A Celebration of Women Writers

"Jean Blewett" (1850-1887) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 189-196.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 189]

Jean Blewett

Mrs Blewett is a woman's poet. She deals with homely subjects in a homely way. She does not attempt wild flights of rhapsody or deep philosophical problems. It is an everyday sort of poetry, simple in theme and treatment, unpretentious, domestic, kindly, humorous and natural . . . . . Perhaps it is because of this very simplicity of theme and treatment that Mrs. Blewett's writings, both in prose and poetry, are so popular among a very large class of the Canadian public. . . . . In sentiment and in morals her poems are wholesome and, to use a feminine adjective, 'sweet'. . . . . Mrs. Blewett is perhaps the most conspicious example in Canada of the class of writers who try to bring the plain people into touch with the highest ideals that are frequently most effectively taught in verse. Her lessons are of self-denial, and of the power of love to mould men and women. –'Globe Magazine.'

[Page 190]

JEAN BLEWETT was born at Scotia, Lake Erie, Ontario, November 4th, 1872. Her parents, John and Janet (MacIntyre) McKishnie, were both natives of Argyllshire. She was educated at the local public school and at the St. Thomas Collegiate Institute. In 1889 she married Mr. Bassett Blewett, a native of Cornwall, England.

Through her mother she is related to Duncan Ban MacIntyre, the famous Gaelic poet.

While still in her teens, Mrs. Blewett's poems, short stories and articles in the public press and in magazines began to attract attention; and in 1890, she published a novel, Out of the Depths. Heart Songs, a collection of her verse, appeared in 1897, and at once became popular; and The Cornflower and Other Poems, issued in 1906, increased the author's fame and popularity. One of her poems, 'Spring' captured the prize of six hundred dollars, offered for the best poem on this trite subject, by the Chicago Times-Herald.

In 1915, Mary Josephine Trotter contributed an interesting article on Jean Blewett to Everywoman's World, from which is quoted:

A BARD OF THE COMMON THINGS

Jean Blewett has neither refused to grow up, nor has she required to 'think back' to experience joy as quick as childhood's in the springing blade and the spreading leaf, and also in the realm of human nature. All this I know from her voice and her expression as she showed me the view from the window in her bedroom, in which she has been a prisoner since November.

Prisoner? The word is not à propos exactly. Not even the pangs of physical suffering have been able to bind the imagination of a woman profoundly in love with life and able to put her passion into writing. For months Mrs. Blewett has been busy on a novel, having for its setting the Peace River country in which wild and romantic district she camped with her husband and son for weeks last summer.

She was married early–at sixteen–and the first verses she ever wrote and for which she was paid by Frank Leslie's Monthly, were a lullaby to her own baby . . . . .

Jean Blewett is one of a literary family. Her brother, Mr. Archibald McKishnie, is frequently a contributor to Canadian publications, and a younger sister is winning success as a journalist in Detroit, Michigan.

For years Mrs. Blewett has been a special writer for the Globe and other household publications, so that her name has become familiar to a very large and appreciative public. She delights to write of 'the common things,' would rather be sympathetic than startling. . . . .

[Page 191]

Chore Time

WHEN I'm at gran'dad's on the farm,
  I hear along 'bout six o'clock,
Just when I'm feelin' snug an' warm,
  'Ho, Bobby, come and feed your stock.'

I jump and get into my clothes;
  It's dark as pitch, an' shivers run
All up my back. Now, I suppose
  Not many boys would think this fun.

But when we get out to the barn
  The greedy pigs begin to squeal,
An' I throw in the yellow corn,
  A bushel basket to the meal.

Then I begin to warm right up,
  I whistle 'Yankee Doodle' through,
An' wrastle with the collie pup–
  And sometimes gran'dad whistles too.

The cow-shed door, it makes a din
  Each time we swing it open wide;
I run an' flash the lantern in,
  There stand the shorthorns side by side.

Their breathin' makes a sort of cloud
  Above their heads–there's no frost here.
'My beauties,' gran'dad says out loud,
  'You'll get your breakfasts, never fear.'

When up I climb into the loft
  To fill their racks with clover hay,
Their eyes, all sleepy like and soft,
  A heap of nice things seem to say.

The red ox shakes his curly head,
  An' turns on me a solemn face;
I know he's awful glad his shed
  Is such a warm and smelly place.

An' last of all the stable big,
  With harness hanging on each door, –

[Page 192]

I always want to dance a jig
  On that old musty, dusty floor.

It seems so good to be alive,
  An' tendin' to the sturdy grays,
The sorrels, and old Prince, –that's five–
  An' Lightfoot with her coaxing ways.

My gran'dad tells me she is mine,
  An' I'm that proud! I braid her mane,
An' smooth her sides until they shine,
  An' do my best to make her vain.

When we have measured oats for all,
  Have slapped the grays upon the flanks,
An' tried to pat the sorrels tall,
  An' heard them whinny out their thanks,

We know it's breakfast time, and go
  Out past the yellow stacks of straw,
Across the creek that used to flow,
  But won't flow now until a thaw.

Behind the trees the sky is pink,
  The snow drifts by in fat white flakes,
My gran'dad says: 'Well, Bob, I think
  There comes a smell of buckwheat cakes.'

For He Was Scotch, and So Was She

THEY were a couple well content
With what they earned and what they spent,
Cared not a whit for style's decree–
For he was Scotch, and so was she.

And oh, they loved to talk of Burns–
Dear blithesome, tender Bobby Burns!
They never wearied of his song,
He never sang a note too strong.
One little fault could neither see–
For he was Scotch, and so was she.

They loved to read of men who stood
And gave for country life and blood,

[Page 193]

Who held their faith so grand a thing
They scorned to yield it to a king.
Ah, proud of such they well might be–
For he was Scotch, and so was she.

From neighbours' broils they kept away;
No liking for such things had they,
And oh, each had a canny mind,
And could be deaf, and dumb, and blind.
With words or pence was neither free–
For he was Scotch, and so was she.

I would not have you think this pair
Went on in weather always fair,
For well you know in married life
Will come, sometimes, the jar and strife;
They couldn't always just agree–
For he was Scotch, and so was she.

But near of heart they ever kept,
Until at close of life they slept;
Just this to say when all was past,
They loved each other to the last.
They're loving yet, in heaven, maybe–
For he was Scotch, and so was she.

The Passage

O SOUL on God's high seas! the way is strange and long,
Yet fling your pennons out, and spread your canvas strong;
For though to mortal eyes so small a craft you seem,
The highest star in heaven doth lend you guiding gleam.

O soul on God's high seas! look to your course with care,
Fear most when winds are kind and skies are blue and fair.
Your helm must sway at touch of no hand save your own–
The soul that sails on God's high seas must sail alone.

O soul on God's high seas! sail on with steady aim,
Unmoved by wind of praise, untouched by seas of blame.
Beyond the lonely ways, beyond the guiding star,
There stretches out the strand and golden harbour bar.

[Page 194]

Quebec

QUEBEC, the gray old city on the hill,
Lies with a golden glory on her head,
Dreaming throughout this hour so fair, so still,
Of other days and her belovèd dead.
The doves are nesting in the cannons grim,
The flowers bloom where once did run a tide
Of crimson when the moon rose pale and dim
Above a field of battle stretching wide.

Methinks within her wakes a mighty glow
Of pride in ancient times, her stirring past,
The strife, the valour of the long ago
Feels at her heart-strings. Strong and tall, and vast
She lies, touched with the sunset's golden grace,
A wondrous softness on her gray old face.

What Time the Morning Stars Arise

[Lieutenant Reginald Warneford, while patrolling the skies over Belgium in his aeroplane at 3 o'clock in the morning of June 7th, 1915, destroyed a German armed Zeppelin, containing twenty-eight men. The young aviator won instant fame by his heroic act. He received the Victoria Cross from King George and the Legion of Honour from France.]

ABOVE him spreads the purple sky,
  Beneath him spreads the ether sea,
And everywhere about him lie
  Dim ports of space, and mystery.

Ho, lonely Admiral of the Fleet!
  What of the night? What of the night?
'Methinks I hear,' he says, 'the beat
  Of great wings rising for the flight.'

Ho, Admiral neighbouring with the stars
  Above the old world's stress and din!
With Jupiter and lordly Mars–
  'Ah, yonder sweeps a Zeppelin!

'A bird with menace in its breath,
  A thing of peril, spoil and strife,

[Page 195]

The little children done to death,
  The helpless old bereft of life.

'The moan of stricken motherhood,
  The cowardice beyond our ken,
The cruelty that fires the blood,
  And shocks the souls of honest men.

'These call for vengeance–mine the chase.'
  He guides his craft–elate and strong.
Up, up, through purple seas of space,
  While in his heart there grows a song.

'Ho, little ship of mine that soars
  Twixt earth and sky, be ours to-day
To free our harassed seas and shores
  Of yonder evil bird of prey!'

The gallant venture is his own,
  No friend to caution, pray, or aid,
But strong is he who fights alone,
  Of loss and failure unafraid.

He rises higher, higher still,
  Till poised above the startled foe–
It is a fight to stir and thrill
  And set the dullest breast aglow.

Old Britain hath her battles won
  On fields that are a nation's pride,
And oh the deeds of daring done
  Upon her waters deep and wide!

But warfare waged on solid land,
  Or on the sea, can scarce compare
With this engagement, fierce, yet grand,
  This duel to the death in air.

He wins! he wins in sea of space!
  Why prate we now of other wars
Since he has won his name and place
  By deathless valour 'mong the stars?

No more that Zeppelin will mock,
  No more will sound her song of hate;

[Page 196]

With bursting bomb, and fire, and shock,
  She hurtles downward to her fate.

A touch of rose in eastern skies,
  A little breeze that calls and sings,
Look yonder where our hero flies,
  Like homing bird on eager wings.

He sees the white mists softly curl,
  He sees the moon drift pale and wan,
Sees Venus climb the stairs of pearl
  To hold her court of Love at dawn.

The Usurer

FATE says, and flaunts her stores of gold,
'I'll loan you happiness untold.
What is it you desire of me?'
A perfect hour in which to be
In love with life, and glad, and good,
The bliss of being understood,
Amid life's cares a little space
To feast your eyes upon a face,
The whispered word, the love-filled tone,
The warmth of lips that meet your own,
    To-day of Fate you borrow;
      In hunger of the heart, and pain,
      In loneliness, and longing vain,
    You pay the debt to-morrow!

Prince, let grim Fate take what she will
Of treasures rare, of joys that thrill,
Enact the cruel usurer's part,
Leave empty arms and hungry heart,
Take what she can of love and trust,
Take all life's gladness, if she must,
Take meeting smile and parting kiss–
The benediction and the bliss.
     What then? The fairest thing of all
     Is ours, O Prince, beyond recall–
     Not even Fate would dare to seize
     Our store of golden memories.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom