A Celebration of Women Writers

"Archibald Lampman" (1861-1899) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 61-74.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 61]

Archibald Lampman

Lampman is Canada's greatest nature poet. . . . It is to the exquisite felicity of his nature poems that he owes his reputation both in this country and abroad. . . . . Never was there a more genuine lover of nature for her own sake. He was not under the spell alone of her sublimer aspects. Indeed, the mountains he had never seen, and the sea but rarely, and in later life. He loved nature as Thoreau loved her–in all her moods. The very thorns and burs were dear to him, and it was this gentle sympathy which he felt for the unobtrusive beauties which we too commonly fail to see, or, seeing, fail to understand that imparted to his poetry its peculiar charm. . . . If landscape is, as has been said, 'a state of the soul,' no other Canadian poet has so adequately rendered the spiritual significance which nature gains from the reflection of human emotions. . . . . His message to his generation is the promise of consolation which nature accords to her devotees.–PROF. PELHAM EDGAR, PH.D., in the 'Globe Magazine.'

[Page 62]

ARCHIBALD LAMPMAN, the beloved poet, was born on Sunday morning, Nov. 17th, 1861, in the village of Morpeth, Ont., where his father, the Rev. Archibald Lampman, was rector of Trinity Church. He was of Dutch descent, and the father of each of his parents was a United Empire Loyalist.

Lampman dedicated his third volume of verse, Alcyone, as follows: "To the memory of my father, himself a poet, who first instructed me in the art of verse"; and we are told by his biographer that there had been poets and scientists on his mother's side of the house.

When Archibald had entered his sixth year, the family left Morpeth, resided for a time at Perrytown, near Port Hope, and in October, 1867, moved to Gore's Landing, a small community on the shore of Rice Lake. Here, in the midst of beautiful surroundings, they dwelt for seven years, the most impressionable years of the poet's life.

Unfortunately, in November, 1868, the boy was stricken with rheumatic fever, induced by a damp rectory. He suffered acutely for months, and in consequence was lame for four years. It was probably due to this illness that in youth and in manhood he never enjoyed robust health.

The future poet was educated at home until nearly nine years of age, when he entered the school of a notable schoolmaster, Mr. F. W. Barron, M.A., of Cambridge, formerly Principal of Upper Canada College. Here he was thoroughly grounded in Latin and Greek. When thirteen years old, he attended the Cobourg Collegiate Institute for a year, and then went to Trinity College School, Port Hope, to prepare for attendance at Trinity College, Toronto. During his two years in Port Hope, he was noted as a prize-winner. In September, 1879, he entered Trinity College, Toronto, where, by the help of scholarships won, he completed his course, graduating with honours in classics in 1882. After graduation, he taught for a few months in the Orangeville High School, and then accepted permanent employment in the Post-Office Department at Ottawa.

In 1887, Lampman married Maud, the youngest daughter of Dr. Edward Playter, of Toronto, and during their twelve [Page 63] years of happiness, several children were born to them.

In 1888, our poet published his first book of verse, Among the Millet, which extended his fame and encouraged him to greater effort. Five years later was issued his second book, Lyrics of Earth, which won for him additional laurels. His third, Alcyone, was on the press when he was stricken by the brief illness which resulted in his death, two days later, on the 10th of February, 1899.

Archibald Lampman was slight of form and of middle height. He was quiet and undemonstrative in manner, but had a fascinating personality. Sincerity and high ideals characterized his life and work.

In 1900, his three books, with additional poems, and with an excellent memoir from the pen of Mr. Duncan Campbell Scott, were published in one large volume of nearly five hundred pages,–his enduring monument.

April in the Hills

TO-DAY the world is wide and fair
With sunny fields of lucid air,
And waters dancing everywhere;
  The snow is almost gone;
The noon is builded high with light,
And over heaven's liquid height,
In steady fleets serene and white,
  The happy clouds go on.

The channels run, the bare earth steams,
And every hollow rings and gleams
With jetting falls and dashing streams;
  The rivers burst and fill;
The fields are full of little lakes,
And when the romping wind awakes
The water ruffles blue and shakes,
  And the pines roar on the hill.

The crows go by, a noisy throng;
About the meadows all day long,
The shore-lark drops his brittle song;
  And up the leafless tree

[Page 64]

The nut-hatch runs, and nods, and clings;
The bluebird dips with flashing wings,
The robin flutes, the sparrow sings,
  And the swallows float and flee.

I break the spirit's cloudy bands,
A wanderer in enchanted lands,
I feel the sun upon my hands;
  And far from care and strife
The broad earth bids me forth. I rise
With lifted brow and upward eyes.
I bathe my spirit in blue skies,
  And taste the springs of life.

I feel the tumult of new birth;
I waken with the wakening earth;
I match the bluebird in her mirth;
  And wild with wind and sun,
A treasurer of immortal days,
I roam the glorious world with praise,
The hillsides and the woodland ways,
  Till earth and I are one.

The Truth

FRIEND, though thy soul should burn thee, yet be still
Thoughts were not meant for strife, nor tongues for swords,
He that sees clear is gentlest of his words,
And that's not truth that hath the heart to kill.
The whole world's thought shall not one truth fulfil.
Dull in our age, and passionate in youth,
No mind of man hath found the perfect truth,
Nor shalt thou find it; therefore, friend, be still.

Watch and be still, nor hearken to the fool,
The babbler of consistency and rule:
Wisest is he, who, never quite secure,
Changes his thoughts for better day by day:
To-morrow some new light will shine, be sure,
And thou shalt see thy thought another way.

[Page 65]

Morning on the Lievre

FAR above us where a jay
Screams his matins to the day,
Capped with gold and amethyst,
Like a vapour from the forge
Of a giant somewhere hid,
Out of hearing of the clang
Of his hammer, skirts of mist
Slowly up the woody gorge
Lift and hang.

Softly as a cloud we go,
Sky above and sky below,
Down the river; and the dip
Of the paddles scarcely breaks,
With the little silvery drip
Of the water as it shakes
From the blades, the crystal deep
Of the silence of the morn,
Of the forest yet asleep;
And the river reaches borne
In a mirror, purple gray,
Sheer away
To the misty line of light,
Where the forest and the stream
In the shadow meet and plight,
Like a dream.

From amid a stretch of reeds,
Where the lazy river sucks
All the water as it bleeds
From a little curling creek,
And the muskrats peer and sneak
In around the sunken wrecks
Of a tree that swept the skies
Long ago,
On a sudden seven ducks
With a splashy rustle rise,
Stretching out their seven necks,

[Page 66]

One before, and two behind,
And the others all arow,
And as steady as the wind
With a swivelling whistle go,
Through the purple shadow led,
Till we only hear their whir
In behind a rocky spur,
Just ahead.

Heat

FROM plains that reel to southward, dim,
  The road runs by me white and bare;
Up the steep hill it seems to swim
  Beyond, and melt into the glare.
Upward half-way, or it may be
  Nearer the summit, slowly steals
A hay-cart, moving dustily
  With idly clacking wheels.

By his cart's side the wagoner
  Is slouching slowly at his ease,
Half-hidden in the windless blur
  Of white dust puffing to his knees.
This wagon on the height above,
  From sky to sky on either hand,
Is the sole thing that seems to move
  In all the heat-held land.

Beyond me in the fields the sun
  Soaks in the grass and hath his will;
I count the marguerites one by one;
  Even the buttercups are still.
On the brook yonder not a breath
  Disturbs the spider or the midge.
The water-bugs draw close beneath
  The cool gloom of the bridge.

Where the far elm-tree shadows flood
  Dark patches in the burning grass,
The cows, each with her peaceful cud,
  Lie waiting for the heat to pass.

[Page 67]

From somewhere on the slope near by
  Into the pale depth of the noon
A wandering thrush slides leisurely
  His thin revolving tune.

In intervals of dreams I hear
  The cricket from the droughty ground;
The grasshoppers spin into mine ear
  A small innumerable sound.
I lift mine eyes sometimes to gaze:
  The burning sky-line blinds my sight:
The woods far off are blue with haze:
  The hills are drenched in light.

And yet to me not this or that
  Is always sharp or always sweet;
In the sloped shadow of my hat
  I lean at rest, and drain the heat;
Nay more, I think some blessed power
  Hath brought me wandering idly here:
In the full furnace of this hour
  My thoughts grow keen and clear.

A January Morning

THE glittering roofs are still with frost; each worn
Black chimney builds into the quiet sky
Its curling pile to crumble silently.
Far out to the westward on the edge of morn,
The slender misty city towers up-borne
Glimmer faint rose against the pallid blue;
And yonder on those northern hills, the hue
Of amethyst, hang fleeces dull as horn.

