ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{North Coast and other Poems - Revisions}

 

 

A PRELUDE

‘A Prelude’ was reworked for inclusion in The Book of Orm, published in 1870:

Part II, v. 1-2 of ‘A Prelude’ corresponds to The Book of Orm, Section V (‘Songs of Seeking’), Part I, v. 1-2:

O thou whose ears incline unto my singing,
Woman or man, thou surely bearest thy burden,
And I who sing, and all men, bear their burdens.

Even as a meteor-stone from suns afar,
I fell unto the ways of life and breathed,
Wherefore to much on earth I feel a stranger.

Part II, v. 3-10 of ‘A Prelude’ corresponds to The Book of Orm, Section V (‘Songs of Seeking’), Part III (‘The Happy Earth’), v. 1-8:

Sweet, sweet it was to sit in leafy Forests,
In a green darkness, and to hear the stirring
Of strange breaths hither and thither in the branches;

And sweet it was to sail on crystal Waters,
Between the dome above and the dome under,
The Hills above me and the Hills beneath me;

And sweet it was to watch the wondrous Lightning
Spring flashing at the earth, and slowly perish
Under the falling of the summer Rain.

I loved all grand and gentle and strange things,—
The wind-flower at the tree-root, and the white cloud,
The strength of Mountains, and the power of Waters.

And unto me all seasons utter’d pleasure:
Spring, standing startled, listening to the skylark,
The wild flowers from her lap unheeded falling;

And Summer, in her gorgeous loose apparel,
And Autumn, with her dreamy drooping lashes;
And Winter, with his white hair blown about him.

Yea, everywhere there stirred a deathless beauty,
A gleaming and a flashing into change,
An under-stream of sober consecration.

Yet nought endured, but all the glory faded,
And power and joy and sorrow were interwoven;
There was no single presence of the Spirit.

Part III, v. 1-4 of ‘A Prelude’ corresponds to The Book of Orm, Section V (‘Songs of Seeking’), Part V (‘World’s Mystery’), v. 1-4:

The World was wondrous round me—God’s green World—
A World of gleaming waters and green places,
And weirdly woven colours in the air.

Yet evermore a trouble did pursue me—
A hunger for the wherefore of my being,
A wonder from what regions I had fallen.

I gladdened in the glad things of the World,
Yet crying always, ‘Wherefore, and oh, wherefore?
What am I? Wherefore doth the World seem happy?’

I saddened in the sad things of the World,
Yet crying, ‘Wherefore are men bruised and beaten?
Whence do I grieve and gladden to no end?’

Part III, v. 5-8 of ‘A Prelude’ corresponds to The Book of Orm, Section V (‘Songs of Seeking’), Part VI (‘The  Cities’), v. 2-5:

My trouble grew tenfold when I beheld
The agony and burden of my fellows,
The pains of sick men and the groans of hungry.

I saw the good man tear his hair and weep;
I saw the bad man tread on human necks
Prospering and blaspheming: and I wondered.

The silken-natured woman was a bondslave;
The gross man foul’d her likeness in high places;
The innocent were heart-wrung: and I wondered.

The gifts of earth are given to the base;
The monster of the Cities spurned the martyr;
The martyr died, denying: and I wondered.

 

Back to North Coast and other Poems - ‘A Prelude’

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AN ENGLISH ECLOGUE.

'He crept close to Creation’s brim, and heard a roar like water.’

 

TIMOTHY.

Well, here’s the cuckoo come again, after the barley sowing,
Down on the duck-pond in the lane the white-weed is a-blowing,
The gorse has got its coat of gold, and smells as sweet as clover,
The lady-smocks are blowing bold, the primroses nigh over,
On field and fold all things look fair, and lambkins white are leaping,
The speckled snakes crawl here and there, —but Holy Tommie’s sleeping.

 

JACOB.

Ah, him that used to work with Crewe! Crewe told me how he blundered.
He used to preach. I heard him too. LORD! how he groaned and thundered!
The women shrieked like sucking-swine, the men roared out like cattle,
But seem’d to think it mighty fine!

 

TIMOTHY.

                                                 All trash and stuff and tattle!
He lost his head through meddling so with things that don’t concern us;
When questioning too close we go, ’tis little GOD will learn us;
To squeeze the crops ’tis hard enough from His dry ground about us,
But sowing t’other world is stuff,—it gets its crops without us!

 

JACOB.

That’s where it lies! We get no good by asking questions, neighbour:
’Tis Parsons cook our Sunday food, while we are hard at labour:
This world needs help upon its way, for men feed one another,
And why do we give Parsons pay?—if not to manage t’other?

 

TIMOTHY.

You’re right! No man as grunts and grides at this here world has thriven;
Mutton won’t drop in our insides though we do gape at heaven!
Why, Tommie’s cheek was ruddy red, as rosy as an apple,
Till Methodism filled his head, and he was seen at chapel,
Found out that he’d received a call, grew dismal, dull, and surly,
Read tracts at work, big tracts and small, went praying late and early,
And by and by began, poor fool, to argue with the doubting,
And though he’d scarcely been to school, began his public spouting.
I wasn’t blind—and soon I found how he let matters go here,—
While he was tilling heavenly ground things suffered down below here:
Through want of feed, the hens did die, the horses next grew useless,
For lack o’ milking by and by the very cows grew juiceless;
And when I sought him out, and swore in rage and consternation,
Why, Tommie sigh’d, and snivell’d sore, and talk’d about salvation!
‘Salvation’s mighty well,’ says I, right mad with my disaster,
‘I want to save my property; so find another master!’
He didn’t grumble or resist, though he seemed broken-hearted,
But slipped a tract into my fist the morning he departed;
Ay, got a place next day with Crewe, who knew the lad was clever,
But dawdled as he used to do, and preached as much as ever.

 

JACOB.

But Crewe soon sent him packing too—he’s just the sort of fellow;
Why, ev’n when Parson calls, old Crewe grunts, grumbles, and looks yellow!

 

TIMOTHY.

He got another master, though, but soon began to tire him;
His wages sank and sank, and so no farmer here would hire him;
And soon, between that world and this, poor Tommie grew more mournful,
His worldly ways went all amiss—the country folk looked scornful—
And last the blessed Methodists grew tired, and would not hear him,
And wouldn’t heed his talk inspired, and shrank from sitting near him.

 

JACOB.

With Methodists ’tis just the way. Give me the High Church, neighbour.

 

TIMOTHY.

‘Why don’t you be a man?’ said they, ‘keep clean and do your labour?’
And what d’ye think that Tommie cried?—‘I don’t play shilly-shally;
If I’m to serve my LORD and Guide, ’twill be continuälly:
You think that you can cheat and scoff from Sunday on to Sunday,
And put the LORD ALMIGHTY off by howling out on one day;
But if you seek salvation, know, your feelings must be stronger.’
And holy Tommie would not go to chapel any longer.
Learned sense? Not he! Reformed? Pooh, pooh! but moped and fretted blindly,
Because the precious praying crew had used him so unkindly.
His back grew bare, his life grew sore, his brain grew dreadful airy,                        [9:10]
He thought of t’other world the more ’cause this seemed so contrary;
Went wandering on the river-side, and in the woods lay lurking,
Gaped at the sky in summer-tide when other men were working,
And once (I saw him) watch’d the skies, where a wild lark was winging,
With tears a-shining in his eyes,—because the lark was singing!
Last harvest-time to me he came, and begged for work so sadly,
Show’d for his former ways such shame, and look’d so sick and badly,
I had not heart to give him pain, but put him out a-reaping,
But, LORD! the same tale o’er again—he worked like one half-sleeping.
‘Be off!’ says I, ‘you lazy lout,’ and all the rest stood sneering.
‘Master,’ says he, ‘you’re right, I doubt,—the LORD seems hard o’ hearing!
I thought I could fulfil full clear the call that I had gotten,
But here’s another harvest here, and all my life seems rotten.
The Methodists are dull as stone, the High Church folk are lazy,
And even when I pray alone, the ways of Heaven seem hazy.
Religion don’t appear to me to keep a lad from sad things,
And though the world is fine to see, ’tis full of cruel bad things.
Why, I can’t walk in woodland ways, and see the flowers a-growing,
And on the light green meadows gaze, or watch the river flowing,
But even here, where things look fine, out creeps the speckled adder,
Or snakes crawl in the golden shine, and all creation’s sadder.
The better I have seemed to grow, the worse all things have gone with me,
It beats me out and out, and so—I wish the LORD was done with me!’
And after these same words were said, Tommie grew paler, stiller,
And by and by he took to bed, and quickly he grew iller:
And when the early new-year rain was yellowing pool and river,
He closed his eyes, and slipt his chain, and fell to sleep for ever.

