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William Wilfred Campbell (1858?-1918)

The Sky Watcher


              1Black rolls the phantom chimney-smoke
              2Beneath the wintry moon;
              3For miles on miles, by sound unbroke,
              4The world lies wrapt in its ermine cloak,
              5And the night's icy swoon
              6Sways earthward in great brimming wells
              7Of luminous, frosty particles.

              8Far up the roadway, drifted deep,
              9Where frost-etched fences gleam;
            10Beneath the sky's wan, shimmering sleep
            11My solitary way I keep
            12Across the world's white dream;
            13The only living moving thing
            14In all this mighty slumbering.

            15Up in the eastern range of hill,
            16The thin wood spectrally
            17Stirs in its sleep and then is still
            18(Like querulous age) at the wind's will.
            19My shadow doggedly
            20Follows my footsteps where I go,
            21A grotesque giant on the snow.

            22Out where the river's arms are wound,
            23And icy sedges cling,
            24There comes to me as in a swound
            25A far-off clear, thin, vibrant sound,--
            26The distant hammering
            27Of frost-elves as they come and go,
            28Forging, in silver chains, his woe.

            29I stand upon the hill's bleak crest
            30And note the far night world:
            31The mighty lake whose passionate breast,
            32Manacled into arctic rest,
            33In shrouded sleep is furled:
            34The steely heavens whose wondrous host
            35Wheel white from flaming coast to coast.

            36Then down the night's dim luminous ways,
            37Meseems they come once more,
            38Those great star-watchers of old days
            39The lonely, calm-ones, whose still gaze,
            40On old-time, orient shore,
            41Dreamed in the wheeling sons of light,
            42The awful secrets of earth's night.

            43They come, those lofty ones of old,
            44And take me by the hand,
            45And call me brother; ages rolled
            46Are but a smoke-mist; kindred-souled,
            47They lift me to their band;
            48Like lights that from pale starbeams shine,
            49Their clear eyes look with peace on mine.

            50In language of no common kind
            51These watchers speak to me;
            52Their thoughts the depths of heaven find
            53Like plummets true. It were a kind
            54Of immortality
            55To spend with them one holy hour,
            56And know their love and grasp their power.

            57And wrapt around with glad content,
            58I learn with soul serene,
            59Caught from the beauty that is blent
            60In earth, the heaven's luminous tent,
            61The frost-lit dreams between,
            62And something holier out of sight,
            63Glad visions of the infinite.

            64Then backward past the sere hill's breast,
            65The spectral moaning wood,
            66With great peace brooding in my breast,
            67I turn me toward the common rest
            68Of earth's worn brotherhood;
            69But as I pass, a sacred sign,
            70Each lays his holy lips on mine:--

            71Gives me the golden chrism of song,
            72Tips my hushed heart with fire;
            73Till high in heaven I hear that throng
            74Who march in mystic paths along,
            75Great Pleiades, The Lyre,
            76The Te-Deum of the ages swell,
            77To earth-tuned ear inaudible.

Notes

4] ermine: (white weasel) fur.

23] sedges: tufted marsh grasses.

53] plummets: plumbs.

64] sere: withered.

71] chrism: oil used in religious rites.

75] Great Pleiades: cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus named after the seven daughters of Atlas.
The Lyre: Lyra, a northern constellation containing Vega and representing the lyre of Orpheus.

76] Te-Deum: opening of a hymn, "Te deum laudamus"(we praise thee God").


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 Poetical Works of Wilfred Campbell, ed. W. J. Sykes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, [1922]), p. 202. flem 0397 Fisher Library.
First publication date: 1890 - 1891
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 4:2002/1/17

Composition date: 1890 - 1891
Rhyme: abaabcc


Other poems by William Wilfred Campbell