ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

Home
Biography
Bibliography

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

Essays
Reviews
Letters

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

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

Links
Site Diary
Site Search

{A Selection of Poems}

 

 

THE BALLAD OF JUDAS ISCARIOT.

 

’Twas the body of Judas Iscariot
     Lay in the Field of Blood;
’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Beside the body stood.

Black was the earth by night,
     And black was the sky;
Black, black were the broken clouds,
     Tho’ the red Moon went by.

’Twas the body of Judas Iscariot
     Strangled and dead lay there;
’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Look’d on it in despair.

The breath of the World came and went
     Like a sick man’s in rest;
Drop by drop on the World’s eyes
     The dews fell cool and blest.

Then the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Did make a gentle moan—
‘I will bury underneath the ground
     My flesh and blood and bone.

‘I will bury deep beneath the soil,
     Lest mortals look thereon,
And when the wolf and raven come
     The body will be gone!

‘The stones of the field are sharp as steel,
     And hard and cold, God wot;
And I must bear my body hence
     Until I find a spot!’

’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot,
     So grim, and gaunt, and gray,
Raised the body of Judas Iscariot,
     And carried it away.

And as he bare it from the field
     Its touch was cold as ice,
And the ivory teeth within the jaw
     Rattled aloud, like dice.

As the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Carried its load with pain,
The Eye of Heaven, like a lanthorn’s eye,
     Open’d and shut again.

Half he walk’d, and half he seemed
     Lifted on the cold wind;
He did not turn, for chilly hands
     Were pushing from behind.

The first place that he came unto
     It was the open wold,
And underneath were prickly whins,
     And a wind that blew so cold.

The next place that he came unto
     It was a stagnant pool,
And when he threw the body in
     It floated light as wool.

He drew the body on his back,
     And it was dripping chill,
And the next place be came unto
     Was a Cross upon a hill.

A Cross upon the windy hill,
     And a Cross on either side,
Three skeletons that swing thereon,
     Who had been crucified.

And on the middle cross-bar sat
     A white Dove slumbering;
Dim it sat in the dim light,
     With its head beneath its wing.

And underneath the middle Cross
     A grave yawn’d wide and vast,
But the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Shiver’d, and glided past.

The fourth place that he came unto
     It was the Brig of Dread,
And the great torrents rushing down
     Were deep, and swift, and red.

He dared not fling the body in
     For fear of faces dim
And arms were waved in the wild water
     To thrust it back to him.

’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Turned from the Brig of Dread,
And the dreadful foam of the wild water
     Had splashed the body red.

For days and nights he wandered on
     Upon an open plain,
And the days went by like blinding mist,
     And the nights like rushing rain.

For days and nights he wandered on,
     All thro’ the Wood of Woe;
And the nights went by like moaning wind,
     And the days like drifting snow.

’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Came with a weary face—
Alone, alone, and all alone,
     Alone in a lonely place!

He wandered east, he wandered west,
     And heard no human sound;
For months and years, in grief and tears,
     He wandered round and round,

For months and years, in grief and tears,
     He walked the silent night;
Then the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Perceived a far-off light.

A far-off light across the waste,
     As dim as dim might be,
That came and went like the lighthouse gleam
     On a black night at sea.

’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Crawl’d to the distant gleam;
And the rain came down, and the rain was blown
     Against him with a scream.

For days and nights he wandered on,
     Push’d on by hands behind;
And the days went by like black, black rain,
     And the nights like rushing wind.

’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot,
     Strange, and sad, and tall,
Stood all alone at dead of night
     Before a lighted hall.

And the wold was white with snow,
     And his foot-marks black and damp,
And the ghost of the silvern Moon arose,
     Holding her yellow lamp.

And the icicles were on the eaves,
     And the walls were deep with white,
And the shadows of the guests within
     Pass’d on the window light.

The shadows of the wedding guests
     Did strangely come and go,
And the body of Judas Iscariot
     Lay stretch’d along the snow.

The body of Judas Iscariot
     Lay stretched along the snow;
’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Ran swiftly to and fro.

To and fro, and up and down,
     He ran so swiftly there,
As round and round the frozen Pole
     Glideth the lean white bear.

’Twas the Bridegroom sat at the table-head,
     And the lights burnt bright and clear—
‘Oh, who is that,’ the Bridegroom said,
     ‘Whose weary feet I hear?’

’Twas one look’d from the lighted hall,
     And answered soft and slow,
‘It is a wolf runs up and down
     With a black track in the snow.’

The Bridegroom in his robe of white
     Sat at the table-head—
‘Oh, who is that who moans without?’
     The blessed Bridegroom said.

’Twas one looked from the lighted hall,
     And answered fierce and low,
‘’Tis the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Gliding to and fro.’

’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Did hush itself and stand,
And saw the Bridegroom at the door
     With a light in his hand.

The Bridegroom stood in the open door,
     And he was clad in white,
And far within the Lord’s Supper
     Was spread so broad and bright.

The Bridegroom shaded his eyes and look’d,
     And his face was bright to see—
‘What dost thou here at the Lord’s Supper
     With thy body’s sins?’ said he.

’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Stood black, and sad, and bare—
‘I have wandered many nights and days;
     There is no light elsewhere.’

’Twas the wedding guests cried out within,
     And their eyes were fierce and bright—
‘Scourge the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Away into the night!’

The Bridegroom stood in the open door,
     And he waved hands still and slow,
And the third time that he waved his hands
     The air was thick with snow.

And of every flake of falling snow,
     Before it touched the ground,
There came a dove, and a thousand doves
     Made sweet sound.

’Twas the body of Judas Iscariot
     Floated away full fleet,
And the wings of the doves that bare it off
     Were like its winding-sheet.

’Twas the Bridegroom stood at the open door,
     And beckon’d, smiling sweet;
’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Stole in, and fell at his feet.

‘The Holy Supper is spread within,
     And the many candles shine,
And I have waited long for thee
     Before I poured the wine!’

The supper wine is poured at last,
     The lights burn bright and fair,
Iscariot washes the Bridegroom’s feet,
     And dries them with his hair.

 

[Note:
On Good Friday, 25th March 2005, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme about Judas Iscariot entitled ‘The Wickedest Man’:

     “In The Wickedest Man, Janet Robson traces the way the image and “idea” of Judas has been exploited and manipulated down the centuries for social and religious reasons, and asks whether he has been unfairly maligned.”

Although the programme concentrated mainly on the changing image of Judas in the visual arts, it concluded with a reading of the final stanzas of Robert Buchanan’s poem by Andrew Sachs (stanzas 35, 42, 44-49).]

_____

 

THE LIGHTS OF LEITH.

 

I.

‘The lights o’ Leith! the lights o’ Leith!’
     The skipper cried aloud—
While the wintry gale with snow and hail
     Blew snell thro’ sail and shroud.

‘The lights o’ Leith! the lights o’ Leith!’
     As he paced the deck cried he—
‘How merrily bright they burn this night
     Thro’ the reek o’ the stormy sea!’

As the ship ran in thro’ the surging spray
     Afire seemed all the town;
They saw the glare from far away,
And, safely steer’d to the land-lock’d bay,
     They cast their anchor down.

‘’Tis sure a feast in the town o’ Leith
     (To his mate the skipper spoke),
‘And yonder shadows that come and go,
Across the quay where the bonfires glow,
     Are the merry-making folk.

‘In right good time we are home once more
     From the wild seas and rough weather—
Come, launch a boat, and we’ll run ashore,
     And see the sport together.’

But the mate replied, while he shoreward gazed
     With sad and gentle eyes,
While the lights of Leith beyond him blazed
     And he heard the landward cries:

‘’Tis twenty lang year since I first left here,
     In the time o’ frost and snaw—
I was only a lad, and my heart was mad
     To be up, and free, and awa’!

‘My mither she prayed me no’ to gang,
     For she had nae bairn but me—
My father was droon’d, and sleeping amang
     The weeds o’ the northern sea.

‘I stole awa’ in the mirk o’ night
     And left my mither asleep,
And ere she waken’d, at morning light,
     I was oot on the roaring deep.

‘Aye, twenty lang year hae past sin’ syne,
     And my heart has aft been sair
To think o’ that puir auld mither o’ mine,
     Alane, in a warld o’ care.

‘When back I cam’ frae the salt sea faem
     I was a bearded man,
Ae simmer I dwelt in the hoose at hame,
     Then awa’ to the sea I ran.

‘And twice sin’ syne hae I left the sea
     To seek the hameward track,
And aye my mither had had for me—
Tho’ ne’er a gift had my hands to gie—
     A tender welcome back.

‘Then, cast awa’ in a soothern land,
     And taen to slaverie,
I lang’d for the touch o’ a mither’s hand
     And the glint o’ a mither’s e’e.

‘But noo that my wandering days are done,
     I hae dree’d a penance sad,
I am coming hame, like the Prodigal Son,
     But wi’ siller to mak’ her glad!

‘I hae gowden rings for my mither’s hand,
     Bonnie and braw past dream,
And, fit for a leddy o’ the land,
     A shawl o’ the Indian seam.

‘And I lang, and lang, to seek ance mair
     The cot by the side o’ the sea,
And to find my gray old mither there,
     Waiting and watching for me;

‘To dress her oot like a leddy grand,
     While the tears o’ gladness drap,
To put the rings on her wrinkled hand,
     The siller intil her lap!

‘And to say “O mither, I’m hame, I’m hame!
     Forgie me, O forgie!
And never mair shall ye ken a care
     Until the day you dee!”’

O bright and red shone the lights of Leith
     In the snowy winter-tide—
Down the cheeks of the man the salt tears ran,
     As he stood by the skipper’s side.

‘But noo I look on the lights o’ hame
     My heart sinks sick and cauld—
Lest I come owre late for her love or blame,
     For oh! my mither was auld!

‘For her een were dim when I sail’d awa’,
     And snaw was on her heid,
And I fear—I fear—after mony a year,
     To find my mither—deid!

‘Sae I daurna enter the toon o’ Leith,
     Where the merry yule-fires flame,
Lest I hear the tidings o’ dule and death,
     Ere I enter the door o’ hame.

‘But ye’ll let them row me to yonner shore
     Beyond the lights o’ the quay,
And I’ll climb the brae to the cottage door,
     A hunnerd yards frae the sea.

‘If I see a light thro’ the mirk o’ night,
     I’ll ken my mither is there;
I’ll keek, maybe, through the pane, and see
     Her face in its snawy hair!

‘The face sae dear that for mony a year
     I hae prayed to see again,—
O a mither’s face has a holy grace
     ’Bune a’ the faces o’ men!

‘Then I’ll enter in wi’ silent feet,
     And saftly cry her name—
And I’ll see the dim auld een grow sweet
     Wi’ a heavenly welcome hame!

‘And I’ll cry, “O mither, I’m here, I’m here!
     Forgie me, O forgie!
And never mair shall ye ken a care!
Your son shall lea’ thee never mair
     To sail on the stormy sea!”’

 

II.

They row’d him to the lonely shore
     Beyond the lights of the quay,
And he climb’d the brae to the cottage door
     A hundred yards from the sea.

He saw no light thro’ the mirk of night,
     And his heart sank down with dread,
‘But ’tis late,’ thought he, ‘and she lies, maybe,
     Soond sleeping in her bed!’

Half-way he paused, for the blast blew keen,
     And the sea roar’d loud below,
And he turn’d his face to the town-lights, seen
     Thro’ the white and whirling snow.

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     How they flash’d on the night-black bay,
White with sullen roar on the rocky shore
     The waters splash’d their spray!

When close he came to the lonely cot,
     He paused in deeper dread,—
For the gleam that came from the far-off flame
     Just touch’d the walls with red;

Thro’ the doorway dark did the bleak wind blow,
     The windows were black and bare,
And the house was floor’d with the cruel snow,
     And roof’d with the empty air!

‘O mither, mither!’ he moan’d aloud,
     ‘And are ye deid and gane?
Hae I waited in tears thro’ the weary years,
     And a’ in vain, in vain?’

He stood on the hearth, while the snow swam drear
     Between the roofless walls—
‘O mither! mither! come here, come here,—
     ’Tis your ain son, Robin, calls!’

On his eager ears, as he stood in tears,
     There came a faint foot-tread—
Then out of the storm crept a woman’s form
     With hooded face and head.

Like a black, black ghost the shape came near
     Till he heard its heavy breath—
‘What man,’ it sighed, ‘stands sabbing here,
     In the wearifu’ hoose o’ death?’

‘Come hither, come hither, whae’er ye be,’
     He answer’d loud and clear—
‘I am Robin Sampson, come hame frae the sea,
     And I seek my mither dear!’

‘O Robin, Robin,’ a voice cried sobbing,
     ‘O Robin, and is it yersel’?
I’m Janet Wylie, lame Janet Wylie,
     Your kissen, frae Marywell!’

‘O Robin, Robin,’ again she cried,
     ‘O Robin, and can it be?
Ah, better far had the wind and the tide
     Ne’er brought ye across the sea!’

Wailing she sank on the snow-heap’d hearth,
     And rocked her body in pain—
‘O Robin, Robin,’ she cried to him sobbing,
     Your mither—your mither—is gane!’

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     How brightly still they glow!
The faint flame falls on the ruined walls,
     On the hearthstone heap’d in snow!

‘O Janet, Janet, kind cousin Janet,
     If ever ye cared for me,
Noo let me hear o’ my mither dear,
     And hoo she cam’ to dee!’

Wailing she lifted her weeping face,
     And answer’d in soul’s despair—
‘O Robin, awa’ frae the wicked place—
     Awa’—and ask nae mair!’

But he grasp’d her arm with a grip of steel
     And cried ‘O Janet, speak!’
‘O Robin dear, dinna seek to hear,
     For oh! your heart must breik!’

But he pressed her more, and he pleaded sore,
     Till at last the tale was told,
And he listened on, till the tale was done,
     Like a man death-struck and cold.

 

III.

‘O Robin dear, when ye sail’d awa’,
     That last time, on the sea,
We knew her heart was breiking in twa,
     And we thought that she wad dee.

‘But after a while she forced a smile—
     “I’ll greet nae mair,” said she,
“But I’ll wait and pray that the Lord, ae day,
     May bring him again to me!

‘“The Lord is guid, and Robin my son
     As kind as a bairn can be—
Aye true as steel, and he loes me weel,
     Tho’ he’s gane across the sea.”

‘O Robin, Robin, baith late and air’
     She prayed and prayed for thee,
But evermair when the blast blew sair,
     She was langest on her knee!’

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     That flame o’er sea and skies!
How bright they glow!— while the salt tears flow
     From that bearded mariner’s eyes.

‘But, Robin, your mither was auld and pair,
     And the season’s cauld and keen;
The white, white snaw was on her hair,
     The frost film ower her een.

‘And here in the hut beside the sea,
     The pair auld wife did dwell—
Her only kin were my mither and me,
     And we were as pair’s hersel’.

‘She leeved on a handfu’ o’ barley meal,
     A drink frae the spring sae cauld—
O Robin, Robin, a heart o’ steel
     Might bleed for the weak and auld!

‘In twa she was bent, on a staff she leant,
     Wi’ ragged duds for claise,
And wearifu’ up and doon she went,
     Gath’ring her sticks and straes.

‘And the weans wad thrang as she creepit alang,
     And point, and cry sae shrill—
“There’s Grannie Sampson,” was ever their sang,
     “The wicked witch o’ the hill!”

‘Ah, mony’s the time up the hill she’d climb,
     While the imps wad scream and craw—
At the door she’d stand, wi’ her staff in hand,
     And angrily screech them awa’!

‘Then wi’ feeble feet creeping ben, she’d greet
     That the warld misca’d her sae,
And wi’ face as white as the winding-sheet,
     She’d kneel by the bed, and pray.

‘O Robin, Robin, she prayed for him
     Wha sail’d in the wild sea-rack,
And the tears wad drap frae her een sae dim,
     As she prayed for her bairn to come back!

‘Then whiles . . . when she thought nae folk were near . . .
     (O Robin, she thought nae harm!
But stoop your heid, lest they hear, lest they hear!)
     She tried . . . an auld-farrant charm.

‘A charm aft tried in the ingleside
     When bairns are blythesome and free,
A charm (come near, lest they hear, lest they hear!)
     To bring her boy hame from the sea!

‘And the auld black cat at her elbow sat,
     (The cat you gied her yersel’)
And the folk, keeking in thro’ the pane, saw a sin,
     And thought she was weaving a spell!’

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     They flame on the wintry gale!
With sore drawn breath, and a face like death,
     He hearks to the gruesome tale!

‘O Robin, Robin, I kenna hoo
     The lee was faither’d first,
But (whisper again, lest they ken, lest they ken!)
     They thought the puir body accurst!

‘They thought the spell had been wrought in Hell,
     To kill and curse and blight,
They thought she flew, when naebody knew,
     To a Sabbath o’ fiends, ilk night!

‘Then ane whose corn had wither’d ae morn,
     And ane whose kye sicken’d doon,
Crept, scared and pale, wi’ the leein’ tale,
     To the meenisters, up the toon.

‘Noo, Robin, jest then, King Jamie the King
     Was oot at sea in his bark,
And the bark nigh sank unner, wi’ fireflaught and thunner,
     And they thought—the Deil was at wark!

‘The King cam’ to land, and loup’d on the strand,
     Pale as a ghaist and afraid,
Wi’ courtiers and clergy, a wild fearfu’ band,
     He ran to the kirk, and prayed,

‘Then the clergy made oot ’twas witchcraft, nae doot,
     And searchit up and doon,
And . . . foond your auld mither (wae’s me!) and twa ither,
     And dragg’d them up to the toon!

‘O Robin, dear Robin, hearken nae mair!’
     ‘Speak on, I’ll heark to the en’!’
‘O Robin, Robin, the sea oot there
     Is kinder than cruel men!

‘They took her before King Jamie the King,
     Whaur he sat wi’ sceptre and croon,
And the cooard courtiers stood in a ring,
     And the meenisters gather’d roon’.

‘They bade her tell she had wrought the spell
     That made the tempest blaw;
They strippit her bare as a naked bairn,
They tried her wi’ pincers and heated airn,
     Till she shriek’d and swoon’d awa’!

‘O Robin, Robin, the King sat there,
     While the cruel deed was done,
And the clergy o’ Christ ne’er bade him spare
     For the sake o’ God’s ain Son!. . . .’

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     Like Hell’s own lights they glow
While the sailor stands, with his trembling hands
     Prest hard on his heart in woe!

‘O Robin, Robin . . . they doom’d her to burn . . .
     Doon yonner upon the quay . . .
This night was the night . . . see the light! see the light!
     How it burns by the side o’ the sea!’

. . . She paused with a moan. . . . He had left her alone,
     And rushing through drift and snow,
Down the side of the wintry hill he had flown,
     His eyes on the lights below!

 

IV.

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     They flame on the eyes of the crowd,
Around, up and down, move the folk of the town,
     While the bells of the kirk peal aloud!

High up on the quay, blaze the balefires, and see!
     Three stakes are deep set in the ground,
To each stake smear’d with pitch clings the corpse of a witch,
     With the fire flaming redly around!

What madman is he who leaps in where they gleam,
     Close, close, to the centremost form?
‘O mither, O mither!’ he cries, with a scream,
     That rings thro’ the heart of the storm!

He can see the white hair snowing down thro’ the glare,
     The white face upraised to the skies—
Then the cruel red blaze blots the thing from his gaze,
     And he falls on his face,—and dies.

 

V.

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     See, see! they are flaming still!
Thro’ the clouds of the past them flame is cast,
     While the Sabbath bells ring shrill!

The lights of Leith! the lights of Leith!
     They’ll burn till the Judgment Day!
Till the Church’s curse and the monarch’s shame,
And the sin that slew in the Blessed Name,
     Are burned and purg’d away!

 

NOTE.—The foundation of this ballad is historical, more particularly the part taken by the enlightened pedant, James VI. of Scotland, who, on his accession to the English throne, procured the infamous statute against witchcraft, which actually remained unrepealed till 1736, and even then was repealed under strong protest from the Scottish clergy! One traveller, as late as 1664, casually notices the fact of having seen nine witches burning together at Leith, and in 1678, nine others were condemned in a single day.— R.B.

_____

 

PHIL BLOOD’S LEAP.

A TALE OF THE GOLD-SEEKERS.

 

‘There’s some think Injins pison . . .’ [It was Parson Pete who spoke,
As we sat there, in the camp-fire glare, like shadows among the smoke.
’Twas the dead of night, and in the light our faces burn’d bright red,
And the wind all round made a screeching sound, and the pines roared overhead.

Ay, Parson Pete was talking; we called him Parson Pete,
For you must learn he’d a talking turn, and handled things so neat;
He’d a preaching style, and a winning smile, and, when all talk was spent,
Six-shooter had he, and a sharp bowie, to p’int his argyment.

Some one had spoke of the Injin folk, and we had a guess, you bet,
They might be creeping, while we were sleeping, to catch us in the net;
And half were asleep and snoring deep, while the others vigil kept,
But devil a one let go his gun, whether he woke or slept.]

‘There’s some think Injins pison, and others count ’em scum,
And night and day they are melting away, clean into Kingdom Come;
But don’t you go and make mistakes, like many dern’d fools I’ve known,
For dirt is dirt, and snakes is snakes, but an Injin’s flesh and bone!

We were seeking gold in the Texan hold, and we’d had a blaze of luck,
More rich and rare the stuff ran there at every foot we struck;
Like men gone wild we t’iled and t’iled, and never seemed to tire,
The hot sun beamed, and our faces streamed with the sweat of a mad desire.

I was Captain then of the mining men, and I had a precious life,
For a wilder set I never met at derringer and knife;
Nigh every day there was some new fray, a bullet in some one’s brain,
And the viciousest brute to stab and to shoot, was an Imp of Hell from Maine.

Phil Blood. Well, he was six foot three, with a squint to make you skeer’d,
His face all scabb’d, and twisted and stabb’d, with carroty hair and beard;
Sour as the drink in Bitter Chink, sharp as a grizzly’s squeal,
Limp in one leg, for a leaden egg had nick’d him in the heel.

No beauty was he, but a sight to see, all stript to the waist and bare,
With his grim-set jaws, and his panther paws, and his hawk’s eye all aglare;
With pick and spade in sun and shade he labour’d like darnation,
But when his spell was over,—well! he was fond of his recreation!

And being a crusty kind of cuss, the only sport he had,
When work was over, seemed to us a bit too rough and bad;
For to put some lead in a comrade’s head was the greatest fun in life,
And the sharpest joke he was known to poke was the p’int of his precious knife.

But game to the bone was Phil, I’ll own, and he always fought most fair,
With as good a will to be killed as kill, true grit as any there:
Of honour too, like me or you, he’d a scent, though not so keen,
Would rather be riddled thro’ and thro’, than do what he thought mean.

But his eddication to his ruination had not been over nice,
And his stupid skull was choking full of vulgar prejudice;
With anything white he’d drink, or he’d fight in fair and open fray;
But to murder and kill was his wicked will, if an Injin came his way!

‘A sarpent’s hide has pison inside, and an Injin’s heart’s the same,
If he seems your friend for to gain his end, look out for the sarpent’s game;
Of the snakes that crawl, the worst of all is the snake in a skin of red,
A spotted Snake, and no mistake!’ that’s what he always said.

Well, we’d jest struck our bit of luck, and were wild as raving men,
When who should stray to our camp one day, but Black Panther, the Cheyenne;
Drest like a Christian, all a-grin, the old one joins our band,
And tho’ the rest look’d black as sin, he shakes me by the hand.

Now, the poor old cuss had been good to us, and I knew that he was true,—
I’d have trusted him with life and limb as soon as I’d trust you;
For tho’ his wit was gone a bit, and he drank like any fish,
His heart was kind, he was well-inclined, as even a white could wish.

Food had got low, for we didn’t know the run of the hunting-ground,
And our hunters were sick, when, jest in the nick, the friend in need was found;
For he knew the place like his mother’s face (or better, a heap, you’d say,
Since she was a squaw of the roaming race, and himself a cast-away).

Well, I took the Panther into camp, and the critter was well content,
And off with him, on the hunting tramp, next day our hunters went,
And I reckon that day and the next we didn’t want for food,
And only one in the camp looked vext—that Imp of Hell, Phil Blood.

Nothing would please his contrairy idees! an Injin made him rile!
He didn’t speak, but I saw on his cheek a kind of an ugly smile;
And I knew his skin was hatching sin, and I kept the Panther apart,
For the Injin he was too blind to see the dirt in a white man’s heart!

Well, one fine day, we a-resting lay at noon-time by the creek,
The red sun blazed, and we felt half-dazed, too beat to stir or speak;
’Neath the alder trees we stretched at ease, and we couldn’t see the sky,
For the lian-flowers in bright blue showers hung through the branches high.

It was like the gleam of a fairy-dream, and I felt like earth’s first Man,
In an Eden bower with the yellow flower of a cactus for a fan;
Oranges, peaches, grapes, and figs, cluster’d, ripen’d, and fell,
And the cedar scent was pleasant, blent with the soothing ’cacia smell.

The squirrels red ran overhead, and I saw the lizards creep,
And the woodpecker bright with the chest so white tapt like a sound in sleep;
I dreamed and dozed with eyes half-closed, and felt like a three-year child,
And, a plantain blade on his brow for a shade, even Phil Blood look’d mild.

Well, back, jest then, came our hunting men, with the Panther at their head,
Full of his fun was every one, and the Panther’s eyes were red,
And he skipt about with grin and shout, for he’d had a drop that day,
And he twisted and twirled, and squeal’d and skirl’d, in the foolish Injin way.

To the waist all bare Phil Blood lay there, with only his knife in his belt,
And I saw his bloodshot eyeballs stare, and I knew how fierce he felt,—
When the Injin dances with grinning glances around him as he lies,
With his painted skin and his monkey grin,—and leers into his eyes!

Then before I knew what I should do Phil Blood was on his feet,
And the Injin could trace the hate in his face, and his heart began to beat;
And, ‘Git out o’ the way,’ he heard them say, ‘for he means to hev your life!’
But before he could fly at the warning cry, he saw the flash of the knife.

‘Run, Panther run!’ cried each mother’s son, and the Panther took the track;
With a wicked glare, like a wounded bear, Phil Blood sprang at his back.
Up the side so steep of the cañon deep the poor old critter sped,
And the devil’s limb ran after him, till they faded overhead.

Now, the spot of ground where our luck was found was a queerish place, you’ll mark,
Jest under the jags of the mountain crags and the precipices dark;
Far up on high, close to the sky, the two crags leant together,
Leaving a gap, like an open trap, with a gleam of golden weather.

A pathway led from the beck’s dark bed up to the crags on high,
And along that path the Injin fled, fast as a man could fly.
Some shots were fired, for I desired to keep the white beast back;
But I missed my man, and away he ran on the flying Injin’s track.

Now all below is thick, you know, with ’cacia, alder, and pine,
And the bright shrubs deck the side of the beck, and the lian flowers so fine.
For the forest creeps all under the steeps, and feathers the feet of the crags
With boughs so thick that your path you pick, like a steamer among the snags.

But right above you, the crags, Lord love you! are bare as this here hand,
And your eyes you wink at the bright blue chink, as looking up you stand.
If a man should pop in that trap at the top, he’d never rest arm or leg,
Till neck and crop to the bottom he’d drop—and smash on the stones like an egg!

‘Come back, you cuss! come back to us! and let the critter be!’
I screamed out loud, while the men in a crowd stood grinning at them and me . . .
But up they went, and my shots were spent, and at last they disappeared,—
One minute more, and we gave a roar, for the Injin had leapt, and cleared!

A leap for a deer, not a man, to clear,—and the bloodiest grave below!
But the critter was smart and mad with fear, and he went like a bolt from a bow!
Close after him came the devil’s limb, with his eyes as dark as death,
But when he came to the gulch’s brim, I reckon he paused for breath!

For breath at the brink! but—a white man shrink, when a red had passed so neat?
I knew Phil Blood too well to think he’d turn his back dead beat!
He takes one run, leaps up in the sun, and bounds from the slippery ledge,
And he clears the hole, but—God help his soul! just touches the tother edge!

One scrambling fall, one shriek, one call, from the men that stand and stare,—
Black in the blue where the sky looks thro’, he staggers, dwarf’d up there;
The edge he touches, then sinks, and clutches the rock—our eyes grow dim—
I turn away—what’s that they say?—he’s a-hanging on to the brim!

. . . On the very brink of the fatal chink a ragged shrub there grew,
And to that he clung, and in silence swung betwixt us and the blue,
And as soon as a man could run I ran the way I’d seen them flee,
And I came mad-eyed to the chasm’s side, and—what do you think I see?

All up? Not quite. Still hanging? Right! But he’d torn away the shrub;
With lolling tongue he clutch’d and swung—to what? ay, that’s the rub!
I saw him glare and dangle in air,—for the empty hole he trode,—
Help’d by a pair of hands up there!—The Injin’s? Yes, by God!

Now, boys, look here! for many a year I’ve roam’d in this here land—
And many a sight both day and night I’ve seen that I think grand;
Over the whole wide world I’ve been, and I know both things and men,
But the biggest sight I’ve ever seen was the sight I saw jest then.

I held my breath—so nigh to death Phil Blood swung hand and limb,
And it seem’d to us all that down he’d fall, with the Panther after him,
But the Injin at length put out his strength—and another minute past,—
—Then safe and sound to the solid ground he drew Phil Blood, at last!!

Saved? True for you! By an Injin too!—and the man he meant to kill!
There all alone, on the brink of stone, I see them standing still;
Phil Blood gone white, with the struggle and fright, like a great mad bull at bay,
And the Injin meanwhile, with a half-skeer’d smile, ready to spring away.

What did Phil do? Well, I watched the two, and I saw Phil Blood turn back,
Bend over the brink and take a blink right down the chasm black,
Then stooping low for a moment or so, he sheath’d his bowie bright,
Spat slowly down, and watch’d with a frown, as the spittle sank from sight!

Hands in his pockets, eyes downcast, silent, thoughtful, and grim,
While the Panther, grinning as he passed, still kept his eyes on him,
Phil Blood strolled slow to his mates below, down by the mountain track,
With his lips set tight and his face all white, and the Panther at his back.

I reckon they stared when the two appeared! but never a word Phil spoke,
Some of them laughed and others jeered,—but he let them have their joke;
He seemed amazed, like a man gone dazed, the sun in his eyes too bright,
And for many a week, in spite of their cheek, he never offered to fight.

And after that day he changed his play, and kept a civiller tongue,
And whenever an Injin came that way, his contrairy head he hung;
But whenever he heard the lying word, ‘It’s a L
IE!’ Phil Blood would groan;
‘A Snake is a Snake, make no mistake! but an Injin’s flesh and bone!’

_____

 

JAMES AVERY.

 

At Portsmouth, in a tavern dark,
     One day of windy weather,
A crew of reckless sailors sat,
     And drank their grog together.

Loud was the talk, and rude the joke,
     So deep the jovial din
They did not mark a lean, wild shape
     Who shivering enter’d in:

A beggar wight, who hugg’d his rags,
     And chatter’d with the cold;
Lean was his shape, his eyeballs dim,
     Wrinkled his cheek, and old.

In a dark corner of the room
     He sat with sorry cheer,
Not list’ning, till a word, a name,
     Fell on his frozen ear.

‘James Avery!’ and as he spake
     One pointed thro’ the pane
At a great playbill on the wall
     Of the damp and oozy lane.

On the dead wall the letters great
     Made tempting bright display:
James Avery, the Pirate King,
     Was posted that night’s play.

‘Ay!’ cried a tar, reading aloud,
     ‘Well might they call him so!
The Pirate King—I grudge his luck!’
     Then, with an oath, ‘I’ll go.’

Another cried, ‘Ah, that’s the life
     To suit a sailor’s style
Ben Conway saw his palace, mates,
     On Madagascar Isle;

‘And on a throne, in red and gold,
     Jem sat like any king,
With dark-eyed donnas all around,
     As fresh as flowers in spring!

‘They brought him wine in cups of gold,
     And each knelt on her knee—
Each mother-naked, smooth as silk—
     Ah, that’s the life for me!’

Then spake a third, ‘I sailed with Jem
     On board the “Hurricane”;
When he deserted I ne’er thought
     To hear of him again.

‘And now it’s long since last I heard
     His name, and p’raps he’s dead.’
‘Not so; he only takes a nap!’
     A grizzly war’s-man said.

‘He has a fleet of fighting ships,
     Swifter than ours tenfold;
Last spring he took six Indiamen,
     Laden with gems and gold.

‘There’s not a corner of the main
     But knows the skull and bones—
Up goes the flag! and down comes Jem,
     As sure as Davy Jones.

‘But let him have his fling; some day
     We’ll catch him at his trade—
Short shrift! a rope! and up he goes,
     And all his pranks are played.’

All laughed; ‘But not so fast,’ cried one;
     ‘It’s not too late, I vow;
His Majesty would pardon him,
     If he’d surrender now.

‘The pardon’s in the newspapers,
     In black and white it’s there;
If pirate Jem will cease his games,
     They’ll spare his life, they swear.’

All laugh’d again—‘Jem’s wide awake—
     You don’t catch birds with chaff—
Come back to biscuit and salt junk?
     He is too ’cute by half.

‘Leave all his gold and precious stones,
     His kingdom, and all that,
Bid all them dark-eyed girls farewell
     For labour,—and the cat?’

Ev’n as they speak, a wretched form
     Springs up before their eyes.
‘Give me the paper! let me read!’
     The famished creature cries.

They thrust him back with jeer and laugh,
     So wild and strange is he. . . .
‘Why, who’s this skeleton?’ . . . A voice
     Answers, ‘James Avery!’

Louder they laugh—‘He’s mad! he’s mad!’
     They round him in a ring.
‘Jem here in rags! no, he’s in luck,
     As grand as any king!’

But soon he proves his story true
     With eager words and tones;
Then, as he ends, ‘Bread, give me bread!
     I’m starving, mates!’ he moans.

‘Nay, drink!’ they cry; and his lean hands
     Clutch at the fiery cup.
‘Here’s to the King who pardons me!’
     He cries, and drinks it up.

He tells them of his weary days
     Since that dark hour he fled,
A hunted thing, without a home
     Wherein to lay his head.

Through some mysterious freak of fate,
     His name abroad was spread,
And not a wondrous deed was done
     But that wild name was said;

And all the time James Avery dwelt
     An outcast, gaunt and grim,
Till creeping home that day he heard
     His King had pardoned him.

The wild drink mounted to his brain,
     He revell’d maniac-eyed,
‘Come to the playhouse—’twill be sport
     To see thyself! ‘ they cried.

Between them, down the narrow street
     They led his scarecrow form—
The wind blew chill from off the sea,
     Before the rising storm.

They sat and saw the mimic play,
     Till late into the night:—
The happy Pirate, crown’d with gold,
     And clad in raiment bright.

The actor swagger’d on the stage
     And drank of glorious cheer, . . .
James Avery gazed! his hungry laugh
     Was pitiful to hear!

They parted. . . . As the chill white dawn
     Struck down a lonely lane,
It flashed upon the rainy wall
     And made the play-bill plain.

James Avery, the Pirate King!
     The mocking record said—
Beneath, James Avery’s famish’d form
     Lay ragged, cold, and dead!

_____

 

Next: ‘The Devil’s Peepshow’

A Selection of Poems - the List

 

Home
Biography
Bibliography

 

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

 

Essays
Reviews
Letters

 

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

 

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

Links
Site Diary
Site Search