POEMS FROM OTHER SOURCES - 2
THE lady sips
With butterfly lips
The sweets of the last new novel;
Close to her feet,
As she rides through the street,
The sinning and hungry grovel.
Tell me, does madam
Descend from Adam?
Or that bold baron of German mud,
Who, ferrying over
In a tub to Dover,
Painted escutcheons with Saxon blood?
The lady’s face
Has a nameless grace,
And her stainless soul is proud;
But yonder sinner,
Who sews for a dinner,
Is sewing my lady’s shroud!
Tell me, then,
Are women and men
Equal by virtue of mother-earth;
Or, when the breath
Has blackened in death,
Will the worms pay honour to noble birth?
Again, I ask,
Is it beauty’s task
To loll past sin in a carriage;
Or is the woman
In the Bethlehem men call Marriage?
There are humble needs
That determine creeds,
And the mother is bound by blessed bands:
She is evermore,
When she strives to soar,
Dragged down to duty by infant hands.
The lady there
Is stately and fair,
And her stars seem bright above her;
Yet a heart, I know,
In her breast of snow,
Beats for a high-born lover.
And to high and low
Comes the mother’s woe,
When she kneels by a grave, bereaven—
The churchyard tryst
With the bleeding Christ,
And a beckoning babe in heaven!
Is it a scorn
To be nobly born?
Nay, I hold it is good, my brother;
For the stately bride
Shall humble her pride
To the bloody tears of the mother.
The lady and lord,
In a sweet accord,
With the equal music of married minds,
Shall bend above
The baby they love,
For joy that levels but never blinds.
But yonder woman,
So grossly human,
Walks in the lamp-lit rain,
With a babe at rest
On her ragged breast,
And a drunkard’s dream in her brain.
Will the babe, if it dies,
Startled back to the skies,
Startled back by the drunken frown,
Make the bitterness
And the sin weigh less
Than the love that wooed it down?
In raiments white,
By day and by night,
Fresh from the quiet sky,
An angel of pity
Glides through the City,
And lifteth the low to the high;
With pleading face,
Where the human trace
Loveliness holy and undefiled,
He enters the door
Of the rich and poor,—
And this Christ is a little child.
And the God above us,
Whose angels love us,
Has blinded this angel’s eyes,
That they look not sinward,
But brighten inward,
To a soul that is sweetly wise;
That the tender angel,
And sweet evangel,
May grope his way to the human door,
And, seeing not sin,
Enter softly in,
To smile alike upon rich and poor.
So that sinners even,
And lives bereaven
Of Hope in the shadows of sadness,
Chasten and soften
To tears, and often
Welcome the guest in gladness;
So the angel doles
His pity to souls
That sorrow has striven to smother,
And there cometh rest
To the sinner’s breast,
Newly white with the milk of the mother.
A blessed vision
Of things Elysian,
Of the hope we all inherit,
Swims for a space
From the angel’s face
To the mother’s trancèd spirit;
The frenzied pain
Of the blood and brain,
Sweet tears of the angel leaven:
Radiant and dumb
Little children come,
And of such is the kingdom of Heaven.
And from our sorrow
The children borrow
The light of a common lot;
They come unto us,
And heavenward woo us,
And the Father forbids them not.
In weal or woe,
It is sweet to know
That the little children have power to bind
In every weather,
The highest and lowest of humankind.
Thus the lady who sips
With butterfly lips
The sweets of the last new novel,
Close to whose feet,
As she rides through the street,
The sinning and hungry grovel,
Will be purified
With the tears of the bride,
And lowly and weak will unconsciously be,
As the woman who lags
Behind her in rags,
And smiles on the baby that crows on the knee.
The blessed meaning
Of this intervening
Is heard in the voice of labour;
In the wealthy man’s
Proud heart, as he plans
The work of his humbler neighbour:
For the wrong-redressers,
The little children who conquer sin,
The labour implore
Of both rich and poor
For the generation they herald in.
And the lady sweet,
Whose pulses beat
For love of a proud patrician,
And the woman who lags
Behind her in rags,
Are working the self-same mission.
No empty or vital
Descent or title,
No plea of blood and no right of station,
No creed can ever
Have power to sever
Eve from her use and her tribulation.
So through the City
That angel of pity
Walks, teaching by night and day
A lesson that blends
To beautiful ends
The high and the low alway:
He sees not darkness,
Or want or starkness,
He is blind, and he looks not sinward;
For his blind eyes roll
Round back to his soul,
And burn, like the ruby, inward.
And while we climb
The mountain of time,
Smiling and beckoning stand,
Far above us,
The angels that love us,—
A beautiful infant-band;
With love unceasing,
Bathe unaware in the bright and fond
Heaven we plain for,
And toil and strain for,
Which floats in dreams from the vale beyond.
It is no scorn
To be nobly born,
To be lofty and grand as madam:
We are fathers and mothers,
Sisters and brothers,
And the head of the house is Adam.
Like the woman in rags
That behind her lags,
The lady who waits for a lordly lover
Sees the undefiled
Face of a child
Shine, like a star in a cloud, above her.
‘Belgravia’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 6, May 1861).
The Dead Baby.
LEAN your wet face upon my breast,
Dear wife, and on my strong love rest;
Bring all the comfort that you can
(As the small child did comfort us),
By stealing to mine arms, and thus
Appealing to my sterner man.
For now the little infant hands
That served as stainless marriage bands,
And caused the pleasing, teasing toil
That kept us sure on steadfast soil,
And taught us almost unaware
A larger love through larger care,—
Now those small hands no more can plead
For union equal to their need—
’Tis better that your woe at length
Should lean upon my grosser strength.
And yet the pain and bitter smart
That seem, dear love, to clothe your heart
With a new charity divine
Have only power to harden mine;
My faith, when tried, is less than thine.—
I lift up eyes to heaven, and say:
Why take our little child away?
Why will our little boy should die
With one Spring’s sunshine in his eye?
Why hear us pray on bended knee,
Yet rob us of our claim on Thee?
It seems so hard to lose him, dear,
Just when he grew so lovely here—
To let him leave us as he came
Just when he learned to lisp your name!
He was our Bible for a year.
He was a little common child,
A little grieving baby-boy,
Not fairer than the rest,—yet joy
Came down from heaven when he smiled:
Common and human, yet more fair
To us than other children were.
We loved him for his innocent eyes,
We loved him for his pleading cries,
We loved him for the anxious fears
That caused us sleepless nights of tears,
We loved him for the pain he caused;
But when his heart grew cold and paused,
We folded hands, as if we knew
Love left us little more to do;
Turned faces from the sun, and thought
The bitterness our sorrow taught
Rent us asunder, passion-fraught;
And, hungering o’er the little one,
We thought our blood too cold to run
Out from the fireside to the sun,
In sparkles, as it once had done.
I watched you, darling, when the breath
Had darkened from the little face,
Comfort your bosom for a space
With tender offices of death.
You placed the little snowy gown,
And drew the cap more softly down
Over the face without a frown,
And wrapt the tiny clay-cold feet
Within the little winding-sheet,
And smoothed the gleaming golden hair;
And somehow, dear, the bitter care
Seemed to make music in your breast,
And hush it into dreamful rest.
Till, bending down, you touched the meek
And patient sleeper on the cheek,
And all the mother’s buried bliss
Surged in upon you with the kiss;
When, helpless with your utter woe,
You swam towards me cold as snow;
And hung about me, while your pain,
Communing with my burning brain,
Brought back the love of other years
In a white trance of sighs and tears.
We were so happy, best of wives!
The quiet current of our lives
In pleasant peaceful music played,
Caught sunshine in the very shade.
We were so happy, dear, that we,
Made perfect in our just degree,
Dreamed not that you, a mother bland,
Bearing your jewel in your hand,
Were swimming with it to a strand
Where shadows fall and angels stand,
To leave it there at God’s command.
My darling, in this moment dire,—
When Death lies white in yonder room,
And we are sitting in the gloom,
Watching the faces in the fire,
Shut in from all the pitiless stars,—
I mind of the days past o’er,
The tiny frets and puny jars,
Which only made us love the more
Our little babe now gone before.
For when our love should shudder down
Behind the darkness of a frown,
We somehow felt in either heart,
When for the moment rent apart,
That the sweet love we hid behind
Some passing shadow of the mind
Shone downwards, and in secret smiled
Upon the slumbers of our child;
And so, in turn, we learned to gain
A sweet remorse within the brain,
Which brought the sunshine and the rain!
He was a Peacemaker divine!
Why does the sorrow which has power
To shape your beauty to the hour,
Sweeten your heart, yet blacken mine?
And was your sleep so sound last night,
And he so near in calm forlorn,
Dressed in his raiments snowy white,
Ere laid so low to-morrow morn?
And did you fancy, dear, that he
Was sitting smiling on your knee?
I scarcely slept at all. It seems
So strange that you, who treasured best
Our little baby gone to rest,
Should sleep such sleep and dream such dreams.
The love that women seldom speak
Perchance lies deeper than the weak
Man’s passion breathed in words of heat;
And you, whose joy was calm and sweet
As Autumn lights in time of wheat,
Are in your sorrow hushed and bowed
To faith that wears a firmer form.
Far from the tumult fierce and warm
Which makes me mouth my grief aloud,
Thou movest as a quiet cloud
Across a driving mist of storm.
Stand by the window here, and place
Your hand in mine, and try to chase
Those quiet shadows from your face.
The tiny fairies of the snow
In cloudy squadrons waver slow,
To some sweet musical refrain
Supplied within the listening brain,
Toward the trancèd earth below;
The skies are thick with driving mist,
Smote by the sun to amethyst;
The air is husht, the snowy fays
Float swiftly past the eyes that gaze,
And flash a dreamy peace intense
Across the dim mesmeric sense.
All is so sadly sweet and fair,
The snow-clad earth, the moving air,
That the lost babe whose name we bless
Seems part of all sad loveliness.
But death is with us where we stand
So close together, husht in awe;—
Now pass within, and clasp my hand
More closely with your own, dear.
The stainless curtains, raise thine eyes—
Lo, there our little darling lies.
Careless to human eyes that weep,
Calmly he sleeps his coffin’d sleep;
With white clench’d hands and closed eyes,
Sweetly he sleeps, our pearl of pearls,
And light in common with the skies
Mingling with earth among his curls.
A remnant of the soul that fled
Ere morning broke and found him dead,
Unto his lips a half smile clings,
Like gold-down from a butterfly’s wings.
I see in that calm face alone
Your tender fancy—’tis my own:
So calm he sleeps, rebuking sin,
And paining down all petty doubt,
You think the snow-calm death within
Is like the falling snow without?
And more. Nay, take your hand away,
You need no help from my rough clay;
Your sorrow is of God—you need
No help from any meaner creed.
Sweet wife, that patient grief of thine
Is nearer baby’s soul than mine:
That patient grief that knows not speech
Is like the chamber with its woe,
And like the season of the snow—
And harmonises GOD with each.
To-day our little one was laid
Within a place of peaceful shade;
The soft green grass and white snow keep
Our footprints o’er his quiet sleep—
But in the early April hours
He’ll fill those footprints full of flowers.
A pleasant thought. The flowers shall bloom
In natural sequence from his tomb,
And fill the tracks that sorrow raises
With tender thoughts and prayerful praises—
The heart’s forget-me-nots and daisies.
Is it not so, my darling wife?
His memory with our grief at strife
Will hush the tumult of our life.
Our hearts a calmer peace have found
Now he is laid beneath the ground;
He seems so far away, my dear,
So far away and yet so near—
He sleeps so deeply darkly down,
Yet is he near enough to hear
The children shouting in the town.
A bitter thought; that quite unmans
My soul, and mocks our tender plans
To keep his memory sweet and green
As if this death had never been:
It seems so hard to lose him, dear,
Just when he seemed so lovely here,
And looking forth in tears to-day,
To see the other children play
With roses on their cheeks,—while he
Is white as lilies on the wave!
(Comfort, sweet heart, be brave, be brave)
Ah! yes, it seems so hard to see
The little children run in glee
Between our shadows and his grave!
Yet comfort. If our shadows fall
Across the children in their joy,
They reach not him, our baby-boy,—
There where he sleeps, our all in all;
Our grief’s dark shadows interpose
Between our earth and heaven, sweet wife,
But cannot reach his sweet repose.
It means that this our troublous breath
May lend a sadder gloom to life,
May shadow others with its strife,
But cannot reach the light of death:
The peaceful light which lies above
The little baby that we love,
And, falling on us unaware
(Here where we stand and try to cope
With sorrow that is not despair,
And lean on one another’s hope),
Teaches a pain akin to prayer.
In this snow-white and sad December,
When we are sitting quite alone,
It seems a comfort to remember
The sweet lost joys that we have known.
So place your hand in mine again
(You need my help a little now),
And while I talk of loss and gain,
Of buried joy and present pain,
Keep this calm kiss upon your brow.
Do you remember, dear, the night
You first did place him on my knee,
And laught and clapt your hands in glee
Because I could not hold him right;
And called me awkward in your joy,
Then snatched him up, pretending fright,
And showering kisses on the boy?
And, dear, do you remember too
How merrily I bantered you
Because, when first his querulous eyes
Began to notice us and smile,
You praised his wisdom, held him wise
Beyond the statesmen of our isle?
We often said, you know, that he
Would be a statesman, sage, or bard;
We little dreamt that he would be
So soon, through trial keen and hard,
A teacher wiser than the three.
’Tis over now. His face, placed far,
Pathetic as the evening star,
Shines down upon our earthly way:
The face was marble yesterday—
A common little thing of clay.
Is it not strange that we should steal
Our lost joys back again, and feel
So much more calm and patient now
Than when he lay in yonder room
Amid the sorrow and the gloom,
With our last kisses on his brow?
But God is good—in woe or bliss:—
Your patient grief, O best of wives,
At least has served to teach me this;
And I believe, by this fond kiss,
Death has bound closelier our twin lives.
If God our suffering hearts should bless
With such another loveliness;
If God, who took our child, dear wife,
Should bless our lives with such another,
I think his little angel-brother
Will plead in heaven for his life!
God giveth His belovèd sleep.
He makes your sorrow calm and deep
As this still season of the snow,
As that calm churchyard with its woe.
Let us not doubt, dear, while we weep!
For Nature is in unison
With death and with our little one;
And with the patient woe you keep
Hid from the sunshine of the sun.
His dust, communing with a light
From heaven, morning, noon, and night,
Will in the summer season bloom
In flowers that beautify the tomb;—
Your hidden grief, communing high
With a small angel in the sky,
Will bring forth blessings by and by;—
Thus will those fairy snowy showers,
Falling in sadly lovely hours
To the deep caves and granite bowers,
Commune with summer’s secret powers,
And change to fairies of the flowers.
Is it not so? You bow your face
Upon my bosom, prouder, truer:
Come to my heart, then,—’tis your place—
And, praying prayers there, make me pure.
‘The Dead Baby’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 7, June 1861).
VI. A CITY PREACHER.
WITH Soul that, pure as Sabbath psalms,
Sings poised on soaring pinions,
I seek the church of God to hear
Good news from God’s dominions;
And by the Sabbath-day I mean
The Sabbath of a heart made clean,
To take God’s best revealings—
Divine and gracious feelings.
On my Soul’s tablet, as I pray,
Made low and single-hearted,
God writes His comment that sweet Day
On the six days departed;
And in His comments, that or this,
I find no interdict of bliss,
For Duty puts no measure
To proper human pleasure.
But yonder Pulpit has a voice
To mock what Love thus teaches—
“Woe to the wicked who rejoice!”
The noisy Pulpit preaches;
And preaching thus asserts this scroll,
This blessed Bible of my Soul,
This, God-created solely,
To be a lie unholy.
Hear it, O anxious crowd,—take heed
Or down to darkness tumble,
Distrust this God-created creed
Which keeps us pure and humble;
Forsake your pleasures and your balms,
And gnash your teeth to organ-psalms;
And contradict, ye nations,
Hope’s sweeter aspirations.
Hear it, thou toiling City-man,
Or never be forgiven;
Go to your dungeon, eat your bran,
Shut out the light of heaven;
Burrow in darkness like a mole;
For Satan made this lie your Soul,
This bounteous joy-dispenser,
This light within the censer!
Hear it, and quench all human love,
Ye lordlings and ye ladies,
God interdicts all light above,
Conceding light in Hades—
Hope, Joy, and Love are fleshly lies,
And Want and Woe are Paradise:
God kills, that He may win us,
All light divine within us.
Oh, hollow cheat! that wounds the mind
With narrow creeds and feelings,—
That kills the Soul and makes it blind
To all sublime revealings,—
That chokes the undevelopt trust,
The seed of Godhead, into dust,—
That makes this flesh a hovel
Where slimy monsters grovel.
Joy is a portion of the Word
Whence clearer light we borrow,
Men in their joy approach the Lord
More near than in their sorrow:
God lit dark skies with sun and moon,
And set them to a golden tune;
He set the Soul, our gladness,
Within the flesh, our sadness.
Through light and darkness Nature rolls,
Through light and fleshly leaven—
Joy is the music made by Souls
When most in tune with Heaven;
And we are like the common flowers,
Which, taking both the sun and showers,
Take from the sun above me
The hues which make them lovely.
And every little blossom strives
To help the summer-Maying;
Joy gives a colour to our lives,
And is the heart of praying:
We human drones on shifting soil
See glints of heaven in our toil,
Can hear the flute and tabor,
Though never ceasing labour.
Religion grows from thoughts and deeds,
The work we men inherit,
And he must question all the creeds
Who questions his own Spirit;
And those who wear a prison-dress
Subtract this life’s unloveliness,
Its bitter sunless duty,
From God the Father’s beauty.
O Pulpit, that wouldst prove us slime,
Poor things for beasts to pity,
Is yours the doctrine for the Time,
The Labour, and the City?
To fill our crowded streets and marts
With worship born of human hearts,
To aid the work now doing,
The end we are pursuing?
I vindicate this Soul from care
That mocks us in our starkness.
God made this Soul a shrine where Prayer
May touch His Hand in darkness;
It labours for the common end,
And Joy, your bugbear, is a friend
Which teaches it while living
Its worship and thanksgiving.
Pulpit, a light like that above
Burns on our calm home-altars,
Our household shrines where Joy and Love
Are priests as well as psalters;
Our loves are born without alloy,
Our tears but dignify our joy,
And Christ returns to bless us
When baby-arms caress us.
And Faith in God finds proper soil
In faith in man and woman,
In that freemasonry of toil
Embracing all things human.
When tortured texts our peace annoy
Our woe is blinder than our joy,
And quenches in its blindness
The light of human kindness.
Pulpit, whose words of war and strife
Mock yonder starry crescent,
We cannot mend the Future Life
Through warring on the present:
Our loves, our joys, our human ties,
Are tiny steps to Paradise;
And woe without cessation
Is base humiliation.
Remember, Pulpit, the sublime
Sweet Bethlehem called Pity;
Yours is mean doctrine for the Time,
The Labourer, and the City;
Our streets are black enough without
Unhallowed clouds of pain and doubt;
Who weep for aye in Tophet
Insult the gift they covet.
Love proves her reverence, I know,
By hate of all displaying,
And hearts that hate prayer’s hollow show
Unconsciously are praying:
Christ came in human shape to prove
The common truths of Hope and Love;
And if the Lord would win us,
His Christ must dwell within us.
’A City Preacher’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 8, July 1861).
“WHEN, as a girl, with future-seeking eyes,
I learnt those bloody tears which make us wise,
By marrying into perfect womanhood,
Few hopes were mine, and wishes few but good:
How to make glad one little happy place
Where he and I might worship God aright—
Some little happy home that I might grace,
And day by day grow nearer to the light
Of my own love reflected on his face.
Are mine eyes opened? Is my breast laid bare?
Ah, no, no, no! if love survive in duty.
And if his face seem vacant of the rare
Calm faith that maketh common things seem fair,
The dimly mirror’d beauty
Of mine own love, for ever lingering there,
Usurps the mind he will no longer share—
Mine own strong faith, which lives through shade and shine,
Reflected in his heart, is still divine,
And evermore unites us unaware.
“I reached his stature in a bridal kiss.
If love in that sweet time of dawning bliss
Existed, must it not survive in this
Sad time when still upon his strength I lean?
Why do the shadows seem to stand between
Myself and my beloved, while I miss
His stature, and seem mean?
“We dwell together, ’mong these lands of ours,
In this white mansion, high upon the hill
Above the village; and, with snows or flowers,
The changeful seasons come and.go at will.
The long blue river yonder, dimly rolled
Past farms with slips of sunshine on their eaves,—
Now trails the harvest in its skirt of gold:
The sun-tanned reaper binds the bearded sheaves,
The gleaners glean, the farmer’s heart rejoices,
And many villagers lift up their voices
For cheer of flocks and beeves.
So, wheresoever sun or shadow creeps,
The strong man sows and reaps,
The strong man garners while the woman weeps.
I sowed, though now I ask what Love may mean—
What do I reap, or glean?”
The lady shed no tear, but, looking out,
Saw the red hunt return with song and shout;
Then, deaf to sorrow and her sad behests,
Walked to the threshold as they trotted by,
And, clear and calm as any summer sky,
Smiled welcome on her husband and his guests.
Years passed; until there came a day when Fate
Levelled the man and woman from their height
Of easeful riches to a poor estate.
The man awoke, a beggar, in the night,
And, turning to the woman where she lay,
Said: “God at last has willed to take away
My fortune, place, and honour in this land,
Wherein we dwelt in affluence yesterday:
I bow my human head to His command,
And strive to conquer sorrow, as men may.
But briefly, let us pluck up heart, and go,
Adventurers, to some strange foreign strand,
Where we may labour bravely, hand in hand,
To conquer present woe.”
Whereat she kissed him, saying, “Be it so!”
And would have fallen upon his neck, and cried
Aloud in tears, that God, who gave the blow,
Had blest her, separating love from pride,
And willing well that man and wife might know
A closer, holier labour, side by side—
Helpmeets, not prisoners. But her voice denied
Her heart; and, shedding tears, she murmured low:
“Women are less than women when untried.”
The man and weaker woman sailed together
Toward the morning sun in autumn weather:
Two lives, toward an unknown future hurled,
Seeing but little light in heaven above;
Two hearts, with little left them in the world,
With nothing in the world, not even Love.
So, poor in all the world, being love-bereft,
The man and woman left
Their youth behind them, all the lost delights
That Memory loves to brood on. Then the wife,
Hungering backward for the buried life,
Groped in her soul in secret through the nights,
And sought all silently if Love were there;
But only touched God’s Hand,
Pushing her onward to that distant land
Through clouds of hope and care.
And yet, not seldom, when their faces met,
A troublous light on one
(Born in a past that neither could forget)
Would to the pulses of the other run,
And make the blood rush up in crimson flame,
To mock the common name
Which bound them, wrist to wrist, in shade or sun,
With fetters that had rusted into shame.
And oftentimes, when the moist morn would make
Its milky path to heaven o’er the waves,
And, list’ning side by side, they lay awake,
The sea had voices like forgotten graves:—
They longed to make atonement, heart to heart,
And when the shame still kept their souls apart,
Each felt awe-stricken, blind, and helpless quite,
As doth a trancèd mother, who by night
Travails in darkness with the infant breath
Which listening down her eager blood she hears,
And, swimming in a mist of unshed tears,
Swoons in the Valley of the Shadow of Death!
And with them in the ship sailed men and wives
For that far country bound:
Mothers and daughters, rough-hewn, lowly lives,
Brown artizans, and tillers of the ground,
Whose arms an endless war of works did wage,
Carving out ingles for their feebler age.
Then oft the married man with these would speak,
And envy them their roughness labour-born;
And, looking on his own white hands, would seek
A coward’s refuge in a doubt and scorn
Of her—the married woman proud and weak.
But a great wind arose, and, murmuring hoarse,
Tore the thick seas by night with giant force,
And, roaring in the sails with shrieks and shocks,
Dragged up the waters by their foamy locks,
Striking the plunging vessel from its course!
The lightning sprang,
Rending the tempest’s bowels like a knife;
The thunder rang,
With fitful iteration of the strife
Waged by the lower ocean,
Which to the clouds, now bubbling upward, clang,
And now sank downward with a softer motion.
On the huge arms of storm
The ship was lifted like a toy to heaven,
And then dasht downward, black, and thunder-riven,
Moaning and writhing like a living form,
With meteors seething round it fierce and warm.
Strong men crouched trembling in the sweating hold,
The timid shrieking, and the brave less bold,
And mothers stirring up from slumber prest
Their babies to the breast,
Calling aloud on those they loved the best;
And maidens, clasping sturdy lovers more
Closely than they had ever done, before,
Their panting fear confest.
And thus the tempest boiled, while o’er and o’er
The lightnings ploughed heaven’s starry-paven floor,
And split the solid seas from east to west.
And on the wings of storm the ship was driven
They knew not whither,
And round about the seething waves were riven
Hither and thither,
And all was darkness, sound, and shrieks to heaven.
The man and woman, stript of half their pride,
Stood, soaked in brine of ocean, side by side;
His arms were wound around her, and her scared
Face lay upon his bosom torn and bared—
And now and then, when their eyes met in fright,
She would creep close as on their wedding-night,
And kiss him with her lips so snowy white.
Then said he, whispering in burning breath:
“The Holy Scripture saith
That prayer has power in moments such as these
To blunt the sickle of the reaper, Death:
Let us kneel, praying on our bended knees.”
Whereat they knelt and prayed;
And, being side by side, the words they said
Were a pure prayer, not for one, but both;
And, near each other’s hearts, the man and woman,
Praying for life, were ’ware that, willing or loath,
They did reiterate the marriage-oath,
Which gave them life in common.
But while they prayed, the vessel plunged and stirred
Along the deep sea-ruts, like some black bird
Shorn of its wings, and fallen in its pain
Upon the bosom of the watery main.
The tempest clove the brittle masts in twain,
And stript off helm and sail:
Sailless and helpless, like a living thing,
Panting from side to side, and quivering,
She lay before the gale,
Beaten and maim’d and scourged
By winds that swooped like eagles from on high,
And lifted with the waters, as they merged,
With whirling arms of foam and thunder-cry,
Into the skirts of storms that, whistling by,
With ceaseless motion, surged
Downward to meet them from a blackened sky!
Slowly the great clouds parted. Damp and cold
Dawn, like a molten sapphire, filled the sea,
And touched the shivering wretches in the hold—
A plank between them and eternity.
Then the man whispered to her unawares,
Scarce thankful that the imminent death seemed o’er:
“God, then, has granted, wife, our foolish prayers,
And we are helpless wanderers as before,
Under unfriendly skies—
I almost wish it had been otherwise!”
Then rose a cry of joy among the rest,
Crusht from the dying terror in each breast:
“Saved! saved!” they cried, torn dizzily from death’s brink;
But at the word
The Master’s voice was heard:
“Man boats!—prepare to leave her;—for we sink!”
Whereat there rose a cry from old and young,
From fathers, mothers, daughters, and from sons,
And even from the shivering little ones,
That closer unto panting bosoms clung:
There rose a cry more piteous far than pain,
That chilled the blood like ice, and burnt the brain,
And echoing in the welkin, rung and rung
In mockery again.
Nor had the rough storm ceased.
The clouds were parted, and the wind seemed spent;
But groaning Ocean, like a wounded beast,
With foaming mane and gaping jaws, lay rent,
Curving a dark green back against the proud
Lance of the gold-clad champion in the east,
And, leaping up to clutch him from his skies,
Moaned to its depths aloud,
With a grand horror in its rolling eyes!
And a great awe, like dying hands that fall
O’er kneeling forms, fell sudden over all.
The Soul, communing with the end it neared,
And shuddering fleshward from the death it feared,
Trembling in clay like odour in a flower,
Took in the terrible beauty of that hour.
And speechless men
Turned pale and reverent faces eastward then;
And mothers, by their awe-struck hearts bereaven
Of living hope, looked on their little ones,
Their daughters and their sons,
And wondered if they would be theirs in heaven.
The man and woman, trembling in the golden
Dawn, thought of wedded life completer far
Than any wedded lives with mortals are,
And so again their lives, more close enfolden
By that calm thought, became a single scroll,
Sealed with one marriage Soul.
The ship was lifted upward on the rim
Of a huge wave, when one, a seaman he,
Cried out aloud, “Land, comrades, land! Oh, see!”
And far away upon the horizon dim,
Before we sank again, we sighted land—
A cloud no bigger than the prophet’s hand.
Then sense and soul did swim,
And mothers smiled again, and strong men wept.
And over all a sudden murmur crept
Crusht out of praying bosoms as a hymn.
Another cried, “A cloud in heaven, no more!”
As down along the deep sea-rut they leapt
Into the bright wide chasms with a roar.
Then the great waters surged them up again,
And, sick with fear, they watched the seamen’s eyes
Stretched keenly o’er the melancholy main,
And heard their eager cries.
“’Tis land,” the Master cried, and swiftly flew
His words from lip to lip,
And “Land!” was shouted o’er the tossing ship
Driving toward the cloud that huger grew.
But as the Master spoke
The jarring strife of thunder—
The women shrieked, the men rushed up in wonder:
“She sinks!”—and roaring, seething,
With loud and angry breathing,
With tremulous panting, groaning,
And fitful moaning,
The frail ship, shivering on a reef that stunned her,
Then in a shrieking crowd the great mass stirred,
Women and men with babes that cried and clung,
Toward the boats that swung
At the ship’s side, and, over all things heard,
The warning accents of the Master rung.
The man and woman moved not, pale and shrinking;
One turbulent mass of men and women pressed
Like waves into the braver boat, till, sinking,
It loosened, plunging underneath the crest
Of the green waters that did circle and seethe
And crush it underneath,
And lifted up its burden on the waves,
Plunging the men and women to their graves.
Some, stunned to see their groaning comrades drown,
Leapt from the dizzy bulwarks, plunging down;
While others for the smaller pinnace made,
And, pouring in a blackened flood into it,
Crushed in an instant’s time and overthrew it,
Then, stunned and blinded, sank, with shrieks for aid.
So, hopeless of all else, the living few,
With the calm Master and his silent crew,
Bound their frail bodies to the loosening spars;
And straining nerve and thew,
The married man and married woman flew
Unto the breaking hull, and, eager-eyed,
They lashed each other’s bodies side by side
With soaken cords thereto.
There came a listening silence, as it were,
Like the mute terror of a victim’s heart
When the priest’s knife is bare.
A hush was on the waves and on the air,
And with a gurgling sigh that rent apart
The swollen planks, the vessel struck the foam,
And, eddying with a whistling whirlpool, broke
To little fragments of its native oak,
And huger fragments black with harbour loam.
And all around the dying wretches lay,
Choked with the waters, blinded with the spray:
Here little children, torn from tender nests
Where mother’s milk was white with dewy rests,
And naked mothers bleeding bloody breath,
And clasping, in the agony of death,
Dead babies to their breasts.
Meantime the man and woman, firmly lashed
To a dark fragment of the hull, were dashed
Through dark sea-ruts, and suddenly were lifted
Upon the waters as they boiled and splashed
High o’er the reef that grimly shone between;
And, passing slowly o’er, were slowly drifted
Through foam-roof’d passages of emerald green.
Alone they floated on in a half-dream,
With flying waters wet,
They knew not whither; and the great waves met
Hugely above them in a shadowy gleam
Of green and shadowy purple splasht with light,
With intervals of night.
The imminent chasms boiled, and death seemed nigh,
When hugely in the distance there arose
Dark lines of ragged rocks, with foamy snows
Of the torn ocean, and the gulls did fly
Around about with screaming shriek and cry.
The woman said: “The waves whereon we hie
Toward the rugged rocks that yonder lie
Will crush us on them soon, and we shall die!”
Whereat he answered, “Let us die in love—
Not disunited, Dear, but breast to breast,
As close as these black waves will let us rest
To one another; and the heaven above
Shall take our wedded souls and make them blest!”
The woman twined about him limb in limb,
With eyes that utter gladness rendered dim,
And murmured—“Death is better! Death is best!
And hand in hand, as suppliants, let us go
To God and crave His final mercy, lest
Our souls have sinned against the high behest
Which made us happy lovers long ago.”
And panting closelier, heart to heart, too weak
To utter all the peace their hearts would speak,
They floated onward in a blissful vision
Of that sweet time Elysian
When joy was with them, and their doubts and fears
Were white as virgin tears—
Till, with the quiet bliss within the brain,
And with the bodily pain,
They fell into a sleep of peaceful breath,
As little ones, whom gladness overpowers,
Are fascinated on a bed of flowers
By the wise serpent Death!
In a half-dream they lay;
And strange weird visions for their half-closed eyes
Were woven in the many-coloured spray
And in the fitful skies;
And closelier, closelier, they clung in calm—
Souls mingled like the singer and the psalm—
And murmured such sweet names as lovers prize.
Was it the sun that, passing from behind
A cloud, then forth in rich apparel came,
And with a wand of flame
Wove a swift spell that hushed the gusty wind,
And smiled upon their sleep?
The waves received the sunshine, and the deep
Lifted the man and woman in its hands,
Bearing them o’er the rugged rocks asleep,
And laid them smiling on the further sands.
Breathless they wakened in a foamy shower,
And clomb together to the safer strands,
United by a heavenly voice of power—
The Mercy of that hour.
’The Twice-Wedded’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 9, August 1861). In its review of this issue (which also contained an essay by Buchanan on John Donne), the Illustrated Times (10 August, 1861) commented:
“There is rather more than the usual allowance of poetry; but perhaps none of it deserves, as verses go, any severe criticism. Mr. Williams Buchanan, who seems to be a regular contributor, ought to become a poet. So thinking and so hoping, we would advise him to write less and blot more. The article upon Donne, the metaphysician, is, on the whole, pleasant, entertaining, and appreciating; but would it not be as well if not quite so many magazine-writers were on such uncommonly good terms with their readers? This trick of familiarity is borrowed from Mr. Thackeray, who is becoming so objectionable in this particular as to warn, not instigate, further imitation.”
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