An Open Letter

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Literary Competitions An Open Letter
written by Bliss Carman
Enter Martin Luther
from The Canadian Forum, December 1920, page 80



This poem, a welcome token of Mr. Bliss Carman's return to health, is printed here by courtesy of his friend, Mr. Peter McArthur.
I.

A cold, a cough, and suddenly one day a gush of red,
Then the doctors tapped and listened, with very little said.
There are some things never mentioned, as we tacitly agree;
So they called it "an involvement," and I knew they meant T.B.
"But the clear-aired North will cure you. Pack up your kit, and go.
The cold will be your doctor, and your nurse will be the snow
There is virtue in the open; there is healing out-of-doors;
The great Physician makes his rounds along the forest floors."
So they shipped me in a sleeper, with a ticket for the North —
From the city of my hopes and dreams, and all I loved on earth.
I did not want a golden throne in any lonely star,
I only wanted to be left where loving people are.
I wanted just ihe smiles and hands that waved me out of sight,
As we slipped beyond the station, to the tunnel and the night.

II.

At dawn I saw the dying moon get up as we went by,
And the yellow autumn larches standing cold against the sky;
And a shanty in a clearing, all desolate and lone,
As if the chill of morning had struck it to the bone.
Then a line of split rail fences, a lift of rugged hills;
And so into the great North woods I took my puny ills.

III.

On a porch that faced the morning, in a blanket on a chair,
I came into my fortune as they left me lying there —
When Adam lay in Eden and looked upon the sky,
He was master of a leisure no more absolute than I.
Here was the earth — all bleak and bare — with winter coming on,
A grim untempting battle-field for a soul's Marathon.
This was the selfsame earth which gave the shining April flowers,
The thrush's flute at twilight, and the tranquil summer hours;
Now dour and taciturn and hard, yet standing by to aid
The dauntless spirit that must prove of what stuff it is made.
One lesson here was plain; that I must learn the final worth
Of good and ill, of weal and woe, as they are named on earth.

IV.

The mountains lay around me, like giants on the trail.
Whose strength was at my service, whose patience would not fail.
The Sun was my attendant to light my morning fire;
The Night brought in my candles; what more could one require?
And one great shining planet would come before the dawn,
Over the dark blue Eastern hills, to tell me night was gone,
I watched the silent sunrise come up, and melt and change
Through mauve and saffron glory as it flooded range on range,
And rimmed the purple valleys, and tipped the peaks with fire,
Till this world seemed no more desolate, but a Land of Hearts' Desire!
New life and warmth and beauty were born there in my sight,
And all the dimming corners of my heart were filled with light.

V.

I saw across a valley the autumn rains come down,
And sweep in solemn grandeur across the forest crown;
[p.81] And I thought upon the valley where each man walks alone,
And all the trails run out and stop at the edge of the unknown.
But I did not dread solitude, nor find those vasts forlorn
With their enfolding silence, for I was Northern born.
The great unbroken wilderness was all a joy to see.
And the firs and pointed spruces were like old friends to me.
And when I heard the whisper of the snow begin to sing,
My heart went wild for gladness, as if it had been spring.
Out of the gray came whirling the legions of the air,
That dance upon the storm-wind and make the world more fair.
All night they wrought their witch-work until the morning glow,
When every bough was bending with blossoms of the snow.
Then slowly very slowly, I crept out to the wild,
With the rapture and the wonder and the footsteps of a child.

VI.

There was a wild young river — where Robert Louis heard
The rapids brawling in the night, and with the stars conferred.
And black between its banks of snow it ran and murmured still,
And beside it ran the highway in the shelter of the hill.
There day by day and yard by yard I learned to walk again,
With the North Wind for my trainer. His ways were rough and plain,
But he stung me into courage, and put his heart in me,
While the silent spruces watched us and the river ran to see.
There in that snowy woodland under the mountain side,
The surge and lift of life came back like a returning tide.

VII.

Once when the thickening storm came down and shut the hills away,
I saw a vision in the wood — a host that showed the way.
They spoke no word; they were not real; but they were real to me;
And as I looked I saw — my friends, a smiling company;
All those who left me years ago to take the unknown trail,
And those I left but yesterday; and they all gave me hail,
With lighted eye and lifted hand, with wonted sign of cheer —
"The trail is good, good all the way, and iheie is naught to fear!"

VIII.

Thete was T. R., our hero, who crossed the Last Divide,
And left the world all leaderless when its great captain died.
Peter, the Sage of Ekfrid; Pirie, laird of the Glen;
Alan, a monarch of the air; and Eric, a prince of men;
Great Mathew, with his four-score years and royal heart of youth;
And Levi, old-school gentleman and lover of the truth;
Good Father John, hale, merry-souled, and straight as any reed,
Whose tender voice makes Scripture seem the word of God indeed.
And that tall soldier of St. George, whose heart's glow through the tan
Proclaims the captain of our faith a brother and a man;
Brave Dr. Frank and F. P. A., those humanest of seers,
Whose smiling wisdom helps us bear the fardel of the years.
Familiar, with the selfless smile St. Francis might have worn,
Came Rutger, strong with lifting his brothers overborne;
And there my fellowcraftsmen, the Authors, in a band,
Make haste to play their generous part, as those who understand;
Close to their ranks a patron and patriot of Yale,
True friend of letters and the land that is too proud to fail;
And hospitable Shepard, who loves the murmured rhyme —
The whisper from the soul of things mysterious and sublime.
Hark, Rudolph Ganz! I cannot tell which rings with finer joy,
The spell from your inspired hands or your radiance of a boy,
[p.82]Joe, Louis, Willis, E. A. D., and Harry and B. J.;
Dillon and George, my brothers in love — my pals through Judgment Day;
Morton and Mitchell good to see, and my kinsmen Will and Ben,
Who keep the ancient covenant that binds the hearts of men;
And from the little country town where once I went unknown,
Were those who set me by their hearth and made me as their own;
The fine old man who stayed my heart with home-made talk and wine;
And those with whom I sat at meat or walked through rain and shine;
Billy, the music master — his genius free at last;
Great Reedy, no more troubled now — his final proof-sheets passed;
And Alfred, matchless playfellow, who helped me pitch my tent
Among wild roses and sweet grass, where we found heart's content;
Perry, my lad from overseas, with proffer of his best -
Grown from a kiddie on my knee to powers none had guessed.
And who are these with modest mien, yet aureoled with light.
Whose paths are like the gleaming trail of meteors through the night?
O'er pampering and ignorance lies their unresting way,
Bearing reprieve — the doctors come with cure for all dismay.

IX.

And women — Glory be to God, who looked upon his earth
When it was all but finished, and maiked one lack of worth;
And gave it for full measure brimmed over, and above
All dream or understanding, the grace of woman's love!
God's happy thought for Eden, the sheer unmeasured good.
Incarnate faith and fondness, in beauty there they stood.

X.

High overhead within the storm there grew a wondrous scroll,
Inscribed in characters of light revealed as clouds unroll.
And Oh! the names, bright lists of those whom I had never known!
I want the hands that fit those names to hold within my own;
And see the light of brotherhood from all those faces shine,
Attesting their high lineage from Mercy, the divine.

XI.

The snowshoes of my boyhood I harnessed on with joy —
And with them the excitement and illusions of a boy.
With the creaking of the snowshoe came back the limber stride,
As I swung across the meadow and along the mountain side.
Gay shadows from the balsams stole out to walk with me —
Friendship and Hope and Joyousness — no other eyes could see.
Through the wilderness all sparkling and powdery with snow
We kept the pace together, as we kept it long ago,
Till beyond the bounds of exile, with new life to explore,
Aglow on a far-seeing height I stood — a man once more.

Bliss Carman.

The Adirondacks, 1919-20. .