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A Vagabond Song

by Bliss Carman (1861-1929)

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.

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Jack DesBois is a singer, actor, and storyteller. He gives annual Epiphany season performances of “The Western Star,” which he wrote in 2016. He self-published a chapbook of short poems in 2018. As a singer, Jack has had the good fortune to solo in several of the great works of Baroque Oratorio, including Handel’s Messiah (Bass) and Esther (Haman) and J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion (Jesus). Jack lives in Topsfield, Massachusetts. 


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7 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    I wish, Jack, that I knew who Bliss Carman was. The poem, if it had been written today, would surely be considered new ground in the longstanding canon of autumn poems. As things stand, it is a neglected and nearly forgotten example of that exquisite subgenre. Thanks for bringing it up, and for the rich vocals you provided.

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      My sixth grade English teacher had us memorize “A Vagabond Song” and march around the playing fields chanting it in unison. I doubt if any of my classmates will ever forget that poem. Seven years later, I wrote the melody and sang it at a talent show at my old middle school, where I was a teaching intern. All the sixth graders chanted the poem along with me.

      When I set the poem to music, I looked up Bliss Carman and discovered that he was a Canadian Poet Laureate who spent much of his career living and writing in Boston and around New England (my home). “A Vagabond Song” is from a poetry book he co-published, “Songs from Vagabondia”:

      https://ia800203.us.archive.org/15/items/songsfromvagab1901carm/songsfromvagab1901carm.pdf

      I have a vague plan to set some of his other seasonal poems to make a song cycle…

      Reply
      • Joe Tessitore

        And it will be well worth the effort, if the beauty of this one is any indication.

      • The Society

        A brilliant idea, Jack. My wife, who is a singer-song writer herself, found this melody to be her favorite of what you have published here at the SCP so far. And now we too shall not forget Bliss Carman (in part too perhaps because of the interesting name).

        -Evan

      • C.B. Anderson

        This guy is the real deal. His poems are quaint on the surface, but fraught with deep meaning expressed in technically superb amalgams of “loose” metrical schemes. Every word is in place. Every thought is encompassed in regular plain Canadian-American English.

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