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Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford

Malcolm's Katie: A Love Story - Part 2

The South Wind laid his moccasins aside,
Broke his gay calumet of flow’rs, and cast
His useless wampum, beaded with cool dews,
Far from him, northward; his long, ruddy spear
Flung sunward, whence it came, and his soft locks 
Of warm, fine haze grew silver as the birch.
His wigwam of green leaves began to shake;
The crackling rice-beds scolded harsh like squaws;
The small ponds pouted up their silver lips;
The great lakes ey’d the mountains, whisper’d “Ugh! 
“Are ye so tall, O chiefs? Not taller than
“Our plumes can reach,” and rose a little way,
As panthers stretch to try their velvet limbs,
And then retreat to purr and bide their time.
At morn the sharp breath of the night arose 
From the wide prairies, in deep-struggling seas,
In rolling breakers, bursting to the sky;
In tumbling surfs, all yellow’d faintly thro’
With the low sun—in mad, conflicting crests,
Voic’d with low thunder from the hairy throats 
Of the mist-buried herds; and for a man
To stand amid the cloudy roll and moil,
The phantom waters breaking overhead,
Shades of vex’d billows bursting on his breast,
Torn caves of mist wall’d with a sudden gold, 
Reseal’d as swift as seen—broad, shaggy fronts,
Fire-ey’d and tossing on impatient horns
The wave impalpable—was but to think
A dream of phantoms held him as he stood.
The late, last thunders of the summer crash’d, 
Where shrieked great eagles, lords of naked cliffs.
The pulseless forest, lock’d and interlock’d
So closely, bough with bough, and leaf with leaf,
So serf’d by its own wealth, that while from high
The Moons of Summer kiss’d its green-gloss’d locks, 
And round its knees the merry West Wind danc’d,
And round its ring, compacted emerald,
The South Wind crept on moccasins of flame,
And the red fingers of th’ impatient Sun
Pluck’d at its outmost fringes—its dim veins 
Beat with no life—its deep and dusky heart,
In a deep trance of shadow, felt no throb
To such soft wooing answer: thro’ its dream
Brown rivers of deep waters sunless stole;
Small creeks sprang from its mosses, and amaz’d, 
Like children in a wigwam curtain’d close
Above the great, dead heart of some red chief,
Slipp’d on soft feet, swift stealing through the gloom,
Eager for light and for the frolic winds.
In this shrill Moon the scouts of Winter ran 
From the ice-belted north, and whistling shafts
Struck maple and struck sumach—and a blaze
Ran swift from leaf to leaf, from bough to bough;
Till round the forest flash’d a belt of flame
And inward lick’d its tongues of red and gold 
To the deep, tranced inmost heart of all.
Rous’d the still heart—but all too late, too late.
Too late, the branches welded fast with leaves,
Toss’d, loosen’d, to the winds—too late the Sun
Pour’d his last vigor to the deep, dark cells 
Of the dim wood. The keen, two-bladed Moon
Of Falling Leaves roll’d up on crested mists;
And where the lush, rank boughs had foiled the Sun
In his red prime, her pale, sharp fingers crept
After the wind and felt about the moss, 
And seem’d to pluck from shrinking twig and stem
The burning leaves—while groan’d the shudd’ring wood.
Who journey’d where the prairies made a pause,
Saw burnish’d ramparts flaming in the sun,
With beacon fires, tall on their rustling walls. 
And when the vast, horn’d herds at sunset drew
Their sullen masses into one black cloud,
Rolling thund’rous o’er the quick pulsating plain,
They seem’d to sweep between two fierce red suns
Which, hunter-wise, shot at their glaring balls 
Keen shafts, with scarlet feathers and gold barbs.
By round, small lakes with thinner forests fring’d,
More jocund woods that sung about the feet
And crept along the shoulders of great cliffs,
The warrior stags, with does and tripping fawns, 
Like shadows black upon the throbbing mist
Of evening’s rose, flash’d thro’ the singing woods—
Nor tim’rous, sniff’d the spicy, cone-breath’d air;
For never had the patriarch of the herd
Seen, limn’d against the farthest rim of light 
Of the low-dipping sky, the plume or bow
Of the red hunter; nor, when stoop’d to drink,
Had from the rustling rice-beds heard the shaft
Of the still hunter hidden in its spears;
His bark canoe close-knotted in its bronze, 
His form as stirless as the brooding air,
His dusky eyes, too, fix’d, unwinking, fires;
His bow-string tighten’d till it subtly sang
To the long throbs, and leaping pulse that roll’d
And beat within his knotted, naked breast. 
There came a morn. The Moon of Falling Leaves,
With her twin silver blades, had only hung
Above the low-set cedars of the swamp
For one brief quarter, when the Sun arose
Lusty with light and full of summer heat, 
And, pointing with his arrows at the blue,
Clos’d, wigwam curtains of the sleeping Moon,
Laugh’d with the noise of arching cataracts,
And with the dove-like cooing of the woods,
And with the shrill cry of the diving loon, 
And with the wash of saltless, rounded seas,
And mock’d the white Moon of the Falling Leaves.
“Esa! esa! shame upon you, Pale Face!
“Shame upon you, Moon of Evil Witches!
“Have you kill’d the happy, laughing Summer? 
“Have you slain the mother of the flowers
“With your icy spells of might and magic?
“Have you laid her dead within my arms?
“Wrapp’d her, mocking, in a rainbow blanket?
“Drown’d her in the frost-mist of your anger? 
“She is gone a little way before me;
“Gone an arrow’s flight beyond my vision;
“She will turn again and come to meet me,
“With the ghosts of all the slain flowers,
“In a blue mist round her shining tresses, 
“In a blue smoke in her naked forests—
“She will linger, kissing all the branches;
“She will linger, touching all the places,
“Bare and naked, with her golden fingers,
“Saying, ‘Sleep, and dream of me, my children; 
“‘Dream of me, the mystic Indian Summer;
“‘I, who, slain by the cold Moon of Terror,
“‘Can return across the Path of Spirits,
“‘Bearing still my heart of love and fire,
“‘Looking with my eyes of warmth and splendour, 
“‘Whisp’ring lowly thro’ your sleep of sunshine.
“‘I, the laughing Summer, am not turn’d
“‘Into dry dust, whirling on the prairies,—
“‘Into red clay, crush’d beneath the snowdrifts.
“‘I am still the mother of sweet flowers 
“‘Growing but an arrow’s flight beyond you—
“‘In the Happy Hunting Ground—the quiver
“‘Of great Manitou, where all the arrows
“‘He has shot from his great bow of Pow’r,
“‘With its clear, bright, singing cord of Wisdom, 
“‘Are re-gather’d, plum’d again and brighten’d,
“‘And shot out, re-barb’d with Love and Wisdom;
“‘Always shot, and evermore returning.
“‘Sleep, my children, smiling in your heart-seeds
“‘At the spirit words of Indian Summer!’ 
“Thus, O Moon of Falling Leaves, I mock you!
“Have you slain my gold-ey’d squaw, the Summer?”
The mighty morn strode laughing up the land,
And Max, the labourer and the lover, stood
Within the forest’s edge, beside a tree; 
The mossy king of all the woody tribes,
Whose clatt’ring branches rattl’d, shuddering,
As the bright axe cleav’d moon-like thro’ the air,
Waking strange thunders, rousing echoes link’d
From the full, lion-throated roar, to sighs 
Stealing on dove-wings thro’ the distant aisles.
Swift fell the axe, swift follow’d roar on roar,
Till the bare woodland bellow’d in its rage,
As the first-slain slow toppl’d to his fall.
“O King of Desolation, art thou dead?” 
Thought Max, and laughing, heart and lips, leap’d on
The vast, prone trunk. “And have I slain a King?
“Above his ashes will I build my house—
“No slave beneath its pillars, but—a King!”
Max wrought alone, but for a half-breed lad, 
With tough, lithe sinews and deep Indian eyes,
Lit with a Gallic sparkle. Max, the lover, found
The labourer’s arms grow mightier day by day—
More iron-welded as he slew the trees;
And with the constant yearning of his heart 
Towards little Kate, part of a world away,
His young soul grew and shew’d a virile front,
Full muscl’d and large statur’d, like his flesh.
Soon the great heaps of brush were builded high,
And, like a victor, Max made pause to clear 
His battle-field, high strewn with tangl’d dead.
Then roar’d the crackling mountains, and their fires
Met in high heaven, clasping flame with flame.
The thin winds swept a cosmos of red sparks
Across the bleak, midnight sky; and the sun 
Walk’d pale behind the resinous, black smoke.
And Max car’d little for the blotted sun,
And nothing for the startl’d, outshone stars;
For Love, once set within a lover’s breast,
Has its own Sun—its own peculiar sky, 
All one great daffodil—on which do lie
The sun, the moon, the stars—all seen at once,
And never setting; but all shining straight
Into the faces of the trinity,—
The one belov’d, the lover, and sweet Love! 
It was not all his own, the axe-stirr’d waste.
In these new days men spread about the earth
With wings at heel—and now the settler hears,
While yet his axe rings on the primal woods,
The shrieks of engines rushing o’er the wastes; 
Nor parts his kind to hew his fortunes out.
And as one drop glides down the unknown rock
And the bright-threaded stream leaps after it
With welded billions, so the settler finds
His solitary footsteps beaten out, 
With the quick rush of panting, human waves
Upheav’d by throbs of angry poverty,
And driven by keen blasts of hunger, from
Their native strands—so stern, so dark, so dear!
O, then, to see the troubl’d, groaning waves, 
Throb down to peace in kindly, valley beds,
Their turbid bosoms clearing in the calm
Of sun-ey’d Plenty—till the stars and moon,
The blessed sun himself, has leave to shine
And laugh in their dark hearts! So shanties grew 
Other than his amid the blacken’d stumps;
And children ran with little twigs and leaves
And flung them, shouting, on the forest pyres
Where burn’d the forest kings—and in the glow
Paus’d men and women when the day was done. 
There the lean weaver ground anew his axe,
Nor backward look’d upon the vanish’d loom,
But forward to the ploughing of his fields,
And to the rose of Plenty in the cheeks
Of wife and children—nor heeded much the pangs 
Of the rous’d muscles tuning to new work.
The pallid clerk look’d on his blister’d palms
And sigh’d and smil’d, but girded up his loins
And found new vigour as he felt new hope.
The lab’rer with train’d muscles, grim and grave, 
Look’d at the ground and wonder’d in his soul,
What joyous anguish stirr’d his darken’d heart,
At the mere look of the familiar soil,
And found his answer in the words—“Mine own!”
Then came smooth-coated men, with eager eyes, 
And talk’d of steamers on the cliff-bound lakes;
And iron tracks across the prairie lands;
And mills to crush the quartz of wealthy hills;
And mills to saw the great, wide-arm’d trees;
And mills to grind the singing stream of grain; 
And with such busy clamour mingled still
The throbbing music of the bold, bright Axe—
The steel tongue of the Present, and the wail
Of falling forests—voices of the Past.
Max, social-soul’d, and with his practised thews,
Was happy, boy-like, thinking much of Kate,
And speaking of her to the women-folk,
Who, mostly, happy in new honeymoons
Of hope themselves, were ready still to hear
The thrice-told tale of Katie’s sunny eyes 
And Katie’s yellow hair, and household ways;
And heard so often, “There shall stand our home—
“On yonder slope, with vines about the door!”
That the good wives were almost made to see
The snowy walls, deep porches, and the gleam 
Of Katie’s garments flitting through the rooms;
And the black slope all bristling with burn’d stumps
Was known amongst them all as “Max’s House.” 

•      •      •
O, Love builds on the azure sea, 	
   And Love builds on the golden sand;
And Love builds on the rose-wing’d cloud,
   And sometimes Love builds on the land. 

•      •      •
O, if Love build on sparkling sea—
   And if Love build on golden strand—
And if Love build on rosy cloud— 
   To Love these are the solid land. 

•      •      •
O, Love will build his lily walls,
   And Love his pearly roof will rear,—
On cloud or land, or mist or sea—
   Love’s solid land is everywhere!

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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