Verse > Anthologies > William Wilfred Campbell, ed. > The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
William Wilfred Campbell, comp.  The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse.  1913.
 
Peccavi
By James E. Caldwell
 
HERE ’neath my father’s ample roof,
  The blue and bending sky,
A child, I lived in happiness,
  Unmindful of the Why.
 
Far o’er the Earth the mystic charm        5
  Of Nature softly fell
By day, at night the wonderment
  Which lips can never tell.
 
And human love and kindly speech
  Were blent with human tears;        10
And hearkening oft there faintly came
  The music of the spheres.
 
But ah! too common seem’d my lot;
  Weird travellers’ tales I heard
Of fairy lands and magic towers,        15
  And realms of grief unstirred.
 
Unminded now the glorious sun
  Might bathe the Earth in light,
No more the rapture of the hills
  Did sanctify the night.        20
 
O’er all the household hopes and tasks
  Was writ Unclean, Unclean;
Upon the idly rusting plough
  My nerveless hand did lean.
 
Deep discontent did gnaw my heart,        25
  Fast bound to grossest needs;
While far away I heard the call
  Of winged and fiery steeds.
 
‘Far hence I go,’ no hand restrained,
  Rich largess too I bore        30
Of ruddy blood and supple limbs,
  And sought that mystic shore.
 
How shall I speak of wasted years,
  Of tantalizing quest,
Of desert wind that inly sears        35
  The disenchanted breast.
 
A land unblest by chastening law,
  Fantastically blent,
Of poppied dreams, and tilted seas,
  And meteors cold and spent.        40
 
There ’mid the wreck of futile dreams
  And giddy hours, the swine—
Basest of all my former years—
  Alone, alone were mine.
 
Cold, grey, yet clearing like the dawn        45
  After a night of mirth,
Came to my heart the piercing cry,
  Ah! why scorned I the Earth!
 
Myriad, uncounted, infinite,
  The chisel-marks it bears;        50
Myriad, uncounted, infinite,
  Its upward mounting stairs.
 
Bread and to spare who toils shall have,
  And blesses with his thought;
The friendly door, the garment fair,        55
  The ring with jewels wrought.
 
‘Peccavi,’—O what health doth spring
  From that astringent word!
Scarce uttered till beside me sang
  A tiny fearless bird.        60
 
Beside me crunched the crowding swine,
  With many an uncouth call;
Why grudged I then my service while
  In turn man claim’d their all?
 
Far on my way I fared that eve,        65
  Stripped, penitent, and worn,
But in my heart a feeling surged—
  I am not all forlorn.
 
Serve will I and endow myself
  With all I once did scorn;        70
And smite with sharp and willing too
  The thistle and the thorn.
 
So came I to my father’s house,
  But all the place was still;
I waited at the silent door,        75
  Irresolute of will.
 
My father’s staff hung by the door,
  All mildewed was the crook;
A terror fill’d my trembling frame,
  So fearful did it look!        80
 
Out from the door then slowly stept
  My brother, bent and grey;
Till then I had not dream’d what years
  Had swiftly passed away!
 
Half dazed he stood and scann’d me o’er;        85
  At last he caught the clue;
With outstretched hand he slowly spake,
  ‘Ah, brother, is it you?’
 
Slowly from out that awful chill
  Of fear my spirit stirred,        90
And all the melancholy tale
  In voiceless grief I heard.
 
Now through the silent rooms I range,
  And o’er the distant hills;
But something in the vanished past        95
  No more my spirit fills.
 
And never more my father’s voice
  Comes with insistent tone;
And I, alas! am all too free
  To tread my path alone.        100
 
But yet the days are fill’d with sun,
  The Earth with chemic force;
From unseen founts the rivers run
  To seek their ocean source.
 
And slowly from the grief and loss        105
  My spirit upward springs,
And seeks the precious grain of truth
  From endless winnowings.
 
Though on my father’s face no more
  I gaze with mortal eye,        110
Still o’er the old familiar scene
  His blessing seems to lie.
 
And still remain all powers which were
  In him personified,—
Strength, goodness, wisdom, charity,        115
  Forgiveness free and wide.
 
And from him still proceeds a force
  Which never shall return,
With vaster, nobler meaning charged,
  In purer love to burn.        120
 
 
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