ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour 1882}

 

                                                                                                                                                                 157

LYRICAL BALLADS

 

                                                                                                                                                                 159

EUPHROSYNE: OR, THE PROSPECT

“Freed from its tenement of clay
     (So the prophetic legend ran),
As pure as dew, as bright as day,
     Shall rise the Soul of Man.”
I read; and in the shade by me
Sat golden-haired Euphrosyne.

Above our shaded orchard seat
     The boughs stirred scented in the light,
And on the grass beneath our feet
     Lay blossoms pink and white;
I held the book upon my knee,
Translating to Euphrosyne.

’Twas an old melancholy rune,
     Writ by a Norseman long ago—
Sad with the sense of stars and moon,
     Sea-wash, and frost, and snow—                                      160
A vision of futurity!
And wide-eyed heard Euphrosyne.

“Stately and slow the heart shall beat
     To the low throb of Time’s soft tide,
While, shaded from the solar heat,
     The Shapes walk heavenly-eyed.”
All round us burnt the starry lea,
And warmly sighed Euphrosyne.

“All shall be innocent and fair,
     Dim as a dream the days shall pass—
No weed of shame shall blossom there,
     No snake crawl on the grass.”—
“How happy such a world will be!”
Sighed beautiful Euphrosyne.

“Flesh shall be fled, sense shall be still,
     The old grey earth buried and dead;
The wicked world, with all things ill—
     Stone, rock, and tree—be fled.”—
“No earth, no world!” softly sighed she,
The little maid, Euphrosyne.

She clasped her hands, she cast her eyes                                 161
     Over the landscape bright with May—
Scented and sweet, ’neath cloudless skies,
     Smiled the green world that day—
Loud sang the thrush, low hummed the bee,
And softly sighed Euphrosyne.

“Sickness shall perish, grief and pain
     Be buried with the buried life;
The aching heart, the weary brain,
     At last shall cease their strife.”—
The grey tome trembled on my knee,
But happy sat Euphrosyne.

“The luminous house wherein we dwell,
     The haunted house of shame and lust,
The callow spirit’s fleshly shell,
     Shall crumble into dust;
The flower shall fade, the scent fly free!”—
She trembled now, Euphrosyne.

Her warm, white bosom heaved with sighs,
     I felt her light breath come and go,
She drank, with glorious lips and eyes,
     The summer’s golden glow;
She felt her life, and sighed “Ay, me!”
The flower of maids, Euphrosyne.

“And with the flower of flesh shall fade                                     162
     The venom’d bloom of earthly love,
No passion-trance of man and maid
     Shall taint the life above;
Flesh shall be fled, sex shall not be!”—
I paused, and watched Euphrosyne.

Her hands were folded round her knees,
     Her eyes were fix’d in a half-dream;
She shared the flame of flowers and trees,
     And drank the summer gleam;
“Kiss sweet, kiss sweet!” upon the tree
The thrush sang, to Euphrosyne.

A little maid of seventeen Mays,
     A happy child with golden hair,
What should she know of Love’s wild ways,
     Its hope, its pain, and prayer?
“No love in heaven?—how strange ’twill be!”
Still musing, sighed Euphrosyne.

“No thoughts of perishable mould
     Shall break the rule of heavenly rest,
But larger light, more still, more cold,
     More beautiful and blest.”—
Her heart was fluttering close to me,
And quickly breathed Euphrosyne.

“There shall be no more love!”—but here                                163
     I paused, for from my side she sprang,
And in her bird’s voice, loud and clear,
     Of love’s young dream she sang—
“Oh, close the foolish book!” cried she,
The happy maid Euphrosyne.

I closed the book, and from my hold
     She took it with her fingers white,
Then down the path of green and gold
     She tripped with laughter light—
“The book, not the glad world, shall be
Deep-buried,” said Euphrosyne.

Within an elm-tree’s hollow bole,
     Into the darkness damp and green,
She thrust it, closing up the hole
     With sprays of lilac sheen—
Then, all the radiant flush of glee
Fast faded from Euphrosyne.

Pensively in the summer shine
     Her blue eyes filled with tears of bliss;
She held her little mouth to mine
     In one long heavenly kiss—
“I love the earth, and life, and thee!”
She whispered, my Euphrosyne.

Sleep, Book, within thy burial place,                                        164
     With flowers and fruit for epitaph!
Kind Heaven, stoop down thy sunny face
     To hear the Earth’s glad laugh!
Smile, with your glorious eyes on me,
O child of joy! Euphrosyne!

 

[Note:
‘Euphrosyne’ was originally published in Cassell’s Magazine (September, 1873).]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 165

SERENADES

SLEEP on thine eyes, peace in thy breast,
White-limb’d lady, be at rest!
Near the room wherein you lie,
Broods the owl with luminous eye.

Midnight comes; all fair things sleep,
While all dark things vigil keep;
Round thy bed thy scented bower
Foldeth like a lily-flower.

All so still around thee lies,
Peace in thy breast, sleep on thine eyes!
All without is dark as death,
But thy lover wakeneth.

Underneath thy bower I pace,                                                           166
Star-dew sparkling on my face;
All around me, swift of flight,
Move the creatures of the night.

