Virna Sheard.

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Produced by Al Haines









[Illustration: title page]





The

Ballad

of

The Quest


by

Virna Sheard




McClelland & Stewart, Ltd.,

Publishers

Toronto




Copyright 1922 by

THE JAMES A. McCANN COMPANY


All Rights Reserved



PRINTED IN THE U. S. A.




_To the sweet memory_

_of my Mother_




ACKNOWLEDGMENT

_We acknowledge with thanks the kindness of Messrs. J. M. Dent & Sons,
London, England, for permitting us to use the poems published by them
in "The Miracle"; also we thank the Imperial Order of the Daughters of
the Empire for permission to use those poems brought out by them in
"Carry On."_




CONTENTS


The Ballad of the Quest
A Song of Poppies
The Shepherd Wind
In Solitude
The Slumber Angel
At Midnight
Dreams
A Southern Lullaby
When Jonquils Blow
Lament
The Sea
The Cry
The Bridge of Dreams
The Shells
Requiem
The Crosses
The Lonely Road
To One Who Sleeps
April Again!
Histories
Fireflies
The Vanished
Pathfinders
The Call
Before the Dawn
The Fairy Clock
The Temple
The Whistler
March
On Silver Nights
The Birth-Right
A Love Song
A Song
The Night of all Saints
In the Last Year
Ships
June
October Goes
The Lily-Pond




THE BALLAD OF THE QUEST

"Some day," I said, "before Life is over,
I will shut my house door, and will be a rover."

Under the sky where the great stars roll,
I will search for my faith, and search for my soul.

I have fared without them this many a day
Through the market-place of the world's high-way.

The truth I gave in exchange for a lie,
And I bartered my dreams to a passer-by.

I have met Delilah, - her enchantments I know
As the man of strength knew them ages ago.

Fool's gold and fool's joy have been my reaping,
And my heart has nothing that's worth the keeping.

But the world is wide and the world is free,
And the things I have lost may come back to me.

I will follow the path of the bird that flies,
And look for a woman with honest eyes.

If I travel hard, and travel alone,
I may overtake Peace, and make it my own.

Only the Sun and the Moon's sweet light
Shall mark my day, or measure my night.

Silks and satins and embroidered things,
I'll exchange for blossoms and butter-flies' wings.

And under a thorn-hedge I will dine
On a handful of berries, as red as wine.

Or I'll earn my bread on the out-bound ships,
With the sun in my eyes, and salt on my lips.

And for the softness of beds and pillows,
I'll take a hammock that swings with the billows.

It may be the trail will lead me afar
To mountain paths, where the wild sheep are.

Or with simple people, and free from guile,
I will pitch my tent and will rest awhile.

I am weary of softness and things of ease,
And weary of Scribes, and of Pharisees.

On a morning road where the wind is strong,
I may learn again to whistle a song.

Down forest paths, or the ways of the sea,
My soul and my faith may come back to me.

And always and ever beneath the skies,
I will look for a woman with honest eyes.

I will follow no will at all but my own,
And the road I take I will take alone.

"Some day," I said, "before Life is over,
I will shut my house door, and will be a rover."

* * * * *

II

But the day when it came was a troubled day,
And the road I took was a troubled way.

Then never a will I had of my own,
And never a step did I travel alone.

We marched by day, and we marched by night,
Through the Sun's hot gold, or the Moon's cool light.

We marched with laughter, we marched with song,
Or in dreadful silence we marched along.

The man at my right cursed low at his fate,
The man at my left smiled early and late.

And the faces I saw at the edge of day,
Were young, young faces, turned old and grey.

The field where poppies flashed red in the wheat,
Was a hell we tramped through on stumbling feet.

I forgot I had said "before Life is over,
I will shut my house door, and will be a rover."

Out on the roads where the guns took toll
I gave little heed to my faith, or my soul.

In the trenches where only the dead could rest,
Life was a candle-flame - Death was a jest.

The stars swung round in a blood-red sky,
And the earth was red where the men reeled by.

I laughed - for I was living and strong, -
And I tossed them the line of a battle song.

May-day came in, - but the sweet o' the Spring, -
Who should know there was any such thing?

For the lovers were gone, who used to know
The English lanes where the hawthorns blow -

And the lovers from lands far over the sea, -
Ah! The watching moon only, knew where they might be.

I shook my impotent hand at the sky,
And travelled on with a battle cry.

* * * * *

III

On a desperate night - bitter black with pain, -
My soul returned to haunt me again.

We two kept vigil till break of day,
But the moon bore witness, I did not pray.

I dreamt I drifted with a name on my lips,
Where the clouds were sea waves, and the stars little ships.

I dreamt, - and lay on the shell-bitten sod,
Like a thing that had been forgotten of God.

I saw the smoke of the battle roll
Over many a swift departing soul, -

But when the dawn was a violet tide,
A shadow came and knelt at my side.

No - not a shadow - or mystery -
But a rose of the darkness, she came to me.

Mist-grey was her gown, and about her head
Was a shining band with a cross of red.

Her eyes were closed, for she dared not see
What the guns and the dark had made of me.

So I caught her gown in fear she would pass,
Like a lovely shadow, across the grass.

"Who are you?" I cried, "who have found me here
Where I have lain, this year upon year?"

"No! No! but one night, beloved," - she said,
"While I searched for you all among the dead.

"But you were so strong you could not die,
Though Azrael touched you as he passed by."

And then by a flame that lit up the skies,
I looked once again in Delilah's eyes.

They had out-lived fear, and were sweet, and deep
As the eyes of an Angel, who bringeth sleep.

"O brave one!" she said, "You soon shall see
From your thirst and your pain I can set you free!

"Here! The water flask! - I will lift your head, -
Drink if you will, and spare not," she said.

"Be patient, and wait! See here in your arm,
The poppies of God shall work their charm."

So she spoke, while her voice seemed faint and far
As though it drifted down from a star.

"I have come," she faltered, "belov├ęd at last" -
"Even so" - I said, "from the long-gone past.

"I would know," I cried, "how you came to me
Through this hell where no woman should ever be?"

"I heard you call," she answered, "and then
I followed the road of the out-bound men.

"I followed the bearers, for far - and far, -
They travel wherever the wounded are.

"Picket and sentry, and the men who fly,
Made the holy sign as I hurried by."

"Here and there where the grass was red,
I stopped for a moment beside the dead.

"I pressed my lips to their tunic's hem, -
And often I folded the hands of them.

"But I could not stay, - and when dawn was near,
You called again - and I found you here."

"O Sweet - no more!" I said. "Tell me no more!
For Peace has come in through the morning's door.

"There is only this at the end of my quest -
Only you - and Love - and a spirit at rest."

* * * * *

Then came the bearers to lift me away -
But beside me her shadow moved - tender and grey.




A SONG OF POPPIES

I love red poppies! Imperial red poppies!
Sun-worshippers are they;
Gladly as trees live through a hundred summers
They live one little day.

I love red poppies! Impassioned scarlet poppies!
Even their strange perfume
Seems like an essence brewed by fairy people,
From an immortal bloom.

I love red poppies! Red, silken, swaying poppies!
Deep in their hearts they keep
A magic cure for woe, - a draught of Lethe, -
A lotus-gift of sleep.

I love red poppies! Soft silver-stemmed, red poppies,
That from the rain and sun,
Gather a balm to heal some earth-born sorrow,
When their glad day is done.




THE SHEPHERD WIND

When hills and plains are powdered white,
And bitter cold the north wind blows,
Upon my window in the night
A fairy-garden grows.

Here lilies that no hand hath sown
Bloom white as foam upon the sea,
And elfin bells to earth unknown,
Hold frost-bound melody.

And here are blossoms like to stars
Tangled in nets of silver lace, -
My very breath their beauty mars,
Or stirs them from their place.

Perchance the echoes of old songs,
Found here a resting place at last,
With drifting perfume, that belongs
To roses of the past, -

Or all the moonbeams that were lost
On summer nights the world forgets,
May here be prisoned by the frost,
With souls of violets.

* * * * *

The wind doth shepherd many things, -
And when the nights are long and cold,
Who knows how strange a flock he brings
All safely to the fold.




IN SOLITUDE

He is not all alone whose ship is sailing
Over the mystery of an unknown sea,
For some great Love with faithfulness unfailing
Will light the stars to bear him company.

Out in the silence of the mountain passes,
The heart makes peace and liberty its own, -
The wind that blows across the scented grasses
Bringing the balm of sleep, - comes not alone.

Beneath the vast illimitable spaces,
Where God has set His jewels in array,
A man may pitch his tent in desert places,
Yet know that heaven is not so far away.

But in the city - in the lighted city -
Where gilded spires point toward the sky,
And fluttering rags and hunger ask for pity,
Grey Loneliness in cloth-of-gold, goes by.




THE SLUMBER ANGEL

When day is ended, and grey twilight flies
On silent wings across the tired land,
The Slumber-Angel cometh from the skies, -
The Slumber-Angel of the peaceful eyes,
And with the scarlet poppies in his hand.

His robes are dappled like the moonlit seas,
His hair in waves of silver floats afar;
He weareth lotus-bloom, and sweet heartsease,
With tassels of the rustling, green fir trees,
As down the dusk he steps from star to star.

Above the world he swings his curfew bell,
And sleep falls soft on golden heads and white;
The daisies curl their leaves beneath his spell, -
The prisoner who wearies in his cell
Forgets awhile, and dreams throughout the night.

* * * * *

Even so, in peace, comes that great Lord of rest
Who crowneth men with amaranthine flowers;
Who telleth them the truths they have but guessed,
Who giveth them the things they love the best,
Beyond this restless, rocking world of ours.




AT MIDNIGHT

Turn Thou the key upon our thoughts, dear Lord,
And let us sleep;
Give us our portion of forgetfulness,
Silent and deep.

Lay Thou Thy quiet hand upon our eyes,
To close their sight;
Shut out the shining of the moon, and stars,
And candle-light.

Keep back the phantoms and the visions sad, -
The shades of grey, -
The fancies that so haunt the little hours
Before the day.

Quiet the time-worn questions that are all
Unanswered yet;
Take from the spent and troubled souls of us
Their vain regret;

And lead us far into Thy silent land,
That we may go,
Like children out across the field o' dreams,
Where poppies blow.

So all Thy saints - and all Thy sinners, too -
Wilt Thou not keep,
Since not alone unto Thy well-beloved
Thou givest sleep?




DREAMS

Keep thou thy dreams - though joy should pass thee by;
Hold to the rainbow beauty of thy thought;
It is for dreams that men will oft-times die, -
And count the passing pain of death as nought.

Keep thou thy dreams, though faith should faint and fail,
And time should loose thy fingers from the creeds;
The vision of the Christ will still avail,
To lead thee on to truth and tender deeds.

Keep thou thy dreams, through all the winter's cold;
When weeds are withered, and the garden grey,
Dream thou of roses with their hearts of gold; -
Beckon to summers that are on their way!

Keep thou thy dreams; - the tissue of all wings
Is woven first of them; from dreams are made
The precious and imperishable things,
Whose loveliness lives on, and does not fade.




A SOUTHERN LULLABY

Little honey baby, shet yo' eyes up tight; -
(Shadow-man is comin' from de moon!) -
You's as sweet as roses if dey _is_ so pink an white;
(Shadow-man'll get here mighty soon.)

Little honey baby, keep yo' 'footses still! -
(Rocky-bye, oh, rocky, rocky-bye!)
Hush yo' now, an listen to dat lonesome whip-po'-will;
Don't yo fix yo' lip an start to cry!

Little honey baby, stop dat winkin' quick!
(Hear de hoot-owl in de cotton-wood!)
Yess - I sees yo' eyes adoin' dat dere triflin' trick, -
(He gets chillun if dey isn't good.)

Little honey baby, what yo' think yo' see? -
(Sister keep on climbin' to de sky - )
Dat's a June bug - it ain't got no stinger, lak a bee, -
(Reach de glory city by-an-by.)

Little honey baby, what yo' skeery at? -
(Go down, Moses - down to Phar-e-oh!) -
No - dat isn't nuffin but a furry fly-round bat; -
(Say, he'd betta let dose people go.)

Little honey baby, yo' is all ma own, -
Deed yo' is. - Yes, - dat's a fia-fly; -
If I didn't hab yo', - reckon I'd be all alone;
(Rocky-bye - oh, rocky, rocky-bye.)

Little honey baby, shet yo' eyes up tight; -
(Shadow man is comin' from de moon,)
You's as sweet as roses, if dey is so pink and white;
(Shadow-man'll get here mighty soon.)

- - - - -

The lines in brackets are supposed to be sung or chanted. The Southern
"Mammy" seldom sang a song through, but interlaced it with
comments. - V.S.




WHEN JONQUILS BLOW

When jonquils blow I think of one
Who sleeps beneath the green;
And all the light and song of life
And all the golden sheen,
Turn cold and still before my eyes,
While pearl-edged boughs of May
Seen through a sudden mist of tears
Are rimmed with ashen-gray.




LAMENT

Here in my garden where the tulips grow
I walk alone;
Dim are my eyes with tears, my feet are slow,
My heart is stone;
Though all the lovely earth again for me
New sweetness yields
It matters not, - only the dead I see
On battlefields.

Only the dead I see, - and strangely bright
Their faces shine
As though the God of Glory in the night
Had made them fine.
Place for the victors! Stoop my soul to touch
Their tunics' hem, -
'Tis those they loved who need tears overmuch
O weep for them!




THE SEA

The sea is but a cradle wide and deep, -
A cradle that the moon rocks to and fro;
What peace they find who there fall fast asleep,
What lovely dreams, - 'Tis not for us to know.

But God hath sent the angel of the sea
To sing to them an endless lullaby;
And that they may not dread night's mystery,
He lights for them the candles of the sky.

They are infolded by the silken waves,
And wrapped in shining blue, and emerald green;
They drift through opalescent ocean caves,
That only God Himself hath ever seen.

The great salt wind that no man holds in thrall,
Touches them softly, as it passes by; -
I think the silver sea gulls know them all,
And greet them with their lonely tender cry.

For but a little, little round of years,
The sweet sun-sprinkled foam will be their bed,
And they will slumber - hushed from any fears -
To waken, when the sea gives up her dead.




THE CRY

They have laid him away;
Even he who was always so strong and gay
Will be locked in the earth till the judgment day;
"Dust unto dust" I have heard the priest say.

He will never return;
Though I weep my eyes blind, though I pray and yearn, -
Though the star-light goes out and the great suns burn
Into whitest ash, - he will never return.

So of weeping - no more;
It is tears fill the oceans from shore to shore;
They have made the wind salt - the wind at my door;
They harm the good ground - so of weeping - no more.

"Not again!" "Not again!"
Do you hear the sea singing that one refrain?
The pine trees, the wind and the wearysome rain
All whisper it; "Never again!" - "Not again!"

Who can tell me - who knows,
Where his lonely soul travels?
Whither it goes? -
Has he gone like the leaves? - Like yesterday's snows? -
Speak, dear Lord of Death! You who died - and arose!




THE BRIDGE OF DREAMS

The thought of thee is like a swinging tune,
A little swinging tune I seem to hear;
The thought of thee is like the breeze of June
Blowing across the winter of the year!

The thought of thee is like a golden star
Set all alone within the midnight blue; -
A heaven-lit candle shining from afar
Upon the road that we are passing through.

The thought of thee is like the woods in spring,
With silver-grey and silver-green o'erset;
The thought of thee is what the four winds bring
Over the banks of wild-blown mignonette.

And all the music of the twilight sea,
Echoes thy voice in tender undertone;
The sea-gulls seem but grey-winged thoughts of thee,
Caught on the salted wing and homeward blown!

God keeps the secret of His heaven well, -
But Azrael finds its gates, where'er they be;
And from the earth, to fields of Asphodel,
I build a bridge of dreams, and cross to thee.




THE SHELLS

O my brave heart! O my strong heart! My sweet heart and gay,
The soul of me went with you the hour you marched away,
For surely she is soulless, this woman white, and still,
Who works with shining metal to make the things that kill.

I tremble as I touch them, - so strange they are, and bright;
Each one will be a comet to break the purple night; -
Grey Fear will ride before it, and Death will ride behind:
The sound of it will deafen, - the light of it will blind!

And whom it meets in passing, but God alone will know.
Each one will blaze a trail in blood - will hew a road of woe;
O when the fear is on me, my heart grows faint and cold; -
I dare not think of what I do, - of what my fingers, hold!

Then sounds a Voice, "Arise, and make the weapons of the Lord!"
"He rides upon the whirlwind! He hath need of shell, and sword!
His army is a mighty host - the lovely and the strong, -
They follow Him to battle, with trumpet and with song!"

O my brave heart! My strong heart! My sweet heart and dear, -
'Tis not for me to falter, - 'Tis not for me to fear; -
Across the utmost barrier - wherever you may be, -
With joy unspent, and deathless, my soul will follow thee!




REQUIEM

Weep for the dead; weep for the swift slain dead,
November skies;
Too few the tears that day and night are shed
From women's eyes.

Blow o'er them lightly with a soft caress,
Wind of the sea;
If you are tender they may miss love less -
Where'er they be.

Come, gentle moon, swing low your lantern light
On reddened fields,
And find the lonely harvest of the night
That battle yields.

Banish the darkness filled with quivering dread,
Lest they should know
Some last strange horror, - even they - the dead; -
Sweet moon, swing low!

Fold them at dawn, dear Earth, within your arms
So safe and strong;
Hold them asleep till they forget alarms,
And woe and wrong.

Master of Kings! If peace be bought with pain,
These paid the price;
O show Thy tortured world that not in vain,
Is sacrifice!




THE CROSSES

The little lonely crosses, the crosses low and white,
They haunt me most in the silver hour
That lies against the night;
Or when the rose-dusk dawn comes in,
With a star for candlelight.

The little lonely crosses in fields so far away,
They cast a shadow on my path -
And, take which road I may,
It follows, follows, follows -
Throughout the livelong day.

O little lonely crosses that gentle hands have made,
You mean to us forevermore
The price that has been paid
For a heritage of Freedom,
And a People unafraid.

So, as a Pilgrim to his shrine, in dreams I rise and go,
To find the poppied place of sleep,
And the crosses row on row;
The crosses carved with names beloved,
The crosses white and low.




THE LONELY ROAD

We used to fear the lonely road
That twisted round the hill;
It dipped down to the river-way,
And passed the haunted mill,
And then crept on, until it reached
The churchyard, green and still.

No pipers ever took that road, -
No gipsies, brown and gay; -
No shepherds with their gentle flocks, -
No loads of scented hay; -
No market-wagons jingled by
On any Saturday.

The dog-wood there flung wide its stars
In April, silvery sweet;
The squirrels crossed that path all day
On tiny flying feet;
The wild, brown rabbits knew each turn,
Each shadowy safe retreat.

And there the golden-belted bee
Sang his sweet summer song;
The crickets chirped there to the moon
With steady note and strong;
Till cold and silence wrapped them round
When autumn nights grew long.

But, oh! they brought the lonely dead
Along that quiet way,
With strange procession, dark and slow,
On sunny days and grey;
We used to watch them, wonder-eyed,
Nor care again to play, -

And we forgot each merry jest;
The birds on bush and tree
Silenced the song within their throats,
And with us watched to see,
The soft, slow passing out of sight
Of that dark mystery.

* * * * *

We fear no more the lonely road
That winds around the hill;
Far from the busy world's highway
And the gods' slow-grinding mill;
It only seems a peaceful path,
Pleasant, and green, and still.




TO ONE WHO SLEEPS

Fare not too far, my own,
Down ways all strange and new,
For I must find alone,
The road that leads to you.

Enchantments may arise
To lure thy little feet,
And charm thy wondering eyes; -
Yet, - wait for me, my sweet!

Already Earth doth seem
A phantom place to me,
And thy far home of dream,
Is my reality.

So this is just "good-night"; -
Some stars will rise and wane, -
But sure as comes the light,
I'll be with thee again!




APRIL AGAIN!

April again! the willow wands are yellow
Rose-red the brambles that the passing wind knows,
Comes a robin's note like the note of a 'cello,
And across the valley, the calling of the crows, -
"April again!"

April again! and the marsh birds swinging
Over the rushes that belong to yester-year;
Silver shines the river, and young lips are singing
Songs as old as Eden - as old and as dear;
"April again!"

April again! with a wet wind blowing,
And along the western sky a pathway of gold;
Sounds a call to follow the road we're not knowing,
A new road - a wild road - o'er fairy lands unrolled, -
"April again!"

April again! with its wonder of gladness,
April with its haunting joy, and swift-stinging tears, -
Month of mist and music, and the old moon-madness,
Month of magic fluting, the spirit only hears, -
"April again!"




HISTORIES

I weary of the histories of men -
The garnered store of books in grim array;
Life's bitter salvage, leather-bound, and then
Left to the silence and a bloom of gray.

I weary of the stories that they hold;
The clash of arms sounds through them like a knell;
I weary of the Kings in crowns of gold,
The Kings victorious, and the Kings who fell.

There are too many tears on every page;


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Online LibraryVirna SheardThe Ballad of the Quest → online text (page 1 of 2)