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{The Earthquake 1885}



Ramon Monat.



HIDDEN from the light of day,
All his care to plead and pray,
     In his cell sat Ramon Monat,
               Gaunt and grey.



Suddenly before his sight
Stood the Virgin robed in white,—
     In her arms fresh-gather’d roses
               Red and bright.



“Ramon, Ramon,” murmur’d she,
“See the gifts I bring to thee,
     Roses, red celestial roses,
               Pluck’d by me!



“Walking in His gardens fair,
’Midst the golden glory there,
     My sweet Son, the Lord Christ Jesus,
               Hears thy prayer!



“Lo, He sendeth thee to-day
These blest flowers from far away!” . . .
     Wildly sobbing, Ramon Monat
               Answer’d “Nay!



“Holy Mother, on thy breast
Let the flowers of rapture rest,—
     Not for me—I am not worthy—
               Gifts so blest!



“Ah, but if my brows might gain
(Hear me, though the prayer is vain),
     For a moment’s space, my Master’s
               Crown of pain!”



From his sight the Virgin fair
Vanish’d, as he sank in prayer;
     Presently, again he saw her,
               Standing there!



Weeping bitterly she said,
“See, the gift I bring instead—
     Lo, the cruel crown of sorrow,



When the Virgin Mother mild,
Weeping like a little child,
     Set the thorns on Ramon’s forehead,
               Ramon smiled!



Lonely there for many a day,
Rack’d with anguish, gaunt and grey,
     Happy with that crown of sorrow,
               Ramon lay.



Then, when ’twas his Master’s will,
There they found him dead and chill,
     Sweetly, in his crown of sorrow,
               Smiling still!



“The lunatic, the anchorite, and the poet                                              148
Are of rank superstition all compact,”
Cried Douglas, lifting high his cap and bells;
“Your Ramon Monat wore his crown of thorns
Upon his pallid brow as jauntily
As Cæsar throws the purple round his limbs.
Such creatures on the body of Mother Church
Crawl’d thickly, till good Doctor Rational,
Call’d when the lady’s state was perilous,
Said, ‘Wash thyself—be clean, take exercise!’
And so the vermin died. He serves God best
Who loves his kind, and teaches them to rinse
Both soul and body, until both appear
As clean—as a sheep’s heart!”
                                               A speech so bold
Jarr’d with the gentle temper of the hour,
The peaceful woods, the summer afternoon,
The dreamy spirit of that sylvan scene.
“Peace, knave!” cried Barbara mock-seriously,                                  149
“Moments there are when even cap and bells
Must lose their privilege, and fools be dumb
For fear of stripes!”—and to him on the grass
She tossed a bunch of grapes, which Douglas caught
And munch’d in silence, lying on his back.
Then came a pause, so deep that we could hear
The breathing of the silence, the soft stir
Of birds among the boughs, the waterfall
Crooning itself to sleep within the woods.

Quoth Bishop Primrose: “Your ascetics shrank
Sense after sense, until their very souls
Became as mere Narcissi, pondering
Their own reflections, figuring in their pride
A moral catalepsy, death not life.
He serves God best who launches fearlessly
Out on the living waters, and proclaiming
The great celestial haven, leads the way
With all sails set, that the poor storm-toss’d fleet
Of Humankind may follow fearlessly!                                                  150
Ev’n so the preachers of our Church have done,
Spreading glad tidings up and down the world,
And working out salvation for themselves
Through the redemption of the human race!”

“Alas!” another speaker interposed,
“The Storm is loud for ever on the seas,
And while the proud strong Churches of the creeds
Sail to and fro with golden argosies,
Each night a fleet of fishing-boats goes down
And no man heeds! Science is tenderer;
She puts a beacon on each rocky cape,
And sounds the shallows, that poor mariners
May know the seas their ships must navigate.
Meantime the tumult of Euroclydon
Roars on the Deep; and mark! the tempest blows
Not to but from the far-off Heavenly Land,
Beating the vessels back on dusky shores
To shipwreck close at home. I’d rather trust
The roughest pilot born upon the coast,                                              151
Familiar with the dangers round about,
Than any of your Priests who shut their eyes
And wring their hands and pray! This world of ours
Is at the mercy of the elements;
Who tries to weigh them? Science does her best,
While poor Religion quakes, and conjures up
More spectres than the storm itself can breed.”
He added: “Just the other day in church,
Drifted there Heaven knows how and Heaven knows why,
I heard the preacher preach, and dreamed a dream;
If you will have it, here it is in verse,
Rude as the maker, rugged as the theme,”—
And no one interposing, he began.



In a Fashionable Church.



WHAT Shape is this with hands outreaching,
Walking the waters of Hell, and preaching?
The waves are rolling beneath and glistening,
Each breaking wave is a white face, listening!

The rift is roaring, the rain is moaning—
His robe streams back as He stands intoning;
With jet-black troughs the mad seas break at Him,
And the lightning springs, like a hissing snake, at Him!

God, doth He guess any soul can hear Him,
With the wind so wailing, the storm so near Him?
Yet now and then sounds His voice of wonder there,
Like the plash of a shower in the pause of thunder, there.

The Devil sits by those waters evil,                                                     153
Pensive, as is the wont of the Devil,
So bored and blasé his expression is
None would guess what his true profession is.

The waters and he are tired together
Of such eternally stormy weather;
Always that wind is roaring busily,
Till the heart feels faint and the head rocks dizzily.

Always gusty both night and morrow!
No wonder the Devil is full of sorrow,
No wonder he sneers at the Figure preaching there
With bright eyes burning and hands outreaching there.

The Devil thinks, “What use of trying
To preach a sermon ’midst such a crying?
If He bade the Almighty close His batteries,
The damn’d beneath Him might guess what the matter is!”

And lo! the Figure with white robe streaming                                       154
Raises His hand while the winds are screaming—
As He stood on the earth when the Pharisees found Him,
He stands, and the same Storm beats around Him.

As long ago ’neath the empyrean
He walked on the waters Galilean,
With only the poor damn’d souls to discern it, He
Walks, and has walked through a long eternity!

God with the still small voice’s calling!
Soft as rain on the grass ’tis falling,
Yet little blame to the souls who are near to it
If they break and groan and give no ear to it!

Something it is for the damn’d below Him
To see the patient Figure and know Him! . . . .
What a wind! what a raining and roaring now!
Lightning, thunder, and black rain pouring now!



Up with a start I waken groaning,
And hear sweet Honeydew’s voice intoning.
Only a dream!—and in church I am again,
Half asleep, in the midst of the sham again!

Hark! how the soft-eyed, soft-voiced creature
Preaches, with sweetness in every feature!
The ladies listen, the maids sit dutiful,
The spinsters quiver, and murmur, “Beautiful!”

Surely as every Sunday passes
The scented silken superior classes
Flutter flounces and flash like sunny dew
Around the Reverend Mr. Honeydew.

Cambric handkerchiefs scatter scent about,
Pomaded heads are devoutly bent about,
Silks are rustling, lips are muttering,
To the dear man’s emotional pausing and fluttering.

The actor with his shaven cheek here                                                 156
Studies his art and learns to speak here;
Every period properly weighted is,
With gentle matter the sermon freighted is.

Sir Midas, portly and resplendent,
With the little Midases attendant,
And Lady Midas, all eyes upon her here,
Sit and smile in the pew of honour here.

Even the agnostic and revolter
Gather before this Chapel’s altar,
For none of the bigot’s mad insanity
Deforms dear Honeydew’s Christianity.

In such an excellent pastor’s leading,
So full of brightness and dainty breeding,
Even the faith ecclesiastical
Seems entertaining and less fantastical!

The preacher is an excellent fellow!                                                     157
His matter and manner are ever mellow. . . .
But afar the tempest of Hell is thundering,
The Figure preaching, the Devil wondering!



STRANGE as some low and far off thunder-peal                                  158
Heard in the still heat of a summer day,
While shepherds looking upward in the sun
See purple banks of cloud that ominously
Roll in the distance, came the speaker’s words;
And as they ended we beheld indeed
Hell, or Creation adumbrating Hell,
Breathing with ululations of despair.
Hearing the wails of sin, the moans of men,
The hopeless, ceaseless wash of weary lives
Which sigh for sunlight or some shore of peace,
We pitied that supreme despairing Shape
Who treads the waves of woe with luminous feet,
And since He cannot still them, grows as sad
As the wild waters He is walking on.
And all were silent until Barbara rose                                                 159
And sigh’d: “The sun is sinking in the west;
Our happy day is ended—let us go!”
And murmuring like bees around the queen
We wandered slowly to the river-side.

Now like a gentle herdsman stood the sun
Pausing upon the brae-tops while he drove
His fleecy flocks of cloud into their fold
Beneath the faintly glimmering evening star;
And coming from the shadow of the woods,
Hushing our cries, we saw the gloaming grow,
The trees behind us black, the prospects dim,
But all things looming large in lustrous air,
The river-pools as full of deep strange light
As the still sky. The air, too, seem’d alive
With ominous sound akin to that strange light:
The bull-frogs croaking from the river shallows,
The cat-owl calling from the distant glade,
The murmuring waterfall now faintly heard
Drowsy and half asleep. Then from the woods                                    160
Rang sudden laughter, sharp and silvery clear,
Of merry maidens, and the music seem’d
As hollow as a bell, and when we spoke
Our voices had an eerie and empty sound
As if through vast and echoing corridors
We walked in awe.
                                 But soon upon the stream
Our bright flotilla homeward sailed again,
And ere we reached the silent Priory woods
The azure gates of darkness, swinging wide,
Revealed the lucent starry-paven floors,
And all the lamps of heaven ranged in rows
Each in its order round the Altar-steps,
From which a pale and silver-vestured Moon
Pour’d bright ablution and upraised the Host.

Then, as the glory wrapt us round and round,
And the dark river, sparkling to our oars,
Flash’d back the dewy splendour, soft and low
Some voices joined in song; and thus they sang:—


Storm in the night! and a voice in the Storm is crying:                                    161
“They have taken my Lord, and I know not where He is lying!”

“I sat in the Tomb by His side, with a soul unshaken,
I chafed His clay-cold hands,—for I knew He must waken.

“Before He closed His eyes, He said to the weeping—
‘’Tis but a little while—I shall wake from sleeping!’

“Cold and stiff He lay, not seeing or hearing;
The Tomb was sealed with a rock,—but I sat unfearing.

“For a light lay on His eyes, and His face was gleaming;
I heard Him sigh in His sleep, and thought ‘He is dreaming!’

“And then, with a thunder-peal, the rock was riven;
Bright, in the mouth of the Tomb, stood Angels of Heaven!

“He did not stir, though I whispered, ‘Master, awaken!’ . . .
Then brightness blinded my eyes,—and lo, He was taken!

“I woke in the Tomb alone, and the wind chill’d through me:
‘O Master,’ I moan’d, ‘remember Thy promise to me!’

“I crept through the night and sought Him. . . . Hither and thither
The swift Moon walk’d, and the white-tooth’d Sea ran with her.

“I stole from palace to palace, from prison to prison,
I found no trace of my Lord, though they said ‘He hath risen!’

“I heard the Nations weeping—I questioned the Nations:                             162
One said, ‘He is dead!’ another, ‘He lives—have patience!’

“Twice—on the desert sands, in the City Holy,
I have found two piercèd footprints, vanishing slowly!

“Wearily still I wander and still pursue Him—
He promised and I await Him, wailing unto Him!

“And now they say, ‘He is dead—hath the world forsaken.’
Ah no, He hath promised!—hath waken’d,—or will awaken!”

Storm in the night! and a voice in the storm still crying:
“They have taken my Lord, and I know not where He is lying!”


A reworked version ‘Storm in the Night’ was published in The Buchanan Ballads Old and New (1892) and also in The New Rome (1898) in the section entitled ‘The Last Christians’.]



The Third Day.







NEXT day it storm’d. Awakening I gazed forth,
And saw a slanting wall of liquid gray
Shutting out park and pale, while overhead
The black clouds droop’d their banners drifting east;
Then gazing southward, through the mists I saw
The ghostly glimmer of the distant Ocean;                                            [1:6]
Desolate as a soul that leaps from heaven,
The wild rain flung itself into the sea,
And sobbing, choked and drown’d!
                                                           The day drew on.
Slowly at intervals, with dismal yawns,
The guests descended to the breakfast-rooms,
And afterwards they scatter’d hither and thither:
Some to the drawing-room to lounge and flirt,
Some to the billiard-room, whence soon there came
The light sharp rattle of the ivory ball;
Some to the library, others to the porch,                                              166
To lounge there, pipe in mouth, and watch the weather.
A few, with Sappho Syntax at their head,
Donned their goloshes and their waterproofs,
And faced the Storm; but many kept apart
Until the lunch-bell rang; then, luncheon o’er,
More straggling up and down from room to room,
Till, as the hum spreads through a throng of bees
That the queen bee is near, and straightway all
Throng to the honey’d centre of the hive,
The murmur spread that Barbara held her court
In the great drawing-room; whither hastening,
We found her, throned upon an ottoman,
Sparkle, high priest of Science, at her side,
And murmuring silken periods in her ear.

“Dreary indeed, flat, dreary and confined,
As this our Priory on a day of rain,
With walls of liquid black on every side,
Must the sad Earth have seemed ere Science rose
To tear the veil from Nature’s face, and show                                      167
The wonders of the illimitable Void.
A thousand years after the birth of Christ,
Religion, like the Spirit of the Storm,
Obscured the open heaven, veiled land and tide,
And made Creation dark; and no man knew
The clime wherein he dwelt, or dared explore
His earthly habitation; but the tide
Of Superstition, like another Flood,
Submerged the landmarks, hid the continents,
And mingled black with the unpastured Sea.
Then, like a cumbrous Ark, the Church survived,
And resting on the Ararat of Rome,
Rock’d to the wash of waters—those within,
Arrayed in priestly raiment, crying aloud,
‘Woe! woe to man! the Day of Doom is near!’
Honour to those who in that awful hour
Flew forth upon the waves like fearless doves,
And though the craven priests cried out ‘Beware!’
Faced the wild darkness and the winds of heaven,
Seeking for glimpses of the solid land!                                                168
Then some came circling back with wearied wings,
And many vanished never to return;
A few, the fleetest and most strong of flight,
Returning after many wanderings,
Brought with them, as the dove its olive branch,
Tidings of gladness and a sunlit world!”

Then murmured Leslie Lambe with kindling cheeks,
“Doves, say you? Doves? I’ faith, it needed then
The eagle’s pinion and the eagle’s eye
To penetrate that melancholy waste.
Think of Magellan! what an eagle, he!—
The man of marble who in Hell’s despite
Unto his lonely purpose held unmoved,
And sailing with unconquerable wing
Across that blackness, came at last in sight
Of a new Heaven sown with unknown stars,
And underneath, a new and wondrous World.
Stranger the problem he, the undaunted, solved
Than all your problems of a world to come.                                       169
Fie on your poets, fools of fantasy,
That never one hath sung that hero’s praise!”

Then I remember’d an old Song o’ the Sea
Put in the mouth of one who sailed the main
With that stern captain, and within his arms
Held him when, slain by poisonous darts, he died;
The words, the rhyme, kept time within my brain
Like wild sea-surges as the other spake;
And when, with eager glance around, he ceased,
I craved permission of our smiling Queen,
And having quickly gained it, thus began:—


Alterations in the 1901 edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 1, l. 6: The ghostly glimmer of the distant Ocean! ]



The Voyage of Magellan.



SEND no shaven monks to shrive me, close the doors against their cries;
Liars all! ay, rogues and liars, like the Father of all lies;
Nay, but open wide the casement, once more let me feast my gaze
On the glittering signs of Heaven, on the mighty Ocean-ways!

Who’s that knocking? Fra Ramiro? Left his wine-cup and arm-chair,
Come again with book and ointment, to anoint me and prepare?
Sacremento!—send him packing, with his comrades shaven-crown’d:
Liars all! and prince of liars is their Pope! The world is round!                      171

See, the Ocean! like quicksilver, throbbing in the starry light!
See the stars and constellations, strangely, mystically bright!
Ah, but there, beyond our vision, other stars look brightly down,
Other stars, and high among them, great Magellan’s starry crown!

O Magellan! lord and master!—mighty soul no Pope could tame!
On the seas and on the heavens you have left your radiant name;
Brightly shall it burn for ever, o’er the waters without bound,
Proving Pope and Priests still liars, while the sun-kist world is round.

Let the cowls at Salamanca cluster thick as rook and daw!                          172
Let the Pope, with right hand palsied, clutch his thunderbolts of straw!
Heaven and Ocean, here and yonder, put their feeble dreams to shame;
Earth is round, and high above it shines Magellan’s starry name!

Have you vanish’d, O my Master? O my Captain, King of men,
Shall I never more behold you standing at the mast again,
Eagle-eyed, and stern and silent, never sleeping or at rest,
Pallid as a man of marble, ever looking to the west?

As I lie and watch the heavens, once again I seem to be
Out upon the waste of waters, sailing on from sea to sea. . . .
Hark! what’s that?—the monks intoning in the chapel close at hand?             173
Nay, I hear but sea-birds screaming, round dark capes of lonely land.

Out upon the still equator, on a sea without a breath,
Burning, blistering in the sunlight, we are tossing sick to death;
Every night the sun sinks crimson on the water’s endless swell,
Every dawn he rises golden, fiery as the flames of Hell.                               [8:4]

Seventy days our five brave vessels welter in the watery glare,
O’er the bulwarks hang the seamen panting open-mouth’d for air;
On the “Trinitie” Magellan watches in a fierce unrest,
Never doubting or despairing, ever looking to the west.

Then at last with fire and thunder open cracks the sultry sky,                         174
While the surging seas roll under, swift before the blast we fly,
Westward, ever westward, plunging, while the waters wash and wail;
Nights and days drift past in darkness while we sail, and sail, and sail.

Then the Tempest, like an eagle by a thunderbolt struck dead,
With one last wild flap of pinions, droppeth spent and bloody-red,
Purpling Heaven and Ocean lieth on the dark horizon’s brink,
While upon the decks we gather silently, and watch him sink.

Troublously the Ocean labours in a last surcease of pain,
While a soft breath blowing westward wafts us softly on the main,—
Nearer to the edge of darkness where the flat earth ends, men swear,           175
Where the dark abysses open, gulf on gulf of empty air!

Creeping silently our vessels enter wastes of wondrous weed,
Slimy growth that clings around them, tangle growing purple seed,
Staining all the waste of waters, making isles of floating black,
While the seamen, pointing fingers, shrink in dread, and cry, “Turn back!”

On the “Trinitie” Magellan stands and looks with fearless eyes—
“Fools, the world is round!” he answers, “onward still our pathway lies;
Though the gulfs of Hell yawn’d yonder, though the Earth were ended there,
I would venture boldly forward, facing Death and Death’s despair.”

On their knees they kneel unto him, cross themselves and shriek afraid,        176
Pallid as a man of marble stands the Captain undismayed,
Claps on sail and leads us onward, while the ships crawl in his track,
Slowly, scarcely moving, trailing monstrous weeds that hold them back.

On each vessel’s prow a seaman stands and casts the sounding-lead,
In the cage high up the foremast gather watchers sick with dread.
Calmly on the poop Magellan marks the Heavens and marks the Sea,
Darkness round and darkness o’er him, closing round the “Trinitie.”

Days and nights of deeper darkness follow—then there comes the cry,
“He is mad—Death waits before us—turn the ships and let us fly!”
Storm of mutinous anger gathers round the Captain stern and true,                177
Near the foremast, fiercely glaring, flash the faces of the crew.

One there is, a savage seaman, gnashing teeth and waving hands,
Strides with curses to the Captain where with folded arms he stands,—
“Turn, thou madman, turn!” he shrieketh—scarcely hath he spoke the word,
Ere a bleeding log he falleth, slaughter’d by the Leader’s sword!

“Fools and cowards!” cries Magellan, spurning him with armèd heel,
“If another dreams of flying, let him speak—and taste my steel!”
Like caged tigers when the Tamer enters calmly, shrink the band,
While the Master strides among them, cloth’d in mail and sword in hand.      178

O Magellan! lord and leader!—only He whose fingers frame
Twisted thews of pard or panther, knot them round their hearts of flame,
Light the emeralds burning brightly in their eyeballs as they roll,
Could have made that mightier marvel, thine inexorable soul!

Onward, ever on, we falter—till there comes a dawn of Day
Creeping ghostly up behind us, mirror’d faintly far away,
While across the seas to starboard loometh strangely land or cloud—
“Land to starboard!” cries Magellan—“Land!” the seamen call aloud.

Southward steering creep the vessels, while the lights of morning grow;        179
Fades the land, while in our faces chilly fog and vapour blow;
Colder grows the air, and clinging round the masts and stiffening sails
Freezes into crystal dewdrops, into hanging icicles!

Suddenly arise before us, phantom-wise, as in eclipse,
Icebergs drifting on the Ocean like innumerable ships—
In the light they flash prismatic as among their throng we creep,
Crashing down to overwhelm us, thundering to the thund’rous Deep!

Towering ghostly and gigantic, ’midst the steam of their own breath,
Moving northward in procession in their snowy shrouds of Death,
Rise the bergs, now overtoppling like great fountains in the air,                      180
While along their crumbling edges slips the seal and steals the bear.

With the frost upon his armour, like a skeleton of steel,
Stands the Master, waiting, watching, clad in cold from head to heel;
Loud his voice rings through the vapours, ordering all and leading on,
Till the bergs, before his finger, fall back ghostlike, and are gone!

Once again before our vision sparkles Ocean wide and free,
With the sun’s red ball of crimson resting on the rim of sea;—
“Lo, the sun!” he laughs exulting—“still he beckons far away—
Earth is round, and on its circle evermore we chase the Day!”

As he speaks the sunset blackens. Twilight trembles through the skies          181
For a moment—then the heavens open all their starry eyes!
Suddenly strange Constellations flash from out the fields of blue—
Not a star that we remember, not a splendour priestcraft knew!

Sinking on his knee, Magellan prays: “Now glory be to God!
To the Christ who led us forward on His wondrous watery road!
See, the heavens give attestation that our search shall yet be crowned,
Proving Pope and Priests still liars, and the sunkist world is round!”               [28:4]

Sparkling ruby-ray’d and golden round the dusky neck of Night
Hangs the jewel’d Constellation, strangely, mystically bright—                   182 [29:1]
Pointing at it cries the Master, “By the God we all adore,
It shall bear my name, MAGELLAN!' and it bears it, evermore.

Storms arising sweep us onward, but each night our courage grows,
Newer portals of the Heavens seem to open and enclose,                           [30:2]
Showing in the blue abysm vistas luminously strange,
Sphere on sphere, and far beyond them fainter lights that sparkle and change!

Presently once more we falter among pools of drifting scum,
Weed and tangle—o’er the blackness curious sea-birds go and come—
While to southward looms a darkness, as of land or gathering cloud,
Northward too, another darkness, and a sound of breakers loud.

Once again they call in terror, “Turn again, for Death is near!”                       183
Once again he quells their tumult, smiting till they crouch in fear.
On with darkness closing round them, land or cloud, our fleet is led,
Fighting tides that sweep them backward, flowing from some gulf of dread.

Next, the Vision! next the Morning, after rayless nights and days,
Twinkling on a great calm Ocean stretching far as eye can gaze,—
Newer heavens and newer waters, solitary and profound,
Rise before us, while behind us Day arises crimson-crown’d!

Turning we behold the shadows of the straits through which we sped,
Then again our eyes look forward where the windless waters spread;
Overhead the sun rolls golden, moving westward through the blue,               184
Reddens down the far-off heavens, beckons bright, and we pursue.

On that vast and tranquil Ocean, folding wings the strong winds dwell,
Sleeping softly or just stirring to the water’s tranquil swell,
Peaceful as the fields of heaven where the stars like bright flocks feed,—
So that many dream they wander thro’ the azure Heaven indeed!

Then Magellan, from its scabbard drawing forth his shining sword,
Grasps the blade, and downward bending dips the bright hilt overboard—
“By the holy Cross’s likeness, mirror’d in this hilt!” cries he,
“Be this Ocean called Pacific, since it sleeps eternallie!”

Pastured with a calm eternal, drawing down the clouds in dew,                    185
Sighing low with soft pulsations, darkly, mystically blue,
Lies that long untrodden Ocean, while for months we sail it o’er;
Ever dawns the sun behind us, ever swiftly sets before.

But like devils out of Tophet, as we sail with God for Guide,
Rise the Spectres, Thirst and Hunger, hollow-cheek’d and cruel-eyed;
Fierce and famish’d creep the seamen, while the tongues between their teeth
Loll like tongues of hounds for water, dry as dust and black with death.

Many fall and die blaspheming, “Give us food!” the living call—
Pallid as a man of marble stands the Master gaunt and tall,
Hunger fierce within him also, and his parch’d lips prest in pain,                     186
But a mightier thirst and hunger burning in his heart and brain!

Black decks blistering in the sunlight, sails and cordage dry as clay,
Crawl the ships on those still waters night by night and day by day;
Then the rain comes, and we lap it as upon the decks it flows—
“Spread a sail!” calls out the Master, and we catch it ere it goes.

Now and then a lonely sea-bird hovers far away, and we
Crouch with hungry eyes and watch it fluttering closer o’er the sea,
Curse it if it flies beyond us, shoot it if it cometh nigh,
Share the flesh and blood among us, underneath the Captain’s eye.

Sometimes famish’d unto madness, fierce as wolves that shriek in strife,         187
One man springs upon another, stabs him with the murderous knife;
Then the Master, stalking forward where the murderer shrinks in dread,
Bids him kneel, and as he kneeleth cleaves him down, and leaves him dead.

O Magellan! mighty Eagle, circling sunward lost in light,
Wafting wings of power and striking meaner things that cross thy flight,
God to such as thee gives never lambkin’s love or dove’s desire—
Nay, but eyes that scatter terror from a ruthless heart of fire!

Give me wine. My pulses falter. . . So! . . . Confusion to the cowls!
They who hooted at my Eagle, eyes of bats and heads of owls!
Throw the casement open wider! There is something yet to tell—                 188
How we came at last to waters where the naked islesmen dwell.

Isles of wonder, fringed with coral, ring’d with shallows turquoise-blue,
Where bright fish and crimson monsters flash’d their jewel’d lights and flew,
Steeps of palm that rose to heaven out of purple depths of sea,
While upon their sunlit summits stirr’d the tufted cocoa-tree—                     [45:4]

Isles of cinnabar and spices, where soft airs for ever creep,
Scenting Ocean all around them with strange odours soft as sleep—
Isles about whose promontories danced the black man’s light canoe,
Isles where dark-eyed women beckon’d, perfumed like the breath they drew.

Drunken with the sight we landed, rush’d into the scented glades,                  189
Treading down the scented branches, seized the struggling savage maids.
Ah, the orgy! Still it sickens!—blood of men bestrewed our path,
Till the islesmen rose against us, thick as vultures shrieking wrath.

Then, the sequel! Nay, I know not how the damnëd deed could be—
By some islesman’s poisoned arrow or some Spaniard’s treacherie;
But one evening, as we struggled fighting to our boats on shore,
In the shallows fell the Captain, foully slain, and rose no more!

O Magellan! O my Master! O my Captain, King of men!
Was it fit thou so shouldst perish, though thy work was over then,
Foully slain by foe or comrade, butcher’d like a common thing,                     190
Thou whose eagle flight had circled Earth upon undaunted wing!

Nay, but then my King had conquered! Earth and Ocean to his sight
Open’d had their wondrous visions, shaming centuries of night;
Nay, but even the shining Heavens kept the record of his fame—
Earth was round, and high above it shone Magellan’s starry name.

How our wondrous voyage ended? Nay, I know not,—all was done;
Lying in my ship I sickened, moaning, hidden from the sun.
Yea! the vessels drifted onward till they came to isles of calm,
Where some savage monarch hail’d them, standing underneath a palm.         191

How the wanderers took these islands tributary to our King,
Show’d the Cross, baptized the monarch, homeward crept on weary wing?
Pshaw, ’tis nothing! All was over! He had staked his soul and gained,
They but reaped the Master’s sowing, they but crawl’d where he had reigned!

Hark! what sound is that? The chiming of the dreary vesper bell?
Nay, I hear but Ocean sighing, feel the waters heave and swell.
Earth is round, but sailing sunward with my Master still I fare—
Other Heavens his ship is searching,—and I go to seek him there!


‘The Voyage of Magellan’ originally appeared in the Boston Herald on 26th April, 1885, when Buchanan was living in America. A heavily edited version also appeared, on the same day, in the New-York Daily Tribune. After its inclusion in The Earthquake, it was also published, under the title ‘The Ballad of Magellan’, in The Buchanan Ballads, Old and New (1892). This version included the following note:
“Magellan was the first man to circumnavigate the earth, and thus to establish the scientific theory that the world was a globe.”
Alterations in The Buchanan Ballads, Old and New, 1892:
v. 8, l. 4: Every dawn he rises burning, fiery as the flames of Hell.
v. 28, l. 4: Proving Pope and Priests are liars, and the sun-kist world is round!”
v. 29, l. 1: Hangs a jewell’d Constellation, strangely, mystically bright—
v. 30, l. 2: Newer portals of the Heaven seem to open and unclose,
v. 45, l. 4: While upon their sunlit summits stirr’d the tufted coca-tree— ]



The wall of darkness round the rainy house
Broke as I ended, and a watery beam
Of sunshine struck the pane, and lingering on it,
Became prismatic. Then with quiet smile
Professor Mors, the truculent Irishman,
Whose treatise on the origin of worlds
Fluttered the Churches for a season, said:
“Man conquers earth, and climbing yonder Heaven
Pursues the baleful gods from throne to throne!
Ah, but the strife was long, and even here
It hath not ended yet. Each Phantom laid,
Another rises, though on fearless wing
We creep from world to world. Evil abides,
And with her hideous mother, Ignorance,
Scatters pollution!”
                                 Calmly answered him
Dan Paumanok, the Yankee pantheist:
“Friend, I have dwelt on earth as long as you,
And found all evil here but forms of good!”
Whereat some laughed, and cried, “A paradox!”                                193
But, gravely leaning back in his arm-chair,
The greybeard cried, “Knowledge and Ignorance,
I calculate, are sisters—otherwise
Named Good and Evil. Hand in hand they walk,
So like, that even those who know them best
Scarcely distinguish their identities!
Thro’ the dark places of the troubled earth
The first walks radiant and the last gropes blind;
But when they come upon the mountain-tops,
In the night’s stillness, underneath the stars,
The last it is that ofttimes leads the first
And points her upward to the heavenly way!”

“If this be so,” the grim Professor cried,
Shrugging his shoulders with impatient sneer,
“Then wrong is every whit as good as right,
The Darkness is no better than the Light
It comprehends not!” “Certainly,” exclaimed
The melancholy transcendentalist;
“One is the tally of the other, friend;                                                    194
Nay more, they intermingle, and are one!
The morning dew, that scarcely bends the flowers,
Exhaled to heaven becomes the thunderbolt
That strikes and slays at noon.”
                                                   But Mors replied
With cold superior smile: “A cheerful creed!
And comfortable,—since, whate’er befalls,
No matter if the foemen sack the city,
No matter if the plague-cart comes and goes,
No matter if the starving cry for bread,
The sleepy watchman calmly cries ‘All’s well!’
For my poor part, as one whose youth was spent,
Not in pursuit of vain delusive dreams,
But in the halls of Science, whom I serve,
I fail to find in Evil any form
My mistress would be brought to christen good;
Nay, on my life,” he added, gathering zeal,
“Than such a pantheistic lotus-flower
I’d rather choose those husks and shells of grace
John Calvin found when, prone on hands and knees,                          195
He searched the garbage of Original Sin!
And rather than believe that Hell was Heaven,
People my Hell once more with soot-black fiends!
For Fever, Pestilence, and Ignorance
No angels are, fall’n from some high estate,
But devilish shapes indeed, beneath the heel
Of Hermes, god of healing and of light,
Soon to be trampled down and vanquishëd.
And other hideous things that waste the world,
War, Superstition, Anarchy, Disease,
Monsters that Man has fashion’d, like to that
Framed in the poet’s tale by Frankenstein—
These shall be slain by their creator’s hand,
Their Master’s, even Man’s. Survey the earth;
And see the sunrise of our saner creed
Scattering the darkness and the poisonous fumes
Which eighteen hundred weary years ago
Came from the sunless sepulchre of Christ.
Where Fever poisoned the pellucid well
The drinking-fountain clear as crystal flows;                                        196
Where the marsh thicken’d and miasma spread,
Cities arise, with clean and shining streets
And sewers transmuting garbage into gold;
Where the foul blood-stained Altar once was set,
Stand the Museum and Laboratory;
The Library, the Gymnasium, and the Bath
Replace the palace; Manufactories,
Gathering together precious gifts for man,
Supplant the Monolith and Pyramid.
Thus everywhere the light of human love
Brightens a wondering convalescent world
Just rising from the spectre-haunted bed
Whereon it sickened of a long disease,
Attended by the false physician, Christ.”

He paused; the fever of his eager words
Flash’d on from face to face until it reached
The face of Verity, the priest of Art;
But there it faded, for with pallid frown
And lifted hands, the gentle prophet cried:                                          197
“Light? Sunrise? Sunlight? I who speak have eyes,
And yet I see but darkness visible!
Lost is the azure in whose virgin depths
The filmy cirrus turn’d to Shapes divine,
Goddess and god, soft-vestured, white as wool!
Faded the sun, which, striking things of stone,
Turn’d them to statues which like Memnon’s sang,
And palpitating over domes and walls,
Cover’d them o’er with forms miraculous,
Prismatic, which the hand of genius touch’d
And fixed in colour ere the forms could fade!
The world, you say, is heal’d; to me, it seems
Just smitten with the plague, and everywhere
The foul cloud gathers, shutting out the sun.
And that faint sound we deem the sweet church chimes,
Is but the death-bell tinkling, while the cart
Comes for its load of dark disfigured dead.
Meantime, within the foul dissecting-room
The form of Man, which, ere our plague-time came,
Was reverenced in shapes of loveliness,                                              198
Rosy in flesh, or snowy white in stone,
Lies desecrated, hideous, horrible,
Pois’ning the air and sickening the soul!
And on the slab, beneath the torturer’s knife,
Man’s gentle friend, the hound, shrieks piteously,
Answer’d by all the bleeding flocks of Pan!
And everywhere the fume of Anarchy,
And hideous monsters of machinery
Toiling for ever in their own thick breath,
Blends with the plague-smoke, blotting out the sun,
Whereby alone all shapes of beauty live!”

“Nay, nay,” cried Barbara, “though it rains to-day
The lift will clear to-morrow. I believe
You all are partly right and partly wrong,
For surely many things in life that seem
Most evil are but blessings in disguise?
And difficult ’tis, maybe, to discern
Where Knowledge ends and Ignorance begins.
But then, again, what soul rejoices not                                                199
To see yon mailéd Perseus, Science, stand
Bruising the loathsome hydra of Disease,
Ay, often slaying Sin and conquering Death?
And yet, again, the counter-plea is true,
That Science, though she heals the wounds of life,
Whiles heals them cruelly and uncannily,—
Just shuts the sufferer in a sunless room,
And changes the old merry tunes of time
To daft mechanic discord,—such as that
Which issues from the throats of mine and mill,
With sough of poisonous reek and flames more sad
Than ever came from Tophet!”
                                                   As she ceased,
Professor Mors, the pallid pessimist,
Outstretched his lean and skeletonian hand,
Pointing out sunward:—“See!” he cried, “the God,
Last-born and first-born, Nature’s microcosm,
Who, sitting on his mighty throne of graves,
Murmurs the death-dirge of Humanity!
Had ye but ears, methinks that you might catch                                   200
The burthen of his melancholy song,
As I myself have heard it oftentimes
When wandering weary underneath the stars.
’Twas thus, methinks, it ran, or something thus,
Full of a burthen strange and sad as ever
Was heard beside the wave-wash’d shores of Time.”



The Earthquake continued

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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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