Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  The Canoe

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Isabella Valancey Crawford b. c.1857–87

The Canoe

MY masters twain made me a bed

Of pine-boughs resinous, and cedar;

Of moss, a soft and gentle breeder

Of dreams of rest; and me they spread

With furry skins, and, laughing, said,—

“Now she shall lay her polished sides

As queens do rest, or dainty brides,

Our slender lady of the tides!”

My masters twain their camp-soul lit,

Streamed incense from the hissing cones;

Large crimson flashes grew and whirled,

Thin golden nerves of sly light curled,

Round the dun camp, and rose faint zones

Half-way about each grim bole knit,

Like a shy child that would bedeck

With its soft clasp a Brave’s red neck,

Yet sees the rough shield on his breast,

The awful plumes shake on his crest,

And fearful drops his timid face,

Nor dares complete the sweet embrace.

Into the hollow hearts of brakes

Yet warm from sides of does and stags,

Passed to the crisp dark river flags,

Sinuous, red as copper, snakes,—

Sharp-headed serpents, made of light,

Glided and hid themselves in night.

My masters twain the slaughtered deer

Hung on forked boughs, with thongs of leather.

Bound were his stiff, slim feet together,

His eyes like dead stars cold and drear;

The wandering firelight drew near

And laid its wide palm, red and anxious,

On the sharp splendor of his branches;

On the white foam grown hard and sere

On flank and shoulder.

Death, hard as breast of granite boulder,

And under his lashes,

Peered through his eyes at his life’s gray ashes.

My masters twain sang songs that wove

(As they burnished hunting blade and rifle)

A golden thread with a cobweb trifle,

Loud of the chase, and low of love.

“O Love! art thou a silver fish,

Shy of the line and shy of gaffing,

Which we do follow, fierce, yet laughing,

Casting at thee the light-winged wish?

And at the last shall we bring thee up

From the crystal darkness under the cup

Of lily folden,

On broad leaves golden?

“O Love! art thou a silver deer?

Swift thy starred feet as wing of swallow,

While we with rushing arrows follow:

And at the last shall we draw near,

And over thy velvet neck cast thongs,

Woven of roses, of stars, of songs,

New chains all moulden

Of rare gems olden?”

They hung the slaughtered fish like swords

On saplings slender; like scimitars

Bright, and ruddied from new-dead wars,

Blazed in the light the scaly hordes.

They piled up boughs beneath the trees,

Of cedar-web and green fir tassel;

Low did the pointed pine tops rustle,

The camp fire blushed to the tender breeze.

The hounds laid dew-laps on the ground,

With needles of pine sweet, soft and rusty,

Dreamed of the dead stag stout and lusty;

A bat by the red flames wove its round.

The darkness built its wigwam walls

Close round the camp, and at its curtain

Pressed shapes, thin woven and uncertain,

As white locks of tall waterfalls.