A Celebration of Women Writers

"Duncan Campbell Scott" (1862-1947) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 133-144.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 133]

Duncan Campbell Scott

He is above everything a poet of climate and atmosphere, employing with a nimble, graphic touch the clear, pure, transparent colours of a richly-furnished palette. He leaves unrecorded no single phase in the pageant of the northern year, from the odorous heat of June to the ice-bound silence of December. His work abounds in magically luminous phrases and stanzas. . . . . . Mr. Scott is particularly happy in the phrases suggested to him by the songs of birds. . . . Though it must not be understood that his talent is merely descriptive. There is a philosophic and also a romantic strain in it. . . . . There is scarcely a poem of Mr. Scott's from which one could not cull some memorable descriptive passage. . . . . As a rule Mr. Scott's workmanship is careful and highly finished. He is before everything a colourist. He paints in lines of a peculiar and vivid translucency. But he is also a metrist of no mean skill, and an imaginative thinker of no common capacity.–WILLIAM ARCHER, in 'Poets of the Younger Generation.'

[Page 134]

SINCE the publication, in 1910, of this critique by William Archer, the distinguished English critic, observers of the poetry of Duncan Campbell Scott have found it steadily growing in imaginative and philosophic as well as in human qualities. His latest work, Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris, a poem of nearly three hundred lines, published for private distribution, is so original, tender and beautiful that it is destined to live among the best in Canadian literature.

Mr. Scott was born in Ottawa, Canada, August 2nd, 1862, and was educated in the public schools of his native city, and at Stanstead Wesleyan Academy. He is of English and Scottish origin, son of the late Rev. William Scott of the Methodist ministry and Janet McCallum.

In 1894, he was married to Miss Belle W. Botsford, a well-known violinist, daughter of Mr. George W. Botsford, of Greenfield, Massachusetts.

In 1880, Mr. Scott entered the Canadian Civil Service at Ottawa, in the Department of Indian Affairs, and ever since has been an official of this Department. Repeated promotion rewarded his industry and efficiency until, in 1913, he became Deputy Superintendent General. This appointment, in his youth, has been fortunate, in another sense, for his associations with the Redmen have inspired and coloured a number of his most original poems.

The following are the names and dates of Mr. Scott's most notable publications: The Magic House and Other Poems, 1893; In the Village of Viger, 1896; Labour and the Angel, 1898; New World Lyrics and Ballads, 1905; John Graves Simcoe, 1905, "Makers of Canada" series, edited by him and Prof. Pelham Edgar, Ph.D.; Via Borealis, 1906, Wm. Tyrrell & Co., Toronto; Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris, 1915; and Lundy's Lane and Other Poems, 1916, McClelland, Goodchild and Stewart, Toronto.

In 1903, he was elected Vice-President of the Canadian Society of Authors, and in 1911, Honorary Secretary of the Royal Society of Canada.

In the Christmas Globe contest of 1908, Mr. Scott won with "The Battle of Lundy's Lane," the prize of one hundred dollars, offered for the best poem on a Canadian historical theme.

[Page 135]

At the Cedars

YOU had two girls–Baptiste–
One is Virginie–
Hold hard–Baptiste!
Listen to me.
The whole drive was jammed
In that bend at the Cedars,
The rapids were dammed
With the logs tight rammed
And crammed; you might know
The Devil had clinched them below.

We worked three days–not a budge,
'She's as tight as a wedge, on the ledge,'
Says our foreman;
'Mon Dieu! boys, look here,
We must get this thing clear.'

He cursed at the men
And we went for it then;
With our cant-dogs arow,
We just gave he-yo-ho;
When she gave a big shove
From above.

The gang yelled and tore
For the shore,
The logs gave a grind
Like a wolf's jaws behind,
And as quick as a flash
With a shove and a crash,
They were down in a mash,
But I and ten more,
All but Isaac Dufour,
Were ashore.

He leaped on a log in the front of the rush,
And shot out from the bind
While the jam roared behind;
As he floated along

[Page 136]

He balanced his pole
And tossed us a song.
But just as we cheered,
Up darted a log from the bottom,
Leaped thirty feet square and fair,
And came down on his own.

He went up like a block
With the shock,
And when he was there
In the air,
Kissed his hand to the land;
When he dropped
My heart stopped,
For the first logs had caught him
And crushed him;
When he rose in his place
There was blood on his face.

There were some girls, Baptiste,
Picking berries on the hillside,
Where the river curls, Baptiste,
You know–on the still side.
One was down by the water,
She saw Isaac
Fall back.

She did not scream, Baptiste,
She launched her canoe;
It did seem, Baptiste,
That she wanted to die too,
For before you could think
The birch cracked like a shell
In that rush of hell,
And I saw them both sink–

Baptiste!–He had two girls,
One is Virginie,
What God calls the other
Is not known to me.

[Page 137]

The Forgers

IN the smithy it began:
Let's make something for a man!
Hear the bellows belch and roar,
Splashing light on roof and floor:
From their nest the feathery sparks
Fly like little golden larks:
Hear each forger's taunting yell,
Tell–tell–tell–tell–
Tell us what we make, my master!

Hear the tenor hammers sound,
Ring-a-round, ring-a-round;
Hear the treble hammers sing,
Ding-a-ring, ding-a-ring;
Hear the forger's taunting yell,
Tell–tell–tell–tell!
Though the guess be right or wrong
You must wear it all life long!

How it glows as it grows,
Ding-a-ring-a-derry-down,
Into something–is't a crown?
Hear them half in death with laughter,
Shaking soot from roof and rafter;
Tell–tell–tell–tell–
Ding-a-ring, ding-a-ring,
See them round the royal thing,
See it fade to ruby rose,
As it glows and grows,
Guess, they shout, for worse or better:
Not a crown!
Is't a fetter?
Hear them shout demonic mirth:
Here's a guesser something worth;
Make it solid, round, and fine,
Fashioned on a cunning plan,
For the riddle-reader Man;
Ho–ho–ho–ho!

Hear the bellows heave and blow:

[Page 138]

Heat dries up their tears of mirth;
Let the marvel come to birth,
Though his guess be right or wrong
He must wear it–all life long!

Sullen flakes of golden fire
Fawn about the dimming choir,
They're a dusky pack of thieves
Shaking rubies from their sleeves,
Hear them wield their vaunting yell,
Tell–tell–tell–tell!
Forging faster–taunting faster–
Guess, my master–Guess, my master!
Grows the enigmatic thing!
Ruddy joyance–Deep disaster?
Ding-a-ring, ding-a-ring,
Ding-a-ring-a-derry-down!
Is't a fetter–Is't a crown?

The Voice and the Dusk

THE slender moon and one pale star,
  A rose leaf and a silver bee
From some god's garden blown afar,
  Go down the gold deep tranquilly.

Within the south there rolls and grows
  A mighty town with tower and spire,
From a cloud bastion masked with rose
  The lightning flashes diamond fire.

The purple martin darts about
  The purlieus of the iris fen;
The king-bird rushes up and out,
  He screams and whirls and screams again.

A thrush is hidden in a maze
  Of cedar buds and tamarac bloom,
He throws his rapid flexile phrase,
  A flash of emeralds in the gloom.

A voice is singing from the hill
  A happy love of long ago;

[Page 139]

Ah! tender voice, be still, be still,
  ''Tis sometimes better not to know.'

The rapture from the amber height
  Floats tremblingly along the plain,
Where in the reeds with fairy light
  The lingering fireflies gleam again.

Buried in dingles more remote,
  Or drifted from some ferny rise,
The swooning of the golden throat
  Drops in the mellow dusk and dies.

A soft wind passes lightly drawn,
  A wave leaps silverly and stirs
The rustling sedge, and then is gone
  Down the black cavern in the firs.

The Sea by the Wood

I DWELL in the sea that is wild and deep,
  But afar in a shadow still,
I can see the trees that gather and sleep
  In the wood upon the hill.

The deeps are green as an emerald's face,
  The caves are crystal calm,
But I wish the sea were a little trace
  Of moisture in God's palm.

The waves are weary of hiding pearls,
  Are aweary of smothering gold,
They would all be air that sweeps and swirls
  In the branches manifold.

They are weary of laving the seaman's eyes
  With their passion prayer unsaid,
They are weary of sobs and the sudden sighs
  And movements of the dead.

All the sea is haunted with human lips
  Ashen and sere and gray,
You can hear the sails of the sunken ships
  Stir and shiver and sway

[Page 140]

In the weary solitude;
  If mine were the will of God, the main
Should melt away in the rustling wood
  Like a mist that follows the rain.

But I dwell in the sea that is wild and deep
  And afar in the shadow still,
I can see the trees that gather and sleep
  In the wood upon the hill.

The Wood by the Sea

I DWELL in the wood that is dark and kind
  But afar off tolls the main,
Afar, far off I hear the wind,
  And the roving of the rain.

The shade is dark as a palmer's hood,
  The air with balm is bland:
But I wish the trees that breathe in the wood
  Were ashes in God's hand.

The pines are weary of holding nests,
  Are aweary of casting shade;
Wearily smoulder the resin crests
  In the pungent gloom of the glade.

Weary are all the birds of sleep,
  The nests are weary of wings,
The whole wood yearns to the swaying deep,
  The mother of restful things.

The wood is very old and still,
  So still when the dead cones fall,
Near in the vale or away on the hill,
  You can hear them one and all.

And their falling wearies me;
  If mine were the will of God,–oh, then
The wood should tramp to the sounding sea,
  Like a marching army of men!

But I dwell in the wood that is dark and kind,
  Afar off tolls the main;
Afar, far off I hear the wind
  And the roving of the rain.

[Page 141]

The Builder

WHEN the deep cunning architect
Had the great minster planned,
They worked in faith for twice two hundred years
And reared the building grand;
War came and famine and they did not falter,
But held his line,
And filled the space divine
With carvings meet for the soul's eye;
And not alone the chantry and thereby
The snowy altar,
But in every part
They carved the minster after his own heart,
And made the humblest places fair,
Even the dimmest cloister-way and stair,
With vineyard tendrils,
With ocean-seeming shells,
With filmy weeds from sea,
With bell-flowers delicate and bells,
All done minute with excellent tracery.
Come, O my soul,
And let me build thee like the minster fair,
Deep based and large as air,
And full of hidden graces wrought
In faith and infinite thought,
Till all thy dimmest ways,
Shall gleam with little vines and fruits of praise,
So that one day
The consummate Architect
Who planned the souls that we are set to build,
May pause and say:
How curiously wrought is this!
The builder followed well My thought, My chart,
And worked for Me, not for the world's wild heart;
Here are the outward virtues true!
But see how all the inner parts are filled
With singular bliss:
Set it aside
I shall come here again at eventide.

[Page 142]

The Half-Breed Girl

SHE is free of the trap and the paddle,
  The portage and the trail,
But something behind her savage life
  Shines like a fragile veil.

Her dreams are undiscovered,
  Shadows trouble her breast,
When the time for resting cometh
  Then least is she at rest.

Oft in the morns of winter,
  When she visits the rabbit snares,
An appearance floats in the crystal air
  Beyond the balsam firs.

Oft in the summer mornings
  When she strips the nets of fish,
The smell of the dripping net-twine
  Gives to her heart a wish.

But she cannot learn the meaning
  Of the shadows in her soul,
The lights that break and gather,
  The clouds that part and roll.

The reek of rock-built cities,
  Where her fathers dwelt of yore,
The gleam of loch and shealing,
  The mist on the moor.

Frail traces of kindred kindness,
  Of feud by hill and strand,
The heritage of an age-long life
  In a legendary land.

She wakes in the stifling wigwam,
  Where the air is heavy and wild,
She fears for something or nothing
  With the heart of a frightened child.

She sees the stars turn slowly
  Past the tangle of the poles,

[Page 143]

Through the smoke of the dying embers,
  Like the eyes of dead souls.

Her heart is shaken with longing
  For the strange, still years,
For what she knows and knows not,
  For the wells of ancient tears.

A voice calls from the rapids,
  Deep, careless and free,
A voice that is larger than her life
  Or than her death shall be.

She covers her face with her blanket,
  Her fierce soul hates her breath,
As it cries with a sudden passion
  For life or death.

From 'Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris'

HERE Morris, on the plains that we have loved,
Think of the death of Akoose, fleet of foot,
Who, in his prime, a herd of antelope
From sunrise, without rest, a hundred miles
Drove through rank prairie, loping like a wolf,
Tired them and slew them, ere the sun went down.
Akoose, in his old age, blind from the smoke
Of tepees and the sharp snow light, alone
With his great grandchildren, withered and spent,
Crept in the warm sun along a rope
Stretched for his guidance. Once when sharp autumn
Made membranes of thin ice upon the sloughs,
He caught a pony on a quick return
Of prowess, and, all his instincts cleared and quickened,
He mounted, sensed the north and bore away
To the Last Mountain Lake where in his youth
He shot the sand-hill-cranes with his flint arrows.
And for these hours in all the varied pomp
Of pagan fancy and free dreams of foray
And crude adventure, he ranged on entranced,
Until the sun blazed level with the prairie,
Then paused, faltered and slid from off his pony.

[Page 144]

In a little bluff of poplars, hid in the bracken,
He lay down; the populace of leaves
In the lithe poplars whispered together and trembled,
Fluttered before a sunset of gold smoke,
With interspaces, green as sea water,
And calm as the deep water of the sea.

There Akoose lay, silent amid the bracken,
Gathered at last with the Algonquin Chieftains.
Then the tenebrous sunset was blown out,
And all the smoky gold turned into cloud wrack.
Akoose slept forever amid the poplars,
Swathed by the wind from the far-off Red Deer
Where dinosaurs sleep, clamped in their rocky tombs.
Who shall count the time that lies between
The sleep of Akoose and the dinosaurs?
Innumerable time, that yet is like the breath
Of the long wind that creeps upon the prairie
And dies away with the shadows at sundown.

. . . . . .

What we may think, who brood upon the theme,
Is, when the old world, tired of spinning, has fallen
Asleep, and all the forms, that carried the fire
Of life, are cold upon her marble heart–
Like ashes on the altar–just as she stops,
That something will escape of soul or essence,–
The sum of life, to kindle otherwhere:
Just as the fruit of a high sunny garden,
Grown mellow with autumnal sun and rain,
Shrivelled with ripeness, splits to the rich heart,
And looses a gold kernel to the mould,
So the old world, hanging long in the sun,
And deep enriched with effort and with love,
Shall, in the motions of maturity,
Wither and part, and the kernel of it all
Escape, a lovely wraith of spirit, to latitudes
Where the appearance, throated like a bird,
Winged with fire and bodied all with passion,
Shall flame with presage, not of tears, but joy.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom