A Celebration of Women Writers

"Elizabeth Roberts MacDonald" (1864-1922) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 221-226.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 221]

Elizabeth Roberts MacDonald

The old Rectory of Fredericton, N.B., has been aptly called 'A Nest of Singing Birds,' for it was there that the four brothers and one sister of the famous Roberts' family were fledglings; it was there they tried their eager wings in many flights of imagination, and piped their new and tuneful songs.

Elizabeth Roberts was born in the Rectory of Westcock, N.B., February 17th, 1864, and was educated at the Collegiate School, Fredericton, and at the New Brunswick University. She taught for a time in the School for the Blind, Halifax, N.S. Poems of hers have appeared in the 'Century,' the 'Independent,' 'Outing' and other prominent magazines, and in 1906, her book, 'Dream Verses and Others,' was published. She has the instinctive knowledge and love of nature and the exquisite fancy and touch, so characteristic of this family.

Mrs. MacDonald is the author also of 'Our Little Canadian Cousin,' a popular child's story, and has written many charming essays and short stories.–The Editor.

[Page 222]

MRS. C. F. FRASER has written beautifully in East and West of the old Fredericton Rectory and its happy, brilliant inmates, of which I quote:

The gift in which so many have thus happily participated is in great degree a matter of happy inheritance. 'Dear Rector Roberts'–for so, irrespective of creed, a whole town styled him–was a cultivated, scholarly gentleman of old English descent. So devoted was he to his chosen work of service to others, so companionable was he with all his helpful goodness, so constant was he to his vision of the ideal, that it was truly said of him when he was laid to rest, that his whole life had been a veritable path of light. The maiden name of his widow, Emma Wetmore Bliss, is suggestive of a fine loyalist stock which has given scholars, lawyers and judges to succeeding generations. Wise, gracious, purposeful, ambitious always for the best efforts of her children, and patient as only mothers can be, she entered as wholly as did her husband into the literary pursuits of her gifted offspring.

Of winter evenings the favourite gathering place was about the great centre table in the sitting-room, where the young people were wont to read aloud for each other's amusement or edification the rhymes or stories which the day had called forth. Spirited discussions frequently arose, but the utmost good humour prevailed and final decisions on most questions were sought and accepted from the father's store of wit and erudition, or from the quiet mother seemingly so fully occupied with the contents of her great mending basket. Bright brains sharpened bright brains, and thus, all unconsciously, the informal gathering gave a training which no school or carefully planned course of study could have achieved.... In summer weather the great old-fashioned garden, haunt of all fragrant and time-forgotten flowers, was the favourite meeting place. There, in and about the hammocks, with their cousin, Bliss Carman, extending his great length on the turf below, and shaggy Nestor, wisest and most understanding of household dogs, wandering about from one to another for a friendly word or pat, and a score of half-tamed wild birds fluttering and twittering in the trees above, the young people did indeed see visions and dream dreams. It is of this scented garden that Elizabeth, the sister, who though too fragile to companion her stirring brothers in the active sports in which they delighted, and yet their leader when the elysian pastures were to be attained, sings so beautifully in her book, Dream Verses and Others.

Staff Sergeant S. A. R. MacDonald, husband of Elizabeth Roberts, is in charge of the Dispensary of the Canadian Special Hospital at Ramsgate, England. Of this marriage, the eldest of two sons, Cuthbert Goodridge, is already contributing to magazines.

[Page 223]

IN the original copy, the following poems from Dream Verses and Others were included by consent of the author: 'Voices,' 'The Spell of the Forest,' 'The House Among the Firs,' 'The Fire of the Frost,' 'White Magic,' 'The Signal Smokes' and 'Dreamhurst.' But as permission to use them could not be procured from her Boston publisher, Mrs. MacDonald kindly sent us these new poems for insertion:

The Whispering Poplars

I HEAR the whispering poplars
  In the hollow by my door;
They sound like fairy waters
  Beside a magic shore,
They sound like long-lost secrets
  Of childhood's golden lore,–
The murmuring, nodding poplars
  In the hollow by my door.

All night they talk together
  Beneath the silent sky;
The mountains crouch beyond them
  The blue lake sleeps near by,–
But still the silver, sibilant
  Small voices laugh and sigh,
Talking all night together
  Beneath the silent sky.

Flood-Tide

WHEN the sea sobs by lonely shores,
  Bleak shores, with shattered boulders strown,
When the dark wind my soul implores
  And claims me for its own.–

How weak, how frail the bars that part
  This hour from unforgotten years;
The dykes of time are down; my heart
  Is swept with love and tears.

[Page 224]

Mountain-Ash

ALL the hills are dark,
  Sombre clouds afloat;
Sunlight, not a spark,
  Birdsong, not a note;
Only, through the blight,
Facing winter's night,
  Flaunts the mountain-ash
Scarlet berries bright.

Like a flame of love,
  Like a lilt of song
Lifted sheer above
  Cares that press and throng,
Through the darkling day,–
Scarlet set in grey–
  Splendid mountain-ash
Gleams along the way.

March Wind

THE dark Spring storm swept up
  From some forgotten shore,
The rain beat on my window
  The same tune o'er and o'er,
And the wind, the maker of poets,
  Sobbed at my door.

'Give me thy heart,' he cried,
  'To blow from sea to sea,
To fill with lonely fear,
  To taunt with bitter glee;
Give me thy heart; I'll give
  My song to thee.'

Now nay, but Love forbid!
  What comes my heart must bear,
But forth on sorrow's trail
  In truth it shall not fare,
Nor would I learn the song
  Hope may not share.

[Page 225]

But all night long the wind
  Sobbed, and would not forget
Its burden of by-gone years,
  Sadness, and vain regret,–
O longing heart, what goal
  For thee is set?

Harvest

RICH days there are when wisdom, love, and dream
Leave their high heaven and close beside us keep,
With comrade-steps, from dawn to happy sleep;
When golden lights on paths familiar gleam,
And life's strong river leaps, a singing stream,
Through countless wonders toward a mystic deep;
When every field has gold for thought to reap,
And faint and far life's wintry troubles seem,

This wheat of gladness garner, oh my heart;
With songs of gladness bring the harvest home
And under sheltering eaves its bounty store,–
Then, when the snows drift deep about your door
And grey wolf-winds through desolate woodlands roam,
To all who need, the magic hoard impart.

Reassurance

NOW lucent splendours, amethyst and gold
And clearest emerald, flood the western sky,
Though all day long dark clouds were heaped on high
And angry winds went racing, icy-cold;
But calm has come with sunset, and behold
Where late the pageantry of storm went by,
What dream-bright majesties of colour lie
Across the solemn depths of space unrolled.

All beautiful things the heart of man can dream,
Deep joy unfaltering, love fulfilled that fears
No parting evermore nor any tears,
Youth's dear desires like beacon-lights that gleam,–
When sunset's luminous miracle appears
How sure, how close those heights of gladness seem!

[Page 226]

The Shepherd

AMONG the hills of night my thoughts
  Go wandering lost and lorn;
No rest they find, or gleam of light
  To solace them till morn;
Stumbling they fare, and know not where
  Safe pasturage to win;
O Shepherd Sleep, across the steep
  Go out and call them in!

An errant flock, they follow far
  By bitter pools of tears,
Lured on by Memory's lonely voice
  And tracked by stealthy fears;
But wanderings cease, doubt sinks in peace,
  If once the fold they win;
O Shepherd Sleep, across the steep
  Go out and call them in!

A Madrigal

SPRING went by with laughter
  Down the greening hills,
Singing lyric snatches,
  Crowned with daffodils;
Now, by breath of roses
As the soft day closes
Know that April's promise
  June fulfills.

Youth goes by with gladness
  Faery woodlands through,
Led by starry visions,
  Fed with honey-dew;
Life, who dost forever
Urge the high endeavor,
Grant that all the dreaming
  Time brings true!

[Next]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom