ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{The New Rome 1898}

 

                                                                                                                                                                   351

THE DEVIL’S SABBATH.

 

                                                                                                                                                                 353

THE DEVIL’S SABBATH.

(Loch Coruisk, Island of Skye. Night.)

 

THE ÆON.

WELCOME, BUCHANAN! once again I greet you
     Here ’mong the Mountains as in London yonder!
Right glad am I in mine own realm to meet you,
     Far from the haunts where priests and pedants wander.
Once more I thank you for your vindication
     Of one so long malign’d in foolish fiction!
Your book* shall long survive the execration
     Of critics through your Master’s benediction!
You’ve reconstructed, much as fools have slighted you,
     The one true Jesus and the one true Devil.
Wherefore, to prove our love, we’ve now invited you
     To join our new Walpurgis-Night, and revel!

 

THE POET.

What heights are those that rise so sadly o’er me?
     What waters sad are those beneath me sleeping?
Dark as a dream the shadows part before me
     And show the snow-white gleam of torrents leaping!

 

THE ÆON.

This is the lonely Corry of the Water
     By which you walked and sung in days departed;

* The Devil’s Case: A Bank Holiday Interlude.

 

And she who stands beside me is my daughter,                                   354
    
Last of the maiden Muses merry-hearted;
The others left the land when Byron perish’d,
     But she, the fruit of sad amours and stealthy,
Lived on, a sickly child, the deeplier cherish’d
     Because she never has been strong or healthy!

 

VOICES.

From rock to rock,
     Still faster and faster,
Upward we flock
     At thy call, O Master!

 

THE POET.

What shapes are these?

 

THE ÆON.

               Singers and sages                                                               [6:1]
         Of all degrees,
               Sexes, and ages!
Poor devils, how blindly they grope about,
     Thinking they climb but never succeeding!
As they wind like serpents in and out,
     Their mouths are panting, their lips are bleeding!

 

NEW MUSE.

Hillò! hillò! come hither to me!

 

VOICES.

We hear thy voice, but we cannot see
     Thy face, O Lady of Love and Light!
Upward, upward like sparks we flee,                                                  355
     Blown in the winds of the woful night!
Thine old wild tunes in our brains are ringing,
     Tho’ we are weary and spirit sore,
Singing, singing, and upward springing,
     Whither we know not, ever more!

 

SHE SINGS.

Sing me a song of the Dove
     And the Hawk that slew him!
From a golden Heaven above
Eyes like the eyes of thy love
     Gazed downward to him!
Sing me the song of the Dove
     And the Hawk that slew him!

 

VOICES.

     Room for the Wisdom! Stand aside!
     Here he cometh goggle-eyed,
     Solver of the great I AM,
     Scorner of the Snake and Lamb,
     Measurer of Space and Time,
     Up the steep path see him climb,
     Vacant heir of all the ages,
     First of Fools and last of Sages.
     See! he stoops and from the ground
     Lifteth something large and round,
     Smiles, and nods, and looks profound,—
               Hither, Master!
               Faster, faster,
     Show us now what thou hast found!

                                                                                                         356

THE WISE MAN.

A trifle! yet, even to one so ripe
     In knowledge as I, the one thing needed,—
The missing skull of the Archetype
     Whence our father Adam the First proceeded!

 

THE MUSE.

     Hillò! Hillò! come hither to me!

 

VOICES.

We hear thy voice, but we cannot see
     Thy face, O Lady of Love and Light!
Upward, upward we struggle and flee,
     Blown in the winds of this woful night!

 

THE MUSE.

Sing me a song of a Tree
     And the fruit forbidden!
Of a fool who sought to see
     What from God himself is hidden!
Weary and sad stands he,
     By his children’s children chidden,
Under the Cross of the Tree
     Of the fruit forbidden!

 

THE POET.

What is yonder priestly train
Struggling upward through wind and rain?

                                                                                                         357

THE ÆON.

Those are the priests of Priapus. Sadly
They worship the God of the Grove, not gladly
As in the frolicsome days departed
When men and women were innocent-hearted—
The phallic emblems you may espy
Looming crimson against the sky,
But now they are hung with weeds, instead
Of pure white lilies and roses red,
And none of the faithful dare to pay
Their duty to them in open day!

 

THE POET.

Pause here! How peaceful and how still
Is this green glade on the moonlit hill,—
The tumult dies to a peaceful call
Like the hum of a distant waterfall!
Here is a porch of marble red that leads
Into a roofless Temple thick with weeds,
And yonder in the shadow I can see
The glimmer of some nude Divinity.
But who is this who lifts his lonely head
     Far from the eddying throng that yonder groans?
His face is calm and godlike, and his tread
     Royal and proud, as if he walk’d on thrones;
Gravely he stands and muses, listening
     From time to time to those faint human cries!

 

THE ÆON.

Knowest thou not the last Apollo, King
     Of the unpitying heart and eagle eyes?
The place is calm, yet (cast thine eyes around)                                    358
     ’Tis strewn with marble bones of Gods long sped,—
Creatures obscene are crawling on the ground,
     And yonder Venus armless is, and dead!

 

THE POET.

Nay, something stirs ’mid yonder shadows! See!
She wrings her hands and moans, and looks at me!

 

THE ÆON.

Peace with thee, Gretchen! . . . Hark, her piteous cry
Rings through the grove and echoes to the sky!
And lo, the mad tumultuous crowd
Beneath us, answer, laughing loud!
“By the pinching of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes!”
Hillò, hillò! this way, this way!
Shrieking stumbling things of clay,
Nymphs and Satyrs of To-day!

 

THE POET.

Alas, why break a peace so calm and stately
     With clamour of the hogs from Circe’s pen?

 

THE ÆON.

The demigod’s conceit annoys me greatly,
     And so I love to vex him now and then.
         Have no fear, they will not stay,
         Just one rush and they’re away,
         From the stye and from the street                                              359
         Fast they flock and on they fleet.
         See! my kinsman, goat-foot Pan,
               And Silenos on his ass,
         Catamites and harlots wan
               Follow shrieking through the grass,
         Herodias and Magdalen
               Clashing cymbals head the throng,
         Naked maids and maniac men
               Follow them with dance and song.
         Bring the boon he once loved well,
               Rain it on his frozen heart;
         Break the spell with shouts from Hell,
               Grieve the godhead and depart!

 

A VOICE.

What ho, you things of dirt and dust,
     I come with news that must surprise you,—
But first lie down, my Lady of Lust,
Giggling nymph with the swelling bust!
     Let us dissect and anatomise you!

 

VOICES.

     Whence do you come, and what is your name?

 

VOICE.

         My name’s Peer Gynt, and I come from Thulé!

 

VOICES.

     Return, old fellow, from whence you came,
         Or join our sports and be honoured duly.

                                                                                                         360

VOICE.

I join your infamous pagan revel!
     I, the apostle of Truth and Sanity!—
My task it is to expose the Devil
     And all his plottings against Humanity!
Wherever the cloven foot has been
I trace the proofs and the signs obscene;
Wherever your naked Venus stands
     I hold the mirror of Truth before her,—
In vain she seizes with trembling hands
     A scarf or a shift and flings it o’er her!
O Sin, my friends, is everywhere,
In the song of the birds, in the light of the air,
In the baby’s prattle, the virgin’s kiss,
In the mother’s love, in the lover’s bliss,
And Sin and Death since the world’s creation
Have led to eternal and deep damnation.
Here are comrades three times three
Who preach the gospel of Sin with me!
We charge you now in the Name Divine
To leave the pleasures ye think so fine,
To quit these heights where the Devil prowls,
And come to our Heaven of Ghosts and Ghouls.

 

THE ÆON.

By Hell and all its lights profane,
’Tis good John Calvin risen again!—
How busily the peddling knave
Searches about for souls to save;
Yet Conscience, to a fine art turn’d,
Loses the wisdom fools have learn’d,
And he who augur-like broods o’er                                          361
The beast’s foul entrails evermore,
Or searches all his soul and skin
For specks of filth or spots of sin,
May busy be among his kind
But lacks his birthright and grows blind.
Nay, Life’s full cup, howe’er so brittle,
     Is better than a stinking skull!
Men mope too much and live too little,
     And thus grow functionless and null.
Leave to green girls and criticasters
That hide-bound throng of Little Masters,
And let us hasten onward, flying
     To yonder heights of snow-white flame,
Where throngs of spirits multiplying
     Are loudly calling out my name.

 

ELFIN VOICES.

The bugle blows from the elfin dells
     With a hark and a hey halloo,—
Fays of the Glens, of the Crags and Fells,
     Come hither and join our crew!

 

ECHOES.

We come, we come, from the crags and fells—
     Hark! hark! halloo! halloo!

 

THE POET.

Stay, for I know you, Shapes divine
     Who hover’d round me long ago,—
Stay, on this way-worn heart of mine                                                 362
     Pour the glad peace it used to know!

 

THE ELFINS.

The bugle is blowing from height to height
     Under the skies o’ blue,
We fly, we fly thro’ the shining night
     With a hark and a hey halloo!

 

ECHOES.

Halloo! halloo! halloo!

 

THE POET.

From crag to crag, from peak to peak,
     I follow swiftly where ye fly,—
O stay, sweet Shapes, and on my cheek
     Breathe gently as in days gone by!
Alas! they hear but will not stay;
They come, they smile, and fade away!

 

THE ÆON.

Pause here,—where from the topmost height
The torrent hangs its scarf of white,
And while the phantom shapes slip by,
Behold the Boy who cannot die,
With face turn’d upward to the sky!

 

THE POET.

Aye me, I know him, and he seems
     Mine other brighter self long dead,—
Smiling he sits alone and dreams,                                                        363
While the wild cataract leaps and gleams
     From rock to rock above his head.

 

THE BOY.

Waterfall, waterfall,
     Would that I were you!
To leap and leap, and call and call
     All night through!
Pausing, pausing far up there,
Plunging downward thro’ the air,
Ever resting, ever flowing,
Ever coming, ever going,
Calling, calling,
Falling, falling,
Where the heather bells are blowing,
     Underneath the blue!
Morning tide and evenfall,
     And all night thro’,
You leap and leap, and call and call!
     Would that I were you!
                                       (He gazes into the pool.)
Fay of the Fall, I can see you there,
     Dancing down in the pools below me,—
You leap and laugh like a lady fair,
Naked, white footed, with wild bright hair,
     And cool spray-kisses you love to throw me.
I can see your face through its veil of foam,
     When you pause a space in the bright moon-ray,
Combing your locks with a silver comb,
     Then vanishing merrily away!
I think you are living, Fay of the Fall,                                         364
Though you are great and I am small;
The clouds are living, the winds are living,
The trees, the heather, the grass, are living
     And I am living among them all!
                             (A pause. He speaks again.)
Who walks yonder over the height?
     (Hush! hush! ’Tis she! ’tis she!)
I know you, Lady of the Light,
Holding high, with your hand so white,
     Your silver lamp,—you search for me!
Silent I crouch in the shade of the hill,
And the voices around are hushed and still,
But my heart throbs loudly unaware,
For I hear you murmuring, “Is he there?”
Yonder up in the sky you stand,
     Naked and bright, with your maidens round you,
And suddenly one of the shining band
     Leaps down to touch me, and cries, “We’ve found you!”
Moon-Fay, Moon-Fay, Maid of the Night,
     You turn my face up like a flower,
And the smile of the Lady of the Light
     Falls on my cheeks like a silver shower!
Hold me close and clasp me round,
     Moon-Fay, Moon-Fay, while I gaze!
Naked, beautiful, golden-crown’d,
     Your Queen stands there with her troops of Fays.
She lifts her finger and past they fly,
Everywhere, everywhere under the sky,
To find the wonderful living things,
     Those that fly, and those that creep,
To light the dark with their luminous wings,                               365
     And to kiss the eyelids of folk asleep!
Onward and round with a fairy sound
     One whirls in your arms, O Waterfall!
The Moon is living, the Fays are living,
The trees, the winds, and the grass are living,
     And I am living among them all!
                               (A pause. He closes his eyes.)
The Waterfall is sleepy, like me!
     Its voice sounds faint and far away—
Close my eyelids with kisses three,
     And pillow my head on your breast, dear Fay!

 

ELFIN VOICES.

The bugle blows from the Elfin dells
     With a hark and a hey halloo!
Fays of the Glens, of the Crags and Fells,
     Come hither and join our crew!
This Boy was born where our sisters weep,
     ’Mong weary women and men,—
This night we gather around his sleep
     He has summers seven and ten—
Sound asleep in the white moonbeam
     His head on his arm he lies,—
Come with our flowers from the Land of Dream
     And rain them on his eyes!

 

A VOICE.

What will you give him?

 

ANOTHER.

                                       The gift of dreaming.

                                                                                                         366

FIRST VOICE.

And you?

 

ANOTHER VOICE.

                   The gift of loving tears.

 

FIRST VOICE.

And you, bright Fays around him beaming?

 

VOICES.

     The melody that the Silence hears!

 

FIRST VOICE.

And you, O Kelpie, with human eyes
     Rolling there ’neath the Waterfall?

 

THE KELPIE.

Unrest and trouble and strife like mine,
     And the aching heart that is under all!

 

FIRST VOICE.

And you, O Good Folk, thronging round
     The King and Queen of the Elfin band?

 

VOICES.

Summer gladness and summer sound,
     And all the pity of Fairyland!

                                                                                                         367

THE POET.

Vision divine! How soon it passed away!
     While God abides, hard, cold, and unforgiving!

 

THE ÆON.

Time snows upon thee, and thy hair grows grey,
     And yet that Golden Boyhood still is living!
Here ’mong the mountains still thy soul may see
     The light of Fairyland that fadeth never,
And all those gifts the Elfins brought to thee
     Abide and live within thy soul for ever!

 

A VOICE.

newromegk

[51:1]

     Why cheat the fool and give his dreams persistence?
Have we not proved that Spirits such as thou
     Are visions like those Elves, without existence?
The man is grey,—his race is almost run,—
     Through Death’s dark gate his feet full soon must wander;
Like lights on some sad feast-day, one by one
     The stars have been put out in Heaven yonder.

 

THE ÆON.

What toad is this that croaks here in the shade?
     Out!—let us see thee,—old Abomination!

 

VOICE.

Thou pose as friend of Man? Stick to thy trade
     Of cheats and lying, filth and fornication.
Thou knowest men are mad such dreams to cherish,                           368
Since they are beasts, and like the beasts must perish!
Teach them to live their lives and eat and revel,
     Tell them to snatch their pleasure ere it flies,—
A retrospective sentimental Devil
     Is but a priest or parson in disguise.

 

THE ÆON.

Brekekekex! koäx, koäx!                                                                  [54:1]
     Toads and frogs, they are croaking still!
Round bald heads and slimy backs
     Huddle together under the hill.
Ever thus since Time began
They’ve crawled and spat on the path of Man,—
Up to the heights where the moon shines clear!
Leave the infernal croakers here!

 

VOICES.

If I desire to end my days at peace with all theologies,
To win the penny-a-liner’s praise, the Editor’s apologies,
Don’t think I mean to cast aside the Christian’s pure beatitude,
Or cease my vagrant steps to guide with Christian prayer and platitude.
No, I’m a Christian out and out, and claim the kind appellative
Because, however much I doubt, my doubts are simply Relative;
For this is law, and this I teach, tho’ some may think it vanity,
That whatsoever creed men preach, ’tis Essential Christianity!

In Miracles I don’t believe, or in Man’s Immortality—                                  369
The Lord was laughing in his sleeve, save when he taught Morality;
He saw that flesh is only grass, and (tho’ you grieve to learn it) he
Knew that the personal Soul must pass and never reach Eternity.
In short, the essence of his creed was gentle nebulosity
Compounded for a foolish breed who gaped at his verbosity;
And this is law, and this I teach, tho’ you may think it vanity,
That whatsoever creed men preach, ’tis Essential Christianity!

 

THE ÆON.

They’re having a little spread of their own
     In a ruin’d Church with a crumbling steeple—
Priests and parsons, eclectic grown,
     Hob and nob with the scribbling people;
Journalists, poets, and criticasters
     Join in the literary revel.
Salutation, my merry masters!
     Don’t you know me? Your friend, the Devil!

 

VOICES.

Go away, for you don’t exist!
     God and yourself have reached finality;
All now left in a World of Mist
     Is the creed of sensuous Morality.

 

A VOICE.

I freely tipple Omar’s wine with ladies scant of drapery;
I think Mahomet’s Heaven fine, tho’ somewhat free and capery;
I feel a great respect for Joss, altho’ he’s none too beautiful;                         370
To fetishes, as to the Cross, I’m reverent and dutiful;
I creep beneath the Buddhist’s cloak, I beat the tom-tom cheerily,
And smile at other Christian folk who take their creed too drearily;
For this is law, and this I teach aloud to all gigmanity,
That whatsoever creed men preach, ’tis Essential Christianity!

To all us literary gents the future life’s fantastical,
And both the Christian Testaments are only “wrote sarcastical”;
They’re beautiful, we all know well, when viewed as things poetical,
But all their talk of Heaven and Hell is merely theoretical.
But we are Christian men indeed, who, striking pious attitudes,
Raise on a minimum of creed a maximum of platitudes!
For this is law, and this we teach, with grace and with urbanity,
That whatsoever creed men preach, ’tis Essential Christianity!

 

THE ÆON.

Phantoms of men, that never knew
     The golden Boyhood and the Fable,                                               [61:2]
Leave them to feast, as dogs may do,
     On fragments from the Churchman’s table—
Trimmers and tinkers, neither false nor true,
     Low foreheads, sensual mouths, and minds unstable!
Away, away! the peaks up yonder
     Grow brighter yet while we are upward soaring;
Between us and the moon wild spirits wander,                                     371
     Their eyes on that divine white Light, adoring.

 

THE ELVES.

The bugles are blowing from height to height,
     Under the heavens so blue;
Hark, they are ringing from height to height
     With a hark and a hey halloo!

 

ECHOES.

Halloo! halloo! halloo!

 

THE POET.

Where art thou, Master?

 

THE ÆON (far off).

                                         Here above thee!
     Follow on through the shadows grey,
And if thy limbs are too slow to move thee,
     Grasp the skirt of a passing Fay!

 

VOICES.

Fast through the night, from height to height,
     In thy train, O Queen, we flee—
There is Mary Beaton, and Mary Seaton,
     And Mary Carmichael, and me!

 

THE POET.

In a blood-red robe that parts to show
The wondrous bosom white as snow,
Around her neck a thin red line,                                                         372
     A pale crown on her golden hair,
She flitteth through the grey moonshine,
     For ever sweet, for ever fair.
Haggard and fierce, with dripping sword,
Beside her stalks her savage lord,
And following her, the Maries share
Her loveliness and her despair.
O rose-red mouth, O sphinx-like eyes
     That witched the Boy and fired his blood,—
Still on my soul, O Mary, lies
     Thy spell of woful womanhood!
Deathless, a Queen, thou reignest still
     In Memory’s desolate domain,
And as we gaze, our pulses thrill
     To share thy passion and thy pain!

 

VOICES.

Fast through the night, from height to height,
     O Queen, we follow thee,—
There is Mary Beaton, and Mary Seaton,
     And Mary Carmichael, and me!

 

THE POET.

Fairyland of Love and Sorrow,
     Thickly close your shadows round me!
Once again your dreams I borrow,
     Love hath kiss’d me, clasp’d me, crown’d me!
Out of every dell and hollow
Bright shapes beckon, and I follow!
Forms of olden myth and fancy                                                          373
Witch the night with necromancy;
Elf and Lover, Gnome and Lady,
Kiss and clasp in woodlands shady;
From the torrent Kelpies crying
Hail the Fays above them flying;
Hither, thither, upward streaming
To the stars above them beaming,
To the heights by dream-shapes haunted,
Fly the Fairy Folk enchanted!

 

VOICES.

The bugle is blowing from height to height
     Under the heavens of blue,—
We fly, we fly through the mists of night,
     With a hark and a hey halloo!

 

ECHOES.

Halloo! halloo! halloo!

 

THE ÆON.

On the topmost peak I stand,
     Come, ye Dreams and Shadows, come!
At the lifting of my hand
     Kneel around me and be dumb!
O crowd of woful things,
     Gods, and Demi-gods, and Fays,
Hush your hearts and fold your wings,
     While the Emblem I upraise!

                                                                                                         374

VOICES.

See! see! see!

 

THE POET.

Why gaze they downward, hungering from the peaks
     To some dim Shape that climbeth from below?
Why turn thine own eyes thither, while thy cheeks
     Seem wan with some new woe?

 

VOICES.

See! see! see!
     He cometh hither, the Jew,
     The Weariful One they slew
’Tween thief and thief on the Tree!
With hair as white as snow
He climbeth from below,
     His feet and hands drip blood,—
Alack! He traileth on,
Though old and woebegone,
     His heavy Cross of wood!

 

THE JEW.

How long, O God, how long!

 

THE POET.

                                             O piteous cry,
For ever heard while the swift years rush by!
Vapour and mist enfold the feeble form,
     Beneath him as he goes the abysses loom,
Answer’d by woful Spirits of the Storm
     Moaning he trails his Cross through gulfs of gloom.

                                                                                                         375

VOICES.

Dry thy tears and raise thy head,
He is quick that once was dead!

 

THE POET.

Christ of the broken Heart, and is it Thou
     Who standest ’mong thy brethren there on high?
Erect and silver-hair’d, thou takest now
     The gentle benediction of the Sky;
Tumultuous, multitudinous, as the crests
     Of storm-vex’d billows on a moonstruck sea,
The gods flock round and smite their naked breasts,
     Calling aloud on Thee!
And towering o’er them, ring’d with Shapes divine,
     Osiris, Zeus, Apollo, Vishnu, Brahm,
Forms of the Phallus, Virgins of the Shrine,
     Thou standest starry-eyed, supreme and calm,
And on thy mirror’d head the waves of Light
     Creep soft and silvern from a million spheres,
Sprinkling ablution from the baths of Night
     And shining on thy face worn thin with tears.
Saviour of men, if thou hast spoken truth,
     Blesser of men, if men by pain are blest,
Scorner of darkness, star of Love and ruth,
     Grey time-worn Phantom of the world’s unrest,
Now to the heights thou comest, and before thee
     All gods that men have made are kneeling low,
Thy brother and sister stars in Heaven adore thee,
     Lord of Eternal Woe!
And yet, O Father Christ, I seek not thee,
Though to thy spell I yearn and bend the knee;
Thou hast no power my empty heart to fill,                                         376
     Thou hast no answer to my soul’s despair,
Thine eyes are holy but thy touch is chill,
     Heaven still is homeless though thou shinest there!

 

MATER SERAPHICA.

Son of my Soul! light of my eyes!
     Still with my blessing on thy brow,
Cast off thy burthen, and arise!

 

THE POET.

     Holy of Holies, is it thou?
Thou livest, thou art not dead and cold!
Thy touch is warm, as ’twas of old!
And on thy face there shines anew
The Love Divine from which I grew!
O mother! all Eternity
Burns to one steadfast light in thee,
And all the tears of all Creation
Cease, to thy glad transfiguration!

 

SHE SPEAKS.

Lean thy head on my breast!

 

THE POET.

O the bliss, O the rest!
It is worth all the pain
To be with thee again!

 

SHE SPEAKS.

All thy sorrows are done,—
I am with thee, my son!

                                                                                                         377

EPODE.

This is the Song the glad stars sung when first the Dream began,
This is the Dream the world first knew when God created Man,
This is the Voice of Man and God, blent (even as mine and thine!)
Where’er the soul of the Silence wakes to the Love which is Divine!

How should the Dream depart and die, since the Life is but its beam?
How should the Music fade away, since the Music is the Dream?
How should the Heavens forget their faith, and the Earth forget its prayer,
When the Heavens have plighted troth to Earth, and the Love Divine is there?

The Song we sing is the Starry Song that rings for an endless Day,
The endless Day is the Light that dwells on the Love that passeth away,
The Love that ever passeth away is the Love (like thine and mine!)
That evermore abideth on in the heart of the Love Divine!

 

[Notes:
v. 51, l. 1: The Greek quotation is from Luke 4:8 - “Get thee behind me, Satan!
v. 54, l. 1: From Aristophanes’ Frogs.
Alterations in the 1901 edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 6, l. 1: Sinners and sages
v. 61, l. 2: The golden Boyhead and the Fable, ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 379

L’ENVOI.

“I END AS I BEGAN.”

 

                                                                                                                                 381

L’ENVOI.

 

I END as I began,
     I think as first I thought;
Woe worth the world, if Man
     Only of dust is wrought,
Only to dust must go
     After his life’s brief span;—
I think so still, and so
     I end as I began.

When first I learnt to know
     The common strife of all,
My boy’s heart shared the woe
     Of those who fail and fall,
For all the weak and poor
     My tears of pity ran,—
And still they flow, ev’n more
     Than when my life began!

I reverenced from the first
     The Woman-Soul divine,
(Mother, that faith was nurst
     On that brave breast of thine!)
Pointing the heavenward way,
     The angel-guide of man,
She seems to me to-day
     As when my faith began!

Revolter, sword in hand,                                                           382
     Friend of the weak and worn,
A boy, I took my stand
     Among the Knights forlorn;
Eager against the Strong
     To lead the martyr’d van,
I strive ’gainst Lust and Wrong
     As when the fight began!

Never to bow and kneel
     To any brazen Lie,—
To love the worst, to feel
     The least is ev’n as I,—
To hold all fame unblest
     That helps no struggling man,—
In this, as in the rest,
     I end as I began!

The creeds I’ve cast away
     Like husks of garner’d grain,
And of them all this day
     Does never a creed remain;
Save this, blind faith that God
     Evolves thro’ martyr’d Man:
Thus, the long journey trod,
     I end as I began!

I dream’d when I began
     I was not born to die,
And in my dreams I ran
     From shining sky to sky;—
And still, now life grows cold                                                   383
     And I am grey and wan,
That infant’s Dream I hold,
     And end as I began!

 

                                                                                                                               385

PROSE NOTE.
_____

 

THE resolution to fuse the various poems here printed into one homogeneous book, under one title, The New Rome, originated in a suggestion of Mr. Herbert Spencer, that the author should devote himself to a “satire on the times.”
     “There is an immensity of matter calling for strong denunciation and display of white hot anger,” Mr. Spencer wrote, “and I think you are well capable of dealing with it. More especially I want some one who has the ability, with sufficient intensity of feeling, to denounce the miserable hypocrisy of our religious world, with its pretended observances of Christian principles, side by side with the abominations which it habitually assists and countenances. In our political life, too, there are multitudinous things which invite the severest castigation,—the morals of party strife, and the ways in which men are, with utter insincerity, sacrificing their convictions for the sake of political and social position.”
     Urged by this great authority, I did attempt (as may be gathered from the introductory Dialogue of this book) to write a Satire, but I soon found that I lacked the necessary equipment, and was drifting into mere imitation of defunct masters. Moreover, I was only pretending to be in a passion. In point of fact, I had no “hate” in me; I was too disheartened and sad, and too sorry for poor Humanity. 386 The longer I lived, too, the more clearly I saw the hopelessness of mere denunciation. Rating priests and politicians for their inadequacy was simply repeating one of the very few blunders made by the gentlest and most benign of philanthropists. It was cursing the Barren Fig Tree!
     Then the Devil came to my assistance, the Æon, whom I had found to be the spirit of supreme Love and Pity, the Soul of carnal Light and Knowledge, struggling to dispel the cosmic darkness, and curst by all the priests of all the creeds for so doing. Inspired by him, I proceeded to complete my picture of The New Rome in the series of detached poems which I have now printed. I had been taught by sharp experience that such poems were not wanted by the public, that all modern Society expected from its poets was a little verbal music and a great deal of acquiescence and patriotic sentiment. The critic clamoured for moral mannerisms and “beautiful ideas.” The middle classes wanted amiable platitudes, and the governing classes wanted to be let alone. For a verse-writer to be a thinker and a pioneer, in revolt against political and religious abominations, was regarded as an impertinence; his business was to twang the lyre or strum the banjo, leaving politics to the thieves and thinking to the philosophers. To tell the truth, or what seemed to me to be the truth, would please no one but my friend the Devil. Well, my diabolical instinct was too strong for me, and this book is another proof that I am past all ordinary salvation. If I must go to Hell for writing out my mature convictions, and for disregarding the Literary Licensing Authorities, why then (to quote John Mill) to Hell I will go. Better men and nobler poets have been 387 sent thither before me. They report, curiously enough, that Hell is now the only place where anybody believes in Heaven.
     Some of the poems contained in this volume have already appeared in magazines and newspapers, e.g., “Justinian” in the Contemporary Review, “The New Buddha” in the North American Review, the section called “The Last Christians” in the Buchanan Ballads, and several of the brief topical pieces in the Star. The bulk of the work, however, is now published for the first time. The title is self-explanatory, but the close parallel between our own period and that of the Roman Empire in the time of Juvenal will be best appreciated by those familiar with the works of the great Roman satirist.

                                                                                                                                                         R. B.

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