ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour 1882}

 

                                                                                                                                                                 110

THE BALLAD OF THE WAYFARER

(OLD STYLE.)

 

                   O’ER the cheerless common,
                         Where the bleak winds blow,
                   Wanders the wan Woman;
                   Waysore and weary,
                   Through the dark and dreary
                         Drift-bed of the Snow.
On her pale pinch’d features snowing ’tis and sleeting,
By her side her little Son runs with warm heart beating,
Clinging to her wet robe, while she wails repeating:
     “Further, my child, further—further let us go!”

                   Fleet the Boy doth follow,
                         Wondering at her woe;
                   On, with footfall hollow,
                   O’er the pathway jagged
                   Crawls she wet and ragged,
                         Restless and slow.
“Mother!” now he murmurs, mid the tempest’s crying,                                111
“Mother, rest a little—I am faint with flying—
Mother, rest a little!” Still she answers sighing,
     “Further, child, and faster—further let us go!”

                   But now she is sitting
                         On a stone, and lo!
                   Dark her brows are knitting,
                   While the Child, close clinging
                   To her raiment wringing,
                         Shivers at the snow.
“Tell me of my father! for I never knew him
Is he dead or living, are we flying to him?”
“Peace, my child!” she answers, and the voice thrills through him;
     “When we wander further—further!—thou shalt know.”

                   (Wild wind of December,
                         Blow, wind, blow!—)
                   “Oh, but I remember!
                   In my mind I gather
                   Pictures of my father,
                         And a gallant show.
Tell me, mother, tell me—did we always wander?
Was the world once brighter? In some town out yonder                             112
Dwelt we not contented?” Sad she seems to ponder,
     Sighing “I will tell thee—when we further go.”

                   “Oh, but, Mother, listen!
                         We were rich, I know!
                   (How his bright eyes glisten!)
                   We were merry people,
                   In a town with a steeple,
                         Long, long ago;
In a gay room dwelling, where your face shone brightly,
And a brave man brought us food and presents nightly.
Tell me, ’twas my father?” Now her face looms whitely,
     While she shivers moaning, “Peace, let us go!”

                   How the clouds gather!
                         How the winds blow!
                   “Who was my father?
                   Was he Prince or Lord there,
                   With a train and a sword there?
                         Mother, I will know!—
I have dreamt so often of those gallant places;
There were banners waving—I could see the faces—
Take me to my father!” cries he with embraces,
     While she shivers moaning, “No, child, no!”

                   While the child is speaking,                                                     113
                       Forth the moon steals slow,
                   From the black cloud breaking,
                   Shining white and eerie
                   On the wayside weary,
                         Shrouded white in snow.
On the heath behind them, ’gainst the dim sky lying,
Looms the Gallows blackly, in the wild wind sighing.
To her feet the woman springs! with fierce shriek crying—
     “See! Oh, God in heaven! . . . . Woe, child, woe!”

                   (Blow, wind of December,
                         Blow, wind, blow!—)
                   “Thou canst not remember—
                   Thou wert but a blossom
                   Suckled on my bosom,
                         Years, years ago!
Thy father stole to feed us; our starving faces stung him;
In yonder town behind us, they seized him and they hung him!
They murdered him on Gallows-Tree, and to the ravens flung him!
     Faster, my child, faster—faster let us go!”

 

[Note:
‘The Ballad of the Wayfarer’ was originally published in The Saint Pauls Magazine, September, 1872 under the pseudonym, ‘T. M.’]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 114

JAMES AVERY

At Portsmouth, in a tavern dark,
     One day of windy weather,
A crew of reckless sailors sat,
     And drank their grog together.

Loud was the talk, and rude the joke,
     So deep the jovial din
They did not mark a lean, wild shape
     Who shivering enter’d in:

A beggar wight, who hugg’d his rags,
     And chatter’d with the cold;
Lean was his shape, his eye-balls dim,
     Wrinkled his cheek, and old.

In a dark corner of the room
     He sat with sorry cheer,
Not list’ning, till a word, a name,
     Fell on his frozen ear.

“James Avery!” and as he spake                                             115
     One pointed thro’ the pane
At a great playbill on the wall
     Of the damp and oozy lane.

On the dead wall the letters great
     Made tempting bright display:
James Avery, the Pirate King,
     Was posted that night’s play.

“Ay!” cried a tar, reading aloud,
     “Well might they call him so!
The Pirate King—I grudge his luck!”
     Then, with an oath, “I’ll go.”

Another cried, “Ah, that’s the life
     To suit a sailor’s style
Ben Conway saw his palace, mates,
     On Madagascar Isle;

“And on a throne, in red and gold,
     Jem sat like any king,
With dark-eyed donnas all around,
     As fresh as flowers in spring!

“They brought him wine in cups of gold,
     And each knelt on her knee—
Each mother-naked, smooth as silk—                                     116
     Ah, that’s the life for me!”

Then spake a third, “I sailed with Jem
     On board the ‘Hurricane;’
When he deserted I ne’er thought
     To hear of him again.

“And now it’s long since last I heard
     His name, and p’raps he’s dead.”
“Not so; he only takes a nap!”
     A grizzly war’s-man said.

“He has a fleet of fighting ships,
     Swifter than ours tenfold;
Last spring he took six Indiamen,
     Laden with gems and gold.

“There’s not a corner of the main
     But knows the skull and bones—
Up goes the flag! and down comes Jem,
     As sure as Davy Jones.

“But let him have his fling; some day
     We’ll catch him at his trade—
Short shrift! a rope! and up he goes,
     And all his pranks are played.”

All laughed; “But not so fast,” cried one;                                 117
     “It’s not too late, I vow;
His Majesty would pardon him,
     If he’d surrender now.

“The pardon’s in the newspapers,
     In black and white it’s there;
If pirate Jem will cease his games,
     They’ll spare his life, they swear!”

All laugh’d again—“Jem’s wide awake—
     You don’t catch birds with chaff—
Come back to biscuit and salt junk?
     He is too ’cute by half.

“Leave all his gold and precious stones,
     His kingdom, and all that,
Bid all them dark-eyed girls farewell
     For labour,—and the cat?”

Ev’n as they speak, a wretched form
     Springs up before their eyes.
“Give me the paper! let me read!”
     The famished creature cries.

They thrust him back with jeer and laugh,
     So wild and strange is he . . .
“Why, who’s this skeleton?” . . A voice                                  118
     Answers, “James Avery!

Louder they laugh—”He’s mad! he’s mad!”
     They round him in a ring.
“Jem here in rags! no, he’s in luck,
     As grand as any king!”

But soon he proves his story true
     With eager words and tones;
Then, as he ends, “Bread, give me bread!
     I’m starving, mates!” he moans.

“Nay, drink!” they cry; and his lean hands
     Clutch at the fiery cup.
“Here’s to the King who pardons me!”
     He cries, and drinks it up.

He tells them of his weary days
     Since that dark hour he fled,
A hunted thing, without a home
     Wherein to lay his head.

Through some mysterious freak of fate,
     His name abroad was spread,
And not a wondrous deed was done
     But that wild name was said;

And all the time James Avery dwelt                                         119
     An outcast, gaunt and grim,
Till creeping home that day he heard
     His King had pardoned him.

The wild drink mounted to his brain,
     He revell’d maniac-eyed,
“Come to the playhouse—’twill be sport
     To see thyself!” they cried.

Between them, down the narrow street
     They led his scarecrow form—
The wind blew chill from off the sea,
     Before the rising storm.

They sat and saw the mimic play,
     Till late into the night:—
The happy Pirate, crown’d with gold,
     And clad in raiment bright.

The actor swagger’d on the stage
     And drank of glorious cheer, . . .
James Avery gazed! his hungry laugh
     Was pitiful to hear!

They parted . . . As the chill white dawn
     Struck down a lonely lane,
It flashed upon the rainy wall                                                   120
     And made the play-bill plain.

James Avery, the Pirate King!
     The mocking record said—
Beneath, James Avery’s famish’d form
     Lay ragged, cold, and dead!

 

[Note:
‘James Avery’ was originally published, as ‘James Avery, The Pirate King’, in Cassell’s Magazine, March, 1874.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 121

THE DEVIL’S PEEPSHOW

(OLD STYLE)

 

As thro’ the Town of Vanity I trod,
I heard one calling in the name of God,
And turning I beheld a wan-eyed wight,
Clad in a garment that had once been bright,
Who, while a few pale children gathered round,
Did plant his faded Peepshow on the ground.
Trembling the children peep’d; and lingering nigh,
E’en thus I heard the ragged Showman cry:—

 

I

Now first your eye will here descry
     How all the world begun:
The earth green-dight, the ocean bright,
     The moon, the stars, the sun.
All yet is dark; but you will mark,
     While round this sphere is spun,
A Hand so bare moves here and there,
     Whence rays of ruby run.
I pull a string, and everything
     Is finish’d bright and new,
Tho’ dim as dream all yet doth seem;
     And this, God wot, is true.

                                                                                                       122

II

Now this, you see, is Eden Tree,
     In Eden’s soil set deep;
Beneath it lies with closëd eyes
     Strong Adam, fast asleep.
All round, the scene is gold and green,
     And silver rivers creep;
Him on the grass the wild beasts pass,
     As mild and tame as sheep.
My bell I ring; I pull a string;
     And on the self-same spot,
From Adam’s side God takes his Bride;
     And this is true, God wot.

 

III

There still doth shine the Tree Divine,
     Flush’d with a purple flame,
And hand in hand our parents stand,
     Naked, but have no shame.
Now Adam goes to take repose
     While musing sits his Dame;
When, over her, the blest boughs stir,
     To show how Satan came.
A Snake so bright, with horns of light,
     Green leaves he rustles thro’,
Fair Eve descries with wondering eyes;
     And this, God wot, is true.

                                                                                                       123

IV

Now pray perceive, how over Eve
     The fruits forbidden grow.
With hissing sound the Snake twines round,
     His eyes like rubies glow.
“Fair Eve,” he says (in those old days
     Snakes spoke) and louteth low,
“This fruit you see upon the Tree
     Shall make you see and know. . . .”
My bell I ring; I pull a string;
     And on the self-same spot
Fair Eve doth eat the Fruit so sweet;
     And this is true, God wot.

 

V

A CHILD

Please, why did He who made the Tree,
     Our Father in the sky,
Let it grow there, so sweet and fair,
     To tempt our Parents’ eye?

 

SHOWMAN

My pretty dear, it is most clear
     He wish’d their strength to try;
And therefore sent, with wise intent,
     The Serpent swift and sly.
I pull a string, and there (poor thing!)                                                 124
     Stands Adam eating too!
And now, you mark, all groweth dark;
     And this, God wot, is true.

 

VI

Now, you discern, a voice so stern
     Cries “Adam, where art thou?”
’Tis God the Lord, by all adored,
     Walks there; and all things bow.
But with his Bride doth Adam hide
     His guilty, burning brow;
And of fig-leaves each sinner weaves
     A guilty apron now.
My bell I ring; I pull a string;
     And from that pleasant spot
A Sword of Flame drives man and dame;
     And this is true, God wot.

 

VII

Now wipe the glass. And we will pass
     To quite another scene:
In a strange land two Altars stand,
     One red, the other green;
The one of blood right sweet and good,
     The other weeds, I ween!
And there, full plain, stands frowning Cain,                                       125
     And Abel spruce and clean.
I pull a string; and every thing
     Grows dark and sad anew,—
There Abel lies with dying eyes!
     And this, God wot, is true.

 

VIII

The wicked Cain has Abel slain
     All with a burning brand;
And now, sad sight, an Angel bright
     Doth mark him with his hand.

 

A CHILD

What specks so red are those that spread
     Behind them as they stand?

 

SHOWMAN

The sparks you see the wild eyes be,
     Countless as grains of sand,
Of all those men who have, since then,
     Shed blood in any land!
In grief and pain they look at Cain,
     Aghast on that sad spot;
And all around blood soaks the ground;
     And this is true, God wot.

                                                                                                       126

IX

My bell I ring; I pull a string:
     Now, Father Noah you mark—
Sleeping he lies, with heavy eyes,
     All full of wine, and stark.
But now, behold! that good man old
     A Voice in dream doth hark;
And the Voice cries, “O Noah, arise!
     And build thyself an Ark.”
Again I ring; and pull a string;
     And all is water blue,
Where, floating free, the Ark you see;
     And this, God wot, is true.

 

X

Thus God the Lord, with his great Word,
     Did bid the waters rise,
To drown and kill all things of ill
     He made beneath the skies.
The Lord saved none, but Noah alone,
     His kith and kin likewise;
Two of each beast, both great and least;
     Two of each bird that flies.
My bell I ring; I pull a string;
     And on the self-same spot,
The water sinks, the bright Bow blinks;
     And this is true, God wot.

                                                                                                       127

XI

O day and night, unto your sight
     Such wonders shown might be,
But to conclude this Peepshow good,
     You Heaven and Hell shall see:
The shining things, with spangled wings,
     Who smile and sing so free;
The crew of shame, who in hell-flame
     Complain eternallie!
My bell I ring; I pull a string;
     And you them both may view—
The blest on high, the curst who cry:—
     And this, Got wot, is true.

 

XII

A CHILD

How can they bear, who sit up there
     In shining robes so gay,
From Heaven to peer, without a tear,
     On those who scream and pray?

 

SHOWMAN

Why, those who burn had, you must learn,
     As fair a chance as they—
But Adam’s fall doth doom them all
     Upon God’s judgment day.
I thus conclude with moral good,                                                       128
     Not soon to be forgot;
And you must own what I have shown
     Is solemn sooth, Got wot.

 

XIII

A LITTLE BOY

O look at him, that showman grim,
     A frown is on his cheek;
Come away quick, for I am sick
     Whene’er I hear him speak!

 

A GIRL

Along this way, last Holy Day,
     In blessëd Whitsun’ week,
There passed a wight, so sweet and bright
     He seemed an Angel meek:
He bare, also, an old Peep-show,
     But prettier far to view,
And loud cried He “O look and see!
     For all, God wot, is true!”

 

XIV

CHILDREN

And did you peep? and did you weep
     To see the pictures wild?

                                                                                                       129

GIRL

Ah nay, ah nay, I laughed, full gay,
     I looked and laughed and smiled!
For I discern’d, with bright face turned
     On mine, a little Child;
And round him, bright burn’d many a light,
     And cakes and sweets were piled;
And scents most rare fill’d all the air
     All round the heavenly spot,
While loud and wide that Showman cried—
     “This is our Lord, God wot!”

 

XV

FIRST CHILD

’Twas Jesus Child! so good and mild!
     He grew on Mary’s breast!

 

GIRL

Sweet were his eyes, his look was wise,
     And his red lips were blest;
I longed, I wis, those lips to kiss,
     And by his side to rest.
This man’s Peepshow is strange, I know,
     But the other was the best!
Now let us go where daisies blow,
     Sweet ferns, and speedwells blue,
And Posies make for Christ His sake,
     For He is bright and true!

                                                                                                       130

XVI

SHOWMAN (solus)

Folk, I’m afraid, are changed; my trade
     Grows worse each day, I know.
How they did throng when I was young,
     To see this very Show!
My rivals pass, and lad and lass
     Follow where’er they go,
While up and down, from town to town,
     I creep, most sad and slow.
I too must try some novel cry,
     Lest I be quite forgot:
These pictures old that I unfold
     Have ceased to please, God wot!

 

[Note:
‘The Devil’s Peepshow’ was originally published, as ‘The Peepshow: or, The Old Theology and the New’, in The Gentleman’s Magazine, June, 1875.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 131

THE ASRAI

(PROLOGUE TO THE CHANGELING)

 

’TIS midnight, and the light upon my desk
Burns dim and blue, and flickers as I read
The gold-clasp’d tome, whose stainëd yellow leaves
Feel spongy to the touch yet rough with dust,
When Clari, from her chamber overhead,
Her bright hair flowing brighter from the brush,
Steals in, and peeps, and sits upon my knee,
And winds her gentle arms around my neck,
Then sidelong peeping, on the page antique
Rains her warm looks, and kisses as I read.

“Before man grew of the four elements
The Asrai grew of three—fire, water, air—
Not earth,—they were not earthly. That was ere
The opening of the golden eye of day:
The world was silvern,—moonlight mystical
Flooded her silent continents and seas,—                                           [2:6]
And in green places the pale Asrai walked                                        132
To deep and melancholy melody,
Musing, and cast no shades.
                                               “These could not die
As men die: Death came later; pale yet fair,
Pensive yet happy, in the lonely light                                                   [2:12]
The Asrai wander’d, choosing for their homes
All gentle places—valleys mossy deep,
Star-haunted waters, yellow strips of sand
Kissing the sad edge of the shimmering sea,                                        [2:16]
And porphyry caverns in the gaunt hill-sides,                                      [2:17]
Frosted with gems and dripping diamond dews
In mossy basins where the water black
Bubbled with wondrous breath. The world was pale,
And these were things of pallor; flowers and scents,
All shining things, came later; later still,                                               [2:22]
Ambition, with thin hand upon his heart,
Crept out of night and hung the heights of heaven                                [2:24]
With lights miraculous; later still, man dug
Out of the caves the thick and golden glue
That knits together the stone ribs of earth.
Nor flowers, nor scents, the pallid Asrai knew,
Nor burning aspiration heavenward,
Nor blind dejection downward under earth
After the things that glitter. Their desires
Shone stationary—gentle love they felt                                               [2:32]
For one another—in their sunless world                                       133 [2:33]
Silent they walked and mused, knowing no guile,
With lives that flow’d within as quietly
As rain-drops dripping with bright measured beat
From mossy cavern-eaves.”
                                               O Love! My love!
How thy heart beats! how the fond kisses rain!
We cannot love like those—ours is a pain,
A tumult, a delirium, a dream.
O little one of four sweet elements,
Fire on thy face, and moisture in thine eyes,
Thy white breast heaving with the balmy air,                                       [2:44]
And in thy heart and on thy kissing mouth
The warmth, the joy, the impulse, and delight
Of the enamour’d gentle-hearted earth
Bright with the flowery fulness of the sun!

