ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour 1882}

 

                                                                                                                                                                 215

IN SPRING-TIME

     SWEET, sing a song of the May to me,
         Sweeten the lingering hours!
     Soft comes her whisper each day to me,
     See, thro, the green and the grey, to me;
         Thrills the faint flame of the flowers.
     For the spell of the winter is ended,
         The rainbow is seen thro’ the showers,
     And the May, by fair spirits attended,
         Shall smile up the skies, and be ours. . .
Afar away yonder her foot cometh slow to us—
She steals up the south, with her cheeks all aglow, to us!
The blue waters tremble! the rain singeth low to us!
         Green stir the blossoming bowers!

 

                                                                                                                                                                 216

THE FISHERMAN

 

1

THE sea is moaning, the little one cries,
In child-bed sorrow the Mother lies,
And the Fisher fisheth afar away
In the morning grey.

 

2

The drift is dark as the dawn appears:
Is it the moan of the wind he hears—
Is it the splash of the ocean foam,
Or a cry from home?

 

3

He fisheth there that the babe may eat—
The wind is whistling in shroud and sheet;
He looketh down from the side of his bark
On the waters dark.

                                                                                                                                                                 217

4

Sees he the gleam of the foam-flake there,
Or a white, white face in its floating hair?—
Sea-weeds salt that are shoreward drifted,
Or arms uplifted?

 

5

His heart is heavy, his lips are set,
He sighs as he draggeth in his net—
A goodly gift from the waters wild
To Mother and Child!

 

6

The Dawn gleams cold as he homeward flies
The boat is laden, the new-born cries,
But the wraith of the Mother fades far away
In the morning grey!

 

                                                                                                                                                                 218

THE CHURCHYARD

(A GENRE PICTURE)

 

HOW slowly creeps the hand of Time
     On the old clock’s green-mantled face!
Yea, slowly as those ivies climb,
     The hours roll round with patient pace;
The drowsy rooks caw on the tower,
     The tame doves hover round and round;
Below, the slow grass hour by hour
     Makes green God’s sleeping-ground.

All moves, but nothing here is swift;
     The grass grows deep, the green boughs shoot;
From east to west the shadows drift;
     The earth feels heavenward underfoot;
The slow stream through the bridge doth stray
     With water-lilies on its marge,
And slowly, piled with scented hay,
     Creeps by the silent barge.

All stirs, but nothing here is loud:                                                       219
     The cushat broods, the cuckoo cries;
Faint, far up, under a white cloud,
     The lark trills soft to earth and skies;
And underneath the green graves rest;
     And through the place, with slow footfalls,
With snowy cambric on his breast,
     The old grey Vicar crawls.

And close at hand, to see him come,
     Clustering at the playground gate,
The urchins of the schoolhouse, dumb
     And bashful, hang the head and wait;
The little maidens curtsey deep,
     The boys their forelocks touch meanwhile,
The Vicar sees them, half asleep,
     And smiles a sleepy smile.

Slow as the hand on the clock’s face,
     Slow as the white cloud in the sky,
He cometh now with tottering pace
     To the old vicarage hard by;
Smothered it stands in ivy leaves,
     Laurels and yews make dark the ground;
The swifts that build beneath the eaves                                              [5:7]
     Wheel in still circles round.

And from the portal, green and dark,                                                 220
     He glances at the church-clock old—
Grey soul! why seek his eyes to mark
     The creeping of that finger cold?
He cannot see, but still as stone
     He pauses, listening for the chime,
And hears from that green tower intone
     The eternal voice of Time.

 

[Note:
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 5, l. 7: The swifts that built beneath the eaves ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 221

SEA-WASH

     WHEREFORE so cold, O Day,
     That gleamest far away
O’er the dim line where mingle heaven and ocean,
     While fishing-boats lie netted in the grey,
And still smooth waves break in their shoreward motion—
     Wherefore so cold, so cold?
     O say, dost thou behold
A Face o’er which the rock-weed droopeth sobbing,
     A Face just stirred within a sea-cave old
By the green water’s throbbing?

     Wherefore, O Fisherman,
     So full of care and wan,
This weary, weary morning shoreward flying,
     While stooping downward, darkly thou dost scan
That which below thee in thy boat is lying?
     Wherefore so full of care!
     What dost thou shoreward bear
Caught in thy net’s moist meshes, as a token?
     Ah! can it be the ring of golden hair
Whereby my heart is broken?

     Wherefore so still, O Sea?                                                          222
     That washest wearilie
Under the lamp lit in the fisher’s dwelling,
     Holding the secret of thy deeps from me,
Whose heart would break so sharply at the telling?
     Wherefore so still, so still?
     Say, in thy sea-cave chill
Floats she forlorn with foam-bells round her breaking,
     While the wet Fisher lands and climbs the hill
To hungry babes awaking?

 

[Note:
‘Sea-Wash’ originally appeared in Wayside Posies, a collection of anonymous poems, edited by Robert Buchanan, engraved by the Brothers Dalziel and published by G. Routledge in 1866, under the title, ‘On The Shore’. It was included in Volume II of the 1874 Poetical Works.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 223

THE SWALLOWS

 

I

         O CHURCHYARD in the shady gloom,
               What charm to please hast thou,
         That, seated on a broken tomb,
               I muse so oft, as now?
The dreary autumn woodland whispereth nigh,
And in the distant lanes the village urchins cry.

         Thou holdest in thy sunless land
               Nought I have seen or known,
         No lips I ever kissed, no hand
               That ever clasped mine own;
And all is still and dreary to the eye,—
The broken tombs, dark walls, roofed by a sunless sky.

         Now to the murmur that mine ears
               Catch from the distant lanes,
         Dimming mine eyes with dreamy tears,
               Slow, low, my heart refrains;
And the live grass creeps up from thy dead bones,                            224
And crawls, with slimy stains, over thy grey gravestones.

         The cries keep on, the minutes pass,
               Mine eyes are on the ground,
         The silent many-fingered grass
               Winds round, and round, and round:
I seem to see it live, and stir, and wind,
I gaze, until a weight is heavy on my mind.

 

II

         O Churchyard in the shady gloom,
               What charm to please hast thou,
         That, seated on a broken tomb,
               I muse so oft, as now?
Haply because I learn, with sad content,
How small a thing can make the whole world different!

         Among the gravestones worn and old,
               A sad sweet hour I pass,
         Where thickest from thy sunless mould
               Upsprings the sickly grass;
For, though the earth holds no sweet-smelling flower,
The Swallows build their nests up in thy square grey tower.

         While, burthened by the life we bear,                                      225
               The dull and creeping woe,
         The mystery, the pain, the care,
               I watch thy grasses grow,
Sighing, I look to the dull autumn skies,
And, lo! my heart is cheered, and tears are in mine eyes.

         For here, where stillness, death, and dream,
               Brood above creeping things,
         Over mine eyes with quick bright gleam
               Shine little flashing wings.
And a strange comfort takes thy shady air,
And the deep life I breathe seems sweetened unaware!

 

[Note:
‘The Swallows’ originally appeared in Wayside Posies, a collection of anonymous poems, edited by Robert Buchanan, engraved by the Brothers Dalziel and published by G. Routledge in 1866. It was included in Volume II of the 1874 King edition of The Poetical Works, and in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 226

GIANT DESPAIR

I—HIS DEATH

 

SAD is the plight of Giant Despair,
     In Doubting Castle sick lies he!
The castle is built on a headland bare,
     And looks on the wash of a whirling Sea.

With the noise in his ears and the gleam in his eyes
     Of the breaking waves that beneath him beat,
Propt on pillows the Giant lies,
     Pillowed, too, are his gouty feet.

In and out the Leeches of Souls
     Run and chatter and prate and pray—
But the great wind wails and the thunder rolls:
     None may banish his gloom away.

With parchment cheek and lack-lustre eye                                         227
     He looketh out on the stormy scene—
Cruel is he and bloody and sly,
     Lustful and bad his life hath been.

O Priests who stand and whisper there,
     While he groans and curses and shrinks for fear,
What can ye say to Giant Despair
     To comfort him now his end is near?

Fat and oily and sweet, cries one:—
     “Comfort, O comfort! for heaven is sure—
There the believer shall revel in fun,
     And all delight that is plump and pure.

“Nothing delicious the Lord denies,
     Rosy wine he shall drink in bliss”—
“Add, moreover,” another cries,
     “Waists to encircle and lips to kiss.”

With parchment cheek and lack-lustre eye
     The Giant lies and makes no sign:
Women’s falsehood has made him sigh,
     He is sick of the very sight of wine.

“Comfort!” another crieth loud,                                                        228
     “Full of music shall be thy breast,
Thou shalt sit full proud on a rosy cloud,
     Happy and idle, amongst the blest—

“All shall be stainless and sweet and fair;
     All shall be merry from night to morn.”
Giant Despair stirred in his chair,
     Scowled at the speaker and grunted scorn.

Then one said this and one said that,
     And all were full of the world to be:
Yet duller and bitter the Giant sat
     Scowling out at the sullen Sea.

And all the storm of the wind and rain,
     And all the rage of the wrathful wave,
Flowed in and out of the Giant’s brain
     As the surge in and out of a dank sea-cave.

Forth, at last, stept a shape so grey,
     Crown’d with poppy, and shrouded deep;
He touch’d the Giant with hand of clay.
     And held a goblet—“Drink this, and sleep.

“Over thy grave the grass shall grow—                                              229
     Roses too, the white and the red—
The generations shall come and go,
     But thou shalt slumber,” the spirit said.

“Many a year shall blossom and fade,
     Many a life be given and taken,
Ere from thy sleep in the silent shade
     Thou, with a thrill of new life, shalt waken.”

The Giant smiled. Still loud and strong
     Sounded the sob of the weary Sea.
“My ears are sick!—may my sleep be long!
     For ever and ever, if that may be.”

 

II—AFTER

Who on the Giant’s tomb
Sits in the twilight gloom,
     With white hands folded?
Her breath comes fresh and warm;
Silent she waits, a form
     Divinely moulded.

Maiden she is; with eyes                                                         230
That search the dark still skies
     She sits in shadow;
Strewn scented at her feet
Are rue and lilies sweet,
     And flowers o’ the meadow.

And in her wild black hair
Are wild weeds passing fair,
     Pluck’d from dark places—
Dumb, dead, her sweet lips are,
And fixëd as a star
     Her marble face is.

Under God’s starless cope,
Vestured in white sits Hope,
     A musing maiden,
Under a yew sits she,
Watching most silently
     The gates of Eden.

Afar away they shine!
While up those depths divine
     Her eyes are turning—
And one by one on high
The strange lamps of the sky
     Are dimly burning.

Such sounds as fill’d with care                                                231
The dark heart of Despair
     Disturb her never,—
Tho’ close to her white feet
That mighty Sea doth beat,
     Moaning for ever.

She sees the foam-flash gleam,
She hears, in a half dream,
     The muffled thunder.
The salt dew fills her hair;
Her thoughts are otherwhere,
     Watching in wonder.

There let her sit alone,
Ev’n as a shape of stone
     In twilight gleaming;
Despair’s pale monument,
There let her sit, content,
     Waiting and dreaming.

Ah! which were sweetest, best?
With dead Despair to rest
     In sleep unbroken;
Or with that marble Maid
To watch, to sit in the shade,
     Waiting a token?

 

[Note:
‘Giant Despair’ was originally published in The Gentleman’s Magazine (September, 1874).]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 232

THE MOUNTAIN WELL

HERE, on the sultry mountain’s face,
     Although the heat broods bright around,
The runlet, in a mossy place,
     Drips, drop by drop, without a sound,
Into a basin cool yet bright,
Half-shaded from the golden light.

All is as still as sleep; on high
     The clouds float soft and white as wool;
Fern-fringëd crags and boulders lie
     Sun-parch’d around the dewy pool;
Beneath, the mountain pathway twines,
Above, peaks rise and sunlight shines.

How still it is! nought moves or stirs.
     Afar below, the lake of blue,
With purple islands dark with firs,
     Gleams smooth as glass and dim as dew:
And mountain, isle, and woodland rest
Within the mirror of its breast.

All motionless on yonder stone                                                         233
     The white grouse crouches in the light;
On high among the crags, alone,
     The eagle sheathes his piercing sight,
Clutching the peak amid the heat,
His shadow black’ning at his feet.

No living thing that flies or creeps
     Comes near the well this noontide hour;
The sunlight scorches crags and steeps,
     The heather shrinks its purple flower;
The wild brook glisters in its bed,
Silent and faded to a thread.

But when the sun is in the west,
     And sheds soft crimson o’er the place,
The grey-hen creeping from her nest,
     Leaving her dull brown eggs a space,
Comes hither, pausing on the brink
With quick sharp eyes, and stoops to drink.

Or from the stones the foumart slim
     Doth hither steal at eve to cool
His bloody mouth; or on the brim
     The blue hare, shadow’d in the pool,
Sits up erect, and thro’ the rocks
Springs, at the coming of the fox.

How many a strange and gentle thing                                                234
     Hath seen its face reflected here!
How oft at gloaming hath the spring
     Mirror’d the moist eyes of the deer,
While glen and corry, peak and height,
Were redd’ning in the rosy light!

Here stain’d with blood and foamy-lipt,
     The stag of ten hath paused for breath,
His blood in the sad pool hath dript
     Dark, drop by drop, before his death,
While he has watched, with looks of woe,
The hunter toiling from below.

How sweet it lies! how dark and cool!
     Half shaded by the crag on high,
A tiny place, a shallow pool,
     Yet with its own dark depth of sky—
Renewed for ever with no will
By the soft trickling of the hill.

All thro’ the dim and dewy night
     It gathers coolness drop by drop,
While in the moon the crags gleam white,
     And on the silent mountain top
The evening star of liquid dew
Gleams like a diamond in the blue.

A never-empty hand, a dim                                                              235
     Dark eye for dews of love to fill,
A constant cup full to the brim,
     Hast thou, O fount upon the hill.
I stoop and kiss thy lips; and so,
Refresh’d, I bless thee as I go.

 

[Note:
‘The Mountain Well’ was originally published in Good Words (May, 1872).]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 236

THE SONG OF THE SHEALING *

O WHO sits and sings the sad song of the Shealing,
     Alone on the hill-side, alone in the night!
Dead still through the shadows the moonlight is stealing,
     The dew’s on the heather, the mist on the height.
She sitteth in silence, and singeth so slowly;
     She milks the dark kine with her fingers so fair.
White woe of the lost, may her vigil be holy!
     The song of the Shealing is sad on the air.

Dark strewn on the grass are the stones of the Shealing,
     The wild leek and nettle grow black over all;
Here morning to gloaming the black hawk is wheeling,
     And foumart and stoat suckle young in the wall.
It’s lonely by daylight, but nightly, ah! nightly,
     She comes from her cave, with her kine, and sits there.
Oh, hearken! she sings, and her face gleams so whitely:
     The song of the Shealing is sad on the air.

O who would not hark to the song of the Shealing!                            237
     I stand in the shadow, I listen and sigh;
The day comes again, happy voices are pealing,
     The blue smoke curls up to the sweet summer sky;
O red in the sunset the kine gather yonder,
     The maidens are milking with rosy feet bare;
The sheep-dog is barking,—I hear it and ponder,—
     The song of the Shealing is sad on the air.

O green was the pasture, and sweet was the Shealing,
     And kind were the maidens barefooted and free,
And full of enchantment was Love’s tender feeling
     When the moon rose so silently up from the sea.
And on the green knolls walked the loved and the lover,
     Wrapt warm in one plaid, with one thought and one care:
I see them! I hear them! my heart’s running over,—
     The song of the Shealing is sad on the air.

O spirit of whiteness, O Ghost of the Shealing!
     Sing on, and sing low in the shade of the hill;
The picture has faded your voice was revealing,
     The white owl looks out through the threshold so chill.
There’s a star on Ben Rannoch shines softly above you,
     It sparkles all night on the dew in your hair:
White Soul of the Silence, we hear you and love you,—
     The song of the Shealing is sad on the air.

 

     * The rude cluster of huts in the midst of the distant pasturage whither the cattle were driven in summer, and where they grazed for many weeks, attended by the women and maidens of the farm.

 

[Note:
‘The Song Of The Shealing’ was originally published, anonymously, in The Saint Pauls Magazine (November, 1872).]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 238

THE SECRET OF THE MERE

I BUILT a hut beside the Mere,
     A lowly hut of turf and stone;
Therein I thought from year to year
     To dwell in silence and alone,
Watching the lights of heaven chase
The phantoms on the water’s face.

The world of men was far away;
     There was no sound, no speech, no cry;
All desolate the dark Mere lay
     Under the mountains and the sky—
A sullen Mere, where sadly brood
Dark shadows of the solitude.

“It is an evil world,” I said;
     “There is no hope, my doom is dark.”
And in despair of soul I fled
     Where not another eye might mark
My silent pain, my heart’s distress,
And all my spirit’s weariness.

And when I came unto the Mere,                                                       239
     It lay and gleam’d through days of gloom.
The livid mountains gather’d drear
     All round, like stones upon a tomb;
Around its margin rusted red
The dark earth crumbled ’neath my tread.

I said, “It is a godless place—
     Dark, desolate, and curst, like me.
Here, through all seasons, shall my face
     Behold its image silently.”
And from that hour I linger’d there
In protestation and despair.

For mark, the hills were stone and sand,
     Not strewn with scented red or green—
All empty as a dead man’s hand,
     And empty lay the Mere between.
No flocks fed there, no shepherd’s cry
Awoke the echoes of the sky.

And through a sullen mist I came,
     And beast-like crept unto my lair;
And many days I crouched in shame
     Out of the sunshine and sweet air.
I heard the passing wind and rain,
Like weary waves within the brain.

But when I rose and glimmer’d forth,                                                 240
     Ghost-wise across my threshold cold,
The clouds had lifted west and north,
     And all the peaks were touch’d with gold.
I smiled in scorn; far down beneath
The waters lay as dark as death.

I said, “Go by, O golden light!
     Thou canst not scatter darkness here.
In two sad bosoms there is night,
     In mine and in the lonely Mere;
Light thou thy lamps, and go thy way.”
It went, and all the heavens grew grey.

And when the lamps of heaven were lit,
     I did not raise mine eyes to see,
But watch’d the ghostly glimmers flit
     On the black waters silently.
I hid my face from heaven, and kept
Dark vigil when the bright sun slept.

And ever when the daylight grew
     I saw with joy the hills were high;
From dawn to dark, the live day through,
     Not lighting as the sun went by;
Only at noon one finger-ray
Touch’d us, and then was drawn away.

I cried, “God cannot find me now;                                                    241
     Done now am I with praise or pain.”
Beside the Mere, with darken’d brow,
     I walk’d as desolate as Cain.
I cried, “Not even God could rear
One seed of love or blessing here!”

’Twas Spring that day; the air was chill;
     Above the heights white clouds were roll’d,
The Mere below was blue as steel,
     And all the air was chill and cold,
When suddenly from air and sky
I heard a solitary cry.

Ah me! it was the same sweet sound
     That I had heard afar away;
Sad echoes waken’d all around
     Out of the rocks and caverns grey,
And looking upward, weary-eyed,
I saw the gentle bird that cried.

Upon a rock sat that sweet bird,
     As he had sat on pale or tree,
And while the hills and waters heard,
     He named his name to them and me.
I thought, “God sends the Spring again,
But here at least it comes in vain”

From rock to rock I saw him fly,                                                       242
     Silent in flight, but loud at rest;
And ever at his summer cry
     The mountains gladden’d and seem’d bless’d,
And in the hollows of them all
Faint flames of grass began to crawl!

Some secret hand I could not see
     Was busy where I dwelt alone;
It touched with tender tracery,
     Faint as a breath, the cliffs of stone;
Out of the earth it drew soft moss,
And lichens shapen like the Cross.

And lo! at every step I took
     Some faint life lived, some sweetness stirred,
While loosen’d torrents leapt and shook
     Their shining hair to hear the bird,
And white clouds ran across the blue,
And sweet sights rose, and sweet sounds grew.

I hated every sight and sound;
     I hated most that happy cry.
I saw the mountains glory-crown’d,
     And the bright heavens drifting by;
I felt the earth beneath my tread,
Now kindling quick, that late was dead!

Daily I stole unto the Mere,                                                               243
     And black as ever was its sleep.
Close to its margin all was drear;
     I heard the weary waters creep.
I laugh’d aloud, “Though all grow light,
We twain keep dark, in God’s despite!

“We will not smile nor utter praise;
     He made us dark, and dark we brood.
Sun-hating, desolate of days,
     We dwell apart in solitude.
Let Him light lamps for all the land;
We darken and elude His hand.”

Scarce had I spoken in such wise,
     When as before I heard the bird,
And lo! the Mere beneath mine eyes
     Was deeply, mystically stirred:
A sunbeam broke its gloom apart,
And Heaven trembled in its heart;

There, clustering in that under-gloom,
     Like rising stars that open dim,
Innumerable, leaf and bloom,
     I saw the water-lilies swim,
Still ’neath the surface dark to sight,
But creeping upward to the light.

As countless as the lights above,                                                        244
     Stirring and glimmering below,
They gather’d; and I watched them move,
     Till on the surface, white as snow,
One came, grew glad, and open’d up,
A pinch of gold in its white cup!

Then suddenly within my breast
     Some life of rapture open’d too,
And I forgot my bitter quest,
     Watching that glory as it grew;
For, leaf by leaf and flower by flower,
The lilies opened from that hour.

And soon the gloomy Mere was sown
     With oilèd leaves and stars of white;
The trumpet of the wind was blown
     Far overhead, from height to height,
And lo! the Mere, from day to day,
Grew starry as the Milky Way.

I could not bear to dwell apart
     With so divine and bright a thing;
I felt the dark depths of my heart
     Were stirring, trembling, wakening,
I watched the Mere, and saw it shine,
E’en as the eye of God on mine.

As one that riseth in his tomb,                                                            245
     I rose and wept in soul’s distress;
I had not fear’d His wrath and gloom;
     But now I fear’d His loveliness.
I craved for peace from God, and then
Crept back and made my peace with men!

 

[Note:
‘The Secret Of The Mere’ was originally published in Good Words (July, 1876).]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 246

MNEMOSYNE; OR, THE RETROSPECT

STILL were the azure fields, thick strewn
     With stars, and trod by luminous feet;
In the low west the wan white Moon
     Walked in her winding-sheet—
Holding her taper up, to see
Thy cold fair face, Mnemosyne.

And on that face her lustre fell,
     Deepening the marble pallor there,
While by the stream, and down the dell,
     Thy slow still feet did fare;
Thy maiden thoughts were far from me,
Thy lips were dumb, Mnemosyne.

I knew thee by a simpler name,
     Meet for a maid of English birth,
And though thy beauty put to shame
     All beauty born of earth,
Not till that night could my soul see
Thy soul’s dark depths, Mnemosyne!

At last thy voice thrilled soft and low—                                             247
     “Oh, blessed be the silent night!
It brings strange life of long ago
     Back to the soul’s sad sight—
It trances sense, and thought is free
To tremble through eternity.

“Oh, thinkest thou this life we live,
     In this strange haunted planet nurst,
So mystical, so fugitive,
     Could be the last? or first?
Nay, I remember!”—Pale stood she,
Fronting the west, Mnemosyne!

The moonlight on her cheek of snow,
     The star-dew on her raven hair,
Her eyes in one divine dark glow
     On heaven, she waited there—
“Nay, I remember!” murmured she,
The earthly maid, Mnemosyne.

And as she spake, it seemed I saw
     Before me, in the mystic light,
That old Greek woman’s-shape of awe,
     Large, lustrous-eyed, and white—
The twilight goddess, fair to see,
With heavenly eyes—Mnemosyne!

The haunter of green moonlit tombs,                                                  248
     The reader of old midnight lore,
The glorious walker through God’s glooms,
     Back-looking evermore.
I shook, and almost bent the knee,
Naming the name, “Mnemosyne!” . . .

“I can remember!—all the day
     Memory is dark, the past is dead,
But when the sunshine fades away,
     And in the void o’erhead
Heaven’s eyes flash open, I can see
That lost life!” said Mnemosyne.

“Before this mortal sphere I trod,
     I breathed some strange and heavenly air;
Ay, wandered ’mid the glooms of God,
     A living soul, up there!
The old lost life comes back to me
With starry gleams of memory!

“I can remember!”—In a trance,
     O love, thou didst upgazing stand,
Nor turned from heaven thy lustrous glance,
     While soft I kissed thy hand,
Whispering that mystic name to thee,
“Mnemosyne: Mnemosyne!”

And all the luminous eyes above                                                        249
     Concentred one still gaze on thine,
When warm wild words of earthly love
     Poured in thine ears divine,
Till, with thy soft lips kissing me,
Thy soul saw mine, Mnemosyne!

A sense of that forgotten life
     Blew on our cheeks like living breath;
Lifted beyond the world’s dark strife,
     Above the gates of Death,
Hand linked in hand, again lived we
That starlight life of ecstasy!

Go by, bright days of golden blooms!
     She shrinks and darkens in your gleam;
Come, starry nights and mystic glooms,
     And deepen that sweet dream!
Let her remember; let her be
Priestess of peace—Mnemosyne!

O child of heaven, the life we live,
     In this strange haunted planet nurst,
So mystical, so fugitive,
     Is not the last, or first;
That lost life was, new life shall be—
So keep thy name,—“Mnemosyne!”

 

[Note:
‘Mnemosyne; or, The Retrospect’ was originally published in Cassell’s Magazine (January, 1874).]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 250

L’ENVOI

VANITY FAIR

 

I

               HERE’S a babble
                   In Vanity Fair!
               Here’s a rabble
                   Of folk on the stare!
               Here’s a crying,
               Selling and buying,
               Groaning and grumbling,
               Pushing and stumbling!
               Tootle-te-toot!
                   Rum-ti-tum-tum!
               They blow the flute,
                   And they beat the drum.
               And yonder in rows
               Are the painted shows,
               Where zany and clown
                   With “Walk in, walk in!”
               Stalk up and down,
                   While the people grin.
     Hold me tighter, my pretty one,                                                   251
     We’ll elbow our way and see the fun.
     In we go, where they scramble and scream—
     What a rabble! it’s like a dream!

               Trip it merrily,
                   Pretty one,
               On we stray cheerily
                   Full of the fun:
               Punch and Judy;
                   Fiddlestring;
               Acrobats moody
                   Making a ring;
               Clowns cutting capers
                   At every show;
               Bucolic gapers
                   Grinning below;
     Quiet conjurers quick and sly
     Making the public halfpence fly;
     Quacks with boluses, nostrums, and pills,
     Vending cures for the flesh and its ills;
     Every one bawling—(O the din!)
     Every voice calling—“Walk in, walk in.”
     “Stop the thief!”—how they carry the shout!
     How the crowd eddies in and out!
     Lean and thin with quivering lip
     The rascal writhes in his captor’s grip:                                          252
     He looks all round with a hungry stare;
     The mob groans round him and longs to tear—
     Off to the gaol the scarecrow bear!
     We’re virtuous people in Vanity Fair!

               All together,
                   Christian and Jew,
               Birds of fine feather,
                   And ragged too,
               Dukes and earls,
               And ballet girls,
               Philosophers,
               And patterers;
               The poor from the city,
                   The wild sea-rover,
               The beggar witty
                   Half-seas over,
               The gipsy pretty
                   Red from a romp in the clover.
     Right foot, left foot, we trip it and toe it,
     You the pretty girl, I your poet,
     Rubbing sleeves with great and small,
     Jostling along through the heart of them all.
     Our hearts are leaping, our heads are dizzy,
     The trade’s so merry, the mirth so busy,
     We sqùeeze along and we gasp for air,                                         253
     In the hurry and flurry of Vanity Fair.

 

II

               Clari, my sweetest,
               Trimmest and neatest,
                   Why this alarm?
             Why are you sighing,
               Fluttering and crying,
                   And gripping my arm?
               “Come away! come away!
                   ’Tis so sad! ’Tis so loud!
               My soul swoons away,
                   To look at the crowd!
               O hark how they cry—
               I am sick, let us fly!”
O Clari, sweet blending of fire and of air,
Come along, come along, out of Vanity Fair.
Out yonder are fields and the sky and the trees—
And the only sounds there are the birds and the breeze,
And the water that throbs in its green woodland nest,
Like the heart that is beating so loud in your breast.

               . . . Breathless, flushing,
               Faint with the crushing,
                   Here we are—
               Night is coming,
               Droning and humming                                                         254
                   Sounds Vanity Fair afar;
               And its light, as the night
               Cometh down, is cast bright
               On the sky far away . . .
                   How strange feels this stillness!
               Grey and more grey
                   Comes the night with its chillness.
Clari, where are we? Outside the Fair,
With the great black earth and the sky and the air,
All alone—Hold me tighter! The noise of the rout
Was dreadful within, but more dreadful without
Seems the silence. O God! see the pale moon arise,
And the hills black as ink in the shade, and the eyes
Of the stars fix’d on ours from the terrible skies.

               What is this looming
                   Against the light,
               Silent and glooming
                   In the chilly night?
               And what are these clinging,
                   Three in a row,
               Dismally, swinging
                   When the wind doth blow?
     Three black figures against the light,
     Their faces white and their legs strapt tight,
     Having a swing in the wind this night!                                            255
     O hold me faster, who is she
     That stands at the foot of the cross-shaped tree?
     Cowl’d, barefooted, with hooded face,
     What doth she in the ghostly place?
     Silent she stands, a sad beholder!
     Stop, let me touch her on the shoulder.

             The moon shines cold
                   On the silent place—
               O God, I behold
                   The dear dead face!
               She turns unto me
                   Calm and white,
               Her eyes thrill through me
                   With piteous light.
               How cold yet how sweet
                   In the night-wind she stands!
               See, the poor wounded feet!
                   See, the poor pleading hands!
Is it she? Kneel and pray! O my child, have no care,
She is near—Hath she fled? Did we dream? Was she there?
Ah, cold is the night, and the earth lieth bare,
And, distant and deep, a dull sound fills the air—
The wash of the waters of Vanity Fair.

_____

 

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