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Short poem

Duncan Campbell Scott (1862-1947)

The Height of Land

              1Here is the height of land:
              2The watershed on either hand
              3Goes down to Hudson Bay
              4Or Lake Superior;
              5The stars are up, and far away
              6The wind sounds in the wood, wearier
              7Than the long Ojibwa cadence
              8In which Potàn the Wise
              9Declares the ills of life
            10And Chees-que-ne-ne makes a mournful sound
            11Of acquiescence. The fires burn low
            12With just sufficient glow
            13To light the flakes of ash that play
            14At being moths, and flutter away
            15To fall in the dark and die as ashes:
            16Here there is peace in the lofty air,
            17And Something comes by flashes
            18Deeper than peace: --
            19The spruces have retired a little space
            20And left a field of sky in violet shadow
            21With stars like marigolds in a water-meadow.

            22Now the Indian guides are dead asleep;
            23There is no sound unless the soul can hear
            24The gathering of the waters in their sources.
            25We have come up through the spreading lakes
            26From level to level, --
            27Pitching our tents sometimes over a revel
            28Of roses that nodded all night,
            29Dreaming within our dreams,
            30To wake at dawn and find that they were captured
            31With no dew on their leaves;
            32Sometimes mid sheaves
            33Of bracken and dwarf-cornel, and again
            34On a wide blueberry plain
            35Brushed with the shimmer of a bluebird's wing;
            36A rocky islet followed
            37With one lone poplar and a single nest
            38Of white-throat-sparrows that took no rest
            39But sang in dreams or woke to sing, --
            40To the last portage and the height of land --:
            41Upon one hand
            42The lonely north enlaced with lakes and streams,
            43And the enormous targe of Hudson Bay,
            44Glimmering all night
            45In the cold arctic light;
            46On the other hand
            47The crowded southern land
            48With all the welter of the lives of men.
            49But here is peace, and again
            50That Something comes by flashes
            51Deeper than peace, -- a spell
            52Golden and inappellable
            53That gives the inarticulate part
            54Of our strange being one moment of release
            55That seems more native than the touch of time,
            56And we must answer in chime;
            57Though yet no man may tell
            58The secret of that spell
            59Golden and inappellable.

            60Now are there sounds walking in the wood,
            61And all the spruces shiver and tremble,
            62And the stars move a little in their courses.
            63The ancient disturber of solitude
            64Breathes a pervasive sigh,
            65And the soul seems to hear
            66The gathering of the waters at their sources;
            67Then quiet ensues and pure starlight and dark;
            68The region-spirit murmurs in meditation,
            69The heart replies in exaltation
            70And echoes faintly like an inland shell
            71Ghost tremors of the spell;
            72Thought reawakens and is linked again
            73With all the welter of the lives of men.
            74Here on the uplands where the air is clear
            75We think of life as of a stormy scene, --
            76Of tempest, of revolt and desperate shock;
            77And here, where we can think, on the brights uplands
            78Where the air is clear, we deeply brood on life
            79Until the tempest parts, and it appears
            80As simple as to the shepherd seems his flock:
            81A Something to be guided by ideals --
            82That in themselves are simple and serene --
            83Of noble deed to foster noble thought,
            84And noble thought to image noble deed,
            85Till deed and thought shall interpenetrate,
            86Making life lovelier, till we come to doubt
            87Whether the perfect beauty that escapes
            88Is beauty of deed or thought or some high thing
            89Mingled of both, a greater boon than either:
            90Thus we have seen in the retreating tempest
            91The victor-sunlight merge with the ruined rain,
            92And from the rain and sunlight spring the rainbow.

            93The ancient disturber of solitude
            94Stirs his ancestral potion in the gloom,
            95And the dark wood
            96Is stifled with the pungent fume
            97Of charred earth burnt to the bone
            98That takes the place of air.
            99Then sudden I remember when and where, --
          100The last weird lakelet foul with weedy growths
          101And slimy viscid things the spirit loathes,
          102Skin of vile water over viler mud
          103Where the paddle stirred unutterable stenches,
          104And the canoes seemed heavy with fear,
          105Not to be urged toward the fatal shore
          106Where a bush fire, smouldering, with sudden roar
          107Leaped on a cedar and smothered it with light
          108And terror. It had left the portage-height
          109A tangle of slanted spruces burned to the roots,
          110Covered still with patches of bright fire
          111Smoking with incense of the fragment resin
          112That even then began to thin and lessen
          113Into the gloom and glimmer of ruin.
          114'Tis overpast. How strange the stars have grown;
          115The presage of extinction glows on their crests
          116And they are beautied with impermanence;
          117They shall be after the race of men
          118And mourn for them who snared their fiery pinions,
          119Entangled in the meshes of bright words.

          120A lemming stirs the fern and in the mosses
          121Eft-minded things feel the air change, and dawn
          122Tolls out from the dark belfries of the spruces.
          123How often in the autumn of the world
          124Shall the crystal shrine of dawning be rebuilt
          125With deeper meaning! Shall the poet then,
          126Wrapped in his mantle on the height of land,
          127Brood on the welter of the lives of men
          128And dream of his ideal hope and promise
          129In the blush sunrise? Shall he base his flight
          130Upon a more compelling law than Love
          131As Life's atonement; shall the vision
          132Of noble deed and noble thought immingled
          133Seem as uncouth to him as the pictograph
          134Scratched on the cave side by the cave-dweller
          135To us of the Christ-time? Shall he stand
          136With deeper joy, with more complex emotion,
          137In closer commune with divinity,
          138With the deep fathomed, with the firmament charted,
          139With life as simple as a sheep-boy's song,
          140What lies beyond a romaunt that was read
          141Once on a morn of storm and laid aside
          142Memorious with strange immortal memories?
          143Or shall he see the sunrise as I see it
          144In shoals of misty fire the deluge-light
          145Dashes upon and whelms with purer radiance,
          146And feel the lulled earth, older in pulse and motion,
          147Turn the rich lands and inundant oceans
          148To the flushed color, and hear as now I hear
          149The thrill of life beat up the planet's margin
          150And break in the clear susurrus of deep joy
          151That echoes and reëchoes in my being?
          152O Life is intuition the measure of knowledge
          153And do I stand with heart entranced and burning
          154At the zenith of our wisdom when I feel
          155The long light flow, the long wind pause, the deep
          156Influx of spirit, of which no man may tell
          157The Secret, golden and inappellable?


7] Ojibwa: a native people living north of Sault St. Marie between eastern Lake Superior and northeastern Georgian Bay.

8] Potàn the Wise: unidentified.

10] Chees-que-ne-ne: unidentified.

33] bracken: large fern.
dwarf-cornel: dwarf honeysuckle, cornus herbacea.

40] portage: carrying of canoe across land from one lake or river to another.

43] targe: shield.

121] Eft-minded: like a newt or small lizard.

133] pictograph: prehistoric rock-wall painting or drawing.

140] romaunt: ancient tale, usually courtly or chivalric.

150] susurrus: whisper.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1926): 46-51. PS 8487 C6 A17 1926 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1916
Publication date note: Lundy's Lane and Other Poems (1916).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Form: couplets and quatrains
Rhyme: irregularly rhyming

Other poems by Duncan Campbell Scott