A Celebration of Women Writers

"Charles Sangster" (1822-1893) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 9-18.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 9]

Portrait of man with beard

Charles Sangster

To him belongs the honour of being the first poet who made appreciative use of Canadian subjects in his poetical work. . . . . Though many defects may be found in his first volume, indicating undue haste in preparation and over-confidence on the part of the author, yet fine rhythm and spirit are often met with. . . . . This volume established his position as a poet of no common power, which was freely accorded him by writers in Britain, in the United States and in Canada. The lyric to 'The Isles in the St. Lawrence' is much admired, and also 'The Rapid' . . . . . The second volume is not open to the same objections. The poems are more highly finished and show greater skill and care in the poetic art. Mr. Sangster is at his best, perhaps, in his martial pieces, such as 'Brock,' 'Wolfe,' 'Song for Canada,' etc. . . . . He had a passionate love for nature; but his grand theme was love–the noblest of themes.


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CHARLES SANGSTER was born at the Navy Yard, Point Frederick, Kingston, Ontario, on the 16th of July, 1822. He was the son of a joiner in the British Navy, and the grandson of a United Empire Loyalist, a Scotch soldier who had fought in the American Revolution.

Charles was but two years old when his father died; and when he was but fifteen years of age he retired from school to assist his mother in providing for the family.

He found work, first, in the naval laboratory at Fort Henry; and, second, in a subordinate position in the Ordnance Office, Kingston, which he held for several years.

It was during this period that he began to contribute both prose and verse to the public journals. In 1849, he was appointed editor of the Courier in Amherstburg, and went there to reside; but, the following year, resigned and returned to Kingston, where he joined the staff of the Whig. Subsequently, in 1864, the Daily News of the same city engaged his services.

It was during his journalistic career in the 'Limestone City' that he accomplished his best literary work. His first volume, The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay, and Other Poems, appeared in 1856, published by subscription; and his second, Hesperus, and Other Poems and Lyrics, in 1860.

When forty-six years of age he accepted a position in the Post-Office Department at Ottawa, where his poetic energy and ambition succumbed, apparently, to the incessant drudgery and to the hampering cares of ill-paid employment.

Sangster was a poet born, but his literary genius was handicapped by his elementary education and limited reading. For his opportunities, he achieved notably. He died in 1893.


I SAT within the temple of her heart,
And watched the living Soul as it passed through,
Arrayed in pearly vestments, white and pure.
The calm, immortal presence made me start.
It searched through all the chambers of her mind
With one mild glance of love, and smiled to view
The fastnesses of feeling, strong, secure,
And safe from all surprise. It sits enshrined

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And offers incense in her heart, as on
An altar sacred unto God. The dawn
Of an imperishable love passed through
The lattice of my senses, and I, too,
Did offer incense in that solemn place–
A woman's heart made pure and sanctified by grace.

Lyric to the Isles

HERE the spirit of Beauty keepeth
  Jubilee for evermore;
Here the voice of Gladness leapeth,
  Echoing from shore to shore.
O'er the hidden watery valley,
  O'er each buried wood and glade,
Dances our delighted galley,
  Through the sunlight and the shade;
    Dances o'er the granite cells,
    Where the soul of Beauty dwells;

Here the flowers are ever springing,
  While the summer breezes blow;
Here the Hours are ever clinging,
  Loitering before they go;
Playing round each beauteous islet,
  Loath to leave the sunny shore,
Where, upon her couch of violet,
  Beauty sits for evermore;
    Sits and smiles by day and night,
    Hand in hand with pure Delight.

Here the spirit of Beauty dwelleth
  In each palpitating tree,
In each amber wave that welleth
  From its home beneath the sea;
In the moss upon the granite
  In each calm, secluded bay,
With the zephyr trains that fan it
  With their sweet breaths all the day–
    On the waters, on the shore,
    Beauty dwelleth evermore!

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The Soldiers of the Plough

NO maiden dream, nor fancy theme,
  Brown Labour's muse would sing;
Her stately mien and russet sheen
  Demand a stronger wing.
Long ages since, the sage, the prince,
  The man of lordly brow,
All honour gave that army brave,
  The Soldiers of the Plough.
    Kind Heaven speed the plough,
    And bless the hands that guide it!
      God gives the seed–
      The bread we need,
    Man's labour must provide it.

