound unless the soul can hear The gathering of the waters in their sources.
We have come up through the spreading lakes From level to level, -- Pitching our tents sometimes over a revel Of roses that nodded all night, Dreaming within our dreams, To wake at dawn and find that they were captured With no dew on their leaves; Sometimes mid sheaves Of bracken and dwarf-cornel, and again On a wide blueberry plain Brushed with the shimmer of a bluebird's wing; A rocky islet followed With one lone poplar and a single nest Of white-throat-sparrows that took no rest But sang in dreams or woke to sing, -- To the last portage and the height of land --: Upon one hand The lonely north enlaced with lakes and streams, And the enormous targe of Hudson Bay, Glimmering all night In the cold arctic light; On the other hand The crowded southern land With all the welter of the lives of men.
But here is peace, and again That Something comes by flashes Deeper than peace, -- a spell Golden and inappellable That gives the inarticulate part Of our strange being one moment of release That seems more native than the touch of time, And we must answer in chime; Though yet no man may tell The secret of that spell Golden and inappellable.
Now are there sounds walking in the wood, And all the spruces shiver and tremble, And the stars move a little in their courses.
The ancient disturber of solitude Breathes a pervasive sigh, And the soul seems to hear The gathering of the waters at their sources; Then quiet ensues and pure starlight and dark; The region-spirit murmurs in meditation, The heart replies in exaltation And echoes faintly like an inland shell Ghost tremors of the spell; Thought reawakens and is linked again With all the welter of the lives of men.
Here on the uplands where the air is clear We think of life as of a stormy scene, -- Of tempest, of revolt and desperate shock; And here, where we can think, on the brights uplands Where the air is clear, we deeply brood on life Until the tempest parts, and it appears As simple as to the shepherd seems his flock: A Something to be guided by ideals -- That in themselves are simple and serene -- Of noble deed to foster noble thought, And noble thought to image noble deed, Till deed and thought shall interpenetrate, Making life lovelier, till we come to doubt Whether the perfect beauty that escapes Is beauty of deed or thought or some high thing Mingled of both, a greater boon than either: Thus we have seen in the retreating tempest The victor-sunlight merge with the ruined rain, And from the rain and sunlight spring the rainbow.
The ancient disturber of solitude Stirs his ancestral potion in the gloom, And the dark wood Is stifled with the pungent fume Of charred earth burnt to the bone That takes the place of air.
Then sudden I remember when and where, -- The last weird lakelet foul with weedy growths And slimy viscid things the spirit loathes, Skin of vile water over viler mud Where the paddle stirred unutterable stenches, And the canoes seemed heavy with fear, Not to be urged toward the fatal shore Where a bush fire, smouldering, with sudden roar Leaped on a cedar and smothered it with light And terror.
It had left the portage-height A tangle of slanted spruces burned to the roots, Covered still with patches of bright fire Smoking with incense of the fragment resin That even then began to thin and lessen Into the gloom and glimmer of ruin.
'Tis overpast.
How strange the stars have grown; The presage of extinction glows on their crests And they are beautied with impermanence; They shall be after the race of men And mourn for them who snared their fiery pinions, Entangled in the meshes of bright words.
A lemming stirs the fern and in the mosses Eft-minded things feel the air change, and dawn Tolls out from the dark belfries of the spruces.
How often in the autumn of the world Shall the crystal shrine of dawning be rebuilt With deeper meaning! Shall the poet then, Wrapped in his mantle on the height of land, Brood on the welter of the lives of men And dream of his ideal hope and promise In the blush sunrise? Shall he base his flight Upon a more compelling law than Love As Life's atonement; shall the vision Of noble deed and noble thought immingled Seem as uncouth to him as the pictograph Scratched on the cave side by the cave-dweller To us of the Christ-time? Shall he stand With deeper joy, with more complex emotion, In closer commune with divinity, With the deep fathomed, with the firmament charted, With life as simple as a sheep-boy's song, What lies beyond a romaunt that was read Once on a morn of storm and laid aside Memorious with strange immortal memories? Or shall he see the sunrise as I see it In shoals of misty fire the deluge-light Dashes upon and whelms with purer radiance, And feel the lulled earth, older in pulse and motion, Turn the rich lands and inundant oceans To the flushed color, and hear as now I hear The thrill of life beat up the planet's margin And break in the clear susurrus of deep joy That echoes and reëchoes in my being? O Life is intuition the measure of knowledge And do I stand with heart entranced and burning At the zenith of our wisdom when I feel The long light flow, the long wind pause, the deep Influx of spirit, of which no man may tell The Secret, golden and inappellable?



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