ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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POEMS FROM OTHER SOURCES - 4

 

SIR TRISTEM.

 

I.

SIR TRISTEM built a golden bark,
     With snowy pinions like a bird,
And went afloat on waters dark,
     Whose sobbing waves were blackly stirred;
And on those waters of the dead,
Along the moveless night he fled,
With shining mail around him,
And a white light that crowned him.

 

II.

Saying, “I go to realms unknown,
    
Upon a homeless quest to meet
The flower of kings, whose light has flown
     And left the world in night complete:
Caparison’d in shining mail,
Across the self-same waves I sail,
Whereon his bright boat bore him,
With fairies beaming o’er him.

 

III.

“And setting on my quest divine,
    
Behind I leave all earthly things,
The lust of women and of wine,
     And seek the lily white flower of kings;
In whose left court degenerate knights
Wanton like swine in gross delights,
Killing the heart’s pure quiet
With petty rage and riot!”

 

IV.

He laid him, in his knightly strength,
    
Along the bottom of the boat,
And crossed his hands, and lay at length,
     And closed his eyes, and went afloat;
And slowly, at their own strange will,
The magic sails began to fill,
And the boat, helmless wholly,
Like a bright bird, swam slowly.

 

V.

Sir Tristem slumbered quietly!
    
But on his forehead there was light,
And in a trance he seemed to see
     The ghostly shores on left and right;
A cold wind murmured in his crest,
A weight like lead was on his breast,
He heard the waters sobbing,
Like his own pulses throbbing.

 

VI.

Past lonely kingdoms of the dead,
    
Dim-gleaming coves and shadowy bays,
Led by the radiance round his head,
     Sir Tristem journeyed many days;
By ghostly shores without a name,
Whereon grim phantoms went and came:
He sailed ’mid alien noises,
But in his ears sweet voices.

 

VII.

Through twilight majesties of shade,
    
He sailed upon his sacred quest,
And where the falling waters made
     A hollow murmur, seeking rest;
Through swollen shadows of the rain,
Whose music tingled in his brain
Like blood, and where white fountains
Spilt light down sombre mountains.

 

VIII.

Then saw Sir Tristem, in his dream,
    
A stately figure hush’d in woe,
Who, leaning o’er a silver stream,
     Was darkly calentured below;
Her face, as passed that golden bark,
Flash’d like a jewel from the dark,
And in the distance shaded,
It, star-like, came and faded.

 

IX.

She said, “I am that Guinevere,
    
Upon whose mouth sin’s self seemed sweet.
And, looking on my foulness here,
     I penance do, till made complete,
To cut my heart from earthly things,
And join the lily white flower of kings,
Whose heart, once mine completely,
Now pleads my pardon sweetly.

 

X.

“Here, hid from eyes of living men,
    
I, seeing my woman’s shame revealed,
Mind me of kingly Arthur when
     His pity was a fountain sealed!”
Whereon Sir Tristem cried in tones
Hollow as waves ’mong pebble-stones.
“Where is the King, my master?”
The boat sped onward faster.

 

XI.

“Sail onward yet—be strong and sure,
    
Till thy dark fantasies are gone,”
Murmured the voice, “and seek the pure
     King in remote Avilion.”
Whereat Sir Tristem’s snowy swound
Deepened to loss of sight and sound,
And the white light that crowned him
Brightened the waves around him.

 

XII.

Past hills where yellow moonlight steamed,
    
Low shores where vapours dim did move,
He sailed, in pathless tracks, where gleamed
     Stars with no fellows up above;
Netted in cloud the winds reposed,
The golden valves of heaven were closed,
Like living things the enchanted
Waters fell calm and panted.

 

XIII.

Then, in his slumber, he was ware
    
Of a dark isle where calm was not,
And on whose banks a dome of air
     Mimick’d the palace at Camelot;
The dingy walls were sad and stern,
The courts were rusted o’er with fern,
Rank weeds and grasses many
Choked up each nook and cranny.

 

XIV.

And through the dark transparent wall
    
He saw a crew of knights carouse,
Within the centre of the hall,
     With haggard beards and wine-flushed brows;
And marked a sombre knight and tall,
Who stood upon the moated wall,
And watched the dim and foamless
Waters with eyes most homeless.

 

XV.

Who, standing helmless, trembled not,
    
But leant upon a sheathless sword:
“I am that same Sir Lancelot
     Who turned against his blameless lord;
I, Tristem, am thy sometime friend,
Who here a weary way must wend,
Amid rude blows and broiling,
In heartache, shame, and toiling.

 

XVI.

“Thou journeyest on with quiet heart;
    
While, bound in tears that find no pause.
I haunt the shadowy counterpart
     Of the decay myself did cause;
A devil gnaws me day and night,
While, guided by that stainless light,
Thou sailest to thy master.”
The boat sped onward faster.

 

XVII.

Whereat Sir Tristem stirred in dream;
    
And the light, brightening in his trail,
In fading, shed a ghastly gleam
     Upon Sir Lancelot, grim and pale;
And then Sir Tristem sank again
To mute oblivion of the brain,
And the white light that crowned him
Illumed the waters round him.

 

XVIII.

Past forests, netted in moonlit air,
    
Sir Tristem sailed for many an hour,
And under shade of mountains, where
     The thyme fulfilled its purple flower;
Until he reached a flowery land,
With night and day on either hand,
A land of endless bowers,
Languid with scent of flowers.

 

XIX.

No wind was here, the air was thick
    
With its own load, and under eaves
Of giant poppy it grew sick
     With a deep breath of lotus leaves;
The waters, impotent to cool
Parch’d lips, lay in a seething pool,
And made a burning summer
Around the bright new-comer.

 

XX.

And here abode, with mad acclaims
    
And frivolous songs and idle jests,
A troop of chattering knights and dames,
     In flashing robes and gaudy crests;
Some lay among the lotus bowers,
Some quaffed red wine on beds of flowers.
And some with gleaming faces
Lay clasped in soft embraces.

 

XXI.

Then to Sir Tristem came a voice:
    
“Go on in peace, thou stainless knight,
Here, for a time, we must rejoice,
     Sick, satiate with our own delight;
We are the wanton lords and knights,
Who lived lewd lives of soft delights,
And first brought thoughts unstable
Unto the good Round Table.”

 

XXII.

Faster and faster sped the boat,
    
While spicy perfumes filled the sail,
And dumb Sir Tristem lay afloat,
     Caparison’d in shining mail;
And in his trance he saw afar
A twilight like the morning star.
Beyond the mirror’d shadows
Of cool green hills and meadows.

 

XXIII.

The murmuring waters closed behind.
    
The channel narrow’d on either side,
Making a current swift as wind.
     To suck him onward. Far and wide
Lay pleasant hills of yellow and green,
With shady vales of hills between;
And the white light that crowned him
Subdued the joy around him.

 

XXIV.

And on the summer hills around
    
Were happy shepherds and their flocks,
And the cool streamlets made a sound
     As soft as tears down mossy rocks;
And in the broad midmorn on high
Stars swung their censers from the sky.
Whence, in a pearly wonder,
Dews dropp’d and glimmered under.

 

XXV.

There was a busy hum of bees,
    
And bleating sheep on distant heights;
And underneath the shade of trees
     Walked snowy dames and arméd knights.
Then good Sir Tristem opened eyes,
And heard a whispering voice, “Arise,”
And patient to his duty,
He stood erect in beauty.

tristem

XXVI.

Caparison’d from head to heel,
     He stood erect and found no speech
To utter wonder, till the keel
     Grazed softly on a silver beach;
And a soft breeze, like the sweet south.
Beat balm upon his eyes and mouth.
And while his blood flushed brightly,
He to the shore leapt lightly.

 

XXVII.

Then, lifting up a mailéd head,
     Hoary with honours past and gone,
He knelt upon the beach, and said:
     “Here, surely, is Avilion;
Here, after honourable blows,
A worthy knight may find repose,
Here the sweet vale makes bridal
With heaven, and nought seems idle.

 

XXVIII.

“Hither, to shade of quiet leaves,
     I bring the mind no fortunes flout,
Which half confers and half perceives
     The peace it sees around about;
Here day and night at last unite
To make a very calm delight
Of beautiful romances,
Cool pulses, and pure fancies.

 

XXIX.

“Here Nature is her own sweet law,
     Beauty completes her mission here!”
When, rising up his height, he saw
     A train in white attire draw near!
And in the midst, in peaceful power,
He saw of kings the lily-white flower,
Prepared to be the donor
Of a white robe of honour.

                                                           WILLIAMS BUCHANAN.

_____

 

‘Sir Tristem’ was published in Once A Week, 22nd March, 1862, (Vol. VI, p. 348-350). The illustration is by John Everett Millais.

_____

 

By the Seaside.
_____

 

I.

         THE swift winds run
         Under the sun,
     And under the silver moon:
They have taken away my little one;
     May they bring him back to me soon!

 

II.

         He is strong and tough,
         And manly enough,
     But he hath a wayward will;
My son is a sailor rude and rough,
     But he seems my little one still.

 

III.

         Blow, winds, blow!
         And may he know
     The comfort that mothers lack;
Follow him swift where’er he shall go,
     And change him, and bring him back.

 

IV.

         He sailed away
         On a stormy day
     So many long years ago;
For his heart was angry and stubborn—Say,
     Is my little one dead or no?

 

V.

         If the cold sea moans
         O’er my little one’s bones,
     Let the waters be tranquil and blue;
But blow him back, if he live, for he owns
     A wilful nature like you.

 

VI.

         Blow, winds, blow!
         Go, winds, go
     Over the salt sea-foam;
And when, with your changes, he changes, oh,
     Let the sweet change waft him home.

 

VII.

         Ye winds, I trow
         I care not now
     Though your wild sea-mirth he has drank,—
He is still my little one, though his brow
     Be as dark as the sea-weed dank.

 

VIII.

         Though his eyes be cold
         As the sea-caves old,
     Though his beard be fierce as foam,
Though he be waywarder twentyfold,
     Bring my little one home.

 

IX.

         Flee, winds, flee!
         Ye are dear to me
     For the sake of my little one;
Full many a year, in my place by the sea,
     Ye have put me in mind of my son.

 

X.

         Full many a year
         Have ye both been dear!
     After him, swift winds, fly:
Come back together, that I may hear
     Your voices mingling, and die.

                                                           WILLIAMS BUCHANAN.

_____

 

‘By the Seaside’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 19, June 1862).

_____

 

BABY GRACE.

 

I.

               Baby Grace
               With a rose on her face,
Came as a guest to our dwelling-place;
Like a tiny flower with the soft dew pearled,
Thin timorous leaves o’er a wee heart furled,
And honey-sweets in the heart upcurled,
               She came, and we
               (Being young) could see
No light but her face in the whole wide world.

 

II.

She was so tender and soft and small
That we hardly thought her a baby at all!
We thought her some timorous beautiful thing,
Made to smile as the birds to sing;
Made to open her big blue eyes
On mother’s lap and look wondrous wise—
Made to lie on mother’s breast
And be kissed and fondled and rocked to rest;
Made to prattle and made to please—
Made to hinder and made to tease;
To hold us down with a little hand
               From unsanctified
               Folly and pride,
And, holding us, teach us to understand
The cares she made us forget or nearly
When she babbled the music we loved so dearly;
Made to cry and crow and sprawl,
To be always helpless and always small,
Never to grow to be big and tall!
               And thus, you know,
               She puzzled us so,
That we hardly thought her a baby at all!

 

III.

She had such old-fashion’d and funny ways,
That we watched her pranks for days and days.
Now and then when we laid her down,
Dressed in her little frilled cap and gown,
She would lie on her back in a mock repose,
               Watching the flies
               With her big blue eyes.
And thinking them fairies, perhaps—who knows?
Early at eve she would prattle and smile,
Fidgeting fretfully all the while,
And leap in her mother’s arms for a kiss,
And toss and tumble that way and this,
And slowly quietly fall and rise,
With her thumb in her mouth and the dust in her eyes,
And flutter off in a doze, and then
Flutter up with a cry again,
In the midst of our fireside talk, until
The little spirit would have its will,
And all would be beautiful, hushed and still.
Then it was prettiest far of all
To watch her asleep in her cradle small,
With one red hand crumpled under her head
And a red hand clench’d outside of the bed,
And her small lips parted in pearly dew
Like a flower that opes to let odour through!
And Wife and I were so foolish and young,
So free as yet of the world’s rough weather,
That we sat and watched her and held our tongue,
By the side of the bed, for hours together;
She and I were so young, so young,
(I was older than she by a single spring),
And we wondered so much at the strange little thing,
So chubby, so rosy, so soft, so small,
Whom we hardly thought a baby at all,
And we felt so full of our joyful store
That the heart grew faint and the eyes ran o’er,
That the little baby, our only pride,
By the mist of our tears was magnified,
And became a sunbeam to shine at the door,
And be a beacon to rich and poor!
               Besides, you know,
               We loved her so,
That we loved each other so much the more!

 

IV.

I wonder what her thoughts were about?
Something as sweet as herself, no doubt!
Perhaps of the beautiful strange white globe
That peeped out warm from her mother’s robe,
And to which she would creep so close, and blink
Both eyes in a funny content, and drink?
Perchance of the palace with curtains of snow,
The magical palace which rocked to and fro,
Sending baby to sleep whether sleepy or no?
Perchance of the great rough man who bare
Such love for his little one precious and fair,
That he tossed her about like a grizzly bear?
Perchance of the wonderful candlelight
               Which we held the wide
               And wondering-eyed
Darling up to behold of a night?
Perchance of the golden shower that would fall
From mother’s face when baby would call,
When mother would be for a moment missed,
And tickle her dimples before they were kissed?
But what matter what her thoughts were about,
When her thoughts were sweet as herself, no doubt;
For perhaps she was beautiful, being so small,
Because she was thinking of nothing at all!

 

V.

               What a prize
               In mother’s eyes
Was Baby when first she heard its cries,
               When the undefiled
               Little stranger smiled
On a bosom white with maternity mild!
               What a pleasure,
               Without any measure,
Ran through her veins as she hugg’d her treasure!
Mother awoke from her vision of tears,
With a pleading cry for help in her ears,
And looked about her in tranced surprise,
Till the pale face flushed at the small thing’s cries;
And small and crimpled, and puffy and red,
With tiny limbs and an elfin head,
Baby was laid in mother’s bed;
And closing her eyes and creeping close,
Tickling the tiny fingers and toes,
And scarcely knowing whatever to do
For the joy that was warming her through and through
She kissed the mouth like the bud of a rose.
Then they led me into the breathless place,
And I kissed the mother and baby too,
And I knew by the light on the mother’s face,
By the tremulous hope that her looks confest,
That loving it better she loved me best—
               As with blind proud kisses
               And innocent blisses,
She blushed and hid her face on my breast!

 

VI.

               I was little more
               Than a boy before,
But that moment made me a man indeed
               I was strong, I was loved,
               And my manhood was proved
By the mother’s love and the little one’s need!

 

VII.

How strangely the little ones feel their way
From the silver edge of the soundless sea
               Of eternity,
Into the light of the common day!
Lying so helpless and small and dumb
On the mother’s bosom, while slender gleams
Of the mystical light out of which they come
Brighten their souls at the fountain like dreams,
And lead them onward and up, no doubt,
In the face of the clouds that enwrap them about,
               And in spite of the blind
               Dark clay, to find
The kindred light of humanity out.
So that when the light of a mother’s love
Falls first on their eyelids and eyes and hair,
It seems like the light they have left above,
And, with pleading pleasure and querulous care,
They brighten—and warm to the world unaware!

 

VIII.

               Gleam by gleam,
               From their dream
They wake, and wonder how strange things seem!
They wake in the warmth of a mother’s kiss,
They wonder at that thing and wonder at this,
They bother their poor little brains to know
What this is, what that is, which puzzles them so,
And the more that they wonder the wiser they grow.
The music brought from the soundless sea
               Of eternity,
Grows fainter and fainter, like distant swells
Of a long wave dripping through pearly shells,
And they lose the music in gaining the sense
Of the beautiful love which brought it thence!

 

IX.

               With something of fear,
               We wondered to hear
(For Baby Grace was so dear, so dear!)
The music I speak of, an alien strain
Like a foreign speech, on her lips remain
When Baby Grace had been born a year.
She clung round our necks as a scared bird clings,
But she never grew wiser in wordly things,
And, do as we might, we could barely teach
Her lips to prattle our human speech;
And her face in its tenderness wore a shade,
Which seemed like a shadow the angels had made
To keep out the world with its want and sin,
               And conceal the bright
               Spiritual light
Consuming the roots of the life within.
Then Wife and I in a dull amaze
Looked at each other with homeless gaze;
And we felt that the beautiful music we heard
In the fluttering wings of our tiny bird,
Was a melody from the soundless sea
               Of eternity,
Calling her back in an angel’s name
To the wondrous silence from which she came.
Still so helpless and still so small
It seemed she would never grow big and tall.
(Just a mere baby perhaps, like the rest,
Yet more than a baby when cherished the best)
She would lie for hours without prattle or moan,
She would lie for hours alone, alone,
With her open mouth and her great blue eyes,
               Looking so wise,
And deaf, quite deaf, to our sighs and tears!
And we knew of a sudden that vagrant gleams
From Heaven were coaxing her back in dreams,
And we knew that the music was in her ears.

 

X.

               Then Baby Grace
               With her pale sweet face
Went away from our dwelling-place;
Like a tiny flower with the cold dew pearled,
Thin faded leaves o’er a wee heart furled,
And honey-sweets in the heart upcurled,
               She went, and we
               (Being young) could see
No light at all in the whole wide world.

 

XI.

Baby Grace was so dear, so dear,
So palpable to us, so helpless and small,
And she clung unto us so near, so near,
That we never thought we could lose her at all.
We were so foolish and young, that we
Deemed her a little one meant to be
The ornament of a mother’s knee—
Made to cling to a mother’s dress,
And never grow bigger and never grow less;
Made to cling in a yearning holy
To the roots of the heart and keep them lowly:
So dear, so dear, that when Baby died,
And left a blank at the ingleside,
We hid our faces from God and cried,
And could not be patient however we tried!

 

XII.

Then Baby was wrapp’d in a little white dress,
And a little white cap was placed on her head,
And she looked so sweet in her holiness,
That we could not believe she was really dead,
               But fancied her deep
               In a baby-sleep,
Ready, just ready, to go to bed!
But they took her away with her sweet wee face,
And a lamp went out in our dwelling-place,
And we sat in the darkness, father and mother,
               Lorn and bereaven,
Weeping and clinging to one another,—
Because our baby had gone to Heaven.

 

XIII.

Wife and I were so young, so young,
That closer and closer in tears we clung;
So careless quite of the world’s cold scorn,
That we took the clothes that baby had worn,
And laid them by in a secret place,
To mind us ever of Baby Grace;
And now and then, when our hearts grow sore,
And hard in a world of follies and crimes,
We look at the clothes our little one wore,
And they make us humbler a hundred times!
And ’tis something at least in a world so drear,
To know that an angel has once been here!
Though the light has gone from the snowy brow,
It is sweet to keep a token or two
Of our dear little Baby with eyes of blue—
For we feel so weary without her now!

                                                               R. WILLIAMS BUCHANAN.

_____

 

‘Baby Grace’ was published in The St. James’s Magazine (June, 1862). The poem was reviewed enthusiastically in several papers, including The Standard (13 June, 1862):

“... ‘Baby Grace,’ by Mr. R. Williams Buchanan, is one of the sweetest and most pathetic poems we have ever had the fortune to read. No one who is or has ever been a parent can read it without being deeply affected; no one at all can read it without pleasure. If Mr. Buchanan had never written anything else ‘Baby Grace’ would stamp him as a poet of no common order.”

Other reviews included long extracts from the poem, which was also reprinted in several provincial newspapers.

_____

 

WIFE AND I.

 

I.

WE quarrell’d this morning, my wife and I,
We were out of temper, and scarce knew why,
     Though the cause was trivial and common;
But to look in our eyes, you’d have sworn that we both
Were a couple of enemies spiteful and wroth,—
     Not a wedded man and woman.

 

II.

Wife, like a tragedy queen in a play,
Tossed her sweet little head in as lofty a way
     As so little a woman was able;
She clenched her lips with a sneer and a frown,
While I, being rougher, stamped up and down,
     Like a careless groom in a stable.

 

III.

You’d have thought us the bitterest (seeing us then)
Of little women and little men,
     You’d have laughed at our spite and passion;
And would never have dreamed that a storm like this
Would be rainbow’d to tears by that sunlight, a kiss,
     Till we talked in the old fond fashion.

 

IV.

Yet the storm was over in less than an hour,
And was followed soon by a sunny shower,
     And that again by embraces;
Yet so little the meaning was understood
That we almost felt ashamed to be good,
     And wore a blush on our faces.

 

V.

Then she, as a woman, much braver became,
And tried to bear the whole weight of the blame,
     By her kindness herself reproving;
When, seeing her humble, and knowing her true,
I all at once became humble too,
     And very contrite and loving.

 

VI.

But, seeing I acted a humble part,
She laughed outright with a frolic heart,—
     A laugh as careless as Cupid;
And the laughter wrangled along my brain
Till I almost felt in a passion again,
     And became quite stubborn and stupid.

 

VII.

And this was the time for her arms to twine
Around this stubbornest neck of mine,
     Like the arms of a maid round a lover;
And, feeling them there, with their warmth, you know,
I laughed quite a different laugh,—and so
     The storm (as I called it) was over.

 

VIII.

So then we could talk with the power to please;
And though the passing of storms like these
     Leaves a certain fond facility
Of getting easily angry again,
Yet they free the heart and rebuke the brain,
     And teach us a rough humility.

 

IX.

You see, we love one another so well,
That we find more comfort than you can tell,
     In jingling our bells and corals;
In the fiercer fights of a world so drear,
We keep our spirits so close and clear,
     That we need such trivial quarrels.

 

X.

In the great fierce fights of the world we try
To shield one another, my wife and I,
     Like brave strong man and woman;
But the trivial quarrels o’ days and nights
Unshackle our souls for the great fierce fights,
     And keep us lowly and human.

wifeandi

XI.

Clouds would grow in the quietest mind,
And make it unmeet to mix with its kind,
     Were nature less wise as a mother;
And with storms like ours there must flutter out
From the bosom the hoarded-up darkness and doubt—
     The excess of our love for each other!

                                                                 R. WILLIAMS BUCHANAN.

_____

 

’Wife and I’ was published in Once A Week, 21st June, 1862, (Vol. VI, p. 723-724). The illustration is by Edward John Poynter.

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Poems from Other Sources - continued

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