Hark, the great owl cries again
With an echo in the brain;
And the dark earth in her sleep
Stirs and trembles, breathing deep.

Sleep on thine eyes, peace in thy breast!
Fold thy hands and take thy rest;
All the night, till morning break,
Spirits walk and lovers wake!

 

II

Sleep sweet, belovëd one, sleep sweet!
     Without here night is growing,
The dead leaf falls, the dark boughs meet,
     And a chill wind is blowing.
Strange shapes are stirring in the night,
     To the deep breezes wailing,
And slow, with wistful gleams of light,
     The storm-tost moon is sailing.

Sleep sweet, belovëd one, sleep sweet!                                             167
     Fold thy white hands, my blossom!
Thy warm limbs in thy lily sheet,
     Thy hands upon thy bosom.
Though evil thoughts may walk the dark,
     Not one shall near thy chamber;
But shapes divine shall pause to mark,
     Singing to lutes of amber.

Sleep sweet, belovëd one, sleep sweet!
     Though, on thy bosom creeping,
Strange hands are laid, to feel the beat
     Of thy soft heart in sleeping.
The brother angels, Sleep and Death,
     Stoop by thy couch and eye thee;
And Sleep stoops down to drink thy breath,
     While Death goes softly by thee!

 

[Note:
’Serenades’ was originally published in Cassell’s Magazine (June, 1874).]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 168

IN THE GARDEN.

 

HE

SEEST thou two waifs of cloud on the dim blue
               Wandering in the melancholy light?
         Methinks they seem like spirits bright and true,
         Blending their gentle breaths, and born anew,
               In the still rapture of this heavenly night!
See! how the flowering stars their path bestrew,
Till the moon turns, and smiles, and looks them thro’,
         And breathes upon them, when with bosoms white
         They blend on one another, and unite.
Now they are gone, they vanish from our view,
         Lost in that radiance exquisitely bright! . . .
O love! my love! methinks that thou and I
         Resemble those thin waifs in Heaven astray;
We meet, we blend, grow bright!

                                                                                                       169

SHE

                                           And we must die!

 

HE

         Nay, sweet, for Love can never pass away!

 

SHE

Are they not gone? and, dear, shall we not go?
         O Love is Life, but after Life comes Death!

 

HE

No flower, no drop of rain, no flake of snow,
No beauteous thing that blossometh below,
         May perish, though it vanish ev’n as breath!
The bright moon drinks those wanderers of the west,
They melt in her warm breathing, and are blest.
We see them not, but in that light divine
Upgather’d, they are happy, and they shine:
Not lost, but vanish’d, grown ev’n unawares
A part of a diviner light than theirs!

 

NIGHTINGALES SING

Thro’ our throats the raptures rise,
In the scented air they swim;
From the skies,
With their own love-lustre dim,
Gaze innumerable eyes!—                                                      170
Sweet, O sweet,
Thrills the music from each throat,
Thick and fleet,
Note on note,
Till in ecstasy we float!

 

SHE

How vast looks Heaven! how solitary and deep!
     Dost thou believe that Spirits walk the air,
Treading those azure fields, and downward peep
With great sad eyes when Earth is fast asleep?

 

HE

     One spirit, at least, immortal LOVE, is there!

 

A SHOOTING STAR

Swift from my bliss, in the silence above,
I slip to thy kiss, O my star! O my love!

 

SPIRITS IN THE LEAVES

Who are these twain in the garden-bowers?
They glide with a rapture rich as ours.
Touch them, feel them, and drink their sighs,
Brush their lips and their cheeks and eyes!

How their hearts beat! how they glow!                                              171
Brightly, lightly, they come and go;
Upward gazing they look in bliss,
Save when softly they pause, to kiss.

Kiss them also, and share the light
That fills their breathing this golden night.
Touch them! clasp them! round them twine,
Their lips are burning with breath divine.

 

HE

Love, tread this way with rosy feet;
And resting on the shadowy seat
’Neath the laburnum’s golden rain,
Watch how with murmurous refrain
The fountain leaps, its basin dark
Flashing with many a starry spark.
With such a bliss, with such a light,
With such an iteration bright,
Our souls upbubbling from the clay,
Leap, sparkle, blend in silvern spray,
Gleam in the Moon, and, falling still,
Sink duskily with tremulous thrill,
Together blent with kiss and press,
In dark surcease of happiness.
Yet there they pause not, but, cast free                                               172
After deep pause of ecstasy,
Heavenward they leap, together clinging,
And like the fountain flash, upspringing!

 

THE FOUNTAIN LEAPING

Higher, still higher!
     With a trembling and gleaming
     Still upward streaming,
In the sparkling fire
Of a dim desire;
Still higher, higher,
     With a bright pulsation
     Of aspiration,—
Higher!

Higher, still higher!
     To the lights above me;
     They gleam, they love me,
They beckon me nigher,
And my waves aspire,
Still higher, higher;—
     But I fall down failing,
     Still wildly wailing—
Higher!

