A Celebration of Women Writers

"Ethelwyn Wetherald" (1857-1940) by John Garvin, (1859-1935)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 167-176.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 167]

Ethelwyn Wetherald

'The Last Robin' is an attractive volume, showing in the cover design the songster most closely associated with the spring, whose ecstatic chant so nearly assimilates the poet's own gift of overflowing, uplifting melody. . . . . . The salient quality of Miss Wetherald's work is its freshness of feeling, a perennial freshness, renewable as spring. This has a setting of harmonious form, for the poet's ear is delicately attuned to the value of words, both as to the sound and the meaning. . . . . . Dealing for the most part with the familiar objects of nature and of life, she remains the poet, as well in the level regions of her subjects as in the elevated. . . . . Now and again she has attained the supreme elevation, as in her lovely poems, 'Earth's Silences', 'The Patient Earth', 'The Wind of Death' and 'The Little Noon'. . . . . . The sonnets are an important part of the volume, and, to some minds, will represent the most important part. Miss Wetherald's sonnets are flowing in expression and harmonious in thought; some are beautiful.–PHAROS, in 'The Globe.'

[Page 168]

AGNES ETHELWYN WETHERALD was born of English-Quaker parents at Rockwood, Ontario, April 26th, 1857. Her father was the late Rev. William Wetherald, who founded the Rockwood Academy about the middle of the last century, and was its principal for some years. He was a lover of good English, spoken and written, and his talented daughter has owed much to his careful teaching. He was the teacher whom the late James J. Hill, the railway magnate, had held in such grateful remembrance.

Additional education was received by Miss Wetherald at the Friends' Boarding School, Union Springs, N.Y., and at Pickering College.

Miss Wetherald began the writing of poetry later in life than most poets and her first book of verse, The House of the Trees and Other Poems, did not appear until 1895. This book at once gave her high rank among women poets.

Prior to this, she had collaborated with G. Mercer Adam on writing and publishing a novel, An Algonquin Maiden, and had conducted the Woman's Department in The Globe, Toronto, under the nom de plume, 'Bel Thistlewaite.'

In 1902, appeared her second volume of verse, Tangled in Stars, and, in 1904, her third volume, The Radiant Road.

In the autumn of 1907, a collection of Miss Wetherald's best poems was issued, entitled, The Last Robin: Lyrics and Sonnets. It was warmly welcomed generally, by reviewers and lovers of poetry. The many exquisite gems therein so appealed to Earl Grey, the then Governor-General of Canada, that he wrote a personal letter of appreciation to the author, and purchased twenty-five copies of the first edition for distribution among his friends.

For years Miss Wetherald has resided on the homestead farm, near the village of Fenwick, in Pelham Township, Weland county, Ontario, and there in the midst of a large orchard and other rural charms, has dreamed, and visioned, and sung, pouring out her soul in rare, sweet songs, with the naturalness of a bird. And like a bird she has a nest in a large willow tree, cunningly contrived by a nature-loving brother, where her muse broods contentedly, intertwining her spirit with every aspect of the beautiful environment.

[Page 169]

The House of the Trees

OPE your doors and take me in,
  Spirit of the wood;
Wash me clean of dust and din,
  Clothe me in your mood.

Take me from the noisy light
  To the sunless peace,
Where at midday standeth Night,
  Signing Toil's release.

All your dusky twilight stores
  To my senses give;
Take me in and lock the doors,
  Show me how to live.

Lift your leafy roof for me,
  Part your yielding walls,
Let me wander lingeringly
  Through your scented halls.

Ope your doors and take me in,
  Spirit of the wood;
Take me–make me next of kin
  To your leafy brood.

The Screech-Owl

HEARING the strange night-piercing sound
  Of woe that strove to sing,
I followed where it hid, and found
  A small soft-throated thing,
A feathered handful of gray grief,
Perched by the year's last leaf.

And heeding not that in the sky
  The lamps of peace were lit,
It sent abroad that sobbing cry,
  And sad hearts echoed it.
O hush, poor grief, so gray, so wild,
God still is with His child!

[Page 170]

My Orders

MY orders are to fight;
  Then if I bleed, or fail,
Or strongly win, what matters it?
  God only doth prevail.

The servant craveth naught
  Except to serve with might.
I was not told to win or lose,–
  My orders are to fight.

If One Might Live

IF one might live ten years among the leaves,
  Ten–only ten–of all a life's long day,
Who would not choose a childhood 'neath the eaves
  Low-sloping to some slender footpath way?

With the young grass about his childish feet,
  And the young lambs within his ungrown arms,
And every streamlet side a pleasure seat
  Within the wide day's treasure-house of charms.

To learn to speak while young birds learned to sing,
  To learn to run e'en as they learned to fly;
With unworn heart against the breast of spring,
  To watch the moments smile as they went by.

Enroofed with apple buds afar to roam,
  Or clover-cradled on the murmurous sod,
To drowse within the blessed fields of home,
  So near to earth–so very near to God.

How could it matter–all the after strife,
  The heat, the haste, the inward hurt, the strain,
When the young loveliness and sweet of life
  Came flood-like back again and yet again?

When best begins it liveth through the worst;
  O happy soul, beloved of Memory,
Whose youth was joined to beauty as at first
  The morning stars were wed to harmony!

[Page 171]

Legacies

UNTO my friends I give my thoughts,
  Unto my God my soul,
Unto my foe I leave my love–
  These are of life the whole.

Nay, there is something–a trifle–left;
  Who shall receive this dower?
See, Earth Mother, a handful of dust–
  Turn it into a flower.

The Hay Field

WITH slender arms outstretching in the sun
   The grass lies dead;
The wind walks tenderly and stirs not one
   Frail fallen head.

Of baby creepings through the April day
    Where streamlets wend,
Of child-like dancing on the breeze of May,
    This is the end.

No more these tiny forms are bathed in dew,
    No more they reach
To hold with leaves that shade them from the blue
    A whispered speech.

No more they part their arms and wreathe them close
    Again, to shield
Some love-full little nest–a dainty house
    Hid in a field.

For them no more the splendour of the storm,
    The fair delights
Of moon and star-shine, glimmering faint and warm
    On summer nights.

Their little lives they yield in summer death,
    And frequently
Across the field bereaved their dying breath
    Is brought to me.

[Page 172]

The Followers

ONE day I caught up with my angel, she
  Who calls me bell-like from a sky-touched tower.
  'Twas in my roof-room, at the stillest hour
Of a still, sunless day, when suddenly
A flood of deep unreasoned ecstasy
  Lifted my heart, that had begun to cower,
  And wrapped it in a flame of living power.
My leader said, 'Arise and follow me.'

Then as I followed gladly I beheld
  How all men baffled, burdened, crossed or curst,
     Clutch at an angel's hem, if near or far;
One not-to-be-resisted voice, deep-belled,
  Speaks to them, and of those we call the worst,
     Lo, each poor blackened brow strains to a Star!

The Wind of Death

THE wind of death, that softly blows
The last warm petal from the rose,
The last dry leaf from off the tree,
To-night has come to breathe on me.

There was a time I learned to hate
  As weaker mortals learn to love;
The passion held me fixed as fate,
Burned in my veins early and late;
  But now a wind falls from above–

The wind of death, that silently
Enshroudeth friend and enemy.

There was a time my soul was thrilled
  By keen ambition's whip and spur;
My master forced me where he willed,
And with his power my life was filled;
  But now the old-time pulses stir

How faintly in the wind of death,
That bloweth lightly as a breath.

[Page 173]

And once, but once, at Love's dear feet
  I yielded strength and life and heart;
His look turned bitter into sweet,
His smile made all the world complete;
  The wind blows loves like leaves apart–

The wind of death, that tenderly
Is blowing 'twixt my love and me.

O wind of death, that darkly blows
Each separate ship of human woes
Far out on a mysterious sea,
I turn, I turn my face to thee!

The Indigo Bird

WHEN I see,
High on the tip-top twig of a tree,
Something blue by the breezes stirred,
But so far up that the blue is blurred,
So far up no green leaf flies
'Twixt its blue and the blue of the skies,
Then I know, ere a note be heard,
That is naught but the Indigo bird.

Blue on the branch and blue in the sky,
And naught between but the breezes high,
And naught so blue by the breezes stirred
As the deep, deep blue of the Indigo bird.

