Sthephan G. Stephansson Poetry


By prairie and slough-side the train that we rode
Drove ever relentlessly north.
To our left the great River lay turbid and red
And sprawled itself sullenly forth.
Its breast never quickened in rapid or fall,
Its dull heavy waters were fain
To waddle forever with arms full of mud
And the slummocky clay of the plain.
The landscape unchanged and unchangeable stood,
Save only where dryads of grace
Had woven on edges of wandering brooks
A leafy embroid'ry of lace;
But the land itself lay like an infinite board,
Unslivered, unknotted, and clean,
As if all of the stuff of Creation were smoothed
And stained an ineffable green.

At dawn, when we woke, there were blankets enough
On the couch where we lay in a row,
For blizzards of midnight upon us had spread
A foot of soft, eiderdown snow;
While Providence, kind to the simply devout,
Had buried the Irishman deep,
And drifted above him with evident care
The warmth of the mightiest heap.

But the air was as bitter as death, while the sun
Rose slowly with shivering ire;
The cold scorched our throats, it was flame to our flesh,
And burned in our lungs like a fire.
The bluish-white tide of the snow had engulphed
Each hillock and hollow as well,
And the frost-haggard trees were like pallid, grey ghosts
From the pale, frozen forests of hell.

On the western horizon, dim billows of night
Ebbed still in cold surges of grey;
The sky leaned and clung to the glacial earth
As if frozen at last to its clay;
And a dark shadow-mouth in the firmament gaped
So swart in the calm, cloudless height
That a black door seemed opening, far up in space,
Upon darkness, blank nothing, and night.

Written in 1898

Translated by Watson Kirkconnell.

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