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{Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour 1882}










“The lights o’ Leith! the lights o’ Leith!”
     The skipper cried aloud—
While the wintry gale with snow and hail
     Blew snell thro’ sail and shroud.

“The lights o’ Leith! the lights o’ Leith!”
     As he paced the deck cried he—
“How merrily bright they burn this night
     Thro’ the reek o’ the stormy sea!”

As the ship ran in thro’ the surging spray
     Afire seemed all the town;
They saw the glare from far away,
And, safely steer’d to the land-lock’d bay,
     They cast their anchor down.

“’Tis sure a feast in the town o’ Leith
     (To his mate the skipper spoke)
“And yonder shadows that come and go,
Across the quay where the bonfires glow,
     Are the merry-making folk.

“In right good time we are home once more                                      4
     From the wild seas and rough weather—
Come, launch a boat, and we’ll run ashore,
     And see the sport together.”

But the mate replied, while he shoreward gazed
     With sad and gentle eyes,
While the lights of Leith beyond him blazed
     And he heard the landward cries:

“’Tis twenty lang year since I first left here,
     In the time o’ frost and snaw—
I was only a lad, and my heart was mad
     To be up, and free, and awa’!

“My mither she prayed me no’ to gang,
     For she had nae bairn but me—
My father was droon’d, and sleeping amang
     The weeds o’ the northern sea.

“I stole awa’ in the mirk o’ night
     And left my mither asleep,
And ere she waken’d, at morning light,
     I was oot on the roaring deep.

“Aye, twenty lang year hae past sin’ syne,                                         5
     And my heart has aft been sair
To think o’ that puir auld mither o’ mine,
     Alane, in a warld o’ care.

“When back I cam’ frae the salt sea faem
     I was a bearded man,
Ae simmer I dwelt in the hoose at hame,
     Then awa’ to the sea I ran.

“And twice sin’ syne hae I left the sea
     To seek the hameward track,
And aye my mither had had for me—
Tho’ ne’er a gift had my hands to gie—
     A tender welcome back.

“Then, cast awa’ in a soothern land,
     And taen to slaverie,
I lang’d for the touch o’ a mither’s hand
     And the glint o’ a mither’s e’e.

“But noo that my wandering days are done,
     I hae dree’d a penance sad,
I am coming hame, like the Prodigal Son,
     But wi’ siller to mak’ her glad!

“I hae gowden rings for my mither’s hand,                                        6
     Bonnie and braw past dream,
And, fit for a leddy o’ the land,
     A shawl o’ the Indian seam.

“And I lang, and lang, to seek ance mair
     The cot by the side o’ the sea,
And to find my gray old mither there,
     Waiting and watching for me;

“To dress her oot like a leddy grand,
     While the tears o’ gladness drap,
To put the rings on her wrinkled hand,
     The siller intil her lap!

“And to say ‘O mither, I’m hame, I’m hame!
     Forgie me, O forgie!
And never mair shall ye ken a care
     Until the day you dee!’”

O bright and red shone the lights of Leith
     In the snowy winter-tide—
Down the cheeks of the man the salt tears ran,
     As he stood by the skipper’s side.

“But noo I look on the lights o’ hame                                                7
     My heart sinks sick and cauld—
Lest I come owre late for her love or blame,
     For oh! my mither was auld!

“For her een were dim when I sail’d awa’,
     And snaw was on her heid,
And I fear—I fear—after mony a year,
     To find my mither—deid!

“Sae I daurna enter the toon o’ Leith,
     Where the merry yule-fires flame,
Lest I hear the tidings o’ dule and death,
     Ere I enter the door o’ hame.

“But ye’ll let them row me to yonner shore
     Beyond the lights o’ the quay,
And I’ll climb the brae to the cottage door,
     A hunnerd yards frae the sea.

“If I see a light thro’ the mirk o’ night,
     I’ll ken my mither is there;
I’ll keek, maybe, through the pane, and see
     Her face in its snawy hair!

“The face sae dear that for mony a year                                            8
     I hae prayed to see again,—
O a mither’s face has a holy grace
     ’Bune a’ the faces o’ men!

“Then I’ll enter in wi’ silent feet,
     And saftly cry her name—
And I’ll see the dim auld een grow sweet
     Wi’ a heavenly welcome hame!

“And I’ll cry, ‘O mither, I’m here, I’m here!
     Forgie me, O forgie!
And never mair shall ye ken a care!
Your son shall lea’ thee never mair
     To sail on the stormy sea!’”



They row’d him to the lonely shore
     Beyond the lights of the quay,
And he climb’d the brae to the cottage door
     A hundred yards from the sea.

He saw no light thro’ the mirk of night,
     And his heart sank down with dread,
“But ’tis late,” thought he, “and she lies, maybe,
     Soond sleeping in her bed!”

Half-way he paused, for the blast blew keen,                                     9
     And the sea roar’d loud below,
And he turn’d his face to the town-lights, seen
     Thro’ the white and whirling snow.

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     How they flash’d on the night-black bay,
White with sullen roar on the rocky shore
     The waters splash’d their spray!

When close he came to the lonely cot,
     He paused in deeper dread,—
For the gleam that came from the far-off flame
     Just touch’d the walls with red;

Thro’ the doorway dark did the bleak wind blow,
     The windows were black and bare,
And the house was floor’d with the cruel snow,
     And roof’d with the empty air!

“O mither, mither!” he moan’d aloud,
     “And are ye deid and gane?
Hae I waited in tears thro’ the weary years,
     And a’ in vain, in vain?”

He stood on the hearth, while the snow swam drear                          10
     Between the roofless walls—
“O mither! mither! come here, come here,—
     ’Tis your ain son, Robin, calls!”

On his eager ears, as he stood in tears,
     There came a faint foot-tread—
Then out of the storm crept a woman’s form
     With hooded face and head.

Like a black, black ghost the shape came near
     Till he heard its heavy breath—
“What man,” it sighed, “stands sabbing here,
     In the wearifu’ hoose o’ death?”

“Come hither, come hither, whae’er ye be,”
     He answer’d loud and clear—
“I am Robin Sampson, come hame frae the sea,
     And I seek my mither dear!”

“O Robin, Robin,” a voice cried sobbing,
     “O Robin, and is it yersel’?
I’m Janet Wylie, lame Janet Wylie,
     Your kissen, frae Marywell!”

“O Robin, Robin,” again she cried,                                                   11
     “O Robin, and can it be?
Ah, better far had the wind and the tide
     Ne’er brought ye across the sea!”

Wailing she sank on the snow-heap’d hearth,
     And rocked her body in pain—
“O Robin, Robin,” she cried to him sobbing,
     “Your mither—your mither—is gane!”

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     How brightly still they glow!
The faint flame falls on the ruined walls,
     On the hearthstone heap’d in snow!

“O Janet, Janet, kind cousin Janet,
     If ever ye cared for me,
Noo let me hear o’ my mither dear,
     And hoo she cam’ to dee!”

Wailing she lifted her weeping face,
     And answer’d in soul’s despair—
“O Robin, awa’ frae the wicked place—
     Awa’—and ask nae mair!”

But he grasp’d her arm with a grip of steel                                        12
     And cried “O Janet, speak!’
“O Robin dear, dinna seek to hear,
     For oh! your heart must breik!”

But he pressed her more, and he pleaded sore,
     Till at last the tale was told,
And he listened on, till the tale was done,
     Like a man death-struck and cold.



“O Robin dear, when ye sail’d awa’,
     That last time, on the sea,
We knew her heart was breiking in twa,
     And we thought that she wad dee.

“But after a while she forced a smile—
     ‘I’ll greet nae mair,’ said she,
‘But I’ll wait and pray that the Lord, ae day,
     May bring him again to me!

“’The Lord is guid, and Robin my son
     As kind as a bairn can be—
Aye true as steel, and he loes me weel,
     Tho’ he’s gane across the sea.’

“O Robin, Robin, baith late and air’                                                   13
     She prayed and prayed for thee,
But evermair when the blast blew sair,
     She was langest on her knee!”

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     That flame o’er sea and skies!
How bright they glow!— while the salt tears flow
     From that bearded mariner’s eyes.

“But, Robin, your mither was auld and pair,
     And the season’s cauld and keen;
The white, white snaw was on her hair,
     The frost film ower her een.

“And here in the hut beside the sea,
     The pair auld wife did dwell—
Her only kin were my mither and me,
     And we were as pair’s hersel’.

“She leeved on a handfu’ o’ barley meal,
     A drink frae the spring sae cauld—
O Robin, Robin, a heart o’ steel
     Might bleed for the weak and auld!

“In twa she was bent, on a staff she leant,                                          14
     Wi’ ragged duds for claise,
And wearifu’ up and doon she went,
     Gath’ring her sticks and straes.

“And the weans wad thrang as she creepit alang,
     And point, and cry sae shrill—
‘There’s Grannie Sampson,’ was ever their sang,
     ‘The wicked witch o’ the hill!’

“Ah, mony’s the time up the hill she’d climb,
     While the imps wad scream and craw—
At the door she’d stand, wi’ her staff in hand,
     And angrily screech them awa’!

“Then wi’ feeble feet creeping ben, she’d greet
     That the warld misca’d her sae,
And wi’ face as white as the winding-sheet,
     She’d kneel by the bed, and pray.

“O Robin, Robin, she prayed for him
     Wha sail’d in the wild sea-rack,
And the tears wad drap frae her een sae dim,
     As she prayed for her bairn to come back!

“Then whiles . . . when she thought nae folk were near . .                   15
     (O Robin, she thought nae harm!
But stoop your heid, lest they hear, lest they hear!)
     She tried . . an auld-farrant charm.

“A charm aft tried in the ingleside
     When bairns are blythesome and free,
A charm (come near, lest they hear, lest they hear!)
     To bring her boy hame frae the sea!                                             [15:4]

“And the auld black cat at her elbow sat,
     (The cat you gied her yersel’)
And the folk, keeking in thro’ the pane, saw a sin,
     And thought she was weaving a spell!”

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     They flame on the wintry gale!
With sore drawn breath, and a face like death,
     He hearks to the gruesome tale!

“O Robin, Robin, I kenna hoo
     The lee was faither’d first,
But (whisper again, lest they ken, lest they ken!)
     They thought the puir body accurst!

“They thought the spell had been wrought in Hell,                            16
     To kill and curse and blight,
They thought she flew, when naebody knew,
     To a Sabbath o’ fiends, ilk night!

“Then ane whose corn had wither’d ae morn,
     And ane whose kye sicken’d doon,
Crept, scared and pale, wi’ the leein’ tale,
     To the meenisters, up the toon.

“Noo, Robin, jest then, King Jamie the King
     Was oot at sea in his bark,
And the bark nigh sank unner, wi’ fireflaught and thunner,
     And they thought—the Deil was at wark!

“The King cam’ to land, and loup’d on the strand,
     Pale as a ghaist and afraid,
Wi’ courtiers and clergy, a wild fearfu’ band,
     He ran to the kirk, and prayed.

“Then the clergy made oot ’twas witchcraft, nae doot,
     And searchit up and doon,
And . . foond your auld mither (wae’s me!) and twa ither,
     And dragg’d them up to the toon!

“O Robin, dear Robin, hearken nae mair!”                                         17
     “Speak on, I’ll heark to the en’!”
“O Robin, Robin, the sea oot there
     Is kinder than cruel men!

“They took her before King Jamie the King,
     Whaur he sat wi’ sceptre and croon,
And the cooard courtiers stood in a ring,
     And the meenisters gather’d roon’.

“They bade her tell she had wrought the spell
     That made the tempest blaw;
They strippit her bare as a naked bairn,
They tried her wi’ pincers and heated airn,
     Till she shriek’d and swoon’d awa’!

“O Robin, Robin, the King sat there,
     While the cruel deed was done,
And the clergy o’ Christ ne’er bade him spare
     For the sake o’ God’s ain Son!” . . .

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     Like Hell’s own lights they glow!
While the sailor stands, with his trembling hands
     Prest hard on his heart in woe!

“O Robin, Robin . . . they doom’d her to burn . .                             18
     Doon yonner upon the quay . . .
This night was the night . . see the light! see the light!
     How it burns by the side o’ the sea!”

. . . She paused with a moan . . . He had left her alone,
     And through drift and snow rushing,                                             [30:2]
Down the side of the wintry hill he had flown,
     His eyes on the lights below!



The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     They flame on the eyes of the crowd,
Around, up and down, move the folk of the town,
     While the bells of the kirk peal aloud!

High up on the quay, blaze the balefires, and see!
     Three stakes are deep set in the ground,
To each stake smear’d with pitch clings the corpse of a witch,
     With the fire flaming redly around!

What madman is he who leaps in where they gleam,
     Close, close, to the centremost form?
“O mither, O mither!” he cries, with a scream,
     That rings thro’ the heart of the storm!

He can see the white hair snowing down thro’ the glare,                    19
     The white face upraised to the skies—
Then the cruel red blaze blots the thing from his gaze,
     And he falls on his face,—and dies.



The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     See, see! they are flaming still!
Thro’ the clouds of the past them flame is cast,
     While the Sabbath bells ring shrill!

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     They’ll burn till the Judgment Day!
Till the Church’s curse and the monarch’s shame,
And the sin that slew in the Blessed Name,
     Are burned and purged away!


     Note.—The foundation of this ballad is historical, more particularly the part taken by the enlightened pedant, James VI. of Scotland, who, on his accession to the English throne, procured the infamous statute against witchcraft, which actually remained unrepealed till 1736, and even then was repealed under strong protest from the Scottish clergy! One traveller, as late as 1664, casually notices the fact of having seen nine witches burning together at Leith, and in 1678, nine others were condemned in a single day.—R.B.


Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
Part III:
v. 15, l. 4: To bring her boy hame from the sea!
v. 30, l. 2: And rushing through drift and snow, ]






TO the wedding of Shon Maclean,
     Twenty Pipers together
Came in the wind and the rain
     Playing across the heather;
Backward their ribbons flew,
Blast upon blast they blew,
Each clad in tartan new,
     Bonnet, and blackcock feather:
And every Piper was fou,*
     Twenty Pipers together! . . .

He's but a Sassenach blind and vain
Who never heard of Shon Maclean—
The Duke’s own Piper, called “Shon the Fair,”
From his freckled skin and his fiery hair.
Father and son, since the world’s creation,
The Macleans had followed this occupation,

* Pronounce foo—i.e., ‘half seas over,’ intoxicated.

And played the pibroch to fire the Clan                                              21
Since the first Duke came and the Earth began.
Like the whistling of birds, like the humming of bees,
Like the sough of the south-wind in the trees,
Like the singing of angels, the playing of shawms,
Like Ocean itself with its storms and its calms,
Were the strains of Shon, when with cheeks aflame
He blew a blast thro’ the pipes of fame.
At last, in the prime of his playing life,
The spirit moved him to take a wife—
A lassie with eyes of Highland blue,
Who loved the pipes and the Piper too,
And danced to the sound, with a foot and a leg
White as a lily and smooth as an egg.
So, twenty Pipers were coming together
O’er the moor and across the heather,
     All in the wind and the rain:
Twenty Pipers so brawly dressed
Were flocking in from the east and west,
To bless the bedding and blow their best
     At the wedding of Shon Maclean.

At the wedding of Shon Maclean
     ’Twas wet and windy weather!
Yet, thro’ the wind and the rain
     Came twenty Pipers together!
Earach and Dougal Dhu,                                                         22
Sandy of Isla too,
Each with the bonnet o’ blue,
     Tartan, and blackcock feather:
And every Piper was fou,
     Twenty Pipers together!

The knot was tied, the blessing said,
Shon was married, the feast was spread.
At the head of the table sat, huge and hoar,
Strong Sandy of Isla, age fourscore,
Whisker’d, grey as a Haskeir seal,
And clad in crimson from head to heel.
Beneath and round him in their degree
Gathered the men of minstrelsie,
With keepers, gillies, and lads and lasses,
Mingling voices, and jingling glasses.
At soup and haggis, at roast and boil’d,
Awhile the happy gathering toil’d,—
While Shon and Jean at the table ends
Shook hands with a hundred of their friends.—
Then came a hush. Thro’ the open door
A wee bright form flash’d on the floor,—
The Duke himself, in the kilt and plaid,
With slim soft knees, like the knees of a maid.
And he took a glass, and he cried out plain
“I drink to the health of Shon Maclean!                                              23
To Shon the Piper and Jean his wife,
A clean fireside and a merry life!”
Then out he slipt, and each man sprang
To his feet, and with “hooch” the chamber rang!
“Clear the tables!” shriek'd out one—
A leap, a scramble,—and it was done!
And then the Pipers all in a row
Tuned their pipes and began to blow,
     While all to dance stood fain:
Sandy of Isla and Earach More,
Dougal Dhu from Kilflannan shore,
Played up the company on the floor
     At the wedding of Shon Maclean.

At the wedding of Shon Maclean,
     Twenty Pipers together
Stood up, while all their train
     Ceased to clatter and blether.
Full of the mountain-dew,
First in their pipes they blew,
Mighty of bone and thew,
     Red-cheek’d, with lungs of leather:
And every Piper was fou,
     Twenty Pipers together!

Who led the dance? In pomp and pride                                             24
The Duke himself led out the Bride!
Great was the joy of each beholder,
For the wee Duke only reach’d her shoulder;
And they danced, and turned, when the reel began,
Like a giantess and a fairie man!
But like an earthquake was the din
When Shon himself led the Duchess in!
And she took her place before him there,
Like a white mouse dancing with a bear!
So trim and tiny, so slim and sweet,
Her blue eyes watching Shon’s great feet,
With a smile that could not be resisted,
She jigged, and jumped, and twirl’d, and twisted!
Sandy of Isla led off the reel,
The Duke began it with toe and heel,
     Then all join’d in amain;
Twenty Pipers ranged in a row,
From squinting Shamus to lame Kilcroe,
Their cheeks like crimson, began to blow,
     At the wedding of Shon Maclean.

At the wedding of Shon Maclean
     They blew with lungs of leather,
And blithesome was the strain
     Those Pipers played together!
Moist with the mountain-dew,                                                 25
Mighty of bone and thew,
Each with the bonnet o’ blue,
     Tartan, and blackcock feather:
And every Piper was fou,
     Twenty Pipers together!