 

[Notes:
‘The Asrai’ was originally published in The Saint Pauls Magazine, April, 1872. The following lines were altered for this later version:
v. 2, l. 6: Flooded her glimmering continents and seas,—
v. 2, l. 12: Pensive yet happy, in the silvern light
v. 2, l. 16: Kissing the bright edge of the glittering sea,
v. 2, l. 17: And glittering caverns in the gaunt hill-sides
v. 2, l. 22: All glittering things, came later; later still,
v. 2, l. 24: Crept out of heaven and hung the heights of earth
v. 2, l. 32: Shone stationary—gentle love they knew
v. 2, l. 33: For one another—and in their pale world
v. 2, l. 44: Thy white breast heaving with the rich rare air, ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 134

THE CHANGELING

A LEGEND OF THE MOONLIGHT

 

I

THE ASRAI

“O LET him smile as Mortals may,
     And be like Mortals fair,
And let him tread the wondrous way
     Of golden earth and air;
And let the sun’s celestial ray
Shine on his sense from day to day,
     Far from these waters wan,
Strew flowers and fruits upon his way,
     And make him blest,—like Man!”

Who prays? Who cries? Who is kneeling by night
Down in the Mere in the pale moonlight,
Where pensive Spirits come and go
In gleaming raiments as white as snow,
Walking with silent and solemn tread
That darkling bottom of silvern sands?
Like an azure heaven, far overhead,                                                  135
The surface smooth of the Mere expands,
Strewn thick with glimmers of starry dew
Reflected down from the ether blue
Those Spirits behold not.
                                           Strangely fair,
With flashing fingers and flowing hair,
Her face upturned in the rippling rays,
Down in the Mere the Spirit prays;
And on her bosom there waking lies
Her Asrai babe with glittering eyes,—
Silent, as white as a marble stone,
It lies, but utters a feeble moan.

For ere of the earth, and the air, and the dew,
     And the fire, that fuseth all these to one,
Bright Man was fashion’d, and lived and grew,
     And walked erect in the shining sun,
When the sun itself was eyeless and dark,
     And the earth was wrapped in a starry night,
And the only lights that the eyes might mark
     Were the cold still spheres of a moon snow-white;
Ev’n then, of the dew and the crystal air,
     And the moonray mild, were the Asrai made;
And they walked and mused in the midnight air,
     But they had no souls and they cast no shade.
They knew no hunger and mad desire,                                              136
     No bitter passion of mortal birth,
For they were not fashion’d, like Man, from fire,
     They were not leavened, like Man, with earth—
Cold they were as the pale moonbeam,
Cold and pure as a vestal’s dream.
Serene they dwelt in a silvern world,
     Where throbbing waters stole dusky-white,
Washing the feet of dark capes star-pearl’d,
     And arch’d by rainbows of rippling light.

And when to the pæan of living things,
     To the cry of the new-born worlds around,
Out rolled the Sun, like a shape with wings,
     Mighty with odour, and flame, and sound;
As the dim dew shaken from Earth’s dark hair,
While she woke and gladdened supremely fair,
In the glorious gleam of the natal ray,
The pallid Asrai faded away!
And when with the sunlight’s fiery breath
     Bright Man was moulded, and stood supreme,
Royal, the monarch of life and death,
     Shadow’d with slumber and dower’d with dream,
Their trace was lost; on the human shore
Those sad pale Spirits were seen no more!

. . . Yet far away in the darkened places,                                           137
     Deep in the mountains and under the meres,
A few fair Spirits with sunless faces
     Lingered on with the rolling years,
And listened, listened, luminous-eyed,
While the generations arose and died,
And watch’d, watch’d, with sad surprise,
The gleaming glory of earth and skies,
Beyond their darkness. But ever, by night,
When the moon arose with her gentle light,
The Asrai, hidden from human seeing,
Drank the moonlight that was their being,—
Stirring about with a stealthy tread
On the mountain side, on the water’s bed,
Or singing low and clasping hands,
Shadowless moving on shining sands.

But Earth with the snows of time was grey,
     When one of this race so meek and mild,
An Asrai mother, knelt down to pray,
     To heaven uplifting her little child;
For the Asrai with passionless chilly kiss
     Still mingled darkly as mortals do,
And on their bosoms bare babes like this,
     With hair soft golden and eyes of blue,
Like the eyes of stars!
                                     And she cried that night—                          138
“Blessed indeed is the beauteous light,
And blessed are those sun-phantoms fair,
For the light turns golden on their hair,
And their faces are flowers and their breath is a fire,
And they move about with a sweet desire
In the amber day; and each night they lie
Quietly smiling beneath the sky,
Till the rubies of morning again are shaken
Upon their eyelids, and they awaken!”
And she prayed moreover—“Could this thing be!
Could the child I nurse upon my knee,
My own pale little one, blend with clay,
And grow a thing of divinest day,
Like those fair mortals!”
                                         Then out of the air
There came in answer unto her prayer
A gentle voice; and it whispered, “Rise!
Steal from the water, and under the skies
Find a dead Mother, and on her bed
A new-born Babe that is also dead;
Blend thy Babe with the mortal clay,
And the thing shall be as thou hast prayed—
Thy Child shall walk in the golden day,
     Shall find a Soul, and cast a Shade!

                                                                                                         139

II

THE CHANGELING’S BIRTH

She rises up from the depths of the Mere
And floats away on the surface clear,
Like a swan she sails to the shadowy sands,
And soon on the moonlit earth she stands.
Moonbeam-like in the moonbeams bright,
     A space she lingers upon the shore,
Then steals along thro’ the dusky light
     Up the hill and across the moor.
She sees a light that flashes afar
Thro’ the dark like a crimson star,
Now it glimmers, and now is gone,
For shadows come and go thereon.
It comes from the shepherd’s dwelling lone,
Rudely fashioned of turf and stone;
And the sheep dog barks, and the sheep o’ the fold
Huddle together in wintry cold;
But within the hut the light burns low,
And mortals whispering come and go;
For there on the wretched truckle bed
The wife of the shepherd lieth dead,
And her babe new born by her side doth lie
Closing its eyes with a last faint cry.

. . . The Spirit trembles, as on her hair                                                140
Flasheth the firelight’s crimson glare;
Trembles and fades; but she draweth near,
Eager to see, eager to hear.
Close to the window-pane she flees,
And looketh in!
                                         In the room she sees,
None stir: ’tis empty; but on the bed
The child and mother are lying dead.
The light burns low; the clock ticks slow;
Spectral shadows come and go;
From the room without a murmur creeps
Of whispered words, and one that weeps.

O Moon! still Moon!
Sweet and white as a lily in June,
In the garden of heaven bend thy brows
And waft thy breathing into the house!
For the pallid creature of thy breath
The cottage window openeth,
And stealeth in. Like a moonray bright,
     Holding her own babe in her hands,
And bending above that bed, snow white
     She stands!

Find a dead Mother, and on her bed
A new-born Babe that is also dead.
Blend thy Babe with the mortal clay
                                              141
And the thing shall pass as thou hast prayed:
Thy child shall walk in the golden day,
     Shall find a Soul, and shall cast a Shade.

O Moon! still Moon!
The wonderful spell is woven soon!
Breathe again on her hair and eyes,
As she creepeth out, and under the skies
Listens! O hark! from within is blown
A child’s low murmur, an infant’s moan!
Shadows darken across the pane,
     For the peasants gather wondering-eyed—
The child of the shepherd lives again,
     Smiling awake by the corpse’s side.

 

III

HIS MORTAL LIFE

Weary to tell and weary to hear
Were the mortal life for many a year
Of that changeling child; but he grew on earth,
Knowing nought of his mystic birth,
And ever waxed more strong and fair,
With the glory of daylight on eyes and hair.

And the poor pale Mother Spirit smiled                                             142
From far away on her happy child,
Thinking, “He thrives, and the golden hours
Fill his lap with their fruit and flowers,
And he feels the sun, and he drinks its light,
Growing on to a mortal’s height.”
And ever nightly unseen she came
     And kiss’d him asleep, to her heart’s desire,
Tho’ his breath met hers with the fever’d flame
     Of a fatal fire.

She watched him still with a hunger keen,
     Stronger than mortal mothers know;
She hover’d o’er him, unheard, unseen,
     Wherever his feet might come and go,
In the sunless hours; and all the day
She marked his motion from far away,
And heard his voice, thro’ the shine and the shower,
Like the voice of a bird!

                                         But there came an hour
When the Shepherd who called him son lay dead,
And when he was buried the Changeling said—
“I will take my staff, and will leave this place,
And seek new fortunes—God give me grace
That I prosper well!” And away he went,                                          143
Humming an old tune, well-content,
Hopeful and fearless, merry and gay,
Over the hills and far away;
And all alone!

 

IV

HIS SORROW AND SIN

                                 Yet not alone,
For step by step, and stone by stone,
Where’er he rested—fleet as wind,
His Spirit Mother came behind;
Creeping to darkness all the day,
But ever in the cold moonray
Finding his footprints, kissing them,
And often where his raiment hem
Had brushed the warm dew from the grass,
Strewing pale flowers. Thus did she pass
Till brazen city gates by night
She saw him enter. Still and white,
She followed.

                           Weary to tell and hear
Were the Changeling’s doings for many a year.
But the Spirit saw as the time fled on
That his cheek grew paler, his bright eye shone
Less happy and bright; for he dwelt, behold!                                     144
Where men and women were heaping gold
And counting gems; and a yellow gleam
Shadowed the sight and darkened the dream
Of his gentle face; and by lamplight now
He read and pondered with pallid brow
O’er parchment scrolls, and tomes which told
Of mystic manners of finding gold.

Then, even then, across him came
So strange a change, so fierce a flame,
That he, forgetting fever-fraught
All things but that one thing he sought,
Was wrapt all round with light of dread!
And ever tossing on his bed
He named a woman’s name, and cried
That God would bring her to his side,
His and none other’s; and all day
He fevered in the hot sunray
Behind her footprints. Ne’ertheless
His thirst was turned to bitterness,
His love to pain; and soon by night
The Spirit saw him standing white,
Transfigured in a dumb despair,
And his wild shriek rose on the air,
While from a far off bridal room
Came wafted through the summer gloom                                           145
The sound of harps and lutes!

                                       Then came
Long days and nights of sin and shame.
For in his agony the Man
Kept hideous orgies, and his wan
Wild features gleamed in ghastly mirth,
While naked women-snakes of earth
Twined round him fawning; and he drew
Dark curtains, shutting out the blue,
And the sweet sun; and all the nights,
In feverish flash of ghastly lights,
He slew pure sleep with sounds of sin.
Then the pale Mother peeping in
Beheld his mad distorted face,
And knew it not!

                         Time sped apace,
And lo! he changed, and forth again
He fared, amid a mighty train,
A Warrior now; and to the sound
Of martial strains his head swam round,
His heart kept time; while overhead
Strange suns of sorrow glimmered red.

. . . Weary to tell and weary to hear                                                  146
The Changeling’s doings for many a year!
Weary to tell how the Spirit dim
Moaning in misery followed him,
For whene’er she gazed on his features now,
On the bearded chin and the branded brow,
She shuddered, and often, when she crept
Into the tent where the warrior slept,
     She saw on his hand a blood-red stain.

And she kissed the stain again and again
With her cold pure lips,—but it would not go!

 

V

THE BATTLE-FIELD

One night she walked with a foot of snow
Thro’ a battle-field; and the Moon on high
Swam thro’ the film of a starry sky,
And the breath of the Moon, like hoar-frost shed,
Gleamed on the dreadful drifts of dead.
Then she saw him standing amid it all
Living and bloody, ghastly and tall,
With a hand on his moaning horse’s mane!
And his face was awful with hate and pain,
And his eyes were mad—for beneath him lay,                                   147
Quivering there in the pale moonray,
A wounded foe—while with red right hand
He held in the air a bloody brand
To cleave him down!

                         Before his look
One moment the Spirit Mother shook;
He could not hear her, he could not see,
But she shriek’d aloud in her agony!
He glared all round him like one in dread
Of a voice from heaven or a ghost from the dead,
And he sheathed his sword with a shudder soon,
Alone in the light of the lonely Moon . . .
O Moon! immortal Moon!

 

VI

THE ABBOT PAUL

Fourscore years have come and gone,
     Since the Asrai Mother knelt down and prayed,
Since the boon was gained, and her little one
     Found a soul and cast a shade;
And now by the side of the same still Mere,
     A mighty Monastery stands,
And morn and even its bell rings clear,
     Tinkling over the silver sands;
And the Asrai as they come and go                                                    148
Hear the sounds in the waters below,
And ever to them the sweet sounds seem
Like distant music heard in a dream,
And they pause and smile, and they murmur “Hark,”
With uplifted fingers!
                                     Old, old, old,
With hoary hair and beard snow-white,
With vacant vision and senses cold,
Crawling out to feel the light—
Like a man of marble, gaunt and tall,
Heavy with years, is the Abbot Paul.
Fourscore years have slowly shed
Their snows on the mighty Abbot’s head—
But not so white are his thoughts within,
That tell of a long dark life of sin.
Ever he totters and grows to the ground,
And ever by night he hears a sound
Of voices that whisper his name and weep;
And he starteth up in his nightly sleep
With a touch like a hand upon his hair,
And he looketh around in a sick despair,
But he seëth nought. And he prayeth low:
“Pity me, God; and let me go
Out of the sunlight,—shaking away
This form fire-fashioned out of clay!”
And often his dark beads counteth he:                                                149
“Maria Madonna, come for me!
For I am sick of the sinful light.”

Now ever he readeth low each night
In a parchment scroll, with pictures quaint
Of many a shining-headed Saint
Smiling, each ’mid his aureole,
O’er the dark characters of the scroll;
And ever when he totters abroad
He bears this parchment scroll of God
Against his heart; or in the sun
He spells its letters one by one
With dim dark eyes, as he creepeth slow.

. . . ’Tis a summer even. The sun sinks low,
And the light of its solemn setting lies
Golden and crimson on the skies,
Purple over the brow of the hill,
And violet dim on the waters still
Of the glassy Mere. In the zenith blue,
Already, dim as drops of dew,
Twinkle the stars!
                               In his great arm-chair,
Carried out to the open air,
On the edge of a promontory sweet,
With the waters rippling at his feet,
Sits the Abbot Paul; and his fingers cold                                            150
Still grip that parchment holy and old.
Behind his chair there standeth grim,
With cold black eyeball fix’d on him,
A serving-monk.
                             The air is chill,
The light is low, but he readeth still,
Mumbling the sacred words aloud;
And ever his weary neck is bowed
At the names of Mary and every Saint;
While ever fainter and more faint
His voice doth grow, as he murmureth:
“Holy of Holies, drink my breath!
For I am sick of the sinful light!”

. . . The sun hath sunken out of sight
In the cloudy west afar away—
Chilly it groweth, chilly and grey—
But who is this with steps so still
Coming yonder across the hill?
Over the peaks with a silvern tread
Flashing, then rising overhead
In the open heaven of a golden June?

O Moon! white Summer Moon!

Down the mountain and into the Mere
The pale ray falleth, so silvern clear,
And it creepeth silently over all,                                                         151
Till it shineth full on the Abbot Paul,
Where he sits and prays. O see! O see!
Sadder, stiller, groweth he,
But his eyes still burn with a dying gleam;
While faint, far off, as in a dream,
He hears a murmur, he sees a light.

Silently, coldly, marble white,
Pale and pure as the moonray dim,
Smiling, outstretching her arms to him,
His Spirit Mother upriseth now!

A light not human is on his brow,
A light not human is in his eyes—
Fold by fold, like a dark disguise,
The mortal dress is dropping away;
Silently, slowly, sinks the clay;
His eyes see clear by some mystic spell,
And he knoweth the gentle presence well.

“O Mother! Mother!”

                                   She answereth low:
“Come from the gleam of the golden glow,
From the wicked flush of the fever’d strife,
Back to the mystical moonlight life!
Thy heart is heavy, thy sense is drear,                                                152
Weary with wandering many a year—
Come from the sorrows of the Sun!
My own pale darling, my little one!”

“O Mother! Mother!”

                                       Her arms so dim
Are round his neck, and she kisseth him!
She smoothes his hair with a gentle hand,
And she sings a song of the moonlight land.
He listens and listens, but still in a dream
Looking afar off his dark eyes gleam,
Beyond her, thro’ her, at some strange thing
There on the hilltops, beckoning! . . .

Dead in his chair lies the Abbot Paul,
But a Shape stands by him, stately and tall,
And another Shape upon her knee
Is looking up in her agony.

“O Mother! Mother!” the tall Shape cries,
Gazing on her with gentle eyes—
“O Mother, Mother, I cannot stay—
A voice is summoning me away—
Up the shining track of the sun,                                                         153
     Past the sphere of the spectral moon,
Further, higher, my path must run—
     I have found a Soul, and thou hast thy boon;
And the Soul is a scourge, and the scourge is a fire,
     And it shoots me onward to strive and soar,
For this is the end of thy heart’s desire—
     I rest not, stay not, for evermore.
O kiss me, Mother, before I go!”

They kiss each other, those shapes of snow,
They cling in the moonlight, they kiss each other—
“Child, my child!” and “Mother! Mother!”

Silently, swiftly, thro’ the air
Riseth one like a meteor fair,
Riseth one with a last wild cry,
     While the other sinks in a silent swoon,
And whiter, brighter, over the sky,
     Burneth the light of that night of June!

O Moon! sad Summer Moon!

 

[Note:
‘The Changeling: A Legend of the Moonlight’ was originally published in the extra Christmas number of The Gentleman’s Magazine (December, 1875), which consisted of a novel entitled ‘Streaked With Gold’, written by R. E. Francillon. The novel (and Buchanan’s poem, which appeared as Chapter VI) was published anonymously. Francillon contributed ‘An Impression’ of Buchanan to Harriett Jay’s biography (Chapter XIX) and this begins with an explanation of the original publication of ‘The Changeling’. The relevant volume of The Gentleman’s Magazine is available at the Internet Archive.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 154

TO CLARI

WITH THE PRECEDING POEM.

THOUGH on the dullest dust we tread,
Our days are closed about with dread;
Before our footsteps and behind
Burns the white Light that keeps us blind.

If Life were all, if Love were clay,
If the great Dream could pass away,
If thou or I could cease to be,
That Light would fade, and we should see:

Yea, see and know, and swiftly pass,
Like shapes from a magician’s glass;—
But girt by godhead we remain,
Tho’ human systems wax and wane.

Enough! we fear not, thou and I,                                                       155
Knowing we were not born to die,
Because, at every step we tread,
Our days are closed about with dread.

_____

 

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