When I hear
A song like a bird laugh, blithe and clear,
As though of some airy jest he had heard
The last and the most delightful word;
A laugh as fresh in the August haze
As it was in the full-voiced April days;
Then I know that my heart is stirred
By the laugh-like song of the Indigo bird.

Joy on the branch and joy in the sky,
And naught between but the breezes high;
And naught so glad on the breezes heard
As the gay, gay note of the Indigo bird.

[Page 174]

At Waking

WHEN I shall go to sleep and wake again
  At dawning in another world than this,
  What will atone to me for all I miss?
The light melodious footsteps of the rain,
The press of leaves against my window-pane,
  The sunset wistfulness and morning bliss,
  The moon's enchantment, and the twilight kiss
Of winds that wander with me through the lane.

Will not my soul remember evermore
  The earthly winter's hunger for the spring,
     The wet sweet cheek of April, and the rush
Of roses through the summer's open door;
  The feelings that the scented woodlands bring
     At evening with the singing of the thrush?

The Song Sparrow's Nest

HERE where tumultuous vines
  Shadow the porch at the west,
Leaf with tendril entwines
  Under a song sparrow's nest.

She in her pendulous nook
  Sways with the warm wind tide,
I with a pen or a book
  Rock as soft at her side.

Comrades with nothing to say,
  Neither of us intrudes,
But through the lingering day
  Each of us sits and broods.

Not upon hate and fear,
  Not upon grief or doubt,
Not upon spite or sneer,
  These we could never hatch out.

She broods on wonderful things:
  Quickening life that belongs
To a heart and a voice and wings,
  But–I'm not so sure of my songs!

[Page 175]

Then in the summer night,
  When I awake with a start,
I think of the nest at the height–
  The leafy height of my heart;

I think of the mother love,
  Of the patient wings close furled,
Of the sky that broods above,
  Of the Love that broods on the world.

Earth's Silences

HOW dear to hearts by hurtful noises scarred
  In the stillness of the many-leavèd trees,
The quiet of green hills, the million-starred
  Tranquility of night, the endless seas
Of silence in deep wilds, where nature broods
In large, serene, uninterrupted moods.

Oh, but to work as orchards work–bring forth
  Pink bloom, green bud, red fruit and yellow leaf,
As noiselessly as gold proclaims its worth,
  Or as the pale blade turns to russet sheaf,
Or splendid sun goes down the glowing west,
Still as forgotten memories in the breast.

How without panting effort, painful word,
  Comes the enchanting miracle of snow,
Making a sleeping ocean. None have heard
  Its waves, its surf, its foam, its overflow;
For unto every heart, all hot and wild,
It seems to say, 'Oh, hush thee! hush, my child!'

Mother and Child

I SAW a mother holding
  Her play-worn baby son,
Her pliant arms enfolding
  The drooping little one.

Her lips were made of sweetness,
  And sweet the eyes above;
With infantile completeness
  He yielded to her love.

[Page 176]

And I who saw the heaving
  Of breast to dimpling cheek,
Have felt, within, the weaving
  Of thoughts I cannot speak;

Have felt myself the nestling,
  All strengthless, love-enisled;
Have felt myself the mother
  Abrood above her child.

Prodigal Yet

MUCK of the sty, reek of the trough,
  Blackened my brow where all might see,
Yet while I was a great way off
  My Father ran with compassion for me.

He put on my hand a ring of gold,
   (There's no escape from a ring, they say)
He put on my neck a chain to hold
  My passionate spirit from breaking away.

He put on my feet the shoes that miss
  No chance to tread in the narrow path;
He pressed on my lips the burning kiss
  That scorches deeper than fires of wrath.

He filled my body with meat and wine,
  He flooded my heart with love's white light;
Yet deep in the mire, with sensual swine,
  I long–God help me!–to wallow to-night.

Muck of the sty, reek of the trough,
  Blacken my soul where none may see.
Father, I yet am a long way off–
  Come quickly, Lord! Have compassion on me!

Pluck

THANK God for pluck–unknown to slaves–
  The self ne'er of its Self bereft,
Who, when the right arm's shattered, waves
  The good flag with the left.

[Next]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom