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Short poem

Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-1887)

The Canoe

              1My masters twain made me a bed
              2Of pine-boughs resinous, and cedar;
              3Of moss, a soft and gentle breeder
              4Of dreams of rest; and me they spread
              5With furry skins, and laughing said,
              6"Now she shall lay her polish'd sides,
              7As queens do rest, or dainty brides,
              8Our slender lady of the tides!"

              9My masters twain their camp-soul lit,
            10Streamed incense from the hissing cones,
            11Large, crimson flashes grew and whirl'd
            12Thin, golden nerves of sly light curl'd
            13Round the dun camp, and rose faint zones,
            14Half way about each grim bole knit,
            15Like a shy child that would bedeck
            16With its soft clasp a Brave's red neck;
            17Yet sees the rough shield on his breast,
            18The awful plumes shake on his crest,
            19And fearful drops his timid face,
            20Nor dares complete the sweet embrace.

            21Into the hollow hearts of brakes,
            22Yet warm from sides of does and stags,
            23Pass'd to the crisp dark river flags;
            24Sinuous, red as copper snakes,
            25Sharp-headed serpents, made of light,
            26Glided and hid themselves in night.

            27My masters twain, the slaughter'd deer
            28Hung on fork'd boughs—with thongs of leather.
            29Bound were his stiff, slim feet together—
            30His eyes like dead stars cold and drear;
            31The wand'ring firelight drew near
            32And laid its wide palm, red and anxious,
            33On the sharp splendor of his branches;
            34On the white foam grown hard and sere
            35    On flank and shoulder.
            36Death—hard as breast of granite boulder,
            37    And under his lashes
            38Peer'd thro' his eyes at his life's gray ashes.

            39My masters twain sang songs that wove
            40(As they burnish'd hunting blade and rifle)
            41A golden thread with a cobweb trifle—
            42Loud of the chase, and low of love.

            43"O Love, art thou a silver fish ?
            44Shy of the line and shy of gaffing,
            45Which we do follow, fierce, yet laughing,
            46Casting at thee the light-wing'd wish,
            47And at the last shall we bring thee up
            48From the crystal darkness under the cup
            49    Of lily folden,
            50    On broad leaves golden ?

            51"O Love! art thou a silver deer,
            52Swift thy starr'd feet as wing of swallow,
            53While we with rushing arrows follow;
            54And at the last shall we draw near,
            55And over thy velvet neck cast thongs—
            56Woven of roses, of stars, of songs ?
            57    New chains all molden
            58    Of rare gems olden!"

            59They hung the slaughter'd fish like swords
            60On saplings slender—like scimitars
            61Bright, and ruddied from new-dead wars,
            62Blaz'd in the light--the scaly hordes.

            63They pil'd up boughs beneath the trees,
            64Of cedar-web and green fir tassel;
            65Low did the pointed pine tops rustle,
            66The camp fire blush'd to the tender breeze.

            67The hounds laid dew-laps on the ground,
            68With needles of pine sweet, soft, and rusty—
            69Dream'd of the dead stag stout and lusty;
            70A bat by the red flames wove its round.

            71The darkness built its wigwam walls
            72Close round the camp, and at its curtain
            73Press'd shapes, thin woven and uncertain,
            74As white locks of tall waterfalls.


10] cones: pine cones.

24] copper snakes: copperheads, or copperhead moccasins, North American poisonous snakes

44] gaffing: catching with a spear-hook.

67] dew-laps: skin-folds hanging from under the neck.

71] wigwam: bark- and branch-formed hut made by Great Lakes 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: Isabella Valancy Crawford, "Old Spookses' Pass," "Malcolm's Katie" and other Poems (Toronto: James Bain and Son, 1884): 197-99. PR 4518 C17 O5 1884 Canadiana (Victoria College Library)
First publication date: 26 February 1884
Publication date note: In The Evening Telegram (Toronto)
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1997.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/17

Composition date: 8 December 1883
Rhyme: abbaaccc

Other poems by Isabella Valancy Crawford