O Light Canoe, Where Dost Thou Glide?

by Isabella Valancy Crawford

Isabella Valancy Crawford

O LIGHT canoe, where dost thou glide?
Below thee gleams no silvered tide,
But concave heaven's chiefest pride.

Above thee burns Eve's rosy bar;
Below thee throbs her darling star;
Deep 'neath thy keel her round worlds are

Above, below—O sweet surprise
To gladden happy lover's eyes!
No earth, no wave—all jewelled skies.

There came a morn the Moon of Falling Leaves
With her twin silver blades had only hung
Above the low set cedars of the swamp
For one brief quarter, when the Sun arose
Lusty with light and full of summer heat,
And, pointing with his arrows at the blue
Closed wigwam curtains of the sleeping Moon,
Laughed with the noise of arching cataracts,
And with the dove-like cooing of the woods,
And with the shrill cry of the diving loon,
And with the wash of saltless rounded seas,
And mocked the white Moon of the Falling Leaves:

"Esa! esa! shame upon you, Pale Face!
Shame upon you, Moon of Evil Witches!
Have you killed the happy, laughing Summer?
Have you slain the mother of the flowers
With your icy spells of might and magic?
Have you laid her dead within my arms?
Wrapped her, mocking, in a rainbow blanket?
Drowned her in the frost-mist of your anger?
She is gone a little way before me;
Gone an arrow's flight beyond my vision.
She will turn again and come to meet me
With the ghosts of all the stricken flowers,
In a blue smoke in her naked forests.
She will linger, kissing all the branches;
She will linger, touching all the places,
Bare and naked, with her golden fingers,
Saying, "Sleep and dream of me, my children;
Dream of me, the mystic Indian Summer,—
I who, slain by the cold Moon of Terror,
Can return across the path of Spirits,
Bearing still my heart of love and fire,
Looking with my eyes of warmth and splendour,
Whispering lowly through your sleep of sunshine.
I, the laughing Summer, am not turnèd
Into dry dust, whirling on the prairies,
Into red clay, crushed beneath the snowdrifts.
I am still the mother of sweet flowers
Growing but an arrow's flight beyond you
In the Happy Hunting Ground—the quiver
Of great Manitou, where all the arrows
He has shot from His great bow of Power,
With its clear, bright singing cord of Wisdom,
Are re-gathered, plumed again and brightened,
And shot out, re-barbed with Love and Wisdom;
Always shot, and evermore returning.
Sleep, my children, smiling in your heart-seeds
At the spirit words of Indian Summer.'
Thus, O Moon of Falling Leaves, I mock you!
Have you slain my gold-eyed squaw, the Summer?"

The mighty Morn strode laughing up the land,
And Max, the lab'rer and the lover, stood
Within the forest's edge beside a tree—
The mossy king of all the woody tribes—
Whose clattering branches rattled, shuddering,
As the bright axe cleaved moon-like through the air,
Waking the strange thunders, rousing echoes linked,
From the full lion-throated roar to sighs
Stealing on dove-wings through the distant aisles.
Swift fell the axe, swift followed roar on roar,
Till the bare woodland bellowed in its rage
As the first-slain slow toppled to his fall.
"O King of Desolation, art thou dead?'
Cried Max, and laughing, heart and lips, leaped on
The vast prone trunk. "And have I slain a king?
Above his ashes will I build my house;
No slave beneath its pillars, but—a king!'

Max wrought alone but for a half-breed lad
With tough, lithe sinews, and deep Indian eyes
Lit with a Gallic sparkle. Max the lover found
The lab'rer's arms grow mightier day by day,
More iron-welded, as he slew the trees;
And with the constant yearning of his heart
Toward little Kate, part of a world away,
His young soul grew and showed a virile front,
Full-muscled and large-statured like his flesh.

Soon the great heaps of brush were builded high,
And, like a victor, Max made pause to clear
His battle-field high strewn with tangled dead.
Then roared the crackling mountains, and their fires
Met in high heaven, clasping flame with flame;
The thin winds swept a cosmos of red sparks
Across the bleak midnight sky; and the sun
Walked pale behind the resinous black smoke.

And Max cared little for the blotted sun,
And nothing for the startled, outshone stars;
For love, once set within a lover's breast,
Has its own sun, its own peculiar sky,
All one great daffodil, on which do lie
The sun, the moon, the stars, all seen at once
And never setting, but all shining straight
Into the faces of the trinity—
The one beloved, the lover, and sweet love.

O Love builds on the azure sea,
And Love builds on the golden sand,
And Love builds on the rose-winged cloud,
And sometimes Love builds on the land!
O if Love build on sparkling sea,
And if Love build on golden strand,
And if Love build on rosy cloud,
To Love these are the solid land!
O Love will build his lily walls,
And Love his pearly roof will rear
On cloud, or land, or mist, or sea—
Love's solid land is everywhere!

From his far wigwam sprang the strong North Wind
And rushed with war-cry down the steep ravines,
And wrestled with the giants of the woods;
And with his ice-club beat the swelling crests
Of the deep watercourses into death;
And with his chill foot froze the whirling leaves
Of dun and gold and fire in icy banks;
And smote the tall reeds to the hardened earth,
And sent his whistling arrows o'er the plains,
Scattering the lingering herds; and sudden paused,
When he had frozen all the running streams,
And hunted with his war-cry all the things
That breathed about the woods, or roamed the bleak,
Bare prairies swelling to the mournful sky.

"White squaw!" he shouted, troubled in his soul,
"I slew the dead, unplumed before; wrestled
With naked chiefs scalped of their leafy plumes;
I bound sick rivers in cold thongs of death,
And shot my arrows over swooning plains,
Bright with the paint of death, and lean and bare.
And all the braves of my loud tribe will mock
And point at me when our great chief, the Sun,
Relights his council fire in the Moon
Of Budding Leaves: "Ugh, ugh! he is a brave!
He fights with squaws and takes the scalps of babes!'
And the least wind will blow his calumet,
Filled with the breath of smallest flowers, across
The war-paint on my face, and pointing with
His small, bright pipe, that never moved a spear
Of bearded rice, cry, "Ugh! he slays the dead!'
O my white squaw, come from thy wigwam grey,
Spread thy white blanket on the twice-slain dead,
And hide them ere the waking of the Sun!"

High grew the snow beneath the low-hung sky,
And all was silent in the wilderness;
In trance of stillness Nature heard her God
Rebuilding her spent fires, and veiled her face
While the Great Worker brooded o'er his Work.

"Bite deep and wide, O Axe, the tree!
What doth thy bold voice promise me?'

"I promise thee all joyous things
That furnish forth the lives of kings;

"For every silver ringing blow
Cities and palaces shall grow.'

"Bite deep and wide, O Axe, the tree!
Tell wider prophecies to me.'

"When rust hath gnawed me deep and red,
A Nation strong shall lift his head.

"His crown the very heavens shall smite,
—ons shall build him in his might.'

"Bite deep and wide, O Axe, the tree!
Bright Seer, help on thy prophecy!'

Max smote the snow-weighed tree and lightly laughed,
"See, friend,' he cried to one that looked and smiled,
"My axe and I, we do immortal tasks;
We build up nations—this my axe and I.'

Who curseth Sorrow knows her not at all.
Dark matrix she, from which the human soul
Has its last birth; whence it, with misty thews
Close knitted in her blackness, issues out
Strong for immortal toil up such great heights
As crown o'er crown rise through Eternity.
Without the loud, deep clamour of her wail,
The iron of her hands, the biting brine

Of her black tears, the soul, but lightly built
Of indeterminate spirit, like a mist
Would lapse to chaos in soft, gilded dreams,
As mists fade in the gazing of the sun.
Sorrow, dark mother of the soul, arise!
Be crowned with spheres where thy blest children dwell,
Who, but for thee, were not. No lesser seat
Be thine, thou Helper of the Universe,
Than planet on planet piled—thou instrument
Close clasped within the great Creative Hand!

Last updated April 01, 2023