And here behind me come the woodmen's sleighs
With shouts and clamorous squeakings; might and main
Up the steep slope the horses stamp and strain,
Urged on by hoarse-tongued drivers–cheeks ablaze,
Iced beards and frozen eyelids–team by team,
With frost-fringed flanks, and nostrils jetting steam.

[Page 68]

After Rain

FOR three whole days across the sky,
In sullen packs that loomed and broke,
With flying fringes dim as smoke,
The columns of the rain went by;
At every hour the wind awoke;
  The darkness passed upon the plain;
  The great drops rattled at the pane.

Now piped the wind, or far aloof
Fell to a sough remote and dull;
And all night long with rush and lull
The rain kept drumming on the roof:
I heard till ear and sense were full
  The clash or silence of the leaves,
  The gurgle in the creaking eaves.

But when the fourth day came–at noon,
The darkness and the rain were by;
The sunward roofs were steaming dry;
And all the world was flecked and strewn
With shadows from a fleecy sky.
  The haymakers were forth and gone,
  And every rillet laughed and shone.

Then, too, on me that loved so well
The world, despairing in her blight,
Uplifted with her least delight,
On me, as on the earth, there fell
New happiness of mirth and might;
  I strode the valleys pied and still;
  I climbed upon the breezy hill.

I watched the gray hawk wheel and drop,
Sole shadow on the shining world;
I saw the mountains clothed and curled,
With forest ruffling to the top;
I saw the river's length unfurled,
  Pale silver down the fruited plain,
  Grown great and stately with the rain.

[Page 69]

Through miles of shadow and soft heat,
Where field and fallow, fence and tree,
Were all one world of greenery,
I heard the robin ringing sweet,
The sparrow piping silverly,
  The thrushes at the forest's hem
  And as I went I sang with them.

Winter Evening

TO-NIGHT the very horses springing by
Toss gold from whitened nostrils. In a dream
The streets that narrow to the westward gleam
Like rows of golden palaces; and high
From all the crowded chimneys tower and die
A thousand aureoles. Down in the west
The brimming plains beneath the sunset rest,
One burning sea of gold. Soon, soon shall fly

The glorious vision, and the hours shall feel
A mightier master; soon from height to height,
With silence and the sharp unpitying stars,
Stern creeping frosts, and winds that touch like steel,
Out of the depth beyond the eastern bars,
Glittering and still shall come the awful night.

In March

THE sun falls warm: the southern winds awake:
The air seethes upwards with a steamy shiver:
Each dip of the road is now a crystal lake,
And every rut a little dancing river.
Through great soft clouds that sunder overhead
The deep sky breaks as pearly blue as summer:
Out of a cleft beside the river's bed
Flaps the black crow, the first demure newcomer.

The last seared drifts are eating fast away
With glassy tinkle into glittering laces:
Dogs lie asleep, and little children play
With tops and marbles in the sun-bare places;
And I that stroll with many a thoughtful pause
Almost forget that winter ever was.

[Page 70]

The Railway Station

THE darkness brings no quiet here, the light
No waking: ever on my blinded brain
The flare of lights, the rush, and cry, and strain,
The engine's scream, the hiss and thunder smite:
I see the hurrying crowds, the clasp, the flight,
Faces that touch, eyes that are dim with pain.
I see the hoarse wheels turn, and the great train
Move labouring out into the bourneless night.

So many souls within its dim recesses,
So many bright, so many mournful eyes:
Mine eyes that watch grow fixed with dreams and guesses;
What threads of life, what hidden histories,
What sweet or passionate dreams and dark distresses,
What unknown thoughts, what various agonies!

War

BY the Nile, the sacred river,
  I can see the captive hordes,
Strain beneath the lash and quiver
  At the long papyrus cords,
While in granite rapt and solemn,
Rising over roof and column,
  Amen-hotep dreams, or Ramses,
      Lord of Lords.

I can hear the trumpets waken
  For a victory old and far–
Carchemish or Kadesh taken–
  I can see the conqueror's car
Bearing down some Hittite valley,
Where the bowmen break and sally,
  Sargina or Esarhaddon,
      Grim with war!

From the mountain streams that sweeten
  Indus, to the Spanish foam,
I can feel the broad earth beaten
  By the serried tramp of Rome;

[Page 71]

Through whatever foes environ
Onward with the might of iron–
  Veni, vidi; veni vici–
      Crashing home!

I can see the kings grow pallid
  With astonished fear and hate,
As the hosts of Amr or Khaled
  On their cities fall like fate;
Like the heat-wind from its prison
In the desert burst and risen–
  La ilaha illah 'llahu–
      God is great!

