A Celebration of Women Writers

"Alma Frances McCollum" (1879-1906) by John Garvin, (1872-1934) pGarvin, John William, ed. Canadian poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, publishers, 1916. pp. 289-294.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 289]

woman with headband playing lute

Alma Frances McCollum

'Where Sings the Whippoorwill' is for its beauty a strong little etching.

'The Angel's Kiss' is distinctly high class, and I think Miss McCollum excels in this key.

'The Silent Singer' is perfect and a beautiful tribute.

'Love' is grand and Miss McCollum has the true conception.

'Little Nellie's Pa' is so good that James Whitcomb Riley might have been proud to sign it.

0n the whole my judgment tells me the volume is a valuable addition to our Canadian literature. The only faults are minor ones, and consistent with the writer's youth; and who would have it otherwise? But there is no mawkishness–easy to see what a lovely character is our jeune fille.DR. W. H. DRUMMOND, in a letter to the Editor, in 1902.

Her poetical compositions, conspicuous for their tender delicacy of sentiment and graceful literary form, constitute a permanent and valued addition to native Canadian literature. –F R. YOKOME, editor, in the Peterborough 'Examiner.'

[Page 290]

ALMA FRANCES MCCOLLUM was born in a rural village near the town of Chatham, Ontario, on the 7th of December, 1879. She was the youngest of a family of six. While she was still a child, her father, Edward Lee McCollum, died, and the family shortly afterwards moved to Peterborough, Ontario. In this city the mother and three daughters continued to live until the autumn of 1905, when they sold their home and purchased one on Delaware Avenue, Toronto.

Miss Alma had been frail in health for several years before her short residence in Toronto. In the spring of 1900 she spent several weeks in a sanitarium at Clifton Springs, where she was very ill; and it was while her life was almost despaired of there, that she experienced the strange visitation expressed in that beautiful sonnet, 'The Angel of the Sombre Cowl.'

Probably the chief object in moving to Toronto was to enable Miss Alma to take lectures in English Literature at University College: but after a few weeks' attendance, her health so failed that she had to discontinue her studies.

Her physician believed she had incipient appendicitis and persuaded her to undergo an operation. This proved fatal, and she passed away on the 21st of March, 1906.

Miss McCollum inherited her poetical talent from her father, who, like the elder Lampman, wrote good verse. She began to make rhymes in early life, and while still in her teens had written most of the poems which appeared in Flower Legends and Other Poems, in 1902. The pretty cover design was sketched by herself. Besides these accomplishments she sang sweetly, accompanying herself on a mandolin, and had a rare gift of mimicry and recitation. To see and hear her recite her own poems was a pleasure never to be forgotten: her lovely, expressive face, her graceful movements, her patrician voice and manners, made up an indescribable charm of personality.

Miss McCollum's parents were both born and brought up in Ireland: and she was a niece of the late Rev. J. M. McCollum, of Toronto. Her mother and two sisters are now residing on the Pacific Coast, in the State of Washington.

[Page 291]

THE poems selected and included in the original copy were these: 'Where Sings the Whippoorwill,' 'The Angel's Kiss,' 'The Silent Singer,' 'Love,' The Angel of the Sombre Cowl' and 'Little Nellie's Pa.' But as the consent of the executrix of Miss McCollum's estate could not be obtained the following poems have been substituted. Their inclusion is due to the courtesy of The Canadian Magazine and The Globe, Toronto.

Miss McCollum, like Isabella Valancy Crawford, spent many happy hours in the beautiful environment of the Kawartha Lakes. She had a pretty summer cottage, "Halcyon," on the north shore of Smith township. It was located about a half mile from Burleigh Falls where the picturesque view of lake and islands, with a background of thick woods, inspired such poems as 'Forest Sounds' and 'A Song of the Forest.'

Forest Sounds

WHO, in the pines, may hear low voices raised
  To chant in suppliant tone?
They who, in Sorrow's tranquil eyes, have gazed,
  O'ercome, endured alone.

The joyous whispering of lesser trees,
  Who can interpret this?
Awakened souls whose inmost sanctities
  Know Love's revealing kiss.

And lowly vines, the tender clinging things
  That dwell amid the sod?
For pillowed ear, a carillon ne'er rings,
  Unless at peace with God.

[Page 292]

A Song of the Forest

The Legend of Love-Sick Lake

WHEN you wander alone through the forest
  And list to the murmuring song,
If your heart be attuned to the music,
  The words will come floating along.
I have listened so oft to the singing
  That when it is plaintive and low
I can hear through the melody's sobbing
  A love tale of long, long ago.
'Nenemoosha! Omemee! Omemee!'
  The waterfalls purl as they flow;
And the echo sighs softly, 'Omemee!
  The sweetheart, the maiden of woe.'
Like a willow wand supple and slender
  Her movements were motions of grace,
And her eyes as the stars of the morning;
  And dusky as twilight her face,
Overshadowed by long silken tresses,
  Which shone with a luminous light,
Like darkness, when daylight appeareth
  Dispersing the shadows of night.

Now the West Wind is dreamily humming
  The love-lays the dusky Braves cooed,
And the brooklet is mocking the laughter
  That silenced each lover who wooed;
But the melody varies and deepens,
  A tenderer message is sighed,
And the brooklet grows fainter and fainter
  To whisper the words which replied,
Oh! this lover was fair as the morning,
  His eyes as the blue of the lake,
And the hair, like its brink sun-illumined,
  And true was the promise he spake:

[Page 293]

'Nenemoosha! Omemee! Beloved!
  The moon is a thin, silver thread;
After, strand over strand, winds it roundly,
  Omemee her lover will wed.'
But the Waterfalls sullenly gurgle
  How, speedily, far from her sight,
With no farewell, her lover was banished,
  Ere moonbeams illumined the night;
How the Braves and the Squaws in derision
  Then pointed the finger of scorn
Harshly laughing, 'Omemee, forsaken,
  The loveless, the maiden forlorn!'

Now the waters roar loudly their anger,
  Till echoing echoes reply;
And the wind wails its anguish of spirit,
  Keyed high to a shrill minor cry;
Then it hushes and sobs how Omemee
  Was dazed with their gibes and her grief,
And afar through the forest went roaming
  To find for her sorrow relief;
How the trees drooped their boughs to caress her,
  The brambles and thorns bent aside,
And the blossoms clung fast to her tresses
  To garland her fair like a bride;
How the Moon rolled its last silver girdle
  And over the maiden shone clear,
Till she startled and shivered enraptured
  And knew that her lover was near.
From the lakelet she heard his voice calling,
  And following as in a dream,
Where the margin hung high o'er the water,
  She gazed on the moon's sparkling gleam.
For a moment she lingered and hovered,
  Then gliding through quivering light,
Where the Wavelets called softly, 'Omemee,'
  She floated and vanished from sight.

[Page 294]

Now the forest is throbbing with music,
  A harmony wondrously blent,
An ecstatic and thrilling emotion,
  Commingled with blissful content;
From the Brooklet a ripple of laughter,
  The Waterfall's note like the dove,
And the Wind in a clear tone of triumph,
  With echoes uniting, sing love.
And though years have rolled decade on decade
  The Forest remembers the song,
And the wraith of Omemee appeareth,
  And flits o'er the water along:
An elusive ethereal vision,
  An eerie and mystical sprite:
Like the vaporous spray of a fountain
  It glides through the silvery light.
And because of this visitant ghostly,
  Which follows the moon's brilliant wake,
And the Waterfall's echoing sighing,
  This region is called 'Love-sick Lake.'

When you wander alone through the forest
  And list to the murmuring song,
If your heart be attuned to the music,
  The words will come floating along.
I have listened so oft to the singing
  That when it is plaintive and low
I can hear through the melodies sobbing
  This love tale of long, long ago.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom