A Celebration of Women Writers

"S. Frances Harrison" [Susie Frances Harrison, aka "Seranus"] (1859-1935) by John Garvin, (1859-1935)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 123-132.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 123]

S. Frances Harrison
(Seranus)

Nature has done much for Mrs. Harrison, in giving her a quick and ready wit, a profoundly sympathetic nature, an unusual power of entering into the thoughts and sentiments of others, besides a very high poetic endowment..... It is necessary to mention that Mrs. Harrison is of British stock, and a native of Toronto. We do not mean that there are not abundant evidences of this origin in her writings; but those who rise from the perusal of her principal volume of poems will find it difficult to believe that she has no Gallic strain in her constitution. It may perhaps be sufficient explanation for this phenomenon, the delicate perception of every shade of French thought and feeling, that the young artist was removed to Lower Canada when only a girl of fifteen, and there became conscious of all the rich material which lay around her, ready to be worked up into living pictures . . . . . Five pages from 'Pine, Rose and Fleur De Lis' are included in Stedman's splendid 'Victorian Anthology,' a high and just tribute from the foremost critic of America. –REV. WILLIAM CLARK, D.C.L., in 'The Magazine of Poetry,' 1896.

[Page 124]

S. FRANCES HARRISON is one of our greater poets whose work has not yet had the recognition in Canada it merits. For unique originality and interest, her pen pictures, in villanelle form, of French-Canadian character and life, stand in almost as distinctive a class as Dr. Drummond's habitant poems, and like the latter they were produced from first-hand knowledge.

Susie Frances Riley was born in Toronto, February 24th, 1859, and is of Irish-Canadian extraction, her father being the late John Byron Riley, for many years proprieter of the 'Revere House,' King St. West. She was educated in a private school for girls, and later, for two years, in Montreal. In her twenty-first year, she married Mr. J. W. F. Harrison, of Bristol, England, a professional musician, at that time organist of St. George's Church, Montreal. In those days, and later, Mrs. Harrison was well known as a professional pianist and vocalist, and indeed her proficiency as a musician has since had expression in compositions of worth. In 1883, while living in Ottawa, where her husband was musical director of the Ottawa Ladies College and organist and choirmaster of Christ Church Cathedral, she wrote and composed a Song of Welcome for the initial public appearance of the Marquis of Lansdowne; and she has since composed many songs, and an entire opera, words and music.

In 1887, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison moved to Toronto, where the former had become organist and choirmaster of the Church of St. Simon, the Apostle. It was about this time that 'Seranus' began her literary career in earnest, and since then her contributions have appeared in many of the leading periodicals and journals. The following are her book publications: Crowded Out and Other Sketches, 1886; Canadian Birthday Book, 1887; Pine, Rose and Fleur De Lis, 1891; The Forest of Bourg-Marie, a novel, 1898; In Northern Skies and Other Poems, 1912; and Ringfield, a novel, 1914.

Crowded Out and Other Sketches has special significance, as 'it was in point of time the first attempt to put Muskoka, and the feeling and landscape of Lower Canada, before our people in an artistic way.'

Mr. and Mrs. Harrison have a son and a daughter.

[Page 125]

From 'Down the River'

Gatineau Point

A HALF-BREED, slim, and sallow of face,
  Alphonse lies full length on his raft,
The hardy son of a hybrid race.

Lithe and long, with the Indian grace,
  Versed in the varied Indian craft,
A half-breed, slim, and sallow of face,

He nurses within mad currents that chase–
  The swift, the sluggish–a foreign graft,
This hardy son of a hybrid race.

What southern airs, what snows embrace
  Within his breast–soft airs that waft
The half-breed–slim, and sallow of face,

Far from the Gatineau's foaming base!
  And what strong potion hath he quaffed,
This hardy son of a hybrid race,

That upon this sun-baked blistered place
  He sleeps, with his hand on the burning haft,
A Metis–slim and sallow of face,
  The hardy son of a hybrid race!

The Voyageur

LIKE the swarthy son of some tropic shore
  He sleeps, with his olive bosom bared,
He sleeps–in his earrings of brassy ore.

Like a tawny tiger whom hot hours bore,
  When all night long he has growled and glared
At the swarthy son of some tropic shore,

Like a fierce-eyed blossom with heart of gore
  That too long in the sun-flushed fields has flared,
He sleeps–in his earrings of brassy ore,

And his scarlet sash that he gaily wore
  To tempt Madelon–who his heart has snared,
Like the swarthy son of some tropic shore.

[Page 126]

That dusky form might a queen adore–
  Prenez garde, Madelon, for a season spared,
He sleeps–in his earrings of brassy ore.

For a season only. What may be in store
  For Madelon? She who has never cared! . . .
Like the swarthy son of some tropic shore
He sleeps–in his earrings of brassy ore.

Danger

WELL! Let him sleep! Time enough to awake
  When sunset ushers a kind release,
When cooling shadows the raft overtake.

For Madelon's heart will never break
  For Alphonse, but for Verrier, fils,
So–let him sleep! Time enough to awake

When Verrier, dressed for Madelon's sake
  In his best, is up the river a piece,
When cooling shadows the raft overtake.

A Carmen–she–whose eyelashes make
  Havoc with all–old Boucher's niece–
So–let him sleep! Time enough to awake,

For a desperate thing is a bad heart-ache,
  And one that may not entirely cease
When cooling shadows the raft overtake.

If they met, who knows–a spring, a shake,
  A jack-knife, deadly as Malay crease–
Hush! Let him sleep! Time enough to awake
When cooling shadows the raft overtake.

Les Chantiers

FOR know, my girl, there is always the axe
  Ready at hand in this latitude,
And how it stings and bites and hacks

When Alphonse the sturdy trees attacks!
  So fear, child, to cross him, or play the prude,
For know, my girl, there is always the axe.

[Page 127]

See! It shines even now as his hands relax
  Their grip with a dread desire imbued
And how it stings and bites and hacks,

And how it rips and cuts and cracks–
  Perhaps–in his brain as the foe is pursued!
For know, my girl, there is always the axe.

The giant boles in the forest tracks
  Stagger, soul-smitten, when afar it is viewed,
And how it stings and bites and hacks!

Then how, Madelon, should its fearful thwacks
  A slender lad like your own elude?
For know, my girl, there is always the axe,
And how it stings! and bites! and hacks!

Petite Ste. Rosalie

FATHER Couture loves a fricassee,
  Served with a sip of home-made wine,
He is the Curé, so jolly and free,

And lives in Petite Ste. Rosalie.
  On Easter Sunday when one must dine,
Father Couture loves a fricassee.

No stern ascetic, no stoic is he,
  Preaching a rigid right divine.
He is the Curé, so jolly and free,

That while he maintains his dignity,
  When Lent is past and the weather is fine,
Father Couture loves a fricassee.

He kills his chicken himself–on dit,
  And who is there dare the deed malign?
He is the Curé, so jolly and free.

Open and courteous, fond of a fee,
  The village deity, bland and benign,
Father Couture loves a fricassee,
He's a sensible Curé, so jolly and free!

[Page 128]

St. Jean B'ptiste

'TIS the day of the blessed St. Jean B'ptiste,
  And the streets are full of the folk awaiting
The favourite French-Canadian feast.

One knows by the bells which have never ceased,
  Since early morn reverberating,
'Tis the day of the blessed St. Jean B'ptiste.

Welcome it! Joyeux, the portly priest!
  Welcome it! Nun at your iron grating!
The favourite French-Canadian feast.

Welcome it! Antoine, one of the least
  Of the earth's meek little ones, meditating
On the day of the blessed St. Jean B'ptiste,

And the jostling crowd that has swift increased
  Behind him, before him, celebrating
The favourite French-Canadian feast.

He is clothed in the skin of some savage beast.
  Who cares if he be near suffocating?
'Tis the day of the blessed St. Jean B'ptiste,
The favourite French-Canadian feast.

II

Poor little Antoine! He does not mind.
  It is all for the Church, for a grand good cause,
The nuns are so sweet and the priests so kind.

The martyr spirit is fast enshrined
  In the tiny form that the ox-cart draws,
Poor little Antoine, he does not mind.

Poor little soul, for the cords that bind
  Are stronger than ardour for fame or applause–
The nuns are so sweet and the priests so kind.

And after the fête a feast is designed–
  Locusts and honey are both in the clause–
Brave little Antoine! He does not mind

The heat, nor the hungry demon twined
  Around his vitals that tears and gnaws,
The nuns are so sweet and the priests so kind.

[Page 129]

The dust is flying. The streets are lined
  With the panting crowd that prays for a pause.
Poor little Antoine! He does not mind!
The nuns are so sweet and the priests so kind.

Catharine Plouffe

THIS grey-haired spinster, Catharine Plouffe–
  Observe her, a contrast to convent chits,
At her spinning wheel, in the room in the roof.

Yet there are those who believe that the hoof
  Of a horse is nightly heard as she knits–
This grey-haired spinster, Catharine Plouffe–

Stockings of fabulous warp and woof,
  And that old Benedict's black pipe she permits
At her spinning wheel, in the room in the roof,

For thirty years. So the gossip. A proof
  Of her constant heart? Nay. No one twits
This grey-haired spinster, Catharine Plouffe;

The neighbours respect her, but hold aloof,
  Admiring her back as she steadily sits
At her spinning wheel, in her room in the roof.

Will they ever marry? Just ask her. Pouf!
  She would like you to know she's not lost her wits–
This grey-haired spinster, Catharine Plouffe,
At her spinning wheel, in her room in the roof.

Benedict Brosse

HALE, and though sixty, without a stoop,
  What does old Benedict want with a wife?
Can he not make his own pea soup?

Better than most men–never droop
  In the August noons when storms are rife?
Hale, and though sixty, without a stoop,

Supreme in the barn, the kitchen, the coop,
  Can he not use both broom and knife?
Can he not make his own pea soup?

Yet Widow Gouin in command of the troop
  Of gossips, can tell of the spinsters' strife.
Hale, and though sixty, without a stoop,

[Page 130]

There's a dozen would jump through the golden hoop,
  For he's rich, and hardy for his time of life,–
Can he not make his own pea soup?

But Benedict's wise and the village group
  He ignores, while he smokes and plays on his fife.
Hale, and though sixty, without a stoop,
Can he not make his own pea soup?

II

As for Catharine–now, she's a woman of sense,
  Though hard to win, so Benedict thinks,
Though hard to please and near with the pence.

Down to the Widow Rose Archambault's fence
  Her property runs and Benedict winks–
As for Catharine–now, she's a woman of sense.

At times he has wished to drop all pretense
  And ask her–she's fond of a bunch of pinks,
Though hard to please and near with the pence,

But he never progresses–the best evidence
  That from medias res our Benedict shrinks.
As for Catharine–now, she's a woman of sense,

A woman of rarest intelligence;
  She manages well, is as close as the Sphinx,
Though hard to please and near with the pence.

Still, that is a virtue at St. Clements.
  Look at Rose Archambault, the improvident minx!
As for Catharine–now, she's a woman of sense,
Though hard to please and near with the pence.

In March

HERE on the wide waste lands,
Take– child–these trembling hands,
Though my life be as blank and waste,
My days as surely ungraced
By glimmer of green on the rim
Of a sunless wilderness dim,
As the wet fields barren and brown,
As the fork of each sterile limb
Shorn of its lustrous crown.

[Page 131]

See–how vacant and flat
The landscape empty and dull,
Scared by an ominous lull
Into a trance–we have sat
This hour on the edge of a broken, a grey snake-fence,
And nothing that lives has flown,
Or crept, or leapt, or been blown
To our feet or past our faces–
So desolate, child–the place is!
It strikes, does it not, a chill,
Like that other upon the hill,
We felt one bleak October?
See–the grey woods still sober
Ere it be wild with glee,
With growth, with an ecstasy,
A fruition born of desire.
The marigold's yellow fire
Doth not yet in the sun burn to leap, to aspire;
Its myriad spotted spears
No erythronium rears;
We cannot see
Anemone,
Or heart-lobed brown hepatica;
There doth not fly,
Low under sky,
One kingfisher–dipping and darting
From reedy shallows where reds are starting,
Pale pink tips that shall burst into bloom,
Not in one night's mid-April gloom,
But inch by inch, till ripening tint,
And feathery plume and emerald glint
Proclaim the waters are open.

All this will come,
The panting hum
Of the life that will stir,
Glance and glide, and whistle and whir,
Chatter and crow, and perch and pry,
Crawl and leap and dart and fly,
Things of feather and things of fur,

[Page 132]

Under the blue of an April sky.
Shall speak, the dumb,
Shall leap, the numb,
All this will come,
It never misses,
Failure, yet–
Never was set
In the sure spring's calendar,
Wherefore–Pet–
Give me one of your springtime kisses!
While you plant some hope in my cold man's breast–
Ah! How welcome the strange flower-guest–
Water it softly with maiden tears,
Go to it early–and late–with fears;
Guard it, and watch it, and give it time
For the holy dews to moisten the rime–
Make of it some green gracious thing,
Such as the heavens shall make of the spring!

. . . . .

The trees and the houses are darkling,
No lamps yet are sparkling
  Along the ravine;
A wild wind rises, the waters are fretting,
  No moon nor star in the sky can be seen!

But if I can bring her with thinking
The thoughts that are linking
  Her life unto mine:
Then blow wild wind! And chafe, proud river!
  At least a Star in my heart shall shine.

. . . . .

Had I not met her, great had been my loss,
  Had I not loved her, pain I had been spared.
So this life goes, and lovers bear the cross,
  Burden borne willingly, if only it be shared.

Had I not met her, Song had passed me by,
  Had I not loved her, Fame had been more sure.
So this life goes, we laugh, and then we sigh,
  While we believe 'tis blessed to endure.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom