Charles Sangster (1822-1893)
Text from A Century of Canadian Sonnets.
My footsteps press where, centuries ago,
The Red Men fought and conquered; lost and won.
Whole tribes and races, gone like last year's snow,
Have found the Eternal Hunting-Grounds, and run
The fiery gauntlet of their active days,
Till few are left to tell the mournful tale:
And these inspire us with such wild amaze
They seem like spectres passing down a vale
Steeped in uncertain moonlight, on their way
Towards some bourn where darkness blinds the day,
And night is wrapped in mystery profound.
We cannot lift the mantle of the past:
We seem to wander over hallowed ground:
We scan the trail of Thought, but all is overcast.
There was a time--and that is all we know!
No record lives of their ensanguined deeds:
The past seems palsied with some giant blow,
And grows the more obscure on what it feeds.
A rotted fragment of a human leaf;
A few stray skulls: a heap of human bones!
These are the records--the traditions brief--
'Twere easier far to read the speechless stones.
The fierce Ojibwas, with tornado force,
Striking white terror to the hearts of braves!
The mighty Hurons, rolling on their course,
Compact and steady as the ocean waves!
The stately Chippewas, a warrior host!
Who were they?--Whence?--And why? no human tongue can boast.
In the Forest
There is no sadness here. Oh, that my heart
Were calm and peaceful as these dreamy groves!
That all my hopes and passions, and deep loves,
Could sit in such an atmosphere of peace,
Where no unholy impulses would start
Responsive to the throes that never cease
To keep my spirit in such wild unrest.
'Tis only in the struggling human breast
That the true sorrow lives. Our fruitful joys
Have stony kernels hidden in their core.
Life in a myriad phases passeth here,
And death as various--an equal poise;
Yet all is but a solemn change--no more;
And not a sound save joy pervades the atmosphere.