West by East and other poems by J.E.H. MacDonald was published by The Ryerson Press in 1933. Five hundred copies of this chap-book were printed; 250 of which were presented for sale. The quote opposite the title page by Henry David Thoreau, one of J.E.H. MacDonald’s favourite authors, reads: The Universal Soul has an interest in the stacking and the foddering of cattle. This quote may reflect some of J.E.H. MacDonald’s own philosophy of living a simple life, happily capturing and reflecting on the natural beauty of the landscape he painted so eloquently during his lifetime.
West by East
A swaying car,
Grinding on roughened rails,
And one who reads the tales
Of Buddha far
Dreaming of earth and star
In a still Orient avatar
Restless and rude our land,
And tossed by Winter’s hand
With pools and many a ragged snowy band
The folded sky, and wet rutted way.
And drear the wind tumult of the day.
The dark barn broods, lofty and wide
Over the crops within, and by its side
The banded silo leans and cattle shove
To feed beneath the straw-stack’s hollowed cove.
Shaggy as bears the fur-clad farmers lurch
Along the car stopping beside a church,
A father carries a white bundled child;
The gravestones lean like trees before the wild
Wind nipping the church smoke at the chimney edge
And flinging it by wall and window ledge.
But Buddha sits afar
Dreaming of sun and star
Making a flying thought of heavy earth
And labour, death and birth
And the hour has a light sublime
And the wind is a broad wind of time
Blowing us all like thistle-down away
To seed in uplands by the springs of day.
J.E.H. MacDonald was born in Durham, England in 1873 and emigrated to Canada in 1887 at the age of 14. He completed his studies in Hamilton and Toronto and worked for Grip Limited, a leading commercial printer in Toronto.
Later, as Art Director, he encouraged other designers to pursue their sketching and painting. In 1911, he joined the Arts and Letters club where he met fellow artist, Lawren Harris. Together, in 1921, they formed the Group of Seven and made numerous trips north and west with fellow artists, Arthur Lismer, Frank Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, A.J. Casson and Frank Johnson to capture the grandeur of the Canadian landscape. After the death of his good friend and fellow artist Tom Thomson in 1917, MacDonald took time off his painting to write poetry. These poems are presented in West by East and are accompanied by illustrations by MacDonald’s son, Thoreau MacDonald.
J.E.H. MacDonald died at Toronto in 1933 at the age of 59.