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Short poem

Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-1887)

The Camp of Souls

              1My white canoe, like the silvery air
              2    O'er the River of Death that darkly rolls
              3When the moons of the world are round and fair,
              4    I paddle back from the "Camp of Souls."
              5When the wishton-wish in the low swamp grieves
              6Come the dark plumes of red "Singing Leaves."

              7Two hundred times have the moons of spring
              8    Rolled over the bright bay's azure breath
              9Since they decked me with plumes of an eagle's wing,
            10    And painted my face with the "paint of death,"
            11And from their pipes o'er my corpse there broke
            12The solemn rings of the blue "last smoke."

            13Two hundred times have the wintry moons
            14    Wrapped the dead earth in a blanket white;
            15Two hundred times have the wild sky loons
            16    Shrieked in the flush of the golden light
            17Of the first sweet dawn, when the summer weaves
            18Her dusky wigwam of perfect leaves.

            19Two hundred moons of the falling leaf
            20    Since they laid my bow in my dead right hand
            21And chanted above me the "song of grief"
            22    As I took my way to the spirit land;
            23Yet when the swallow the blue air cleaves
            24Come the dark plumes of red "Singing Leaves."

            25White are the wigwams in that far camp,
            26    And the star-eyed deer on the plains are found;
            27No bitter marshes or tangled swamp
            28    In the Manitou's happy hunting-ground!
            29And the moon of summer forever rolls
            30Above the red men in their "Camp of Souls."

            31Blue are its lakes as the wild dove's breast,
            32    And their murmurs soft as her gentle note;
            33As the calm, large stars in the deep sky rest,
            34    The yellow lilies upon them float;
            35And canoes, like flakes of the silvery snow,
            36Thro' the tall, rustling rice-beds come and go.

            37Green are its forests; no warrior wind
            38    Rushes on war trail the dusk grove through,
            39With leaf-scalps of tall trees mourning behind;
            40    But South Wind, heart friend of Great Manitou,
            41When ferns and leaves with cool dews are wet,
            42Bows flowery breaths from his red calumet.

            43Never upon them the white frosts lie,
            44    Nor glow their green boughs with the "paint of death";
            45Manitou smiles in the crystal sky,
            46    Close breathing above them His life-strong breath;
            47And He speaks no more in fierce thunder sound,
            48So near is His happy hunting-ground.

            49Yet often I love, in my white canoe,
            50    To come to the forests and camps of earth:
            51'Twas there death's black arrow pierced me through;
            52    'Twas there my red-browed mother gave me birth;
            53There I, in the light of a young man's dawn,
            54Won the lily heart of dusk "Springing Fawn."

            55And love is a cord woven out of life,
            56    And dyed in the red of the living heart;
            57And time is the hunter's rusty knife,
            58    That cannot cut the red strands apart:
            59And I sail from the spirit shore to scan
            60Where the weaving of that strong cord began.

            61But I may not come with a giftless hand,
            62    So richly I pile, in my white canoe,
            63Flowers that bloom in the spirit land,
            64    Immortal smiles of Great Manitou.
            65When I paddle back to the shores of earth
            66I scatter them over the white man's hearth.

            67For love is the breath of the soul set free;
            68    So I cross the river that darkly rolls,
            69That my spirit may whisper soft to thee
            70    Of thine who wait in the "Camp of Souls."
            71When the bright day laughs, or the wan night grieves,
            72Come the dusky plumes of red "Singing Leaves."


5] wishton: wished-on

15] loons: common loons are goose-sized North American fish-eating birds well known for their night wail, a "Wild maniacal laugh, also a mournful yodeled oo-AH-ho with middle note higher, and a loud ringing kee-a-ree,kee-a-ree with middle note lower" (John Bull and John Farrand, Jr., The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region [New York: Knopf, 1977]: 466).

18] wigwam: bark- and branch-formed hut made by Amerindian Great Lake native peoples.

28] Manitou: Amerindian "Great Spirit."

36] rice-beds: wild rice, an annual marshland and waterway grass with high stalks and hanging clusters of nutty-tasting grains, harvested by Amerindian peoples, especially from Manitoba and about the Great Lakes (The Canadian Encyclopedia [Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988]: IV, 2305).

42] calumet: ceremonial pipe of Amerindian peoples.

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 Collected Poems of Isabella Valancy Crawford, ed. J. W. Garvin (Toronto: William Briggs, 1905): 52-55.
First publication date: 8 August 1880
Publication date note: In The Evening Telegram (Toronto)
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1997.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/12

Form: Heroic Sestets
Rhyme: ababcc

Other poems by Isabella Valancy Crawford