A Celebration of Women Writers

"Grace Blackburn" [Victoria Grace Blackburn; Fan-Fan] ( -1928) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 383-388.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 383]

woman with curly hair

Grace Blackburn

Miss Blackburn, under the nom de plume, 'Fanfan,' has for years been giving us articles in the London Free Press that place her in the fore-front, if not at the head, of the writers upon literary topics, in the daily press of Canada. –'Catholic Record,' London, Ontario.

Miss Blackburn is well known throughout Western Ontario, under the nom de plume, 'Fanfan,' and in the New York theatrical world, is considered one of the best dramatic critics in Canada. –'Hamilton Herald.'

A writer with a large brain and a big, warm heart: a twentieth century thinker, with the individuality of original thought and expression: a poet just beginning to realize her gift, and its underlying responsibility: one of the best equipped of our literary and dramatic critics, and with the faculty of logical and comprehensive interpretation–altogether, a distinct force in the intellectual life of the Dominion, of whom much may be expected. –The Editor.

[Page 384]

GRACE BLACKBURN is the fifth daughter of the late Josiah Blackburn, of London, Ontario, proprietor and editor, for nearly forty years, of the Free Press, and one of the ablest and most influential of the earlier newspaper men of Canada. Her mother's maiden name was Emma Delemere. Her paternal grandfather was the Rev. John Blackburn, a Congregationalist pastor of London, England, and for many years editor of the official organ of that denomination. He was also a writer of prominence on matters literary and archeological.

Miss Grace was educated in the public and high schools of her native city, and later in Hellmuth College, then the Diocesan School of Huron. Since graduation, she has been engaged chiefly in educational and journalistic work. She taught English for two years in the Bishop Whipple Schools, Faribault, Minnesota, and for one year was acting Principal of the Diocesan School of Northern Indiana, at Indianapolis. In 1900, she returned to Canada to join the staff of the Free Press, as literary and dramatic critic, etc., and has held the position ever since. Three of those years were spent in New York, in the interests of the paper, and four in Europe, where she journeyed entensively and wrote many fascinating travel articles. Besides her regular newspaper work, she is now giving considerable time and attention to poetic achievement, and to the writing of a novel, with a basic motive arising out of the Great War.

Miss Blackburn is not a 'club woman' as that term is ordinarily understood, but she has long been much interested in 'The Association of Canadian Clubs,' and in 1913, was elected to the official position of Literary Correspondent, and reelected the ensuing year.

The Evening Star

ABOVE the sunset's many-tinted bar,
Where light on light, a smiling iris gnar,
Mellows to mystery of near and far,
Swings passionately pale the Evening Star!
Queen of the twilight–from a conquered sky
She smiles to see the Day grow faint and die.

[Page 385]

Epic of the Yser

'DEAD with his face to the foe!'
From Hastings to Yser
Our men have died so.
The lad is a hero–
Great Canada's pride:
We sent him with glory,
For glory he died–
So ring out the church-bells! Float the flag high!

Then I heard at my elbow a fierce mother-cry.

On the desolate plain
Where the dark Yser flows
They'll bury him, maybe,
Our Child of the Snows:
The message we sent them
Through fire and through flood
He signed it and sealed it
To-day with his blood–
United we stand! Our Empire is One!

But this woman beside me? . . . The boy was her son.

Sing Ho for the Herring

ALONG the sea shore, surf-beaten and brown,
The Fisher-Lass hastes to the Fishing-Town,
In kirtle of blue and bodice of red,
The sun at its nooning over her head,
And braw is the salt wind blowing–
Then sing, sing ho for the Herring,
The shimmering, sliddery Herring!

Along the sea shore the Fisher-Lads sigh
For the daffing mouth and the daunting eye,
And they sue and they woo, Rubin, Lubin and Bill,
But she taunts and she flaunts as a Fisher-Lass will;
And sleek is the water flowing–
Then sing, sing ho for the Herring,
The gleeking, glamourish Herring!

[Page 386]

Along the sea shore she shadeth her eyes
To where on the wave his white sails rise,
For it seems there's a wraith in the midst of the glare,
And a voice that she loves calls shrilly and rare,
Ah, sly is the under-towing–
Then sing, sing ho for the Herring,
The spectral, the silver-hued Herring.

Along the sea shore in the teeth of the gale,
In its rage and its roar, its swash and its swale,
With faltering steps and staggering tread
They bear him up softly the stark, stark, Dead;
Oh, lang and dour is the knowing–
Then sing, sing ho for the Herring,
The life-giving, death-dealing Herring!

If Winter Come

Hooded in clouds and snowdrifts–
Great gray Earth,
That shivers and gathers her garments!
Just for a space you lower your eyelids,
Just for a moment you turn me the cold of your shoulder.
There! There! Already!–
Now I have caught you–
A turquoise rift in the rack,
That was relenting!
And back of the pine-trees a flash like a smile,
That, O earth, was your promise!

Below the depth of the frost
Is the warmth of your bosom.
The ice in your veins
Is troth to the rain and the runnel.
The catch in the call of the wind
Is your lip at my ear–
Your whisper of breezes,
Of breezes and blossom–
Of summer–of sweetness–of love!

[Page 387]

The Cypress-Tree

OUT of the clod of earth
That holds me to this melancholy place,
As ancient servitors
Held flambeaux for their lords
In draughty corridors,
I leap into the sky.

I am a torch with an inherent blaze,
No winter bears me or my verdure down:
The whirling snow and ice
Fall on me to their peril, not to mine:
The swift and sudden wind
Deflects but can not quench
My everlasting fire,
My fire that mounts out of the cerecloth of the dead
And draws its essence from mortality,
Transmuting dissolution and despair
Into aspiring form–
A shape that is a symbol–
A pose prophetic!
I am the Cypress-Tree men plant on graves,
And on their graves–I flame!

The Chant of the Woman

CLASH the cymbals!
String the harp and sound it–
Cymbals and harp, there, you Makers of Music!

I will chant to my Comrade the chant of my being,
Woman to Man will I chant it.

I am as old as any. I too have a lineage.
I have come up by forms and through æons;
Forms of manifold fashion, æons of infinite dream.

I, too, am projected of Poets, offspring of the Singers:
I have lain in the womb of the World and incarnate its wonder–
I have played with the Child of the ages and captured its glee–
I have been kissed with the kisses of Kings–
Great Lovers have whispered their lore for my learning.

[Page 388]

Then and now and always, wide away and the length of a span,
I gather that I must gather, by impulse, election:
In me only is attraction,
It alone could attract me,
So am I myself, and none other,
Myself–a mystery! a mouthpiece!

Myself and yet yourself, we two inexplicably one–
Flesh in its consummation, Soul in its incompleteness–
And because of the incompleteness of Soul,
Woman to man,
I chant you the chant of my being.

I cannot live on the crumbs that fall from a Table:
I must be lifted,
Lifted level with my love and with my Lover.
I must be clothed with the purple, made free of the signet–
I must put my hand in his dish, my head on his bosom–
Eye to eye must we lean, loquacious together.

So, and so only
Can I give him to drink of the wine of my winning,
My strange new wine that seethes and bubbles.
So and so only
Can I kiss on his lips the message of Kings–
Whisper the wonder of Life,
The laugh of the Child–
The lore of the Lovers.

Level! Level! Level!
Level with your lips and your eyes my Comrade,
Swing to the height of your heart,
Caught in your soul and kept there
Pervading and peerless!

So, and so only, your Lover, your Servant:
Every passionate pulse-beat
Under the blue veins in my white wrist
Your Servant and Lover–
I cannot live on the crumbs that fall from a Table!


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom