ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour 1882}

 

                                                                                                                                                                 63

APRIL RAIN

 

I

SHOWERS, showers, nought but showers, and it wants a week of May,
Flowers, flowers, summer flowers, are hid in the green and the grey;
Green buds and grey shoots cover their sparkling gear,
They stir beneath, they long to burst, for the May is so near, so near,—
While I spin and I spin, and the fingers of the Rain
Fall patter, pitter, patter, on the pane.

 

II

Showers, showers, silver showers, murmur and softly sing,
Flowers, flowers, summer flowers, are swelling and hearkening;
It wants a week of May, when my love and I will be one,
The flowers will burst, the birds will sing, as we walk to church in the sun,
So patter goes my heart, in a kind of pleasant pain,
To the patter, pitter, patter of the Rain.

[Note:
From Idyls and Legends of Inverburn, 1865, originally the second part of the ‘Village Voices’ sequence.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 64

THE CUCKOO SONG

O KITTY BELL, ’twas sweet, I swear,
     To wander in the spring together,
When buds were blowing everywhere,
     And it was golden weather!
And down the lanes beside the farm
     You roam’d beside me, tripping lightly,—
Blushing you hung upon my arm,
     And the small gloved hand press’d tightly! . . .
And the orchis sprang
     In the scented meadow,
And the throstle sang
     In the greenwood shadow;
And your eyes were bright
     With happy dew,—
Could I doubt a light
     So divinely blue,
When you kiss’d and sighed
     “I will be true”? . . .
         Cuckoo!
Though far and wide                                                                          65
The brown bird cried—
                                   “Cuckoo! cuckoo! cuckoo!

O Kitty Bell, the cry seem’d sweet,
     For you were kind, and flowers were springing;
The dusty willow in the heat
     Its woolly bells were swinging,
And in its boll the linnet brown
     Finish’d her nest with wool and feather,
And we had thoughts of nestling down,
     In the farm by the mill, together. . . .
And over the hill
     The breeze was blowing,
And the arms of the mill
     Kept coming and going;
And who but Love
     Was between us two,
When around and above
     The flittermice flew,
And as night drew nigh,
     You swore to be true? . . .
         Cuckoo!
I heard the cry
From woods hard by—
                                   “Cuckoo! cuckoo! cuckoo!

O Kitty Bell, ’tis spring again,                                                           66
     But all the face of things looks iller;
The nests are built in wood and lane,
     But you are nested with the miller.
And other lovers kiss and swear,
     While I behold in scorn and pity,
For “all,” I cry, “is false and fair,”
     And curse the cuckoo and Kitty. . . .
And over the hill
     The breeze is blowing,
And the arms of the mill
     Keep coming and going;
And the hidden bird
     Is singing anew
The warning I heard
     When I trusted you;
And I sicken and sigh,
     With my heart thrill’d through . . .
         Cuckoo!
Wherever I fly
I hear the cry—
                                   “Cuckoo! cuckoo! cuckoo!

 

[Note:
‘The Cuckoo Song’ was originally published in The Argosy, July, 1866. The original title is ‘Cuckoo Song’, and this is how it is listed on the Contents page, and in its subsequent publication in the 1884 Poetical Works.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 67

THE FAËRY REAPER

[IRELAND]

 

’TIS on Eilanowen,
     There’s laughter nightly!
For the Fays are sowing
         Their golden grain:
It springs by moonlight
     So stilly and brightly,
And it drinks no sunlight,
         Or silver rain;—
Tho’ the shoots upcreeping
     No man may see,
When men are reaping
     It reapt must be;
But to reap it rightly,
     With sickle keen,
They must lead there nightly
     A pure colleen!

Yes, pure completely
     Must be that maiden,
Just feeling sweetly
         Her love’s first dream.
Should one steal thither                                                           68
     With evil laden,
The crop would wither
         In the pale moon’s beam!
For midnights seven,
     While all men sleep,
’Neath the silent heaven
     The maid must reap;
And the sweeter and whiter
     Of soul is she,
The better and brighter
     Will that harvest be!

. . . In Lough Bawn’s bosom
     The isle is lying,
Like a bright green blossom
         On a maiden's breast—
There the water-eagle *
     O’erhead is flying,
And beneath the sea-gull
         Doth build its nest.
And across the water
     A farm gleams fair,
And the farmer’s daughter
     Dwelt lonely there:—
And on Eilanowen                                                                   69
     She’d sit and sing,
When the Fays were sowing
     Their seeds in spring.

She could not hear them,
     Nor see them peeping;
Tho’ she wandered near them
         The spring-tide thro’,
When the grouse was crowing,
     The trout was leaping,
And with hare-bells blowing
         The banks were blue.
But not by moonlight
     She dared to stay,
Only by sunlight
  She went that way.
And on Eilanowen
     They walked each night,
Her footprints sowing
     With lilies white!

When the sun above her
     Was brightly blazing,
She’d bare (God love her!)
         Each round white limb.
Unseen, unnoted,                                                                     70
     Save fay-folk gazing,
Dark hair’d, white throated,
         She’d strip to swim!
Out yonder blushing
     A space she’d stand,
Then falter flushing
     Across the strand,—
Till the bright still water
     Would sparkle sweet,
As it kissed and caught her
     From neck to feet!

There, sparkling round her
     With fond caresses,
It clasp’d her, crowned her,
         My maiden fair!
Then, brighter glowing
     From its crystal kisses,
The bright drops flowing
         From her dripping hair,
Outleaping, running
     Beneath the sky,
The bright light sunning
     Her limbs, she’d fly,—
And ’mid tinkling laughter                                                       71
     Of elfin bowers,
The Fays ran after
     With leaves and flowers!

Could the Fays behold her,
     Nor long to gain her?
From foot to shoulder
         None pure as she!
They cried “God keep her,
     No sorrow stain her!
The Faëry Reaper
         In troth she’ll be!” . . .
With stalks of amber
     And silvern ears,
From earth’s dark chamber
     The grain appears.
’Tis harvest weather!
     The moon swims high!
And they flock together
     With elfin cry!

Now, long and truly
     I’d loved that maiden;
And served her duly
         With kiss and sign;
And that same season                                                             72
     My soul love-laden
Had found new reason
         To wish her mine.
For her cheek grew paler,
     Her laughter less,
And what might ail her
     I could not guess.
Each harvest morrow
     We kissing met,
And with weary sorrow
     Her eyes seem’d wet.

“Oh, speak, Mavourneen,
     What ails ye nightly?
For sure each morning
         ’Tis sad ye seem!”
Her eyes not weeping
     Looked on me brightly:—
“Each night when sleeping
         I dream a Dream.
’Tis on Eilanowen
     I seem to be
And bright grain growing
     I surely see;
A golden sickle                                                                        73
     My fingers keep,
And my slow tears trickle
     On what I reap!

“The moon is gleaming,
     The faëries gather,
Like glow-worms gleaming,
         Their eyes flash quick;
I try while reaping
     To name ‘Our Father!’
But round me leaping
         They pinch and prick—
On the stalks of amber,
     On the silvern ears,
They cling, they clamber,
     Till day appears!
And here I’m waking
     In bed, once more,
My bones all aching,
     My heart full sore!”

I kissed her, crying
     “God bless your reaping!
For sure no sighing
         Can set you free.
They’ll bless your wedding                                                       74
     Who vex your sleeping;
So do their bidding,
         Ma cushla chree!
But oh, remember!
     Your fate is cast,
And ere December
     Hath fairly past,
The Faëry Reaper
     Must be a Bride,
Or a sad cold sleeper
     On the green hill-side!”

“Sure wedding’s better
     Than dying sadly!”
She smiled, and set her
         Soft hand in mine.
For three nights after
     She labour’d gladly,
’Mid fairy laughter,
         And did not pine;
And when the seven
     Long nights were run,
Full well ’neath Heaven
     That work was done:
Their sheaves were slanted,                                                    75
     Their harvest made,
And no more they wanted
     A mortal’s aid.

’Tis on Eilanowen
     There’s laughter nightly,
When the Fays are sowing
         Their golden grain!
God bless that laughter!
     That grain blow brightly!
For luck came after
         My Mary’s pain.
And when sweet Mary
     Was wed to me,
Sure the folk of faëry
     Were there to see:—
The white board spreading,
     Unheard, unseen,
They blest the wedding
     Of a pure colleen!

*The osprey—(Pandion).

[Note:
‘The Faëry Reaper’ was originally published in The Gentleman’s Magazine, March, 1875.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 76

THE “MIDIAN-MARA” *

 

I

THERE’S a sad sea-maiden
     Sighs day and night;
For lack of Eden
         Her eyes weep sore;
If you come upon her
     By pale moonlight,—
Farewell to honour
         For evermore!
Tho’ her hair is redder
     Than blood fresh spilt,
’Tis you must wed her
     And share her guilt;
’Tis you, more pity!
     Must buried be
In her shining City
  Beneath the Sea.

* Anglicè, “The Mermaid.”

                                                                                                                                                                 77

II

But shouldest thou view her
     When shines the sun,
And softly unto her
         On tiptoe creep,
You’ll find her dozing
     As I have done,
Naked reposing
         In a sunny sleep;
Then be quickly ready
     To seize her hair,
And to name Our lady
     As she wakens there;
And tho’ clouds may thunder
     O’er the waters wide,
To the walls of wonder
     She’ll be your guide.

 

III

In the year of hunger,*
     That’s long gone by,
When I was younger
         Who now am old,

* The year of Irish famine.

By the Ocean dreary                                                              78
     Like a taisch* went I,
Thin, weak and weary,
         With want and cold.
O sweetly gleaming
     Was the Sea that hour,
And the sun was streaming
  Thro’ a golden shower;
As I wandered sighing
     For the famished Land,
I beheld her lying
     On the yellow strand!

 

IV

Like the silver shining
     Was the Maiden’s skin,
The red locks twining
         To the breasts of white,
Her cheeks were hueless
     And chill and thin,
Her lips were dewless,
         But her eyes were bright.
Behind her creeping
     I held her hair,—

* Ghost or spirit.

As she scream’d upleaping                                                    79
     I said the prayer;—
“O Midian Mara!
     I hold thee mine:
Thy help I borrow,
     By the Cross’s sign!”

 

V

Hast thou ever noted
     A wounded seal,
As it bleats shrill-throated
         Before it dies?
As a seal’s eyes turning
     On them that kill,
With a dying yearning,
         Were the maiden’s eyes.
With those orbs of azure
     She gazed on me:—
“O what’s thy pleasure,
     Gilli ma chree?”
And her tears fell brightly
     Upon the sands,
As she trembled whitely
     With wringing hands.

                                                                                               80

VI

“O take me straightway,”
     To her said I,
“To the City’s gateway
         That well ye know—
’Tis the hunger kills me,
     And that’s no lie,
And a longing fills me
         From earth to go.”
She ceased her crying,
     And sadly said,
With the white gulls flying
     Above her head,
“Is it there, mavourneen,
     Ye’d wish to stand,
That were bred and born in
     A Christian land?'

 

VII

I knew her nature
     Was sly and deep,
Tho’ the wicked creature
         Had a heavenly face;
And I looked below me                                                          81
     At the waves asleep,
As I answered, “Show me
         That very place!
’Tis You must charm me
     To take the track,
And no hand shall harm me
     Till I come back.”
As I spake, deep thunder
     Was heard that day,
And I saw, far under,
     Where the City lay!

 

VIII

’Neath the green still ocean,
     Far, far, below,
With a mystic motion
         That can’t be told,
I saw it gleaming
     On a strand of snow,
Its bright towers beaming,
         All glass and gold!
And a sound thrilled thro’ me
     Like the sound of bells,
Upwafted to me
     On the ocean swells;
And I saw far under,                                                               82
     Within those same,
White shapes of wonder
     That went and came!

 

IX

“O Mary, mother,
     That savest me,
’Tis the place, no other,
         Where I would go;
For ’tis sweet and pleasant,
     Set ’neath the Sea
In the bright white crescent
         Of the strand below.
’Tis the hunger in me
     That works its will,
Lest the devil win me
     To steal or kill.”
I held her tighter,
     And prayed anew:—
As I spoke, still brighter
     That vision grew.

 

X

Still glassy and shining
     Those walls of flame,
With the sea-weeds twining                                                     83
         Around their feet;
More large the place’s
     Great towers became,
Till I saw the faces
         In the golden street.
I saw and knew them
     (The Lord’s my guide!)
As the water drew them
     From side to side;
I saw the creatures,
     And I knew them then—
The wool-white features
     Of drownëd men!

 

XI

Upright they drifted,
     All wet and cold,
By the sea-wash lifted
         Like the red sea-tang,
While in wild sad cadence,
     From the towers of gold,
The pale sea-maidens
         Struck harps and sang
O shule, shule,
     O shule, aroon!”*

* “Come, come, my darling, come!”

