ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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ORIGINAL VERSION OF ‘A LARK’S FLIGHT’.

 

The Spectator (22 August, 1868 - pp. 15-16)

A LARK'S FLIGHT.

I.

IN the quiet city park,
Between the dawn and the dark,
     Loud and clear,
     That all may hear,
Sings the Lark.

 

II.

And beyond the low black line
     Of trees the dawn peeps red,
And clouds blow woolly and fine
     In the blue lift overhead;
And out of the air is shaken
     A fresh and glistening dew,
And the city begins to waken
     And tremble thro’ and thro’;
Now, while thro’ street and lane
The people pour again,
And lane and alley and street
Grow hoarse to a sound of feet,
Here and there
     A human shape comes, dark
Against the cool white air,
     Flitting across the park:—
While over the shadowy green,
     Singing his “Hark, oh! hark!”
Hovering, hovering, dimly seen,
     Rises the Lark.

 

III.

“Mystery! O mystery!”
     Clear he sings to lightening day.
“Mystery! O mystery!
Up into the air with me,
     Come away; come away!”

 

IV.

Who is she that, wan and white,
Shivering in the chilly light,
Shadeth weary eyes to see
Him who makes the melody.
She is nameless, she is dull,
She has ne’er been beautiful,
She is stain’d in brain and blood,
Gross with mire, and foul with mud,—
Thing of sorrow, what knows she
Of the mighty mystery?

 

V.

The Lark sings low,
     “The city is dull and mean,
There is woe, woe, woe,
     Never a soul is clean;
The city is dark, the wrong is deep,
Too late to moan, too late to weep,
Tired, tired! sleep, sleep!”

 

VI.

Who is he, the stooping one,
Smiling coldly in the sun,
Arms behind him lightly thrown,
Pacing up and down alone?
’Tis the great philosopher,
Smoothly wrapt in coat of fur,
Soothly pondering, manwit wise,
At his morning exercise.
He has weigh’d the winds and floods,
He is rich in gathered goods,
He is crafty, and can prove
God is Brahma Christ nor Jove,
He is mighty, and his soul
Flits about from pole to pole,
Chasing signs of God about,
In a pleasant kind of doubt,—
What to help the mystery,
Sings the Lark to such as he?

 

VII.

The Lark cries:
     “Praise to Nature’s plan!
Year on year she plies,
Her toil of sun and skies,
     Till the beast flowers up in man;
Lord of effect and cause,
     Pallid and proud stalks he.
Till the Voice in the cloud cries, ‘Pause!’
     And he pauses bitterly
     On the verge of the mystery.”

 

VIII.

O, loud and clear, that all may hear,
     Rising higher, with “Hark, oh! hark!”
Higher, higher, higher, higher,
Quivering as the dull red fire
     Of dawn grows brighter, cries the Lark;
And they who listen there while he
Singeth loud of mystery,
Interpret him in undertone
With a meaning of their own,
Measuring his melody
By their own souls’ quality.

 

IX.

Tall and stately, fair and sweet,
Walketh maiden Marguerite,
Musing there on maid and man,
In her mood patrician,
To all she sees her eyes impart
The colour of a maiden heart,
Heart’s chastity is on her face,
She scents the air with nameless grace,
And where she goes, with heart astir,
Colour and motion follow her.

 

X.

What should the singer sing
Unto so sweet a thing,
     But, “Oh! my love loves me!
And the love I love best is guarding the nest,
While I cheer her merrily,—
Come up high! come up high! to a cloud in the sky!
     And sing of your soul with me!”

 

XI.

Elbows on the grassy green,
Scowling face his palms between,
Judd the cracksman meditates
Treason deep against his mates;
For his great hands itch to hold
Both the pardon and the gold.
Still he listens unaware,
Scowling round with sullen stare,
Gnawing at his under lip,
Pond’ring friends and fellowship,
Thinking of a friendly thing
Done to him in suffering,
And of happy days and free
Spent in that rough companie;
Till he seeks the bait no more,—
And the Lark is conqueror.

 

XII.

For the Lark says plain,
     “Who sells his friend is mean;
Better hang than drain
     The cursed gold of the Queen—
A whip for the rogue who’d tell,
     The lives of his pals away—
Better the rope and the cell!
Better the devils of Hell!
     Come away! come away!”

 

XIII.

O Lark! O Lark!
     Up, up! for it is light,
The souls stream out of the dark,
     And the city’s spires gleam bright;
The world, the world, is awake again,
     Each wanders on his way,
The wonderful waters break again
     In the white and perfect day.
Nay! nay! descend not yet,
     But higher, higher, higher,
Up thro’ the air and wet,
     Thy wings in the solar fire!
There, hovering in ecstacy,
Sing, “Mystery, O mystery!”

 

XIV.

O Lark! O Lark! hadst thou the might
     Beyond the cloud to wing thy way,
To sing and soar in wondrous flight,
     It might be well for men this day.
Beyond that cloud there is a zone,
     And in that zone there is a land,
And in that land, upon a throne,
A mighty Spirit sits alone,
     With musing cheek upon his hand.
And all is still and all is sweet,
Around the silence of his seat,
     Beneath the waves of wonder flow,
And coolly on his hands and feet
     The years melt down as falling snow.

 

XV.

O Lark! O Lark!
     Up! for thy wings are strong;
While the day is breaking,
And the city is waking,
     Sing a song of wrong—
Sing of the weak man’s tears,
     Of the strong man’s agony,
The passion, the hopes, the fears,
The heaped-up pain of the years,
     The terrible mystery.
O Lark! we might rejoice,
     Could’st reach that distant land,
For we cannot hear His voice,
     And we often miss His hand;
And the heart of each is ice
     To the kiss of sister and brother;
And we see that one man’s vice
     Is the virtue of another;
Yea, each that hears thee sing
     Translates thy song to speech,
And, lo! the rendering
     Is so different with each.
The mighty are oppressed,
The foul man winneth best,
Wherever we seek, our gain
Is bitter, and salt with pain.
In one soft note and long
Gather our sense of wrong—
Rise up, O Lark! from the clod,
     Up, up, with soundless wings,—
Rise up to God! rise up, rise up, to God!
     Tell Him these things!

 

Back to London Poems (additional)

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Good Words (July, 1871)

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Back to London Poems (additional)

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Scribner’s Monthly (December 1872 -Vol V, pp.181-181)

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Review of ‘O’Murtogh’ in The Nation.

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Back to London Poems (additional)

 

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Harriett Jay
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