Oh for a wizard’s tongue to tell
Of all the wonders that befell!
Of how the Duke, when the first stave died,
Reached up on tiptoe to kiss the Bride,
While Sandy’s pipes, as their mouths were meeting,
Skirl’d, and set every heart abeating!
Then Shon took the pipes! and all was still,
As silently he the bags did fill,
With flaming cheeks and round bright eyes,
Till the first faint music began to rise.
Like a thousand laverocks singing in tune,
Like countless corn-craiks under the moon,
Like the smack of kisses, like sweet bells ringing,                              [8:13]
Like a mermaid’s harp, or a kelpie singing,
Blew the pipes of Shon; and the witching strain
Was the gathering song of the Clan Maclean!
Then slowly, softly, at his side,
All the Pipers around replied,
And swelled the solemn strain:
The hearts of all were proud and light,                                              26
To hear the music, to see the sight,
And the Duke’s own eyes were dim that night,
     At the wedding of Shon Maclean.

So to honour the Clan Maclean
     Straight they began to gather,
Blowing the wild refrain,
     “Blue bonnets across the heather!”
They stamp’d, they strutted, they blew;
They shriek’d; like cocks they crew;
Blowing the notes out true,
     With wonderful lungs of leather:
And every Piper was fou,
     Twenty Pipers together!

When the Duke and Duchess went away
The dance grew mad and the guests grew gay;
Man and maiden, face to face,
Leapt and footed and scream’d apace!
Round and round the dancers whirl’d,
Shriller, louder, the Pipers skirl’d,
Till the soul seem’d swooning into sound,
And all creation was whirling round!
Then, in a pause of the dance and glee,
The Pipers, ceasing their minstrelsie,
Draining the glass in groups did stand,                                                27
And passed the sneesh-box* from hand to hand.
Sandy of Isla, with locks of snow,
Squinting Shamus, blind Kilmahoe,
Finlay Beg, and Earach More,
Dougal Dhu of Kilflannan shore—
All the Pipers, black, yellow, and green,
All the colours that ever were seen,
All the Pipers of all the Macs,
Gather’d together and took their cracks. †
Then (no man knows how the thing befell,
For none was sober enough to tell)
These heavenly Pipers from twenty places
Began disputing with crimson faces;
Each asserting, like one demented,
The claims of the Clan he represented.
In vain grey Sandy of Isla strove
To soothe their struggle with words of love,
Asserting there, like a gentleman,
The superior claims of his own great Clan;
Then, finding to reason is despair,
He seizes his pipes and he plays an air—
The gathering tune of his Clan—and tries
To drown in music the shrieks and cries!
Heavens! Every Piper, grown mad with ire,

* Snuff-box.          † Conversed sociably.

Seizes his pipes with a fierce desire,                                                 28
And blowing madly, with skirl and squeak,
Begins his particular tune to shriek!
Up and down the gamut they go,
Twenty Pipers, all in a row,
     Each with a different strain!
Each tries hard to drown the first,
Each blows louder till like to burst.
Thus were the tunes of the Clans rehearst
     At the wedding of Shon Maclean!

At the wedding of Shon Maclean,
     Twenty Pipers together,
Blowing with might and main,
     Thro’ wonderful lungs of leather!
Wild was the hullabaloo!
They stamp’d, they scream’d, they crew!
Twenty strong blasts they blew,
     Holding the heart in tether:
And every Piper was fou,
     Twenty Pipers together!

A storm of music! Like wild sleuth-hounds
Contending together, were the sounds!
At last a bevy of Eve’s bright daughters
Pour’d oil—that’s whisky—upon the waters;
And after another dram went down                                                   29
The Pipers chuckled and ceased to frown,
Embraced like brothers and kindred spirits,
And fully admitted each other’s merits.
All bliss must end! For now the Bride
Was looking weary and heavy-eyed,
And soon she stole from the drinking chorus,
While the company settled to deoch-an-dorus.*
One hour—another—took its flight—
The clock struck twelve—the dead of night—
And still the Bride like a rose so red
Lay lonely up in the bridal bed.
At half-past two the Bridegroom, Shon,
Dropt on the table as heavy as stone,
But four strong Pipers across the floor
Carried him up to the bridal door,
Push’d him in at the open portal,
And left him snoring, serene and mortal!
The small stars twinkled over the heather,
As the Pipers wandered away together,
But one by one on the journey dropt,
Clutching his pipes, and there he stopt!
One by one on the dark hillside
Each faint blast of the bagpipes died,
     Amid the wind and the rain!

* The parting glass; lit. the cup at the door.

And the twenty Pipers at break of day                                              30
In twenty different bogholes lay,
Serenely sleeping upon their way
     From the wedding of Shon Maclean!


‘The Wedding Of Shon Maclean’ was originally published in The Gentleman’s Magazine, July, 1874.
Alterations in The Buchanan Ballads, Old and New, 1892:
v. 8, l. 13:
Like the smack of kisses, like kirk bells ringing, ]





Ein ächter Deutscher Mann mag keinen Franzen leiden!” —


THE fight is o’er, the day is done,
     And thro’ the clouds o’erhead
The fingers of the setting sun
     Are pointing down blood-red,—
Beneath, on the white battlefield,
     Lie strewn the drifts of dead.

No breath, no stir; but everywhere
     The cold Frost crawleth slow,
And Frank and Teuton side by side
     Lie stiffening in the snow,—
While piteously each marble face
     Gleams in the ruby glow.

No sound; but yonder midst the dead
     There stands one steed snow-white,
And clinging to its chilly mane,                                                           32
     Half swooning, yet upright,
Its rider totters, breathing hard,
     Bareheaded in the light!

Hans Vogel. Spectacles on nose,
     He gasps and gazes round—
He shivers as his eyes survey
  That wintry battle-ground—
Then, parch’d with thirst and chill with cold,
     He sinks, without a sound.

Before his vision as he lies
     There gleams a quaint old Town,
He sees the students in the street
     Swaggering up and down,
While at a casement sits a Maid
     In clean white cap and gown.

Hans Vogel thinks, “My time hath come!
     Ne’er shall these eyes of mine
Behold poor Ännchen, or the trees
     Of dear old Ehbrenstein!”
He smacks his lips, “Mein Gott! for one
     Deep draught of Rhenish wine!”

Then swift as thought his wild eyes gleam                                          33
     On something at his side—
He stirs—he glares—he sits erect—
     He grips it, eager-eyed:
A Flask it is, some friend or foe
     Hath dropt there ere he died!

To God he mutters now a prayer,
     Quaking in every limb;
Trembling he holds it to the light!—
     ’Tis full unto the brim!
A flask, a brimming flask of wine!
     And God hath sent it him!

Hans Vogel’s heart leaps up in joy,
     “Dem Himmel sei Dank!” he cries—
Then pursing out his thirsty lips
     Prepares to quaff his prize,—
When lo! a sound—he starts—and meets
     A pair of burning eyes!

Propt on a bed of comrades dead,
     His faint breath swiftly flying,
His breast torn open by a shell,
     A Grenadier is lying:—
Grim as a wolf, with gleaming fangs,
     The Frenchman glareth, dying!

White is his hair, his features worn                                                     34
     With many a wild campaign,
He rocks his head from side to side
     Like to a beast in pain—
He groans athirst, with open mouth,
     Again and yet again.

Hans Vogel, in the act to drink
     And render God due praise,
Drops down his fever’d hand in doubt
     And pauses in amaze,
For on the flask that Grenadier
     Fixeth his thirsty gaze!

Hans Vogel smiles, “Here lieth one
     Whose need is more than mine!”
Then, crawling over to his foe,
     “Look, Frenchman, here is wine!
And by the God that made us both
     Shall every drop be thine!”

Hast thou beheld a dying boar,
     Struck bleeding to the ground,
Spring with a last expiring throe
     To rip the foremost hound?
Terrible, fatal, pitiless,
     It slays with one swift bound.

Ev’n so that grizzly wolf of war,                                                        35
     With eyes of hate and ire,
Stirs as he lies, and on the ground
     Gropes with a dark desire,—
Then lifts a loaded carbine up,
     And lo! one flash of fire!

A flash—a crash! Hans Vogel still
     Is kneeling on his knee,
His heart is beating quick, his face
     Is pale as man’s can be;
The ball just grazed his bleeding brow,—
     “Potstausend!” murmureth he.

Hans frowns; and raising to his lips
     The flask, begins to quaff;
Then holds it to the fading light
     With sly and cynic laugh.
Deep is his drought—sweet is the wine—
     And he hath drunk the half!

But now he glanceth once again
     Where that grim Frenchman lies—
Gasping still waits that wolf of war
     Like to a beast that dies—
He groans athirst, with open mouth,
     And slowly glazing eyes.

Hans Vogel smiles; unto his foe                                                        36
     Again now totters he—
So spent now is that wolf of war
     He scarce can hear or see.
Hans Vogel holds his hand, and takes
     His head upon his knee!

Then down the dying Frenchman’s throat
     He sends the liquor fine:
Half yet remains, old boy,” he cries,
     While pouring down the wine—
“Hadst thou not play’d me such a trick,
     It might have all been thine!”

Hans Vogel speaketh in the tongue
     Of his good Fatherland—
The Frenchman hears an alien sound
     And cannot understand,
But he can taste the warm red wine
     And feel the kindly hand.

See! looking in Hans Vogel’s face
     He stirs his grizzly head—
Up, smiling, goes the grim moustache
     O’er cheeks as grey as lead—
With one last glimmer of the eyes,
     He smiles,—and he is dead.


Translation of the quotation from Goethe’s Faust:
“A true German cannot bear the French, (but he enjoys drinking their wine.)
‘Hans Vogel: An Episode Of The Franco-Prussian War’ was originally published in The Gentleman’s Magazine, February, 1875.]






ALAS, Fra Giacomo,
     Too late! but follow me . . .
Hush! draw the curtain—so!
     She is dead, quite dead, you see.
Poor little lady! she lies,
All the light gone out of her eyes!
But her features still wear that soft,
     Gray, meditative expression,
Which you must have noticed oft,
     Thro’ the peephole, at confession.
How saintly she looks, how meek!
     Though this be the chamber of death,
     I fancy I feel her breath,
As I kiss her on the cheek.
Too holy for me, by far!—
As cold and as pure as a star,
     Not fashioned for kissing and pressing,
But made for a heavenly crown! . . .
Ay, Father, let us go down,—
     But first, if you please, your blessing.



. . . Wine? No! Come, come, you must!
     Blessing it with your prayers,
You’ll quaff a cup, I trust,
     To the health of the Saint upstairs.
My heart is aching so!
     And I feel so weary and sad,
     Through the blow that I have had!
You’ll sit, Fra Giacomo? . . .



Heigho! ’tis now six summers
     Since I saw that angel and married her—
     I was passing rich, and I carried her
Off in the face of all comers . . .
So fresh, yet so brimming with Soul!
     A sweeter morsel, I swear,
Never made the dull black coal
     Of a monk’s eye glitter and glare . . .
     Your pardon—nay, keep your chair!—
A jest! but a jest! . . . Very true,
     It is hardly becoming to jest,
     And that Saint upstairs at rest—
Her Soul may be listening, too!
To think how I doubted and doubted,
Suspected, grumbled at, flouted
That golden-hair’d Angel, and solely                                                 39
Because she was zealous and holy!—
Night and noon and morn
     She devoted herself to piety—
Not that she seemed to scorn,
     Or shun, her husband’s society;
But the claims of her Soul superseded
All that I asked for or needed,
And her thoughts were far away
From the level of lustful clay,
And she trembled lest earthly matters
Interfered with her aves and paters!
Sweet dove! she so fluttered, in flying
     To avoid the black vapours of Hell,
So bent on self-sanctifying,—
That she never thought of trying
     To save her poor husband as well!
And while she was named and elected
     For place on the heavenly roll,
I (beast that I was) suspected
     Her manner of saving her Soul—
So half for the fun of the thing,
What did I (blasphemer!) but fling
On my shoulders the gown of a monk,
     (Whom I managed for that very day
     To get safely out of the way),
And seat me, half-sober, half-drunk,                                                 40
With the cowl drawn over my face,
In the Father Confessor’s place . . .
Eheu! benedicite!
In her beautiful sweet simplicity,
With that pensive gray expression,
She sighfully knelt at confession,—
While I bit my lips till they bled,
     And dug my nails in my palm,
And heard, with averted head,
     The horrible words come calm—
Each word was a serpent’s sting;
     But, wrapt in my gloomy gown,
I sat like a marble thing
     As she uttered your name. SIT DOWN!



More wine, Fra Giacomo?
One cup—as you love me! No?
Come, drink! ’twill bring the streaks
Of crimson back to your cheeks.
Come! drink again to the Saint,
Whose virtues you loved to paint,
Who, stretched on her wifely bed,
     With the soft, sweet, gray expression
     You saw and admired at confession—
Lies poisoned, overhead!



Sit still—or, by God, you die!
Face to face, soul to soul, you and I
     Have settled accounts, in a fine
     Pleasant fashion, over our wine—
Stir not, and seek not to fly—
     Nay, whether or not, you are mine!
Thank Montepulciano for giving
     Your death in such delicate sips—
’Tis not every monk ceases living
     With so pleasant a taste on his lips—
But lest Montepulciano unsurely should kiss,
     Take this!—and this!—and this!



. . . Raise him; and cast him, Pietro,
Into the deep canal below:
You can be secret, lad, I know . . .
And hark you, then to the convent go—
Bid every bell of the convent toll,
And the monks say mass, for your mistress’s soul.


‘Fra Giacomo’ was originally published in Temple Bar, February, 1866.]






“THERE’S some think Injins pison . . . .” [It was Parson Pete who spoke,
As we sat there, in the camp-fire glare, like shadows among the smoke.
’Twas the dead of night, and in the light our faces burn’d bright red,
And the wind all round made a screeching sound, and the pines roared overhead.

Ay, Parson Pete was talking; we called him Parson Pete,
For you must learn he’d a talking turn, and handled things so neat;
He’d a preaching style, and a winning smile, and, when all talk was spent,
Six-shooter had he, and a sharp bowie, to p’int his argyment.

Some one had spoke of the Injin folk, and we had a guess, you bet,                     43
They might be creeping, while we were sleeping, to catch us in the net;
And half were asleep and snoring deep, while the others vigil kept,
But devil a one let go his gun, whether he woke or slept.]

“There’s some think Injins pison, and others count ’em scum,
And night and day they are melting away, clean into Kingdom Come;
But don’t you go and make mistakes, like many dern’d fools I’ve known,
For dirt is dirt, and snakes is snakes, but an Injin’s flesh and bone!

We were seeking gold in the Texan hold, and we’d had a blaze of luck,
More rich and rare the stuff ran there at every foot we struck;
Like men gone wild we t’iled and t’iled, and never seemed to tire,
The hot sun beamed, and our faces streamed with the sweat of a mad desire.

I was Captain then of the mining men, and I had a precious life,                             44
For a wilder set I never met at derringer and knife;
Nigh every day there was some new fray, a bullet in some one’s brain,
And the viciousest brute to stab and to shoot, was an Imp of Hell from Maine.

Phil Blood. Well, he was six foot three, with a squint to make you skeer’d,
His face all scabb’d, and twisted and stabb’d, with carroty hair and beard,
Sour as the drink in Bitter Chink, sharp as a grizzly’s squeal,
Limp in one leg, for a leaden egg had nick’d him in the heel.

No beauty was he, but a sight to see, all stript to the waist and bare,
With his grim-set jaws, and his panther paws, and his hawk’s eye all aglare;           [8:2]
With pick and spade in sun and shade he labour’d like darnation,
But when his spell was over,—well! he was fond of his recreation!

And being a crusty kind of cuss, the only sport he had,                                          45
When work was over, seemed to us a bit too rough and bad;
For to put some lead in a comrade’s head was the greatest fun in life,
And the sharpest joke he was known to poke was the p’int of his precious knife.

But game to the bone was Phil, I’ll own, and he always fought most fair,
With as good a will to be killed as kill, true grit as any there:
Of honour too, like me or you, he’d a scent, though not so keen,
Would rather be riddled thro’ and thro’, than do what he thought mean.

But his eddication to his ruination had not been over nice,
And his stupid skull was choking full of vulgar prejudice;
With anything white he’d drink, or he’d fight in fair and open fray;
But to murder and kill was his wicked will, if an Injin came his way!

‘A sarpent’s hide has pison inside, and an Injin’s heart’s the same,                       46
If he seems your friend for to gain his end, look out for the sarpent’s game;
Of the snakes that crawl, the worst of all is the snake in a skin of red,
A spotted Snake, and no mistake!’ that’s what he always said.

Well, we’d jest struck our bit of luck, and were wild as raving men,
When who should stray to our camp one day, but Black Panther, the Cheyenne;
Drest like a Christian, all a-grin, the old one joins our band,
And tho’ the rest look’d black as sin, he shakes me by the hand.

Now, the poor old cuss had been good to us, and I knew that he was true,—
I’d have trusted him with life and limb as soon as I’d trust you;
For tho’ his wit was gone a bit, and he drank like any fish,
His heart was kind, he was well-inclined, as even a white could wish.

Food had got low, for we didn’t know the run of the hunting-ground,                    47
And our hunters were sick, when, jest in the nick, the friend in need was found;
For he knew the place like his mother’s face (or better, a heap, you’d say,
Since she was a squaw of the roaming race, and himself a cast-away).

Well, I took the Panther into camp, and the critter was well content,
And off with him, on the hunting tramp, next day our hunters went,
And I reckon that day and the next we didn’t want for food,
And only one in the camp looked vext—that Imp of Hell, Phil Blood.

Nothing would please his contrairy idees! an Injin made him rile!
He didn’t speak, but I saw on his cheek a kind of an ugly smile;
And I knew his skin was hatching sin, and I kept the Panther apart,
For the Injin he was too blind to see the dirt in a white man’s heart!

Well, one fine day, we a-resting lay at noon-time by the creek,                              48
The red sun blazed, and we felt half-dazed, too beat to stir or speak;
’Neath the alder trees we stretched at ease, and we couldn’t see the sky,
For the lian-flowers in bright blue showers hung through the branches high.          [18:4]

It was like the gleam of a fairy-dream, and I felt like earth’s first Man,
In an Eden bower with the yellow flower of a cactus for a fan;
Oranges, peaches, grapes, and figs, cluster’d, ripen’d, and fell,
And the cedar scent was pleasant, blent with the soothing ’cacia smell.

The squirrels red ran overhead, and I saw the lizards creep,
And the woodpecker bright with the chest so white tapt like a sound in sleep;
I dreamed and dozed with eyes half-closed, and felt like a three-year child,
And, a plantain blade on his brow for a shade, even Phil Blood look’d mild.

Well, back, jest then, came our hunting men, with the Panther at their head,           49
Full of his fun was every one, and the Panther’s eyes were red,
And he skipt about with grin and shout, for he’d had a drop that day,
And he twisted and twirled, and squeal’d and skirl’d, in the foolish Injin way.

To the waist all bare Phil Blood lay there, with only his knife in his belt,
And I saw his bloodshot eye-balls stare, and I knew how fierce he felt,—             [22:2]
When the Injin dances with grinning glances around him as he lies,
With his painted skin and his monkey grin,—and leers into his eyes!

Then before I knew what I should do Phil Blood was on his feet,
And the Injin could trace the hate in his face, and his heart began to beat;
And, “Git out o’ the way,” he heard them say, “for he means to hev your life!”
But before he could fly at the warning cry, he saw the flash of the knife.

“Run, Panther run!” cried each mother’s son, and the Panther took the track;       50
With a wicked glare, like a wounded bear, Phil Blood sprang at his back.
Up the side so steep of the cañon deep the poor old critter sped,
And the devil’s limb ran after him, till they faded overhead.

Now, the spot of ground where our luck was found was a queerish place, you’ll mark,
Jest under the jags of the mountain crags and the precipices dark;
Far up on high, close to the sky, the two crags leant together,
Leaving a gap, like an open trap, with a gleam of golden weather.

A pathway led from the beck’s dark bed up to the crags on high,
And along that path the Injin fled, fast as a man could fly.
Some shots were fired, for I desired to keep the white beast back;
But I missed my man, and away he ran on the flying Injin’s track.

Now all below is thick, you know, with ’cacia, alder, and pine,                            51
And the bright shrubs deck the side of the beck, and the lian flowers so fine.
For the forest creeps all under the steeps, and feathers the feet of the crags
With boughs so thick that your path you pick, like a steamer among the snags.

But right above you, the crags, Lord love you! are bare as this here hand,
And your eyes you wink at the bright blue chink, as looking up you stand.
If a man should pop in that trap at the top, he’d never rest arm or leg,
Till neck and crop to the bottom he’d drop—and smash on the stones like an egg!

“Come back, you cuss! come back to us! and let the critter be!”
I screamed out loud, while the men in a crowd stood grinning at them and me . . .
But up they went, and my shots were spent, and at last they disappeared,—
One minute more, and we gave a roar, for the Injin had leapt, and cleared!

A leap for a deer, not a man, to clear,—and the bloodiest grave below!               52
But the critter was smart and mad with fear, and he went like a bolt from a bow!
Close after him came the devil’s limb, with his eyes as dark as death,                     [30:3]
But when he came to the gulch’s brim, I reckon he paused for breath!

For breath at the brink! but—a white man shrink, when a red had passed so neat?
I knew Phil Blood too well to think he’d turn his back dead beat!
He takes one run, leaps up in the sun, and bounds from the slippery ledge,
And he clears the hole, but—God help his soul! just touches the tother edge!

One scrambling fall, one shriek, one call, from the men that stand and stare,—
Black in the blue where the sky looks thro’, he staggers, dwarf’d up there;
The edge he touches, then sinks, and clutches the rock—our eyes grow dim—
I turn away—what’s that they say?—he’s a-hanging on to the brim!

. . . On the very brink of the fatal chink a ragged shrub there grew,                        53
And to that he clung, and in silence swung betwixt us and the blue,
And as soon as a man could run I ran the way I’d seen them flee,
And I came mad-eyed to the chasm’s side, and—what do you think I see?

All up? Not quite. Still hanging? Right! But he’d torn away the shrub;
With lolling tongue he clutch’d and swung—to what? ay, that’s the rub!
I saw him glare and dangle in air,—for the empty hole he trode,—
Help’d by a pair of hands up there!—The Injin’s? Yes, by God!

Now, boys, look here! for many a year I’ve roam’d in this here land—
And many a sight both day and night I’ve seen that I think grand;
Over the whole wide world I’ve been, and I know both things and men,
But the biggest sight I’ve ever seen was the sight I saw jest then.

I held my breath—so nigh to death Phil Blood swung hand and limb,                    54
And it seem’d to us all that down he’d fall, with the Panther after him,
But the Injin at length put out his strength—and another minute past,—                 [36:3]
—Then safe and sound to the solid ground he drew Phil Blood, at last!!

Saved? True for you! By an Injin too!—and the man he meant to kill!
There all alone, on the brink of stone, I see them standing still;
Phil Blood gone white, with the struggle and fright, like a great mad bull at bay,
And the Injin meanwhile, with a half-skeer’d smile, ready to spring away.

What did Phil do? Well, I watched the two, and I saw Phil Blood turn back,
Bend over the brink and take a blink right down the chasm black,
Then stooping low for a moment or so, he sheath’d his bowie bright,
Spat slowly down, and watch’d with a frown, as the spittle sank from sight!

Hands in his pockets, eyes downcast, silent, thoughtful, and grim,                         55
While the Panther, grinning as he passed, still kept his eyes on him,
Phil Blood strolled slow to his mates below, down by the mountain track,
With his lips set tight and his face all white, and the Panther at his back.

I reckon they stared when the two appeared! but never a word Phil spoke,
Some of them laughed and others jeered,—but he let them have their joke;
He seemed amazed, like a man gone dazed, the sun in his eyes too bright,
And for many a week, in spite of their cheek, he never offered to fight.

And after that day he changed his play, and kept a civiller tongue,
And whenever an Injin came that way, his contrairy head he hung;
But whenever he heard the lying word, ‘It’s a LIE!’ Phil Blood would groan;
A Snake is a Snake, make no mistake! but an Injin’s flesh and bone!


‘Phil Blood’s Leap’ was originally published (as ‘Phil Blood’s Leap: A Tale of the Gambusinos’) in The Saint Pauls Magazine, February, 1872.
Alterations in The Buchanan Ballads, Old and New, 1892:
The first three verses are omitted.
v. 8, l. 2:
With his grim-set jaws, and his panther claws, and his hawk’s eye all aglare;
v. 18, l. 4: For the lian-flowers in bright blue showers hung through the boughs on high.
v. 22, l. 2: And I saw his bloodshot eye-balls stare, and I knew how ugly he felt,—
v. 30, l. 3: Close after him came the devil’s limb, with his face set grim as death,
v. 36, l. 3: But the Injin at length put out his strength—and another moment past,— ]






RING, sing! ring, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, rhyme! chime, rhyme! through the dales and dells!
Rhyme, ring! chime, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, sing! rhyme, ring! over fields and fells!

And I gallop’d and I gallop’d on my palfrey white as milk,
My robe was of the sea-green woof, my serk was of the silk;
My hair was golden yellow, and it floated to my shoe,
My eyes were like two harebells bathed in little drops of dew;
My palfrey, never stopping, made a music sweetly blent
With the leaves of autumn dropping all around me as I went;
And I heard the bells, grown fainter, far behind me peal and play,
Fainter, fainter, fainter, fainter, till they seem’d to die away;                          57
And beside a silver runnel, on a little heap of sand,
I saw the green Gnome sitting, with his cheek upon his hand;
Then he started up to see me, and he ran with cry and bound,
And drew me from my palfrey white, and set me on the ground:
O crimson, crimson, were his locks, his face was green to see,
But he cried, “O light-hair’d lassie, you are bound to marry me!”
He claspt me round the middle small, he kissed me on the cheek,
He kissed me once, he kissed me twice—I could not breathe or speak;
He kissed me twice, he kissed me thrice—but when he kissed again,
I called aloud upon the name of Him who died for men!

Ring, sing! ring, sing; pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, rhyme! chime, rhyme! through the dales and dells!
Rhyme, ring! chime, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, sing! rhyme, ring! over fields and fells!

O faintly, faintly, faintly, calling men and maids to pray,                                58
So faintly, faintly, faintly, rang the bells afar away;
And as I named the Blessed Name, as in our need we can,
The ugly green green Gnome became a tall and comely man!
His hands were white, his beard was gold, his eyes were black as sloes,
His tunic was of scarlet woof, and silken were his hose;
A pensive light from Faëryland still linger’d on his cheek,
His voice was like the running brook, when he began to speak:
“O you have cast away the charm my step-dame put on me,
Seven years I dwelt in Faëryland, and you have set me free!
O I will mount thy palfrey white, and ride to kirk with thee,
And by those little dewy eyes, we twain will wedded be!”
Back we gallop’d, never stopping, he before and I behind,
And the autumn leaves were dropping, red and yellow, in the wind,
And the sun was shining clearer, and my heart was high and proud,
As nearer, nearer, nearer, rang the kirk-bells sweet and loud,
And we saw the kirk before us, as we trotted down the fells,                       59
And nearer, clearer, o’er us, rang the welcome of the bells!

Ring, sing! ring, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, rhyme! chime, rhyme! through the dales and dells!
Rhyme, ring! chime, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, sing! rhyme, ring! over fields and fells!


From Idyls and Legends of Inverburn, 1865.]






BRIGHT Eyes, Light Eyes! Daughter of a Fay!
I had not been a wedded wife a twelvemonth and a day,
I had not nurst my little one a month upon my knee,
When down among the blue-bell banks rose elfins three times three,
They gript me by the raven hair, I could not cry for fear,
They put a hempen rope around my waist and dragg’d me here,
They made me sit and give thee suck as mortal mothers can,
Bright Eyes, Light Eyes! strange and weak and wan!



Dim Face, Grim Face! lie ye there so still?
Thy red red lips are at my breast, and thou may’st suck thy fill;
But know ye, tho’ I hold thee firm, and rock thee to and fro,
’Tis not to soothe thee into sleep, but just to still my woe?                            61
And know ye, when I lean so calm against the wall of stone,
’Tis when I shut my eyes and try to think thou art mine own?
And know ye, tho’ my milk be here, my heart is far away,
Dim Face, Grim Face! Daughter of a Fay!



Gold Hair, Cold Hair! Daughter to a King!
Wrapt in bands of snow-white silk with jewels glittering,
Tiny slippers of the gold upon thy feet so thin,
Silver cradle velvet-lined for thee to slumber in,
Pigmy pages, crimson-hair’d, to serve thee on their knees,
To fan thy face with ferns and bring thee honey bags of bees,—
I was but a peasant lass, my babe had but the milk,
Gold Hair, Cold Hair! raimented in silk!



Pale Thing, Frail Thing! dumb and weak and thin,
Altho’ thou ne’er dost utter sigh thou’rt shadow’d with a sin;
Thy minnie scorns to suckle thee, thy minnie is an elf,
Upon a bed of rose’s-leaves she lies and fans herself;
And though my heart is aching so for one afar from me,
I often look into thy face and drop a tear for thee,
And I am but a peasant born, a lowly cotter’s wife,
Pale Thing, Frail Thing! sucking at my life!



Weak Thing, Meek Thing! take no blame from me,
Altho’ my babe may fade for lack of what I give to thee;
For though thou art a faëry child, and though thou art my woe,
To feel thee sucking at my breast is all the bliss I know;
It soothes me tho’ afar away I hear my daughter call,
My heart were broken if I felt no little lips at all!
If I had none to tend at all, to be its nurse and slave,
Weak Thing, Meek Thing! I should shriek and rave!



Bright Eyes, Light Eyes! lying on my knee!
If soon I be not taken back unto mine own countree,
To feel my own babe’s little lips, as I am feeling thine,
To smooth the golden threads of hair, to see the blue eyes shine,—
I’ll lean my head against the wall and close my weary eyes,
And think my own babe draws the milk with balmy pants and sighs,
And smile and bless my little one and sweetly pass away,
Bright Eyes, Light Eyes! Daughter of a Fay!

* Founded on the Scottish superstition that the Fairies, when one of their offspring needs unusual care and sustenance, steal away a young mortal mother to suckle it.


[Note: From Idyls and Legends of Inverburn, 1865.]



Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour - continued

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
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The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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