In every land, the toiling hand
  Is blest as it deserves;
Not so the race who, in disgrace,
  From honest labour swerves.
From fairest bowers bring rarest flowers
  To deck the swarthy brow
Of him whose toil improves the soil,–
  The Soldier of the Plough.
    Kind Heaven speed the plough,
    And bless the hands that guide it!
      God gives the seed–
      The bread we need,
    Man's labour must provide it.

Blest is his lot, in hall or cot,
  Who lives as Nature wills,
Who pours his corn from Ceres' horn,
  And quaffs his native rills;
No breeze that sweeps trade's stormy deeps
  Can touch his golden prow.
Their foes are few, their lives are true,
  The Soldiers of the Plough.
    Kind Heaven speed the plough,
    And bless the hands that guide it!
      God gives the seed–
      The bread we need,
    Man's labour must provide it.

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Harvest Hymn

GOD of the Harvest, Thou, whose sun
  Has ripened all the golden grain,
We bless Thee for Thy bounteous store,
The cup of Plenty running o'er,
  The sunshine and the rain!

The year laughs out for very joy,
  Its silver treble echoing
Like a sweet anthem through the woods,
Till mellowed by the solitudes
  It folds its glossy wing.

But our united voices blend
  From day to day unweariedly;
Sure as the sun rolls up the morn,
Or twilight from the eve is born,
  Our song ascends to Thee.

Where'er the various-tinted woods,
  In all their autumn splendour dressed,
Impart their gold and purple dyes
To distant hills and farthest skies
  Along the crimson west:

Across the smooth, extended plain,
  By rushing stream and broad lagoon,
On shady height and sunny dale,
Wherever scuds the balmy gale
  Or gleams the autumn moon:

From inland seas of yellow grain,
  Where cheerful Labour, heaven-blest,
With willing hands and keen-edged scythe,
And accents musically blythe,
  Reveals its lordly crest:

From clover-fields and meadows wide,
  Where moves the richly-laden wain
To barns well-stored with new-made hay,
Or where the flail at early day
  Rolls out the ripened grain:

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From meads and pastures on the hills
  And in the mountain valleys deep,
Alive with beeves and sweet-breathed kine
Of famous Ayr or Devon's line
  And shepherd-guarded sheep:

The spirits of the golden year,
  From crystal caves and grottoes dim,
From forest depths and mossy sward,
Myriad-tongued, with one accord
  Peal forth their harvest hymn.

The Rapid

  ALL peacefully gliding,
  The waters dividing,
The indolent batteau moved slowly along,
  The rowers, light-hearted,
  From sorrow long parted,
Beguiled the dull moments with laughter and song:
'Hurrah for the rapid that merrily, merrily
  Gambols and leaps on its tortuous way!
Soon we will enter it, cheerily, cheerily,
  Pleased with its freshness, and wet with its spray.'

  More swiftly careering,
  The wild rapid nearing,
They dash down the stream like a terrified steed;
  The surges delight them,
  No terrors affright them,
Their voices keep pace with the quickening speed:
'Hurrah for the rapid that merrily, merrily
  Shivers its arrows against us in play!
Now we have entered it, cheerily, cheerily,
  Our spirits as light as its feathery spray.'

  Fast downward they're dashing,
  Each fearless eye flashing,
Though danger awaits them on every side.
  Yon rock–see it frowning!
  They strike–they are drowning!

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But downward they speed with the merciless tide;
No voice cheers the rapid, that angrily, angrily
  Shivers their bark in its maddening play;
Gaily they entered it–heedlessly recklessly,
  Mingling their lives with its treacherous spray!

The Wine of Song

WITHIN Fancy's halls I sit and quaff
  Rich draughts of the wine of Song,
    And I drink and drink
    To the very brink
  Of delirium wild and strong,
Till I lose all sense of the outer world
  And see not the human throng.

The lyral chords of each rising thought
  Are swept by a hand unseen,
    And I glide and glide
    With my music bride,
  Where few spiritless souls have been;
And I soar afar on wings of sound
  With my fair Æolian queen.

Deep, deeper still, from the springs of Thought
  I quaff till the fount is dry,
    And I climb and climb
    To a height sublime
  Up the stars of some lyric sky,
Where I seem to rise upon airs that melt
  Into song as they pass by.

Millennial rounds of bliss I live,
  Withdrawn from my cumbrous clay,
    As I sweep and sweep
    Through infinite deep
  On deep of that starry spray;
Myself a sound on its world-wide round,
  A tone on its spheral way.

And wheresoe'er through the wondrous space
  My soul wings its noiseless flight,

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    On their astral rounds
    Float divinest sounds,
  Unseen, save by spirit-sight,
Obeying some wise, eternal law,
  As fixed as the law of light.

But, oh, when my cup of dainty bliss
  Is drained of the wine of Song,
    How I fall and fall
    At the sober call
  Of the body that waiteth long
To hurry me back to its cares terrene,
  And earth's spiritless human throng!


ONE voice, one people, one in heart
  And soul and feeling and desire.
  Re-light the smouldering martial fire
  And sound the mute trumpet! Strike the lyre!
  The hero dead cannot expire:
The dead still play their part.

Raise high the monumental stone!
  A nation's fealty is theirs,
  And we are the rejoicing heirs,
  The honoured sons of sires whose cares
  We take upon us unawares
As freely as our own.

We boast not of the victory,
  But render homage, deep and just,
  To his–to their–immortal dust,
  Who proved so worthy of their trust;
  No lofty pile nor sculptured bust
Can herald their degree.

No tongue can blazon forth their fame–
  The cheers that stir the sacred hill
  Are but mere promptings of the will
  That conquered them, that conquers still;
  And generations yet shall thrill
At Brock's remembered name.

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Some souls are the Hesperides
  Heaven sends to guard the golden age,
  Illumining the historic page
  With record of their pilgrimage.
  True martyr, hero, poet, sage,–
And he was one of these.

Each in his lofty sphere, sublime,
  Sits crowned above the common throng:
  Wrestling with some pythonic wrong
  In prayer, in thunders, thought or song,
  Briareus-limbed, they sweep along,
The Typhons of the time.

The Plains of Abraham

    I STOOD upon the Plain,
    That had trembled when the slain,
Hurled their proud defiant curses at the battle-hearted foe,
    When the steed dashed right and left
    Through the bloody gaps he cleft,
When the bridle-rein was broken, and the rider was laid low.

    What busy feet had trod
    Upon the very sod
Where I marshalled the battalions of my fancy to my aid!
    And I saw the combat dire,
    Heard the quick, incessant fire,
And the cannons' echoes startling the reverberating glade.

    I saw them one and all,
    The banners of the Gaul
In the thickest of the contest, round the resolute Montcalm;
    The well-attended Wolfe,
    Emerging from the gulf
Of the battle's fiery furnace, like the swelling of a psalm.

    I head the chorus dire,
    That jarred along the lyre
On which the hymn of battle rung, like surgings of the wave
    When the storm, at blackest night,

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    Wakes the ocean in affright,
As it shouts its mighty pibroch o'er some shipwrecked vessel's grave.

    I saw the broad claymore
    Flash from its scabbard, o'er
The ranks that quailed and shuddered at the close and fierce attack;
    When Victory gave the word,
    Then Scotland drew the sword,
And with arm that never faltered drove the brave defenders back.

    I saw two great chiefs die,
    Their last breaths like the sigh
Of the zepher-sprite that wantons on the rosy lips of morn;
    No envy-poisoned darts,
    No rancour in their hearts,
To unfit them for their triumph over death's impending scorn.

    And as I thought and gazed,
    My soul, exultant, praised
The Power to whom each mighty act and victory are due,
    For the saint-like Peace that smiled
    Like a heaven-gifted child,
And for the air of quietude that steeped the distant view.

    The sun looked down with pride,
    And scattered far and wide
His beams of whitest glory till they flooded all the Plain;
    The hills their veils withdrew,
    Of white, and purplish blue,
And reposed all green and smiling 'neath the shower of golden rain.

    Oh, rare, divinest life
    Of Peace, compared with Strife!
Yours is the truest splendour, and the most enduring fame;
    All the glory ever reaped
    Where the fiends of battle leaped,
Is harsh discord to the music of your undertoned acclaim.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom