The Height of Land

Original Text: 
The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1926): 46-51. PS 8487 C6 A17 1926 Robarts Library.
1Here is the height of land:
2The watershed on either hand
3Goes down to Hudson Bay
4Or Lake Superior;
5The stars are up, and far away
6The wind sounds in the wood, wearier
9Declares the ills of life
11Of acquiescence. The fires burn low
12With just sufficient glow
13To light the flakes of ash that play
14At being moths, and flutter away
15To fall in the dark and die as ashes:
16Here there is peace in the lofty air,
17And Something comes by flashes
18Deeper than peace: --
19The spruces have retired a little space
20And left a field of sky in violet shadow
21With stars like marigolds in a water-meadow.
22Now the Indian guides are dead asleep;
23There is no sound unless the soul can hear
24The gathering of the waters in their sources.
25We have come up through the spreading lakes
26From level to level, --
27Pitching our tents sometimes over a revel
28Of roses that nodded all night,
29Dreaming within our dreams,
30To wake at dawn and find that they were captured
31With no dew on their leaves;
32Sometimes mid sheaves
34On a wide blueberry plain
35Brushed with the shimmer of a bluebird's wing;
36A rocky islet followed
37With one lone poplar and a single nest
38Of white-throat-sparrows that took no rest
39But sang in dreams or woke to sing, --
41Upon one hand
42The lonely north enlaced with lakes and streams,
44Glimmering all night
45In the cold arctic light;
46On the other hand
47The crowded southern land
48With all the welter of the lives of men.
49But here is peace, and again
50That Something comes by flashes
51Deeper than peace, -- a spell
52Golden and inappellable
53That gives the inarticulate part
54Of our strange being one moment of release
55That seems more native than the touch of time,
56And we must answer in chime;
57Though yet no man may tell
58The secret of that spell
59Golden and inappellable.
60Now are there sounds walking in the wood,
61And all the spruces shiver and tremble,
62And the stars move a little in their courses.
63The ancient disturber of solitude
64Breathes a pervasive sigh,
65And the soul seems to hear
66The gathering of the waters at their sources;
67Then quiet ensues and pure starlight and dark;
68The region-spirit murmurs in meditation,
69The heart replies in exaltation
70And echoes faintly like an inland shell
71Ghost tremors of the spell;
72Thought reawakens and is linked again
73With all the welter of the lives of men.
74Here on the uplands where the air is clear
75We think of life as of a stormy scene, --
76Of tempest, of revolt and desperate shock;
77And here, where we can think, on the brights uplands
78Where the air is clear, we deeply brood on life
79Until the tempest parts, and it appears
80As simple as to the shepherd seems his flock:
81A Something to be guided by ideals --
82That in themselves are simple and serene --
83Of noble deed to foster noble thought,
84And noble thought to image noble deed,
85Till deed and thought shall interpenetrate,
86Making life lovelier, till we come to doubt
87Whether the perfect beauty that escapes
88Is beauty of deed or thought or some high thing
89Mingled of both, a greater boon than either:
90Thus we have seen in the retreating tempest
91The victor-sunlight merge with the ruined rain,
92And from the rain and sunlight spring the rainbow.
93The ancient disturber of solitude
94Stirs his ancestral potion in the gloom,
95And the dark wood
96Is stifled with the pungent fume
97Of charred earth burnt to the bone
98That takes the place of air.
99Then sudden I remember when and where, --
100The last weird lakelet foul with weedy growths
101And slimy viscid things the spirit loathes,
102Skin of vile water over viler mud
103Where the paddle stirred unutterable stenches,
104And the canoes seemed heavy with fear,
105Not to be urged toward the fatal shore
106Where a bush fire, smouldering, with sudden roar
107Leaped on a cedar and smothered it with light
108And terror. It had left the portage-height
109A tangle of slanted spruces burned to the roots,
110Covered still with patches of bright fire
111Smoking with incense of the fragment resin
112That even then began to thin and lessen
113Into the gloom and glimmer of ruin.
114'Tis overpast. How strange the stars have grown;
115The presage of extinction glows on their crests
116And they are beautied with impermanence;
117They shall be after the race of men
118And mourn for them who snared their fiery pinions,
119Entangled in the meshes of bright words.
120A lemming stirs the fern and in the mosses
122Tolls out from the dark belfries of the spruces.
123How often in the autumn of the world
124Shall the crystal shrine of dawning be rebuilt
125With deeper meaning! Shall the poet then,
126Wrapped in his mantle on the height of land,
127Brood on the welter of the lives of men
128And dream of his ideal hope and promise
129In the blush sunrise? Shall he base his flight
130Upon a more compelling law than Love
131As Life's atonement; shall the vision
132Of noble deed and noble thought immingled
134Scratched on the cave side by the cave-dweller
135To us of the Christ-time? Shall he stand
136With deeper joy, with more complex emotion,
137In closer commune with divinity,
138With the deep fathomed, with the firmament charted,
139With life as simple as a sheep-boy's song,
141Once on a morn of storm and laid aside
142Memorious with strange immortal memories?
143Or shall he see the sunrise as I see it
144In shoals of misty fire the deluge-light
145Dashes upon and whelms with purer radiance,
146And feel the lulled earth, older in pulse and motion,
147Turn the rich lands and inundant oceans
148To the flushed color, and hear as now I hear
149The thrill of life beat up the planet's margin
151That echoes and reëchoes in my being?
152O Life is intuition the measure of knowledge
153And do I stand with heart entranced and burning
154At the zenith of our wisdom when I feel
155The long light flow, the long wind pause, the deep
156Influx of spirit, of which no man may tell
157The Secret, golden and inappellable?

Notes

7] Ojibwa: a native people living north of Sault St. Marie between eastern Lake Superior and northeastern Georgian Bay. Back to Line
8] Potàn the Wise: unidentified. Back to Line
10] Chees-que-ne-ne: unidentified. Back to Line
33] bracken: large fern.
dwarf-cornel: dwarf honeysuckle, cornus herbacea. Back to Line
40] portage: carrying of canoe across land from one lake or river to another. Back to Line
43] targe: shield. Back to Line
121] Eft-minded: like a newt or small lizard. Back to Line
133] pictograph: prehistoric rock-wall painting or drawing. Back to Line
140] romaunt: ancient tale, usually courtly or chivalric. Back to Line
150] susurrus: whisper. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1916
Publication Notes: 
Lundy's Lane and Other Poems (1916).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.