                                                                                               173

NIGHTINGALES SING

Deeper now our raptures grow;
Softlier let our voices croon!
Yet more slow,
Let our happy music flow,
Sweet and slow, hush’d and low,
Now the grey cloud veils the Moon.                                                 [16:6]
Sweet, O sweet!
Watch her as our wild hearts beat! . .
See! she quits the clasping cloud,
Forth she sails on shining feet,
Smiling, with her bright head bow’d!
Pour the living rapture loud!
Thick and fleet,
Sweet, O sweet,
Now the notes of rapture crowd!

 

SHE (to herself)

And this is Love!—Until this hour
I never lived; but like a flower
Close prest i’ the bud, with sleeping senses
I drank the dark dim influences
Of sunlight, moonlight, shade, and dew.
At last I open, thrilling thro’
With Love’s strange scent, which seemeth part                                  174
Of the warm life within my heart,
Part of the air I breathe . . . O bliss!
Was ever night so sweet as this?
It is enough to breathe, to be,
As if one were a flower, a tree,
A leaf o’ the bough, just stirring light
With the warm breathing of the night!

 

SPIRITS IN THE LEAVES

Whisper! what are they doing now?
He is kissing her white, white brow,
Turning it softly to the light,
Like a beautiful tablet marble white.

The Moon is shining upon it—lo!
Whiter it is than driven snow.
He kisseth again and speaketh gay;
Whisper, whisper! what doth he say?

 

HE

For ever and ever! for ever and ever!
     As the fount that upleaps, as the breezes that blow,
                             Love thou me!
For ever and ever, for ever and ever,                                                          175
     While the nightingales sing and the rose garlands glow,
                             Love I thee!
For ever and ever, with all things to prove us,
In this world, in that world that bendeth above us,
Asleeping, awaking, in earth, as in Heaven,
By this kiss, this other, by thousands ungiven,
By the hands which now touch thee, the arms that enfold thee,
By the soul in my eyes that now swoons to behold thee,
By starlight, by moonlight, by scented rose-blossoms,
By all things partaking the joy of our bosoms,
By the rapture within us, the rapture around us,
By God who has made us and Love who hath crown’d us,
One sense and one soul we are blent, ne’er to sever.
For ever and ever! for ever and ever!
More kisses to seal it * * * * For ever and ever!

 

THE WOOD ECHOES

                             For ever and ever!

 

[Notes:
‘In The Garden’ is a revised version of ‘Erôs Athanatos’ which was originally published in The Gentleman’s Magazine (May, 1874). The original version is available here.
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 16, l. 6: Now the dark cloud veils the Moon. ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 176

LOVE AND TIME

THIS is the place, as husht and dead
     As when I saw it long ago;
Down the dark walk with shadows spread
     I wander slow.

The tangled sunlight, cold and clear,
     Steals frost-white through the boughs around.
There is no warmth of summer here,
     No summer sound.

Darnel and nettle, as I pass,
     Choke the dim ways, and in the bowers
Gather the weeds and the wild grass
     Instead of flowers.

O life! O time! O days that die!
     O days that live within the mind!
Here did we wander, she and I,
     Together twined.

We passed out of the great broad walk,                                           177
     Beyond the emerald lawns we strayed,
We lingered slow in tender talk
     Along the shade.

And then the great old maze we found,
     And smiling entered it unseen,
Half sad, half glad, went round and round
     Thro’ windings green.

In the bright centre of the maze
     A rose-bush grew, a dial gleam’d;
She pluck’d a rose . . . with blissful gaze
     Watch’d it, and dreamed.

O life! O time! O days divine!
     O dreams that keep the soul astir!
That hour eternity was mine,
     Looking at her!

This is the place. I wander slow.
     Dark are the shades of shrub and tree,
The dial stands, the leaves lie low,
     But where is she?

O life! O time! O birds and flowers!                                                 178
     O withering leaves upon the bough!
Alas, she measures not her hours
     With roses now.

The dial stands—the dark days roll—
     From year to year the roses spring—
Eternity is in my soul,
     Remembering.

The dial stands—the summer goes—
     All changeth, nothing dieth, here!
And all reneweth like a rose,
     From year to year.

 

                                                                                                                                                                 179

STANLEY FARM

Come, love, and while the landscape glows
     Red in the setting sun,
Let us repair to Stanley Farm,
     Where thou wast wooed and won.

The river runs through a narrow glen,
     And shooting past the mill,
It lingers near the burial-ground
     Where the dark dead lie still.

Then fresh and free it shooteth through
     The bridge at headlong speed;
But when the village bridge is past,
     It comes to marsh and mead;

And broadening out with slacken’d pace,
     It fringes green flat land,
Where, blanchèd white by frequent floods,
     Long lines of pollards stand.

And now within its shallow pools,                                                      180
     The blue-winged hern doth wade,
Still as a stone, with crooked neck
     Above his floating shade.

And water-lilies fringe the brim,
     And all is sedge and reed,
Save one small stream within the midst,
     That winds and winds with speed.

Then down comes Thornby Beck and gains
     The river with a cry,
And on the two together run,
     Under the English sky.

And strong and deep the stream has grown,
     As well as broad and wide,
On reaching Stanley Farm, that sits
     Upon the water’s side.

How still it is! how bright it is,
     These happy summer weeks,
When cattle wade, in the dark blue pools
     Broken to silvern streaks!

But, love, hast thou forgot the Yule,                                                  181
     Twenty long years ago?
The level meads around the stream
     Were white with ice and snow.

The river was frozen white and blue,
     In its cold weedy bed;
A deep black fog filled all the air,
     And in the fog, o’er head,

Just hovering close to earth, as small
     As a school-boy’s pink balloon,
The wandering sun looked strange and cold
     As the red wintry moon.

The fog was dark, and darkest there
     Above the river’s bed,
And from the windows of the farm
     All day the lights gleamed red.

But when the sun’s ball rolled from sight,
     The wind began to blow,
The chilly fog was cleft in twain,
     And the moon lit up the snow!

A deep blue flower with a golden heart,                                            182
     Hung downwards, was the sky,
And white and cold in swathes of snow
     Did mead and hamlet lie.

And ever and anon the wind
     Blew up a cloud so pale,
And held it o’er the yellow moon,
     Like a thin lawny veil.

And through its folds the bright’ning morn
     Gazed, breathing soft and slow,
Till, melted with her breath, the cloud
     Was shriven into snow.

Then ever in the bright’ning beam,
     As each soft cloud stole by,
We saw dark figures on the stream
     Gliding with merry cry.

Men and maidens, old and young,
     The skaters frolicked there;
Like shapes within a dream, their forms
     Stole through the mystic air.

But thy small hand was linked in mine,                                               183
     And down the stream we sped,
Until we found a silent place
     Where those soft words were said.

Which made us one; the hour, the place,
     All seem a dream this day—
But see! There lingers Stanley Farm
     In the red sunset ray!

There lies the farm, here steals the stream,
     And all looks young and fair;
The winter snow is on our lives,
     The snow upon our hair!

 

[Note:
In the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan the last three verses are omitted.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 184

EARTH AND THE SOUL

“CHILD of my bosom, babe of my bearing;
     Why dost thou turn from me now thou art old?
Why, like a wild bird for passage preparing,
     Shrink from my touch with a tremor of cold?”
“Mother, I dread thee! mother, I fear thee!
     Darkness and silence are hid in thy core;
Deep is thy voice, and I tremble to hear thee;
     Let me begone, for thou lov’st me no more!”

“Love thee not, dearest one, son of my splendour,
     Love thee not? How shall I smile thee a sign?
See my soft arms, they are kindly and tender!
     See my fond face, flushing upward to thine!”
“Mother, thy face looketh dreadful and ghastly!
     Mother, thy breath is as frost on my hair!
Hold me not, stay me not, time speedeth fastly,
     Look, a kind Hand beckons softly up there!”

“Child, yet a while ere thy cruel feet fare on!                                      185
     See, in my lap lie the flowers of the May;
See, in my hair twine the roses of Sharon;
     See, on my breast gleam the gems of Cathay!”
“Mother, I know thou art queenly and splendid,
     Yet is there death in the blush of thy bloom;
Touch me not, mother—my childhood is ended,
     Dark is thy shadow and dreadful thy doom.”

“Child, ’twas I bare thee! child, ’twas I fashioned
     Those gleaming limbs, and those ringlets of light,
Made thee a spirit sublime and impassioned,
     Read thee the Book of the stars night by night,
Led thy frail feet when they failed sorrow-laden,
     Whispered thee wonders of death and of birth,
Made thee the heir of the garden of Aiden,
     Child, it was I, thy poor mother, the Earth!”

“Mother, I know it! and oh, how I loved thee,
     When on thy bosom I leapt as a child,
Shared each still pleasure that filled thee and moved thee,
     Thrilled to the bliss of thy face when it smiled.
Yea, but I knew not thy glory was fleeing,
     Not till that night thou didst read me the scroll,
Sobbed in my ear the dark sccret of Being;
     Mother, I wept—thy fair creature, the Soul!”

“Child, wherefore weep? Since the secret is spoken,                          186
     Lie in mine arms—I will rock thee to rest;
Ne’er shall thy slumber be troubled and broken,
     Low will I sing to thee, held to my breast.
Oh, it is weary to wander and wander;
     Child of my fashioning, stay with me here.”
“Mother, I cannot; ’tis brighter up yonder;
     Dark is thy brow with the shadow I fear!”

“Child, yet one kiss! yet one kiss, ere thou flyest!”
     “Nay, for thy lips have the poison of death!”
“Child, one embrace!” “Nay, all vainly thou criest;
     I see thy face darken, I shrink at thy breath.”
“Go, I have wept for thee, toiled for thee, borne with thee,
     Pardoned thee freely each taint and each stain.
Take the last love of my bosom forlorn with thee—
     Seek the great Void for a kinder, in vain!”

“Mother, I go; but if e’er I discover
     That which I seek in those regions untrod,
I will come back to thee; softly bend over
     Thy pillow, and whisper the secret of God.”
“Child, thou wilt find me asleep in black raiment.
     Dead by the Side of the infinite sea;
Drop one immortelle above me for payment
     Of all the wild love I have wasted on thee!”

 

[Note:
‘Earth And The Soul’ was originally published, as ‘The Earth And The Soul’, in Cassell’s Magazine (August, 1874).]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 186

 

ON A YOUNG POETESS’S GRAVE

UNDER her gentle seeing,
     In her delicate little hand,
They placed the Book of Being,
     To read and understand.

The Book was mighty and olden,
     Yea, worn and eaten with age;
Though the letters looked great and golden,
     She could not read a page.

The letters fluttered before her,
     And all looked darkly wild:
Death saw her, and bent o’er her,
     As she pouted her lips and smiled.

Then, weary a little with tracing
     The Book, she look’d aside,
And lightly smiling, and placing
     A Flower in its leaves, she died.

She died, but her sweetness fled not,                                      188
     As fly the things of power,—
For the Book wherein she read not
     Is the sweeter for the Flower.

 

[Note:
‘On A Young Poetess’s Grave’ was originally published as the last five verses of ‘A Drawing-Room Ballad’ in London Society (July, 1868). It first appeared under its new title in Volume II of the 1874 Poetical Works.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 189

A CURL *

(A BOY’S POEM)

 

SEE! what a treasure rare
     I hold with fingers aglow!
     —’Tis full of the bright
     Subdued sunlight
Which shone in the scented hair
Of a maiden I once held fair;
     And I puzzle my brains to know
If the heart of the beautiful girl
     Hath kept the light of the Long Ago,
As long as the yellow curl?

What matter? Why, little or none!
     She is nought to me now, understand;
               But I feel less sad                                                               190
               Than tearfully glad,
And a passionate thrill hath run
Through my veins, like a flash of the sun,—
     That with so unheeding a hand
I can grasp a small part of the gold
     Which dazzled my wits, when I planned and planned
For the love of that maiden, of old.

See! I crush it with finger and thumb,
     Half in cruelty, half in jest.—
               As she lies asleep,
               Doth a shudder creep
Thro’ her heart, and render it numb?
Doth a sorrowful whisper come
     From afar, while her lord is at rest
By her side, and none else are by?
     Doth she shiver away from her husband’s breast,
And hide her face, and cry?

Is her heart quite withered and sere?
     Are the pledges forgotten yet,
               That, with blushing face,
               In a secret place,
She breathed in my burning ear,
In the morning of the year,
     When, after long parting, we met                                                  191
By the Sea, on the shadowy lawn,
     And spake till the sunset faded to jet,
And moon and stars made a dawn?

As she lies in her wifely place,
     The wings of her white soul furled,
               Does the cheek at rest
               On her husband’s breast
Grow scorch’d with the hot disgrace
Of the kisses I rain’d on her face,
     When the mists of the night upcurled
From the ocean that night of June,
     And make a glamour, wherein the world
Seemed close to the stars and moon?

By this ringlet of yellow hair,
     Still full of the light forlorn
               Of that parting spot!
               Hath she quite forgot
The passionate love she bare,
And the hope she promised to share,
     When the ringlet of gold was shorn,
And the flowers felt the sun on the soil,
     And the firefly stars went out in the morn,
And I hurried back to my toil?

I could crush it under my heel!                                                          192
     Hath she forgotten the clear
               Vision of fame
               That died, when her shame
Made my wild brain totter and reel?
Hath she a heart to feel?—
     False to her vows in a year!
False and hollow as Hell!
     False to the voice that warned in her ear!
And false to her God as well!

This curl that she gave to me
     Fell over her brow of snow,
               So ’twas near the bright
               Spiritual light
That burned in the brain—and see!
I am kissing it tenderly!
     She is asking for mercy, I know;
So I kiss it again and again,
     For I know some charm makes the wild kiss glow
Like fire thro’ the woman’s brain!

She cannot choose but atone!
     She must sin (by this curl that has gleamed                                   [9:2]
               On her brow!) in thought,                                                   [9:3]
               Against him who bought
The heart already mine own,                                                            193
And left me weeping alone.
     ’Tis a charm, and my loss is redeemed!
And the sin ’gainst her lord will be—
     To remember how close to the stars we seemed
That night in the mists by the Sea!

She will look on her husband’s face,
     She will kiss him on the cheek—
               She will kiss, she will smile;
               And all the while,
In thought no other may trace,
She’ll be back in that perfumed place,
     Hearing the words that I speak,
Vowing the vow I believe,
     While the sunset dies with a purple streak,
’Neath the whitening star of eve.

And the voice of the waves will bar
     All sweeter sounds from her ears,
               She’ll be under the moon
               Of that night of June,
And the motion of moon and star
Will trouble her from afar;
     And then, when the silver spheres
Fade fitfully out of the skies,
     And the red dawn breaks, she will wake in tears,                          194
And shrink from her husband’s eyes!

And in time, when again and again
     I have kissed the magical gold,
               Those same gross eyes
               Will be open and wise,
And his heart will be feverish pain,
And a doubt will arise in his brain;
     And ere she is grown very old,
He will know she is frail as foam,—
     He will see the light of that night in her cold
Face,—and my curse strikes home!

For perchance in her yearning she may
     Be bewildered and brought to blame,
               By a new delight
               So like that night
With its mimical glamour of day,
That she cannot shake it away;
     And following it once more,
She will take a path of shame,
     While the man blushes red at his darken’d door
As the children utter her name.

See! my passionate lips are warm                                                     195
     On the curl, in a cruel bliss—
               In day or mirk
               The charm would work!—
While she dreams of that night till her form
Is caught in the eddies of storm!
     There’s a devil impels me to kiss,
And my blood boils to and fro;
     She asks for mercy! shall mercy like this
Be given my darling? . . . No!

With the world, as it ebbs and flows,
     My heart is in jarring tune;
               Let the memory
               Of her beauty be
Furled in a soft repose
Round my heart, like the leaves of a rose.
     The faith, which has faded too soon,
I bury with this last cry;
     For the curl, still bright with that night of June,
Lo! I tenderly put it by!

 

     * As these verses bear a certain superficial resemblance, in subject, to Mr. Tennyson’s Poem, “A Ringlet,” it may be as well to state that they appeared in print several years before the publication of “Enoch Arden, and other Poems.”

 

[Note:
‘A Curl’ was originally published in Temple Bar (March, 1862).
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 9, l. 2: By the brow where this curl once gleam’d!
v. 9, l. 3: She must in sin thought, ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 196

LOVE IN WINTER

(A GENRE PICTURE)

 

I

“O Love is like the roses,
     And every rose shall fall,
For sure as summer closes
     They perish one and all.
Then love, while leaves are on the tree,
     And birds sing in the bowers:
When winter comes, too late ’twill be
     To pluck the happy flowers.”

It is a maiden singing,
     An ancient girl, in sooth;
The dizzy room is ringing
     With her shrill song of youth;
The white keys sob as fast she tries
     Each shrill and shricking scale:
“O love is like the roses!” cries
     This muslin’d nightingale. . . .

In a dark corner dozing                                                                    197
     I close my eyes and ears,
And call up, while reposing,
     A glimpse from other years;
A genre-picture, quaint and Dutch,
     I see from this dark seat,—
’Tis full of human brightness, such
     As makes remembrance sweet.

 

II

Flat leagues of endless meadows
     [In Holland lies the scene],
Where many pollard-shadows
     O’er nut-brown ditches lean;
Grey clouds above that dimly break,
     Mists that pale sunbeams stripe,
With groups of steaming cattle, make
     A landscape “after Cuyp.”

A windmill, and below it
     A cottage near a road,
Where some meek pastoral poet
     Might make a glad abode;
A cottage with a garden, where
     Prim squares of pansies grow,
And sitting on a garden-chair,
     A Dame with locks of snow.

In trim black truss’d and bodiced,                                                     198
     With petticoat of red,
And on her bosom modest
     A kerchief white bespread.
Alas! the breast that heaves below
     Is shrivell’d now and thin,
Tho’ vestal thoughts as white as snow
     Still palpitate within.

Her hands are mitten’d nicely,
     And folded on her knee;
Her lips, that meet precisely,
     Are moving quietly.
She listens while the dreamy bells
     O’er the dark flats intone—
Now come, now gone, in dying swells
     The Sabbath sounds are blown.

Her cheek a withered rose is,
     Her eye a violet dim;
Half in her chair she doses,
     And hums a happy hymn.
But soft! what wonder makes her start
     And lift her aged head,
While the faint flutterings of her heart
     Just touch her cheek with red?

The latch clicks; thro’ the gateway                                                    199
     An aged wight steps slow—
Then pauses, doffing straightway
     His broad-brim’d gay chapeau!
Swallow-tail’d coat of blue so grand,
     With buttons bright beside,
He wears, and in his trembling hand
     A nosegay, ribbon-tied.

His thin old legs trip lightly
     In breeches of nankeen,
His face is shining brightly,
     So rosy, fresh, and clean—
Wrinkled he is and old and plain,
     With locks of golden-grey,
And leaning on a tassell’d cane
     He gladly comes this way.

Oh, skylark, singing over
     The silent mill hard by,
To this so happy lover
     Sing out with summer cry!
He hears thee, tho’ his blood is cold,
     She hears, tho’ deaf and weak;
She stands to greet him, as of old,
     A blush upon her cheek.

In spring-time they were parted                                                        200
     By some sad wind of woe;
Forlorn and broken-hearted
     Each faltered, long ago;
They sunder’d,—half a century
     Each took the path of pain—
He lived a bachelor, and she
     Was never woo’d again!

But when the summer ended,
     When autumn, too, was dead,
When every vision splendid
     Of youth and hope was fled,
Again these two came face to face
     As in the long ago—
They met within a sunless place
     In the season of the snow.

“O love is like the roses,
     Love comes and love must flee!
Before the summer closes
     Love’s rapture and love’s glee!”

O peace! for in the garden there
     He bows in raiment gay;
Doffs hat, and with a courtly air
     Presents his fond bouquet.

One day in every seven,                                                                    201
     While church-bells softly ring,
The happy, silent Heaven
     Beholds the self-same thing:
The gay old boy within the gate,
     With ribbons at his knee!—
“When winter comes, is love too late?”
     O Cupid, look and see!

O, talk not of love’s rapture,
     When youthful lovers kiss;
What mortal sight may capture
     A scene more sweet than this?
Beside her now he sits and glows,
     While prim she sits and proud,—
Then, spectacles upon his nose,
     Reads the week’s news aloud!

Pure, with no touch of passion,
     True, with no tinge of pain!
Thus, in sweet Sabbath fashion,
     They live their loves again.
She sees in him a happy boy—
     Swift, agile, amorous-eyed;
He sees in her his own heart’s joy—
     Youth, Hope, Love, vivified!

Content there he sits smoking                                                            202
     His long Dutch pipe of wood:
Gossiping oft and joking,
     As a gay lover should.
And oft, while there in company
     They smile for Love’s sweet sake,
Her snuff-box black she hands, and he
     A grave, deep pinch doth take!

There, gravely juvenescent,
     In sober Sabbath joy,
Mingling the past and present,
     They sit, a maid and boy!
“O love is like the roses!”—No!
     Thou foolish singer, cease!
Love finds his fireside ’mid the snow,                                               [19:7]
     And smokes the pipe of peace!

 

[Notes:
‘Love In Winter’ was originally published in The Gentleman’s Magazine (August, 1874).
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 19, l. 7: Love finds the fireside ’mid the snow, ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 203

WILL O’ THE WISP

A BALLAD WRITTEN FOR CLARI, ON A STORMY NIGHT

 

               JUST an inch high
                   With a body all yellow,
               A bright crimson eye
               And limbs all awry,
                   Wakes the queer little fellow—
               Yes, awakes in the night,
               Rubs his eyes in a fright,
                   Yawns, hearks to the thunder,
               While the glowworms all set
               Round his cradle so wet,
                   Stare at him in wonder.
               How it blows! how it rains!
               How the thunder refrains!
               While the glowworms so wan,
                   As they gather together,
               Hear the quaint little man
                   Squeak faintly, “What weather!”
               “Who is his father?                                                                     204
                   Who is his mother?”
               They cry as they gather,
                   And puzzle, and pother—
               Such a queer little chap,
               Just new-born in a nap!
               And such antics are his
                   As he springs on his bed,
               Such a comical phiz,
                   Such a red,
                   Shining head!
               Hark again,
               ’Midst the rain
                   How the deep thunder crashes!
               And the lightning
               Is bright’ning
                   In fitful blue flashes!
               “Here’s fun! here’s a din!”
               Cries Will with a grin—
               “I’ll join in the play—
               It’s darker than pitch
               In this hole of a ditch,
What a place to be born in—I’m off and away.”

               Out on the heath
                   It rains with a will.
               The Wind sets his teeth                                                               205
                     And whistles right shrill.
               All is darkness and sound,
                   All is splishing and splashing;
               The pools on the ground
                   Glimmer wet in the flashing—
               Up and down, round and round,
               With a leap and a bound,
                   Goes the little one dashing.
               “Oh what fun!” out he screams
               At the wild blue beams
                   As they flicker and pass.
               Then he squats down and seems
               With his nose’s red gleams
                   Like a lamp in the grass;—
Then ’mid rain washing down, and the thunder still busy,
He flies spinning round, till he pauses, half dizzy.

               How dark and how still,
               In the arm of the hill,
                   Lies the hamlet asleep—
               While the wind is so shrill,
                   And the darkness so deep!
               Down the street all is dark,
                   And closed is each shutter;
               But he pauses to mark,
               His face like a spark                                                                   206
                   In the black polished gutter!
               But see! what a streak
                   Gleams out from the inn!
               Overhead with a creak,
               And a groan and a squeak,
                   Shakes the sign; while the din
                   Comes harsh from within.
               Hark!—the jingling of glasses,
                   The singers’ refrain!
               Will stops as he passes
                   And peeps through the pane,
                   Dripping, slippery with rain.
               There they sit and they joke,
               In the grey cloud of smoke,
               While the jolly old host,
                   With his back to the fire,
               Stands warm as a toast,
                   And doth smile and perspire.
               Grave, thin, and pedantic,
                   The schoolmaster sits,
               While, in argument frantic
                   With riotous wits,
               The maker of boots
                   Still in apron of leather,
               Thumps the board and disputes,
               Contradicts and refutes;                                                              207
And like sparrows collected, all birds of a feather,
All smoking long pipes, and all nodding together,
The Wiseacres gather, screen’d snug from the weather.

               Great, broad, and brown,
                   Stands the jug on the board,
                   And the ale is poured,
               And they quaff it down.
               How it froths, fresh and strong,
                   Warm, sweet, full of spice!
               Will’s beginning to long
                   For a sip,—’tis so nice!
               So he whispers the Wind,
                   Who runs round from the lane,
               And they creep in behind,
               And the Wind tries to find
                   An entrance in vain.
               Then “The Chimney!” cries Will,
               While the Wind laughs out shrill,
               And he leaps at one bound
                   To the roof up on high,
               While the chimneys all round
                   Tremble and cry.

                   One moment he pauses
                   Up yonder, and draws his
                   Breath deep and strong,                                                        208
               Then dives like a snake,
               While the dwelling doth quake,
                   To the room where they throng.
               Ho, ho! with one blow
               Out the lights go,
                   Dark and silent is all.
               But the fire burns low
                   With its ghost on the wall.
               “What a night! Ah, here’s weather!”
               All murmur together
                   With voices sunk low,
               While softly slips Will
               In the jug, drinks his fill,
                   And is turning to go,
               When a hand, while none mark,
                   Lifts the jug in the dark;
               ’Tis the cobbler so dry
                   Seeks to drink on the sly!
               Tarala! pirouette!
                   Will springs at his nose,
               The jug is upset,
                   And the liquor o’erflows.
               “What’s that?” all exclaim,
                   Leaping up with a shout,
               While the cobbler in shame,
               With nose all aflame,                                                                   209
                   Cries, “The Devil, no doubt!”
               And as fresh lights are brought
                   These birds of a feather
               Think it quite a new thought
                   To nod gravely together,
               Crying hot and distraught,
                   “Well, indeed! this is weather!”

               Tarala! pirouette!
               Out again in the wet!
               Like a small dancing spark,
                   With his face flashing bright
               In the black dripping dark,
                   Goes the elf of the night.
               Hark! from the church-tower,
               Slowly chimeth the hour!
                   Twelve times low and deep,
               Comes the chime through the shower
                   On the village asleep;—
               And where ivies enfold
                   The belfry, doth sit,
               Huddled up from the cold,
               The owl grey and old,
                   With “Toowhoo” and “Toowhit!”
                   “Heigho!”—yawns poor Will—
                   “Time for bed, by the powers!”                                               210
               And he lights on a sill,
                   Among flower-pots and flowers,
               And just as he seems
                   To slumber inclined,
               A white hand forth-gleams
                   From within, and the blind
               Is drawn back, and oh dear!
                   What a beautiful sight!
               Clari’s face doth appear
                   Looking out at the night.
               And Clari doth stand,
               With the lamp in her hand,
                   In her bedgown of white—
Her hair runs like gold on her shoulders, and fills
With gleams of gold-shadow her tucks and her frills,
And her face is as sweet as a star, and below
Her toes are like rosebuds that peep among snow.

               Breathless with wonder,
                   Quiet and still,
               He crouches under
                   The pots on the sill;
               Then the blind closes slow,
                   And the vision doth fade,
               But still to and fro
                   On the blind moves the shade—                                            211
               There! out goes the light!
                   Will lifts up his head,
               All is darker than night,
                   She is creeping to bed.
               Oh, light be her rest!
               She steals into her nest,
                   Without a beholder,
               And the bed, soft and warm,
               Swells up round her form
                   To receive and enfold her!

               [The wind is increasing,
               But the rain is ceasing,
               And blown up from the west
                   Comes the moon wan and high,
               With a cloud on her crest,
                   And a tear in her eye.
               Distraught and opprest,
                   She drifts wearily by!]

               “Heigho!” yawns poor Will—
               Still crouch’d down on the sill—
                   “How sleepy I feel!
               There’s a cranny up there
               To let in the fresh air,—
                   Here goes! in I’ll steal!”                                                         212
               So said and so done,
                   And he enters the room
Where the dainty-limb’d one, like a lily in bloom,
Her face a dim brightness, her breath a perfume,
Sleeps softly. With noiseless invisible tread
The wanderer steals to the side of the bed
Where she lies, oh how fair! so sweet and so warm,
While the white clothes sink round the soft mould of her form;
One hand props her cheek, and one unespied
Lies rising and falling upon her soft side.
Will floats to and fro, and the light that he throws
Just lights this or that as she lies in repose,
Leaving all the rest dark. See! he hops ’mong her hair
And shines like a jewel;—then leans down to stare
In her face,—and his ray as he trembles and spies
Just flashes against the white lids of her eyes;—
While her breath—oh her breath is so sweet and so fine,
Will drinks and turns dizzy—his joy is divine,
And his light flashing down shows the red lips apart,
To free the deep fragrance that steals from her heart.

               Just an inch high,
                   With a body all yellow,
               A bright crimson eye,
               And limbs all awry,
                   Stands the queer little fellow!                                                  213
               And Clari’s sweet mouth
                   Just a little asunder,
               Sweet with spice from the South,
                   Fills his spirit with wonder:
               Such a warm little mouth!
               Such a red little mouth!
The thin bud above and the plump blossom under!
               “Heigho, heart’s alive!
                   Here’s a door, here I’ll rest!”
               And he takes one quick dive
                   And slips into her breast!
               And there may he thrive
                   Like a bird in a nest!
               And Clari turns over
                   And flushes and sighs,
               Pushes back the warm cover,
                   Half opens her eyes,
               Then sinking again
                   Warm, languid, and bright,
               With new bliss in her brain,
                   Dreams—such dreams—of delight!
               She tosses and turns
                   In visions divine;
               For within her Will burns
                   Like a lamp in a shrine!

. . . And now you’ve the reason that Clari is gay,                                       214
As a bird on the bough or a brooklet at play;
And now you’ve the reason why Clari is bright,
Why she smiles all the day and is glad all the night;
For the light having entered her bosom remains,
Darts fire to her glances and warmth thro’ her veins,
Makes her tricksy and merry, yet full of the power
Of the wind and the rain, and the storm and the shower;
Half wise in the ways of the world, and half simple,
As sly as a kiss is, as deep as a dimple,
A spirit that sings like a bird on a tree,—
“I love my love, and my love loves me!”

 

[Note:
‘Will O’ The Wisp’ was originally published in Good Words (January, 1872).]

_____

 

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