A Celebration of Women Writers

"George Frederick Cameron" (1854-1885) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 101-108.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 101]

George Frederick Cameron

It seems strange to me that you have not thought of using any of the work of the late Mr. Cameron of Kingston, who was most certainly the poet of most genuine and fervid poetic energy that this country has yet produced. There are half a dozen things of his that I would not give for all that the rest of us have written. I can get a better effect upon people by reading them some of Cameron's poems, than those of any other Canadian writer; and that I have always found is the true test . . . . . If I were making a selection, I would put them in this order:–The poem without title, 'Standing on Tiptoe,' 'The Way Of The World,' 'I Am Young,' 'What Matters It,' 'To The West Wind,' 'An Answer,' 'Wisdom,' 'Amor Finis,' 'In After Days.' . . . . That first poem I would include in any selection of English masterpieces however restricted, and the second one, 'Standing on Tiptoe,' is almost as fine.ARCHIBALD LAMPMAN, in letters to a Canadian anthologist, 1892.

[Page 102]

GEORGE FREDERICK CAMERON was born at New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, September 24th, 1854,–the eldest son of James Grant Cameron and Jessie Sutherland. He was educated at the local High School, where he read Virgil and Cicero in the original and devoted much time to poetry, and at the Boston University of Law. His family had moved to Boston in 1869. After graduation he entered a law office, but gave considerable attention to literary work, contributing to a number of journals. In 1882, he entered Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, and the following year had the distinction to win the prize for the best original poem.

In March, 1883, Mr. Cameron became editor of the Kingston News, and in the following August, married Ella, the eldest daughter of Mr. Billings Amey, of Millhaven. He continued in his editorial position until a few weeks before his untimely death from heart failure, September 17th, 1885. For two years he had suffered much from insomnia. His young wife and their daughter survived him.

In 1887, Charles J. Cameron, M.A., edited and published a volume of his brother's poems, of about 300 pages, entitled Lyrics on Freedom, Love and Death, and which, he says in his Preface, "represents about one fourth of his life work."

The unique interest attaching to such a spontaneous and emphatic expression of opinion by Lampman, has induced the editor to quote the poems only that he mentioned and to record no other critical judgment.

AH, me! the mighty love that I have borne
  To thee, sweet song! A perilous gift was it
My mother gave me that September morn
  When sorrow, song, and life were at one altar lit.

A gift more perilous than the priest's: his lore
  Is all of books and to his books extends;
And what they see and know he knows–no more,
  And with their knowing all his knowing ends.

A gift more perilous than the painter's: he
  In his divinest moments only sees
The inhumanities of colour, we
  Feel each and all the inhumanities.

[Page 103]

Standing on Tiptoe

STANDING on tiptoe ever since my youth
  Striving to grasp the future just above,
I hold at length the only future–Truth,
  And Truth is Love.

I feel as one who being awhile confined
  Sees drop to dust about him all his bars:–
The clay grows less, and, leaving it, the mind
  Dwells with the stars.

The Way of the World

WE sneer and we laugh with the lip–the most of us do it,
  Whenever a brother goes down like a weed with the tide;
We point with the finger and say–Oh, we knew it! we knew it!
  But, see! we are better than he was, and we will abide.

He walked in the way of his will–the way of desire,
  In the Appian way of his will without ever a bend;
He walked in it long, but it led him at last to the mire,–
  But we who are stronger will stand and endure to the end.

His thoughts were all visions–all fabulous visions of flowers,
  Of bird and of song and of soul which is only a song;
His eyes looked all at the stars in the firmament, ours
  Were fixed on the earth at our feet, so we stand and are strong.

He hated the sight and the sound and the sob of the city;
  He sought for his peace in the wood and the musical wave;
He fell, and we pity him never, and why should we pity–
  Yea, why should we mourn for him–we who still stand, who are brave?

Thus speak we and think not, we censure unheeding, unknowing,–
  Unkindly and blindly we utter the words of the brain;
We see not the goal of our brother, we see but his going,
  And sneer at his fall if he fall, and laugh at his pain.

[Page 104]

Ah, me! the sight of the sod on the coffin lid,
  And the sound, and the sob, and the sigh of it as it falls!
Ah, me! the beautiful face forever hid
  By four wild walls!

You hold it a matter for self-gratulation and praise
  To have thrust to the dust to have trod on a heart that was true,–
To have ruined it there in the beauty and bloom of its days?
  Very well! There is somewhere a Nemesis waiting for you.

I Am Young

I AM young, and men
  Who long ago have passed their prime
Would fain have what I have again,–
  Youth, and it may be–time.

To gain these, and make
  Life's end what it may not be now,
Monarchs of thought and song would shake
  The laurels from their brow.

And each king of earth,
  Whose life we deem a holiday,
For this would give his kingship's worth
  Most joyously away!

What Matters It?

WHAT reck we of the creeds of men?–
  We see them–we shall see again.
  What reck we of the tempest's shock?
What reck we where our anchor lock?
  On golden marl or mould–
In salt-sea flower or riven rock–
  What matter–so it hold?

What matters it the spot we fill
  On Earth's green sod when all is said?–
When feet and hands and heart are still
  And all our pulses quieted?
When hate or love can kill nor thrill,–
  When we are done with life and dead?

[Page 105]

So we be haunted night nor day
  By any sin that we have sinned,
What matter where we dream away
  The ages?–In the isles of Ind,
In Tybee, Cuba, or Cathay,
  Or in some world of winter wind?

It may be I would wish to sleep
  Beneath the wan, white stars of June,
And hear the southern breezes creep
  Between me and the mellow moon;
But so I do not wake to weep
  At any night or any moon,

And so the generous gods allow
  Repose and peace from evil dreams,
It matters little where or how
  My couch is spread:–by moving streams,
Or on some eminent mountain's brow
  Kist by the morn's or sunset's beams.

For we shall rest; the brain that planned,
  That thought or wrought or well or ill,
At gaze like Joshua's moon shall stand,
  Not working any work or will,
While eye and lip and heart and hand
  Shall all be still–shall all be still!

To the West Wind

WEST wind, come from the west land
    Fair and far!
Come from the fields of the best land
    Upon our star!

Come, and go to my sister
    Over the sea:
Tell her how much I have missed her,
    Tell her for me!

Odours of lilies and roses–
    Set them astir;
Cull them from gardens and closes,–
    Give them to her!

[Page 106]

Say I have loved her, and love her:
    Say that I prize
Few on the earth here above her,
    Few in the skies!

Bring her, if worth the bringing,
    A brother's kiss:
Should she ask for a song of his singing,
    Give her this!

An Answer

'CAN it be good to die?' you question, friend;
  'Can it be good to die, and move along
Still circling round and round, unknowing end,
  Still circling round and round amid the throng
Of golden orbs attended by their moons–
  To catch the intonation of their song
As on they flash, and scatter nights, and noons,
  To worlds like ours, where things like us belong?'

To me 'tis idle saying, 'He is dead.'
  Or, 'Now he sleepeth and shall wake no more;
The little flickering, fluttering life is fled,
  Forever fled, and all that was is o'er.'
I have a faith–that life and death are one,
  That each depends upon the self-same thread,
And that the seen and unseen rivers run
  To one calm sea, from one clear fountain head.

I have a faith–that man's most potent mind
  May cross the willow-shaded stream nor sink;
I have a faith–when he has left behind
  His earthly vesture on the river's brink,
When all his little fears are torn away,
  His soul may beat a pathway through the tide,
And, disencumbered of its coward-clay,
  Emerge immortal on the sunnier side.

So, say:–It must be good to die, my friend!
  It must be good and more than good, I deem;
'Tis all the replication I may send–
  For deeper swimming seek a deeper stream.

[Page 107]

It must be good or reason is a cheat,
  It must be good or life is all a lie,
It must be good and more then living sweet,
  It must be good–or man would never die.

Wisdom

WISDOM immortal from immortal Jove
Shadows more beauty with her virgin brows
Than is between the pleasant breasts of Love
Who makes at will and breaks her random vows,
And hath a name all earthly names above:
The noblest are her offspring; she controls
The times and seasons–yea, all things that are–
The heads and hands of men, their hearts and souls,
And all that moves upon our mother star,
And all that pauses twixt the peaceful poles.
Nor is she dark and distant, coy and cold,–
But all in all to all who seek her shrine
In utter truth, like to that king of old
Who wooed and won–yet by no right divine.

Amoris Finis

AND now I go with the departing sun:
  My day is dead and all my work is done.
No more for me the pleasant moon shall rise
  To show the splendour in my dear one's eyes;
No more the stars shall see us meet; we part
  Without a hope, or hope of hope, at heart;
For Love lies dead, and at his altar, lo,
  Stands in his room, self-crowned and crested,–Woe!

In After Days

I WILL accomplish that and this,
  And make myself a thorn to Things–
  Lords, councillors and tyrant kings–
Who sit upon their thrones and kiss

The rod of Fortune; and are crowned
  The sovereign masters of the earth
  To scatter blight and death and dearth
Wherever mortal man is found.

[Page 108]

I will do this and that, and break
  The backbone of their large conceit,
  And loose the sandals from their feet,
And show 'tis holy ground they shake.

So sang I in my earlier days,
  Ere I had learned to look abroad
  And see that more than monarchs trod
Upon the form I fain would raise.

Ere I, in looking toward the land
  That broke a triple diadem,
  That grasped at Freedom's garment hem,
Had seen her, sword and torch in hand,

A freedom-fool: ere I had grown
  To know that Love is freedom's strength–
  France taught the world that truth at length!–
And Peace her chief foundation stone.

Since then, I temper so my song
  That it may never speak for blood;
  May never say that ill is good;
Or say that right may spring from wrong:

Yet am what I have ever been–
  A friend of Freedom, staunch and true,
  Who hate a tyrant, be he–you–
A people,–sultan, czar, or queen!

And then the Freedom-haters came
  And questioned of my former song,
  If now I held it right, or wrong:
And still my answer was the same:–

The good still moveth towards the good:
  The ill still moveth towards the ill:
  But who affirmeth that we will
Not form a nobler brotherhood

When communists, fanatics, those
  Who howl their 'vives' to Freedom's name
  And yet betray her unto shame,
Are dead and coffined with her foes.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom