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by Duncan Campbell Scott |

The Onondaga Madonna

 She stands full-throated and with careless pose,
This woman of a weird and waning race,
The tragic savage lurking in her face,
Where all her pagan passion burns and glows;
Her blood is mingled with her ancient foes,
And thrills with war and wildness in her veins;
Her rebel lips are dabbled with the stains
Of feuds and forays and her father's woes.
And closer in the shawl about her breast, The latest promise of her nation's doom, Paler than she her baby clings and lies, The primal warrior gleaming from his eyes; He sulks, and burdened with his infant gloom, He draws his heavy brows and will not rest.


by Duncan Campbell Scott |

The Height of Land

 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?


by Duncan Campbell Scott |

The Harvest

 Sun on the mountain,
Shade in the valley,
Ripple and lightness
Leaping along the world,
Sun, like a gold sword
Plucked from the scabbard,
Striking the wheat-fields,
Splendid and lusty,
Close-standing, full-headed,
Toppling with plenty;
Shade, like a buckler
Kindly and ample,
Sweeping the wheat-fields
Darkening and tossing;
There on the world-rim
Winds break and gather
Heaping the mist
For the pyre of the sunset;
And still as a shadow,
In the dim westward,
A cloud sloop of amethyst
Moored to the world
With cables of rain.
Acres of gold wheat Stir in the sunshine, Rounding the hill-top, Crested with plenty, Filling the valley, Brimmed with abundance, Wind in the wheat-field Eddying and settling, Swaying it, sweeping it, Lifting the rich heads, Tossing them soothingly Twinkle and shimmer The lights and the shadowings, Nimble as moonlight Astir in the mere.
Laden with odors Of peace and of plenty, Soft comes the wind From the ranks of the wheat-field, Bearing a promise Of harvest and sickle-time, Opulent threshing-floors Dusty and dim With the whirl of the flail, And wagons of bread, Sown-laden and lumbering Through the gateways of cities.
When will the reapers Strike in their sickles, Bending and grasping, Shearing and spreading; When will the gleaners Searching the stubble Take the last wheat-heads Home in their arms ? Ask not the question! - Something tremendous Moves to the answer.
Hunger and poverty Heaped like the ocean Welters and mutters, Hold back the sickles! Millions of children Born to their mothers' womb, Starved at the nipple, cry,-- Ours is the harvest! Millions of women Learned in the tragical Secrets of poverty, Sweated and beaten, cry,-- Hold back the sickles! Millions of men With a vestige of manhood, Wild-eyed and gaunt-throated, Shout with a leonine Accent of anger, Leaves us the wheat-fields! When will the reapers Strike in their sickles? Ask not the question; Something tremendous Moves to the answer.
Long have they sharpened Their fiery, impetuous Sickles of carnage, Welded them aeons Ago in the mountains Of suffering and anguish; Hearts were their hammers Blood was their fire, Sorrow their anvil, (Trusty the sickle Tempered with tears;) Time they had plenty- Harvests and harvests Passed them in agony, Only a half-filled Ear for their lot; Man that has taken God for a master Made him a law, Mocked him and cursed him, Set up this hunger, Called it necessity, Put in the blameless mouth Juda's language: The poor ye have with you Always, unending.
But up from the impotent Anguish of children, Up from the labor Fruitless, unmeaning, Of millions of mothers, Hugely necessitous, Grew by a just law Stern and implacable, Art born of poverty, The making of sickles Meet for the harvest.
And now to the wheat-fields Come the weird reapers Armed with their sickles, Whipping them keenly In the fresh-air fields, Wild with the joy of them, Finding them trusty, Hilted with teen.
Swarming like ants, The Idea for captain, No banners, no bugles, Only a terrible Ground-bass of gathering Tempest and fury, Only a tossing Of arms and of garments; Sexless and featureless, (Only the children Different among them, Crawling between their feet, Borne on their shoulders;) Rolling their shaggy heads Wild with the unheard-of Drug of the sunshine; Tears that had eaten The half of their eyelids Dry on their cheeks; Blood in their stiffened hair Clouted and darkened; Down in their cavern hearts Hunger the tiger, Leaping, exulting; Sighs that had choked them Burst into triumphing; On they come, Victory! Up to the wheat-fields, Dreamed of in visions Bred by the hunger, Seen for the first time Splendid and golden; On they come fluctuant, Seething and breaking, Weltering like fire In the pit of the earthquake, Bursting in heaps With the sudden intractable Lust of the hunger: Then when they see them- The miles of the harvest White in the sunshine, Rushing and stumbling, With the mighty and clamorous Cry of a people Starved from creation, Hurl themselves onward, Deep in the wheat-fields, Weeping like children, After ages and ages, Back at the mother the earth.
Night in the valley, Gloom on the mountain, Wind in the wheat, Far to the southward The flutter of lightning, The shudder of thunder; But high at the zenith, A cluster of stars Glimmers and throbs In the gasp of the midnight, Steady and absolute, Ancient and sure


by Duncan Campbell Scott |

The Half-breed Girl

 She is free of the trap and the paddle,
The portage and the trail,
But something behind her savage life
Shines like a fragile veil.
Her dreams are undiscovered, Shadows trouble her breast, When the time for resting cometh Then least is she at rest.
Oft in the morns of winter, When she visits the rabbit snares, An appearance floats in the crystal air Beyond the balsam firs.
Oft in the summer mornings When she strips the nets of fish, The smell of the dripping net-twine Gives to her heart a wish.
But she cannot learn the meaning Of the shadows in her soul, The lights that break and gather, The clouds that part and roll, The reek of rock-built cities, Where her fathers dwelt of yore, The gleam of loch and shealing, The mist on the moor, Frail traces of kindred kindness, Of feud by hill and strand, The heritage of an age-long life In a legendary land.
She wakes in the stifling wigwam, Where the air is heavy and wild, She fears for something or nothing With the heart of a frightened child.
She sees the stars turn slowly Past the tangle of the poles, Through the smoke of the dying embers, Like the eyes of dead souls.
Her heart is shaken with longing For the strange, still years, For what she knows and knows not, For the wells of ancient tears.
A voice calls from the rapids, Deep, careless and free, A voice that is larger than her life Or than her death shall be.
She covers her face with her blanket, Her fierce soul hates her breath, As it cries with a sudden passion For life or death.


by Duncan Campbell Scott |

Permanence

 Set within a desert lone,
Circled by an arid sea,
Stands a figure carved in stone,
Where a fountain used to be.
Two abraded, pleading hands Held below a shapeless mouth, Human-like the fragment stands, Tortured by perpetual drouth.
Once the form was drenched with spray, Deluged with the rainbow flushes; Surplus water dashed away To the lotus and the rushes.
Time was clothed in rippling fashion,.
Opulence of light and air, Beauty changing into passion Every hour and everywhere.
And the yearning of that race Was for something deep and tender, Life replete with power, with grace, Touched with vision and with splendour.
Now no rain dissolves and cools, Dew is even as a dream, The enticing far-off pools In a mirage only seem.
All the traces that remain, Of the longings of that land, Are two hands that plead in vain Filled with burning sand.


by Duncan Campbell Scott |

Ode for the Keats Centenary

 The Muse is stern unto her favoured sons,
Giving to some the keys of all the joy
Of the green earth, but holding even that joy
Back from their life;
Bidding them feed on hope,
A plant of bitter growth,
Deep-rooted in the past;
Truth, 'tis a doubtful art
To make Hope sweeten
Time as it flows;
For no man knows
Until the very last,
Whether it be a sovereign herb that he has eaten,
Or his own heart.
O stern, implacable Muse, Giving to Keats so richly dowered, Only the thought that he should be Among the English poets after death; Letting him fade with that expectancy, All powerless to unfold the future! What boots it that our age has snatched him free From thy too harsh embrace, Has given his fame the certainty Of comradeship with Shakespeare's? He lies alone Beneath the frown of the old Roman stone And the cold Roman violets; And not our wildest incantation Of his most sacred lines, Nor all the praise that sets Towards his pale grave, Like oceans towards the moon, Will move the Shadow with the pensive brow To break his dream, And give unto him now One word! -- When the young master reasoned That our puissant England Reared her great poets by neglect, Trampling them down in the by-paths of Life And fostering them with glory after death, Did any flame of triumph from his own fame Fall swift upon his mind; the glow Cast back upon the bleak and aching air Blown around his days -- ? Happily so! But he, whose soul was mighty as the soul Of Milton, who held the vision of the world As an irradiant orb self-filled with light, Who schooled his heart with passionate control To compass knowledge, to unravel the dense Web of this tangled life, he would weigh slight As thistledown blown from his most fairy fancy That pale self-glory, against the mystery, The wonder of the various world, the power Of "seeing great things in loneliness.
" Where bloodroot in the clearing dwells Along the edge of snow; Where, trembling all their trailing bells, The sensitive twinflowers blow; Where, searching through the ferny breaks, The moose-fawns find the springs; Where the loon laughs and diving takes Her young beneath her wings; Where flash the fields of arctic moss With myriad golden light; Where no dream-shadows ever cross The lidless eyes of night; Where, cleaving a mountain storm, the proud Eagles, the clear sky won, Mount the thin air between the loud Slow thunder and the sun; Where, to the high tarn tranced and still No eye has ever seen, Comes the first star its flame to chill In the cool deeps of green; -- Spirit of Keats, unfurl thy wings, Far from the toil and press, Teach us by these pure-hearted things, Beauty in loneliness.
Where, in the realm of thought, dwell those Who oft in pain and penury Work in the void, Searching the infinite dark between the stars, The infinite little of the atom, Gathering the tears and terrors of this life, Distilling them to a medicine for the soul; (And hated for their thought Die for it calmly; For not their fears, Nor the cold scorn of men, Fright them who hold to truth:) They brood alone in the intense serene Air of their passion, Until on some chill dawn Breaks the immortal form foreshadowed in their dream, And the distracted world and men Are no more what they were.
Spirit of Keats, unfurl thy deathless wings, Far from the wayward toil, the vain excess, Teach us by such soul-haunting things Beauty in loneliness.
The minds of men grow numb, their vision narrows, The clogs of Empire and the dust of ages, The lust of power that fogs the fairest pages, Of the romance that eager life would write, These war on Beauty with their spears and arrows.
But still is Beauty and of constant power; Even in the whirl of Time's most sordid hour, Banished from the great highways, Afflighted by the tramp of insolent feet, She hangs her garlands in the by-ways; Lissome and sweet Bending her head to hearken and learn Melody shadowed with melody, Softer than shadow of sea-fern, In the green-shadowed sea: Then, nourished by quietude, And if the world's mood Change, she may return Even lovelier than before.
-- The white reflection in the mountain lake Falls from the white stream Silent in the high distance; The mirrored mountains guard The profile of the goddess of the height, Floating in water with a curve of crystal light; When the air, envious of the loveliness, Rushes downward to surprise, Confusion plays in the contact, The picture is overdrawn With ardent ripples, But when the breeze, warned of intrusion, Draws breathless upward in flight, The vision reassembles in tranquillity, Reforming with a gesture of delight, Reborn with the rebirth of calm.
Spirit of Keats, lend us thy voice, Breaking like surge in some enchanted cave On a dream-sea-coast, To summon Beauty to her desolate world.
For Beauty has taken refuge from our life That grew too loud and wounding; Beauty withdraws beyond the bitter strife, Beauty is gone, (Oh where?) To dwell within a precinct of pure air Where moments turn to months of solitude; To live on roots of fern and tips of fern, On tender berries flushed with the earth's blood.
Beauty shall stain her feet with moss And dye her cheek with deep nut-juices, Laving her hands in the pure sluices Where rainbows are dissolved.
Beauty shall view herself in pools of amber sheen Dappled with peacock-tints from the green screen That mingles liquid light with liquid shadow.
Beauty shall breathe the fairy hush With the chill orchids in their cells of shade, And hear the invocation of the thrush That calls the stars into their heaven, And after even Beauty shall take the night into her soul.
When the thrill voice goes crying through the wood, (Oh, Beauty, Beauty!) Troubling the solitude With echoes from the lonely world, Beauty will tremble like a cloistered thing That hears temptation in the outlands singing, Will steel her dedicated heart and breathe Into her inner ear to firm her vow: -- "Let me restore the soul that ye have marred.
O mortals, cry no more on Beauty, Leave me alone, lone mortals, Until my shaken soul comes to its own, Lone mortals, leave me alone!" (Oh Beauty, Beauty, Beauty!) All the dim wood is silent as a dream That dreams of silence.