I tell thee truly,                                                                         84
     I heard them croon;
Then I heard that thunder
     Roll deep once more,
And I swooned for wonder
     On the yellow shore!

 

XII

When I raised in sorrow
     My fearful face,
The Midian-Mara
         Was fled from me;
Without repining
     I left the place,
As the Moon rose shining
         Beyond the sea.
And my feet went faster
     To see her light,
For I feared disaster
     If I stayed that night . . .
When God took pity,
     And brought me bread,
I forgot that City
     Of the drownëd dead.

 

[Note:
‘The “Midian-Mara”’ was originally published, as ‘The “Midian-Uara”’, in The Gentleman’s Magazine, December, 1874.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 85

O’CONNOR’S WAKE

AN IRISH FIDDLE TUNE.

 

         TO the wake of O’Connor
               What boy wouldn’t go?
         To do him that honour
               Went lofty and low.
         Two nights was the waking,
         Till day began breaking,
         And frolics past spaking,
               To please him, were done;
         For himself in the middle,
         With stick and with fiddle,
Stretch’d out at his ease, was the King of the Fun.

With a dimity curtain overhead,
And the corpse-lights shining round his bed,
Holding his fiddle and stick, and drest
Top to toe in his Sunday best,
For all the world he seem’d to be
Playing on his back to the companie.
On each of his sides was the candle-light,                                         86
     On his legs the tobacco-pipes were piled;
Cleanly wash’d, in a shirt of white,
His grey hair brush’d, his beard trimm’d right,
     He lay in the midst of his friends, and smiled.
At birth and bedding, at fair and feast,
Welcome as light or the smile of the priest,
Ninety winters up and down
O’Connor had fiddled in country and town.
Never a fiddler was clever as he
At dance or jig or pater-o’-pee;
The sound of his fiddle no word could paint—
’Twould fright the devil or please a saint,
Or bring the heart, with a single skirl,
To the very mouth of a boy or girl.
He played—and his elbow was never done;
     He drank—and his lips were never dry;
Ninety winters his life had run,
     But God’s above, and we all must die.
As she stretch’d him out, quoth Judy O’Roon—
“Sure life’s like his music, and ended soon—
         There’s dancing and crying,
         There’s kissing, there’s sighing,
         There’s smiling and sporting,
         There’s wedding and courting,—
But the skirl of the wake is the end of the tune!”

         “Shin suas, O’Connor,” *                                                       87
               Cried Kitty O'Bride—
         Her best gown upon her,
               Tim Bourke by her side—
         All laughed out to hear her,
         While Tim he crept near her,
         To kiss her and cheer her
         At the back o’ the door;
         But the corpse in the middle,
         With stick and with fiddle,
All done with diversion, would never play more!

On the threshold, as each man entered there,
He knelt on his knee and said a prayer,
But first before he took his seat
     Among the company there that night,
He lifted a pipe from O’Connor’s feet,
     And lit it up by the bright corpse-light.
Chattering there in the cloud of smoke,
They waked him well with song and joke;
The gray old men and the cauliaghs told
Of all his doings in days of old;
The boys and girls till night was done,
Played their frolics and took their fun,
And many a kiss was stolen sure
Under the window and behind the door.

* “Play up, O’Connor!”
Old woman.

Andy Hagan and Kitty Delane                                                          88
     Hid in a corner and courted there,
Monamondioul!” cried old Tim Blane,
     Pointing them out, “they’re a purty pair!”
But when they blushed and hung the head,
“Troth, never be shamed!” the old man said;
“Sure love’s as short as the flowers in June,
And life’s like music, and ended soon—
         There’s wooing and wedding,
         There’s birth and there’s bedding,
         There’s grief and there’s pleasure
         To fill up the measure,—
But the skirl of the wake is the end of the tune!”

         At the wake of O’Connor
               Great matches were made,
         To do him more honour
               We joked and we played—
         Two nights was the waking,
         Till day began breaking,
         The cabin was shaking
               Before we were done,
         And himself in the middle,
         With stick and with fiddle,
As large as in life, was the King of the Fun!

“Well, I remember,” said Tony Carduff,                                             89
Drawing the pipe from his lips with a puff,
“Well, I remember at Ballyslo’,—
And troth and it’s thirty years ago,—
In the midst of the fair there fell a fight,
     And who but O’Connor was in the middle?
Striking and crying with all his might,
     And with what for weapon? the ould black fiddle!
That day would have ended its music straight
     If it hadn’t been strong as an iron pot;
Tho’ the blood was on it from many a pate,
     Troth, divil a bit of harm it got!”
Cried Michael na Chauliuy,* “And troth that’s true—
Himself and the fiddle were matched by few.
They went together thro’ every weather,
Full of diversion and tough as leather,—
I thought he'd never think of dying,
But Jesus keep us!—there he’s lying.”
Then the cauliaghs squatting round on the floor
Began to keenagh and sob full sore;
“God be good to the ould gossoon!
Sure life’s like music, and ended soon.
         There’s playing and plighting,
         There’s frolic and fighting,

* “Michael the Ferryman;” lit. “belonging to the ferry.”
To cry,as during the coronach at a funeral.

         There’s singing and sighing,                                                     90
         There’s laughing and crying,—
But the skirl of the wake is the end of the tune!”

         At the wake of O’Connor,
               The merry old man,
         To wail in his honour
               The cauliaghs began;
         And Rose, Donnell’s daughter
         From over the water,
         Began (sure saints taught her!)
               The sweet drimindhu;*
         All was still;—in the middle,
         With stick and with fiddle,
O’Connor, stretched silent, seem’d hearkening too!

Oh, ’twas sweet as the crooning of fairies by night,
Oh, ’twas sad,—as you listened, you smiled in delight,
With the tears in your eyes; it was like a shower falling,
When the rainbow shines thro’ and the cuckoo is calling;
You might feel through it all, as the sweet notes were given,
The peace of the Earth and the promise of Heaven!
In the midst of it all the sweet singer did stand,
With a light on her hair, like the gleam of a hand;

* A melancholy ditty.

She seemed like an angel to each girl and boy,                                   91
But most to Tim Cregan, who watch’d her in joy,
And when she had ended he led her away,
And whisper’d his love till the dawning of day.
After that, cried Pat Rooney, the rogue of a lad,
“I’ll sing something merry—the last was too sad!”
And he struck up the song of the Piper of Clare,
How the bags of his pipes were beginning to tear,
And how, when the cracks threaten’d fairly to end them,
He cut up his own leather breeches to mend them!
How we laugh’d, young and old! “Well, beat that if you can,”
Cried fat Tony Bourke, the potheen-making man—
“Who sings next?” Tony cried, and at that who came in,
Dancing this way and that way in midst of the din,
But poor Shamus the Fool? and he gave a great spring—
“By the cross, merry boys, ’tis mysilf that can sing!”
Then he stood by the corpse, and he folded his hands,
And he sang of the sea and the foam on the sands,
Of the shining skiddawn* as It flies to and fro,
Of the birds of the waves and their wings like the snow.
Then he sank his voice lower and sang with strange sound
Of the caves down beneath and the beds of the drown’d,
Till we wept for the boys who lie where the wave rolls,
With no kinsmen to stretch them and wake their poor souls.

* Herring.

When he ceased. Shamus looked at the corpse, and he said,              92
“Sure a dacenter man never died in his bed!”
And at that the old cauliaghs began to croon:
“Sure life’s like his music, and ended as soon—
         There’s dancing and sporting,
         There’s kissing and courting,
         There’s grief and there’s pleasure
         To fill up the measure,—
But the skirl of the wake is the end of the tune.”

         “A health to O’Connor!”
               Fat Anthony said:
         “We’ll drink in the honour
               Of him that is dead.”
         A two-gallon cag, then,
         Did Anthony drag then
         From out his old bag then,
               While all there grew keen.
         ’Twas sweet, strong, and filling—
         His own best distilling!
Oh, well had the dead man loved Tony’s potheen!*

Then the fun brightened up; but of all that befell
It would take me a long day in summer to tell—
Of the dancing and singing, the leaping and sporting,
And sweetest of all, the sly kissing and courting!

* Whisky, illicitly distilled.

Two nights was the waking; two long winter nights                            93
O’Connor lay smiling in mídst of the lights.
In the cloud of the smoke like a cloud of the skies,
The blessing upon him, to close his old eyes.
Oh, when the time comes for myself to depart,
     May I die full of days like the merry old man!
I’ll be willing to go with the peace on my heart,
     Contented and happy, since life’s but a span;
And O may I have, when my lips cease to spake,
To help my poor soul, such an elegant wake!
The country all there, friends and kinsmen and all,
And myself in the middle, with candle and pall! . . .
Came the dawn, and we put old O’Connor to rest,
In his coffin of wood, with his hands on his breast,
And we followed him all by the hundred and more,—
The boys all in black, and his friends sighing sore.
We left him in peace, the poor sleeping gossoon,
Thinking, “Life’s like his music, and ended too soon.
         There’s laughing and sporting,
         There’s kissing and courting,
         There’s grief and there’s pleasure
         To fill up the measure,—
But the wake and the grave are the end of the tune!”

         “Good-bye to O’Connor,”
               Cried Barnaby Blake,
         “May the saints do him honour                                                94
               For the ould fiddle’s sake!
         If the saints love sweet playing—
         It’s the thruth that I’m saying—
         His sowl will be straying
               And fiddling an air!
         He’ll pass through their middle,
         With stick and with fiddle,
And they’ll give him the cead mile fealta* up there!”

* “Hundred thousand welcomes.”

     NOTE.—The preceding Poem is a literal description of a wake in the wildest and loneliest part of Connaught. Several of the characters—e.g. Shamus the Fool—are well known to the mountaineers and fishermen of that untrodden district, where the old Celtic tongue is still spoken in its purity and the old Celtic customs are still practised, and where the author, in almost complete seclusion, passed four happy years.

 

[Note:
‘O’Connor’s Wake’ was originally published in The Gentleman’s Magazine, November, 1874.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 95

THE WHITE DEER

THE hunter leaps from slumber,
     And quits his cottage door;
Days and nights without number,
     Forth he has fared before.

Still the old quest is sorest,
     The hunter’s heart is cold;
He seeks the deer of the forest
     With mystical horns of gold.

Dim as a dream it glimmers
     Through the dark forest glades,
Passes with starlight tremors,
     Trances the sight and fades.

By the dim quiet fountain
     Lies the print of its form;
Up mid the cloud of the mountain
     Cries its voice in the storm!

Not a bullet or arrow                                                              96
     Hath reached its bosom yet,
And though the ways are narrow,
     It steps through noose and net.

The hunter’s cheek is sickly,
     Time hath silvered his hair,
His weary breath comes quickly,
     He trembleth in despair.

Many a one before him
     Hath been a hunter here,
Then, with the sad sky o’er him,
     Died in quest of the deer.

See, the day is dying!
     See, the hunter is spent!
Under the dark trees lying;
     Perishing ill content.

Ev’n as his sad eyes darken,
     Stirs the boughs of the glade,
He gathers his strength to hearken,
     Peering into the shade.

And lo, with a soft light streaming,
     Stainless and dimly bright,
Stands with its great eyes gleaming
     The mystical deer, snow-white!

Closer it comes up creeping,                                                   97
     With burning beautiful eyes—
Then, as he falls back sleeping,
     Touches his lips and flies!

 

II

The live foot ever fleeing,
     It comes to the dying and dead—
Oh, hope in the darkness of being;
     Methinks I hear thy tread.

Around, above me, and under,
     God’s forest is closing dim;
I chase the mystical wonder,
     Footsore and weary of limb.

Down in the dim recesses,
     Up on the heights untrod,
Eluding our dreams and guesses,
     Slips the secret of God.

Only seen by the dying,
     In the last spectral pain;
Just as the breath is flying—
     Flashing and fading again.

White mystery, might I view thee!                                            98
     Bright wonder, might we meet!
Ever as I pursue thee,
     I see the print of thy feet.

Ever those feet are roaming,
     Ever we follow in quest;
While thou hauntest the gloaming
     Never a soul shall rest.

 

[Note:
‘The White Deer’ was originally published in Cassell’s Magazine, July, 1874.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 99

CONVENT-ROBBING

(OLD STYLE)

 

MAY MARGARET felt a cold cloud come down on her—
They made her a nun and put a black gown on her;
                   Young Roland went white
                   Thro’ the winter moonlight,
Looming tall in the breath of the frost every night,
And gazed at the Convent, and plann’d how to win her there,
And his cheek gather’d dew till the dawn, and grew thinner there.

“A ruse, ho, a ruse!” cried his brother, Clerk John, to him,
When in vain both the monks and the leeches had gone to him,—
                   “Cease to fume and to frown,
                   Close thine eyes, lie thee down,
Stretch thee straight on a bier in thy chilly death-gown;
The great bell shall ring, and thy house gather gloom in it,
While I’ll to the Convent, and beg thee a tomb in it!”

The Convent bell tolls, hung with black are the porches there,                     100
Come tall black pall-bearers and pages with torches there,
                   Then the bier,—and thereon
                   The pale youth dead and gone!
And behind, grim as Death, weeping sore, goes Clerk John!
And the chapel is dark, as the bearers pace slow in it,
And all the black nuns stand with lights in a row in it.

Ah! chill is the chapel, the great bell chimes weary there,
Black bearers, black nuns, and black pages, look dreary there;
                   The youth lies in death,
                   Not a syllable saith;
But the tiny frost-cloud on his lips is his breath!—
And the shroud round his limbs hath bright armour of steel in it
And his hand, gloved in mail, grips the sword it can feel in it!

Ho, she screameth,—May Margaret! kneels by the side of him!—
“White Mary above, be the guardian and guide of him!
                   They plighted us twain,
                   Yet we parted in pain,
And ah! that so soon I should clasp him again!”
Wan, wan, is her cheek, with dim torch-light the while on it—                      101
Does she dream? . . Has the face changed? . . and is there a smile on it?

She holds his cold hand to her heart, and doth call on him,
Drop by drop, warm and scented, her tender tears fall on him;
                   The nuns, sable-gown’d,
                   Chanting low, stand around;
Clerk John bites his lips, with his eyes on the ground . .
“Dear heart, that we meet but in woe such as this again!”
Then she kisses his lips!—Does she dream? . . Did he kiss again?

Who opens the door with a terrible shout at once?—
A great wind sweeps in, and the lights are blown out at once!
                   The Abbess screams low,
                   Moan the nuns in a row,
Thro’ the porch sweeps the wind and the sleet and the snow,
But the moon thro’ the quaint-colour’d windows is beaming now,—
And wonderful shapes round the bier gather gleaming now!—

The sable pall-bearers and pages are new-arrayed,                                    102
In armour that glitters like golden dew arrayed!
                   How chill the moon glows!
                   How it blows! how it snows!
Yet May Margaret’s cheek is as red as a rose!
And “a miracle,” murmurs the Abbess so holy now,
For shiningly vested the dead rises slowly now!

He draweth May Margaret’s sweet blushing cheek to him,
She kisses him softly, yet strives not to speak to him;
                   The nuns sable-gown’d
                   Shiver dismally round,
As he lifteth the great sable pall from the ground,
And turneth it deftly, and flingeth it over her,—
And a mantle of ermine doth clothe her and cover her!

On the floor of the chapel their foot-falls sound hollow now,
Clerk John and the rest very silently follow now . . .
                   Hark! is it the beat
                   Of horses’ feet?
Or the wild wind whistling in snow and in sleet?
Down the aisles of the chapel the wild echoes die away,
While fast in the snow-storm the happy ones hie away!

“Saints,” crieth the Abbess, “pour down your dole on us!
To take our sweet sister the devil hath stole on us!”
                   And the nuns, in a row,                                                          103
                   Murmur slyly and low—
“Ah! would he might come unto us also!”
And they look at the bier, with the tingle of sin on them,
And the moon blushes faintly, still glimmering in on them.

Ay, fast in the snow-storm gallop the lovers now!
Young Roland’s warm castle their merriment covers now!
                   To the bower they have run,
                   For the bridal is done,
And the jolly old priest hath made them one:
“May all who love true,” cries the youth, “win such kisses, dear,
Die such death,—and be tomb’d in a bower such as this is, dear!”

 

[Note:
‘Convent-Robbing’ was originally published in The Argosy, November, 1866, under the pseudonym, ‘Walter Hutcheson’. ‘Convent-Robbing’ is a complete reworking of the story of ‘Cloister Robbing’ which appears in Ballad Stories of the Affections: From the Scandinavian (1866).]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 104

HIGHLAND LAMENT

“O MAR tha mi! ’tis the wind that’s blowing,
     O mar tha mi! ’tis the sea that’s white!
’Tis my own brave boatman was up and going
     From Uist to Barra at dead of night;
Body of black and wings of red
     His boat went out on the stormy sea.
O mar tha mi! can I sleep in my bed?
     O gillie dubh! come back to me!

“O mar tha mi! is it weed out yonder?
     Is it drifting weed or a tangled sail?
On the shore I wait and watch and wander.
     It’s calm this day, after last night’s gale.
O this is the skiff with wings so red,
     And it floats upturned on the glassy sea.
O mar tha mi! is my boatman dead?
     O gillie dubh! come back to me!

“O mar tha mi! ’tis a corpse that’s sleeping,                                      105
     Floating there on the slippery sands;
His face is drawn and his locks are dreeping,
     His arms are stiff and he’s clench’d his hands.
Turn him up on his slimy bed,
     Clean his face from the weed o’ the sea.
O mar tha mi! ’tis my boatman dead!
     O gillie dubh! won’t you look at me?

“O mar tha mi! ’tis my love that’s taken!
     O mar tha mi! I am left forlorn!
He’ll never kiss and he’ll never waken,
     He’ll never look on the babe unborn.
His blood is water, his heart is lead,
     He’s dead and slain by the cruel sea.
O mar tha mi! I am lone in my bed,
     My gillie dubh is lost to me!”

 

                                                                                                                                                                 106

THE MINISTER AND THE ELFIN

 

I

“O WHO among ye will win for me 
The soul of the Preacher of Woodilee?
For he prays, he preaches, he labours sore,
He cheats me alike of rich and poor,
And his cheek is pale with a thought divine,
And I would, I would, that he were mine?”
“O surely I will win for thee
The Minister of Woodilee;
Round and around the elfin tree,
Where we are fleeting in company,
The minister of Woodilee,
Laughing aloud, shall dance with me!”

 

II

The Minister rode in the white moonshine,
His face was pale with his thought divine,
And he saw beneath the greenwood tree
As sweet a maiden as well could be:
My hair of gold to my feet fell bright,                                                107
My eyes were blue, and my brow was white,
My skin was fresh as the milk of kine
Mingled with drops of red red wine,
And they shone thro’ my dress o’ the silk with gleam
Like a lover’s face thro’ a thin light dream;
But the sickness of death was in mine ee,
And my face was pallid and sad to see,
And I moaned aloud as the man came near,
And I heard him mutter a prayer in fear!

 

III

But the Minister, when he look’d on me,
Leapt down and set my head on his knee,
Wet my lips with the running stream,
And I open’d my eyes as in a dream,
I open’d my eyes and look’d on him,
And his head whirl’d round and his cheek grew dim!
I kiss’d him twice, I kiss’d him thrice,
Till he kiss’d again with lips of ice,
Till he kiss’d again with lips of stone,
And clasped me close to his cold breast-bone;
And tho’ his face was weary and sad,
He laugh’d aloud and seem’d mad, so mad.
Then up to my feet I leapt in glee,
And round and round and around went we,
Under the moonlit greenwood tree!

                                                                                                       108

IV

He leapt on his steed and home rode he,
The Minister of Woodilee;
And when at the door of the manse he rein’d,
With blood his lips were damp’d and stain’d,
And he pray’d a prayer for his shame and sin,
And dropt a tear as he enter’d in,
But the smile divine from his face had fled,
When he laid him down on his dying bed.

 

V

“O thanks, for thou hast won for me
The Minister of Woodilee,
Who nevermore, O nevermore,
Shall preach and pray and labour sore,
And cheat me alike of rich and poor,
For the smile divine no more wears he—
Hasten and bring his soul to me!”

 

VI

Oh, off I ran his soul to win,
And the grey grey manse I enter’d in,
And I saw him lying on his bed,
With book and candle at his head;
But when he turn’d him, weary and weak,                                        109
A smile and a tear were on his cheek,
And he took my hand and kiss’d it thrice
Tho’ his lips were clammy cold as ice.
“O wherefore, wherefore, kiss thou sae
One who has stolen thy soul away?”
Then over his face sae pale with pain
The thought divine came back again,
And “I love thee more for the shame,” he said,
“I love thee more on my dying bed,
And I cannot, cannot love thee less,
Tho’ my heart is wae for its wickedness;
I love thee better, I love thee best,
Sweet Spirit that errest and wanderest;
Colder and colder my blood doth run,
I pray for thee, pray for thee, little one!”
Then I heard the bell for the dying toll,
And I reach’d out hands to seize his soul,
But I trembled and shriek’d to see as he died
An angel in white at his bedside! 
And I fled away to the greenwood tree,
Where the elves were fleeting in company,
And I hate my immortality,
And ’twere better to be a man and dee!

 

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

_____

 

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