Poetry Corner with Alice and Margaret King

It’s been a really long time since I last posted. Sorry. But I have just one more essay to write for school: an exhibition proposal, which I’ve given the fancy title Mirth and Madness: The Metropolis and German Expressionist Art. I have high expectations for this proposal, and Germany at the turn of the twentieth century was a pretty interesting place, so it’s been fun to research. I can see the light at the end of the academic tunnel.

Anyway, recently while poking around archive.org I found a microform copy of a document called The Old Limestone City with a date of 1910. It had the tag “French Canadian poetry,” which I (correctly) doubted, but I was bored and curious so I clicked it anyway, with low expectations. Amateur poetry is awful, but amateur poetry from the Victorian/Edwardian era is wretchedly awful. I should mention I am not a poetry fan, so my appreciation scale usually goes from “Okay” to “I literally can’t even look at this.” I expected these to fall into the latter category, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by what I found.

The little book begins with a page that says, “These poor but inoffensive things/Are Margaret and Alice King’s.” Inside are just six short poems, similar to children’s rhymes, about Kingston. The name Alice King rang a bell for me, and upon looking her up, I found that at the time the poems were published she was a bookkeeper at Queen’s, living at her parents’ house on Alice Street (later Queen’s Crescent, now Bader Lane). Margaret was her younger sister. Incidentally, a brother, Francis, lived at 154 Stuart Street, a.k.a. half of the soon-to-be-demolished Film House where I spent many hours over the years as a film student. Alice later became the Assistant Registrar at Queen’s, but I haven’t done further research to find out more about her career. Margaret is credited on the archive.org page as Margaret Lily King McGill, and this marriage record shows that she was married to one David McGill in late 1910. Alice was born in 1874 and Margaret in 1877, making them respectively thirty-six and thirty-three when they published the poems.

These poems are not at all like the typical overblown, sentimental verses of the era. They are simple, quaint, and old-fashioned in the best way possible. They were originally accompanied by watercolour illustrations (maybe one sister did the poems and another the illustrations), which unfortunately are black-and-white and crooked in the online copy. Therefore, I’ve copied my three favourite poems here with a few of my own photos instead, which barely match, but I tried. I also can’t reproduce the original formatting of the poems because WordPress is being weird about it, but you can see the original format in the microform copy (link at the bottom of the post).


“Soldier boy, soldier boy, whither away?

Does duty call you this bright spring day?”

“Nay, I visit a maiden fair instead,

And hang the duty!” the soldier said.

“Soldier boy, soldier boy, will she say ‘yes’?”

(I think it likely, I must confess,

For there’s wondrous charm in a tunic red).

“Why, sure, she’ll have me,” the soldier said.

May 2 2013 009

Oh, who could miss a day like this?

Or who could stay behind?

When we’re up and away for a glorious play

With the sun and the waves and the wind.

The sun laughs down on the cheeks so brown,

That he burns to a deeper hue,

And the wind’s caress seems to soothe and bless

With a touch that is ever true.

The prow dips low as the gay gusts blow

And the waves that hurry along

A lullaby croon to a soft little tune

As they touch with a kiss and are gone.

Then we’ll steer and tack and never come back

Till the sea is running dry,

For we’re sailing away in an endless day

‘Neath the blue of the summer sky.

 Park stuff 030

A youth he came to Queen’s one day,

When the year was in the fall.

He was green as the fields where the lambkins play

And he thought that he knew it all.

“I’ve done rather well,” he said with a smile

(It was nearly Christmas time)

And he thought he would rest on his oars awhile,

And he voted the dances prime.

So the days went on till exam time came

When the year was in the Spring,

And on none of the lists was found his name. —

A most surprising thing!

It was all a mistake, he declared in a rage,

And he’d never survive the blow.

But he did, and he now has reached the stage

Where he knows that he doesn’t know.


The Old Limestone City on archive.org

Information about the King sisters was found through the Kingston city directories.


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