by Duncan Campbell Scott |

The Forsaken

 I 
Once in the winter
Out on a lake
In the heart of the north-land,
Far from the Fort
And far from the hunters,
A Chippewa woman
With her sick baby,
Crouched in the last hours
Of a great storm.
Frozen and hungry, She fished through the ice With a line of the twisted Bark of the cedar, And a rabbit-bone hook Polished and barbed; Fished with the bare hook All through the wild day, Fished and caught nothing; While the young chieftain Tugged at her breasts, Or slept in the lacings Of the warm tikanagan.
All the lake-surface Streamed with the hissing Of millions of iceflakes Hurled by the wind; Behind her the round Of a lonely island Roared like a fire With the voice of the storm In the deeps of the cedars.
Valiant, unshaken, She took of her own flesh, Baited the fish-hook, Drew in a gray-trout, Drew in his fellows, Heaped them beside her, Dead in the snow.
Valiant, unshaken, She faced the long distance, Wolf-haunted and lonely, Sure of her goal And the life of her dear one: Tramped for two days, On the third in the morning, Saw the strong bulk Of the Fort by the river, Saw the wood-smoke Hand soft in the spruces, Heard the keen yelp Of the ravenous huskies Fighting for whitefish: Then she had rest.
II Years and years after, When she was old and withered, When her son was an old man And his children filled with vigour, They came in their northern tour on the verge of winter, To an island in a lonely lake.
There one night they camped, and on the morrow Gathered their kettles and birch-bark Their rabbit-skin robes and their mink-traps, Launched their canoes and slunk away through the islands, Left her alone forever, Without a word of farewell, Because she was old and useless, Like a paddle broken and warped, Or a pole that was splintered.
Then, without a sigh, Valiant, unshaken, She smoothed her dark locks under her kerchief, Composed her shawl in state, Then folded her hands ridged with sinews and corded with veins, Folded them across her breasts spent with the nourishment of children, Gazed at the sky past the tops of the cedars, Saw two spangled nights arise out of the twilight, Saw two days go by filled with the tranquil sunshine, Saw, without pain, or dread, or even a moment of longing: Then on the third great night there came thronging and thronging Millions of snowflakes out of a windless cloud; They covered her close with a beautiful crystal shroud, Covered her deep and silent.
But in the frost of the dawn, Up from the life below, Rose a column of breath Through a tiny cleft in the snow, Fragile, delicately drawn, Wavering with its own weakness, In the wilderness a sign of the spirit, Persisting still in the sight of the sun Till day was done.
Then all light was gathered up by the hand of God and hid in His breast, Then there was born a silence deeper than silence, Then she had rest.


by Duncan Campbell Scott |

Stone Breaking

 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.


by Duncan Campbell Scott |

Night Hymns on Lake Nipigon

 Here in the midnight, where the dark mainland and island
Shadows mingle in shadow deeper, profounder,
Sing we the hymns of the churches, while the dead water
Whispers before us.
Thunder is travelling slow on the path of the lightning; One after one the stars and the beaming planets Look serene in the lake from the edge of the storm-cloud, Then have they vanished.
While our canoe, that floats dumb in the bursting thunder, Gathers her voice in the quiet and thrills and whispers, Presses her prow in the star-gleam, and all her ripple Lapses in blackness.
Sing we the sacred ancient hymns of the churches, Chanted first in old-world nooks of the desert, While in the wild, pellucid Nipigon reaches Hunted the savage.
Now have the ages met in the Northern midnight, And on the lonely, loon-haunted Nipigon reaches Rises the hymn of triumph and courage and comfort, Adeste Fideles.
Tones that were fashioned when the faith brooded in darkness, Joined with sonorous vowels in the noble Latin, Now are married with the long-drawn Ojibwa, Uncouth and mournful.
Soft with the silver drip of the regular paddles Falling in rhythm, timed with the liquid, plangent Sounds from the blades where the whirlpools break and are carried Down into darkness; Each long cadence, flying like a dove from her shelter Deep in the shadow, wheels for a throbbing moment, Poises in utterance, returning in circles of silver To nest in the silence.
All wild nature stirs with the infinite, tender Plaint of a bygone age whose soul is eternal, Bound in the lonely phrases that thrill and falter Back into quiet.
Back they falter as the deep storm overtakes them, Whelms them in splendid hollows of booming thunder, Wraps them in rain, that, sweeping, breaks and onrushes Ringing like cymbals.


by Duncan Campbell Scott |

Rapids at Night

 Here at the roots of the mountains,
Between the sombre legions of cedars and tamaracks,
The rapids charge the ravine:
A little light, cast by foam under starlight,
Wavers about the shimmering stems of the birches:
Here rise up the clangorous sounds of battle,
Immense and mournful.
Far above curves the great dome of darkness Drawn with the limitless lines of the stars and the planets.
Deep at the core of the tumult, Deeper than all the voices that cry at the surface, Dwells one fathomless sound, Under the hiss and cry, the stroke and the plangent clamour.
O human heart that sleeps, Wild with rushing dreams and deep with sadness! The abysmal roar drops into almost silence, While over its sleep play in various cadence Innumerous voices crashing in laughter; Then rising calm, overwhelming, Slow in power, Rising supreme in utterance, It sways, and reconquers and floods all the spaces of silence, One voice, deep with the sadness, That dwells at the core of all things.
There by a nest in the glimmering birches, Speaks a thrush as if startled from slumber, Dreaming of Southern ricefields, The moted glow of the amber sunlight, Where the long ripple roves among the reeds.
Above curves the great dome of darkness, Scored with the limitless lines of the stars and the planets; Like the strong palm of God, Veined with the ancient laws, Holding a human heart that sleeps, Wild with rushing dreams and deep with the sadness, That dwells at the core of all things.