Week 337: The Joys of the Road, by Bliss Carman

This piece by the Canadian poet Bliss Carman (1862-1929) is one of my very early poetic likes, met with in some school anthology around the age of eleven when I had a very romantic idea of life on the road and tended to answer, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, ‘A tramp’, which did not go down well with my responsible adults but at least was one up in terms of respectability and earnings potential from my other standard answer at the time, ‘A poet’. I was so taken with the poem that I went to the local library to look for more by Carman and, finding nothing available, boldly requested an inter-library loan, braving the indignation of the librarian, who was very much of the old school and really did not like members of the public coming into his library and taking away his books, let alone demanding expensive special services. But a small volume did in due course arrive; sadly I found nothing further in it that really took my fancy. Sorry, librarian.

The Joys of the Road

Now the joys of the road are chiefly these:
A crimson touch on the hard-wood trees;

A vagrant’s morning wide and blue,
In early fall, when the wind walks too;

A shadowy highway cool and brown,
Alluring up and enticing down

From rippled water to dappled swamp,
From purple glory to scarlet pomp;

The outward eye, the quiet will,
And the striding heart from hill to hill;

The tempter apple over the fence;
The cobweb bloom on the yellow quince;

The palish asters along the wood,–
A lyric touch of solitude;

An open hand, an easy shoe,
And a hope to make the day go through,–

Another to sleep with, and a third
To wake me up at the voice of a bird;

A scrap of gossip at the ferry;
A comrade neither glum nor merry,

Who never defers and never demands,
But, smiling, takes the world in his hands, –

Seeing it good as when God first saw
And gave it the weight of his will for law.

And oh, the joy that is never won,
But follows and follows the journeying sun,

By marsh and tide, by meadow and stream,
A will-o’-the-wind, a light-o’-dream,

The racy smell of the forest loam,
When the stealthy sad-heart leaves go home;

The broad gold wake of the afternoon;
The silent fleck of the cold new moon;

The sound of the hollow sea’s release
From stormy tumult to starry peace;

With only another league to wend;
And two brown arms at the journey’s end!

These are the joys of the open road –
For him who travels without a load.

Bliss Carman


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