Verse > Anthologies > William Wilfred Campbell, ed. > The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse
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William Wilfred Campbell, comp.  The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse.  1913.
 
A Canadian Galahad
By William Wilfred Campbell (1861–1918)
 
(To the memory of Henry Harper, drowned in the Ottawa
River, while trying to save Miss Blair)
WE crown the splendours of immortal peace,
And laud the heroes of ensanguined war,
Rearing in granite memory of men
Who build the future, recreate the past,        5
Or animate the present dull world’s pulse
With loftier riches of the human mind.
 
But his was greatness not of common mould,
And yet so human in its simple worth,
That any spirit plodding its slow round        10
Of social commonplace and daily moil,
Might blunder on such greatness, did he hold
In him the kernel sap from which it sprung.
 
Men in rare hours great actions may perform,
Heroic, lofty, whereof earth will ring,        15
A world onlooking, and the spirit strung
To high achievement at the cannon’s mouth,
Or where fierce ranks of maddened men go down.
 
But this was godlier. In the common round
Of life’s slow action, stumbling on the brink        20
Of sudden opportunity, he chose
The only noble, godlike, splendid way,
And made his exit, as earth’s great have gone,
By that vast doorway looking out on death.
 
No poet this of winged, immortal pen;        25
No hero of a hundred victories;
Nor iron moulder of unwieldy states,
Grave counsellor of parliaments, gold-tongued,
Standing in shadow of a centuried fame,
Drinking the splendid plaudits of a world.        30
 
But simple, unrecorded in his days,
Unostentatious, like the average man
Of average duty, walked the common earth,
And when fate flung her challenge in his face,
Took all his spirit in his blinded eyes,        35
And showed in action why God made the world.
 
He passes as all pass, both small and great,
Oblivion-clouded, to the common goal;—
And all unmindful moves the dull world round,
With baser dreams of this material day,        40
And all that makes man petty, the slow pace
Of small accomplishment that mocks the soul.
 
But he hath taught us by this splendid deed
That under all the brutish mask of life,
And dulled intention of ignoble ends,        45
Man’s soul is not all sordid; that behind
This tragedy of ills and hates that seem
There lurks a godlike impulse in the world,
And men are greater than they idly dream.
 
 
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