 

JACOB.

’Tis clear enough, he’d lost his wit—the chapel set it turning.

 

TIMOTHY.

Now, this is how I look at it, although I’ve got no learning:
In this here world, to do like him is nothing but self-slaughter,—
He crept close to Creation’s brim, and heard a roar like water,
His head went round, his limbs grew stiff, his blood lost life and motion,—
Like one who stands upon a cliff and sees the roaring Ocean. . . .
But there’s the Parson at his gate, with Doctor Barth, his crony;
Some of these days the old chap’s weight will kill that precious pony!
Ah, he’s the man whose words don’t fail to keep one sage and steady!
Wife, here be Parson! Draw some ale, and set the table ready.

 

[Notes:
v. 9, l. 10: His back grew bare, his life grew sad, his brain grew dreadful airy, (1874 King edition of The Poetical Works).
In the first line of the second verse, Buchanan changes the name of Tommie’s employer from Bourne to Crewe. The selection of names is interesting since it’s one of the few occasions when Buchanan’s Staffordshire roots may be exposed. Bourne was probably chosen in memory of Hugh Bourne (1772-1852), the founder of Primitive Methodism, who was born in Stoke, perhaps in order to highlight the theme of the poem. This could create confusion and is possibly why Buchanan changed the name in the revised version. Choosing Crewe as the replacement may have no significance at all, but I like to think he chose it for the railway town’s proximity to his birthplace.]

Back to North Coast and other Poems - ‘An English Eclogue’

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THE BATTLE OF DRUMLIEMOOR.

(COVENANT PERIOD.)

 

BAR the door! put out the light, for it gleams across the night,
     And guides the bloody motion of their feet;
Hush the bairn upon thy breast, lest it guide them in their quest,
     And with water quench the blazing of the peat.
Now, Wife, sit still and hark!—hold my hand amid the dark;
     O Jeanie, we are scattered—e’en as sleet!

It was down on Drumliemoor, where it slopes upon the shore,
     And looks upon the breaking of the bay,
In the kirkyard of the dead, where the heather is thrice red
     With the blood of those asleep beneath the clay;
And the Howiesons were there, and the people of Glen Ayr,
     And we gathered in the gloom o’ night—to pray.

How! Sit at home in fear, when God’s Voice was in mine ear,
     When the priests of Baal were slaughtering His sheep?
Nay! there I took my stand, with my reaphook in my hand,
     For bloody was the sheaf that I might reap;
And the Lord was in His skies, with a thousand dreadful eyes,
     And His breathing made a trouble on the Deep.

Each mortal of the band brought his weapon in his hand,
     Though the chopper or the spit was all he bare;
And not a man but knew the work he had to do,
     If the Fiend should fall upon us unaware.
And our looks were ghastly white, but it was not with affright,—
     The Lord our God was present to our prayer.

Oh, solemn, sad, and slow, rose the stern voice of Monroe,
     And he curst the curse of Babylon the Whore;
We could not see his face, but a gleam was in its place,
     Like the phosphor of the foam upon the shore;
And the eyes of all were dim, as they fixed themselves on him,
     And the Sea filled up the pauses with its roar.

But when, with accents calm, Kilmahoe gave out the psalm,
     The sweetness of God’s Voice upon his tongue,
With one voice we praised the Lord of the Fire and of the Sword,
     And louder than the winter wind it rung;
And across the stars on high went the smoke of tempest by,
     And a vapour roll’d around us as we sung.

’Twas terrible to hear our cry rise deep and clear,
     Though we could not see the criers of the cry,
But we sang and gript our brands, and touched each other’s hands,
     While a thin sleet smote our faces from the sky;
And, sudden, strange, and low, hissed the voice of Kilmahoe,
     ‘Grip your weapons! Wait in silence! They are nigh!’

And heark’ning, with clench’d teeth, we could hear, across the heath,
     The tramping of the horses as they flew,
And no man breathed a breath, but all were still as death.
     And close together shivering we drew;
And deeper round us fell all the eyeless gloom of Hell,
     And—the Fiend was in among us ere we knew!

Then our battle-shriek arose, mid the cursing of our foes—
     No face of friend or foeman could we mark;
But I struck and kept my stand (trusting God to guide my hand),
     And struck, and struck, and heard the hell-hounds bark;
And I fell beneath a horse, but I reached with all my force,
     And ript him with my reap-hook through the dark.

As we struggled, knowing not whose hand was at our throat,
     Whose blood was spouting warm into our eyes,
We felt the thick snow-drift swoop upon us from the lift,
     And murmur in the pauses of our cries;
But, lo! before we wist, rose the curtain of the mist,
     And the pale Moon shed a glimmer from the skies.                                            [10:6]

O God! it was a sight that made the hair turn white,
     That wither’d up the heart’s blood into woe,
To see the faces loom in the dimly lighted gloom,
     And the butcher’d lying bloodily below;
While melting, with no sound, fell so peace-fully around
     The whiteness and the wonder of the Snow!

Ay, and thicker, thicker, poured the pale Silence of the Lord,
     From the hollow of His hand we saw it shed,
And it gather’d round us there, till we groan’d and gasp’d for air,
     And beneath was ankle-deep and stainèd red;
And soon, whatever wight was smitten down in fight
     Was buried in the drift ere he was dead!

Then we beheld at length the troopers in their strength,
     For faster, faster, faster up they streamed,
And their pistols flashing bright showed their faces ashen white,
     And their blue steel caught the driving Moon, and gleamed.
But a dying voice cried, ‘Fly!’ And behold, e’en at the cry,
     A panic fell upon us, and we screamed!

Oh, shrill and awful rose, ’mid the splashing blood and blows,
     Our scream unto the Lord that let us die;
And the Fiend amid us roared his defiance at the Lord,
     And his servants slew the strong man ’mid his cry;
And the Lord kept still in Heaven, and the only answer given
     Was the white Snow falling, falling, from the sky.

Then we fled! the darkness grew! ’mid the driving cold we flew,
     Each alone, yea, each for those whom he held dear;
And I heard upon the wind the thud of hoofs behind,
     And the scream of those who perish’d in their fear,
But I knew by heart each path through the darkness of the strath,
     And I hid myself all day,—and I am here.

Ah! gathered in one fold be the holy men and bold,
     And beside them the accursed and the proud;
The Howiesons are there, and the Wylies of Glen Ayr,
     Kirkpatrick, and Macdonald, and Macleod.
And while the widow groans, lo! God’s Hand around their bones
     His thin ice windeth whitely, as a shroud.

On mountain and in vale our women will look pale,
     And palest where the ocean surges boom:
Buried ’neath snow-drift white, with no boly prayer or rite,
     Lie the loved ones they look for in the gloom;
And deeper, deeper still, spreads the Snow on vale and hill,
     And deeper and yet deeper is their Tomb!

 

[Note:
v. 10, l. 6: And the pale Moon shed her sorrow from the skies. (1874 King edition of The Poetical Works). ]

Back to North Coast and other Poems - ‘The Battle of Drumliemoor’

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THE NORTHERN WOOING.

 

SKIES are dusky, winds are keen,
Round Lallan Farm this Hallowe’en.

All is dark across the night,
But see! one glimmer of pink light!

What are those that in the air
Flit against the window-glare?

Falling flakes of snow they seem,
Or night-moths gather’d by the gleam.

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

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

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 faëry people and their might,
For though ye deem these things are all untrue,
Yourselves may be the first to see and rue!
Hark! now the winds a moment cease to roar,
A sound like some one breathing at the door!
And hark again! faint pattings on the pane
Of little finger-taps, like fluttering rain!
Ay! ’tis the faëry people hovering nigh:
Draw back the blind to peep, and they will fly!
But serve them solemnly, 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 number of her unborn bairns!

'’Ay, please the fays! ’tis easy if ye will;
But woe be yours if they should wish you ill:
Your jo will take to drink, or drown at sea,                                       [3:3]
Or find another sweeter companie;
Your cheeks will droop, your looks will lose their light;
Ye’ll marry an old man, and freeze at night!
In vain, in vain ye try to change your fate,
When they have fix’d 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 een, and drew me to his arms!
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,
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 love into my face, and blush’d and cried,
Bleating behind me, like a flock of sheep
Around a shepherd-lass, who, half asleep,
Counts them in play, leads them with pretty speech,
Rates all alike, and scarce kens 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,
With father cracked of crops o’er barley-bree,—
While Jock the groom, who knew I loved such fun,
Ginger’d 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 is easier led than he!’

         .          .         .          .         .

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

Near the peat-blaze range in ring;
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,
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,
Blink’d in the ingle-nook with eyes half blind,
While at his feet his tired old dog slept deep,
And, starting, dream’d 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 wits 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—
Up stood the folk, and father led the reel!
The lads loup’d up and kick’d 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 oft I 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 of Sabbath, sat the lad:
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 flashing 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 watched him grow
Whene’er my partner whispered light 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, gay 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 duck’d 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,
Father sat now 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 very night 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
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 peer’d into the solemn gloom, and sighed.
Black was the lift, and faintly fell the rain,
The wind was screeching like a sprite in pain;
And, while I paused, pinching 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.
Oh! where were all my boasts, my laughter light,
Now I was there alone amid the night?
While faintly 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;—its flickering ray
Made darkness doubly deep along the way.
Then in my ears I seem’d to hear strange screams,
And fearful faces flashed with lightning-gleams,
And, as I wandered, fingers sharp and wee
Pinched me and pulled my garter o’er the knee.
Out of the yard, across the field, the dew
Still drizzling damply 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.
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
All northern lassies know, and reached my arm,
Casting the twine, and catching one end tight—
Flinging the other loose into the night.
O bairns! O bairns! scarce had I uttered thrice
The secret spell, with lips as cold as ice,
When through my blood a sick’ning shudder spread,
For ghaistly fingers tighten’d 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 lamb, 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, flush’d and red,
Yawn no more, but off to bed.

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

Thou hast wish’d 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,
“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
Keek’d o’er my shoulder at the glass, and there,
In the faint lamplight burning by the bed,
His face, a moment mirror’d, flash’d 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 spot to spot, and smiled.
Then, unaware, to notice I began
That he was trim and stout, and like a man,
That there were tender tones upon his tongue,
And that his voice was sweet whene’er 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.
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 blush’d for bliss!

     ‘Ah! heed not, bairns, though grandfather should swear
That, when I tried the spell, himsel’ was there,
And, when I saw the phantom in the room,
Again, 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! right solemnly, with song and spell,
And the old customs that they love so well,
Serve the good fays this night—be bold! 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:
v. 3, l. 3: Your love will take to drink, or drown at sea, (1874 King edition of The Poetical Works).]

Back to North Coast and other Poems - ‘The Northern Wooing’

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A SCOTTISH ECLOGUE.

 

‘The Lord on him forgot to put His mark.’

 

SANDIE.

O LORD above, swift is Thy wrath and deep!
And yet by grace Thou sanctionest Thy sheep;
And blest are they who till the day o’ doom
Like haddocks bear the marking of Thy thoomb;
And curst, in spite of works and prayers, are they
On whom Thy mark has ne’er been printed sae.
For while the non-elected lie beneath,
And fast in flaming fire, and gnash their teeth,
Above their heads, where streams of honey spring,
Thine Elders stand in shining sarks, and sing,                                     [1:10]
Blessing Thy Name for present gifts and past . . .
O wife, John Galloway is gone, at last!

 

JEANIE.

Dead? Weel, we all are bound to GOD’S abode,
And John has started first upon the road.
A Christian man and kind was John, indeed,
And free of siller unto folk in need:
Ay, many a hearth will want now John is cold!
But GOD will give him back his gifts tenfold.

 

SANDIE.

O Jeanie Gourlay! keep thy clapper still;
It talks o’ things you understand but ill:
I doubt, I sorely doubt, John Galloway
Is ’neath the oxter* o’ the De’il this day!                                * Armpit.
True, in the way of sinful flesh, his mind
Was charitable, and his heart was kind;
But Light he lacked as long as he drew breath,
And lost the Eldership before his death;
And he had many a ghostly whispering
To tell he was a miserable thing,
Doom’d by the Wisdom of the Just to be
Condemn’d with those who graceless live and dee.
Ay, grace, I fear, John Galloway was denied,
Though loud and oft for grace he groaned and cried.
‘Sandie,’ he used to say, ‘I fear, I fear
I have no right among the holy here;
I fear, I fear that I am in the dark—
The LORD on me forgot to put His mark!
I canna steel my heart to folk who sin,
I canna put my thoughts to discipline;
Oft when I pray, I hear Him whisper plain,
“Jock Galloway, pray awa’, but ’tis in vain;”—
Nae sweet assurance arms me ’gainst the De’il,
Nae happy faith, like that my fellows feel;
I long for GOD, I beg Him on my knee,
But fear He hath to wrath prevision’d me!’

 

JEANIE.

Poor man! his strife was sore; but, Sandie, mind,
Nae man can tell what folks are predestined;
Ev’n Sandie Gourlay may be one the De’il
Hath liberty to catch within his creel!

 

SANDIE.

Oh, blasphemy! Thou fool, forbear and cease!
The sign o’ grace is perfect faith and peace,
Such as the LORD, in spite o’ many a cross,
Vouchsafes to men like me and neighbour Ross.
But Galloway ever was a braxie sheep,
A whining thing who dug his doubts too deep.
Why, mind ye, when old Robin Caird himsel’—
A heretic, a rogue, a man o’ Bel,
Averring written Scripture was a lee,
And doubting GOD, stretch’d out his limbs to dee,
John by the sinner knelt and offered prayers:
‘LORD GOD,’ he said, ‘pity his old white hairs!
Be kind unto him! Take him unto Thee!’
And bought the coffin, paid the burial fee.
‘Sandie,’ he said, when Caird was in his grave,
‘I doubt I am less holy than the lave:*                                  * The rest.
My blood is water, I am weak o’ brain,—
O LORD, it broke my heart to see his pain!
I thought—I dared to think—if I were GOD,
Poor Caird should never gang so dark a road;
I thought—ay, dared to think, the LORD forgi’e!—
The LORD was crueller than I could be;
Forgetting GOD is just, and knoweth best
What folk should burn in fire, what folk be blest.’
Such was his nature, neither strong nor deep,—
Unlike the stern strong shepherds of His sheep.
We made an Elder of John Galloway!
Large seemed his heart, he ne’er was known to stray;
But he had little strength or wrath severe—
He soften’d at the sinful pauper’s tear;
He push’d his purse and pleaded like a fool
For every lassie on the cuttie-stool.

 

JEANIE.

Where had the parish bairns sae kind a friend?

 

SANDIE.

Bairns? did he teach them grace, and make them mend?
At Sunday School what lad or lass had care
For fear of flaming Hell, if John was there,—
Questioning blushing brats upon his knees,
And slyly slipping in their hands—bawbees? *                   * Halfpence.
Once while he talked to me o’ life and death,
I smelt the smell o’ whisky in his breath.
‘Drinking again, John Galloway?’ I said;
As gray as this pipe-reek, he hung his head.
‘O Sandie, Sandie!’ he replied, ‘I ken
I am indeed the weakest man of men.
Strange doubts torment me daily, and, alas!
I try to drown them in the poison’d glass.
By fits I fear, and in my soul I say,
Lord, is Thy mark on poor John Galloway?
And sorely troubled, stealing slyly out,
I try in drink to drown the imp o’ Doubt.’
Woman, is this the man ye would defend?
Nay, wheesht awhile, and hearken to his end.
When he fell sick in Martinmas, his fears
Grew deeper far; I found him oft in tears;
Though from the Prophets of God’s wrath I read,
He hearken’d, but was little comforted,
And even ‘Revelations’ had no power
To soothe the pangs of his departing hour.
A week before he left this vale of woe,
He at his window sat, and watched the Snow
Falling and falling down without a sound,
Poured slowly from GOD’s hand upon the ground:
‘See, Sandie, how it snaws!’ I heard him say;
‘How many folk are cold, cold, cold this day!
How many want the fire that’s warming me!
How many starve!—and yet—why should it be?’
And when I took the Book, explained, and read,
He only gave a groan and shook his head.
‘Clearer and clearer I perceive my sin,
How I to grace may never enter in;
That Book is for the strong, but I am weak,’
And trembled, and a tear was on his cheek.

 

JEANIE.

Poor man! poor man! small peace on earth he found.

 

SANDIE.

The day he died, he called the Elders round,
Shook hands, and said, ‘Friends, though I gang from here,
Down under earth, all will at last be clear.
Too long have I been dwelling in the dark,
The LORD on me forgot to put His mark,
GOD help me!’ And, till he was cold as clay,
His foolish lips had little more to say;
Yet after we had laid him down in dust,
Weak to the last we found him, and unjust;
For when his will was read, unto our shame,
No holy man was mentioned in the same!                                           [9:11]
But he had left what little gold he had                                                [9:12]
To Caird’s sick widow and her lass and lad!

 

[Note:
1874 King edition of The Poetical Works:
v. 1: l. 10: Thine Elders stand in shining serks, and sing,
v. 9, l. 11: The Kirk was scarcely mention’d in the same!
v. 9, l. 12: But he had left what little wealth he had ]

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CELTIC MYSTICS

‘Celtic Mystics’ was reworked for inclusion in The Book of Orm, published in 1870:

Part I of ‘Celtic Mystics’ corresponds to the first part of ‘Songs of Corruption’, the third section of The Book of Orm.
The subtitle, ‘PHANTASY’ is added.
v. 3, l. 11: When on her living lips
v. 3, l. 12: Thy freezing finger was laid.
v. 4, l. 2: Art thou God’s Angel?
v. 4, l. 10: Or art thou the fatal air?
v. 6, l. 4: Should cast a shadow as vast as thine;
v. 6, l. 10: Fadeth far away
v. 6, l. 12: omitted

Part II of ‘Celtic Mystics’ corresponds to the second part of ‘Songs of Corruption’, the third section of The Book of Orm.
Subtitle changed to ‘THE DREAM OF THE WORLD WITHOUT DEATH’
v. 1, l. 1: Now, sitting by her side, worn out with weeping,
v. 3, l. 1: And at His feet the mighty Angel kneeleth,
v. 3, l. 3: Saying, ‘Thy wanderings on earth are ended.’
verse 4 omitted
verse 5 omitted
v. 6, l. 1: And lo! the mighty Shadow sitteth idle
v. 6, l. 3: Drowsily looking in on quiet waters,
The section comprising verses 33 - 34 and 36 - 44 is inserted after ‘verse 7’
v. 8, l. 1: Now at the bottom of a snowy mountain
v. 8, l. 2: I came upon a woman thin with sorrow,
v. 9, l. 1: Saying, “O Angel of the Lord, come hither,
v. 9, l. 2: And bring me him I seek for on thy bosom,
v. 9, l. 3: That I may close his eyelids and embrace him.
v. 11, l. 3: And slipping flowers into her shroud was comfort.
v. 16, l. 1: “But to reach out empty arms is surely dreadful,
v. 16, l. 2: And to feel the hollow empty world is awful,
v. 18, l. 1: Now behold I saw a woman in a mud-hut
v. 19, l. 1: Her mouth was very bitter with the ashes;
v. 20, l. 2: But red light scorched their edges; and above her
v. 20, l. 3: There was a soundless trouble of the vapours.
v. 21, l. 1: “Whither, and O whither,” said the woman,
v. 23, l. 2: Made sunshine in the sunshine, and their passing
v. 25, l. 3: But the Lord had drawn him from me, and I knew it
v. 26, l. 3: Neither underneath the grasses nor the tree-roots.
v. 28, l. 1: “Then I fled and sought him wildly, hither and thither—
v. 29, l. 2: I sought him in great forests, and in waters
v. 30, l. 2: Though her voice was like a wild-bird’s far behind me,
[The section comprising verses 33 - 34 and 36 - 44 is inserted after the break following ‘verse 7’]
v. 33, l. 3: Shiver’d to walk upon the decks alone;
v. 34, l. 3: Trembled behind the husbandmen afield.
verse 35 omitted
v. 36, l. 3: Was weary for the white gleam of a tombstone.
v. 39, l. 2: And she vanished with a gray grief from his hearth-stone.
v. 40, l. 1: With sweet unconscious eyes the bairn lay smiling.
v. 41, l. 1: I heard a voice from out the beauteous earth,
v. 42, l. 2: I heard a voice from out the hoary ocean,
v. 43, l. 1: I heard a voice from out the hollow ether,
v. 49, l. 1: The traveller’s horse lay swollen in the pathway,
v. 49, l. 3: Was there; nay, not his footprint on the ground.
v. 50, l. 1: The cat mewed in the midnight, and the blind
v. 51, l. 1: The mother fell to sleep beside the cradle,
v. 53, l. 1: The mother moaned, and clutched him, and was bitter,
v. 55, l. 3: Terror, yea, and a fatal sense of blankness.
v. 57, l. 1: There was no comfort in the slow farewell,
v. 58, l. 2: No weaving of white grave-clothes, no last pondering
v. 59, l. 3: Fading like moonlight softly into darkness.
verse 60 omitted
v. 64, l. 1: line split (with verse break) in 1870 version - But I woke.
And, lo! the burthen was uplifted,
1884 version: But I awoke, and, lo! the burthen was uplifted,
v. 67, l. 3: Which softeneth the mystery and the parting.
v. 68, l. 2: The bloomless face, shut eyes, and waxen fingers,—
v. 68, l. 3: For Sleeping, and for Silence, and Corruption.’
verse 69 omitted

Part III of ‘Celtic Mystics’ corresponds to the second part of ‘Songs of Seeking’, the fifth section of The Book of Orm.
The subtitle, ‘QUEST’ is added.
v. 1, l. 5: And speedeth swiftly
v. 1, l. 9: From the mystic shape
v. 1, l. 10: That my life projects,
v. 1, l. 11: And my soul perceives;
v. 2, l. 3: The timid Reindeer
v. 2, l. 4: Flying her shade?

Part IV of ‘Celtic Mystics’ corresponds to the fourth part of ‘Songs of Seeking’, the fifth section of The Book of Orm.
The subtitle, ‘O UNSEEN ONE!’ is added.
v. 1, l. 4: Or because Thou art pitiless,
v. 2, l. 2: As slaves to their owners,
v. 3, l. 3: Lip-worship might serve;
v. 4, l. 1: Thou art not a demigod,
v. 4, l. 2: Thou art not a monarch,—
The final verse differs completely and is as follows:

O Spirit of mountains!
Strong Master of Waters!
     Strange Shaper of clouds!
When these things worship Thee,
I too will worship Thee,
     O Maker of Men!

Part V of ‘Celtic Mystics’ corresponds to the third part of ‘Songs of Corruption’, the third section of The Book of Orm.
Subtitle changed to ‘SOUL AND FLESH’.
v. 1, l. 3: But death from thy strange mate
v. 1, l. 4: Shall sever thee full soon,
v. 1, l. 6: Take all the Flesh can give:
v. 2, l. 4: That floweth along the veins:
v. 3, l. 2: Out of thy long embrace
v. 4, l. 3: Though ye shall learn in time

Part VI of ‘Celtic Mystics’ corresponds to the ninth part of ‘Songs of Seeking’, the fifth section of The Book of Orm.
The subtitle, ‘DOOM’ is added.
v. 1, l. 1: Master, if there be Doom,
v. 1, l. 5: Alas for Heaven!
v. 1, l. 6: If there be Doom for one,

Part VII of ‘Celtic Mystics’ corresponds to the tenth part of ‘Songs of Seeking’, the fifth section of The Book of Orm.
The subtitle, ‘GOD’S DREAM’ is added.
v. 1, l. 1: I hear a voice, ‘How should God pardon sin?
v. 2, l. 1: Further I hear, ‘How should God pardon lust?
v. 2, l. 2: How should He comfort the adulteress?
v. 2, l. 3: That would be foul: the Lord my God is pure.’
v. 3, l. 1: Further I hear, ‘How should God pardon blood?
v. 4, l. 1: And God is on His throne; and in a dream
v. 4, l. 2: Sees mortals making figures out of clay,
v. 4, l. 3: Shapen like men, and calling them God’s angels.
v. 5, l. 1: And sees the shapes look up into His eyes,
v. 6, l. 1: God dreams this, and His dreaming is the world;

Part VIII of ‘Celtic Mystics’ corresponds to the ninth part of ‘The Devil’s Mystics’, the seventh section of The Book of Orm.
The subtitle, ‘ROSES’ is added.
v. 1, l. 2: Here a child reposes,
v. 3, l. 3: Pale and fever-fraught,
v. 3, l. 4: Sadly have I brought
v. 8, l. 4: Passed strangely through the Devil.

Part IX of ‘Celtic Mystics’ corresponds to the twelth part of ‘The Devil’s Mystics’, the seventh section of The Book of Orm.
The subtitle, ‘HIS PRAYER’ is added.
v. 1, l. 1: In the time of transfiguration,
v. 1, l. 3: Melt me, dissolve me, inhale me
v. 1, l. 9: Of Thy mellow, mellow realm;

 

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