A Celebration of Women Writers

"Katherine Hale" [Amelia Beers Warnock; Mrs. John W. Garvin] (1878-1956) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 323-330.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 323]

Katherine Hale

The writer of 'Grey Knitting' needs no introduction to Canadian readers, as she is a well-known critic and short story writer, and one of the most prominent and best loved of all the band of Canadian women journalists. The name of Katherine Hale is an adornment to the literature of our Dominion, one of which we may be justly proud. Her verse throbs with a sympathetic harmony that cannot fail of an appeal, heightened as it is by a rich poetic beauty that bespeaks a lofty ideal. Those who know Katherine Hale, know her as an idealist who strives ever to visualize for the everyday toiler the haunting visions of beauty that are vouchsafed to the dreamer, and thus she brings the great things of life closer to her readers, ennobling and uplifting their trivial round.–Hamilton 'Spectator.'

Mrs. Garvin's work at its best is delicate, charming, fairy-like, but unusually expressive of emotion and with unusual powers of imagination.–MARJORY MACMURCHY in the 'Toronto Daily News.'

[Page 324]

KATHERINE HALE is the pen name of Mrs. John W. Garvin of Toronto, who was formerly Miss Amelia Beers Warnock of Galt, Ontario, the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Warnock. She was born in Galt, but her father was a native of Kilmarnock, Scotland, and her mother was Miss Katherine Hale Byard of Mobile, Alabama.

Major J. B. Hogan, a maternal great-grandfather of Mrs. Garvin, was aide-de-camp to La Fayette, in the State of Alabama, during the latter's tour of the United States in 1824-5.

Miss Warnock was educated in Galt and at Miss Veal's School in Toronto: and later in New York and in Europe.

The work of Katherine Hale is best known in Canada through her connection, as literary critic, with the Mail and Empire of Toronto. She has also developed recital and lecture work, which is well and widely known. But it is probably through the medium of poetry that her name has carried farthest up to the present time.

A glance over many criticisms which followed the publication in November, 1914, of Grey Knitting, a first and slight book of her verse, brings to one's notice that a number of the most encouraging criticisms were written by English and American reviewers. It is also noticeable that the small brochure ran into four editions of a thousand each, before it had been on the market for six weeks.

Her latest achievement, The White Comrade,–a blank verse war poem of thrilling interest, about five hundred lines in length–will be published in 1916.

The study of music has entered largely into the life of this writer, whose youthful ambition was the operatic stage. It was indeed through her graphic articles on Wagnerian opera, sent to the Mail and Empire from New York, while she was a student in that city, that led to her appointment as the editor of 'Contemporary Literature.'

Several of her poems have been set to music, notably 'In the Trenches' by the well-known composer, Gena Branscombe. The title of the song is 'Dear Lad o' Mine.'

The portrait is reproduced in part from the life-size painting by Edith Stevenson.

Katherine Hale's love of things lyrical has become so largely a part of her life that its effect is unmistakable in the poems which follow.

[Page 325]

At Noon

THOU art my tower in the sun at noon,
The shaft of shade upon my golden way,
In painted space the healing note of gray,
The undertone in nature's pagan rune;
And like a wave lashed to the dying moon,
When old desire is haunting its old prey,
Thy strength subdues the forces that would slay,
And soft withdrawal brings, all starry-strewn.

So doth the soul return to Truth's strong tower,
Pilgrim secure at last of its abode,
Hearing that voice as beautiful as morn:
'Come to the heart of Silence, O my flower,
Out from the coloured heat, the gleaming road,
Into the place where deathless light is born.'

Grey Knitting

ALL through the country, in the autumn stillness,
  A web of grey spreads strangely, rim to rim;
And you may hear the sound of knitting needles,
  Incessant, gentle,–dim.

A tiny click of little wooden needles,
  Elfin amid the gianthood of war;
Whispers of women, tireless and patient,
  Who weave the web afar.

Whispers of women, tireless and patient–
  'Foolish, inadequate!' we hear you say;
'Grey wool on fields of hell is out of fashion,'
  And yet we weave the web from day to day.

Suppose some soldier dying, gaily dying,
  Under the alien skies, in his last hour,
Should listen, in death's prescience so vivid,
  And hear a fairy sound bloom like a flower–

I like to think that soldiers, gaily dying
  For the white Christ on fields with shame sown deep,
May hear the fairy click of women's needles,
  As they fall fast asleep.

[Page 326]

You Who Have Gaily Left Us

YOU who have gaily left us youth-beshorn,
The town is sunless and the roof forlorn;
Dread stands beside the pillow every morn.

But glory is a beacon in the night,
So brilliant that it bathes the world in light,
And lures these slim lads marching out to fight.

Country of mine, so very strong and young,
What of dark banners fast before you flung!
What of the awful battles yet unsung!

No joyous road I ask for you to-day,
I dare not pipe you peace along the way
That leads to Darkness or increasing Day.

For Heaven plays the prelude: drum and fife
Merging the morning into larger life
Challenge the noon of banners and of strife;

Until, within the living crimson flame,
There seems to burn a new-born country's name,
The Friend of Light, and Honour's deathless fame.

When You Return

WHEN you return I see the radiant street,
I hear the rushing of a thousand feet,
I see the ghosts that women come to greet.

I can feel roses, roses all the way,
The fearful gladness that no power can stay,
The joy that glows and grows in ambient ray.

Because slim lads come marching home from war?
Truly, slim lads, home from the Very Far:
From fields as distant as the farthest star.

It will be strange to hear the plaudits roll,
Back from that zone where soul is flung on soul,
Where they go out like sparks to one straight goal.

[Page 327]

Where souls go out as moments fly,
Urging their claim on the unbending sky–
Surely it must be wonderful to die!

When you return I see the radiant street,
I hear the rushing of a thousand feet–
Living and dead with roses we shall greet.

In the Trenches

(Christmas, 1914)

WAR gods have descended:
  The world burns up in fine!
Warm your hands at the trench's fire,
  Dear lad o' mine.

Bullets cease this Christmas night,
  Only songs are heard.
If you feel a phantom step,
  'Twas my heart that stirred.

If you see a dreamy light,
  'Tis the Christ-Child's eyes;
I believe he watches us,
  Wonderful and wise.

Let us keep our Christmas night
  In the camp-light shine;
Warm your hands at the trench's fire–
  They still hold mine.

I Used to Wear a Gown of Green

I USED to wear a gown of green
  And sing a song to May,
When apple blossoms starred the stream
  And Spring came up the way.

I used to run along with Love
  By lanes the world forgets,
To find in an enchanted wood
  The first frail violets.

[Page 328]

And ever 'mid the fairy blooms
  And murmur of the stream,
We used to hear the pipes of Pan
  Call softly through our dream.

But now, in outcry vast, that tune
  Fades like some little star
Lost in an anguished judgment day
  And scarlet flames of war.

What can it mean that Spring returns
  And purple violets bloom,
Save that some gypsy flower may stray
  Beside his nameless tomb!

To pagan Earth her gown of green,
  Her elfin song to May–
With all my soul I must go on
  Into the scarlet day.

To Peter Pan in Winter

['And so it was arranged that Peter Pan should fly back alone to Fairyland, and that once a year Mrs. Darling would allow Wendy to go and stay a whole week with him to do his Spring cleaning.']

SPRING house-cleaning in Arcadie,
  When every bough is bare;
'If it bring Wendy back to me,
  'I wish,' quoth Pan, ' 'twere here.'
For Peter Pan is sometimes sad
  In spite of all that's sung;
He has to pipe and dance like mad
  To keep this old world young.

And as he pipes the fairies light
  A star for every tone.
(Do starry lights burn just as bright
  When one is all alone?)
And as he pipes small elfin folk
  Foregather from the moon,
And dance, and flash, and fade like smoke
  While he plays on and on.

[Page 329]

His magic tree-tops shine with ice
  That used to melt in green,
The people creep like small brown mice
  Down in the worlds between.
And Wendy may be well or ill,
  And play or go to school;
But Pan sits high and pipes his fill
  And minds no mortal rule.

O Peter Pan, the winds are cold,
  The snow is deep and high;
The Never-Never Land is gold,
  And yet–perhaps you sigh;
Perhaps you know, though just an elf,
  In your small fairy way,
How wretched one is by himself,
  When Some One Else can't stay!

So pipe your sweetest, Peter Pan,
  And clang the silver bells;
Send all the elfin din you can
  To where the Great One dwells,
Who holds the Spring within His hand,
  That you who wait above,
And we, in this midwinter world,
  May call again–to Love.

The Answer

UNALTERED aisles that wait and wait forever,
  O woods that gleam and stir in liquid gold,
What of your little lover who departed
  Before the year grew old?

The leaves are very perfect in the forest,
  This is the perfect hour of summer's wane,
And but last year we watched the blue October,
  Between the parted boughs, as now, Lorane.

We asked of Life the old, eternal questions;
  We asked of God: 'Art Thou not here; and why?

[Page 330]

Why never come with heralds of the morning
  Across this blaze of sky?

'Why build Thyself these great and perfect places;
  Why build, and never come to walk therein?'
And only rippling sunshine was the answer,
  Or little pattering footsteps of the rain.

But still we sought Him, in the blue-white winter,
  Or in the rosy spring or shadowy fall;
And faithful winds went forth with us to meet him,
  And all the heaven was one vibrating call.

We sought Him, and our own love seemed the answer;
  We called Him, and the forest smiled us back.
Then we forgot, and only looked for laughter
  Along the wild-wood track.

Yet sometimes, when the moon sang down her cadence
  Through all the forest roof so old and high,
We trembled from the sense of all we knew not–
  The awful incompleteness of the sky.

And all the years we two went forth together
  We never heard that third step on the sod.
I was alone–alone before I felt it,
  And turned, and looked on God.

And God said: 'I am loneliness and sorrow,
  And I am questioning hope, and I am strife;
I am the joy that surges through my forest,
  And I am death in life.

'I am the singing bird, the leaf, the shadow,
  I am the circle of the endless earth;
Out of the infinite of all creation
  I am the silence where the soul finds birth.'

And so, unaltered aisles that wait forever
  And woods that gleam and stir in liquid gold,
You have made answer for the little lover
  Who passed ere you grew old.

[Next]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom