Poems of Isabella Whiteford Rogerson, 1835-1905

Purchase AO's Canadian Companion collection, which includes Bourinot, Rogerson, and Lampman in paperback or Kindle using our affiliate links. ($amzn) (K)

Biographical Sketch
01. from To Mrs. S--, In Acknowledgement of her Exquisite Bouquet of Wax Flowers
02. The Polar Star
03. Advertisement for the Ladies' Bazaar
04. "Excelsior"
05. from Welcome to Spring
06. from Solitude Not Loneliness
07. from Winter
08. The Pansy
09. from Farewell
10. from To Spring
11. from Our Unforgotten
12. from To Jane, On Receiving her Daguerreotype
13. from A Winter’s Scene
14. On Fragments of Stone from the Giant’s Causeway
15. Electricity
16. from To Mary, On Receiving a Cabbage Rose from Home
17. Memories and Mementoes
18. The Atlantic Telegraph
19. To the Comet of 1858
20. from The Picnic--A Memory
21. What I Would Not
22. from By the River
23. Indian Summer
24. Topsail
25. Written for Anna’s Album
26. Time
27. from Snow-Storm
28. Christmas
29. On Making Cape Race
30. Terra Nova

Biographical Sketch

Isabella Whiteford, later known as Mrs. Rogerson, was very much a product of her time. She wrote in fancy and fanciful language, often in quite long poems, with never a rhyme out of place. Many of her subjects were typical of Victorian poetry: the beauties of nature, the need for social welfare, and death--quite a lot of death. However, her broad interests in science and technology (such as electric cables, daguerreotypes, and "The Comet of 1858"); her originality in word use; and her sense of humour make her someone worth getting to know better.

As a very young girl in Northern Ireland, Isabella was already writing poetry (her first book includes a group of ballad-type verses "written in childhood"). When she was fifteen, she came with the rest of her family to live in Newfoundland, probably because of the Great Famine that had already taken many lives in Ireland. (Newfoundland was then a British colony, and would not become a province of Canada for another ninety years.) She kept many of her Irish connections, though, and her first book of poems was published in Belfast. She prefaced Poems with these modest words:

At the request of my friends I submit to the public this little volume. I am fully aware, in so doing, it is open to public criticism, and I feel very sensibly, without any affectation, its defects are neither few nor small. But as it makes no pretensions to poetry of a higher order than what might possess interest from its purely local character, or serve to while away a twilight hour, or bring back the sunny memory of childhood s early associations, I would claim for it, kind reader, your indulgence and consideration.

Although Isabella did not publish another book of poetry for forty years, she became a much-admired "poetess" in her adopted home. Like Anne Shirley Blythe in L.M. Montgomery's later novels, she seems to have been the go-to person when people wanted poetic tributes to loved ones, or even an "Advertisement for the Ladies' Bazaar," which was an event held to raise funds for a poor children's Sunday school. She often wrote about life in Newfoundland, such as the ocean (and sailors), the wildflowers, and the frosty winters. When she died at the age of seventy, the St John's Evening Telegram called her "one of the foremost of the ladies of this country in good and charitable works, and her gifted pen has added not a little to her fame."

Note on the selection of poems: The poems here have been chosen as those with the most timeless themes, and the most appeal to children. In some cases it seemed important to include an entire poem rather than just an extract; younger students may want to keep those more difficult or longer poems for later years.

The original formatting included spaces around marks such as colons and exclamation points; these have been omitted.

Isabella's style, as already mentioned, echoes the tradition of poets such as Wordsworth and Keats, even in a thank-you note for wax flowers ("To Mrs. S--, In Acknowledgement . . . "). A few vocabulary and explanatory notes have been included, but as teachers should not explain "too much" and spoil the poem, many words must remain undefined. As Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch once wrote on "Children's Reading":

"Go on: just read it to them. They won't know who Hebe was [in Milton's L'Allegro], but you can tell them later. The metre is taking hold of them (in my experience the metre of L'Allegro can be relied upon to grip children) and anyway they can see 'Laughter holding both his sides': they recognise it as if they saw the picture. Go on steadily . . ." (The Art of Reading)

01. from To Mrs. S--, In Acknowledgement of her Exquisite Bouquet of Wax Flowers

from Poems, 1859/1860

Bunchberry is a member of the dogwood family.

Wild flowers immortalised the valley's Queen,
With tiny, trembling cups and leaves of green,
And May-flowers fair as those I culled erewhile,
Radiant with beauty, in our own Green Isle;
And golden ball, and bunch-berry, fruit, and flower.
The fragile children of a summer hour:
I bless the Power that cheats our ardent gaze,
And gives you fadeless thro' dark winter's days.

I am a worshipper -- I fear, too much;
Wherever beauty is, with magic touch,
A strange attraction draws and keeps me there;
I never learned to couple "false and fair."
Altho' it may be so, still in my dreams,
Whate'er is good, that beautiful still seems;
Till beautiful and good become so one,
That I have never either met alone.

02. The Polar Star

from Poems, 1859/1860

The Polar Star is Polaris, also called the North Star. This poem is written as a conversation between the poet and the Polar Star itself.

Isabella refers often to the Northern Lights or aurora borealis, a natural light display most often seen in the Arctic region.

Thou glorious star of night!
      In thy pure and regal splendour,
There's a calmness in thy light,
      That no moonbeams e'er could render.
For changeless art thou still,
      Though all may change about thee;
Go to what clime we will,
      It were not bright without thee.
Answer me -- hast thou seen,
      In all thy steady gaze,
More than our fickle moon
      Through every varying phase?

I have -- when the sun was gone
      And the moon had hid her light,
I have led some trav'ller on
      Through the dark and cheerless night.
Perchance some friend of thine,
      Has been gladdened by my ray,
For I told, though brighter beams decline,
      There's love can ne'er decay.

I have marked, when the Northern Light has thrown
      Its fitful gleams around thee,
And with a bright and circling zone
      Of regal splendour bound thee.
But it was not this had caught my eye:
      Though its arrows were bright and gleaming,
Too soon they fled from the glowing sky,
      Like memorials of infant's dreaming.
But thou, o'er the waters' blue expanse,
What hast thou seen, in thy piercing glance?

I have seen the mariner tempest toss'd
      Afar on the trackless deep,
And I was his guide when all hope was lost--
      When the friends he loved were asleep.
I have marked the starting tear,
      As his eye was turned on me:
He knew that a friend was near
      On the dark and trackless sea;
For I breathed of hope, I whispered a tale
      Of rapturous joys to come;
I told of meeting with friends again,
      Afar from the ocean's foam.

I have kept my vigils o'er the grave
      Of each friend of thine early youth;
The loved, the beautiful, and the brave,
      I have watched with ceaseless truth.
Wouldst thou know still more? Not a spot of earth
      Thou hast loved in thy childhood's days,
In joy or sorrow, in woe or mirth,
      But has met my nightly gaze.
And in future, tho' thou and the world may change,
      Thou shalt meet me as before:
I ne'er shall move, I ne'er shall range,
      Till time itself be o'er.

It is enough, thou glorious star!
      Oh! who would wish for morning,
Whilst the sun and moon are veiled afar,
      And thou art the skies adorning;
Whilst thou art guiding the traveller on,
      Or lighting a friend's lone tomb;
Whilst the sailor's heart is homeward drawn
      Through the darkness and the gloom?
Still sparkle on -- I know thy worth:
      Where'er through earth I roam,
When my eye shall meet thee in the North,
      I will think of my happy home.

03. Advertisement for the Ladies' Bazaar

from Poems, 1859/1860

Come and purchase our fancy ware;
Here are things beautiful, rich, and rare --
Many a little gem of art;
Buy from us even a trifling part.
Fairy fingers at work have been
To furnish forth this varied scene,
Come, buy a purse! -- we'll charm it to hold
A wealth for thee of uncounted gold --
A wealth like his who, though reckon'd mad,
The more he bestowed, the more he had.
Lovest thou flowers? We have them as fair
As ever were twined in a lady's hair:
If not for thyself, buy something to prove
There is still a being on earth to love:
If thou hast not such, then think 'tis given
To teach poor children the way to heaven.

04. "Excelsior"

from Poems, 1859/1860

"Excelsior" is Latin for "Higher." This poem refers to several famous inventors: Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert Fulton, as well as prison reformer John Howard.

Always keep some end in view;
      Never let your life be aimless,
Though the object you pursue
      Should even by your lips be nameless:
Rest not satisfied you've done
      All your fathers did before ye:
Not thus the great and good have won
      Honour, power, fame, and glory.

Had Howard tracked his father's course --
      Been as good and nothing better --
Never tried what gentle force
      Could do to ease the suffering debtor --
We had never heard his name
      Linked with all that's good and holy;
Never felt, for once, that Fame
      Had not spoken aught but truly.

Had Newton gazed on day and night,
      Chasing each one from their portal,
Satisfied he knew of light
      Quite as much as any mortal,
His genius might have soared away,
      Like a comet, wild-- erratic;
Science ne'er had gained a ray
      From light so pure and so prismatic.

Had Franklin watched the lightning's glare
      Tremblingly as did his mother,
We had never talked through air,
      Quick as thought, to one another.
Had Fulton watched the kettle boil --
      Studied not what made it shiver --
Steam had never saved man toil.
      Sped him o'er earth, sea, and river!

If your fathers gained a name.
      Study ye to make it greater;
If it was unknown to fame,
      Resolve to leave it so no later.
Be your post how low soever--
      Toil at anvil, loom, or mill --
Every chain that binds you, sever,
      Till the highest post you fill.

Study not what others think;
      Seek not what you can't attain;
From toil and danger never shrink,
      There is a point which you can gain;
By God's blessing, if you ask it,
      And with stern endeavour joined
If there be indolence, then task it,
      With a firm and steady mind.

No one ever yet could climb well
      If he did not still look higher;
Fix a point and mind your time well --
      You'll gain to what you now aspire.
Never yield, though oft defeated;
      Keep your eye upon your aim;
In the end, though worn and heated.
      You'll obtain a place and name.

05. from Welcome to Spring

from Poems, 1859/1860

Holy and pure, unsaddened by tears
Is the merry laugh of those sunny years,
Recalling dreams of our own sweet home --
Of our childhood's hours, when we loved to roam.
Away where the rocks, majestic piled,
Hid in each crevice the flow'ret wild --
The delicate primrose of modest hue --
The graceful hyacinth's deep rich blue --
The violet hiding in ferny bowers.
The meadow-sweet with its starry showers . . .

Thou art calling forth beauty, and life, and grace
In forests untrod by the human race;
Thou art kissing the ice, and the waters leap
In joyful haste to their parent deep;
Thou art sending our sealers and proud ships home
With their precious freights o'er the ocean's foam.
Then, Springtime, we greet thee with outstretched hand
To our home by adoption -- to Newfoundland.

06. from Solitude Not Loneliness

from Poems, 1859/1860

A laurel chaplet was the leafy crown given to champions and heroes in ancient times.

There is no loneliness in solitude,
Where all around is beautiful and good:
Earth's great Creator -- GOD -- the only Wise --
Saw, at His word, its vales and mountains rise;
River and lake, sweet flower and spreading wood;
Gazed on it all -- pronounced it "very good."

      Is thy lot cast among the common herd?
Study to raise them by each look and word;
To virtue, beauty's richest colouring give;
Show them 'tis for eternity they live.
Clothe real Good with most attractive grace,
And tear the softening veil from Evil's face;
Acknowledge sterling worth, however lowly--
Let thine esteem be won by merit solely;
Labour to make thyself a source of good,
Then fear not loneliness in solitude,
Although no kindred heart respond to thine--
No laurel chaplet round thy brows entwine.

07. from Winter

from Poems, 1859/1860

In this poem it is Winter who speaks (seemingly a bit put out at being called "stern" and "old"). A stripling is a youth.

I saw all this, and I soothed the stream,
'Neath my magic wand, to a pleasant dream;
And I breathed on it yet, till its waters froze,
As marble founts 'neath my hand arose,
So rich and so varied in form and mould,
That they charmed like flowers of green and gold.
      I swept o'er the lake, with a kingly tread
And a crystal carpet was o'er it spread;
And happy children, on skate or sleigh,
Rejoiced in my merry holiday;
And I made the air more ethereal still,
And echoed their laugh from hill to hill;
I fanned the stars till they burned more bright,
And seemed to dance in the Northern light.
I made moonlight beauty more serene,
And daguerreotyped many a bygone scene
To the old and feeble, the changed and sad,
Of days of yore when their hearts were glad --
When their song rang out with the sleigh-bell's tone,
As they sped away through the forests lone . . .

With liberal hand the bright snowflake
O'er the leafless boughs of the wood I shake;
I know that your eyes will miss the flowers
That bloomed erewhile in your garden bowers;
So I breathe on your windows and crust them o'er
With leaves and blossoms a glistening store,
Fantastic in form-- as if fairy wand
Had touched the pane with a painter's hand.

      Why call me "old?" Merry Christmas I own,
And the happy New Year is mine alone.
How can I be old, when I call to play
The gleesome child and the stripling gay?
Why call me stern? I plead for the poor,
And whisper their wants from door to door.
Why call me gloomy? What smiles so bright,
As fireside faces on Winter's night?
'Tis only in fancy that Winter has been
To so many soft eyes a sombre scene:
The darkest cloud has a silvery speck
Which the sun is gilding behind its back.

08. The Pansy

from Poems, 1859/1860

The name "pansy" comes from the French word pensée, "thought," and therefore it has often symbolized remembrance, along with love.
Heart's-ease is the viola tricolor, or wild pansy.
"Meet" means suitable.

Well may thy name and thought be one,
      Sweet sombre-tinted flower,
That lov'st the vulgar gaze to shun,
      Hidden by tree or flower;
Never closing thy velvet petals fair
      In soft and dreamy sleep,
But spreading them out to the balmy air,
      Thought's sleepless watch to keep.

I have loved thee much since my childhood's day
      By each different hue and name,
From the violet wild we sought in play
      To the heart's-ease of world-wide fame;
And thought and thee seem still entwined
      By many a sad, sweet theme--
By memory softened, and time refined,
      Till it seemed to us all a dream.

Thou art meet for childhood, flow'ret fair,
      When thought has just begun;
And fit for laughing youth to wear,
Where thought and hope are one;
      Meet, too, for grave and hopeful age,
When the mind clings less to clay,
      And, heavenward tending, fills life's page
With thoughts that ne'er decay.

Thou art meet to be sent to absent friend,
      With gentle assurance fraught
That old faces, and names, and mem'ries blend
      With each tender passing thought.
And the graves of the loved and lonely dead
      Are fitly strewed with thee,
In proof that, although from earth long fled,
      They should unforgotten be.

09. from Farewell

from Poems, 1859/1860

A cot is a small house or cottage. "Foretel" is an unusual spelling of "foretell," to predict.

The soldier leaves his humble cot.
Where poverty was all his lot:
Do victory's laurels crown his brow,
Or dire defeat attend him now?
Or does the trumpet war foretel?
Still lingers that sad word -- farewell!

The sailor leaves his own dear home,
To track the ocean's flashing foam:
How is it that the starting tear
Comes when no storm or danger's near?
It is, that o'er the billow's swell
Comes back that sound of home -- farewell!

The young bride leaves the bowers of youth,
For promised honour, love, and truth;
But, oh! can after years e'er bring
Back to her heart its laughing spring?
Around her heart is thrown a spell,
By that fond parting word -- farewell!

Our first farewell is sealed by tears,
Which haunt us long through other years;
Yet something still forbids to mourn:
There is another word -- "Return!"
An antidote with poison dwells,
And glad RETURNS drown sad FAREWELLS!

10. from To Spring

from Poems, 1859/1860

The leaflets shelter with dimpled hand,
      And colour with every dye,
Till they are out o'er all the land,
      A thousand Spring flowers lie;
Then call for the butterfly and bee
      To revel amid the bloom,
And twine a wreath now for thy fair young brow,
      From flowers of the sweetest perfume.

11. from Our Unforgotten

from Poems, 1859/1860

What marvel, then, we miss heart-fellowship like this,
      As rare on earth as diamonds in a mine --
Sending out all around rays through the gloom profound,
      Gladdening the heart and eye where'er they shine.
Again for Absent ones a household scene,
      With twilight stealing o'er a firelit room,
      Throwing bright glances o'er the deepening gloom,
Whilst many a shadowy figure falls between --
      Fills each remembered place with a familiar face;
We love to see them where they once have been.

12. from To Jane, On Receiving her Daguerreotype

from Poems, 1859/1860

A daguerreotype is one of the earliest forms of photography, popular in the 1840's and 1850's. Its usual American pronunciation is "Da-GAIR-uh-type."

I bless thee for it, though thou art
Daguerreotyped upon my heart,
By that bright, glowing sunshine known
But to life's radiant morn alone.
Every feature of thy face,
And more-- each sweet, peculiar grace---
Requires not thus to be recalled
In that heart where thou art installed.

13. from A Winter's Scene

from Poems, 1859/1860

Winter's breath sweeps, chill as death,
      O'er the blue lake's rippling waves.
And charms asleep the haughty deep,
      O'er its thousand unseen caves.
The fir-tree's deathless robe of green
Is glistening with its silvery sheen,
From the frost king's regalia flung,
Like starry gems, its leaves among;
And the laugh and song are borne along
      The pure, unsullied air,
From the young and gay, who keep holiday,
      With the merry skaters there.
Away! away! through each graceful turn
      Of that strange, exciting scene.
See how their fair cheeks glow and burn,
      As they wheel and glide between,
With the soft fur coat up round each throat --
      The thoughtful mother's care;
And the gloves so warm -- they repel like a charm
      The chilling frosty air.

14. On Fragments of Stone from the Giant's Causeway

from Poems, 1859/1860

The Giant's Causeway is a famous place in County Antrim, Isabella's birthplace. It is made up of thousands of interlocking basalt columns, which look like stepping stones going down into the sea. Legends say that the hero Fingal (or Fionn mac Cumhaill) built the causeway between Ireland and Scotland.

Where those grand, wild rocks arose
O'er the waters' stern repose,
Mortals gazed with solemn dread,
Hushing e'en their footsteps tread,
Lest one sound should break the spell
That around them seemed to dwell;
Rocks tow'ring high, in calm or storm.
In many a wild, fantastic form;
Echoing back the seamew's wail.
Borne fitfully upon the gale.
Or the curlew's shrill, lone note,
Like music from a distant boat.
Here olden Ivy twines and clings
To hoary, fragile, crumbling things,
Throwing its trembling bands of green
So soothingly o'er each dark scene.
Giant's Causeway!--Nature's own!
Reared by Nature's God alone --
Who could look unmoved on thee,
Marvel of the Western sea --
Stretching thy pillars 'neath the wave.
To Staffa, and to Fingal's cave,
Where rolls for aye the sounding main,
In surges thou roll'st back again?
Fare-thee-well, belov'd home Isle,
Where nature wears her brightest smile;
Though memory still will treasure thee,
Would thou could'st forgotten be!

15. Electricity

from Poems, 1859/1860

We usually think of electricity as that powers our machines and creates light. At this time, however, the most exciting application for electricity was the electric telegraph, made possible by undersea cables. The poem "The Atlantic Telegraph" also describes this amazing piece of technology, "Bringing ever new tidings of living or dead."

Terra Nova is the Latin name for Newfoundland. Erin is Ireland.

To lour is to frown, scowl.

Mysterious power! thou art everywhere --
      Giving beauty to all things beneath;
Thou art swift as the light -- and free as the air.
      Impulsive as Liberty's breath:
Thy strength is condensed in the cloud and the storm,
And scattered again in the lightning's dread form.

We oft see thee here in Terra Nova's cold clime,
      In the arrowy Northern light,
As, radiant with beauty, it flashes sublime
      In the depth of the clear winter's night.
What fanciful visions its presence inspires,
As it shoots into castles, and turrets, and spires!

But, stranger than all, man has grasped thy strange power,
      And made thee the slave of his will;
And from merchant, and senate, and fair lady's bower,
      Thy couriers are speeding on still,
Down far 'neath our feet, or aloft o'er our head,
Bringing ever new tidings of living or dead.

Lonely, indeed, is thy pathway oft-times,
      Strange sprite with the voiceless words;
And sorrow and joy, and blessings and crimes,
      Are told by thy silent chords:
From man to man, with the speed of thought,
From realm to realm, are thy tidings brought.

Away through the depth of the stormy waves,
      Where the tempests lour [sic] in wrath --
Away through thy ice-bound arctic caves --
      Rush on in thy wondrous path!
Unheeded the tempests above thee sweep:
Though art filling thy course through the mighty deep.

Away where the mountains mock the skies
      Thy slender lines are seen;
Away where the olden forests rise,
      Where man has seldom been;
Away through the crowded city's hum,
Untired and untiring, thy messengers come.

Silently, secretly, onward it goes,
      Its trust betraying never;
Unchanging in heat or in Northern snows,
      Through mountain, wood, or river;
Adding to science one link more --
Joining together each foreign shore:

Bringing green Erin, the home of my childhood,
      Nearer and dearer -- oh! that I may see
The hour when, harmonious as sounds in the wildwood,
      Our Isles of the ocean in union may be,
And wishes and blessings, so often exchanged,
Shall keep hearts that are parted from being estranged!

May He who upholds the earth in its course,
      And binds with electric chain.
Forbid that a foeman should ever force
      That power for our country's pain;
But keep our Electric Telegraph free,
In its service of peace by land and by sea!

16. from To Mary, On Receiving a Cabbage Rose from Home

from Poems, 1859/1860

Faded flower! thou hast brought back
All my childhood's bygone track--
Its joys and sorrows, smiles and tears,
Rainbow hopes, and shadowy fears;
Something like April's gentle flowers,
Blooming in sunshine or in showers.
      I cannot say I would recall
The years gone past--time gilds them all;
Heightens their pleasure, soothes their pain:
Could we but view them all again,
As at the present hour, 'twould show
Their joy unequal to their woe.

17. Memories and Mementoes

from Poems, 1859/1860

Miniatures are small portraits which, before the days of photographs, were a special gift for loved ones, especially those who were going to be separated for a time.

Memories and mementoes,
      In miniatures or hair,
Or pencillings in favourite books --
      They meet us everywhere.
Dead leaves, or withered flowers,
      That, perchance, with jest or song,
Had been left to mark the hours,
      Time with pleasure sped along.

The miniatures alone are left
      Of all we thought most fair,
And in the dust are lying
      The kindred locks of hair.
The fingers ne'er may leave a trace
      Of pleasure or of pain,
In note upon a favourite place,
      Or leaf, or flower again.

18. The Atlantic Telegraph

from Poems, 1859/1860

Thought's bridge is laid 'neath ocean's waves -- the
mighty work is done,
And we greet them well as conquerors after a victory won.
Flash out from lowly window -- flash out from lofty spire --
A gleam to tell how proudly we hail that spark of fire,
That quick as thought its language breathes, in mighty voiceless words,
And thrills with strangest sympathy our old world's hidden chords.

A glorious victory surely, unbought by strife or blood--
The victory of the human mind o'er time, and space, and flood:
No tears o'er fallen greatness -- no wailing sound comes in,
To still the heart's glad throbbing, as 'mid the battle's din;
All godlike in its mission, may its first glad words of peace
Be but the glorious augury of what shall never cease!

Thoughts messenger! the fleetest -- all hail, we say, to thee
A calm and peaceful resting-place down 'neath the troubled sea,
Where thine iron nerve, deep hidden, yields but to man's control,
And flashes answering thought to thought-- soul's intercourse with soul.
Strange -- strange -- that human power should e'er bear deathless words through thee.
Whose might hath ever quenched man's life, in speechless agony!

Hail to the victors every one-- toilers with arm or brain,
Who planned at first, or sped at last, the wondrous speaking chain!
We own them worthy of the wreath that crowns the conqueror's brow,
And trust that Fame will give each name a niche where all may bow.
May craft, and cruelty, and crime fall powerless on that day,
And, awe-struck, fear to ever bring thy chords beneath their sway,
When, Genius, at thy holy shrine our homage meet we pay!

19. To the Comet of 1858

from Poems, 1859/1860

This poem describes Donati's Comet, named for the Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Donati, who first observed it in June, 1858. This especially bright and beautiful comet was seen through the summer and fall of that year, and, in September, was the first ever to be photographed.

Sweep on!-- before the wondering gaze
Of thousands through thine orbit blaze;
Let thy eccentric race be run
Above, beneath, or round the sun.
Nearer, yet nearer to our earth,
Till eyes grow dim that flashed with mirth;
Still onward in thy fiery haste.
Dread chronicler of ages past,
When awe-struck nations saw in thee
Of future ills dire prophecy --
War, famine, plague, Almighty wrath,
Deemed following in thy fearful path.
Sweep on! -- let star-seers speculate
Upon thy course-- our planet's fate;
Proud Science, with heaven's roll unfurled.
Tell when thou last swept past our world;
Weigh what the thousand chances are
Of contact with our humbler star:
Chances! -- the mightiest master-mind
That scans the spheres were better blind,
Than not to see the Arm Divine
That points the wandering Comet's line;
That named the stars before frail man
His changeful course on earth began.
How good to know a Father's hand
Doth heaven's impetuous orbs command!
Calmly we see them burn and glow,
And own His power who formed them so --
Who, when they've run their trackless race.
At wondrous speed, through boundless space --
When, pile on pile, our mother earth
Lies heaped on those of mortal birth
Who've watched them to their mighty goal,
With straining eye and kindling soul --
When they, and thousands such as they,
Have, long forgotten, passed away --
With eye Omniscient, still undimm'd,
Marks them as when His praise they hymn'd,
Rejoicing in His glorious might
Whose word created spheres and light --
Who gave the universe His laws,
And stood proclaimed its GREAT FIRST CAUSE.

20. from The Picnic--A Memory

from Poems, 1859/1860

'Twas noontide of a bright mid summer's day;
      A pleasure-loving party sought the shade,
Not of old trees, but giant rocks that lay
In rude magnificence around a bay --
      Rocks clothed with verdure in each sloping glade,
Where roses wild and tufts of primrose sweet,
Harebell and violet, clustered at their feet.

Above them rose the sea-bird's wailing cry;
      Beside them -- ocean slumbered calmly there;
No city's sound to break the harmony
      Of nature's empire-- wild that scene, yet fair,
By faithful memory mirrored back as true
As if no other change of place it knew.

21. What I Would Not

from Poems, 1859/1860

I would not move a leaf or flower
      By love or friendship placed,
E'en though its perfume, hue, and form
      Were utterly defaced.

I would not deem a castle fair,
      Built where a cot had stood,
If childhood's memories mingled there
      The beautiful and good.

I would not give a face beloved
      More glowing lip or cheek;
I would not loose from raven locks
      A single silvery streak.

I would not praise the painter's skill
      Who well could hide a scar
In the loved likeness of a friend,
      Dreading its grace to mar.

Let life be true-- no false shade owned,
      E'en though it look less fair;
For nature's loss art ne'er atoned,
      Though costlier and more rare.

22. from By the River

from Poems, 1859/1860

How sweet is solitude!--beside a brook
To sit at glowing noon, with some old book.
Beneath the shade of green, o'erarching trees
Where e'en the quivering aspen is at ease! . . .

Bright, ever and anon, with some stray beam
Of sparkling sunlight through the woodland shade,
Till book and vision indistinctly fade,
And, lost in labyrinths of luxurious ease.
You scarce can tell which most your senses please.
As distant music from a numerous band
Comes softly mellowed -- none seems to command --
And, all intent, the ear drinks in the strain,
And trembles lest the notes be lost again --
So seems this little hallowed spot to me,
Akin to distance-softened melody.
Say, what makes solitude so doubly dear?
The knowledge that we seldom meet it here:
Oh! After three hours spent by such a brook
In such a noontide and with such a book--
With such entrancing dreams of things ideal
What feelings have we greeting things life real!
With double zest we turn to home again--
With double pleasure track life's maze amain . . .

23. Indian Summer

from The Victorian Triumph and Other Poems 1898

"Indian Summer" is a term for unusually warm, dry weather in the late autumn.
A "glamor" is an old word for enchantment.
"Cumbrous" is cumbersome, heavy.

Over headland, cape and bay
Veiled autumnal sunshine lay
      Like a dream,
Softening rock and stream and hill,
Baffling all earth's artist skill.
      To catch the gleam.

What is it ? Who may tell?
A glamor or a spell
      In the air?
Look, each cottage in the woods
A whole paradise includes,
      Soft and fair.

Spruce and birch and mountain ash
Stand in state and burn and flash,
Whilst the rocks, once bare and stern,
Moss-clad hide 'neath fairy fern,

Just a brown frond here and there,
Whispering Autumn's in the air,
      On berries red,
Telling with mute comforting
Summer flowers are vanishing;
      We come instead.

The birds are mute, save whir of wing,
When startled by the rifle's ping.
      Here man appears.
And amid this loveliness
We feel that Nature's smiles no less
      Have Nature's tears.

In vain we struggle to forget --
No charm can cure the sad regret,
      With sorrow rife;
Until, freed from cumbrous clay,
We rise into a cloudless day,
      The perfect life.

24. Topsail

from The Victorian Triumph and Other Poems 1898

A topsail is the sail set on a ship's top mast, or above the other sails.

Belle Isle: There is an island called Belle Isle (above the northern tip of Newfoundland), but it seems likely she was referring to Bell Island in Conception Bay (especially with the mention of the "noble headland to the east"). In any case, it seems to have been a peaceful spot to escape the busy everyday life in St. John's.

Past flashing lake, through wood and wild,
      By humble home and cosy cot,
We left the city smoke-defiled
            For this sweet spot;

This sweetest spot, where dreaming lie
      In sunlit glory isles so fair
That morn and evening's splendors vie
            In beauty rare;

So simply grand in storm or calm,
      We scarce know which we love the best;
On careworn souls comes down like balm
            Its perfect rest.

Beyond the bounds of lone Belle Isle
      We see afar Conception Bay
In softened hazy beauty smile
            Out "far away."

That noble headland to the east,
      In glorious, glowing, glimmering haze,
The Atlantic billows foam like yeast
            Around its base!

From age to age, since Hand Divine
      Has set the hungry sea its bounds.
It vainly strives to undermine
            What it surrounds.

Serene and calm, the rooted rock
      Flings back the breakers from its shore,
To sweep with heavier swell and shock,
            And futile roar.

'Neath sheltering arms of noble hills,
      Verdant with ash and birch and fir,
And flashing with unnumbered rills,
            In ceaseless stir;

And carpeted with daintiest moss,
      And hung with thousand trailing vines,
And wild-flowers' fragrance -- some count loss --
            No art confines.

Farewell, sweet spot, a sad farewell!
      Unchanged, unchanging, year by year,
Fond memory ne'er can on you dwell
            Without a tear.

25. Written for Anna's Album

from The Victorian Triumph and Other Poems 1898

Even accomplished poets may hesitate over what to write in someone's autograph album!

The poet Alexander Pope used the phrase "Amaranthine bowers" in his poem "Ode for Music on St. Cecelia's Day." Its meaning is a bit complicated, but it seems to refer here to Heaven, a place of eternal flowers.

Rhodora, mentioned here and in the poem "Terra Nova", is Rhododendron canadense, or Canada rosebay, a flowering shrub that grows in the eastern parts of North America.

What is an album meant for but to write
Quaint sayings, loving wishes, axioms trite;
Carefully written just to leave a name,
Without the slightest wish for future fame.
But pause -- fair Anna warns you this must be
A book kept sacred for Queen Poesy.
Sit with your finger on your eye, or lip,
And guard your brain lest one choice thought should slip,
And weave all into garlands of sweet words,
To soothe the listening ear like well-struck chords;
Words that may call up to the 'raptured eye
All the rich flowers of this most fair July;
Lilies and roses bursting into bloom,
Hyacinths and rockets laden with perfume;
And meek-eyed pansies, bending richly fraught
With all their serious wealth of loving thought;
And noble lilacs, with their plumy flowers;
Golden laburnums, gracing fairy bowers;
Cowslips and daisies, loved since childhood's days
For wreaths and chaplets, dearer far than bays;
And then what glorious flowers our woods among,
Fairer than any bard hath ever sung!
Matchless in beauty, waiting but a name
And a good voice to sing them into fame.
White starry flowers and faint pink dancing bells.
Round which a wave of perfume sinks and swells;
Rhodora venturous flowers its leaves before,
And Lauristinas, glossy evermore.
But, really, I've forgotten! Back, sweet dream;
And yet I think sweet flowers this book beseem;
May they surround thy long life to the tomb,
And lend thine Amaranthine bowers perfume.

26. Time

from The Victorian Triumph and Other Poems 1898

A dream, a flash, a breath,
      A moment gone;
Swift as a thought you may not
      Dwell upon;
And yet God-given to man.
      That he may be
Prepared for God's own great eternity.

27. from Snow-Storm

from The Victorian Triumph and Other Poems 1898

Who can paint it in its beauty,
      In its softness and delight,
With its gleaming pearly whiteness.
      As it breaks upon our sight ?
Softly, softly, softly falling,
      As its bridal robe it weaves,
Till our old world stands unrivalled,
      E'en by springtime's flowers and leaves;
For it falls where leaves come never--
      On unsightliness and gloom.
Soft and radiant, fair and lovely,
      Pure as lilies in full bloom.

Covering where the roses come not,
      Charming woodsheds into bowers.
With such wondrous grace and beauty
      That we quite forget the flowers;
Quite forget the rarest sculpture,
      As such forms of grace arise,
Forms that none save the Creator
      E'er could fashion or devise:
Fold on fold so softly rounded.
      Curving into graceful sweep.
Wreathing huge unsightly houses
      Into turret, tower, and keep.

All of purest, daintiest, whitest, --
      Marble, fairest of the fair,
Never with our snow-clad mansions
      For a moment could compare;
Never trees in summer splendor,
      Clad in emerald green, outshone
All the delicate diamonds flashing
      From trees snow-clad in the sun;
But words fail to tell its sweetness,
      Only those who see it know
All the fairy grace and glamour
      Of the softly falling snow.

28. Christmas

from The Victorian Triumph and Other Poems 1898

Seraphim are angels.

      Low swept the wondrous star,
      O'er Orient fields afar,
And led the seeking kings to where He lay;
      The Lord of life and light.
      In lowliest mortal plight,
Cradled amid the sweetly-scented hay.

      Exchanged for heaven His home,
      He chose no palace dome.
And yet those Orient kings proclaimed Him King.
      They worshipped Him as Lord,
      As God supreme adored.
Not as to earthly peer the gifts they bring.

      The shepherds in affright
      Beheld a wondrous light,
God's angel with good news allayed their fear;.
      Messiah promised long
      In seer and Psalmist's song,
Stood heaven-proclaimed by angel voices clear.

      Saviour alike of all,
      King, shepherd, great and small;
Only the sinless could for sin atone;
      And so the King above,
      Pure, holy, full of love,
Came down to die for sin -- sin not His own.

      What wonder we should raise
      Our loftiest hymns of praise,
And keep with sacred joy this Christmas day!
      What wonder earthly grief
      Through Him should find relief,
And like the snow in summer pass away!

      Hail, blessed Christmas morn,
      On which our Lord was born!
We want more love and loyalty to Him,
      Who paid our ransom down,
      A kingdom and a crown --
Our love should soar beyond the Seraphim.

29. On Making Cape Race

from The Victorian Triumph and Other Poems 1898

Cape Race is a point of land on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, and the location of a well-known lighthouse. Beginning in 1859, ocean liners were met there by a newsboat, which then telegraphed important news stories to New York. The first wireless station in Newfoundland was also built at Cape Race.

Lo! on the first faint streak of day,
      Like morning star o'er billows borne,
To greet the good ship on her way
      And make the sea-scape less forlorn,

It flashes out, now faint and far,
      The welcome beacon on Cape Race,
And thousands bless that signal star
      That guides, and saves from death's embrace.

Like diamond on an index hand,
      It flashes brighter, brighter still.
Until it rises high and grand,
      A coronet on rock-bound hill.

And flag greets flag, the good ship's name
      Like magic rushes o'er the wires
To loving friends, whose glad acclaim
      Attest their grateful hearts' desires.

And voyagers, weary now no more,
      Look radiant with the hope of home,
And greet the wild lone reach of shore
      That breaks the billows into foam.

Ah, me, how many a weary one
      Was dashed to death in days of yore.
Before that glorious beacon shone
      To guard them from the deathful shore.

God shield the ships, and bless the men
      Whose faithful watch makes sure the light,
Until they reach that haven where
      They need no lighthouse-- there's no night.

30. Terra Nova

from The Victorian Triumph and Other Poems 1898

The Rose, Shamrock, and Thistle are symbols of England, Ireland, and Scotland. Since those plants are already "taken," the poet suggests some suitable native flowers to offer the Queen instead (perhaps for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897).

Kalmia is an evergreen shrub. A "silver thaw" is an ice storm.

Rose, Shamrock and Thistle are wreathed for our Queen,
We must cull from our wild flowers some tribute, I ween,
And what shall it be? The Rhodora is fair,
The Kalmia is wondrously lovely and rare,
And we've Orchids with perfume as soothing as balm.
As we roam by our lakes in the summer's sweet calm;
And I sigh, in my lack of the botanist's lore.
To tell all the wealth our wild-woods have in store.

O the daintiest blooms, which as yet have no name,
Are waiting to make some new botanist's fame --
Some kindly explorer whose soul and whose eye
Could the wealth of our land and our Flora descry;
With the zeal which explorers to minerals give
He might honestly tell to the world how we live;
Tell of rivers and mountains, lake, forest, and field.
And the riches and charms which our country can yield.

How our winters for grandeur in snow-laden storms
Surpass all the tales told in weirdest of forms;
And our Frost King, oh, would I could bring to your view
A tithe of the feats our great Frost King can do!
He can bind up our rivers and lakes with his breath.
And with crystal and pearl can give beauty to death..
Our cliff sides through glaciers and icicles seen
Seem in Winter more fair than in Summer's sweet green.

But our Winter's great charm and our Frost King's great feat
Is the rare "Silver thaw," Winter's triumph complete,
When the whole land is deluged with soft-falling rain.
And the Frost King, indignant, his sway would regain.
Then he breathes on old ruins and trees, and, behold!
There is nothing around that is common or old:
Pearl and crystal envelop blade, leaflet, and tree.
Till the humblest of homesteads a palace might be.

Transformed by a touch nothing less than divine,
When through morning's deep azure the sunbeams first shine;
And the ice crystal's sheen flashes diamond and gem.
As the radiance falls gleaming and flashing on them,
So dazzlingly bright. Oh, how weak and how faint
Are the words which its wonderful glories would paint!
We sigh in despair for the language to come,
And what marvel ? We see it, and, lo, we are dumb!

And is this my fair chaplet of fair summer flowers?
We're embarrassed with wealth in this new land of ours:
Earth has nothing more fair than our rich Summer green;
Earth has nothing more grand than our wild Winter's scene.
As we dream of them both in their beauty so rare
We feel the Sublime and the Beautiful there!
And with Summer so sweet, and with Winter so grand.
We have pride and delight in our own Newfoundland.

AmblesideOnline's free Charlotte Mason homeschool curriculum prepares children for a life of rich relationships with God, humanity, and the natural world.
Share AO with your group or homeschool fair! Download our printable brochure