POEMS FROM OTHER SOURCES - 2
THE LADY CURLL.
A RHYME FOR THE WINTER FIRE.
You must know,
(Quoth a jolly old rubicund Country Squire,
As he sat, while his mansion was covered with snow,
With his wife and sons round the winter’s fire,)
You must know
That, many a year ago,
In the rollicking days of King Charles the Second,
Sir Leonard Curll was everywhere reckoned
The very pink of a dissolute knight;
But, in spite of that, he’d a wonderful knack
Of looking quite valiant when turning his back,
Sheathing his sword, and declining to fight.
At the time of my tale he was sixty odd,
A thin, spare wight, with a scraggy neck,
The pitiful wreck
Of a beau who had always forgotten God.
He hadn’t yet learned to be sober and quiet;
He filled his house with the noble, certes,
But they helped him to gamble, and swear, and hurt his
Constitution in drunken riot.
Yet faults dwindle down when a fallow is able
To dip his forefinger in rosy wine,
And etch out the plan of a family line,
As old as the hills, on a tavern table.
He’d a bullying way, quite as useful as bravery,
That kept all his household in durance and slavery.
His pale little wife
Led a deuce of a life;
And if Edith, his daughter,
Had lived up to the pitiful doctrine he taught her,
When placed on his knee, ’mid the household quandary,
She was forced to sip sin from his cup of Canary,
Why, I fear that the big-bellied parson would rather
Have split with her father,
And left that fat capon his cure in the lurch,
Than allowed her to speak twenty words in his church.
But, you know, in this hog of a world, with its bristles—
No! this green little world, with its sunshine and showers—
There are some human flowers
That the ugliest common can’t change into thistles,
For donkeys to gnaw at and munch at for hours.
I’m glad to be able to say, at the least,
That she was the Beauty, and he was the Beast.
For Edith, in spite of the treatment she found,
Grew—thanks to the care of her beaten-down mother—
Sweeter and purer than any other
Maiden for miles around.
She had hair, like a rillet of gold, that flowed,
Burnished even more bright by the gold of the sun,
Braided close on her forehead in Saxon mode,
And eyes that would suddenly flash into fun,
With a twinkling blue light, when her face was in gloom;
And two lips like the innermost leaves of a rose,
Threaded softly together in quiet repose,
Half-opened, half-shut, sunning out into bloom
Of a sweet, sunny smile,
That might even beguile
A monk from his low Miserere, and render
The dryest old abbot quite juicy and tender.
And even her Sire, spare Sir Leonard Curll,
Would relax in his cups, with an oath, and in sport
Would compare the beatified face of the girl
With those of the syrens who flaunted in Court—
The mermaids of Charles, who sing early and late did,
On whom hung the tales that Grammont has narrated.
She was pretty and good, neither more, neither less,
Though the knight didn’t spend many pence on her dress,
And her pride was the sign of her lowliness.
When her heart was glad, and the sun shone upon her,
In her Norman blood and her milk-white honour,
She seemed like a delicate porcelain cup,
Where the red wine is curdling with cloudlets of cream,
When the lamps are alight, and you hold it up
To the gleam.
She was fond of the poets. Perchance they had lent her
Some part of her sweetness, and tenderly bent her
Mind into Beauty, that passionate mentor.
I’ve a fancy that much of her thought, where soft sweetness
Was mingled by pride to a stately completeness,
Might early in life have been nourished and built on
Such songs as the full “Penseroso” of Milton.
She had favourites, Roundheads and Royalists both,
Whom she judged by no standard of popular froth,
Nor cared if their praises, as sons of the Nine,
Were drawled through the nose, or roared out over wine.
Perchance she had learnt half her sweet, sober thought from
The stately, sweet hymnings of Herbert and Quarles;
And perchance the light mirth of her laugh had been caught from
The wine-loving Herrick, who worshipped King Charles;
The grace of her motions, and sweet, self-contained
Warmth, might have come from the dreamland of Spenser;
And much of her chasteness of look she had gained
From the incense that burns in the richly-wrought censer
Dan Chaucer has swung o’er Lucrece the unstained;
The music of Shakespeare was troublous within her
First dreams of the sweetness whence Juliet plained;
And Drayton’s long line may have aided to win her
To watch our green hills, and our streams as they roll,
And to draw their home-tenderness into her soul.
But the whence and the wherefore apart, I’m inclined
To think that she took—(though I perfectly know it’s
The custom to make very light of the poets)—
That she took some such melodies into her mind,
And, in turn, to the Soul, which, at work in its place,
Tried to sculpture them out day by day on her face;
For I hope that the poets, if rightly we know them,
Are not tape-measured out by a critical rod;
And believe that some angels in heaven may owe them
The debt of their earthly aspirings to God!
But a story’s a story. I’d better proceed—
For I’m too old a bird to be pecking at flowers,
And wrangling with sparrows for fanciful seed—
To say that Sir Leonard’s family spent
Their pastoral hours
In a mansion with quaint-looking gables and towers,
In the midst of the hop-growing county of Kent,
While Sir Leonard sported his scraggy old body
’Mid the bevy of belles around Nelly the favoured,
And paraded a sack-seasoned fancy that savoured
Like a Scotchman’s wit when replenished with toddy.
How many a rascal has learned to note,
By cutting the cards, how to cut a throat!
One December night, when the streets were in gloom,
Sir Leonard sat in a tavern room,
With his flesh wine-soaked, and his heart stone-dry,
Quaffing French liquors, and losing his money
(A kind of pastime which some think funny)
To a high-born knave, with a watery eye—
Sir Templeton Trench—a man about town,
With the blood of a lady, the brain of a clown.
Quoth Trench, with a leer,
Placing his friend’s lost crowns on the table:
I’ll make a proposal by which you’ll be able
To recover the fortune you’ve squandered to-night;
And the cards at my elbow shall set us right.”
Sir Leonard paused, with a drunken stare,
And then and there
Clutched at the cards with his fingers unsinew’d.
“You’ve a daughter,—Miss Edith?” the other continued.
“A baggage!” cried Curll. Quoth Sir Templeton: “Come!
She’s probably tired of a single life;
And who wouldn’t sour in an air that’s so glum?
For myself, Curll, I’m willing to make her my wife.
Now, the gold versus Edith! If I am the winner,
The money is yours, and Miss Edith is mine.”
“You’ll marry her, Trench?” said the other old sinner,
While his eyes bled wine.
Trench laughed and assented: “Of course, I’m aware
You look higher than one of my station and rank—
His Highness, of course.” “By my sword, Trench”—“There!
I’ve made you the offer; accept or refuse—
You're fully as likely to win as to lose.
Here’s the bank!
If you conquer, you keep both the wench and the gold.”
The bloodshot eyes of Sir Leonard rolled
Like a drunken Jew’s;
At first he had deemed it a comical jest
At the best.
“I agree!” he cried, with a croak, “for—pshaw!
You won’t make a bad sort of son-in-law.”
So they pitted the money against the wench,
And, silent as wolves, until cock-crow played,—
When Curll won the money, and Templeton Trench
Well. The thing we call honour, Wife, differs in men;
In some it is blind as the perilous foam;
But I’d say to our children, again and again,
That the heart of all honour is truth to Home;
That the hopes of pure honour are centred above;
That the crown of man’s honour is wifely love:
But the honour Sir Leonard Curll understood
Was to sin against duty and youth, but be good
To every frothy and fulsome lie
He spoke in the heat of his revelry.
So he said unto Trench, “I have lost and I’ll pay;
And whether she comes with a yea or a nay,
You shall marry Miss Edith on Christmas Day.”
So Sir Templeton Trench and Sir Leonard Curll
Rode there and then to the home of the girl,
Thro’ the midst of the hop-growing county of Kent,
To announce the event.
Now, Sir Templeton Trench, this old blackguard, was rather
Younger than Edith’s old wine-bibbing father;
And was simply a silly old hogshead, where sack
Was mixed with Bordeaux and the sharp Cognac.
Just imagine the fuss when Sir Leonard bore his
Golden old goose to the manor, and made his
Proposal in language too ugly for Hades;
While Templeton swore his
Tenderest oaths at the two trembling ladies.
Argutos inter strepere anser olores!
Curll, with an oath:
“Little matters, young madam, your yea or your nay,
For I’ve brought you a husband of title and credit;
You’ll be Templeton’s lady come Christmas Day,—
I’ve said it.”
Poor Edith flew sobbing away to her room,
And wept all that night in the new-gathered gloom,
But the Lady, her mother, sat quiet and staid
By her lord and his friend as they tippled and quaffed,
At the jests they made.
Her eyes were fixed on Sir Templeton Trench,
With the light of an innermost sorrow intense,
When Sir Leonard roared—“Bravely done, old wench,
For once in your life you’re a woman of sense.”
But the Lady Curll, as she sat beside them,
Spake not a word till the cold gray light
Cut sharp as steel thro’ the shadows of night.
When she passed from the hall with a look that defied them.
Sir Templeton grunted the maiden’s name,
Maudlinly trolling an amorous ditty,
More meaning than witty,
Starved out of a bard by some yellow-hued dame,
Who used as cosmetics to catch such ninnies
(Poets who dandle both babies and fame)
Those types of her Soul and complexion, her guineas!
Well, the hours glided onward, till country swains
Pluckt the mistletoe branches, in country lanes;
Till the holly was hanging from North unto South,
And the cook had the flavour of plums in his mouth!
They had hounded the girl into half-consent,
And the big-bellied priest had announced the event.
So on Christmas Eve old Sir Leonard’s house
Was the scene of a drunken and noisy carouse;
And the Lady Curll, with her sickly face,
Sat quiet and bland
By her husband’s place,
Filling his glass with a trembling hand.
On the Christmas morn, when the joyous chimes
Were tingling and trembling in musical rhymes,
The parson’s young wife took particular care,
With his cassock, his wristband, his face, and his hair;
The butler replenished his corpulent pottle
While tapping the cask and uncorking the bottle;
The bridal guests were both merry and many,
And the Lady Curll seemed the gayest of any,
But they found Sir Leonard Curll in his bed—
. . . . .
A year had passed since Sir Leonard’s death;
Since Sir Templeton left, with his drunken brain;
And the alchemyst Winter, with frosty breath,
Was mimicking flowers on the cottage-pane.
It was Christmas Eve, and the fog-wrapt gloom
Was full of the wind and the shuddering rain.
The Lady Curll, with Edith, her pride,
Sat quiet and pale in a lighted room;
And the sweets of the season when Leonard died
Were far from the hearts of the mother and maid,
In the blackness they bought with his gold arrayed.
There was terror, unholy and undefined,
That Christmas Eve on the maiden’s mind,
And you knew by her murmuring lips that she prayed.
The Lady said:
“He sinned so against us that, truth to tell,
I would often wish he were buried and dead—
But now I would he were here, and well.”
And after a moment she murmured again,
“The wind is roaring around with rain,
But the beautiful, stainless snow that fell
When my lord was alive in this lonely spot—
The beautiful stainless snow falls not;
So I would my lord were alive and well.”
And she moaned with her face in the red firelight,
“I would that the beautiful snow, which seems
Like the voices of angels we hear in dreams,
Would fall on the desolate world this night;
For it falls on the earth and it entereth in,
Like the tears of the Christ on the eyelids of Sin.”
Then she stood erect, very cold and white.
And with bosom that trembled and eyelids that glistened,
Then she sank with a shriek at her daughter’s feet,
And Edith looked pale by the light of her eyes:
“The blood of thy father, Sir Leonard, lies
On the Soul of thy mother, my Sweet, my Sweet!
I crouched like a lamb when he struck at me,
But I stung like a snake when he injured thee:
For, to save thee, my darling, my sorrow, my pride,
I poisoned the cup of my lord as he drank.”
Then, shuddering close to her daughter’s side,
And kissing her lips with a sob, she sank
On her breast, and died!
. . . . .
The tale is old.
As I’ve told it to you, I heard it told.
’Tis one of those tales which we only tell
In the mirth-making season when all seems well,
To season our malt
With the salt
Of a good-natured horror by no means annoying,
Which sharpens our sense of the mirth we’re enjoying.
Ah, Edith!—I’d almost forgotten. Why, she,—
Thanks partly to youth and a certain fond lover,
And partly to something within and above her,—
Though sadder at seasons than most women be,
Died blessing six children at seventy-three.
‘The Lady Curll’ was published in The Welcome Guest (March, 1861). More information about Buchanan’s pseudonym, ‘Newton Neville’ is available here.
GONE is the wintery woe,
With the fairies that sang in the snow
A hinted rhyme
Of the sunny time
When the seasons gain glory, and glow;
But I look on the earth—and, lo!
One lingers alone below.
The fairy lingers behind
The flight of its snowy kind;
And its sunlit lamp
Gleams in the damp
Darkness of rain and wind,—
And its solitude seems to bind
Its sorrow to humankind.
Is it sent to utter some true
Sweet prophecy, old or new?
Can it be sent
Without wise intent?—
I hold it has work to do,
For use is the privilege due
To beauty and sorrow too.
Does it prophesy summer hours,
When the snow is re-born in the showers?
Does it bind
The season of winter wind
To the season of buds and bowers?
Does it hint two separate powers
United,—the snow and the flowers?
When its errand is done, let it go!
For it hath an errand below;
And for beautiful ends
The snowdrop blends
Green leaves with the cold white snow!—
When the summer is here, you shall know
If the errand be gentle or no.
‘The Snowdrop’ was published in The Athenæum (23 March, 1861 - No. 1743, p.395).
AN ARTISAN’S STORY.
BY WILLIAMS BUCHANAN.
You ask my story? I have led
A dull and even life—
Little to hope for, less to love,
Save little ones and wife;
But those sweet chimes stir up old days,
I like their merry singing—
They mind me of the Christmas morn
My marriage bells were ringing;
When, thinking not of things above,
I found that hope of heaven, Love.
At that imperfect time when youth
Yearns back on early years,
And hard’ning down to manhood oft
Takes childhood back in tears,—
I—working hand and throbbing heart—
Mourning the years passed o’er me,
Turned from the early heaven behind
And saw a heaven before me:
Plain words, I married—saw the skies
Untroubled in a bride’s blue eyes.
We twain were poor; folk called our match
A hasty match and mad,—
But when two earnest hearts combine
To make each other glad,
With work to do and hands to work,
There’s little fear of fooling—
(Besides, our training was not nice
And we had little schooling).
We joined our hands and made a plight
To help each other as we might.
There’s something in a woman’s face
Invincible in trust;
It sends a kind of second soul
Through men of meanest dust;
To hearts like mine, slow-blunting down,
To selfish aims and uses,
A woman often vindicates
The folly she produces;
And she I married came to bless
A heart grown hard with loneliness.
No slender girl with golden hair,
No stately girl and tall—
In fact, a woman plump and set,
And not a girl at all;
A bustling, buxom, busy life,
Complete in love and duty,
Which, making all things beautiful,
Caught half the given beauty:
A little woman, wifely wise,
With laughing babies in our eyes.
God interposes purer things
Between our hearts and toil—
Sweet flowers that take the sun and air
But bloom on shifting soil;
But at the best the heart ground down
In narrow creeds and feelings,
Becomes a sunless heart and blind
To most divine revealings—
A hearth-flame, growing scant and thin,
And often going out in sin.
The ambler down the road of life
Upon an easy pad,
May bid us eat in joy because
The world he sees is glad;
But Beauty dwells in time and place,
Parch’d throats are sorry preachers,
And I have thought that toil and want
Are gross and evil teachers—
They choke the undevelop’d trust,
The seed of godhead, down to dust.
For faith in God and beauty grows
From faith in man and woman,
From that freemasonry of hope
Embracing all things human;
And those who deem their brother man
Cold, loveless, false to duty,
Subtract this want of loveliness
From God the Father’s beauty.
The man who lies with smiling eye
Deems every smiling face a lie.
Religion shapes itself to life
And grows from thoughts and deeds,
And he who questions his own Soul
Must question all the creeds;
Oh, often, when my lot seem’d hard,
And bitter thoughts would win me,
I’ve asked if God could be, because
I found no God within me—
I knew not then, as now I know,
Doubt is the shade God casts below
When times were bitter, hard, and cold,
And want was bringing pains,
When wages fell, and starving men
Were gnawing at their chains,
My heart grew hard and seemed stone-dead,
My tongue was oft unruly—
I curst myself for bringing want
On her who loved so truly.
(Two years had passed since we were wed—
A child was coming, to be fed.)
Well, times grew harder every day,
My life grew hard, lives will,
But when I knew the child was near
My life grew harder still;
I cursed my marriage in my heart,
My fire and folly rueing—
For babes must eat, and bread was dear,
And there was nothing doing—
I thought hard thoughts and frowned to see
The patient face that smiled on me.
I knew the men who crushed us down,
Who sat in pomp and peace,
Denied the right the wretched have
To marry and increase;
I thought of this with bitter heart,
Half owning and half scorning,
And while the woman lay apart
I cursed my marriage morning;
Methought I saw a birth accurst,
With body starving, soul a-thirst.
And when our ailing marriage-tree
Put forth its baby-bud,
I brooded by the fire and felt
A demon in my blood;
I cursed the men that kept us down,
I cursed the coming morrow,
I cast my bitterness at God
With more of hate than sorrow,—
But I confessed His just control
By owning Satan in my soul!
But gentler music touched my heart,
My blood felt fresh and free,
When Wife brought forth the little one
And set him on my knee;
I liked his dreamy querulous face,
And eyes that laughed so drolly,
I mingled with the innocence
That made him seem so holy—
The Future seemed a fairer place,
And took the sweetness of his face.
And so when times were black and hard,
When men were gross with strife,
Our dove came with its olive-branch
To bless our ark of life;
Over our little helpless one
Wife leant in tearful blisses,
And I could see her marriage day
Blush back between her kisses—
A patient sign that, born from death,
Christ then was in our Nazareth.
Christ came in stainless infant-robes
To heal the wounds of earth,
And Christ, I do believe, returns
In every baby-birth;
A laughing wisdom lights his face,
And calm is in his carriage.
He routs the Pharisees within
The Temple men call Marriage;
And oft, while sense and eyes grow dim,
We leave our hearths and follow Him!
I thought, “This trouble is too weak
To drag a strong man down,
God gives a property in Love
Alike to king and clown;
This is an earnest, I believe,
Between our hearts and heaven,
That when we help each other on
The gift of strength is given.”
Howe’er it be, I left the door
With thrice the strength I had before.
And being young and hale and stout,
I drove the clouds away,
And when times brightened, blessed the wife
Who taught me tears that day;
I had been hot with those I served,
Unused to smooth professions,
And somehow that new face compelled
My mind to make concessions;
Joy came upon me in a flood—
A second boyhood in my blood.
To think those little pleading hands,
That little wife and true,
Should draw so many clouds apart
And show a sky so blue!
Oh, mine became a willing heart
That ruled a willing hand—
Wife, with my baby at her breast,
Was lady of the land.
Our hearts were prayers, our hopes were high,
And joy was with my wife and I.
Mine is an uneventful tale,
But take it at its worth—
It tells how simply lowly hearts
Grow out of lowly earth:
For every sorrow, every sin,
That proved me basely human,
I gained a broader faith in God,
Though broader faith in woman:
A saving patience touch’d my years,
Tried with the mystery of tears.
Hot, angry blood was always mine,
Impatient of control,
But love, unconscious, veiled in toil,
Kissed down my sterner soul.
Those pleading hands, that patient heart,
Complete in hope and duty,
Wove in the gloomy web of work
A rainbow thread of beauty.
I saw at last, and seeing throve,
The golden link ’tween use and love.
Love is another name for Use,
A bond of hand and heart,
Use is another name for Love—
They cannot dwell apart.
Love is the poetry of toil,
And toil is faith supernal,
Framed as a human law to hint
The law of things eternal,
Christ was of woman born to prove
Use, through the mystery of Love.
Oh, ere I bravely swam to shore
From that unhappy wreck,
How wise was I to stay and tie
My jewels round my neck!
While the salt tears yet dimm’d mine eye,
Warm prayers my lips were saying,
With benediction of white hands
I stoop’d to kiss them, praying;
Caught, far away from petty things,
Within a music made by wings.
I vindicate the task of all
Who mean true love to life,
The help of heaven was with me when
I blessed my babe and wife.
Measure not human love and use,
In flesh of man or woman:
The mountains and the valleys share
The sun and stars in common—
The sun completes the mountain shower,
And both complete the valley-flower.