Ode for the Keats Centenary

Original Text: 
The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1926): 151-57. PS 8487 C6 A17 1926 Robarts Library.
February 23, 1921.
Read at Hart House Theatre before the University of Toronto.
2Giving to some the keys of all the joy
3Of the green earth, but holding even that joy
4Back from their life;
5Bidding them feed on hope,
6A plant of bitter growth,
7Deep-rooted in the past;
8Truth, 'tis a doubtful art
9To make Hope sweeten
10Time as it flows;
11For no man knows
12Until the very last,
13Whether it be a sovereign herb that he has eaten,
14Or his own heart.
15O stern, implacable Muse,
16Giving to Keats so richly dowered,
17Only the thought that he should be
18Among the English poets after death;
19Letting him fade with that expectancy,
20All powerless to unfold the future!
21What boots it that our age has snatched him free
22From thy too harsh embrace,
23Has given his fame the certainty
24Of comradeship with Shakespeare's?
25He lies alone
26Beneath the frown of the old Roman stone
27And the cold Roman violets;
28And not our wildest incantation
29Of his most sacred lines,
30Nor all the praise that sets
31Towards his pale grave,
32Like oceans towards the moon,
33Will move the Shadow with the pensive brow
34To break his dream,
35And give unto him now
36One word! --
37When the young master reasoned
38That our puissant England
39Reared her great poets by neglect,
40Trampling them down in the by-paths of Life
41And fostering them with glory after death,
42Did any flame of triumph from his own fame
43Fall swift upon his mind; the glow
44Cast back upon the bleak and aching air
45Blown around his days -- ?
46Happily so!
47But he, whose soul was mighty as the soul
49As an irradiant orb self-filled with light,
50Who schooled his heart with passionate control
51To compass knowledge, to unravel the dense
52Web of this tangled life, he would weigh slight
53As thistledown blown from his most fairy fancy
54That pale self-glory, against the mystery,
55The wonder of the various world, the power
57Where bloodroot in the clearing dwells
58Along the edge of snow;
59Where, trembling all their trailing bells,
61Where, searching through the ferny breaks,
62The moose-fawns find the springs;
64Her young beneath her wings;
65Where flash the fields of arctic moss
66With myriad golden light;
67Where no dream-shadows ever cross
68The lidless eyes of night;
69Where, cleaving a mountain storm, the proud
70Eagles, the clear sky won,
71Mount the thin air between the loud
72Slow thunder and the sun;
74No eye has ever seen,
75Comes the first star its flame to chill
76In the cool deeps of green; --
77Spirit of Keats, unfurl thy wings,
78Far from the toil and press,
79Teach us by these pure-hearted things,
80Beauty in loneliness.
81Where, in the realm of thought, dwell those
82Who oft in pain and penury
83Work in the void,
84Searching the infinite dark between the stars,
85The infinite little of the atom,
86Gathering the tears and terrors of this life,
87Distilling them to a medicine for the soul;
88(And hated for their thought
89Die for it calmly;
90For not their fears,
91Nor the cold scorn of men,
92Fright them who hold to truth:)
93They brood alone in the intense serene
94Air of their passion,
95Until on some chill dawn
96Breaks the immortal form foreshadowed in their dream,
97And the distracted world and men
98Are no more what they were.
99Spirit of Keats, unfurl thy deathless wings,
100Far from the wayward toil, the vain excess,
101Teach us by such soul-haunting things
102Beauty in loneliness.
103The minds of men grow numb, their vision narrows,
104The clogs of Empire and the dust of ages,
105The lust of power that fogs the fairest pages,
106Of the romance that eager life would write,
107These war on Beauty with their spears and arrows.
108But still is Beauty and of constant power;
109Even in the whirl of Time's most sordid hour,
110Banished from the great highways,
111Afflighted by the tramp of insolent feet,
112She hangs her garlands in the by-ways;
113Lissome and sweet
114Bending her head to hearken and learn
115Melody shadowed with melody,
116Softer than shadow of sea-fern,
117In the green-shadowed sea:
118Then, nourished by quietude,
119And if the world's mood
120Change, she may return
121Even lovelier than before. --
122The white reflection in the mountain lake
123Falls from the white stream
124Silent in the high distance;
125The mirrored mountains guard
126The profile of the goddess of the height,
127Floating in water with a curve of crystal light;
128When the air, envious of the loveliness,
129Rushes downward to surprise,
130Confusion plays in the contact,
131The picture is overdrawn
132With ardent ripples,
133But when the breeze, warned of intrusion,
134Draws breathless upward in flight,
135The vision reassembles in tranquillity,
136Reforming with a gesture of delight,
137Reborn with the rebirth of calm.
138Spirit of Keats, lend us thy voice,
139Breaking like surge in some enchanted cave
140On a dream-sea-coast,
141To summon Beauty to her desolate world.
142For Beauty has taken refuge from our life
143That grew too loud and wounding;
144Beauty withdraws beyond the bitter strife,
145Beauty is gone, (Oh where?)
146To dwell within a precinct of pure air
147Where moments turn to months of solitude;
148To live on roots of fern and tips of fern,
149On tender berries flushed with the earth's blood.
150Beauty shall stain her feet with moss
151And dye her cheek with deep nut-juices,
152Laving her hands in the pure sluices
153Where rainbows are dissolved.
154Beauty shall view herself in pools of amber sheen
155Dappled with peacock-tints from the green screen
156That mingles liquid light with liquid shadow.
157Beauty shall breathe the fairy hush
158With the chill orchids in their cells of shade,
159And hear the invocation of the thrush
160That calls the stars into their heaven,
161And after even
162Beauty shall take the night into her soul.
163When the thrill voice goes crying through the wood,
164(Oh, Beauty, Beauty!)
165Troubling the solitude
166With echoes from the lonely world,
167Beauty will tremble like a cloistered thing
168That hears temptation in the outlands singing,
169Will steel her dedicated heart and breathe
170Into her inner ear to firm her vow: --
171"Let me restore the soul that ye have marred.
172O mortals, cry no more on Beauty,
173Leave me alone, lone mortals,
174Until my shaken soul comes to its own,
175Lone mortals, leave me alone!"
176(Oh Beauty, Beauty, Beauty!)
177All the dim wood is silent as a dream
178That dreams of silence.

Notes

1] John Keats, English poet (1795-1821).
Hart House Theatre, located in Hart House, the (then) male students' building, is just west of Queen's Park on the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto. It was a venue of choice for classical and Canadian plays through much of the century. Back to Line
48] John Milton, English poet. Back to Line
56] source of quotation not found. Back to Line
60] twinflowers: honeysuckle shrub. Back to Line
63] Canadian fish-eating bird with a haunting cry whose image is now on Canada's one-dollar coin, "the loonie." Back to Line
73] tarn: mountain lake. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1921
Publication Notes: 
Beauty and Life (1921).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.