ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{Idyls and Legends of Inverburn 1865}

 

Idyls and Legends of Inverburn - The Second Edition (continued)

 

                                                                                                                                                                   193

PASTORAL PICTURES.
_____

 

I.

THE RIVER.

 

How merry a life the little river leads,
Piping a vagrant ditty free from care;
Now singing as it rustles through the reeds
And broad-leaved lilies sailing here and there,
Now lying level with the clover meads
And musing in a mist of silver air! 
Bearing a sense of peace where’er it goes,
Narrow’d to mirth or broaden’d to repose:
Through copsy villages and tiny towns,
By belts of woodland singing sweet,
Pausing where sun and shadow meet
Without the darkness of the downs,
Bickering o’er the keystone as it flows
’Neath mossy bridges arch’d like maiden feet.

Run seaward, for I follow!                                                                 194
                                           Let me cross
My garden-threshold ankle-deep in moss.
Sweet stream, your heart is beating and I hear it,
As conscious of its pleasure as a girl’s:
O little river, whom I love so well,
Is it with something of a human spirit
You twine those lilies in your sedgy curls?
Take up the inner voice we both inherit,
O little river of my love, and tell!

The rain has crawled from yonder mountain-side,
And passing, left its footprints far and wide.
The path I follow winds by cliff and scar,
Purple and dark and trodden as I pass,
Save where the primrose lifts its yellow star
Set like a gem in scanty braids of grass—
The primrose in its crevice damp and dun,
Second to light its censer at the sun!
Dwarf birches show their sodden roots and shake
Their melting jewels on my bending brows,
The mottled mavis pipes among their boughs
For joy of five unborn in yonder brake.
The river, narrow’d to a woody glen,                                                 195
Leaps trembling o’er a little rocky ledge,
Then broadens forward into calm again
Where the gray moor-hen builds her nest of sedge;
Caught in the dark those willow-trees have made,
Kissing the yellow lilies o’er and o’er,
It flutters twenty feet along the shade,
Halts at the boulder like a thing afraid,
And turns to kiss the lilies yet once more.

Those little falls are lurid with the rain
That ere the day is done will come again.
The river falters swoll’n and brown,
Falters, falters, as it nears them,
Shuddering back as if it fears them,
Falters, falters, falters, falters,
Then dizzily rushes down.

But all is calm again, the little river
Smiles on and sings the song it sings for ever.
Here at the curve it passes tilth and farm,
And faintly flowing onward to the mill
It stretches out a little azure arm
To aid the miller, aiding with a will,                                                     196
And singing, singing still.
Sweet household sounds come sudden on mine ear:
The waggons rumbling in the hoof-plod lanes,
The village clock and trumpet Chanticleer,
The flocks and lowing steers on neighbouring plains,
With shouts of urchins ringing loud and clear;
And lo! a village, breathing breath that curls
In foamy wreaths through ancient sycamores,
Sending a hum of looms through cottage doors.
I stumble on a group of market girls
Barefooted in the deep and dewy grass;
Small urchins rush from sanded kitchen-floors
To stare with mouths and glances as I pass.

But yonder cottage where the woodbine grows,
Half cottage and half inn, a pretty place,
Tempts ramblers with the country cheer it shows;
Entering, I rob the threshold with a rose,
And meet the welcome on a mother’s face.
Come, let me sit. The scent of garden flowers
Flits through the casement of the sanded room,
Hitting the sense with thoughts of summer hours                                  197
When half the world has burgeon’d into bloom.
Is that the faded picture of our host
Shading the plate of pansies where I sit—
That lean-limb’d stripling straighter than a post,
Clad in a coat that seems a sorry fit?
I drink his health in this his own October,
That bites so sharply on the thirsty tongue;
And here he comes, but not so slim and sober
As in the days when Love and he were young.
“Hostess!” I fill again and pledge the glory
Of that stout angel answering to my call,
Who changed him from the shadow on the wall
Into the rosy tun of sack before me!

Again I follow where the river wanders.
The landscape billows into hills of thyme,
Up to whose purple summits larkspurs climb;
Till in a glen of birchen-trees and boulders
I halt, beneath a heathery mountain ridge
Clothed on with amber cloud from head to shoulders.

I wander on and gain a little bridge,
And watch the angling of a shepherd boy;                                           198
Below the little river glimmers by,
Touched with a troubled sense of pain or joy
By some new life at work in earth and sky.
The pastures there steam mist from hidden springs,
Deep-hidden in the marsh the bittern calls,
And yonder swallow oils its ebon wings
While fluttering o’er the little waterfalls.
Below my feet the little budding flower
Thrusts up dark leaves to feel the coming shower:
I’ll trust these weather-signs and creep apart
Beneath this crag until the rain depart,—
’Twill come again and go within an hour.
The moist soft wind has died and fallen now,
The air is hot and hush’d on flower and tree,
The leaves are troubled into sighs, and see!
There falls a heavy drop upon my brow.
The cloudy standard is above unfurl’d;
The aspen fingers of the blinded Rain
Feel for the summer eyelids of the world
That she may kiss them open once again.
Darker and darker, till with one accord
The clouds pour forth their hoard twice an hour,
A sunbeam rends their bowels like a sword                                        199
And frees the costly shower!

Fluttering around me and before me,
Stretched like a mantle o’er me,
The rushing shadows blind the earth and skies,
Dazzling a darkness on my gazing eyes
With troublous gleams of radiance, like the bright
Pigments of gold that flutter in our sight,
When with shut eyes we strain
Our aching vision back upon the brain.

Across the skies and o’er the plain
Fast fly the swollen shadows of the Rain;
Blown duskly on from hill to hill they fly,
O’er solitary streams and windy downs,
O’er little villages and darkened towns.

I crouch beneath the crag and watch the mist
Move on the skirts of yonder mountains gray
Until it bubbles into amethyst
And softly melts away.
The thyme-bells catch their drops of silver dew,
And quake like fairies ’neath the sparkling load;                                  200
The squadron’d pines that shade the splashing road,
Are glimmering with a thousand jewels too.
And hark! the Angel of the Rain
Sings to the summer sleeping,
Pressing a dark damp face against the plain,
And pausing, pausing, not for pain,
Pausing, pausing, ere the low refrain,
Because she cannot sing for weeping.
She flings her cold dim arms about the earth,
That soon shall wear the blessing she has given,
Then brightens upward in a sunny mirth
And warbles back to heaven.

A fallen sunbeam trembles at my feet,
And as I sally forth the linnets frame
Their throats to answer yonder laverock sweet.
The jewell’d trees flash out in emerald flame;
The bright drops fall fulfilling peaceful sound,
And melt in circles on the shallow pools
That simmer on the red and sodden ground.
The rainbow issues from her cloudy shrine,
Trembling alone in heaven where she rules,
And arching down to kiss with kisses sweet                                         201
The little world that brightens at her feet,
Runs liquid through her many hues divine.

 

                                                                                                         202

II.

IN THE MOUNTAINS.

 

THE little River is the fittest singer
     To sound the praises of a day so fair.
The dews, suck’d up thro’ pores of sunshine, linger
     As silver cloudlets in mid-air;
And over all the sunshine throws
     Its golden glamour of repose.

Now suddenly, mine eyes perceive
     The purple hills that touch the sky,
And are familiar with the stars of eve;
     Against the pale blue west they lie,
Netted in mists of azure air,
     With thread-like cataracts here and there.
O hark! O hark!
The shepherd shouts, and answering sheep-dogs bark;
And voices, startling Echo from her sleep,
Are blown from steep to steep.

At yonder falls, the trembling mountain lady                                         203
     Clings to the bramble high above me lying,
     With foamy veil behind her swift feet flying,
         And a lorn terror in her lifted voice,
Ere springing to the rush-friez’d basin shady,
         That boils below with noise.
Then, whirling dizzily for a moment’s space,
She lets the sun make blushes on her face,
And lightly laughs at her own terror past,
And floateth onward fast.

The landscape darkens slowly
     With mountain shadow while I wander on;
     The tremulous gladness of the heart seems gone,
And a cool awe spreads round me, sweet and holy,—
A tender, sober-suited melancholy.
The path rough feet have made me winds away
O’er fenny meadows to the white highway,
     Where the big waggon clatters with its load,
And pushing onward, to the ankles wet
In swards as soft as silken sarcenet,
     I gain the dusty road.

The air is hotter here. The bee booms by                                             204
With honey-laden thigh,
Doubling the heat with sounds akin to heat;
     And like a floating flower the butterfly
Swims upward, downward, till its feet
Cling to the hedgerows white and sweet.
     A black duck rises clumsily with a cry,
     And the dim lake is nigh.
The road curves upward to a dusty rise,
Where fall the sunbeams flake on flake;
And turning at the curve, mine eyes
Fall sudden on the silent lake,
Asleep ’neath hyacinthine skies.

The sunlight fades on mossy rocks,
And on the mountain-sides the flocks
     Are spilt like streams;—the highway dips
Down, narrowing to a path where lambs
Lay to the udders of their dams
     Their soft and pulpy lips.
The hills grow closer; to the right
The path sweeps round a shadowy bay,
Upon whose slated bottom, white
And crested waves faint-warbling play.                                               205
All else is still. But list, O list!
Hidden by boulders and by mist,
A shepherd whistles in his fist;
From height to height the far sheep bleat
In answering iteration sweet.

Along this rock I’ll lie,
With face turned upward to the sky.
A dreamy numbness glows within my brain—
It is not joy and is not pain—
’Tis like the solemn, sweet imaginings
That cast a shade on music’s golden wings.
With face turned upward to the sun,
I lie as indolent as one
Who, in a vision sweet, perceives
Angels thro’ mists of lotus leaves;
     And now and then small shadows move
Across me, cast by clouds so small
Mine eyes perceive them not at all
     In the unsullied blue above.
I hear the streams that burst and fall,
The straggling shepherd’s frequent call,
     The kine low bleating as they pass,                                                 206
The dark lake stirring with the breeze,
The melancholy hum of bees,
     The very murmur of the grass.

 

                                                                                                         207

III.

SNOW.

 

I WANDER forth this chill December dawn:
Frost and his tiny elves are out, I see,
As busy as the fairy world can be,
Clothing a world asleep with fleecy lawn.
’Mid the blue silence of the evening hours
They glimmered duskly down from skyey bowers,
And featly have they laboured all night long,
Cheering their labour with a half-heard rhyme—
Low as the burthen of a shepherd’s song
When Echo moans it over hills of thyme.

There is a hush of music on the air—
The white-wing’d fairies faltering everywhere;
And here and there,
Made by a sudden mingling as they fall,
There comes a softer lullaby than all,
Swept in upon the universal prayer.
Mine eyes and heart are troubled with a motion                                   208
Of music like the moving waves of ocean,
When, out of hearing, o’er the harbour bars
They sigh toward the moon and jasper stars.
The tiny squadrons waver down and thicken,
Gathering numbers as they fly,
And nearing earth their thick-set ranks they quicken,
And swim in swarms to die!

But now the clouds are winnowčd away:
The sky above is gray as glass; below
The feeble twilight of the dreamy day
Nets the long landskip hush’d beneath the snow.
The arrowy frosts sting keenly as I stray
Along the rutted lane or broad highway,
Past wind-swept hedges sighing sharp and clear,
Where half the sweetly changeful year
The scented summer loves to gleam and glow.
The new-lain snowy carpet, ankle-deep,
Crumbles beneath my footsteps as I pass,
Revealing scanty blades of frozen grass;
On either side the chirping sparrows leap,
And here and there a robin, friendly now,
From naked bough to bough.                                                             209
That snow-clad homestead in the river’s arm
Is haunted with the noisy rooks that fly
Between its bending beeches and the sky,
And hailing fast for yonder fallow farm,
A solitary linnet plunges by.
Light-muffled winds arising high among
White hills, deep brooding in their winter rest,
Bear from the eastern winter to the west
The muttered diapason of a song
Made by the thunder on a mountain’s breast.

The sun is hanging in a purple globe,
’Mid yellow mists that stir with silver breath;
The little landskip slumbers, white as death,
Amid its naked fields and woody wolds,
Wearing the winter as a stainless robe,
Low trailing in a fall of fleecy folds.
By pasture-gates the mottled cattle swarm,
Thick’ning the misty air, with piteous eyes
Fixed ever on the tempest-breeding skies,
And watch the lingering traces of the storm.
A feeble sunbeam kisses and illumes
Yon whitened spire that hints a hidden town,                                       210
And flickering for a space it darkens down
Above the silence of forgotten tombs.

I gain the shoulder of a plantain now,
A fledgling’s flutter from a small hill’s brow.
I see the hamlet, half a mile below,
With dripping gables and with darkened panes,
And watch the urchins in the narrow lanes
Below the school-house, shouting in the snow.
The whitened coach comes swiftly round the road
With horns to which a dozen hills reply,
And rattling onward with its laughing load,
Halts steaming at the little hostelry.
Hard by the lonely woodman pants and glows,
And wrapt in leather stockings to the thigh,
Toils with an icicle beneath his nose.
In yonder field an idle shepherd blows
His frozen fingers into tingling flame;
The gaunt old farmer, as he canters by,
Reins in to greet the country clowns by name;
That chestnut pony in the yellow fly
Draws the plump parson and his leaner dame.

I loiter down the road, and feel the ground                                          211
Like iron ’neath my heel; the windless air
Seems lying in a swound.
Frost follows in its path without a sound,
And plies his nimble fingers everywhere,
Under my eyelids and beneath my hair.
Yon mountain dons once more its helm of cloud,
The air grows dark and dim as if in wonder;
Once more the heaven is winnow’d, and the crowd
Of silken fairies flock with music under
A sky that flutters like a wind-swept shroud.

Through gloomy dimbles, clad with new-fall’n snow,
Back to my little cottage home I go.
But once again I roam by field and flood,
Stung into heat where hoar-frosts melt and bite,
What time the fog-wrapt sun drops red as blood,
And the white star is tingling into sight.

 

[Notes:
A poem entitled ‘Up The River’ was published in the October 1862 edition of The St. James’s Magazine, a section of which was then published as the second part of ‘Pastoral Pictures’ - ‘In The Mountains’ - in the Second Edition of Idyls and Legends of Inverburn.
‘Pastoral Pictures’, now containing four sections - ‘Down the River’ (first published in All The Year Round - 15 September, 1860), ‘The Summer Pool’, ‘Up the River’, and ‘Snow’ (first published in All The Year Round - 29 December, 1860) - was published in The Poetical Works Vol. II (London: H. S. King & Co., 1874. Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1874) and this version was also included in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan in the section entitled, ‘Early Poems’:

 

PASTORAL PICTURES.

 

I.

DOWN THE RIVER.

 

HOW merry a life the little River leads,
Piping a vagrant ditty free from care;
Now rippling as it rustles through the reeds
And broad-leaved lilies sailing here and there,
Now lying level with the clover meads
And musing in a mist of golden air!
Bearing a pastoral peace where’er it goes,
Narrow’d to mirth or broaden’d to repose:
Through copsy villages and tiny towns,
By belts of woodland singing sweet,
Pausing where sun and shadow meet
Without the darkness of the breezy downs,
Bickering o’er the keystone as it flows
’Neath mossy bridges arch’d like maiden feet;
And slowly widening as it seaward grows,
Because its summer mission grows complete.

Run seaward, for I follow!
                                           Let me cross
My garden-threshold ankle-deep in moss.
Sweet Stream, your heart is beating and I hear it,
As conscious of its pleasure as a girl’s:
O little River, whom I love so well,
Is it with something of a human spirit
You twine those lilies in your sedgy curls?
Take up the inner voice we both inherit,
O little River of my love, and tell!

     The rain has crawled from yonder mountain-side,
And passing, left its footprints far and wide.
The path I follow winds by cliff and scar,
Purple and dark and trodden as I pass,
The foxglove droops, the crocus lifts its star,
And bluebells brighten in the dewy grass.
Over deep pools the willow hangs its hair,
Dwarf birches show their sodden roots and shake
Their melting jewels on my bending brows,
The mottled mavis pipes among their boughs
For joy of five unborn in yonder brake.
The River, narrow’d to a woody glen,
Leaps trembling o’er a little rocky ledge,
Then broadens forward into calm again
Where the gray moor-hen builds her nest of sedge;
Caught in the dark those willow-trees have made,
Lipping the yellow lilies o’er and o’er,
It flutters twenty feet along the shade,
Halts at the sunshine like a thing afraid,
And turns to kiss the lilies yet once more.

     Those little falls are lurid with the rain
That ere the day is done will come again.
The River falters swoll’n and brown,
Falters, falters, as it nears them,
Shuddering back as if it fears them,
Falters, falters, falters, falters,
Then dizzily rushes down.

But all is calm again, the little River
Smiles on and sings the song it sings for ever.
Here at the curve it passes tilth and farm,
And faintly flowing onward to the mill
It stretches out a little azure arm
To aid the miller, aiding with a will,
And singing, singing still.
Sweet household sounds come sudden on mine ear:
The waggons rumbling in the rutted lanes,
The village clock and trumpet Chanticleer,
The flocks and cattle on the marish-plains,
With shouts of urchins ringing loud and clear;
And lo! a Village, breathing breath that curls
In foam-white wreaths through ancient sycamores!
A hum of looms comes through the cottage doors.
I stumble on a group of country girls
Faring afield thro’ deep and dewy grass;
Small urchins rush from sanded kitchen-floors
To stare with mouths wide open as I pass.

     But yonder cottage where the woodbine grows,
Half cottage and half inn, a pretty place,
Tempts ramblers with the country cheer it shows;
Entering, I rob the threshold of a rose,
And meet the welcome on a mother’s face.
Come, let me sit. The scent of garden flowers
Flits through the casement of the sanded room,
Hitting the sense with thoughts of summer hours
When half the world has budded into bloom.
Is that the faded picture of our host
Shading the plate of pansies where I sit—
That lean-limb’d stripling straighter than a post,
Clad in a coat that seems a sorry fit?
I drink his health in this his own October,
That bites so sharply on the thirsty tongue;
And here he comes, but not so slim and sober
As in the days when Love and he were young.
‘Hostess!’ I fill again and pledge the glory
Of that stout angel answering to my call,
Who changed him from the shadow on the wall
Into the rosy tun of sack before me!

     Again I follow where the river wanders.
The landscape billows into hills of thyme;
Over the purple heights I slowly climb;
Till in a glen of birchen-trees and boulders
I halt, beneath a heathery mountain ridge
Clothed on with amber cloud from head to shoulders.

     I wander on and gain a mossy bridge,
And watch the angling of a shepherd boy;
Below the little river glimmers by,
Touched with a troubled sense of pain or joy
By some new life at work in earth and sky.
The marshes there steam mist from hidden springs,
Deep-hidden in the marsh the bittern calls,
And yonder swallow oils its ebon wings
While fluttering o’er the falls.
Below my feet the little budding flower
Thrusts up dark leaves to feel the coming shower:
I’ll trust these weather-signs and creep apart
Beneath this crag until the rain depart,—
’Twill come again and go within an hour.

The moist soft wind has died and fallen now,
The air is hot and hush’d on flower and tree,
The leaves are troubled into sighs, and see!
There falls a heavy drop upon my brow.
The cloudy standard is above unfurl’d;
The aspen fingers of the blinded Rain
Feel for the summer eyelids of the world
That she may kiss them open once again.
Darker and darker, till with one accord
The clouds pour forth their hoard in gusts of power,
A sunbeam rends their bowels like a sword
And frees the costly shower!

     Fluttering around me and before me,
Stretched like a mantle o’er me,
The rushing shadows blind the earth and skies,
Dazzling a darkness on my gazing eyes
With troublous gleams of radiance, like the bright
Pigments of gold that flutter in our sight,
When with shut eyes we strain
Our aching vision back upon the brain.

     Across the skies and o’er the plain
Fast fly the swollen shadows of the Rain;
Blown duskly by,
From hill to hill they fly,
O’er solitary streams and windy downs,
O’er trembling villages and darkened towns!
I crouch beneath the crag and watch the mist
Move on the skirts of yonder mountains gray
Until it bubbles into amethyst
And softly melts away.
The thyme-bells catch their drops of silver dew,
And quake beneath the load;
The squadron’d pines that shade the splashing road
Are glimmering with a million jewels too.
And hark! the Spirit of the Rain
Sings to the Summer sleeping,
Pressing a dark damp face against the plain,
And pausing, pausing, not for pain,
Pausing, pausing, ere the low refrain,
Because she cannot sing for weeping.
She flings her cold dim arms about the Earth,
That soon shall wear the blessing she has given,
Then brightens thro’ her tears in sunny mirth
And flutters back to heaven.

A fallen sunbeam trembles at my feet,
And as I sally forth the linnets frame
Their throats to answer yonder laverock sweet.
The jewell’d trees flash out in emerald flame.
The bright drops fall with throbs of peaceful sound,
And melt in circles on the shallow pools
That glisten on the ground.
Last, Iris issues from her cloudy shrine,
Trembling alone in heaven where she rules,
And arching down to kiss with kisses sweet
The bright green world that flashes at her feet,
Runs liquid through her many hues divine.

 

II.

THE SUMMER POOL.

 

THERE is a singing in the summer air,
The blue and brown moths flutter o’er the grass,
The stubble bird is creaking in the wheat,
And perch’d upon the honeysuckle hedge
Pipes the green linnet. Oh, the golden world!
The stir of life on every blade of grass,
The motion and the joy on every bough,
The glad feast everywhere, for things that love
The sunshine, and for things that love the shade!

Aimlessly wandering with weary feet,
Watching the wool-white clouds that wander by,
I come upon a lonely place of shade,—
A still green Pool, where with soft sound and stir
The shadows of o’erhanging branches sleep,
Save where they leave one dreamy space of blue,
O’er whose soft stillness ever and anon
The feathery cirrhus blows. Here unaware
I pause, and leaning on my staff I add
A shadow to the shadows; and behold!
Dim dreams steal down upon me, with a hum
Of little wings, a murmuring of boughs,—
The dusky stir and motion dwelling here,
Within this small green world. O’ershadowëd
By dusky greenery, tho’ all around
The sunshine throbs on fields of wheat and bean,
Downward I gaze into the dreamy blue,
And pass into a waking sleep, wherein
The green boughs rustle, feathery wreaths of cloud
Pass softly, piloted by golden airs:
The air is still,—no birds sing any more,—
And, helpless as a tiny flying thing,
I am alone in all the world with God.

The wind dies—not a leaf stirs—on the Pool
The fly scarce moves; Earth seems to hold her breath
Until her heart stops, listening silently
For the far footsteps of the coming Rain!

     While thus I pause, it seems that I have gained
New eyes to see; my brain grows sensitive
To trivial things that, at another hour,
Had passed unheeded. Suddenly the air
Shivers, the shadows in whose midst I stand
Tremble and blacken—the blue eye o’ the Pool
Is closed and clouded; with a sudden gleam,
Oiling its wings, a swallow darteth past,
And weedling flowers beneath my feet thrust up
Their leaves to feel the fragrant shower. Oh hark!
The thirsty leaves are troubled into sighs,
And up above me, on the glistening boughs,
Patters the summer Rain!

                                         Into a nook,
Screen’d by thick foliage of oak and beech,
I creep for shelter; and the summer shower
Murmurs around me. Oh, the drowsy sounds!
The pattering rain, the numerous sigh of leaves,
The deep, warm breathing of the scented air,
Sink sweet into my soul—until at last
Comes the soft ceasing of the gentle fall,
And lo! the eye of blue within the Pool
Opens again, while with a silvern gleam
Dew-diamonds twinkle moistly on the leaves,
Or, shaken downward by the summer wind,
Fall melting on the Pool in rings of light!

 

III.

UP THE RIVER.

 

BEHIND the purple mountains lies a lake,
Steadfast thro’ storm and sunshine in its place;
Asleep ’neath changing skies, its waters make
A mirror for the tempest’s thunder-face;
     Thence—singing songs of glee,
     Fluttering to my cottage by the sea,
         By bosky glen and grove,
Past the lone shepherd, moveless as the rock
Whence stretch’d at length he views his scatter’d flock,—
     Cometh the little River that I love.

     To-day I’ll bid farewell to books,
     And by the River loved so well,
     Thro’ ferny haunts and flowery nooks,
     Thro’ stony glen and woody dell,
     The rainy river-path I’ll take,
     Till by the silent-sleeping lake
     I hear the shepherd’s bell.
The summer bleats from every rocky height,
The bluebell banks are dim with dewy light,
         The heavens are clear as infants’ eyes above;
This is no day—you, little River, know it!—
     For sage or poet
         To localise his love.
In rippling cadence, calm and slow,
Sing, little River, as I go,
Songs of the mountains whence you flow!

The grassy banks are wet with dew that flashes
Silverly on the Naiad-river’s lashes—
The Naiad-river, bright with sunken suns,
Who murmureth as she runs.
Yonder the silver-bellied salmon splashes
Within the spreading circle of blue shade
That his own leaps have made:
And here I stoop, and pluck with tender care
A lily from the Naiad’s sedgy hair.
And curling softly over pebble,
Weaving soft waves o’er yellow sands,
Singing her song in tinkling treble,
The mountain Lady thro’ the farmer’s lands
Slides to the sea, with harvest-giving hands.

Here freckled cowslips bloom unsought,
     Like yellow jewels on her light green train;
     And yonder, dark with dreaming of the rain,
Grows the wood-violet like a lowly thought.
Lightly the mountain Lady dances down,
Dressed maidenly in many a woodland gem;—
Lo, even where the footprint of the clown
Has bruised her raiment-hem,
Crimson-tipp’d daisies make a diadem.

The little River is the fittest singer
To sound the praises of a day so fair.
The dews, suck’d up thro’ pores of sunshine, linger
As silver cloudlets in mid-air;
And over all the sunshine throws
Its golden glamour of repose.
The Silence listens, in a dream,
To hear the ploughman urge his reeling team,
The trout, that flashes with a sudden gleam,
And musical motions heaved by hills that bound
The slumberous vales around.
     I loiter onward slowly, and the whole
Sweet joy is in my happy fancies drowned.
The sunshine meets the music. Sight and sound
     Are wedded by the Soul.
—Sing, little River, this sweet morn,
Songs of the hills where thou wert born!
For, suddenly, mine eyes perceive
The purple hills that touch the sky:
Familiar with the stars of eve,
Against the pale blue West they lie,
Netted in mists of azure air,
With thread-like cataracts here and there.
Oh hark! Oh hark!
The shepherd shouts, and answering sheep-dogs bark;
And voices, startling Echo from her sleep,
Are blown from steep to steep.

At yonder falls, the trembling mountain Lady
     Clings to the bramble high above me lying,
     With veil of foam behind her swift feet flying,
         And a lorn terror in her lifted voice,
Ere springing to the rush-friezed basin shady,
         That boils below with noise.
Then, whirling dizzily for a moment’s space,
She lets the sun flash brightly on her face,
And lightly laughs at her own terror past,
And floateth onward fast!

Thus wandering onward, ankle deep in grass,
Scaring the cumbrous black cock as I pass,
I came upon two shepherd boys, who wade
For coolness in the limpid waves,
And with their shade
Startle the troutling from its shallow caves.

Let me lie down upon the bank, and drink!
     The minnows at the brim, with bellies white
     Upturned in specks of silvery light,
Flash from me in a shower, and sink.
Below, the blue skies wink
Thro’ heated golden air—a clear abyss
     Of azure, with a solitary bird
     Steadfastly winging thro’ the depths unstirred.
The brain turns dizzy with its bliss;
     And I would plunge into the chasms cool,
     And float to yonder cloud of fleecy wool,
That floats below me, as I kiss
The mountain Lady’s lips with thirsty mouth.
What would parch’d Dives give amid his drouth
For kisses such as this?

Sing, little River, while I rest,
Songs of your hidden mountain nest,
And of the blue sky in your breast!

     The landscape darkens slowly
     With mountain shadows; when I wander on,
     The tremulous gladness of the heat seems gone,
And a cool awe spreads round me, sweet and holy,—
A tender, sober-suited melancholy.
The path rough feet have made me winds away
O’er fenny meadows to the white highway,
     Where the big waggon clatters with its load,
And pushing onward, to the ankles wet
In swards as soft as silken sarcenet,
     I gain the dusty road.

The air is hotter here. The bee booms by
With honey-laden thigh,
Doubling the heat with sounds akin to heat;
     And like a floating flower the butterfly
Swims upward, downward, till its feet
Cling to the hedgerows white and sweet.
     A black duck rises clumsily with a cry,
     And the dim lake is nigh.
The road curves upward to a dusty rise,
Where fall the sunbeams flake on flake;
And turning at the curve, mine eyes
Fall sudden on the silent lake,
Asleep ’neath hyacinthine skies.

Sing, little River, in your mirth,
Sing to thyself for joy the earth
Is smiling on your humble worth;
And sing for joy that earth has given
A place of birth so near to heaven!
Sing, little River, while I climb
These little hills of rock and thyme;
And hear far-off your tinkling chime!
     The cataracts burst in foamy sheen;
The hills slope blackly to the water’s brim,
And far below I see their shadows dim;
     The lake, so closely hemmed between
Their skirts of heather and of grass,
Grows black and cold beneath me as I pass.
The sunlight fades on mossy rocks,
And on the mountain sides the flocks
     Are split like streams;—the highway dips
Down, narrowing to the path where lambs
Lay to the udders of their dams
     Their soft and pulpy lips.
The hills grow closer; to the right
The path sweeps round a shadowy bay,
Upon whose slated fringes, white
And crested wavelets play.
All else is still. But list, oh list!
Hidden by boulders and by mist,
A shepherd whistles in his fist;
From height to height the far sheep bleat
In answering iteration sweet.
Sound, seeking Silence, bends above her,
Within some haunted mountain grot;
Kisses her, like a trembling lover—
So that she stirs in sleep, but wakens not!

Along this rock I’ll lie,
With face turn’d upward to the sky.
A dreamy numbness glows within my brain—
It is not joy and is not pain—
’Tis like the solemn, sweet imaginings
That cast a shade on Music’s golden wings.
With face turned upward to the sun,
I lie as indolent as one
Who, in a vision sweet, perceives
Spirits thro’ mists of lotus leaves;
     And now and then small shadows move
Across me, cast by clouds so small
Mine eyes perceive them scarce at all
     In the unsullied blue above.
I hear the streams that burst and fall,
The straggling shepherd’s frequent call,
     The kine low bleating as they pass,
The dark lake stirring with the breeze,
The melancholy hum of bees,
     The very murmur of the grass.

 

IV.

SNOW.

 

I WANDER forth this chill December dawn:
John Frost and all his elves are out, I see,
As busy as the elfin world can be,
Clothing a world asleep with fleecy lawn.
’Mid the deep silence of the evening hours
They glimmered duskly down in silent showers,
And featly have they laboured all night long,
Cheering their labour with a half-heard rhyme—
Low as the burthen of a milkmaid’s song
When Echo moans it over hills of thyme.

There is a hush of music on the air—
The white-wing’d fays are faltering everywhere;
And here and there,
Made by a sudden mingling as they fall,
There comes a softer lullaby than all,
Swept in upon the universal prayer.
Mine eyes and heart are troubled with a motion
Of music like the moving waves of ocean,
When, out of hearing, o’er the harbour bars
They sigh toward the moon and jasper stars.
The tiny squadrons waver down and thicken,
Gathering numbers as they fly,
And nearing earth their thick-set ranks they quicken,
And swim in swarms to die!

But now the clouds are winnowëd away:
The sky above is gray as glass; below
The feeble twilight of the dreamy day
Nets the long landskip hush’d beneath the snow.
The arrowy frosts sting keenly as I stray
Along the rutted lane or broad highway,
Past wind-swept hedges sighing sharp and clear,
Where half the sweetly changeful year
The scented summer loves to gleam and glow.
The new-lain snowy carpet, ankle-deep,
Crumbles beneath my footsteps as I pass,
Revealing scanty blades of frozen grass;
On either side the chirping sparrows leap,
And here and there a robin, friendly now,
From naked bough to bough.
That snow-clad homestead in the river’s arm
Is haunted with the noisy rooks that fly
Between its leafless beeches and the sky,
And hailing fast for yonder fallow farm,
A solitary crow is plunging by.
Light muffled winds arising high among
White mountains brooding in their winter rest,
Bear from the eastern winter to the West
The muttered diapason of a song
Made by the thunder on a mountain’s breast.

The sun is hanging in a purple globe,
’Mid yellow mists that stir with silver breath;
The quiet landskip slumbers, white as death,
Amid its naked fields and woody wolds,
Wearing the winter as a stainless robe
Low-trailing in a fall of fleecy folds.
By pasture-gates the mottled cattle swarm,
Thick’ning the misty air, with piteous eyes
Fixed ever on the tempest-breeding skies,
And watch the lingering traces of the storm.
A feeble sunbeam kisses and illumes
Yon whitened spire that hints a hidden town,
And flickering for a space it darkens down
Above the silence of forgotten tombs.

I gain the shoulder of the woodland now,
A fledgling’s flutter from a small hill’s brow.
I see the hamlet, half a mile below,
With dripping gables and with crimson panes,
And watch the urchins in the narrow lanes
Below the school-house, shouting in the snow.
The whitened coach comes swiftly round the road
With horns to which a dozen hills reply,
And rattling onward with its laughing load,
Halts steaming at the little hostelry.
Hard by the lonely woodman pants and glows,
And, wrapt in leather stockings to the thigh,
Toils with an icicle beneath his nose.
In yonder field an idle farm-boy blows
His frozen fingers into tingling flame;
The gaunt old farmer, as he canters by,
Reins in to greet the country clowns by name;
That chestnut pony in the yellow fly
Draws the plump parson and his leaner dame.

I loiter down the road, and feel the ground
Like iron ’neath my heel; the windless air
Seems lying in a swound.
Frost follows in its path without a sound,
And plies his nimble fingers everywhere,
Under my eyelids and beneath my hair.
Yon mountain dons once more its helm of cloud,
The air grows dark and dim as if in wonder;
Once more the heaven is winnow’d, and the crowd
Of silken fays flock murmurously under
A sky that flutters like a wind-swept shroud.
Through gloomy dimbles, clad with new-fall’n snow,
Back to my little cottage home I go.
But once again I roam by field and flood,
Stung into heat where hoar-frosts melt and bite,
What time the fog-wrapt sun drops red as blood,
And Eve’s white star is tingling into sight.

_____

 

Since the earliest published version of ‘Snow’ (All The Year Round (29 December, 1860)) contains some additional lines, I have transcribed it below. Scans of the original pages are available at Dickens Journals Online.

 

SNOW.

 

I WANDER forth this chill December dawn:
Frost and his tiny elves are out, I see,
As busy as the fairy world can be,
Clothing a world asleep with fleecy lawn;
’Mid the blue silence of the evening hours
They glimmered duskly down from skyey bowers,
And featly have they laboured all night long,
Cheering their labour with a half-heard rhyme—
Low as the burthen of a shepherd’s song
When Echo moans it over hills of thyme.

There is a hush of music on the air—
The white-wing’d fairies faltering everywhere;
And here and there,
Made by a sudden mingling as they fall,
There comes a softer lullaby than all,
Swept in upon the universal prayer.
Mine eyes and heart are troubled with a motion
Of music like the moving waves of ocean,
When, out of hearing, o’er the harbour-bars
They sigh toward the moon and jasper stars.
The tiny squadrons waver down and thicken,
Gathering numbers as they fly,
And nearing earth their thick-set ranks they quicken,
And swim in swarms to die!
The music comes and goes and comes again,
And flutters forward to a felt refrain,
Whereon it faints away in pauses holy,
Ere dropping to the Soul and rising slowly,
It trembles outward through the blood and brain.

But now, the clouds are winnowčd away;
The sky above is grey as glass; below
The feeble twilight of the dreamy day
Nets the long landskip hush’d beneath the snow.
The arrowy frosts sting keenly as I stray
Along the rutted lane or broad highway,
Past wind-swept hedges sighing sharp and clear,
Where half the sweetly changeful English year
The scented summer loves to gleam and glow.
The new-lain snowy carpet, ankle-deep,
Crumbles beneath my footsteps as I pass,
Revealing scanty blades of frozen grass;
On either side the chirping sparrows leap,
And here and there a robin, friendly now,
From naked bough to bough.
That snow-clad homestead in the river’s arm
Is haunted with the noisy rooks that fly
Between its bending beeches and the sky,
And hailing fast for yonder fallow farm,
A solitary linnet plunges by.
Light-muffled winds arising high among
White hills deep brooding in their winter rest,
Bear from the eastern winter to the west
The muttered diapason of a song
Made by the thunder on a mountain’s breast.

Judge not King Winter as the easy do,
Nor wrong him from a Christmas point of view.
Rush out and meet him in his native air,
Shaking the forests, locking up the flood,
Stand ’neath his throne of mountains bleak and bare,
Flanked by a round red sun, as I have stood:
When the dim nights grow long and frozen air
Takes burning motion down the tingling blood;
When little viewless fingers night and day
Embroider stainless flowers of rare device
On cottage panes to mimic flowers of May,
And listening at the porch, I seem to hear
The hush’d heart of the dumb and dawning Year
Beating for summer under ribs of ice!

Nature is always lovely, ever kind,
An ever-new Messiah sad or sweet,
And changes as she gladdens—
Strange as the fitful changes of the Mind,
Which finds a girlond even at Sorrow’s feet,
And makes an unborn pleasure when it saddens.
Not only Spring, with dew-bespangled hair,
And eyes that startle light from tears, is fair;
Not only the voluptuous-bosom’d June,
Sitting embower’d ’mid roses and green leaves,
Nor Autumn sighing under stars and moon
’Mid her drain’d vintage and her slanted sheaves.
The gruff swift season of the snow and frost
Is part of the eternal Pentecost
When Beauty smiles or grieves.
Nature is always lovely, like the Soul;
She, like that hope of heaven, laughs or broods,
And owns no blind control—
For she whose metaphor our life surrounds,
Is moulded of as many changeful moods
As harmony of sounds!

The sun is hanging in a purple globe,
’Mid yellow mists that stir with silver breath;
The little landskip slumbers, white as death,
Amid its naked fields and woody wolds,
Wearing the winter as a stainless robe,
Low trailing in a fall of fleecy folds.
By pasture-gates the mottled cattle swarm,
Thick’ning the misty air, with piteous eyes
Fixed ever on the tempest-breeding skies,
And watch the lingering traces of the storm.
A feeble sunbeam kisses and illumes
Yon whitened spire that hints a hidden town,
And flickering for a space it darkens down
Above the silence of forgotten tombs.

I gain the shoulder of a plantain now,
A fledgling’s flutter from a small hill’s brow.
I see the hamlet, half a mile below,
With dripping gables and with darkened panes,
And watch the urchins in the narrow lanes
Below the school-house, shouting in the snow.
The whitened coach comes swiftly round the road
With horns to which a dozen hills reply,
And rattling onward with its laughing load,
Halts steaming at the little hostelry.
Hard by the lonely woodman pants and glows,
And wrapt in leather-stockings to the thigh,
Toils with an icicle beneath his nose.
In yonder field an idle shepherd blows
His frozen fingers into tingling flame;
The gaunt old farmer as he canters by,
Reins in to greet the country clowns by name;
That chestnut pony in the yellow fly
Draws the plump parson and his leaner dame.

I loiter down the road, and feel the ground
Like iron ’neath my heel; the noisy air
Has fallen in a swound.
Frost follows in its path without a sound,
And plies his nimble fingers everywhere,
Under my eyelids and beneath my hair.
Yon mountain dons once more its helm of cloud,
The air grows dark and dim as if in wonder;
Once more the heaven is winnow’d, and the crowd
Of silken fairies flock with music under
A sky that flutters like a wind-swept shroud.

Through gloomy dimbles, clad with new-fall’n snow,
Back to my little cottage home I go.
But once again I roam by field and flood,
Stung into heat where hoar-frosts melt and bite,
What time the fog-wrapt sun drops red as blood,
And the white star is tingling into sight.

Down the cold darkness of the whistling dell,
Past rifts of frozen marl and trodden clay,
The little river that I love so well,
Moans in a torrent on its seaward way.
Why haste you, little river, so to-night,
From buried boulder-glens where winter raves?
Have you some summer message, sweet and bright,
For Ocean, where she trails her long sea waves
Of green and shadowy purple splash’d with light?
Art thou a messenger of Spring, between
The olden mountains and their restless daughter?
Hast tidings of a maiden, sweet of mien,
With dewy bluebells in her kirtle green,
Wedding, by some sweet magic Heaven has taught her,
In one rich sleep the summer earth and water?

The yellow moonlight steams on snowy mountains,
While Dian in the misty brightness bathes;
I watch, with motions of the Soul’s felt fountains,
The woolly clouds a-swim in silver swathes.
The stars take kindred with my eager blood,
And in my heart of hearts a sweet sense grows,
Still and imperfect as the yellow bud,
Hush’d in the centre of a full-blown rose.

_____

 

The Second Edition of Idyls and Legends of Inverburn concludes with the following advert, which I thought was worth adding here since the final item seems to refer to Buchanan’s first collection of essays, David Gray and other Essays, chiefly on poetry, which was eventually published (by Sampson Low, Son, and Marston) in 1868.]

inverburnsecondend

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