Isabel Ecclestone Mackay

(25 November 1875 – 15 August 1928 / Canada)

Calgary Station - Poem by Isabel Ecclestone Mackay

DAZZLED by sun and drugged by space they wait,
These homeless peoples, at our prairie gate;
Dumb with the awe of those whom fate has hurled,
Breathless, upon the threshold of a world!

From near-horizoned, little lands they come,
From barren country-side and deathly slum,
From bleakest wastes, from lands of aching drouth,
From grape-hung valleys of the smiling South,
From chains and prisons, ay, from horrid fear,
(Mark you the furtive eye, the listening ear!)
And all amazed and silent, scared and shy--
An alien group beneath an alien sky!

See--on that bench beside the busy door--
There sleeps a Roman born: upon the floor
His wife, dark-haired and handsome, takes her rest,
Their black-eyed baby tugging at her breast.
Her hands lie still. Her brooding glances roam
Above the pushing crowd to her far home,
And slow she smiles to think how fine 'twill be
When they (so rich!) return to Italy.

Yonder, with stolid face and tragic eye,
Sits a lone Russian; as we pass him by
He neither stirs nor looks; his inner gaze
Sees not the future fair, but, troubled, strays
To the dark land he left but can't forget,
Whose bonds, though broken, hold him prisoner yet.

Here is a Pole--a worker; though so slim
His muscle is of steel--no fear for him;
He is the breed which conquers; he is nerved
To fight and fight again. Too long he served,
Man of a subject race! His fierce, blue eye
Roams like a homing eagle o'er the sky,
So limitless, so deep! for such as he
Life has no higher bliss than to be free.

This little Englishman with jaunty air
And tweed cap perched awry on close-trimmed hair--
He, with his faded wife and noisy band,
Has come from Home to seek a promised land--
He feels himself aggrieved, for no one said
That things would be so big and so--outspread!
He thinks of London with a pang of grief;
His wife is sobbing in her handkerchief.
But all his children stare with eager eyes.
This is their land. Already they surmise
Their heritage, their chance to live and grow,
Won for them by their fathers, long ago!

Another generation, and this Scot,
Whose longing for the hills is ne'er forgot,
Shall rear a son whose eye will never be
Dim with a craving for that distant sea,
Those barren rocks, that heather's purple glow--
The ache, the burn that only exiles know!

This Irishman, who, when he sees the Green,
Turns that his shaking lips may not be seen,
He, too, shall bear a son who, blythe and gay,
Sings the old songs but in a cheerier way!
Who has the love, without the anguish sharp,
For Erin dreamingly by her golden harp!

All these and many others, patient, wait
Before our ever-open prairie gate
And, filing through with laughter or with tears,
Take what their hands can glean of fruitful years.
Here some find home who knew not home before;
Here some seek peace and some wage glorious war.
Here some who lived in night see morning dawn
And some drop out and let the rest go on.
And of them all the years take toll; they pass
As shadows flit above the prairie grass.

From every land they come to know but one--
The kindly earth that hides them from the sun--
But, in their places, children live, and they
Turn with glad faces to a common day.
Of every land, they too, but one land claim--
The land that gives them place and hope and name--
Canadians, they, and proud and glad to be
A part of Canada's sure destiny!
What if within their hearts deep memories hide
Of lands their fathers grieved for, till they died?
The bitterness is gone and in its stead
New understanding and new hopes are bred,
With wider vision which may show the world
Its cannon dumb, its battle-flags close furled!
--Dreams? We may dream indeed, with heart elate,
While a new Nation clamors at our gate!

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Poem Submitted: Monday, September 6, 2010

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