I can hear the iron rattle,
  I can see the arrows sting
In some far-off northern battle,
  Where the long swords sweep and swing;
I can hear the scalds declaiming,
I can see their eyeballs flaming,
  Gathered in a frenzied circle
      Round the king.

I can hear the horn of Uri
  Roaring in the hills enorm;
Kindled at its brazen fury,
  I can see the clansmen form;
In the dawn in misty masses,
Pouring from the silent passes
  Over Granson or Morgarten
      Like the storm.

On the lurid anvil ringing
  To some slow fantastic plan,
I can hear the sword-smith singing
  In the heart of old Japan–
Till the cunning blade grows tragic
With his malice and his magic–
  Tenka tairan! Tenka tairan!
      War to man!

Where a northern river charges
  From a wild and moonlit glade,

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From the murky forest marges,
  Round a broken palisade,
I can see the red men leaping,
See the sword of Daulac sweeping,
  And the ghostly forms of heroes
      Fall and fade.

I can feel the modern thunder
  Of the cannon beat and blaze,
When the lines of men go under
  On your proudest battle-days;
Through the roar I hear the lifting
Of the bloody chorus drifting
  Round the burning mill at Valmy–
      Marseillaise!

I can see the ocean rippled
  With the driving shot like rain,
While the hulls are crushed and crippled,
  And the guns are piled with slain;
O'er the blackened broad sea-meadow
Drifts a tall and titan shadow,
  And the cannon of Trafalgar
      Startle Spain.

Still the tides of fight are booming,
  And the barren blood is spilt;
Still the banners are up-looming,
  And the hands are on the hilt;
But the old world waxes wiser,
From behind the bolted visor
  It descries at last the horror
      And the guilt.

Yet the eyes are dim, nor wholly
  Open to the golden gleam,
And the brute surrenders slowly
  To the godhead and the dream.
From his cage of bar and girder,
Still at moments mad with murder,
  Leaps the tiger, and his demon
      Rules supreme.

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One more war with fire and famine
  Gathers–I can hear its cries–
And the years of might and Mammon
  Perish in a world's demise;
When the strength of man is shattered,
And the powers of earth are scattered,
  From beneath the ghastly ruin
      Peace shall rise!

April Night

HOW deep the April night is in its noon,
The hopeful, solemn, many-murmured night!
The earth lies hushed with expectation; bright
Above the world's dark border burns the moon,
Yellow and large; from forest floorways, strewn
With flowers, and fields that tingle with new birth,
The moist smell of the unimprisoned earth
Come up, a sigh, a haunting promise. Soon,

Ah, soon, the teeming triumph! At my feet
The river with its stately sweep and wheel
Moves on slow-motioned, luminous, gray like steel.
From fields far off whose watery hollows gleam,
Aye with blown throats that make the long hours sweet,
The sleepless toads are murmuring in their dreams.

The Largest Life

I

I LIE upon my bed and hear and see.
The moon is rising through the glistening trees;
And momently a great and sombre breeze,
With a vast voice returning fitfully,
Comes like a deep-toned grief, and stirs in me,
Somehow, by some inexplicable art,
A sense of my soul's strangeness, and its part
In the dark march of human destiny.
What am I, then, and what are they that pass
Yonder, and love and laugh, and mourn and weep?
What shall they know of me, or I, alas!

[Page 74]

Of them? Little. At times, as if from sleep,
We waken to this yearning passionate mood,
And tremble at our spiritual solitude.

II

Nay, never once to feel we are alone,
While the great human heart around us lies:
To make the smile on other lips our own,
To live upon the light in others' eyes:
To breathe without a doubt the limped air
Of that most perfect love that knows no pain:
To say–I love you–only, and not care
Whether the love come back to us again:
Divinest self-forgetfulness, at first
A task, and then a tonic, then a need;
To greet with open hands the best and worst,
And only for another's wound to bleed:
This is to see the beauty that God meant,
Wrapped round with life, ineffably content.

III

There is a beauty at the goal of life,
A beauty growing since the world began,
Through every age and race, through lapse and strife
Till the great human soul complete her span.
Beneath the waves of storm that lash and burn,
The currents of blind passion that appall,
To listen and keep watch till we discern
The tide of sovereign truth that guides it all;
So to address our spirits to the height,
And so attune them to the valiant whole,
That the great light be clearer for our light,
And the great soul the stronger for our soul:
To have done this is to have lived, though fame
Remember us with no familiar name.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom