ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{London Poems 1884}

 

THE WAKE OF TIM O'HARA.

(SEVEN DIALS.)

 

         To the Wake of O’Hara
               Came company;
         All St. Patrick’s Alley
               Was there to see,
         With the friends and kinsmen
               Of the family.
On the long deal table lay Tim in white,
And at his pillow the burning light.
Pale as himself, with the tears on her cheek,
The mother received us, too full to speak;
But she heap’d the fire, and on the board
Set the black bottle with never a word,
While the company gather’d, one and all,
Men and women, big and small—
Not one in the Alley but felt a call
         To the Wake of Tim O’Hara.

         At the face of O’Hara,
               All white with sleep,
         Not one of the women
               But took a peep,
         And the wives new-wedded
               Began to weep.
The mothers gather’d round about,
And praised the linen and lying-out,—
For white as snow was his winding-sheet,
And all was peaceful, and clean, and sweet;
And the old wives, praising the blessëd dead,
Were thronging around the old press-bed,
Where O’Hara’s widow, tatter’d and torn,
Held to her bosom the babe new-born,
And stared all round her, with eyes forlorn,                                       [2:15]
         At the Wake of Tim O’Hara.

         For the heart of O’Hara
               Was good as gold,
         And the life of O’Hara
               Was bright and bold,
         And his smile was precious                                                     [3:5]
               To young and old!
Gay as a guinea, wet or dry,
With a smiling mouth, and a twinkling eye!
Had ever an answer for chaff and fun;
Would fight like a lion, with any one!
Not a neighbour of any trade
But knew some joke that the boy had made;
Not a neighbour, dull or bright,
But minded something—frolic or fight,
And whisper’d it round the fire that night,
         At the Wake of Tim O’Hara!

         ‘To God be glory
               In death and life,
         He’s taken O’Hara
               From trouble and strife!’
         Said one-eyed Biddy,
               The apple-wife.
‘God bless old Ireland!’ said Mistress Hart,                                       [4:7]
Mother to Mike of the donkey-cart;
‘God bless old Ireland till all be done,                                               [4:9]
She never made wake for a better son!’
And all join’d chorus, and each one said
Something kind of the boy that was dead;
And the bottle went round from lip to lip,
And the weeping widow, for fellowship,
Took the glass of old Biddy and had a sip,
         At the Wake of Tim O’Hara.

         Then we drank to O’Hara,
               With drams to the brim,
         While the face of O’Hara
               Look’d on so grim
         In the corpse-light shining
               Yellow and dim,
The cup of liquor went round again,
And the talk grew louder at every drain;
Louder the tongues of the women grew!—
The lips of the boys were loosening too!
The widow her weary eyelids closed,
And, soothed by the drop o’ drink, she dozed;
The mother brighten’d and laugh’d to hear
Of O’Hara’s fight with the grenadier,
And the hearts of all took better cheer,
         At the Wake of Tim O’Hara.

         Tho’ the face of O’Hara
               Lookt on so wan,
         In the chimney-corner
               The row began—
         Lame Tony was in it,
               The oyster-man;
For a dirty low thief from the North came near,
And whistled ‘Boyne Water’ in his ear,
And Tony, with never a word of grace,
Flung out his fist in the blackguard’s face;
And the girls and women scream’d out for fright,
And the men that were drunkest began to fight,—
Over the tables and chairs they threw,—
The corpse-light tumbled,—the trouble grew,—                                 [6:14]
The new-born joined in the hullabaloo,—
         At the Wake of Tim O’Hara.

         ‘Be still! be silent!
               Ye do a sin!
         Shame be his portion
               Who dares begin!’
         ’Twas Father O’Connor
               Just enter’d in!—
All look’d down, and the row was done—
And shamed and sorry was every one;
But the Priest just smiled quite easy and free—
‘Would ye wake the poor boy from his sleep?’ said he;
And he said a prayer, with a shining face,
Till a kind of a brightness filled the place;
The women lit up the dim corpse-light,
The men were quieter at the sight,
And the peace of the Lord fell on all that night
         At the Wake of Tim O’Hara!

 

[Notes:
Alterations in The Buchanan Ballads, Old and New, 1892:
v. 2, l. 15: And stared all around her, with eyes forlorn,
v. 3, l. 5: The boy was the darling
v. 4, l. 7: ‘God bless ould Ireland!’ said Mistress Hart,
v. 4, l. 9: ‘God bless ould Ireland till all be done,
v. 6, l. 14: The corpse-light tumbled,—the shindy grew,— ]

 

 

KITTY KEMBLE.

‘All the world’s a stage.’

 

DRAW softly back the curtains of the bed—
Aye, here lies Kitty Kemble cold and dead:
Poor Kitty Kemble, if I steal a kiss,
Who deems the deed amiss?

Cold bloodless cheek whereon there lingers faint
The crimson dye of a life’s rouge and paint;                                       [2:2]
Cold lips that fall, since thy false rows of teeth
No longer prop the toothless gums beneath;
Cold clammy brow that lies there bald and bare
No longer screen’d and shadow’d by false hair;
Poor Kitty Kemble! is it truly thou
On whom I look so very sadly now?
Lightest of ladies, is thy mortal race
Run out indeed, thy luminous laughing face
Turn’d to this mindless mask of marble dead?
And even thy notes of tinkling laughter fled,
Which, when all other charms to please were past,
Stay’d with thee till the last?                                                              [2:14]

GOD bless thee, Kitty Kemble!—and GOD love thee!
Warm be the kindred earth that lies above thee—
Lightest of ladies, never sad or sage,
A glad coquette at sixty years of age,
And even with thy last expiring breath
Flirting thy fan at thy lean Lover, Death!

Tho’ nature made you volatile and witty,
Your parents were most vulgar people, Kitty;
Hard work was daily yours, and trouble maybe
To mind the wretched house and nurse the baby,
While to the third-class Theatre hard by
Your father and your mother both did hie,
Mother as dresser, while with surly mien
Toil’d father as a shifter of the scene;
And thus it happen’d that you early grew
Familiar with the British drama too,
And thro’ the dusty stage-door you would steal
With father’s midday beer or evening meal,
Until that blissful day when to your glee
The keen-eyed ballet-master noticed thee,
And quickly, being a bright and clever girl,
You learnt from him to dance and twist and twirl,
Leaping ere long before the garish lights,
A smiling spangled creature in pink tights.
Aye, Kitty, and the common scandal says
The ballet-master in those early days,
Finding you quick and rapidly advancing,
Taught you love’s dalliance as well as dancing!
But you were very clever; and ere long
Were brightest, smartest of the ballet throng;
No lighter trimmer leg was to be seen
When you were only rising seventeen,
And from the stalls to your sweet guileless eyes
Ogles and nods and smiles began to rise.
Then later, like a wise girl and a pretty,
You chose to bless a close man from the City,
Quiet, respectable, and most demure
With a stiff salary and prospects sure;
And him, my dear, you used for your ambition
Still bent of course to better your position.
For tho’ so light and merry, you were ever
Ambitious, Kitty, quick and bright and clever;
And now you got your educated lover
To hear you read the British drama over,
To criticise your clever imitations
Of the tall leading lady’s declamations,
And to correct your tone, and guide your tongue,
Whenever you pronounced your English wrong;
And tho’ the fellow was in soul a bore,
And had no intellect to help you more,
You got in this Bohemian sort of college
Some gleams of grace and scraps of solid knowledge;
And while your silly sisters took repose
You grew grammatical, as grammar goes.

O Kitty, what a lavish little elf
Thou wast, yet economic of thyself!
So free, so merry, and innocent of guile;                                            [5:3]
And yet at heart so busy, all the while
You danced and dallied with those sparkling eyes,
In weighty speculations how to rise!
Yes, Kitty, and you rose; ere long you made
The prettiest, wittiest sort of chambermaid
(That saucy female elf of the stage-inn,
Chuck’d by each handsome guest beneath the chin;
A nymph oft carrying a warming-pan,
And sweetheart of the comic waiting-man)
Or haply, on extravaganza nights,
As a slim fairy prince in trunks and tights,
You pertly spake a dozen lines or so,
While just behind you, glaring in a row,
Your sillier sisters of the ballet stood,
With spleen and envy raging in their blood!
Thus, Kitty Kemble, on and up you went,
Merry, yet ill content;
And soon you cast, inflated still with pride,
Your City man aside,
Cut him stone dead to his intense annoy,
And, like a maiden coy,
Dropt, blushing crimson, in the arms scarce vital
Of an old man of title!
A sad dyspeptic dog, the worn and yellow
Wreck of a handsome fellow,
And tho’ the lord of boundless rolls and lands,
Just a mere puppet in your pretty hands.

O Kitty Kemble, how you coaxed and teased him,
Nursed him and pain’d him, petted him and pleased him,
Drove him nigh crazy, made his slow blood start
With the glad beating of your burning heart,
Until he vowed, you managed him so neatly,
To marry you completely;
And with this view transmitted you, poor fool,
To a French boarding-school;
And there you taught, I fear, your power being such,
More than you learnt tho’ what you learnt was much!
O you were still and patient as a mouse,
Much as your spirit hated the strict house,
The teachers grim, the insipid simpering misses,
The walks—so different from the coulisses!

There learning patiently did you abide,
Till one fine morning your protector died,                                           [7:2]
And once again, alas! as in times past,
On the hard world your gentle lot was cast.                                        [7:4]
But, Kitty, what a change in you was made                                        [7:5]
By those few seasons wintering in the shade;
In like a common moth you crept full sly,
But out you came a perfect butterfly!
A pretty little sparkling wench,
Prattling so prettily in French,
Or dashing off, with fingers white,
Gay little scraps of music bright;
Merry and wicked, and not wise,
With babies dancing in her eyes,
Most apt at quoting saw and joke
From Shakespeare and less famous folk,
Making the ignorant listener stare
With charming mots from Molière!

But, Kitty Kemble, ’tis not given to me
To write in full your fair biography.
About this very time from English sight
Your pretty little figure vanished quite;
And dainty rivals came and conquered here,
And the false world forgot you quite, I fear.
I think your next appearance in our view                                           [8:7]
Was in a blaze of splendour bright and new,                                      [8:8]
When, after many years of preparation,
Provincial trial, trouble, and vexation,
Out you emerged on the astonish’d City,
The town’s delight, the beaux’, the critics’, Kitty!
The brightest wonder human eye could see
In good old Comedy:
A smile, a voice, a laugh, a look, a form,
To take the world by storm!
A dainty dimpling intellectual treasure
To give old stagers pleasure!
A rippling radiant cheek—a roguish eye—
That made the youngsters sigh!                                                           [8:20]
And thus beneath a tinsel’d pasteboard Star
At once you mounted your triumphant car,
O’er burning hearts your chariot wheels were driven,                         [8:23]
Bouquets came rolling down like rain from heaven,
And on we dragged you, Kitty, while you stood
Roguish and great, not innocent and good,
The Queen Elect of all Light Womanhood!

Yes, Kitty Kemble, let the preacher cry
His word of ‘Vanity, O Vanity!’
But those, I think, were happy, happy days.
Indeed, yours was a life that throve with praise,                                  [9:4]
And brighten’d; passionate and eager; made
To love the lamp-light and to hate the shade;
To play with happiness and drink the beam
Till it suffused your substance gleam by gleam,
Making of elements past your control                                                 [9:6]
The smiling semblance of a living Soul.
In sooth, you were a summer creature, one
Who never really throve save in the sun;
And take away its perfect self-content,
Your very beauty grew indifferent.
Further, you did not crave for love or fame,
Or that still colder shadow—a good name;
You were not even avaricious (tho’
’Twas sweet, of course, to see the guineas grow).
Nay, Kitty, all your care and your delight                                           [9:16]
Was to gleam past upon the public sight,
To gleam, to smile, to sparkle, and depart
Ere sympathy could reach your little heart;                                          [9:19]
To let the flaming footlights underneath
Light up your rouge, whiten your spotless teeth,                                 [9:21]
And to those eyes, so luminous and bright,
Dart beams of glorious artificial light;
To feel your bright and lissom body free                                             [9:24]
In brightly-hued theatric drapery;
And on your skin, as white as morning milk,                                      [9:26]
The clinging satin and the slippery silk.
In private life ’twas your delight to be                                                 [9:28]
The beauty of Bohemian revelry;
To the smart little literary man
Whispering wicked jests behind your fan,                                           [9:31]
And not at all too nice in modesty
As to reject a dinner vis-à-vis
At Kew or Richmond, freely sipping port
With hirsute critics of the heavier sort,
And oft enough on such a holiday
Opening at last your own small purse to pay!                                     [9:37]
Beneath your beauty, rouged, and ring’d, and pearled,                      [9:38]
You were at heart the woman of the world,                                      [9:39]
Not quite forgetting yet (tho’ well content
Quite to forget) your very low descent;                                              [9:41]
And having gained your little life’s endeavour,                                    [9:42]
You could, I know, have deemed it bliss for ever.                              [9:43]

For ever, Kitty Kemble? Ah, my child!
     (Surely thou art a child at last?)
When days and nights are glad and wild,
     They whirl the quicklier past!
To Sorrow’s faintest funeral symphony
Time lingers darken’d steps dejectedly
With sad eyes heavenward; but how fleet he flies
When Revel sings and Mirth doth melodize!
Thy merry laughter and thy gay delight
Quicken’d the Greybeard’s footsteps day and night,
And Kitty, suddenly, to thy surprise,
The cruel crowsfeet gather’d ’neath thine eyes.

But paint is bright, and powder pearly white,
And many merry years, in that fierce light
Which beats on thrones and faces like to thine,
Thy ways were witching and thy lot divine.
Thy life was surely glad. The need was fled
Long since of choosing lovers for thy bread
Or thine advancement, and thou now wert free
To pick at will thy male society.
All that is dark. We laymen cannot tell
What amatory happiness befell;
We only know for certain Cupid’s dart
Ne’er struck so deadly deep into thy heart,
As to befool our Kitty into passion
Of the mad vulgar fashion.
We only know thou, Kitty, ever wert
Lightest of ladies, delicate and pert,
Clever and quick, and horribly well read.
And as the happy seasons o’er thee fled
Thy bust swelled out, thy body fresh and fair
Grew plumper, and thou didst assume thine air,
Round, roguish, royal, dazzling, plump, and good,
Of most delicious demi-matronhood.
I think we loved thee even better then
Than ever, Kitty; all the older men,
I know, adored thee! and thou wert supreme,
Yea, grand above all modern guess or dream,
In wanton Widows, those we love to see
In unctuous Shakespearian comedy.
Great wast thou also, Kitty, great and true,
As the bold Beatrice in ‘Much Ado’;
And all the mighty Town went raving mad
To see thy ‘Lady Teazle.’

                                           Wild and glad
Rolled the years onward, and thy little heart
(Tho’ certainly thy stoniest, toughest part)
Was just enough at least to act with. Well!
At forty summers still thy fortune fell
On pleasant places; for a little yet                                                       [12:6]
The fickle British public loved its pet.
True, here and there, thy features, still so pretty,
Were sharpening into shrewish lines, my Kitty;
And nose and chin, though still most soft and sweet,
Seem’d slowly journeying on the way to meet!
A certain shrillness in the voice’s tone,
Which from the very first had been thine own,
But rather pleased the ear than otherwise
When thou hadst fleeter feet and younger eyes,
Grew harsher and more harsh upon the ear.
Never, indeed, in any earlier year
Hadst thou performed so perfectly as now,
And yet the cruel British Critic’s brow
Grew cloudy. Vain were trick of tone or smile
To hide the artful, artificial style,
The superficial tones, the airs capricious,
That in thy younger days had been delicious.
O Kitty, all thy being’s constant pain
To win the heart once more was wholly vain;
Most vain, most piteous! Thy familiar airs
Were met by only vacant shrugs and stares,
Thy tricks, thy jokes, thy jests, thy wanton ways,
Awakened only pity and amaze;
And presently, when thou didst rashly try
A fair young part, as in the days gone by,
Down on thee came the cruel Critic’s bludgeon,
Out spoke at last the oracular Curmudgeon,
Hinting out openly, in accents cold,
That thou wert passée, past thy prime, and old,
The ghost of loveliness and lightness, fit
To play old women,—better still to quit
The Stage for ever. O poor thing! poor thing!
The cruel knife cut deep enough to bring
The sad blood from your very heart at last;
You winced, you smirked, you struggled, and at last
You seem’d to triumph; and the bitter truth
That thou hadst spent thy previous years of youth
Was taken home indeed to thy fair breast,
And there, like to a very viper’s nest,
It bred and flourish’d. Kitty, tho’ thy face
Was merry still in many a public place,
Thy shrill laugh loud, thy manner brazen bold,
Black was thy soul and piteously cold.
Anon into the country thou didst fare,
And spend a brighter, happier season there;
Bearing about with thee from year to year
The shadow of thine earlier triumphs here.
That passed, like all the rest. Ah me! ah me!
Even the provinces deserted thee,
As we had done; so our poor Kitty came
To be the lonely ghost of a great name—
A worn and wanton woman, not yet sage
Nor wearied out, tho’ sixty years of age,
Wrinkled and rouged, and with false teeth of pearl,
And the shrill laughter of a giddy girl;
Haunting, with painted cheek and powder’d brow,
The private boxes, as spectator now;
Both day and night, indeed, invited out
To private picnic and to public rout,
Because thy shrill laugh and thy ready joke
Ever enlivened up the festal folk;
Nor did such people woo thy service less
Because of tales of thy past wickedness
Oh, thou wert very clever, keen, and bright,
Most gay, most scandal-loving, and most light!
Still greatly given to French literature,
And foreign feuilletons not over pure;
Still highly rouging up thy cheek so dead
Into a ghostly gleam of rosy red:
Still ever ready talking with a man,
To tap his naughty knuckles with thy fan
Coquettishly, and meanwhile with thy dim
Yet lustrous eyes to smile and ogle him!
Yet ever with a lurking secret sense
Of thine own beauty’s utter impotence,
With hungry observation all the while
To catch the covert sneer or lurking smile—
A helpless fear, a pang, a sharp distress,
Curdling thy choicest mirth to bitterness.

Sad years, my child, sad years of lonely gloom!
Nor let the hasty Moralist assume
Neglect and age and agony could be
GOD’S ruthless instruments to chasten thee.
Nay, Kitty Kemble, tho’ thy spirit grew
Still bitterer as the seasons flash’d and flew,
Thy bright face ne’er one moment turned away
From the glad gaudy world of every day.
I know religion never moved thy thought,
Comfort in God was neither found nor sought.
Still thou wert happiest, happiest and best
By the old gaslight, rouged and gaily drest.
At each new play thy well-known face was seen,
Merry and quick, yet hiding secret spleen;
At each new brilliant débutante’s success
Thy soul did wince for very bitterness;—
And all the taste of thy departed power
Was gall and wormwood on thy soul each hour;
And never, Kitty, till thy latest breath,
Didst thou remember God, the Soul, and Death.

Yet very quietly, one wintry day,
Death’s pale and unseen footsteps past thy way,
And as Death swiftly sail’d upon the air,
He lightly breathed one breath upon thee there
As a reminder;—after that thy face
Changed very strangely; shrivell’d in its place;
One helpless eyelid fluttered, and thy faint
Dark cheek contracted underneath thy paint:
And after that same day thy speech was ne’er
Quite constant to thy thought, or wholly clear;
And ev’n thy very thought at times would seem
Suddenly to dissolve away in dream!

Yet, Kitty Kemble, to the last we found thee
Constant to the old haunts of life around thee,
Still in the public gaslight thou wert seen,
Tho’ now upon a staff compelled to lean,
Thine eyes still black and quick, thy tones and words
Still gay, thy laugh shrill as a mocking bird’s!
Ah! but I think thy heavenly Sire was near                                         [15:7]
His daughter’s dwelling-place at last, my dear!
That quiet day I looked upon thee last,
I had called at midday as thy porch I passed,
Found thee ‘from home,’ and past the quiet door
Away was turning, when, from the first floor,
Thy quick voice called me; and upstairs I went,
To find my lady lying indolent,
Pillow’d in state upon her stately bed,
A pretty ribbon’d night-cap on her head,
While on her hollow cheeks’ false hectic bloom
Strange shade fell sadly from the darken’d room.
And there upon thy pillow, partly read,
Feydeau's last fever-piece; around thee spread
Old playbills, pink and yellow, white and green,
Whereon in mighty capitals was seen
Thine own triumphant name. Alas! alas!
Shall I forget till life and memory pass
Thy look of blended pleasure, pride, and pain,
Thy eager laughter, garrulous and vain,
Thy tremulous, feverish voice and fretful glee,
As thou didst prattle, pointing out to me,
With a lean, palsied finger, dead and cold,
Thy mighty triumphs in the days of old?
And suddenly (my child, shall I forget?—
The voice, the tone, the look, all linger yet!)
The feverish emotion grew too much;
And with a passionate, spasmodic clutch,
Thou didst against my shoulder wildly press
Thy cheek, once warm with life and loveliness,
And moaning madly over thy lost years
Hysterically break to bitterest tears!
What comfort could I give? ere, once more gay,
Thou with light hand didst sweep the tears away,
And break, with fretful wish and eager will,
To laughter sadder still;
Prattling, in thy most artificial tone,
Words to make Angels moan!

And here’s the end of all. And on thy bed
Thou liest, Kitty Kemble, lone and dead;
And on thy clammy cheek there lingers faint
The deep dark stain of a life’s rouge and paint;
And, Kitty, all thy sad days and thy glad
Have left thee lying for thy last part clad,
Cold, silent, on the earthly Stage; and while
Thou liest there with dark and dreadful smile,
The feverish footlights of the World flash bright
Into thy face with a last ghastly light;
And while thy friends all sighing rise to go,
The great black Curtain droppeth, slow, slow, slow.

God help us! We spectators turn away;
Part sad, we think, part merry, was the Play.
God help the lonely player now she stands
Behind the darken’d scenes with wondering face,                              [17:4]
And gropes her way at last, with clay-cold hands,                              [17:5]
Out of the dingy place,
Turning towards Home, poor worn and weary one,
Now the last scene is done.

 

[Notes:
There is a letter from Buchanan to Alexander Strahan of 1st February, 1873, enclosing a copy of ‘Kitty Kemble’ for publication in The Saint Paul’s Magazine. For some reason it did not appear in the magazine and its first publication seems to be in the 1874, H. S. King edition of The Poetical Works. The following lines were changed in the 1884, Chatto & Windus edition of the Poetical Works:
v. 2, l. 2: The deep dark dye of a life’s rouge and paint;
v. 2, l. 14: Stayed with thee till the very last?
v. 5, l. 3: So free, so merry, careless, free from guile;
v. 7, l. 2: Till one fine morning thy protector died,
v. 7, l. 4: On the hard world thy gentle lot was cast.
v. 7, l. 5: But, Kitty, what a change in thee was made
v. 8, l. 7: I think your next appearance in our sight
v. 8, l. 8: Was in a perfect blaze of dazzling light,
v. 8, l. 20: That made the young world sigh!
v. 8, l. 23: O’er burning hearts thy chariot wheels were driven,
v. 9, l. 4: Indeed, thine was a life that throve with praise,
v. 9, l. 6: Making of elements past thy control 
v. 9, l. 16: Nay, Kitty, all thy care and thy delight
v. 9, l. 19: Ere sympathy could reach thy little heart;
v. 9, l. 21: Light up thy rouge, whiten thy spotless teeth,
v. 9, l. 24: To feel thy bright and lissom body free
v. 9, l. 26: And on thy skin, as white as morning milk,
v. 9, l. 28: In private life ’twas thy delight to be
v. 9, l. 31: Whispering wicked jests behind thy fan,
v. 9, l. 37: Opening at last thine own small purse to pay!
v. 9, l. 38: Beneath thy beauty, rouged, and ring’d, and pearled,
v. 9, l. 39: Thou wert at heart the woman of the world,
v. 9, l. 41: Quite to forget) thy very low descent;
v. 9, l. 42: And having gained thy little life’s endeavour,
v. 9, l. 43: Thou could’st, I know, have deemed it bliss for ever.
v. 12, l. 6: On blessëd places; for a little yet
v. 15, l. 7: Ah! but I think thy Father GOD was near 
v. 17, l. 4: Behind the darken’d scenes with clay-cold hands,
v. 17, l. 5: And gropes her way at last, with wondering face, ]

 

 

THE SWALLOWS.

 

I.

     O CHURCHYARD in the city’s gloom,                                     [1:1]
         What charm to please hast thou,
     That, seated on a broken tomb,
         I muse so oft, as now?
The dreary autumn wind goes murmuring by,                                      [1:5]
And in the distant streets the ragged urchins cry.                                 [1:6]

     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.                     [2:6]

     Now to the murmur that mine ears                                                [3:1]
         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,
And crawls, with slimy stains, over thy gray 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,
And 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 gray tower.

     While, burthened by the life we bear,
         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:
1874 King edition of The Poetical Works:
v. 1, l. 1: O CHURCHYARD in the shady gloom,
v. 1, l. 5: The dreary autumn woodland whispers nigh,
v. 1, l. 6: And in the distant lanes the village urchins cry. 
v. 2, l. 6: The broken tombs, dark walls, the patch of cloudy sky.
v. 3, l. 1:  And to the murmur that mine ears ]

 

 

TOM DUNSTAN; OR, THE POLITICIAN.

‘How long, O Lord, how long?’

 

I.

NOW poor Tom Dunstan’s cold,
     Our shop is duller;                                                               [1:2]
Scarce a tale is told,
And our talk has lost its old                                                      [1:4]
     Red-republican colour!
Though he was sickly and thin,
     ’Twas a sight to see his face,—
While, sick of the country’s sin,
With bang of the fist, and chin
     Thrust out, he argued the case!
He prophesied men should be free!
     And the money-bags be bled!
‘She’s coming, she’s coming!’ said he;
‘Courage, boys! wait and see!
     Freedom’s ahead!’

 

II.

All day we sat in the heat,
     Like spiders spinning,
Stitching full fine and fleet,
While old Moses on his seat
     Sat greasily grinning;
And here Tom said his say,
     And prophesied Tyranny’s death;
And the tallow burned all day,                                                 [2:8]
And we stitch’d and stitch’d away
     In the thick smoke of our breath.
Weary, weary were we,
     Our hearts as heavy as lead;
But ‘Patience! she’s coming!’ said he;
‘Courage, boys! wait and see!
     Freedom’s ahead!’

 

III.

And at night, when we took here
     The rest allowed to us,
The Paper came, with the beer,
And Tom read, sharp and clear,
     The news out loud to us;
And then, in his witty way,
     He threw the jests about:
The cutting things he’d say
Of the wealthy and the gay!
     How he turn’d ’em inside out!                                               [3:10]
And it made our breath more free
     To hearken to what he said—
‘She’s coming! she’s coming!’ said he;
‘Courage, boys! wait and see!
     Freedom’s ahead!’

 

IV.

But grim Jack Hart, with a sneer,
     Would mutter, ‘Master!
If Freedom means to appear,
I think she might step here
     A little faster!’
Then, ’twas fine to see Tom flame,
     And argue, and prove, and preach,
Till Jack was silent for shame,—
Or a fit of coughing came
     O’ sudden, to spoil Tom’s speech.
Ah! Tom had the eyes to see
     When Tyranny should be sped:
‘She’s coming! she’s coming!’ said he
‘Courage, boys! wait and see!
     Freedom’s ahead!’

 

V.

But Tom was little and weak,
     The hard hours shook him;
Hollower grew his cheek,
And when he began to speak
     The coughing took him.
Ere long the cheery sound
     Of his chat among us ceased,
And we made a purse, all round,
     That he might not starve, at least.
His pain was sorry to see,
     Yet there, on his poor sick-bed,
‘She’s coming, in spite of me!
Courage, and wait!’ cried he;
     ‘Freedom’s ahead!’

 

VI.

A little before he died,
     To see his passion!
‘Bring me a Paper!’ he cried,
And then to study it tried,
     In his old sharp fashion;
And with eyeballs glittering,
     His look on me he bent,
And said that savage thing
     Of the Lords o’ the Parliament.
Then, dying, smiling on me,
‘What matter if one be dead?
She s coming at last!’ said he;
‘Courage boy! wait and see;
     Freedom’s ahead!’

 

VII.

Ay, now Tom Dunstan’s cold,
     The shop feels duller;
Scarce a tale is told,
And our talk has lost the old
     Red-republican colour.
But we see a figure gray,
     And we hear a voice of death,
And the tallow burns all day,
And we stitch and stitch away
     In the thick smoke of our breath;
Ay, while in the dark sit we,
     Tom seems to call from the dead—
‘She’s coming! she’s coming!’ says he;
‘Courage, boys! wait and see!
     Freedom’s ahead!’

__________

How long, O Lord! how long
     Must thy Handmaid linger—
She who shall right the wrong,
Make the poor sufferer strong?
     Sweet morrow, bring her!
Hasten her over the sea,
     O Lord! ere Hope be fled!
Bring her to men and to me! . . .
O Slave, pray still on thy knee,
     ‘FREEDOM’s ahead!

 

[Note:
1874 King edition of The Poetical Works:
v. 1, l. 4: And our talk has lost the old 
v. 2, l. 8: And the tallow burnt all day,
v. 3, l. 10: How he turn’d them inside out!
A slightly different version of ‘Tom Dunstan’ was included in The Buchanan Ballads, Old and New, 1892.]

 

 

O’MURTOGH.

(NEWGATE, 18—)

‘It’s a sight to see a bold man die!’

 

TO-NIGHT we drink but a sorrowful cup . .
Hush! silence! and fill your glasses up.
Christ be with us! Hold out and say:
‘Here’s to the Boy that died this day!’

Wasn’t he bold as the boldest here?
Red coat or black did he ever fear?
With the bite and the drop, too, ever free?
He died like a man. . . . I was there to see!

The gallows was black, our cheeks were white
All underneath in the morning light;
The bell ceased tolling swift as thought,
And out the murdered Boy was brought.

There he stood in the daylight dim,
With a Priest on either side of him;
Each Priest look’d white as he held his book,
But the man between had a brighter look!

Over the faces below his feet
His gray eye gleam’d so keen and fleet:
He saw us looking; he smiled his last . . .
He couldn’t wave, he was pinioned fast.

This was more than one could bear,
For the lass who loved him was with us there;
She stood in the rain with her dripping shawl
Over her head, for to see it all.

But when she met the Boy’s last look,
Her lips went white, she turned and shook;
She didn’t scream, she didn’t groan,
But down she dropt as dead as stone.

He saw the stir in the crowd beneath,
And I saw him tremble and set his teeth;
But the hangman came with a knavish grace
And drew the nightcap over his face.

Then I saw the Priests, who still stood near,
Pray faster and faster to hide their fear;
They closed their eyes, I closed mine too,
And the deed was over before I knew.

The crowd that stood all round of me
Gave one dark plunge like a troubled sea;
And I knew by that the deed was done,
And I opened my eyes and saw the sun.

The gallows was black, the sun was white,
There he hung, half hid from sight;
The sport was over, the talk grew loud,
And they sold their wares to the mighty crowd.

We walked away with our hearts full sore,
And we met a hawker before a door,
With a string of papers an arm’s-length long,
A dying speech and a gallows song.

It bade all people of poor estate
Beware of O’Murtogh’s evil fate;
It told how in old Ireland’s name
He had done red murther and come to shame.

Never a word was sung or said
Of the murder’d mother, a ditch her bed,
Who died with her newborn babe that night,
While the blessed cabin was burning bright.

Nought was said of the years of pain,
The starving stomach, the madden’d brain,                                        [15:2]
The years of sorrow and want and toil,
And the murdering rent for the bit of soil.

Nought was said of the murther done
On man and woman and little one,
Of the bitter sorrow and daily smart
Till he put cold lead in the traitor’s heart.                                            [16:4]

But many a word had the speech beside:
How he repented before he died;
How, brought to sense by the sad event,
He prayed for the Queen and the Parliament!

What did we do, and mighty quick,
But tickle that hawker’s brains with a stick;
And to pieces small we tore his flam,
And left him quiet as any lamb!

Pass round your glasses! now lift them up!
Powers above, ’tis a bitter cup!
Christ be with us! Hold out and say:
‘Here’s to the Boy that died this day!’

Here’s his health!—for bold he died;
Here’s his health!—and it’s drunk in pride:
The finest sight beneath the sky
Is to see how bravely a MAN can die.

 

[Note:
The original version of ‘O’Murtogh’ was published in the December, 1872 edition of Scribner’s Monthly.
1874 King edition of The Poetical Works:
v. 15, l. 2: The starving stomach, the dizzy brain,
v. 16, l. 4: Till he put cold lead in the factor’s heart. ]

 

 

THE BOOKWORM.

 

WITH spectacles upon his nose,
     He shuffles up and down;
Of antique fashion are his clothes,
     His napless hat is brown.
A mighty watch, of silver wrought,
     Keeps time in sun or rain
To the dull ticking of the thought
     Within his dusty brain.

To see him at the bookstall stand
     And bargain for the prize,
With the odd sixpence in his hand
     And greed in his gray eyes!
Then, conquering, grasp the book half blind,
     And take the homeward track,
For fear the man should change his mind,
     And want the bargain back!

The waves of life about him beat,
     He scarcely lifts his gaze,
He hears within the crowded street
     The wash of ancient days.
If ever his short-sighted eyes
     Look forward, he can see
Vistas of dusty Libraries
     Prolonged eternally.

But think not as he walks along
     His brain is dead and cold;
His soul is thinking in the tongue
     Which Plato spake of old;
And while some grinning cabman sees
     His quaint shape with a jeer,
He smiles,—for Aristophanes
     Is joking in his ear.

Around him stretch Athenian walks,
     And strange shapes under trees;
He pauses in a dream and talks
     Great speech, with Socrates.
Then, as the fancy fails—still mesh’d
     In thoughts that go and come—
Feels in his pouch, and is refresh’d
     At touch of some old tome.

The mighty world of humankind
     Is as a shadow dim,
He walks through life like one half blind,
     And all looks dark to him;
But put his nose to leaves antique,
     And hold before his sight
Some press’d and withered flowers of Greek,
     And all is life and light.

A blessing on his hair so gray,
     And coat of dingy brown!
May bargains bless him every day,
     As he goes up and down;
Long may the bookstall-keeper’s face,
     In dull times, smile again,
To see him round with shuffling pace
     The corner of the lane!

A good old Ragpicker is he,
     Who, following morn and eve
The quick feet of Humanity,
     Searches the dust they leave.
He pokes the dust, he sifts with care,
     He searches close and deep;
Proud to discover, here and there,
     A treasure in the heap!

 

 

THE LAST OF THE HANGMEN.

A GROTESQUE.

 

What place is snugger and more pretty
Than a gay green Inn outside the City,
To sit in an arbour in a garden,
With a pot of ale and a long churchwarden!

Amid the noise and acclamation,
He sits unknown, in meditation:
’Mid church-bells ringing, jingling glasses,
Snugly enough his Sunday passes.

 

BEYOND the suburbs of the City, where
Cheap stucco’d villas on the brick-field stare,
Where half in town, half country, you espy
The hay-cart standing at the hostelry,—
Strike from the highway down a puddly lane
Skirt round a market-garden, and you gain
A pastoral footpath, winding on for miles
By fair green fields and over country stiles;
And soon, as you proceed, the busy sound
Of the dark City at your back is drowned,
The speedwell with its blue eye looks at you,
The yellow primrose glimmers through the dew;
Out of the sprouting hedgerow at your side,
Instead of the town sparrow starveling-eyed,
The blackbird whistles and the finches sing;
Instead of smoke, you breathe the pleasant Spring;
And shading eyes dim from street dust you mark,
With soft pulsations soaring up, the LARK,
Till o’er your head, a speck against the gleam,
He sings, and the great City fades in dream!

     Five miles the path meanders; then again
You reach the road, but like a leafy lane
It wanders now; and lo! you stand before
A quaint old country Inn, with open door,
Fresh-watered troughs, and the sweet smell of hay.

     And if, perchance, it be the seventh day—
Or any feast-day, calendar’d or not—
Merry indeed will be this smiling spot;
For on the neighbouring common will be seen
Groups from the City, romping on the green;
The vans with gay pink curtains empty stand,
The horses graze unharness’d close at hand;
Bareheaded wenches play at games in rings,
Or, strolling, swing their bonnets by the strings;
’Prentices, galloping with gasp and groan,
On donkeys ride, till out of breath, or thrown;
False gipsies, with pale cheeks by juice stain’d brown,
And hulking loungers, gather from the town.
The fiddle squeaks, they dance, they sing, they play,
Waifs from the City casting care away,
And with the country smells and sights are blent
Loud town-bred oaths and urban merriment.

     Ay; and behind the Inn are gardens green,
And arbours snug, where families are seen
Tea-drinking in the shadow; some, glad souls,
On the smooth-shaven carpet play at bowls;
And half-a-dozen, rowing round and round,
Upon the shallow skating-pond are found,
And ever and anon will one of these
Upset, and stand there, wading to the knees,
Righting his crank canoe! Down neighbouring walks
Go ’prentice lovers in delightful talks;                                                 [4:10]
While from the arbour-seats smile pleasantly
The older members of the company;
And plump round matrons sweat in Paisley shawls,
And on the grass the crowing baby sprawls.

     Now hither, upon such a festal day,
I from my sky-high lodging made my way,
And followed straggling feet with summer smile;
‘Jog on,’ I sung, ‘and merrily hent the stile,’
Until I reached the place of revelry;
And there, hard by the groups who sat at tea,
But in a quiet arbour, cool and deep,
Around whose boughs white honeysuckles creep,
A Face I saw familiar to my gaze,
In scenes far different and on darker days:—
An aged man, with white and reverent hair,
Brow patriarchal yet deep-lined with care,
His melancholy eye, in a half dream,
Watching the groups with philosophic gleam;
Decent his dress, of broadcloth black and clean,
Clean-starch’d his front, and dignified his mien.
His right forefinger busy in the bowl
Of a long pipe of clay, whence there did roll
A halo of gray vapour round his face,
He sat, like the wise Genius of the place;                                             [5:20]
And at his left hand on the table stood
A pewter-pot, filled up with porter good,
Which ever and anon, with dreamy gaze
And arm-sweep proud, he to his lips did raise.

     ’Twas Sunday; and in melancholy swells
Came the low music of the soft church-bells,                                       [6:2]
Scarce audible, blown o’er the meadows green,
Out of the cloud of London dimly seen—
Whence, thro’ the summer mist, at intervals,
We caught the far-off shadow of St. Paul’s.

     Silent he sat, unnoted in the crowd,
With all his greatness round him like a cloud,
Unknown, unwelcomed, unsuspected quite,
Smoking his pipe like any common wight;
Cheerful, yet distant, patronising here
The common gladness from his prouder sphere.
Cold was his eye, and ominous now and then
The look he cast upon those merry men
Around him; and, from time to time, sad-eyed,
He rolled his reverent head from side to side
With dismal shake; and, his sad heart to cheer,
Hid his great features in the pot of beer.

     When, with an easy bow and lifted hat,
I enter’d the green arbour where he sat,
And most politely him by name did greet,
He went as white as any winding-sheet!
Yea, trembled like a man whose lost eyes note
A pack of wolves upleaping at his throat!
But when, in a respectful tone and kind,
I tried to lull his fears and soothe his mind,
And vowed the fact of his identity
Was as a secret wholly safe with me—
Explaining also, seeing him demur,
That I too was a public character—
The GREAT UNKNOWN (as I shall call him here)
Grew calm, replenish’d soon his pot of beer
At my expense, and in a little while
His tongue began to wag, his face to smile;
And in the simple self-revealing mode
Of all great natures heavy with the load
Of pride and power, he edged himself more near,
And poured his griefs and wrongs into mine ear.

     ‘Well might I be afraid, and sir to you!
They’d tear me into pieces if they knew,—
For quiet as they look, and bright, and smart,
Each chap there has a tiger in his heart!
At play they are, but wild beasts all the same—
Not to be teased although they look so tame;
And many of them, plain as eye can trace,
Have got my ’scutcheon figured on the face.
It’s all a matter of mere destiny
Whether they go all right or come to me:
Mankind is bad, sir, naturally bad!’

     And as he shook his head with omen sad,
I answered him, in his own cynic strain:

     ‘Yes, ’tis enough to make a man complain.
This world of ours so vicious is and low,
It always treats its Benefactors so.
If people had their rights, and rights were clear,
You would not sit unknown, unhonour’d, here;
But all would bow to you, and hold you great,
The first and mightiest member of the State.
Who is the inmost wheel of the machine?
Who keeps the Constitution sharp and clean?
Who finishes what statesmen only plan,
And keeps the whole game going? You’re the Man!
At one end of the State the eye may view
Her Majesty, and at the other—you;
And of the two, both precious, I aver,
They seem more ready to dispense with her!

     The Great Man watched me with a solemn look,
Then from his lips the pipe he slowly took,
And answered gruffly, in a whisper hot:

     ‘I don’t know if you’re making game or not!
But, dash my buttons though you put it strong,
It’s my opinion you’re more right than wrong!
There’s not another man this side the sea
Can settle off the State’s account like me.
The work from which all other people shrink
Comes natural to me as meat and drink,—
All neat, all clever, all perform’d so pat,
It’s quite an honour to be hung like that!
People don’t howl and bellow when they meet
The Sheriff or the Gaoler in the street;
They never seem to long in their mad fits
To tear the Home Secretary into bits;
When Judges in white hats to Epsom Down
Drive gay as Tom and Jerry, folk don’t frown;
They cheer the Queen and Royal Family,
But only let them catch a sight of me,
And like a pack of hounds they howl and storm!
And that’s their gratitude; ’cause I perform,
In genteel style and in a first-rate way,
The work they’re making for me night and day!
Why, if a mortal had his rights, d’ ye see,
I should be honour’d as I ought to be—
They’d pay me well for doing what I do,
And touch their hats whene’er I came in view.
Well, after all, they do as they are told;
They ‘re less to blame than Government, I hold.
Government sees my value, and it knows
I keep the whole game going as it goes,
And yet it holds me down and makes me cheap,
And calls me in at odd times like a sweep
To clean a dirty chimney. Let it smoke,
And every mortal in the State must choke!
And yet, though always ready at the call,
I get no gratitude, no thanks at all.
Instead of rank, I get a wretched fee,
Instead of thanks, a sneer or scowl may-be,
Instead of honour such as others win,
Why, I must hide away to save my skin.
When I am sent for to perform my duty,
Instead of coming in due state and beauty,
With outriders and dashing grays to draw
(Like any other mighty man of law),
Disguised, unknown, and with a guilty cheek,
The gaol I enter like an area sneak!
And when all things have been perform’d with art
(With my young man to do the menial part)
Again out of the dark, when none can see,
I creep unseen to my obscurity!’

     His vinous cheek with virtuous wrath was flushed,
And to his nose the purple current rushed,
While with a hand that shook a little now,
He mopp’d the perspiration from his brow,
Sighing; and on his features I descried
A sparkling tear of sorrow and of pride.
Meantime, around him all was mirth and May,
The sport was merry and all hearts were gay,
The green boughs sparkled back the merriment,
The garden honeysuckle scatter’d scent,
The warm girls giggled and the lovers squeezed,
The matrons drinking tea look’d on full pleased.
And far away the church-bells sad and slow
Ceased on the scented air. But still the woe
Grew on the Great Man’s face—the smiling sky,
The light, the pleasure, on his fish-like eye
Fell colourless;—at last he spoke again,
Growing more philosophic in his pain:

     ‘Two sorts of people fill this mortal sphere,
Those who are hung, and those who just get clear;
And I’m the schoolmaster (though you may laugh),
Teaching good manners to the second half.
Without my help to keep the scamps in awe,
You’d have no virtue and you’d know no law;
And now they only hang for blood alone,
Ten times more hard to rule the mob have grown.
I’ve heard of late some foolish folk have plann’d
To put an end to hanging in the land;
But, Lord! how little do the donkeys know
This world of ours, when they talk nonsense so!
It’s downright blasphemy! You might as well
Try to get rid at once of Heaven and Hell!
Mankind is bad, sir, naturally bad,
Both rich and poor, man, woman, sad, or glad!
While some to keep scot-free have got the wit
(Not that they’re really better – devil a bit!),
Others have got my mark so plain and fair
In both their eyes, I stop, and gape, and stare.
Look at that fellow stretch’d upon the green,
Strong as a bull, though only seventeen;
Bless you, I know the party every limb,
I’ve hung a few fac-similes of him!
And cast your eye on that pale wench who sips
Gin in the corner; note her hanging lips,
The neat-shaped boots, and the neglected lace:
There’s baby-murder written on her face!—
Tho’ accidents may happen now and then,
I know my mark on women and on men,
And oft I sigh, beholding it so plain,
To think what heaps of labour still remain!’

     He sigh’d, and yet methought he smackt his lips,
As one who in anticipation sips
A feast to come. Then I, with a sly thought,
Drew forth a picture I had lately bought
In Regent Street, and begged the man of fame
To give his criticism on the same.
First from their case his spectacles he took,
Great silver-rimm’d, and with deep searching look
The picture’s lines in silence pondered he.

     ‘This is as bad a face as ever I see!
This is no common area-sneak or thief,
No stealer of a pocket-handkerchief,
No! deep’s the word, and knowing, and precise,
Afraid of nothing, but as cool as ice.
Look at his ears, how very low they lie,
Lobes far below the level of his eye,
And there’s a mouth, like any rat-trap’s tight,
And at the edges bloodless, close, and white.
Who is the party? Caught, on any charge?
There’s mischief near, if he remains at large!’

     Gasping with indignation, angry-eyed,
‘Silence! ’tis very blasphemy,’ I cried;
‘Misguided man, whose insight is a sham,
These noble features you would brand and damn,
This saintly face, so subtle, calm, and high,
Are those of one who would not wrong a fly—
A friend of man, whom all man’s sorrows stir,
’Tis MR. MILL, the great PHILOSOPHER!’                                           [18:8]

     Then for a moment he to whom I spake
Seemed staggered, but, with the same ominous shake
O’ the head, he, rallying, wore a smile half kind,
Pitying my simplicity of mind.

     ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘from my word I will not stir—
I’ve seen that look on many a murderer;
But don’t mistake—it stands to common sense
That education makes the difference!
I’ve heard the party’s name, and know that he
Is a good pleader for my trade and me;
And well he may be! for a clever man
Sees pretty well what others seldom can,—
That those mark’d qualities which make him great
In one way, might by just a turn of fate
Have raised him in another! Ah, it’s sad—
Mankind is bad, sir, naturally bad!
It takes a genius in our busy time
To plan and carry out a bit of crime
That shakes the land and raises up one’s hair;
Most murder now is but a poor affair—
No art, no cunning, just a few blind blows
Struck by a bullet-headed rough who knows
No better. Clever men now see full plain
That crime don’t answer. Thanks to me, again!
Ah, when I think what would become of men
Without my bit of schooling now and then,—
To teach the foolish they must mind their play,
And keep the clever under every day,—
I shiver! As it is, they’re kept by me
To decent sorts of daily villany—
Law, money-lending, factoring on the land,
Share-broking, banking with no cash in hand,
And many a sort of weapon they may use
Which never brings their neck into the noose;
For if they’re talented they can invent
Plenty of crime that gets no punishment,
Do lawful murder with no sort of fear
As coolly as I drink this pot of beer!’

     The Great Man paused and drank; his face was grim,
Half buried in the pot; and o’er its rim
His eye, like the law’s bull’s-eye, flashing bright
To deepen darkness round it, threw its light
On the gay scene before him, and it seemed
Rendered all wretched near it as it gleamed.
A shadow fell upon the merry place,
Each figure grew distorted, and each face
Spake of crime hidden and of evil thought.
Darkling I gazed, sick-hearted and distraught,
In silence. Black and decent at my side,
With reverend hair, sat melancholy-eyed
The Patriarch. To my head I held my hand,
And ponder’d, and the look of the fair land
Seemed deathlike. On the darkness of my brain
The voice, a little thicker, broke again:

     ‘Ah, things don’t thrive as they throve once,’ he said,
‘And I’m alone now my old woman’s dead.
I find the Sundays dull. First, I attend
The morning service, then this way I wend
To take my pipe and drop of beer; and then,
Home to a lonely meal in town again.
’Tis a dull world!—and grudges me my hire—
I ought to get a pension and retire.
What living man has served his country so?
But who’s to take my place I scarcely know!
Well, Heaven will punish their neglect anon:—
They’ll know my merit, when I’m dead and gone!’

     He stood upon his legs, and these, I think,
Were rather shaky, part with age, part drink,
And with a piteous smile, full of the sense
Of human vanity and impotence,
Grimly he stood, half senile and half sly,
A sight to make the very angels cry;
Then lifted up a hat with weepers on—
(Worn for some human creature dead and gone)
Placing it on his head (unconsciously
A little on one side) held out to me
His right hand, and, though grim beyond belief,
Wore unaware an air of rakish grief—
Even so we parted, and with hand-wave proud
He faded like a ghost into the crowd.

     Home to the mighty City wandering,
Breathing the freshness of the fields of Spring,
Hearing the Lark, and seeing bright winds run
Between the bending rye-grass and the sun,
I mused and mused; till with a solemn gleam
My soul closed, and I saw as in a dream,
Apocalyptic, cutting heaven across,
Two mighty shapes—a Gallows and a Cross.
And these twain, with a sea of lives that clomb
Up to their base and struck and fell in foam,
Moved, trembled, changed; and lo! the first became
A jet-black Shape that bowed its head in shame
Before the second, which in turn did change
Into a luminous Figure, sweet and strange,
Stretching out mighty arms to bless the thing
Which hushed its breath beneath Him wondering.
And lo! these visions vanished with no word
In brightness; and like one that wakes I heard
The church bells chime and the cathedrals toll,
Filling the mighty City like its Soul.

     Then, like a spectre strange and woe-begone,
Uprose again, with mourning weepers on,
His hat a little on one side, his breath
Heavy and hot, the gray-hair’d Man of Death,
Tottering, grog-pimpled, with a trembling pace
Under the Gateway of the Silent Place,
At whose sad opening the great Puppet stands
The rope of which he tugs with palsied hands.

     Christ help me! whither do my wild thoughts run?
And Christ help thee, thou lonely agëd one!
Christ help us all, till all’s that dark grows clear—                                [26:3]
Are those indeed the Sabbath bells I hear?

 

[Note:
1874 King edition of The Poetical Works:
v. 4, l. 10: Go youthful lovers in delightful talks;
v. 5, l. 20: He sat, like the white Genius of the place;
v. 6, l. 2: Came the low music of the still church-bells, 
v. 18, l. 8: ’Tis MR. BLANK, the great PHILOSOPHER!’
v. 26, l. 3: Christ help us all, till all that’s dark grows clear— ]

_____

 

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