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Short poem

Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-1887)

The Lily Bed

              1His cedar paddle, scented, red,
              2He thrust down through the lily bed;

              3Cloaked in a golden pause he lay,
              4Locked in the arms of the placid bay.

              5Trembled alone his bark canoe
              6As shocks of bursting lilies flew

              7Thro' the still crystal of the tide,
              8And smote the frail boat's birchen side;

              9Or, when beside the sedges thin
            10Rose the sharp silver of a fin;

            11Or when, a wizard swift and cold,
            12A dragon-fly beat out in gold

            13And jewels all the widening rings
            14Of waters singing to his wings;

            15Or, like a winged and burning soul,
            16Dropped from the gloom an oriole

            17On the cool wave, as to the balm
            18Of the Great Spirit's open palm

            19The freed soul flies. And silence clung
            20To the still hours, as tendrils hung,

            21In darkness carven, from the trees,
            22Sedge-buried to their burly knees.

            23Stillness sat in his lodge of leaves;
            24Clung golden shadows to its eaves,

            25And on its cone-spiced floor, like maize,
            26Red-ripe, fell sheaves of knotted rays.

            27The wood, a proud and crested brave;
            28Bead-bright, a maiden, stood the wave.

            29And he had spoke his soul of love
            30With voice of eagle and of dove.

            31Of loud, strong pines his tongue was made;
            32His lips, soft blossoms in the shade,

            33That kissed her silver lips--her's cool
            34As lilies on his inmost pool--

            35Till now he stood, in triumph's rest,
            36His image painted in her breast.

            37One isle 'tween blue and blue did melt,--
            38A bead of wampum from the belt

            39Of Manitou--a purple rise
            40On the far shore heaved to the skies.

            41His cedar paddle, scented, red,
            42He drew up from the lily bed;

            43All lily-locked, all lily-locked,
            44His light bark in the blossoms rocked.

            45Their cool lips round the sharp prow sang,
            46Their soft clasp to the frail sides sprang,

            47With breast and lip they wove a bar.
            48 Stole from her lodge the Evening Star;

            49With golden hand she grasped the mane
            50Of a red cloud on her azure plain.

            51It by the peaked, red sunset flew;
            52Cool winds from its bright nostrils blew.

            53They swayed the high, dark trees, and low
            54Swept the locked lilies to and fro.

            55With cedar paddle, scented, red,
            56He pushed out from the lily bed.


1] This poem is among the most reticently erotic poems in English. For a discussion of its possibly biographical basis, see Dorothy Farmiloe, Isabella Valancy Crawford: The Life and the Legends (Ottawa, 1983): 34-39. See "Malcolm's Katie" for Crawford's consistent metaphorical treatment of the lily.

25] maize: "Indian corn."

38] wampum: coloured beads.

39] Manitou: the "Great Spirit" of native Amerindian myth.

48] the Evening Star: Venus.

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): 169-71.
First publication date: 30 October 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: 4 January 1884
Form: Couplet-stanzas

Other poems by Isabella Valancy Crawford