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Duncan Campbell Scott (1862-1947)

Ode for the Keats Centenary


February 23, 1921.

Read at Hart House Theatre before the University of Toronto.

              1The Muse is stern unto her favoured sons,
              2Giving to some the keys of all the joy
              3Of the green earth, but holding even that joy
              4Back from their life;
              5Bidding them feed on hope,
              6A plant of bitter growth,
              7Deep-rooted in the past;
              8Truth, 'tis a doubtful art
              9To make Hope sweeten
            10Time as it flows;
            11For no man knows
            12Until the very last,
            13Whether it be a sovereign herb that he has eaten,
            14Or his own heart.

            15O stern, implacable Muse,
            16Giving to Keats so richly dowered,
            17Only the thought that he should be
            18Among the English poets after death;
            19Letting him fade with that expectancy,
            20All powerless to unfold the future!
            21What boots it that our age has snatched him free
            22From thy too harsh embrace,
            23Has given his fame the certainty
            24Of comradeship with Shakespeare's?
            25He lies alone
            26Beneath the frown of the old Roman stone
            27And the cold Roman violets;
            28And not our wildest incantation
            29Of his most sacred lines,
            30Nor all the praise that sets
            31Towards his pale grave,
            32Like oceans towards the moon,
            33Will move the Shadow with the pensive brow
            34To break his dream,
            35And give unto him now
            36One word! --

            37When the young master reasoned
            38That our puissant England
            39Reared her great poets by neglect,
            40Trampling them down in the by-paths of Life
            41And fostering them with glory after death,
            42Did any flame of triumph from his own fame
            43Fall swift upon his mind; the glow
            44Cast back upon the bleak and aching air
            45Blown around his days -- ?
            46Happily so!
            47But he, whose soul was mighty as the soul
            48Of Milton, who held the vision of the world
            49As an irradiant orb self-filled with light,
            50Who schooled his heart with passionate control
            51To compass knowledge, to unravel the dense
            52Web of this tangled life, he would weigh slight
            53As thistledown blown from his most fairy fancy
            54That pale self-glory, against the mystery,
            55The wonder of the various world, the power
            56Of "seeing great things in loneliness."
            57Where bloodroot in the clearing dwells
            58Along the edge of snow;
            59Where, trembling all their trailing bells,
            60The sensitive twinflowers blow;

            61Where, searching through the ferny breaks,
            62The moose-fawns find the springs;
            63Where the loon laughs and diving takes
            64Her young beneath her wings;

            65Where flash the fields of arctic moss
            66With myriad golden light;
            67Where no dream-shadows ever cross
            68The lidless eyes of night;

            69Where, cleaving a mountain storm, the proud
            70Eagles, the clear sky won,
            71Mount the thin air between the loud
            72Slow thunder and the sun;

            73Where, to the high tarn tranced and still
            74No eye has ever seen,
            75Comes the first star its flame to chill
            76In the cool deeps of green; --
            77Spirit of Keats, unfurl thy wings,
            78Far from the toil and press,
            79Teach us by these pure-hearted things,
            80Beauty in loneliness.

            81Where, in the realm of thought, dwell those
            82Who oft in pain and penury
            83Work in the void,
            84Searching the infinite dark between the stars,
            85The infinite little of the atom,
            86Gathering the tears and terrors of this life,
            87Distilling them to a medicine for the soul;
            88(And hated for their thought
            89Die for it calmly;
            90For not their fears,
            91Nor the cold scorn of men,
            92Fright them who hold to truth:)
            93They brood alone in the intense serene
            94Air of their passion,
            95Until on some chill dawn
            96Breaks the immortal form foreshadowed in their dream,
            97And the distracted world and men
            98Are no more what they were.
            99Spirit of Keats, unfurl thy deathless wings,
          100Far from the wayward toil, the vain excess,
          101Teach us by such soul-haunting things
          102Beauty in loneliness.

          103The minds of men grow numb, their vision narrows,
          104The clogs of Empire and the dust of ages,
          105The lust of power that fogs the fairest pages,
          106Of the romance that eager life would write,
          107These war on Beauty with their spears and arrows.
          108But still is Beauty and of constant power;
          109Even in the whirl of Time's most sordid hour,
          110Banished from the great highways,
          111Afflighted by the tramp of insolent feet,
          112She hangs her garlands in the by-ways;
          113Lissome and sweet
          114Bending her head to hearken and learn
          115Melody shadowed with melody,
          116Softer than shadow of sea-fern,
          117In the green-shadowed sea:
          118Then, nourished by quietude,
          119And if the world's mood
          120Change, she may return
          121Even lovelier than before. --

          122The white reflection in the mountain lake
          123Falls from the white stream
          124Silent in the high distance;
          125The mirrored mountains guard
          126The profile of the goddess of the height,
          127Floating in water with a curve of crystal light;
          128When the air, envious of the loveliness,
          129Rushes downward to surprise,
          130Confusion plays in the contact,
          131The picture is overdrawn
          132With ardent ripples,
          133But when the breeze, warned of intrusion,
          134Draws breathless upward in flight,
          135The vision reassembles in tranquillity,
          136Reforming with a gesture of delight,
          137Reborn with the rebirth of calm.

          138Spirit of Keats, lend us thy voice,
          139Breaking like surge in some enchanted cave
          140On a dream-sea-coast,
          141To summon Beauty to her desolate world.
          142For Beauty has taken refuge from our life
          143That grew too loud and wounding;
          144Beauty withdraws beyond the bitter strife,
          145Beauty is gone, (Oh where?)
          146To dwell within a precinct of pure air
          147Where moments turn to months of solitude;
          148To live on roots of fern and tips of fern,
          149On tender berries flushed with the earth's blood.
          150Beauty shall stain her feet with moss
          151And dye her cheek with deep nut-juices,
          152Laving her hands in the pure sluices
          153Where rainbows are dissolved.
          154Beauty shall view herself in pools of amber sheen
          155Dappled with peacock-tints from the green screen
          156That mingles liquid light with liquid shadow.
          157Beauty shall breathe the fairy hush
          158With the chill orchids in their cells of shade,
          159And hear the invocation of the thrush
          160That calls the stars into their heaven,
          161And after even
          162Beauty shall take the night into her soul.
          163When the thrill voice goes crying through the wood,
          164(Oh, Beauty, Beauty!)
          165Troubling the solitude
          166With echoes from the lonely world,
          167Beauty will tremble like a cloistered thing
          168That hears temptation in the outlands singing,
          169Will steel her dedicated heart and breathe
          170Into her inner ear to firm her vow: --
          171"Let me restore the soul that ye have marred.
          172O mortals, cry no more on Beauty,
          173Leave me alone, lone mortals,
          174Until my shaken soul comes to its own,
          175Lone mortals, leave me alone!"
          176(Oh Beauty, Beauty, Beauty!)
          177All the dim wood is silent as a dream
          178That dreams of silence.

Notes

1] John Keats, English poet (1795-1821).
Hart House Theatre, located in Hart House, the (then) male students' building, is just west of Queen's Park on the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto. It was a venue of choice for classical and Canadian plays through much of the century.

48] John Milton, English poet.

56] source of quotation not found.

60] twinflowers: honeysuckle shrub.

63] Canadian fish-eating bird with a haunting cry whose image is now on Canada's one-dollar coin, "the loonie."

73] tarn: mountain lake.


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): 151-57. PS 8487 C6 A17 1926 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1921
Publication date note: Beauty and Life (1921).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Composition date: 1920 - 1921
Form note: occasional couplets and quatrains


Other poems by Duncan Campbell Scott