A Celebration of Women Writers

"Marjorie L. C. Pickthall" [Marjorie Lowrey Christie Pickthall] (1883-1922) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 305-312

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 305]

Marjorie L. C. Pickthall

'The Drift of Pinions' is exquisitely lyrical, with a flawless rhythm and melody. . . . . This poet pays no heed to the headlines of to-day, nor to the rumours of to-morrow, but goes her way in the world of iris-buds and golden fern, hearing and seeing only the things that are most excellent. She possesses that historic imagination to which the world of yesterday is even more real than the thronging events of the present. . . . . It is impossible in comment or quotation to give an idea of the subtle beauty of execution, the ideal spirituality of conception, which make such poems as 'The Lamp of Poor Souls' and 'A Mother in Egypt' poetic achievements of the rarest kind. . . . . To those for whom poetry is a dwelling-place for all sweet sounds and harmonies these poems will come as new and magic melodies, sung by one of the authentic fellowship. The singer's gifts are splendour and tenderness of colour, sweetness of silvery phrase, and a true poet's unwavering belief in 'the subtle thing called spirit.' –JEAN GRAHAM, in Toronto 'Saturday Night.'

[Page 306]

ABOUT the beginning of this century, the attention of many readers was attracted strongly to the remarkable character of the contributions of a seventeen-year-old girl to the Young People's Corner of the Mail and Empire. It was evident that a genius of a rare order had appeared in Canadian literature.

The signature was 'Marjorie L. C. Pickthall,' and on enquiry it was found that she was the daughter of English parents–Mr. Arthur C. Pickthall, an electrical engineer, and Helen Mallard–who had emigrated to Toronto in 1890, when their child was about seven years of age. It was also learned that she had been educated in the Bishop Strachan School on College street.

As Miss Marjorie Lowrey Christie Pickthall was born in London, England, the 14th of September, 1883, she achieved fame earlier in life than most poets. For a decade her poems and short stories have appeared in leading periodicals of England, the United States and Canada: and in the autumn of 1913, the University Magazine, Montreal, and John Lane, the Bodley Head, issued a volume of her collected verse, entitled A Drift of Pinions.

For once the reviewers and critics generally were of one opinion that the work was the product of genius undefiled and radiant, dwelling in the realm of pure beauty and singing with perfect naturalness its divine message.

In 1913, Miss Pickthall was assistant librarian in Victoria College but the close confinement not agreeing with her health, she resigned and went to England to visit relatives. She was there when the Great War broke out and at once became interested in grey knitting and other matters pertaining to the soldiers.

In 1915, Little Hearts, her first novel, was published and was very favorably received by the best critics.

The well-known English writer, Marmaduke Pickthall, is a half-brother of her father.

Miss Pickthall has also a talent for pen-and-ink sketching and for painting small water-colours.

The poems in A Drift of Pinions and many others are to be issued shortly by S. B. Gundy at the Oxford University Press, in a new volume, entitled The Lamp of Poor Souls.

[Page 307]

The Lamp of Poor Souls

[In many English churches before the Reformation there was kept a little lamp continually burning, called the Lamp of Poor Souls. People were reminded thereby to pray for the souls of those dead whose kinsfolk were too poor to pay for prayers and masses.]

ABOVE my head the shields are stained with rust,
  The wind has taken his spoil, the moth his part;
Dust of dead men beneath my knees, and dust,
  Lord, in my heart.

Lay Thou the hand of faith upon my fears;
  The priest has prayed, the silver bell has rung,
But not for him. O unforgotten tears,
  He was so young!

Shine, little lamp, nor let thy light grow dim.
  Into what vast, dread dreams, what lonely lands,
Into what griefs hath death delivered him,
  Far from my hands?

Cradled is he, with half his prayers forgot.
  I cannot learn the level way he goes.
He whom the harvest hath remembered not
  Sleeps with the rose.

Shine, little lamp, fed with sweet oil of prayers.
  Shine, little lamp, as God's own eyes may shine,
When He treads softly down His starry stairs
  And whispers, 'Thou art Mine.'

Shine, little lamp, for love hath fed thy gleam.
  Sleep, little soul, by God's own hands set free.
Cling to His arms and sleep, and sleeping, dream,
  And dreaming, look for me.

The Pool

COME with me, follow me, swift as a moth,
  Ere the wood-doves waken.
  Lift the long leaves and look down, look down
Where the light is shaken,
  Amber and brown,

[Page 308]

  On the woven ivory roots of the reed,
  On a floating flower and a weft of weed
And a feather of froth.

Here in the night all wonders are,
  Lapped in the lift of the ripple's swing,
A silver shell and a shaken star,
  And a white moth's wing.
Here the young moon when the mists unclose
Swims like the bud of a golden rose.

I would live like an elf where the wild grapes cling,
I would chase the thrush
From the red rose-berries.
All the day long I would laugh and swing
With the black choke-cherries.
I would shake the bees from the milkweed blooms,
And cool, O cool,
Night after night I would leap in the pool,
And sleep with the fish in the roots of the rush.
Clear, O clear my dreams should be made
Of emerald light and amber shade,
Of silver shallows and golden glooms.
Sweet, O sweet my dreams should be
As the dark, sweet water enfolding me
Safe as a blind shell under the sea.

