ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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POEMS FROM OTHER SOURCES - 3

 

London Poems.
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VII. THE RIVER.

 

THE many golden eyes of night
Grow wide to gaze upon the light
         Of the unrisen dawn,
And from the sleeping clouds afar
The twilight of the morning star
         Is delicately drawn—
The constellations one by one
Curtain their jewels from the sun.

I stand upon the Bridge alone.
Below my feet, with sullen moan,
        
I see the River roam
Blackly along the speckled shade,
Toward the sunrise, dark with trade
         And dank with harbour loam;
It flows from shady places where
Laburnums lave their golden hair.

And looking down upon its face,
I fashion fancies of the place
        
From whence it singing flows,
Till underneath its blackened breast
I see a Naiad in her nest
         Where the wild lily blows,
With glimpses of a mossy wood
Where hyacinths and harebells brood;

The country in its harvest trance,
The slanted sheaves, where gleaners dance,
        
Where haymakers carouse;
And, dreaming sweetly thus at will,
I hear the birds, and feel the still
         Eye-music of green boughs.
Such pictures, different in degree,
The mighty River makes for me.

Towards the sea the River rolls,
With gloomy wealth of human souls,
        
And dreams of harvest-home:
Beyond those clouds, the ocean’s lips
Are shady with returning ships,
         And white with flying foam;
To kiss those lips the River thrills,
With rumours from the summer hills.

Stirring and moaning while it sleeps,
In echoing dreams the City keeps
        
Trade’s busy restless roar—
Like a great sea whose sunless waves
Retain the thunder in their caves
         When the loud storm is o’er.
But, through its quiet breast, the River
Flows with a throbbing heart for ever.

Save when, within a distant street,
I hear the pulse of labour beat,
        
The hour is still as when
The tameless thunder fierce and warm,
Before the lightning-lance of storm,
         Crouches, then springs again.
But still the River traileth tides
Foul with the sin of suicides.

O City, dreaming of your wealth!
O River, creeping on in stealth!
        
While all seems still as death,
Still as those dirges which awake
The spirit of the storm, and shake
         The leaves without a breath!
I stand between ye both, a part
Of the black City’s restless heart.

Roof’d by the fading stars, I stand,
With night and day on either hand:
        
All human joy and grief
Are husht around me at this hour;
The silence flutters like a flower,
         And opens leaf by leaf;
A little sunny hand glides down
To touch the forehead of the town.

O River, rich in glimpses sweet
Of sunny slopes where lambkins bleat,
        
Of many a quiet glade
Where all is coolness, while above
The sunshine faints on clouds that move
         Slowly, and cast no shade!
O River dark, whose waters croon
O’er floating dresses in the moon!

O City, while a hand of light
Unjewelleth the robe of night,
        
Sleep with thy sin and crime!
O River, flowing dark and deep,
To hearts that ache and eyes that weep
         Recall a sweeter time!
Sleep on, flow on, mysterious vast,
Unite the present and the past.

Dark River, end of many a vow,
Oft have I lingered here as now,
        
What time the fiend of fire
Raved from thy banks to yonder skies,
With fiery arms and bloodshot eyes,
         And ever surging higher,
With sulphurous shades that o’er the plain
Swept backward like a comet’s mane.

And I have watched the Demon fold
His smoky robe of brazen gold
        
Around his crimson bones,
And, surging downward, roar and rave,
Grasp at his image in your wave,
         And rise again with groans;
Then, clutching at the pallid sky,
Hiss backward with a sob, and die!

Roll, mighty River, from the land!
Oft have I stood, as now I stand,
        
With panting heart and brain,
And seen the stars within your glass
Broaden to liquid moons and pass
         On noisy nights of rain,
And heard you moan like one who hears
The intonation of his tears;

And oft, on windy nights of June,
Oft have I watched the driven moon
        
Grow blue in the wind’s teeth,
And, looking downward, seen her form
Plough your dark depths, while mimic storm
         Spread ragged underneath,
Until the wondrous sight did seem
The pageant of a human dream.

The steadfast stars; the light that shrouds
A summer sky with gold; the clouds
        
That march and countermarch;
The sun and moon, that sleep and wake;
The meteor writhing like a snake
         Round heaven’s azure arch:
These be the pageants that you keep,
While strong men sleep and mourners weep.

The City shades thee with its pride,
Darkly, but has no power to hide
        
Thy starry architraves;
Thou bring’st it music from the leas,
And whispers from the further seas,
         That smite thee with their waves.
Roll on, thou River, black and strange,
And change, as men and women change.

Behold! in sudden pomp and power
The many-coloured sunrise-flower
        
Hath burgeon’d out of night;
Afar, I know, the larks upstart,
Embower’d, as in a rose’s heart,
         Each in its spot of light!
And hark! from dreams of hope and doubt
The busy millions hunger out.

A touch! one sunny kiss of morn;
And, sudden as a star is born
        
To some gray watcher’s ken,
The City wakens from its dream,
And, flushed from God, pours forth its stream
         Of women and of men,—
A stream of lives, a blackened flood,
With starry motions in the blood.

Dark Stream of Life! It flows from spots
Where blow the blue forget-me-nots,
        
Netted in silver air;
From quiet spots that daisies bless,
Urged by its own strong loveliness
         To broaden unaware;
Then, deepening into colder state,
It darkens with the further fate.

Our souls unite in toil, and flow
Toward the further joy or woe,
        
In sorrow or in sin:
Strange lights are mirror’d in our dream;
And often, trembling o’er the stream,
         Love’s outcast, plunging in,
Floats on in blackness with the waves
That, breaking, splinter light on graves.

Toward the distant ocean rolls
This busy stream of human souls.
        
Sweet sympathies that are
A moment’s glory make us wise;
Love, shining on us from his skies,
         Is trebled like a star;
When stars are hid, the soul supplies
The pause with its own melodies.

Dark River, keep thy sights divine;
Our souls have visions rich as thine,
        
As terrible, as fair:
The law, the impulse, and the thought,
Whose restless shadows, star-inwrought,
         Disturb our lives with prayer,—
The meteor-meanings from the sky,
Which flash a moment’s space and die!

                                                                                             B.

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’The River’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 10, September 1861).

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London Poems.
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VIII. CHRISTMAS IN THE CITY.

 

UPON thy raiment-skirts, O Night,
Shudders a radiance dimly bright;
And ere thou fliest a morning light
Makes cloudy phantoms of thy flight:

The ghost of Day, with cold caress,
Doth haunt thy tawny loveliness;
Thy silver stars grow less and less,
And drop like jewels from a dress;

The pale moon, brightening on thy stole,
Doth inward as an eyeball roll,—
Like a calm eye that seeks the scroll
Silence illumines in the soul.

Then, with a broad’ning purple glow,
The sun climbs hills to see thee go;
Thy white star sickens, and below
Lies nature trancèd in the snow.

Then sudden, while thy mists are shorn,
Unto the happy or forlorn
The bells ring in the Christmas morn:
“This the day our Lord was born.”

When sudden brightness floods the spires
Of the white city into fires,
And, dropping liquid through the quires,
Fades on the tombstones of our sires;

And the great City travaileth
To hear what that sweet music saith,
And draweth in a morning breath
Of dreams from off the shores of death.

Then, flushed, it wakens, in a strain
Of music tingling down like rain,
As a wild sleeper starts in pain,
With thick pulsations in the brain.

“Peace upon earth,” ring out the bells;
“Good-will to men,” in dying swells,—
Sparkling on hearts whose blood rebels,
Like dew on banks of asphodels.

“Peace upon earth,” the morning cries,
And in our hearts the music dies;
We start from sleep, and in surprise
See heaven through our loved one’s eyes.

We clasp the wives we honour best;
They kiss the babies on the breast;
The red sun widens, and from rest
We tremble in a joy confest;

And, looking forth, we see the close
Of morning redden like a rose
Along the City in its snows,
Like Beauty blushing o’er Repose.

All night the silent snowy hoard
Fell dimly unto rock and sward,—
Like radiance shaken from the sword
Of some sweet angel near the Lord;

Like stainless thoughts distinct with prayer,
That, mingling with the soul, can bear
Worship so precious and so fair
They make an angel unaware;—

So fell the snows for many days,
Clothing the world that now doth raise
Sweet music in a mystic haze,
Like a gigantic form that prays.

Now cry the bells: “’Tis Christmas morn;
This is the day that Hope was born
For sickly, lonely, and forlorn;”—
Till like a smile the hope is worn.

Rich in his solitary seat,
Great Dives robes himself to greet
The morning with obeisance meet;
While Lazarus brightens in the street!

And o’er the crowds that outward roam,
And, meeting, make a sound like foam,
An awe falls dim from heaven’s gray dome,
Like wind that darkens harvest-home.

But to the crowd the music saith,
“This is the morning when a breath
Of life arose in Nazareth,
And open blew the gates of death,

And showed to eyes made dim with woes
Glimpses of life’s divinest close:
But mists of wings did interpose,
Whereof our emblem is the snows.”

The soul within the flesh upsprings,
Instinct with sweet imaginings;
And, lo! the snow that sighs and sings
Doth seem indeed those angel-wings!

And sudden, ere the song is done,
Joy through the crowd like blood doth run.
The glad heart answers; all and one
See double glory in the sun.

Mirth—the mad instinct of the boy—
Quickens within without alloy;
The strong man hugs himself in joy;
The poor forgets his harsh annoy.

The widow gladdens; and the strain
Ebbs inward to the bed of pain,
Till fresh blood lights the emptied vein,
Like wine in cups of porcelain.

Pile high the fire with log and thorn;
Pluck the green holly this Christmas morn;
Warm ye and fill ye, O forlorn:
“This is the day that Joy was born!”

And in that Joy this morning gay
Came as a child, in child’s array,
With Love to light him on his way,
Let little ones keep holiday.

Gather the small things round the fire,
And let them sport until they tire;
And let the mother and the sire,
Softly beholding them, aspire,—

Ay, let the women and the men,
In mansion proud or narrow den,
Partake the children’s joy, and then
Deem them the Christ-Child come again.

Then the sweet bells swim in to pale
Homes where the little children ail,
Where Hope and Joy themselves are frail,
Where fathers groan and mothers wail.

Then cry the bells, “This is the morn
That Pity very pure was born,—
To wipe the eyes of those forlorn,
To brighten doubt and soften scorn:

Suffer the little ones to go;
Forbid them not,—’tis better so;
For they, each Christmas morn below,
Shall come with raiments like the snow—

Fall like the snow, so soft, so fair,
It makes a moonlight in the air;
And dropping dimly, unaware,
Renders the spirit pure for prayer.”

And Death, to whom the task is given,
Trances the mourner; while the shriven
Children forsake the poor bereaven,
To hold their Christmas-day in heaven.

The mourner weepeth in her place,
But Christmas prayer is on her face;
The poor take joy, the rich ask grace;
And still the sweet bells ring apace:

“Pile high the fire with log and thorn;
Pluck the green holly this Christmas morn;
Warm ye and fill ye, O forlorn:
This is the day that Love was born.”

                                                                                             B.

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’Christmas in the City’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 14, January 1862).

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London Poems.
_____

 

IX. HAUNTED LONDON.

 

As in this prison-house of clay,
     Shut in beneath the stars, we live,
We see around us night and day
     Shadows remote and fugitive;
Ours is a double life of breath—
     And, while we journey onward fast,
Strange shadows from the mists of death
     Are round our being dimly cast:
Thus the great City, tower’d and steepled,
         Is doubly peopled,
Haunted by ghosts of its remembered Past.

Over its busy multitudes
     The Present like a cloud doth fall,
But in the Soul’s diviner moods
     The mystic Past transfigures all;
The City changes in a trice,
     Strange antique pageants ebb and flow,
The streets take shapes of quaint device,
     Strange men and women come and go;
And here and there, in famous places,
         Flash great men’s faces
From the black crowd like stars as white as snow!

So, plodding on from street to street,
     Hunting my aims from place to place,
Disturbed by sympathy, I meet
     The ghosts in silence face to face:
They meet me here, they greet me there,
     They haunt my life with bliss or pain,
And make a glamour in the air
     With countless hues of heart and brain;
And ever-shifting, ever-flowing,
         Coming and going,
They seem a part of all I lose and gain.

What time I wander at my will
     These visions warm my blood like wine:—
With laugh and jest down Holborn Hill
     Come jocund pilgrims twenty-nine;
Slim knights on chargers sable black,
     Plump dames on palfreys milky white,
Red burghers reeling ripe with sack,
     And courtly damsels sweet and slight;
Afar a trumpet bloweth faintly,
         The street curves quaintly,
And cumbrous sign-boards creak on left and right.

The tumult of the street is loud,
     But down its midst the pilgrims flaunt;
I elbow Chaucer in the crowd,
     And trotting by see John of Gaunt.
A shout!—and to the river’s shores
     I float in dream with heart that fails,
While slowly past, with soundless oars,
     A gold-prow’d barge, dight gaily, sails;
And in the crowded stern the stately
         Bess sits sedately,
Mid lords in ruffs and dames in farthingales.

The people shout, she bends in pride,
     And slowly, queenly glides along;
When swaggering to the water’s side
     Comes Raleigh with a courtly throng;
The common herd draws back the while,—
     They bow, she nods, the people cheer,
While Leicester smiles a crafty smile
     And stoops to whisper in her ear;
Sharply she smiles, with eyes cast downward:
         When, turning townward,
I see Will Shakspere lounging idly near.

At sight of whom the pageant dies,
     And I am swiftly carried far,
Unto a tavern where the wise
     Are made by wine oracular;
And Jonson’s learnèd sock is on,
     Beyond the wisdom of the schools,
And, placed at Selden’s side, I con
     The golden Apollonian rules:
“He who drinks water but abuses
         The jocund Muses;
Mirth is to care what sages are to fools!”

The vision fades!—In crowds again
     I stand mid husht and awful breath:
There is a tramp of armed men,
     Who lead a monarch on to death;
And expectation, like a cloud,
     Broods on my heart, I know not why,
As murmurs gather in the crowd
     And a pale monarch passes by,—
Proud in a travail not unholy,
         He passes slowly,
With sorrowful possession in his eye.

Then, while the shadow of the wan
     Proud face still haunts the heart’s sad gloom,
I see in dream a blind old man
     Sit in a quaint and lonely room;
His thoughts are with that martyr’d life,
     Its stubborn wrong and fretful spleen,
And with the past degenerate strife
     When Charles was mad and Cromwell mean;
But in his age, divine and shriven,
         Visions of heaven
Subdue the fretful war his life has been.

Then trumpets blow, fifes play, drums beat,
     Gay banners flutter in the sun;
All men and women throng the street,
     And joy is with them every one;
And down the centre of the throng,
     Who shout and cry with might and main,
A merry monarch rides along,
     With easy pace and slackened rein;
Gaily apparel’d, on he prances,
         With beaming glances,
While wine-soak’d Frenchmen chatter in his train.

And all is changed!—Mid lords and wits,
     As false as wits and lords can be,
In yonder inn the monarch sits,
     And giggling Nell is on his knee;
Or, watched by silent squires and grooms,
     Mid laugh and jest that find no pause,
He wanders through his stately rooms
     With wits he helps to scorn the laws;
While Wilmott, in his madcap passion,
         Libels king fashion,
And Dryden, at his elbow, hums and haws.

Again a change!—From London flies
     A king, with priestcraft on his lips,
And o’er the sea a proud and wise
     Monarch comes sailing slow in ships;
And through the streets of London town
     The wiser monarch rides in pride,
To win a beautiful renown
     And wave the olive far and wide;
Rich hopes are with him, and his face is
         Full of stern graces,
Born of a heart fresh as the salt-sea tide.

And then I see a sickly queen
     Among her palace-gardens stand,
A vacant fear is in her mien,
     The sceptre trembles in her hand;
While ’neath the shade of Temple Bar
     Walk shabby wits, who serve the state—
Steele, with mad laughter steeped in war,
     And Addison, with smile sedate,
And Swift, the bilious English Rabelais,
         Plods westward shabbily,
On my Lord Bolingbroke, alone, to wait.

The people pass me to and fro,
     Chairman and tradesman, wit and lord;
Here the thin shadow of a beau,
     With palsied wig, and slender sword;
And at a shout I step aside,
     And carried in her chair, between
Two serving-men, comes happy-eyed
     Vanessa, nodding to the Dean;
And Pope along the footpath passes—
         The scourge of asses—
With melancholy settled in his spleen.

By Temple Bar I lean again,
     Haunted by many a famous face,
With oddest pictures in my brain,
     Jumbling together time and place:
The night drops down, the moonlight fades
     Along the filmy City sky;
With draggled hose and broken blades
     The Mohawks come with shriek and cry;
And in the light, the dim street clothing,
         I see with loathing
Two hideous rebels’ heads that rot on high.

And as I stand, there wander by—
     Earnestly talking as they go—
A burly man with wig awry,
     And a spare wanderer pale as snow;
The moonlight, on their faces cast,
     Illumes them—shadows proud and worn,
The one of sorrow not yet past,
     And one of greatness yet unborn;
And one defies the cloud cast o’er him
         And born before him,
And one has blow for blow and scorn for scorn.

The morning breaks!—They pass along,
     The base-born poet and the hack;
A lord reels by, with tipsy song,
     And fills a gutter at their back;
Then, passing up a narrow lane,
     Begrimed with smoke and black with soot,
Led by a droning dying strain
     Of melody, I watch a mute
And ragged crowd of urchins muster,
         Wide-mouth’d, and cluster
Round simple Goldsmith playing on his flute.

Enough—enough—of dreams like these;
     A poet’s visions scant and vain,
A flock of wandering images
     That please the heart, inspire the brain.
The vagrant shadows pass away,
     And I am left alone at last;
The pageants fade to common day,
     The pleasant dream is overcast;
And in the centre of the City,
         Its pain and pity,
Standing, I ache with echoes from the past.

But the great City in its strife
     Grows, while brown Labour digs and delves,
And ghosts of its forgotten life
     Haunt it, like shadows of ourselves;
They work beside us night and day,
     And we in their clear footprints tread:
We are a part of them, for they
     Hinted the problems we have read;
And the great City, in whose bosom
         Our children blossom,
Is troubled with the glory of its Dead.

                                                                                             B.

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’Haunted London’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 15, February 1862).

_____

 

Poems from Other Sources - continued

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Home
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Bibliography

 

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

 

Essays
Reviews
Letters

 

The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

 

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

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