"Bliss Carman" (1861-1929) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 109-122.
Carman is before everything else a nature poet, but he is not a nature poet alone . . . . . Carman's genius has its limits–it rarely, and scarcely ever with success, displays itself in themes dealing with the social life of man–but within its own compass its strength and versatility are undeniable. The imagination of the poet, which would seem extremely sensitive to the influence of his environment, is wide-reaching and full of colour; his fancy is fine and delicate; his diction is cultured and 'magical'; and he possesses a gift of melodious versification such as perhaps no other transatlantic writer, with the exception of Poe, has as yet exhibited. Canadian in his youthful gaiety and love of adventure, New England in his practical idealism and freedom from dogma, and more Latin than anything else in his passionate love of the beautiful, Bliss Carman is not only a singer of whom the Dominion has every reason to be proud, but one of the most original and captivating poets of the present century.–H. D. C. LEE, Docteur De L'Université De Rennes, in Bliss Carman: A Study in Canadian Poetry, 1912.
BLISS CARMAN 'has the rare and vital individuality of genius.' He was brought up in the beautiful valley of the St. John river, New Brunswick, and as in the case of his distinguished cousin, Charles G. D. Roberts, his early quest of beauty intensified later into a craving. He has ever felt his kinship with the trees, the flowers, and the furtive wild things, and has regarded himself and every other manifestation of the Infinite Spirit, as a vagrant seeking to attain to perfection. For him 'God lurks as potency in all things.'
After pointing out that Carman's philosophic thought had probably been influenced more by Robert Browning than by anyone else, Dr. Lee sums up his later philosophy in these three principles:
Love is the Lord of Life, the revealer of the purpose of creation. This divine energy can only be transmitted to the soul through the media of the senses and in proportion as the senses are perfect. The ideals awakened in the soul by Love can only be adequately realized with the help of reason
William Bliss Carman, of United Empire Loyalist descent, was born at Fredericton, N.B., April 15th, 1861,–son of William Carman, a barrister, at one time a prominent Government official, and Sophia Bliss, an elder sister of the mother of Roberts. He was tutored at home prior to entering the Collegiate School, in Fredericton, where he came under the influence of a cultured man of letters and an ardent lover of open-air life,–Dr. George R. Parkin. To this educationist of world-wide repute, Carman has gratefully acknowledged his debt, in a dedicatory preface to The Kinship of Nature. In 1878, he won the School medal for Greek and Latin, and passed into the University of New Brunswick (B. A., and Gold Medalist, 1881; M.A., 1884; LL.D., honorary, 1906). He had taken high honours in both classics and mathematics, and in the academic year, 1882-3, he pursued these subjects, together with philosophy, in a postgraduate course at the University of Edinburgh. Returning to Canada, he had difficulty, apparently, in choosing a profession, as he successively taught school, studied law, and practised civil engineering, before, in 1886, he resolved to take postgraduate work in Harvard University.
From 1890 to 1892, he was on the editorial staff of the [Page 111] Independent, New York, and later was similarly connected with Current Literature. He was one of the founders of the Chap-Book. But tiring of the editorial chair, he soon became an independent man of letters.
Since he first attracted wide attention with his Low Tide on Grand Pré (1893), Carman has published many books of poems of rare quality, and four volumes of illuminating essays. April Airs, daintily issued by Small, Maynard and Company, Boston, in the spring of 1916, contains his latest lyrics. They are exquisite indeed, with deep, rich tones and great beauty of expression.
I HEARD the spring wind whisper
Above the brushwood fire,
'The world is made forever
Of transport and desire.
'I am the breath of being,
The primal urge of things;
I am the whirl of star dust,
I am the lift of wings.
'I am the splendid impulse
That comes before the thought,
The joy and exaltation
Wherein the life is caught.
'Across the sleeping furrows
I call the buried seed,
And blade and bud and blossom
Awaken at my need.
'Within the dying ashes
I blow the sacred spark,
And make the hearts of lovers
To leap against the dark.'
I heard the spring light whisper
Above the dancing stream,
'The world is made forever
In likeness of a dream.
'I am the law of planets,
I am the guide of man;
The evening and the morning
Are fashioned to my plan.
'I tint the dawn with crimson,
I tinge the sea with blue;
My track is in the desert,
My trail is in the dew.
'I paint the hills with colour,
And in my magic dome
I light the star of evening
To steer the traveller home.
'Within the house of being,
I feed the lamp of truth
With tales of ancient wisdom
And prophecies of youth.'
I heard the spring rain murmur
Above the roadside flower,
'The world is made forever
In melody and power.
'I keep the rhythmic measure
That marks the steps of time,
And all my toil is fashioned
To symmetry and rhyme.
'I plough the untilled upland,
I ripe the seeding grass,
And fill the leafy forest
With music as I pass.
'I hew the raw rough granite
To loveliness of line,
And when my work is finished,
Behold, it is divine!
'I am the master-builder
In whom the ages trust.
I lift the lost perfection
To blossom from the dust.'
Then Earth to them made answer,
As with a slow refrain
Born of the blended voices
Of wind and sun and rain,
'This is the law of being
That links the threefold chain:
The life we give to beauty
Returns to us again.'
I KNOW a vale where I would go one day,
When June comes back and all the world once more
Is glad with summer. Deep in shade it lies
A mighty cleft between the bosoming hills,
A cool dim gateway to the mountains' heart.
On either side the wooded slopes come down,
Hemlock and beech and chestnut. Here and there
Through the deep forest laurel spreads and gleams,
Pink-white as Daphne in her loveliness.
Among the sunlit shadows I can see
That still perfection from the world withdrawn,
As if the wood-gods had arrested there
Immortal beauty in her breathless flight.
The road winds in from the broad river-lands,
Luring the happy traveller turn by turn
Up to the lofty mountains of the sky.
And as he marches with uplifted face,
Far overhead against the arching blue
Gray ledges overhang from dizzy heights,
Scarred by a thousand winters and untamed.
And where the road runs in the valley's foot,
Through the dark woods a mountain stream comes down,
Singing and dancing all its youth away
Among the boulders and the shallow runs,
Where sunbeams pierce and mossy tree trunks hang
Drenched all day long with murmuring sound and spray.
There light of heart and footfree, I would go
Up to my home among the lasting hills.
Nearing the day's end, I would leave the road,
Turn to the left and take the steeper trail
That climbs among the hemlocks, and at last
In my own cabin doorway sit me down,
Companioned in that leafy solitude
By the wood ghosts of twilight and of peace,
While evening passes to absolve the day
And leave the tranquil mountains to the stars.
And in that sweet seclusion I should hear,
Among the cool-leafed beeches in the dusk,
The calm-voiced thrushes at their twilight hymn.
So undistraught, so rapturous, so pure,
They well might be, in wisdom and in joy,
The seraphs singing at the birth of time
The unworn ritual of eternal things.
WHEN the dawn winds whisper
To the standing corn,
And the rose of morning
From the dark is born,
All my shadowy garden
Seems to grow aware
Of a fragrant presence,
Half expected there.
In the golden shimmer
Of the burning noon,
When the birds are silent
And the poppies swoon,
Once more I behold her
Smile and turn her face,
With its infinite regard,
Its immortal grace.
When the twilight silvers
Every nodding flower,
When the new moon hallows
The first evening hour,
Is it not her footfall
Down the garden walks,
Where the drowsy blossoms
Slumber on their stalks?
In the starry quiet,
When the soul is free,
And a vernal message
Stirs the lilac tree,
Surely I have felt her
Pass and brush my cheek,
With the eloquence of love
That does not need to speak!
BEHOLD, now, where the pageant of the high June
Halts in the glowing noon!
The trailing shadows rest on plain and hill;
The bannered hosts are still,
While over forest crown and mountain head
The azure tent is spread.
The song is hushed in every woodland throat;
Moveless the lilies float;
Even the ancient ever-murmuring sea
Sighs only fitfully;
The cattle drowse in the field-corner's shade;
Peace on the world is laid.
It is the hour when Nature's caravan,
That bears the pilgrim Man
Across the desert of uncharted time
To his far hope sublime,
Rests in the green oasis of the year,
As if the end drew near.
Ah, traveller, hast thou naught of thanks or praise
For these fleet halcyon days?–
No courage to uplift thee from despair
Born with the breath of prayer?
Then turn thee to the lilied field once more!
God stands in His tent door.
OVER the hills of April
With soft winds hand in hand,
Impassionate and dreamy-eyed,
Spring leads her saraband.
Her garments float and gather
And swirl along the plain,
Her headgear is the golden sun,
Her cloak the silver rain.
With colour and with music,
With perfumes and with pomp,
By meadowland and upland,
Through pasture, wood, and swamp,
With promise and enchantment
Leading her mystic mime,
She comes to lure the world anew
With joy as old as time.
Quick lifts the marshy chorus
To transport, trill on trill;
There's not a rod of stony ground
Unanswering on the hill.
The brooks and little rivers
Dance down their wild ravines,
And children in the city squares
Keep time, to tambourines.
The blue bird in the orchard
Is lyrical for her,
The starling with his meadow pipe
Sets all the wood astir,
The hooded white spring-beauties
Are curtsying in the breeze,
The blue hepaticas are out
Under the chestnut trees.
The maple buds make glamour
Vibernum waves its bloom,
The daffodils and tulips
Are risen from the tomb.
The lances of narcissus
Have pierced the wintry mold;
The commonplace seems paradise
To veils of greening gold.
O hark, hear thou the summons,
Put every grief away,
When all the motley masques of earth
Are glad upon a day.
Alack, that any mortal
Should less than gladness bring
Into the choral joy that sounds
The saraband of spring!
THE sun goes down, and over all
These barren reaches by the tide
Such unelusive glories fall,
I almost dream they yet will bide
Until the coming of the tide.
And yet I know that not for us,
By any ecstasy of dream,
He lingers to keep luminous
A little while the grievous stream,
Which frets, uncomforted of dream–
A grievous stream, that to and fro,
Athrough the fields of Acadie
Goes wandering, as if to know
Why one belovèd face should be
So long from home and Acadie.
Was it a year or lives ago
We took the grasses in our hands,
And caught the summer flying low
Over the waving meadow lands,
And held it there between our hands?
The while the river at our feet–
A drowsy inland meadow stream–
At set of sun the after-heat
Made running gold, and in the gleam
We freed our birch upon the stream.
There down along the elms at dusk
We lifted dripping blade to drift,
Through twilight scented fine like musk,
Where night and gloom awhile uplift,
Nor sunder soul and soul adrift.
And that we took into our hands–
Spirit of life or subtler thing–
Breathed on us there, and loosed the bands
Of death, and taught us, whispering,
The secret of some wonder-thing.
Then all your face grew light, and seemed
To hold the shadow of the sun;
The evening faltered, and I deemed
That time was ripe, and years had done
Their wheeling underneath the sun.
So all desire and all regret,
And fear and memory, were naught;
One to remember or forget
The keen delight our hands had caught;
Morrow and yesterday were naught.
The night has fallen, and the tide. . .
Now and again comes drifting home,
Across these aching barrens wide,
A sigh like driven wind or foam:
In grief the flood is bursting home.
NOT in the ancient abbey,
Nor in the city ground,
Not in the lonely mountains,
Nor in the blue profound,
Lay him to rest when his time is come
And the smiling mortal lips are dumb;
But here in the decent quiet
Under the whispering pines,
Where the dogwood breaks in blossom
And the peaceful sunlight shines,
Where wild birds sing and ferns unfold,
When spring comes back in her green and gold.
And when that mortal likeness
Has been dissolved by fire,
Say not above the ashes,
'Here ends a man's desire.'
For every year when the bluebirds sing,
He shall be part of the lyric spring.
Then dreamful-hearted lovers
Shall hear in wind and rain
The cadence of his music,
The rhythm of his refrain,
For he was a blade of the April sod
That bowed and blew with the whisper of God.
FIRST all the host of Raphael
In liveries of gold,
Lifted the chorus on whose rhythm
The spinning spheres are rolled,–
The Seraphs of the morning calm
Whose hearts are never cold.
He shall be born a spirit,
Part of the soul that yearns,
The core of vital gladness
That suffers and discerns,
The stir that breaks the budding sheath
When the green spring returns,–
The gist of power and patience
Hid in the plasmic clay,
The calm behind the senses,
The passionate essay
To make his wise and lovely dream
Immortal on a day.
The soft Aprilian ardours
That warm the waiting loam
Shall whisper in his pulses
To bid him overcome,
And he shall learn the wonder-cry
Beneath the azure dome.
And though all-dying nature
Should teach him to deplore,
The ruddy fires of autumn
Shall lure him but the more
To pass from joy to stronger joy,
As through an open door.
He shall have hope and honour,
Proud trust and courage stark,
To hold him to his purpose
Through the unlighted dark,
And love that sees the moon's full orb
In the first silver arc.
And he shall live by kindness
And the heart's certitude,
Which moves without misgiving
In ways not understood,
Sure only of the vast event,–
The large and simple good.
Then Gabriel's host in silver gear
And vesture twilight blue,
The spirits of immortal mind,
The warders of the true,
Took up the theme that gives the world
He shall be born to reason,
And have the primal need
To understand and follow
Wherever truth may lead,–
To grow in wisdom like a tree
Unfolding from a seed.
A watcher by the sheepfolds,
With wonder in his eyes,
He shall behold the seasons,
And mark the planets rise,
Till all the marching firmament
Shall rouse his vast surmise.
Beyond the sweep of vision,
Or utmost reach of sound,
This cunning fire-maker,
This tiller of the ground,
Shall learn the secrets of the suns
And fathom the profound.
For he must prove all being,
Sane, beauteous, benign,
And at the heart of nature
Discover the divine,–
Himself the type and symbol
Of the eternal trine.
He shall perceive the kindling
Of knowledge, far and dim,
As of the fire that brightens
Below the dark sea-rim,
When ray by ray the splendid sun
Floats to the world's wide brim.
And out of primal instinct,
The lore of lair and den,
He shall emerge to question
How, wherefore, whence, and when,
Till the last frontier of the truth
Shall lie within his ken.
Then Michael's scarlet-suited host
Took up the word and sang;
As though a trumpet had been loosed
In heaven, the arches rang;
For these were they who feel the thrill
Of beauty like a pang.
He shall be framed and balanced
For loveliness and power,
Lithe as the supple creatures,
And coloured as a flower,
Sustained by the all-feeding earth,
Nurtured by wind and shower,
To stand within the vortex
Where surging forces play,
A poised and pliant figure
Immutable as they,
Till time and space and energy
Surrender to his sway.
He shall be free to journey
Over the teeming earth,
An insatiable seeker,
A wanderer from his birth,
Clothed in the fragile veil of sense,
With fortitude for girth.
His hands shall have dominion
Of all created things,
To fashion in the likeness
Of his imaginings,
To make his will and thought survive
Unto a thousand springs.
The world shall be his province,
The princedom of his skill;
The tides shall wear his harness,
The winds obey his will;
Till neither flood, nor fire, nor frost,
Shall work to do him ill.
A creature fit to carry
The pure creative fire,
Whatever truth inform him,
Whatever good inspire,
He shall make lovely in all things
To the end of his desire.