ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{North Coast and other Poems 1867}

 

                                                                                                                                                                 103

NOCO25

THE BROOK.

 

OH, sweet and still around the hill
     Thy silver waters, Brook, are creeping;
Beneath the hill as sweet and still                                              104
     Thy weary friend lies sleeping:
A laurel leaf is in his hair,
     His eyes are closed to human seeming,
And surely he has dreams most fair,                                        [1:7]
     If he indeed be dreaming.

O Brook, he smiled, a happy child,
     Upon thy banks, and loved thy crying,
And, as time flew, thy murmur grew
     A trouble purifying;
Till, last, thy laurel leaf he took,
     Dream-eyed and tearful, like a woman,
And turned thy haunting cry, O Brook,
     To speech divine and human.

O Brook! in song full sweet and strong
     He sang of thee he loved so dearly;
Then softly creep around his sleep,
     And murmur to him cheerly;
For though he knows nor fret nor fear,                                     [3:5]
     Though life no more slips strangely through him,
Yet he may sleep more sound to hear                                      [3:7]
     His friend so close unto him.

And when at last the sleepers cast                                           105
     Their swathes aside, and, wondering, waken,
Let thy friend be full tenderlie                                                   [4:3]
     In silver arms uptaken.                                                         [4:4]
Him be it then thy task to bear
     Up to the Footstool, softly flowing,—
Smiles on his eyes, and in his hair
     Thy leaf of laurel blowing!

 

[Notes:
In the 1874, H. S. King edition of The Poetical Works, ‘The Brook’ appears under the title, ‘To The Luggie’ with the following footnote:
“See ‘The Luggie and other Poems,’ by the late David Gray.”
Alterations:
v. 1, l. 7: And surely he hath dreams most fair,
v. 1, l. 8: If he, indeed, be dreaming.
v. 3, l. 5: For though he knows no fret or fear,
v. 3, l. 7: Yet he may rest more sound to hear
v. 4, l. 3: Let thy Friend be full tenderly
v. 4, l. 4: In silvern arms uptaken.
This version was then published in the ‘Early Poems’ section of the 1884, Chatto & Windus edition of The Poetical Works.]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 106

THE NORTHERN WOOING.

(NORTH COAST.)

 

SKIES are dusky, winds are keen,
Round Lallan Farm on Hallowe'en.

All is dark across the night,
But, see! one crimson glare of light.

What are those that in the air
Flit against the crimson glare?

Falling flakes of snow they seem,
Or night-moths gathered by the gleam.

Round and round they wind and wind,—
Tiny shades against the blind.

Child, wish now! while thou canst see!                                     107
’Tis the faëry companie!

O’er thy shoulder peep; and so
Behold thy future bedfellów.

Once a year, on Hallowe’en,
Are the faëry people seen.

Thus round happy farms they fly,
While the peat-fire blazes high.

Lad and lass, to-night beware!
There is magic in the air!

*                    *

     ‘Ah, bairns, my bairns, forbear on Hallow Night
To mock the folk o’ faëry and their might,
For though ye deem these things are all untrue,
Yourselves may be the first to see and rue!
Hark! now the wind a moment sinks and dies,
Hear ye not low faint voices and strange cries
Outside the door, and flutterings on the pane
Of little finger-taps, like gentle rain?                                                   108
Ay! ’tis the folk o’ faëry hovering nigh:
Draw back the blind to peep, and they will fly;
But serve them maidenly, with charm and spell,
And the old customs that they love so well,
And they will show you all you wish to see,—
Your true-love’s face, his country and degree,—
All, all a lass with pleasure asks and learns,
Down to the very number of her bairns.

     ‘Aye please the fays! ’tis easy if ye will;
But woe be yours if they should wish ye ill:
Your joe will take to drink, or drown at sea,
Or find another sweeter companie;
Your cheeks will droop, your een will lose their light;
Ye’ll marry an old man, and freeze at night!
In vain, in vain ye seek to change your fate,
When they have fixed your lot and future mate;
In vain ye seek to frown and turn aside,—
They make your heart consent in spite of pride.
’Twas so with me, when I was young and gay,
Though I was loth to hearken and obey.
They led me to their choice by spells and charms;
They closed my eyes, and drew me to his arms!
                                                                                                       109

NOCO26

Or grandfather had ne’er prevailed on me
To droop my pride, and smile as low as he.

     ‘For, though I say it, bairns, my face was fair,                              110
And I was Farmer Binnie’s child and heir;
A widowed father’s pet, I ruled the place,
Right proud, be sure, of fortune and of face.
My hair was golden then, like Maggie’s here,
And I had een as sly, yet crystal clear,
And I could look as bright when pleased and fain,
Or toss my curls with just as sweet disdain!
What wonder, then, if half the country-side
Looked bairns into my face, and blushed and cried,
Bleating behind me, like a flock of sheep
Behind a shepherd-lass, who, half asleep,
Counts them in play, leads them with pretty speech,
Rates all alike, and scarce knows each from each?
One found me coy, another found me gleg,
Another skittish as the gray mare Meg;
Just as the humour took me, I was wild
Or gentle,—one day cross, the next day mild;
But cared no more for handsome Jamie West,
When he came o’er the heather in his best,
Jingling his silver spurs at our fire-end,
In breeks so tight ’twas near his death to bend,
Than for the grim old Laird of Glumlie Glen,
Who rode on solemn sheltie now and then
Over the moors,—and, making mouths at me,                                  111
With father cracked of crops o’er barley-bree,—
While Jock the groom, who knew I loved such fun,
Gingered the sheltie for a homeward run!

     ‘Yet oft I tried to picture in my brain
What kind of laddie in the end would gain,
And vainly sought ’mong those around to find
The substance of the shadow in my mind.
But, bairns, in vain I pictured; and anew
Will you and children’s children picture too:—
The bonnie shadow flies, and in its place
The chilly substance steals to our embrace.
I swore he should be stately, dark, and tall,—
His hair was fiery red and he was small;
I swore he should be rich in gold and lands,—
His fortune was the strength of his two hands;
I swore he should be meek and ruled by me,—
The De'il himself were easier led than he!’

*                    *

Round the happy farm they flee,—
Faëry folk in companie.

Near the peat-blaze range in ring;                                             112
Fiddler, twang the fiddle-string.

In the great tub duck the head
After apples rosy red!

Slyly let each pair by turn
Watch the magic chestnuts burn!

Love who never loved before,—
Kiss me quick behind the door!

Lad and lass, to-night beware!
There is magic in the air!

*                    *

     ‘O bairns, we gathered round the blazing peat,
And lad and lass sat close and whispered sweet,
While ancient women spake of wonders seen
On many a long-forgotten Hallowe’en,
And old men nodded snowy polls the while,
Passing the snuff-box round with sceptic smile.
Tall in the midst my father had his place,
Health and a golden harvest in his face;
And, hand in his, full rosy and full sly,                                                113
Surrounded by my silly sheep, sat I.
Loud rang the laughter! fearless grew the fun!
Happy and warm at heart was every one!
The old, old shepherd, worn with rain and wind,
Blinked in the ingle-nook with eyes half blind,
While at his feet his tired old dog slept deep,
And, barking, dreamed of gathering the sheep.

     ‘James West was there, the Laird, and many more,
Wooers both old and young, and rich and poor;
And, though I say it, bairns, that night I smiled
My sweetest, and their hearts were fairly wild.
Braw with new ribbons in my hair lint-light,
Clean as a guinea, newly minted, bright,
I sat and hearkened to their silly speech,
Happy, and with a careless smile for each;
And yet, though some were fine and fair to see,
Not one had power to steal my heart from me.

     ‘Oh, Hallowe’en in those old times, I vow,
Was thrice as merry, thrice as sweet, as now!
The benches drawn aside, the supper o’er,
Fresh sand was strewn upon this very floor;
The fiddle played—the fiddler gave a squeal—                                 114
Up stood the folk, and father led the reel;
The lads louped up and kicked the beam for fun,
The crimson lassies screamed to see it done;
Meantime the old men, with contented look,
Smoked clean new cutties in the chimney nook,
And thought of days when they were young and gay,
And pleased the lassies, too, with feats of play.
Yet one was there, my bairns, amid the throng,
Who, though his years were young, his limbs full strong,
Danced not that night; but pale and gloomy, stayed
Among the gaffers, in the chimney shade,—
Hugh Scott his name, an orphan lad, whose hand
Guided the ploughshare on my father’s land,
But one my father prized and trusted best
For cunning and for skill o’er all the rest.
Full well I knew the rogue esteemed me sweet,
But I was gentry, and his masters’ meat,
And often smiled on him full fond and free,
As ne’er I smiled on those who courted me,
Pleased that my smiles sank sweet to his heart’s core,
But certain he would never hope for more.

     ‘There in the chimney shadow, pale and sad,
Clad in his clothes o’ Sabbath, sat the lad:                                         115
In vain, to catch his look, the lassies leered,
In vain the old folk saw his sulks, and sneered,
But aye his dim and melancholy e’e
Turned glittering in the shade and followed me;
Whene’er I danced with some fine wooer there,
I saw his fist clench and his eyeballs glare,—
Red as a rick on fire I saw him grow
Whene’er my partner whispered sweet and low,
And had a kiss been stolen in his sight,
I swear he would have ta'en revenge in fight.
Half pleased, half careless, to increase his ill,
I marked him kindly, as a lassie will,
And sent him many a smile of tender light
To cheer him in his nook, that Hallow Night.

     ‘Louder the fiddler, warmed with many a glass,
Shouted to stir the hearts of lad and lass!
Faster and faster on his strings he skirled!
Faster and faster round the dancers whirled!
Close by, the young folks ducked for apples red,
Splashing, with puffing cheek and dripping head,
Into the washing-bine, or, in a ring,
With gaping mouths, they played at cherry-string.
But in the parlour, from the turmoil free,                                             116
My father sat with antique companie—
Cronies who mixed their tumblers strong and deep
Twelve times, and toddled sober off to sleep.

     ‘But, bairns, ’twas near the hour when ghaists are said
To rise white-sheeted from their kirkyard bed,
When the owl calls, and blinks his e’eball white,
In ruins, where the fairies flit by night.
And now my heart beat fast and thick for fear,
Because the time of spells and charms was near,
And I was bent that night alone to fly
Out o’er the meadow to the kiln,—and try
The twining charm, the spell of fairy fate,
And hear the name of him that I should mate.’

*                    *

Lad and lass, to-night beware!
There is magic in the air!

Winds are crying shrill, and, hark!
Ghosts are groaning in the dark.

Who will dare this Hallow Night                                              117
Leave the happy ingle-light?

Who will dare to stand alone,
While the fairy thread is thrown?

Who this night is free from fear?
Let her ask,—and she shall hear!

*                    *

     ‘Dark, dark was all, as shivering and alone
I set my foot upon the threshold-stone,
And, trembling close, with twitching fingers caught
The great horn lanthorn from the stables brought,
And leant against the door to keep it wide,
And peered into the dreadful gloom, and sighed.
Black was the lift, and faintly fell the rain,
The wind was screeching like a ghaist in pain;
And, while I paused, and pinched my e’en to mark,
The wind swung to the door, and left me in the dark.

     ‘O bairns! what would my foolish heart have gi’en
To let the fairies be, that Hallowe’en!
But I had sworn, and all the lassies knew,
And I was shamed, and fain must see it through.                                118
Oh, where were all my boasts, my laughter light,
Now I was there alone amid the night?
While faint far ben the farm the fiddle cried,
And far away the sound of dancing died.

     ‘Thud, thud against my breast my wild heart leapt,
As out across the misty yard I crept,
Holding the lanthorn up, whose flickering ray
Made darkness doubly deep along the way.
Then in my ears I seemed to hear strange screams,
And awesome faces flashed with lightning-gleams,
And, as I wandered, fingers sharp and wee
Pinched me and pulled my garter o’er the knee,
And nipt my breasts (ay, laugh! your time is near!)
Yet still I held along, though sick with fear;
Out of the yard, across the field, the dew
Still drizzling blindly in my face, I flew,
Till, breathless, panting hard against the wind,
Fearful to look before me or behind,
I reached the kiln,—and, standing dizzy there,
Heard softer voices round me in the air,
A sound like little feet along the gloom,
And hummings faint as of a fairy loom.

NOCO27

‘Then setting down the lanthorn on the ground,
I entered in, nor paused to look around,
But faint and fast began to say the charm                                            120
All northern lasses know, and reached my arm,
Casting the twine, and holding one end tight—
Flinging the other loose into the night.
O bairns! O bairns! scarce had I uttered thrice
The fairy spell, with lips as cold as ice,
When through my blood a fearful shudder spread,
For ghaistly fingers tightened at the thread!
Then in a hollow voice, to know my doom,
“Who holds, who holds?” I cried, into the gloom,
And ere the echo of my voice had died,
“Hugh Scott! Hugh Scott!” a hollow voice replied:
And, screaming out, and covering up my face,
Kicking the lanthorn o’er, I fled the place,
Stumbling and tripping, flew across the field,
Till, white as any ghaist, I reached the bield,
And crept up to my room, and hid my head,
Moaning, among the blankets of the bed!’

*                    *

Lightly soon shall rise the sun!
Fays, begone! your work is done.

Fiddler, put your tools away,
Take a nap among the hay.

Lads and lassies, flushed and red,                                             121
Yawn no more, but off to bed.

Maiden, thou hast heard and seen
Wonders strange at Hallowe’en.

Thou hast wished to hear and see—
And thy fate is fixed for thee.

Sad or merry, ill or well,
Fairy looms have spun the spell.

In among the blankets creep—
Dream about him in your sleep.

Wake and smile with heart resigned!
Kiss and cuddle, and be kind!

*                    *

     ‘Oh, bitter was my heart, my wits amazed;
Wildly I pondered like a lassie crazed:
Hugh Scott my mate! Hugh Scott, of all around!
A pauper lad, a tiller of the ground!
When wealthy men came lilting o’er the lea,
In shining braws, and sought to marry me!
“Nay, nay!” I cried, and frowning raised my face,                              122
“No force shall make me choose a lot so base:
The spirits of the air but wish this night
To try my heart, and fill my soul with fright;
Yet they shall know full soon they rate me ill,—
I fear them not, nor shall I work their will!”
But as I spoke, I shook, and unaware
Keeked o’er my shoulder at the glass, and there
In the faint lamplight burning by the bed,
His face, a moment mirror’d, came and fled!

     ‘O bairns!—what further tale have I to tell?
How could I fight against a fate so fell?
Strive as I might, awaking or asleep,
I found my eyes in fascination deep
Follow Hugh Scott, and, till my heart went wild,
He haunted me from place to place, and smiled.
Then, unaware, to notice I began
That he was trim and stout, and like a man,
That there was winning sweetness in his tongue,
And that his voice was honeyed when he sung.
Nay, more, full soon his manners seemed to me
More fine than those of loftier degree,
And as for gold, though he was humble, still
He had a fortune in his farming skill.                                                   123
Ay, bairns! before another Hallow Night
The fairies to their wish had worked me quite;
And, since his heart had ever favoured Hugh,
Full easily they won my father too—
And when at last Hugh craved me to be his,
I fell upon his heart and cried for bliss.

     ‘Ah! heed not, bairns, though grandfather should swear
That, when I tried the spell, himsel’ was there;
That, when I saw the phantom in the room,
He too, was near me, keeking through the gloom;
And that his craft and cunning were the charms
Which cheated me and drew me to his arms.
Nay! nay! but maidenly, with song and spell,
And the old customs that they love so well,
Serve ye the fays this night—be meek! be brave!
And though they may not give you all ye crave,
Be sure that you will find, as I have found,
Their choice right wise, and all their counsels sound,
And bless for many a year the love and light
They spin for happy hearts, on Hallow Night.’

 

[Note:
The revised version of ‘The Northern Wooing’ is available in the North Coast - Revisions section.]

 

                                                                                                         124

THE BALLAD OF THE STORK.

(SCANDINAVIA.)

 

THE widow on the storm-tost shore of Denmark had her home,
Under the shade of pleasant woods, close to the salt sea-foam;
But little peace was in the hut, and grief was at the door,
For day and night the widow’s thoughts were tossing far from shore.

To Him whose white foot stills the waves and bids the storm be done,
The widow prayed upon her knees, to send her back her son;
For GOD had sent a watery wind to blow the boy away,
And to the Indies he had sailed all on a summer’s day.

‘See, mother, mother!’ cried the lad, ‘thou hast not land nor gold;                          125
The dun cow, fastened to its ring, grows dry and waxes old,—
But, running silver from this cup, the water says to me,
“What fool would starve ashore when wealth is on the shining sea?”’

And sticking in his cap a sprig of green, he kissed her lips,
And sprang away that summer day, and rowed among the ships;
And, weeping, on the beach she stands,—sails fill and pennons fly,—
He stands on deck, and waves his cap—and the great ship goes by.

Three years she waited wearily, and watched with weary eyne,
And spun upon the threshold as she searched the straight sea-line;
And pale she tossed on bed o’ straw, and heard the waters moan,
And day still came and went at sea, and still she was alone.

Ah, little one! ah, wilful one! now are ye fast asleep!                                            126
The waters roar around your bones under the dreadful deep:
Your sleep is in the dark cold depths,—you cannot turn nor cry;
No mother now may keep you warm, or kiss you where ye lie.’

To kirk she hied full wearily upon each holy day,
Yet little peace the kirk could give—she had no heart to pray;
But in September, when they read the tale of other years,
About the widow’s son of Nain, her heart was full to tears.

Then to the hut she weeping turned, and wearied on once more,
And sadly watched the tall ash tree that grew beside her door;
For there a Stork had made his home for many a year, and he
Was now an ancient Stork, and knew full many a far countree.

For every autumn on the roof he stood and waved his wing,                                  127
Then cloudwards rose, and in the wind went southward travelling;
And every spring on stately wing back to the hut he hied,
Far as the Red Sea had he fared, with summer for his guide.

And now the widow saw him rise, less fleet of wing and strong,
For now he was an ancient Stork, nor would his years be long.
‘Ah me!’ she thought; ‘with thee, old friend, my laddie played full sweet—
Green leaves he tied around thy neck, and gave thee food to eat.

‘Perchance thy sharp round eye hath seen what still is hid from me—
My little one afloat and dead upon a glassy sea.
Here hast thou dwelt for many a year, and we have watched thy nest,
But thou art powerless in thy turn to help my heart to rest.’

How! powerless? GOD’s mild will to work what thing is quite unmeet?                 128
Where is the widow’s wandered son? wrapt in his winding-sheet?
Nay, on Morocco’s blazing shore with slaves behold him stand,—
Weeping, he shakes a chain, and looks towards his native land.

He heeds not yonder sweet-eyed slave, who smiles to soothe his pain,
Nor yonder fat and turbaned Turk, who holds him in his chain;
He thinks upon his mother’s hut, he bites his bitter lips,
He strains his eyes, and in a mist of tears he sees the ships.

But suddenly he stares amazed, for near him on the sand,
With long spare legs and ancient air, he sees a stranger stand—
A Stork, a grim and ancient Stork, full dim and dull of e’e,
The picture of the Stork he knew within his own countree.
                                                                                                                           129

NOCO28

‘Ah! could it be indeed my old brave comrade travelling?
He hath the same bright beak and feet, the same black ruffled wing;
I seem to know the very walk; the solemn stately pace,                                         130
And I could almost swear he hath some memory of my face.’

’Tis spring again in Denmark, and all is green once more,
‘Spring comes again! the stork has come!’ they cry upon the shore;
And all the folk wear feast-day dress, and the good priest is there;
And with the rest the widow stands, and looks into the air.

It is the Stork, the ancient Stork,—he lights upon the ground:
‘Oh, see!’ they cry, ‘around his feet a paper tightly bound.’
They loose it then with eager hands, they open it and read,—
The widow screams, for here is wrought a miracle indeed!

‘O mother, here I dwell alive, but held in slaverie,
So gather, gather gold, and send a ransom o’er the sea.
If this should reach thy hands, bless GOD, who sent the bird to me.’—                   131
And all the rest was guidance how to send and set him free.

Oh, who that Sabbath was so pinched as grudge from out his store
A silver mite to fill the plate they placed at the kirk door,
The cow-girl brought the piece of gold that was to buy a gown,
The beggar slyly neared the plate, and threw his beggings down.

Now in his mother’s hut again the sailor sits once more,
Content to cast a fisher’s net, nor wander far from shore.
But blessings on the ancient Stork, and honours three times three,
Who followed summer round the world, and set the sailor free!

 

                                                                                                                           132

SIGURD OF SAXONY.

(MEDIÆVAL.)

 

THE sedgy shores of this enchanted lake
Are dark with shadows of the swans which make
         Their nests along its marge;
And on the hither side, where silver waves
Curl with low music into hollow caves,
         Waiting for that bright barge
Which beareth sleepers to the silent land,
I, Sigurd, in my ghostly sorrow, stand.

I stand alone beneath heaven’s silent arch,
Shaded both night and day by clouds that march
         And countermarch above;
A sombre suit of perfect mail I wear,
A gloomy plume, that troubles the thin air
         To murmurs if I move;
My sword is red and broken; and my shield
Bears a gold anchor on a sable field.
                                                                                                         133

NOCO29

This is a place where mortals find not speech;
Save the small murmurous waves that crawl the beach,
         All is as still as death:                                                              134
I hear my heart against my ribs of stone,
Like to a wild bird in the net, make moan;
         My slow and frozen breath
Curls like a vapour o’er the silent spot;
My shadow seeks my feet, and moveth not.

Nought can redeem her. Wherefore I seek grace
To join her in her distant dwelling-place
         Of pastoral repose;
And I would make this heart that aches and grieves
As white and perfect as a lily’s leaves
         And fragrant as a rose,
That with a stainless spirit I may take
The solemn barge across the enchanted lake.

For, having worn her stainless badge in fight,
Thrice conquering in her name, by day and night
         I rode with vizor down,
Meeting and slaying honourable foes,
Wounded in flesh, giving and taking blows,
         To compass her renown.
Thus, warring a sweet war without reprieve,
I, Sigurd, wore her badge upon my sleeve.

Arméd from head to heel, with spear in hand,                                   135
I cried her praises through the wondering land,
         And few her praise refused;
Then flushing with my victory complete,
I hastened back and knelt me at her feet,
         Battered, and maimed, and bruised;
And then I wooed her in a secret place,
With light upon me from her shining face.

She bathed my bloody brow, with red wounds striped,
And with a kerchief white as snow she wiped
         The foam from off my mouth;
She set my unhelmed head upon her knee,
And wound white arms about me tenderly,
         And slaked the thirsty drouth
That ebbed in sluggish fire through blood and brain,
From a full cup of cool white porcelain.

Wherefore my soul again was strong. I caught
The voiceless music of her form and thought.
         I knelt upon my knee,
Saying, ‘I love thee more than life or fame;
I love thee only less than my good name,
         Which is a part of thee;                                                           136
And I adore thy beauty undefiled!’
Whereat she looked into mine eyes and smiled.

I wooed her night and day with virtuous deeds,
And that humility which intercedes
         With ladies for true men.
I took her lily of a hand in mine,
Drinking her breath, as soft as eglantine,
         And wooing well; and then
She toyed with my great beard, and gave consent:
So down the flowery path of love we went.

Twined closely, down the soft descent of love
We wandered on, with golden stars above,
         And many flowers below,
Until we came to this dark lake or sea,
Which openeth upon eternity,
         And could no farther go;
For beyond life and death, and these dark skies,
The place of sleep, the Silent Valley, lies.

Here on the beach we stood, and hand in hand
Waited to wander to that silent land,
                                                                                                       137

NOCO30

         And all the shore was dark;
Saying, ‘We yearn to see the Happy Vale,
And hand in hand together we will sail
         In the enchanted barque.’                                                        138
Too late to turn: one passage we must take
Across the gleaming silence of the lake.

She said, ‘The waters make such threatening moan,
Neither can pass across their waste alone;
         We cannot, cannot part;
We will together cross these waves of death.’
But the dark waves grew darker, and the breath
         Came colder from the heart;
And by each face a quiet cloud was worn,
Small as the shadow of a lamb new born.

Then in the distant waves we could behold
A radiance like the blowing autumn gold
         Of woodland forests deep;
And my sweet lady trembled, growing white
As foam of ocean on a summer night,
         When the wild surges leap;
And falling very cold upon my breast,
She faltered, ‘I am weary,—let me rest.’

I laid her down upon a flowery bed,
And put soft mosses underneath her head,
         And kissed her, and she slept;                                                 139
And the air brightened round her, as the far
Blue ether burns like silver round a star.
         And round her slumber crept
A trouble of the air, and silver clear
The ghostly light upon the lake grew near.

Yea, nearer, nearer grew the light, and soon,
Shaped like the sickle of the early moon,
         The barge drew shoreward slow—
A vapour and a radiance all around,
A gleaming of fair faces, and a sound
         Of flutes and lute-strings low.
And round my lady crept a shadowy crowd,
Fading and brightening like a moonlit cloud.

They clustered with a ghostly light around
My lady dear, and raised her from the ground,
         And bare her to the barque;
Whereon I would have followed, but a hand
Held me like iron to the hated land.
         Then all again was dark;
And from the breathing darkness came a hum
Of voices sweet, ‘Thy time has not yet come.’

And then I shrieked in utter agony;                                                    140
While fading far away upon the sea
         I saw the light again;
And with a cry into the waves I sprung,
And sought to follow, but the waters clung
         About me like a chain;
And thrice I fought amid their rage and roar,
And thrice they hurled me bleeding on the shore.

Long have I waited here, alone, alone,
Hearing the melancholy waves make moan
         Upon the pebbly beach:
With eyes upon the pitiless stars above
Here have I waited in my homeless love,
         Pale, patient, deaf to speech,
With the salt rheum upon me, pale and bent,
And breathless as a marble monument.

This lonely watching would invite despair
Did I not oft catch glimpses of my fair
         Lady, so sadly lost,
Making, with radiance round her like a star,
A luminous pathway on the hill afar,
         Then fading like a ghost;
What time I shout aloud, and at the shout                                          141
Pause, shuddering at the echoes round about.

Twice has the barge returned: once for a bent
Old servitor, who, down the soft descent
         That leads to this dim land,
Had wandered from the towns that lie behind,
And, groping in the cold, had fall’n stone-blind
         Upon the shifting sand;
Once for a little gold-haired child astray,
Who, wandering hither, fell to sleep at play.

Twice has the mystic barge returned, and twice
Have I been frozen to the earth in ice,
         Helpless to move or speak;
Thrice have I fought with the relentless roar
Of water, and been flung upon the shore
         Battered, and maimed, and weak;
But now I wait with quiet heart and brain,
Grown patient with unutterable pain.

And I will wait. To slay myself were sin,
And I, self-slaughtered, could not hope to win
         My solitary boon;
But if the barge should come again, and leave                                    142
Me still in lonely watch without reprieve,
         Under the silver moon
I will lie down upon my back and rest,
With mailéd hands crossed praying on my breast;

And fall to slumber on a bed of weeds,
A knight well worn in honourable deeds,
         Yet lost to life, and old;
And haply I may dream before I wake
That I am floating o’er the pathless lake
         In that bright barge of gold;
And, waking, I may see with sweet surprise
Light shining on me from my lady’s eyes.

 

                                                                                                       143

A POEM TO DAVID.*

 

I.

I WOULD not be lying yonder,
     Where thou, belovéd, art lying,
Though the nations should crown me living,
     And murmur my praises dying.

Better this fierce pulsation,
     Better this aching brain,
Than dream, and hear faintly above me
     The cry of the wind and the rain;

Than lie in the kirkyard lonely,
     With fingers and toes upcurled,
And be conscious of never a motion
     Save the slow rolling round of the world.

* David Gray, Author of “The Luggie, and other Poems.”

                                                                                                                           144

I would not be lying yonder,
     Though the seeds I had sown were springing!
I would not be sleeping yonder,
     And be done with striving and singing!

For the eyes are blinded with mildew,
     The lips are clammy with clay,
And worms in the ears are crawling,—
     But the brain is the brain for aye!

The brain is warm and glowing,
     Whatever the body be;
It stirs like a thing that breatheth,
     And dreams of the Past and To be!

Ay! down in the deep damp darkness
     The brains of the dead are hovelled!
They gleam on each other with radiance,
     Transcending the eye that is shrivelled!

Each like a faint lamp lighteth
     The skull wherein it dwelleth!
Each like a lamp turneth brighter
     Whenever the kirk-bell knelleth!

I would not be lying yonder                                                      145
     Afar from the music of things,
Not were my green grave watered
     By the tears of queens and kings.

If the brain like a thing that breatheth
     Is full of the Past and To be,
The silence is far more awful
     Than the shriek and the agony;

And the hope that sweetened living
     Is gone with the light of the sun,
And the struggle seems wholly over,
     And nothing at all seems done;

And the dreams are heavy with losses,
     And sins, and errors, and wrongs,
And you cannot hear in the darkness
     If the people are singing your songs!

There’s only the slow still rolling
     Of the dark world round and round,
Making the dream more wondrous,
     Though it render the sleep more sound.

’T is cold, cold, cold and weary,                                              146
     Cold in a weary place:
The sense of the sin is present
     Like the gleam of a demon’s face!

What matter the tingling fingers
     That touch the song above you?
What matter the young man’s weeping,
     And longing to know you and love you?

Nought has been said and uttered,
     Nought has been seen or known,—
Detraction, the adder above you,
     Is sunned on the cold grave-stone.

 

II.

Yet ’t is dark here, dark,
     And the voices call from below!
’T is so dark, dark, dark,
     That it seems not hard to go!

’T is dark, dark, dark,                                                            147
     And we close our eyes and are weary!
’T is dark, dark, dark,
     And the waiting seems bitter and dreary!

And yonder the sun is shining,
     And the green, long grass hath grown,
And the cool kirk-shade looks pleasant,
     And you lie so alone, so alone!

The world is heartless and hollow,
     And singing is sad without you,
And I think I could bear the dreaming
     Were mine arms around about you;

Were thy lips to mine, belovéd,
     And thine arms around me too,
I think I could lie in silence,
     And dream as we used to do!

The flesh and the bones might wither,
     The blood be dried like dew,
The heart might crumble to ashes,
     Till dust was dust anew;

And the world with its slow still motion                                     148
     Might roll on its heavenward way,—
And our brains upon one another
     Would gleam till the Judgment Day!

_____

 

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