A Celebration of Women Writers

"Virna Sheard" (1865-1943) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 451-458.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 451]

Virna Sheard

A study of 'The Miracle and Other Poems' shows at once that the author is not merely a Canadian poet; her outlook and her range know little of time or place; she belongs to the readers of poetry at large. . . . Though Mrs. Sheard's poems are by no means of uniform quality, there are enough of the best to ensure her a high place in Canadian poetry. Her tender sympathy with small or helpless things, her interpretation of the music of nature, her spiritual quality and her rendering of reverent Biblical subjects reflect the mind of an idealist, and are the inspired lines of one deeply moved. Often there is a touch of sadness or of the whimsical, but never a suggestion of triviality or flippancy. There is little of incident or action: most of the poems are pure lyrics. In many cases there is a strong appeal to the aesthetic. – M. O. HAMMOND, in 'The Globe,' Toronto.

The attention of the reader is directed very specially to the sublime figure of the 'The Slumber Angel,' 'As down the dusk he steps, from star to star.' – The Editor.

[Page 452]

VIRNA SHEARD was born in Cobourg, Ontario, a daughter of the late Eldridge Stanton, and is of United Empire Loyalist descent. Her grandmother was a first cousin of the famous American abolitionist, Wendell Phillips. She was educated in Cobourg, and in the city of Toronto.

In 1885, she married Dr. Charles Sheard, of Toronto, and for years devoted most of her time and energy to domestic and social duties.

Mrs. Sheard is the mother of four stalwart, talented sons, one of whom is serving as a lieutenant at the Front, and another is in training.

In 1898, poems and short stories by 'Virna Sheard' began to appear in magazines and journals and since then she has published four novels: Trevelyan's Little Daughters, 1898; A Maid of Many Moods, 1902; By the Queen's Grace, 1904; and The Man at Lone Lake, 1912.

The novels have merit and were well received, but Mrs. Sheard's fame will likely rest in greater measure on her exquisite lyrics. A collection of these was published in book form in the fall of 1913, under the title, The Miracle and Other Poems. Of these, 'In Egypt,' the longest and greatest poem in the book, is too lengthy for quotation in full. It is based on the biblical story of Pharaoh and his obstinate refusal to deliver the Israelites from bondage, and its dramatic spirit is so well sustained throughout, that we should like to see more poems from this author's pen, with mythical and historical themes.

The Slumber Angel

WHEN day is ended, and grey twilight flies
  On silent wings across the tired land,
The slumber angel cometh from the skies–
The slumber angel of the peaceful eyes,
  And with the scarlet poppies in his hand.

His robes are dappled like the moonlit seas,
  His hair in waves of silver floats afar;
He weareth lotus-bloom and sweet heartsease,
With tassels of the rustling green fir trees,
  As down the dusk he steps, from star to star.

[Page 453]

Above the world he swings his curfew bell,
  And sleep falls soft on golden heads and white;
The daisies curl their leaves beneath his spell,
The prisoner who wearies in his cell
  Forgets awhile, and dreams throughout the night.

Even so, in peace, comes that great Lord of rest
  Who crowneth men with amaranthine flowers;
Who telleth them the truths they have but guessed,
Who giveth them the things they love the best,
  Beyond this restless, rocking world of ours.

Dreams

KEEP thou thy dreams–though joy should pass thee by;
  Hold to the rainbow beauty of thy thought;
It is for dreams that men will oft-times die
  And count the passing pain of death as nought.

Keep thou thy dreams, though faith should faint and fail,
  And time should loose thy fingers from the creeds,
The vision of the Christ will still avail
  To lead thee on to truth and tender deeds.

Keep thou thy dreams through all the winter's cold,
  When weeds are withered, and the garden grey,
Dream thou of roses with their hearts of gold,
  Beckon to summers that are on their way.

Keep thou thy dreams–the tissue of all wings
  Is woven first of them; from dreams are made
The precious and imperishable things
  Whose loveliness lives on, and does not fade.

Keep thou thy dreams, intangible and dear
  As the blue ether of the utmost sky–
A dream may lift thy spirit past all fear,
  And with the great may set thy feet on high.

[Page 454]

In Solitude

HE is not desolate whose ship is sailing
  Over the mystery of an unknown sea,
For some great love with faithfulness unfailing
  Will light the stars to bear him company.

Out in the silence of the mountain passes,
  The heart makes peace and liberty its own–
The wind that blows across the scented grasses
  Bringing the balm of sleep–comes not alone.

Beneath the vast illimitable spaces
  Where God has set His jewels in array,
A man may pitch his tent in desert places
  Yet know that heaven is not so far away.

But in the city–in the lighted city–
  Where gilded spires point toward the sky,
And fluttering rags and hunger ask for pity,
  Grey Loneliness in cloth-of-gold, goes by.

The Daisy

AN angel found a daisy where it lay
  On Heaven's highroad of transparent gold,
And, turning to one near, he said, 'I pray,
  Tell me what manner of strange bloom I hold.
You came a long, long way–perchance you know
In what far country such fair flowers blow?'

Then spoke the other: 'Turn thy radiant face
And gaze with me down purple depth of space.
See, where the stars lie spilled upon the night,
Like amber beads that hold a yellow light.
Note one that burns with faint yet steady glow:
It is the Earth–and there these blossoms grow.
Some little child from that dear, distant land
Hath borne this hither in his dimpled hand.'
Still gazed he down. 'Ah, friend,' he said, 'I, too,
Oft crossed the fields at home where daisies grew.'

