A Celebration of Women Writers

"Alan Sullivan" (1868-1947) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 281-288.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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man with goatee

Alan Sullivan

The charm of his lucid and melodious verse has attracted wide and deep attention in Canada and the United States. A few of the titles are these: 'The Lover,' 'Respice,' 'To Sleep,' 'Suppliant,' 'When in the Speechless Night,' 'The Call,' and 'Came Those who Saw and Loved Her' which is perhaps the poet's greatest achievement. In this poem he has reached a magnificent level. . . . . The apotheosis of honest toil is a golden thread running through much of Alan Sullivan's work. It is the dominant feature of his remarkable poem, 'The City.' . . . . It is the same attitude towards brawn and sinew which we find in his prose sketches, 'The Pilots of the Night,' and 'The Essence of Man.' . . . He is always paying homage to the native and naked dignity of man . . . . While he is not in the usual sense a didactic author, he exhibits in his prose work and occasionally in his poetry, some characteristics of the social and moral philosopher.–J. E. WETHERELL, B.A., in 'MacLean's Magazine.'

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ALAN SULLIVAN has long had recognition in the United States, through his poems, short stories, and comprehensive articles on various themes, which have frequently appeared in Harper's Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other leading American periodicals; but Canadians are only beginning, it seems to me, to realize his literary genius and fine workmanship. Recently I have read with critical interest most of his output, and am deeply impressed by his keenness of perception, his intellectual grasp, his power of sustained analysis, and by his native sense of the fitness of things. He is not only a distinctive poet, he is a writer of excellent fiction.

Edward Alan Sullivan was born in St. George's Rectory, Montreal, November 29th, 1868. He is the eldest son of the late Bishop of Algoma, the Right Reverend Edward Sullivan, who was of Irish birth, and Frances Mary Renaud, a native of Scotland. In 1869 his father became Rector of Trinity Church, Chicago, and the family was resident there during the terrible conflagration which devastated that city in 1871. In his fifteenth year, he was sent to Loretto, a famous school for boys, in Musselburgh, Scotland, where he remained until his course of studies was completed. On his return to Canada, he attended the School of Practical Science, Toronto, and then engaged in railway exploration work in the West, and later in mining. He was assistant engineer in the Clergue enterprises at Sault Ste. Marie, for a year and a half, before the organization of the Consolidated Lake Superior Company. Subsequently he spent several years as a mining engineer in the Lake of the Woods district, during the period of its gold exploitation.

In December, 1900. Mr. Sullivan married Bessie Salisbury, daughter of Mr. George H. Hees, of Toronto, and their happy and beautiful home in Wychwood Park, Toronto, is now graced with four bright children, two boys and two girls.

In 1903, he became Mechanical Superintendent of Gutta Percha & Rubber, Limited, and held the position for ten years. He is now Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Electrical Association, and a Consulting Engineer.

The following are his most important book publications: I Believe That, 1912; The Passion of Oul-I-But and Other Tales, 1913: and Blantyre: Alien, 1914.

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GRANT me, dear Lord, the alchemy of toil,
  Clean days of labour, dreamless nights of rest,
And that which shall my weariness assoil
  The sanctuary of one beloved breast:

Laughter of children, hope and thankful tears,
  Knowledge to yield, with valour to defend,
A faith immutable, and stedfast years
  That move unvexed to their mysterious end.


THE ancient and the lovely land
  Is sown with death; across the plain
Ungarnered now the orchards stand,
  The Maxim nestles in the grain,
The shrapnel spreads a stinging flail
  Where pallid nuns the cloister trod,
The airship spills her leaden hail;
  But–after all the battles–God.

Athwart the vineyard's ordered banks,
  Silent the red rent forms recline,
And from their stark and speechless ranks
  There flows a richer, ruddier wine;
While down the lane and through the wall
  The victors writhe upon the sod,
Nor heed the onward bugle call;
  But–after all the bugles–God.

By night the blazing cities flare
  Like mushroom torches in the sky;
The rocking ramparts tremble ere
  The sullen cannon boom reply,
And shattered is the temple spire,
  The vestment trampled on the clod,
And every altar black with fire;
  But–after all the altars–God.

And all the prizes we have won
  Are buried in a deadly dust;

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The things we set our hearts upon
  Beneath the stricken earth are thrust;
Again the Savage greets the sun,
  Again his feet, with fury shod,
Across a world in anguish run;
  But–after all the anguish–God.

The grim campaign, the gun, the sword,
  The quick volcano from the sea,
The honour that reveres the word,
  The sacrifice, the agony–
These be our heritage and pride,
  Till the last despot kiss the rod,
And, with man's freedom purified,
  We mark–behind our triumph–God.

The Kite

UPON the liquid tide of air
It swayed beside a dappled cloud:
It seemed athwart the sun to fare
Full of strong flight, as though endowed
With vibrant life. Buoyed in the sky
It swam, and hardly might the eye
Traverse the fields of ambient light
To scan its heaven aspiring height.
And, like a spider's web, there slipped
A pulsing earthward thread, that dipped
In tenuous line, that throbbed and spoke,
Down through the sunlight and the smoke,
Down to a small and blackened brood
Of puny city waifs that stood,
And–lost to hunger, want or time–
Stared, rigid, through the city's grime
At the far envoy they had given
As hostage to the winds of heaven.

Thus may the Soul to heights elysian
Send argosies of dream and vision:
Send far flung messengers that rise
Strong pinioned, cleaving to the skies,
To float amid the poisèd spheres,

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Beyond the tumult of the years,
Till,–down the rare and rainbow line
That earthward trails from fields divine–
Shall pulse the throb of mystic wings,
And faint, sweet, rapturous whisperings
Of incommunicable things.

Came Those Who Saw and Loved Her

CAME those who saw and loved her,
  She was so fair to see!
No whit their homage moved her,
  So proud she was, so free;
But, ah, her soul was turning
With strange and mystic yearning,
With some divine discerning,
  Beyond them all–to me!

As light to lids that quiver
  Throughout a night forlorn,
She came–a royal giver–
  My temple to adorn;
And my soul rose to meet her,
To welcome her, to greet her,
To name, proclaim, her sweeter
  And dearer than the morn:

For her most rare devising
  Was mixed no common clay,
Nor earthly form, disguising
  Its frailty for a day;
But sun and shadow blended,
And fire and love descended
In one creation splendid
  Nor less superb than they.

. . . . .

You–of the finer moulding,
  You–of the clearer light,
Whose spirit life, unfolding,
  Illumed my spirit's night,
Stoop not to end my dreaming,

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To stain the vision gleaming,
Or mar that glory, seeming
  Too high for touch or sight.

Dear as the viewless portal
  Of dream embroidered sleep,
Lift me to dreams immortal,
  Till, purified, I leap
To hear the distant thunder
Of dark veils rent asunder,
And lose myself in wonder
  At mysteries so deep.

Till, past the sombre meadows,
  Tearless and unafraid,
Linked even in the shadows,
  Our deathless souls have strayed;
And you, my soul's defender
O valiant one and tender,
Cry out to God's own splendour,
  'Behold the man I made!'

Brébeuf and Lalemant

CAME Jean Brébeuf from Rennes, in Normandy,
To preach the written word in Sainte Marie–
The Ajax of the Jesuit enterprise:
Huge, dominant and bold–augustly wise.
The zealot's flame deep in the hot brown eyes
That glowed with strange and holy whisperings,
And searched the stars, and caught angelic wings
Beating through visions of mysterious things.
Once, in the sky, a cross and martyr's crown
Hung o'er the squalor of the Huron town.
And spectres, armed with javelin and sword,
Foreshadowed the dread army of the Lord;
But, onward through the forest, to his fate
Marched the great priest, unawed by Huron hate:
In every scourge he glimpsed the sacred Tree
And the dear Master of his embassy.

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'Twas in St. Louis, where the Hurons lay,
Screened from the blue sweep of the Georgian Bay,
That the frail brother Lalemant, and Brébeuf,
Built a strange sanctuary, whose trembling wall
Was birchen bark, on whose long, curving roof
Lay tawny skins. A spirit seemed to call
In supplication through the holy place
For some strong mercy on the untamed race
That, naked, sat in this thrice wondrous room;
And, peering through the incense-burdened gloom,
Stared at the altar, where the black-robes bent
O'er the bright vessels of their sacrament.

Till, on the grim and memorable day,
When, to the Host, they bade their converts pray,
There flashed a gasping runner through the wood:
'The Iroquois! The Iroquois!' he cried.
As fire that stings the forest into blood
And drives red gales of ruin far and wide,
So frenzied fear ran riot, in a flood
That surged convulsive. But the great priest stood
Like a strong tower, when fretted billows race
Tumultuously about its massy base:
'Courage, my children, through the flame I see
The dear white Christ, whose long sought sons are ye.'

Then suddenly from out the wood there rose
The shouting of innumerable foes,
And waves of painted warriors from the glade
Swept yelping, through the tottering palisade.
Were devils ere so murderous as men
In whose brown breasts those devils breathed again,
When agony the shuddering sky assailed,
When age and youth in choking anguish wailed?
Torn from the breast, the child was cleft in twain,
The mother shrieked, then fell among the slain;
Age had no power to swerve the dripping knife,
Youth gained but torture as the end of life,
The wounded perished in the bursting flame
That left St. Louis but a woeful name.
But 'midst the dead and dying moved the priest,

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Closing dead eyes, speeding the soul released;
'Absolvo te'–to trembling lips the word
Descended from the Hurons' new found Lord.
And, ere the night took pity on the dead,
Brébeuf and Lalemant in chains were led;
And one, the giant of Normandy, was bound
To a great stake; when staring boldly round
With ardent gaze, he saw the convert throng
Captive. 'Have courage! It will not be long;
Torture is but salvation's earthly price.
To-day we meet the Christ in Paradise.'

O heart of iron, O strange supernal zeal,
That braves the fire, the torture and the steel!
O torn and shrinking flesh that yet can find
The crown of thorns mysteriously entwined!
O sightless orbs that still their Lord discern,
Howe'er the coals their blackened sockets burn.

Thus sped the Jesuit's triumphant soul.
And Lalemant, ere the rising of the sun,
Achieved through torment his far-shining goal.
And all the Huron missions, one by one,
Were driven by the Iroquois like spray
That strong winds snatch and swiftly whirl away.

Sleep, Lalemant! Brébeuf, a long surcease!
Still moves your martyr's spirit through the glade;
Still mourns the northern forest, when the peace
And benediction of the twilight shade
Awakens in the dark memorial pines
A velvet-footed, cedar-scented breeze,
That whispers where the green and knotted vines
Enmesh the cloistered colonnade of trees.

[There exists no more fascinating record of courage and endurance than that bequeathed to Canada by the Jesuit Fathers. It excites both our pride and our wonder. Foremost in the van of these great pioneers came Brébeuf and Lalemant the first Canadian martyrs. Who can read without emotion of their dauntless lives, their marvellous and perilous journeys, and the terrible death that overtook them in 1649, when captured on the shores of Lake Huron by the merciless Iroquois?–Author's Note.]


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom