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Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford

Malcolm's Katie: A Love Story - Part 4

From his far wigwam sprang the strong North Wind
And rush’d with war-cry down the steep ravines,
And wrestl’d with the giants of the woods;
And with his ice-club beat the swelling crests
Of the deep watercourses into death; 
And with his chill foot froze the whirling leaves
Of dun and gold and fire in icy banks;
And smote the tall reeds to the harden’d earth;
And sent his whistling arrows o’er the plains,
Scatt’ring the ling’ring herds—and sudden paus’d 
When he had frozen all the running streams,
And hunted with his war-cry all the things
That breath’d about the woods, or roam’d the bleak
Bare prairies swelling to the mournful sky.
“White squaw,” he shouted, troubl’d in his soul, 
“I slew the dead, wrestl’d with naked chiefs
“Unplum’d before, scalped of their leafy plumes;
“I bound sick rivers in cold thongs of death,
“And shot my arrows over swooning plains,
“Bright with the paint of death—and lean and bare. 
“And all the braves of my loud tribe will mock
“And point at me—when our great chief, the Sun,
“Relights his Council fire in the Moon
“Of Budding Leaves: ‘Ugh, ugh! he is a brave!
“‘He fights with squaws and takes the scalps of babes!’
“And the least wind will blow his calumet—
“Fill’d with the breath of smallest flow’rs—across
“The war-paint on my face, and pointing with
“His small, bright pipe, that never moved a spear
“Of bearded rice, cry, ‘Ugh! he slays the dead!’ 
“O, my white squaw, come from thy wigwam grey,
“Spread thy white blanket on the twice-slain dead,
“And hide them, ere the waking of the Sun!” 

•      •      •
High grew the snow beneath the low-hung sky, 	
And all was silent in the Wilderness;
In trance of stillness Nature heard her God
Rebuilding her spent fires, and veil’d her face
While the Great Worker brooded o’er His work.

•      •      •
   “Bite deep and wide, O Axe, the tree,
   What doth thy bold voice promise me?” 

•      •      •
   “I promise thee all joyous things,
   That furnish forth the lives of kings! 

•      •      •
   “For ev’ry silver ringing blow,
   Cities and palaces shall grow!” 

•      •      •
   “Bite deep and wide, O Axe, the tree,
   Tell wider prophecies to me.” 

•      •      •
   “When rust hath gnaw’d me deep and red,
   A nation strong shall lift his head! 

•      •      •
   “His crown the very Heav’ns shall smite,
   Æons shall build him in his might!”

•      •      •
   “Bite deep and wide, O Axe, the tree;
   Bright Seer, help on thy prophecy!” 	

•      •      •
Max smote the snow-weigh’d tree and lightly laugh’d.
“See, friend,” he cried to one that look’d and smil’d,
“My axe and I—we do immortal tasks— 
“We build up nations—this my axe and I!”
“O,” said the other with a cold, short smile,
“Nations are not immortal! Is there now
“One nation thron’d upon the sphere of earth,
“That walk’d with the first Gods, and saw 
“The budding world unfold its slow-leav’d flow’r?
“Nay; it is hardly theirs to leave behind
“Ruins so eloquent that the hoary sage
“Can lay his hand upon their stones, and say:
“‘These once were thrones!’ The lean, lank lion peals 
“His midnight thunders over lone, red plains,
“Long-ridg’d and crested on their dusty waves
“With fires from moons red-hearted as the sun;
“And deep re-thunders all the earth to him.
“For, far beneath the flame-fleck’d, shifting sands, 
“Below the roots of palms, and under stones
“Of younger ruins, thrones, tow’rs and cities
“Honeycomb the earth. The high, solemn walls
“Of hoary ruins—their foundings all unknown
“(But to the round-ey’d worlds that walk 
“In the blank paths of Space and blanker Chance)—
“At whose stones young mountains wonder, and the seas’
“New-silv’ring, deep-set valleys pause and gaze,
“Are rear’d upon old shrines, whose very Gods
“Were dreams to the shrine-builders of a time 
“They caught in far-off flashes—as the child
“Half thinks he can remember how one came
“And took him in her hand and shew’d him that,
“He thinks, she call’d the sun. Proud ships rear high
“On ancient billows that have torn the roots 
“Of cliffs, and bitten at the golden lips
“Of firm, sleek beaches, till they conquer’d all,
“And sow’d the reeling earth with salted waves.
“Wrecks plunge, prow foremost, down still, solemn slopes,
“And bring their dead crews to as dead a quay; 
“Some city built before that ocean grew,
“By silver drops from many a floating cloud,
“By icebergs bellowing in their thoes of death,
“By lesser seas toss’d from their rocking cups,
“And leaping each to each; by dew-drops flung 
“From painted sprays, whose weird leaves and flow’rs
“Are moulded for new dwellers on the earth,
“Printed in hearts of mountains and of mines.
“Nations immortal? Where the well-trimm’d lamps
“Of long-past ages, when Time seem’d to pause 
“On smooth, dust-blotted graves that, like the tombs
“Of monarchs, held dead bones and sparkling gems?
“She saw no glimmer on the hideous ring
“Of the black clouds; no stream of sharp, clear light
“From those great torches, pass’d into the black 
“Of deep oblivion. She seem’d to watch, but she
“Forgot her long-dead nations. When she stirr’d
“Her vast limbs in the dawn that forc’d its fire
“Up the black East, and saw the imperious red
“Burst over virgin dews and budding flow’rs, 
“She still forgot her molder’d thrones and kings,
“Her sages and their torches, and their Gods,
“And said, ‘This is my birth—my primal day!’
“She dream’d new Gods, and rear’d them other shrines,
“Planted young nations, smote a feeble flame 
“From sunless flint, re-lit the torch of mind;
“Again she hung her cities on the hills,
“Built her rich tow’rs, crown’d her kings again,
“And with the sunlight on her awful wings
“Swept round the flow’ry cestus of the earth, 
“And said, ‘I build for Immortality!’
“Her vast hand rear’d her tow’rs, her shrines, her thrones;
“The ceaseless sweep of her tremendous wings
“Still beat them down and swept their dust abroad;
“Her iron finger wrote on mountain sides 
“Her deeds and prowess—and her own soft plume
“Wore down the hills! Again drew darkly on
“A night of deep forgetfulness; once more
“Time seem’d to pause upon forgotten graves—
“Once more a young dawn stole into her eyes— 
“Again her broad wings stirr’d, and fresh, clear airs,
“Blew the great clouds apart;—again Time said,
“‘This is my birth—my deeds and handiwork
“‘Shall be immortal.’ Thus and so dream on
“Fool’d nations, and thus dream their dullard sons. 
“Naught is immortal save immortal—Death!”
Max paus’d and smil’d: “O, preach such gospel, friend,
“To all but lovers who most truly love;
“For them, their gold-wrought scripture glibly reads,
“All else is mortal but immortal—Love!” 
“Fools! fools!” his friend said, “most immortal fools!—
“But pardon, pardon, for, perchance, you love?”
“Yes,” said Max, proudly smiling, “thus do I
“Possess the world and feel eternity!”
Dark laughter blacken’d in the other’s eyes: 
“Eternity! why, did such Iris-arch
“Enring our worm-bored planet, never liv’d
“One woman true enough such tryst to keep!”
“I’d swear by Kate,” said Max; and then, “I had
“A mother, and my father swore by her.” 
“By Kate? Ah, that were lusty oath, indeed!
“Some other man will look into her eyes,
“And swear me roundly, ‘By true Catherine!’
“As Troilus swore by Cressèd—so they say.”
“You never knew my Kate,” said Max, and pois’d 
His axe again on high. “But let it pass—
“You are too subtle for me; argument
“Have I none to oppose yours with—but this,
“Get you a Kate, and let her sunny eyes
“Dispel the doubting darkness in your soul.” 
“And have not I a Kate? Pause, friend, and see.
“She gave me this faint shadow of herself
“The day I slipp’d the watch-star of our loves—
“A ring—upon her hand—she loves me, too;
“Yet tho’ her eyes be suns, no Gods are they 
“To give me worlds, or make me feel a tide
“Of strong Eternity set towards my soul;
“And tho’ she loves me, yet am I content
“To know she loves me by the hour—the year—
“Perchance the second—as all women love.” 
The bright axe falter’d in the air, and ripp’d
Down the rough bark, and bit the drifted snow,
For Max’s arm fell, wither’d in its strength,
’Long by his side. “Your Kate,” he said; “your Kate!”
“Yes, mine, while holds her mind that way, my Kate; 
“I sav’d her life, and had her love for thanks;
“Her father is Malcolm Graem—Max, my friend,
“You pale! What sickness seizes on your soul?”
Max laugh’d, and swung his bright axe high again:
“Stand back a pace—a too far-reaching blow 
“Might level your false head with yon prone trunk—
“Stand back and listen while I say, ‘You lie!’
“That is my Katie’s face upon your breast,
“But ’tis my Katie’s love lives in my breast—
“Stand back, I say! my axe is heavy, and 
“Might chance to cleave a liar’s brittle skull.
“Your Kate! your Kate! your Kate!—hark, how the woods
“Mock at your lie with all their woody tongues.
“O, silence, ye false echoes! Not his Kate
“But mine—I’m certain I will have your life!” 
All the blue heav’n was dead in Max’s eyes;
Doubt-wounded lay Kate’s image in his heart,
And could not rise to pluck the sharp spear out.
“Well, strike, mad fool,” said Alfred, somewhat pale;
“I have no weapon but these naked hands.” 
“Aye, but,” said Max, “you smote my naked heart!
“O shall I slay him?—Satan, answer me—
“I cannot call on God for answer here.
“O Kate—!”
A voice from God came thro’ the silent woods 
And answer’d him—for suddenly a wind
Caught the great tree-tops, con’d with high-pil’d snow,
And smote them to and fro, while all the air
Was sudden fill’d with busy drifts, and high
White pillars whirl’d amid the naked trunks, 
And harsh, loud groans, and smiting, sapless boughs
Made hellish clamour in the quiet place.
With a shrill shriek of tearing fibres, rock’d
The half-hewn tree above his fated head;
And, tott’ring, asked the sudden blast, “Which way?” 
And, answ’ring its windy arms, crash’d and broke
Thro’ other lacing boughs, with one loud roar
Of woody thunder; all its pointed boughs
Pierc’d the deep snow—its round and mighty corpse,
Bark-flay’d and shudd’ring, quiver’d into death. 
And Max—as some frail, wither’d reed, the sharp
And piercing branches caught at him, as hands
In a death-throe, and beat him to the earth—
And the dead tree upon its slayer lay.
“Yet hear we much of Gods;—if such there be, 
“They play at games of chance with thunderbolts,”
Said Alfred, “else on me this doom had come.
“This seals my faith in deep and dark unfaith!
“Now, Katie, are you mine, for Max is dead—
“Or will be soon, imprison’d by those boughs, 
“Wounded and torn, sooth’d by the deadly palms
“Of the white, trait’rous frost; and buried then
“Under the snows that fill those vast, grey clouds,
“Low-sweeping on the fretted forest roof.
“And Katie shall believe you false—not dead; 
“False, false!—and I? O, she shall find me true—
“True as a fabl’d devil to the soul
“He longs for with the heat of all Hell’s fires.
“These myths serve well for simile, I see.
“And yet—down, Pity! Knock not at my breast, 
“Nor grope about for that dull stone my heart;
“I’ll stone thee with it, Pity! Get thee hence,
“Pity, I’ll strangle thee with naked hands;
“For thou dost bear upon thy downy breast
“Remorse, shap’d like a serpent, and her fangs 
“Might dart at me and pierce my marrow thro’.
“Hence, beggar, hence—and keep with fools, I say!
“He bleeds and groans! Well, Max, thy God or mine,
“Blind Chance, here play’d the butcher—’twas not I.
“Down hands! Ye shall not lift his fall’n head. 
“What cords tug at ye? What? Ye’d pluck him up
“And staunch his wounds? There rises in my breast
“A strange, strong giant, throwing wide his arms
“And bursting all the granite of my heart!
“How like to quiv’ring flesh a stone may feel! 
“Why, it has pangs! I’ll none of them. I know
“Life is too short for anguish and for hearts—
“So I wrestle with thee, giant! and my will
“Turns the thumb, and thou shalt take the knife.
“Well done! I’ll turn thee on the arena dust, 
“And look on thee. What? thou wert Pity’s self,
“Stol’n in my breast; and I have slaughter’d thee—
“But hist—where hast thou hidden thy fell snake,
“Fire-fang’d Remorse? Not in my breast, I know,
“For all again is chill and empty there, 
“And hard and cold—the granite knitted up.
“So lie there, Max—poor fond and simple Max,
“’Tis well thou diest; earth’s children should not call
“Such as thee father—let them ever be
“Father’d by rogues and villains, fit to cope 
“With the foul dragon Chance, and the black knaves
“Who swarm in loathsome masses in the dust.
“True Max, lie there, and slumber into death.”

Isabella Valancy Crawford

Isabella Valancy Crawford's other poems:
  1. Bouche-Mignonne
  2. An Interregnum
  3. Late Loved - Well Loved
  4. Malcolm's Katie: A Love Story - Part 1
  5. Said the Wind

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