The Lily Bed

Original Text: 
The Collected Poems of Isabella Valancy Crawford, ed. J. W. Garvin (Toronto: William Briggs, 1905): 169-71.
2He thrust down through the lily bed;
3Cloaked in a golden pause he lay,
4Locked in the arms of the placid bay.
5Trembled alone his bark canoe
6As shocks of bursting lilies flew
7Thro' the still crystal of the tide,
8And smote the frail boat's birchen side;
9Or, when beside the sedges thin
10Rose the sharp silver of a fin;
11Or when, a wizard swift and cold,
12A dragon-fly beat out in gold
13And jewels all the widening rings
14Of waters singing to his wings;
15Or, like a winged and burning soul,
16Dropped from the gloom an oriole
17On the cool wave, as to the balm
18Of the Great Spirit's open palm
19The freed soul flies. And silence clung
20To the still hours, as tendrils hung,
21In darkness carven, from the trees,
22Sedge-buried to their burly knees.
23Stillness sat in his lodge of leaves;
24Clung golden shadows to its eaves,
26Red-ripe, fell sheaves of knotted rays.
27The wood, a proud and crested brave;
28Bead-bright, a maiden, stood the wave.
29And he had spoke his soul of love
30With voice of eagle and of dove.
31Of loud, strong pines his tongue was made;
32His lips, soft blossoms in the shade,
33That kissed her silver lips--her's cool
34As lilies on his inmost pool--
35Till now he stood, in triumph's rest,
36His image painted in her breast.
37One isle 'tween blue and blue did melt,--
40On the far shore heaved to the skies.
41His cedar paddle, scented, red,
42He drew up from the lily bed;
43All lily-locked, all lily-locked,
44His light bark in the blossoms rocked.
45Their cool lips round the sharp prow sang,
46Their soft clasp to the frail sides sprang,
47With breast and lip they wove a bar.
49With golden hand she grasped the mane
50Of a red cloud on her azure plain.
51It by the peaked, red sunset flew;
52Cool winds from its bright nostrils blew.
53They swayed the high, dark trees, and low
54Swept the locked lilies to and fro.
55With cedar paddle, scented, red,
56He pushed out from the lily bed.


1] This poem is among the most reticently erotic poems in English. For a discussion of its possibly biographical basis, see Dorothy Farmiloe, Isabella Valancy Crawford: The Life and the Legends (Ottawa, 1983): 34-39. See "Malcolm's Katie" for Crawford's consistent metaphorical treatment of the lily. Back to Line
25] maize: "Indian corn." Back to Line
38] wampum: coloured beads. Back to Line
39] Manitou: the "Great Spirit" of native Amerindian myth. Back to Line
48] the Evening Star: Venus. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
In The Evening Telegram (Toronto)
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1997.