The Shepherd Boy

WHEN the red moon hangs over the fold,
And the cypress shadow is rimmed with gold,
O little sheep, I have laid me low,
My face against the old earth's face,
Where one by one the white moths go,
And the brown bee has his sleeping place.
And then I have whispered, mother, hear,
For the owls are awake and the night is near,
And whether I lay me near or far
  No lip shall kiss me,
  No eye shall miss me,
Saving the eye of a cold white star.

[Page 309]

And the old brown woman answers mild,
Rest you safe on my heart, O child.
Many a shepherd, many a king,
I fold them safe from their sorrowing.
Gweniver's heart is bound with dust,
Tristram dreams of the dappled doe,
But the bugle moulders, the blade is rust;
Stilled are the trumpets of Jericho,
And the tired men sleep by the walls of Troy.
  Little and lonely,
  Knowing me only,
Shall I not comfort you, shepherd boy?

When the wind wakes in the apple tree,
And the shy hare feeds on the wild fern stem,
I say my prayers to the Trinity,–
The prayers that are three and the charms that are seven
To the angels guarding the towers of heaven,–
And I lay my head on her raiment's hem,
Where the young grass darkens the strawberry star,
Where the iris buds and the bellworts are.
All night I hear her breath go by
Under the arch of the empty sky.
All night her heart beats under my head,
And I lie as still as the ancient dead,
Warm as the young lambs there with the sheep.
  I and no other
  Close to my Mother,
Fold my hands in her hands, and sleep.

The Bridegroom of Cana

['There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee. . . And both Jesus was called and His disciples, to the marriage.']

VEIL thine eyes, O beloved, my spouse,
Turn them away,
Lest in their light my life withdrawn
Dies as a star, as a star in the day,
As a dream in the dawn.

Slenderly hang the olive leaves
Sighing apart;

[Page 310]

The rose and silver doves in the eaves
With a murmur of music bind our house.
Honey and wine in thy words are stored,
Thy lips are bright as the edge of a sword
  That hath found my heart,
  That hath found my heart.

Sweet, I have waked from a dream of thee,
And of Him.
He who came when the songs were done.
From the net of thy smiles my heart went free
And the golden lure of thy love grew dim.
I turned to them asking, 'Who is He,
Royal and sad, who comes to the feast
And sits Him down in the place of the least?'
And they said, 'He is Jesus, the carpenter's son.'

Hear how my harp on a single string
Murmurs of love.
Down in the fields the thrushes sing
And the lark is lost in the light above,
Lost in the infinite, glowing whole,
  As I in thy soul,
  As I in thy soul.

Love, I am fain for thy glowing grace
As the pool for the star, as the rain for the rill.
Turn to me, trust to me, mirror me
As the star in the pool, as the cloud in the sea.
Love, I looked awhile in His face
And was still.

The shaft of the dawn strikes clear and sharp;
Hush, my harp.
Hush my harp, for the day is begun,
And the lifting, shimmering flight of the swallow
Breaks in a curve on the brink of morn,
Over the sycamores, over the corn.
Cling to me, cleave to me, prison me
As the mote in the flame, as the shell in the sea,
For the winds of the dawn say, 'Follow, follow
Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter's son.'

[Page 311]

A Mother in Egypt

['About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt; and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon the throne, even unto the firstborn of the maid-servant that is behind the mill.']

IS the noise of grief in the palace over the river
  For this silent one at my side?
There came a hush in the night, and he rose with his hands a-quiver
  Like lotus petals adrift on the swing of the tide.
O small soft hands, the day groweth old for sleeping!
  O small still feet, rise up, for the hour is late!
Rise up, my son, for I hear them mourning and weeping
  In the temple down by the gate.

Hushed is the face that was wont to brighten with laughter
  When I sang at the mill,
And silence unbroken shall greet the sorrowful dawns here-after,
  The house shall be still.
Voice after voice takes up the burden of wailing,–
  Do you heed, do you hear, in the high-priest's house by the wall?
But mine is the grief, and their sorrow is all unavailing.
  Will he wake at their call?

Something I saw of the broad, dim wings half folding
  The passionless brow.
Something I saw of the sword the shadowy hands were holding,–
  What matters it now?
I held you close, dear face, as I knelt and harkened
  To the wind that cried last night like a soul in sin,
When the broad, bright stars dropped down and the soft sky darkened,
  And the Presence moved therein.

I have heard men speak in the market-place of the city,
  Low voiced, in a breath,

[Page 312]

Of a god who is stronger than ours, and who knows not changing nor pity,
  Whose anger is death.
Nothing I know of the lords of the outland races,
  But Amun is gentle and Hathor the Mother is mild,
And who would descend from the light of the peaceful places
  To war on a child?

Yet here he lies, with a scarlet pomegranate petal
  Blown down on his cheek.
The slow sun sinks to the sand like a shield of some burnished metal,
  But he does not speak.
I have called, I have sung, but he neither will hear nor waken;
  So lightly, so whitely he lies in the curve of my arm,
Like a feather let fall from the bird that the arrow hath taken.
  Who could see him, and harm?

'The swallow flies home to her sleep in the eaves of the altar,
  And the crane to her nest,'
So do we sing o'er the mill, and why, ah, why should I falter,
  Since he goes to his rest?
Does he play in their flowers as he played among these with his mother?
  Do the gods smile downward and love him and give him their care?
Guard him well, O ye gods, till I come; lest the wrath of that Other
  Should reach to him there!

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom