Bliss Carman

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood —
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.
The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.
There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.


BLISS CARMAN (1861-1929)
by Jordan Bera

"The best poetry," Bliss Carman wrote in his 1903 essay, "Subconscious Art," "addresses the mind and emotions." Heralded by his peers as the "unofficial poet laureate of Canada," Carman is, indeed, one of Canada's best and most celebrated poets. Not only is his poetry thought-provoking and pleasing to read, but it also appeals to the reader's emotions through its use of mystical, picturesque, and transcendent images of nature.

William Bliss Carman was born on April 15, 1861 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, into a family with deep literary roots. His mother was a descendant of Daniel Bliss, the great-grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his cousin on his mother's side was "the Father of Canadian Literature" Charles G.D. Roberts. Along with his cousin, Carman received a classical education at the Fredericton Collegiate School and the University of New Brunswick.

In 1881, he continued his studies in physics, mathematics, and philosophy at Edinburgh University. After two years in Scotland, he returned to Canada in 1883, contemplated a career in law or engineering, but instead went to Harvard where he studied English literature and philosophy. At Harvard, Carman was heavily influenced by the works of the American transcendental poets, and his ancestor Emerson's belief that God's "truth" can be intuitively experienced through nature and natural settings is the immediate inspiration for one of Carman's best known poems, "Vestigia":

And even as I marvelled how
God gives us Heaven here and now,
In a stir of wind that hardly shook
The poplar leaves beside the brook –
His hand was light upon my brow.

In order to financially support his desire to become a professional poet, Carman worked as a journalist and editor for a variety of Canadian and American magazines from 1890 to 1898. His first book of poetry, Low Tide on Grand Pré, was published in 1893 to enthusiastic reviews, and was named for a poem inspired by the Evangeline country in Nova Scotia, near Windsor, where Carman often visited with his cousin Roberts. Carman's literary breakthrough came with the publication of Songs from Vagabondia (1894), More Songs from Vagabondia (1896), and Last Songs from Vagabondia (1900). In the Vagabondia series, Carmen and his collaborator Richard Hovey (a close friend from Harvard), explore spiritual and emotional states that are only obtainable through a personal, transcendent relationship with nature.

Carman wrote prolifically over the next thirty-five years, producing approximately thirty volumes of poetry and prose. This includes the five-volume The Pipes of Pan, in which much of his best-known poetry appears, and numerous essays on art and its relationship to nature and human life. From 1919 to 1920, Carman suffered from tuberculosis, but when he recovered he embarked on an extensive tour of Canada and the United States giving readings and public lectures. In 1928, the Royal Society of Canada awarded him its Lorne Pierce Medal for his contribution to Canadian poetry. Although Carman died at the age of 68 in New Canaan, Connecticut, his ashes were buried in a suitable place for a poet who believed that man is most at peace in nature – a man who is still celebrated to this day as one of Canada's most beloved nature poets – the Forest Hill Cemetery, in Fredericton, New Brunswick.


Bliss Carman

The sun goes down, and over all
  These barren reaches by the tide
Such unelusive glories fall,
   I almost dream they yet will bide
Until the coming of the tide.

And yet I know that not for us,
   By any ecstasy of dream,
He lingers to keep luminous
  A little while the grievous stream,
Which frets, uncomforted of dream--

A grievous stream, that to and fro
  Athrough the fields of Acadie
Goes wandering, as if to know
   Why one beloved face should be
So long from home and Acadie.

Was it a year or lives ago
  We took the grasses in our hands,
And caught the summer flying low
  Over the waving meadow lands,
And held it there between our hands?

The while the river at our feet--
  A drowsy inland meadow stream--
At set of sun the after-heat
   Made running gold, and in the gleam
We freed our birch upon the stream.

There down along the elms at dusk
   We lifted dripping blade to drift,
Through twilight scented fine like musk,
  Where night and gloom awhile uplift,
Nor sunder soul and soul adrift.

And that we took into our hands
   Spirit of life or subtler thing--
Breathed on us there, and loosed the bands
   Of death, and taught us, whispering,
The secret of some wonder-thing.

Then all your face grew light, and seemed
  To hold the shadow of the sun;
The evening faltered, and I deemed
  That time was ripe, and years had done
Their wheeling underneath the sun.

So all desire and all regret,
   And fear and memory, were naught;
One to remember or forget
   The keen delight our hands had caught;
Morrow and yesterday were naught.

The night has fallen, and the tide . . .
   Now and again comes drifting home,
Across these aching barrens wide,
  A sigh like driven wind or foam:
In grief the flood is bursting home.

Bliss Carman Links: Poetry and More

archive.org: The Kinship of Nature by Bliss Carman

archive.org: Sappho - One Hundred Lyrics by Bliss Carman (Introduction by Charles G.D. Roberts)

The Canadian Poetry Archive

University of Western Ontario, Canadian Poetry

University of Western Ontario: Passionate Beauty: Carman's Sappho Poems by C. Nelson-McDermott

Poem Hunter

Inscribing the Vagabond: Excerpt from a Life by Mary B. McGillivray

Photo: Bliss Carman’s room at Cambridge 1886-1887

Photo: Bliss Carman Age 18

Photo: 809-811 George Street Fredericton N.B (Carman's birth place) (Fredericton Heritage Trust)

Photo: 83 Shore Street, Fredericton, NB (Carman's boyhood home) (Provincial Archives)

Poets' Corner of Canada - Fredericton New Brunswick

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