[Page 455]

The Lily Pond

ON this little pool where the sunbeams lie,
This tawny gold ring where the shadows die,
God doth enamel the blue of His sky.

Through the scented dark when the night wind sighs,
He mirrors His stars where the ripples rise,
Till they glitter like prisoned fireflies.

'Tis here that the beryl-green leaves uncurl,
And here the lilies uplift and unfurl
Their golden-lined goblets of carven pearl.

When the grey of the eastern sky turns pink,
Through the silver edge at the pond's low brink
The little lone field-mouse creeps down to drink.

And creatures to whom only God is kind,
The loveless small things, the slow, and the blind,
Soft steal through the rushes, and comfort find.

Oh, restless the river, restless the sea,
Where the great ships go, and the dead men be!
The lily-pond giveth but peace to me.

The Harp

ACROSS the wind-swept spaces of the sky
The harp of all the world is hung on high,
And through its shining strings the swallows fly.

The little silver fingers of the rain
Oft touch it softly to a low refrain,
That all day long comes o'er and o'er again.

And when the storms of God above it roll,
The mighty wind awakes its sleeping soul
To songs of wild delight or bitter dole.

And through the quiet night, as faint and far
As melody down-drifted from a star,
Trembles strange music where those harp-strings are.

But only flying words of joy and woe,
Caught from the restless earth-bound souls below,
Over the vibrant wires ebb and flow.

[Page 456]

And in the cities that men call their own,
And in the unnamed places, waste and lone,
This harp forever sounds Life's undertone.

The Lonely Road

WE used to fear the lonely road
  That twisted round the hill;
It dipped down to the river-way,
  And passed the haunted mill,
And then crept on, until it reached
  The churchyard, green and still.

No pipers ever took that road,
  No gipsies, brown and gay;
No shepherds with the gentle flocks,
  No loads of scented hay;
No market-waggons jingled by
  On any Saturday.

The dogwood there flung wide its stars,
  In April, silvery sweet;
The squirrels crossed that path all day
  On tiny flying feet;
The wild, brown rabbits knew each turn,
  Each shadowy safe retreat.

And there the golden-belted bee
  Sang his sweet summer song,
The crickets chirped there to the moon
  With steady note and strong;
Till cold and silence wrapped them round
  When autumn nights grew long.

But, oh! they brought the lonely dead
  Along that quiet way,
With strange procession, dark and slow,
  On sunny days and grey;
We used to watch them, wonder-eyed,
  Nor cared again to play.

And we forgot each merry jest;
  The birds on bush and tree

[Page 457]

Silenced the song within their throats
  And with us watched to see,
The soft, slow passing out of sight
  Of that dark mystery.

. . . . .

We fear no more the lonely road
  That winds around the hill;
Far from the busy world's highway
  And the gods slow-grinding mill;
It only seems a peaceful path,
  Pleasant, and green, and still.

From 'In Egypt'

O WHEN the desert blossomed like a mystic silver rose,
  And the moon shone on the palace, deep guarded to the gate,
And softly touched the lowly homes fast barred against their foes,
  And lit the faces hewn of stone, that seemed to watch and wait–

There came a cry–a rending cry–upon the quivering air,
  The sudden wild lamenting of a nation in its pain,
For the first-born sons of Egypt, the young, the strong, the fair,
  Had fallen into dreamless sleep–and would not wake again.

And within the palace tower the little prince slept well,
  His head upon his mother's heart, that knew no more alarms;
For at the midnight hour–O most sweet and strange to tell–
  She too slept deeply as the child close folded in her arms.

Hard through the city rode the king, unarmed, unhelmeted,
  Toward the land he loaned his bondsmen, the country kept in peace;
He swayed upon his saddle, and he looked as looked the dead–
  The people stared and wondered though their weeping did not cease.

[Page 458]

On did he ride to Goshen, and he called 'Arise! Arise!
  Thou leader of the Israelites, 'tis I who bid you go!
Take thou these people hence, before the sun hath lit the skies,–
  Get thee beyond the border of this land of death and woe!'

Across the plains of Egypt through the shadows of the night
  Came the sound as of an army moving onward steadily.
And their leader read his way by the stars' eternal light
  While all the legions followed on their journey to the sea.

. . . . .

The moon that shineth overhead once saw these mysteries–
  And then the world was young, that hath these many years been old;
If Egypt drank her bitter cup down even to the lees
  Who careth now? 'Tis but an ancient tale that hath been told.

Yet still we hear the footsteps–as he goeth to and fro–
Of Azrael, the Angel, that the Lord God sent below,
To Egypt–long ago.

From 'The Temple'

HERE is the perfume of the leaves, the incense of the pines–
The magic scent that hath been pent
  Within the tangled vines:
No censer filled with spices rare
E'er swung such sweetness on the air.

And all the golden gloom of it holdeth no haunting fear
For it is blessed, and giveth rest
  To those who enter here–
Here in the evening–who can know
But God Himself walks to and fro!

And music past all mastering within the chancel rings;
None could desire a sweeter choir
  Than this–that soars and sings,
Till far the scented shadows creep–
And quiet darkness bringeth sleep.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom