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{Robert Buchanan - The Poet of Modern Revolt by Archibald Stodart-Walker}





An interval of four years brings us in 1870 to the publication of ‘The Book of Orm,’ in other words, ‘The Book of the Visions seen by Orm the Celt.’ In this volume, which, by the poet’s own confession, strikes the personal keynote to all his work, the poet enters boldly into the lights and shadows of mystic realism. Here, in the character of Orm the Celt, the poet brings himself face to face with the mysteries of life and death; here he attempts to grapple with the unseen; dreams of an uplifted veil; has visions of man’s birth, rise, and fall; and sees with the eye of the poet the lonely God who neither can nor will help the human sufferer in his desire for knowledge, peace, rest, and, perhaps, forgetfulness:

There is a mortal, and his name is Orm,
Born in the evening of the world, and looking
Back from the sunset to the gates of morning.

     In ‘The First Song of the Veil’ we are told how ‘Ere Man grew, the Veil was woven bright and blue,’ and how this veil ‘the beautiful Master’ drew over his face:

Then starry, luminous,                                                                     63
Rolled the Veil of azure
O'er the first dwellings
     Of mortal race;
—And since the beginning
No mortal vision,
Pure or sinning,
     Hath seen the Face

Yet mark me closely!
     Strongly I swear,
Seen or seen not,
     The Face is there!
When the Veil is clearest
     And sunniest,
Closest and nearest
     The Face is prest;
But when, grown weary
With long downlooking,
The Face withrawing
     For a time is gone,
The great Veil darkens,
And ye see full clearly
Glittering numberless
     The gems thereon.
For the lamp of his features
Divinely burning,
Shines, and suffuses
     The Veil with light,
And the Face, drawn backward
With that deep sighing
Ye hear in the gloaming,
     Leaveth the Night.

And thus men as they journeyed graveward, ‘evermore hoping, evermore seeking, nevermore guessing, crying, denying, questioning, dreaming,’ nevermore certain, evermore craved to look on a token, to gaze on the Face, in vain. Next we have a picture of Earth the Mother:

Beautiful, beautiful, she lay below,
     The mighty Mother of humanity,
Turning her sightless eyeballs to the glow
     Of light she could not see,
Feeling the happy warmth, and breathing slow                                 64
     As if her thoughts were shining tranquilly.
Beautiful, beautiful the Mother lay,
Crownèd with silver spray,
The greenness gathering hushfully around
     The peace of her great heart, while on her breast
The wayward Waters, with a weeping sound,
     Were sobbing into rest.
For all day long her face shone merrily,
And at its smile the waves leapt mad and free:
But at the darkening of the Veil, she drew
     The wild things to herself, and husht their cries.
Then, stiller, dumber, search’d the deepening Blue
     With passionate blind eyes;
And went the old life over in her thought,
Dreamily praying as her memory wrought
     The dimly guess’d at, never utter’d tale,
         While, over her dreaming,
         Deepen’d the luminous,
         Star-inwrought, beautiful,
     Folds of the wondrous Veil.

And the poet tells us how

In the beginning, long ago,
Without a Veil looked down the Face ye know,
And Earth, an infant happy-eyed and bright,
Look’d smiling up, and gladden’d in its sight.
But later, when the Man Flower from her womb
Burst into brightening bloom,
In her glad eyes a golden dust was blown
Out of the Void, and she was blind as stone.

And since that day
She hath not seen, nor spoken,—lest her say
     Should be a sorrow and fear to mortal race,
And doth not know the Lord hath hid away,
     But turneth up blind orbs—to feel the Face.

The voices of the Children of Earth are heard crying:

‘O Mother! Mother
     Of mortal race!
Is there a Father?
     Is there a Face?’

She felt their sorrow                                                                      65
     Against her cheek,—
She could not hearken,
     She could not speak;

and although the Master answers from the thunder-cloud, ‘I am God the Maker, I am God the Master, I am God the Father,’ Earth and her children neither saw nor heard. The Wise Men are called into view, and looming there lonely, they search the Veil wonderful ‘with tubes fire-fashioned in caverns below,’ and we are told in a striking line that

God withdrew backward,

and after long searching, in which blindness met some, and death others, the remainder creep slowly back from the heights to which they had ascended, crying out:

‘Bury us deep when dead—
We have travelled a weary road,
We have seen no more than ye.
‘Twere better not to be—
There is no God!’

And the people, hearkening,
Saw the Veil above them,
And the darkness deepen’d,
     And the Lights gleamed pale.
Ah! the lamps numberless,
The mystical jewels of God,
The luminous, wonderful,
     Beautiful Lights of the Veil!

     Part II. is entitled ‘The Man and the Shadow.’

On the high path where few men fare,
Orm meeteth one with hoary hair,
And speaketh, solemn and afraid,
Of that which haunteth him—a Shade.

66 The lonely man sitteth with downcast eyes, motionless:

Thou broodest moveless, letting yonder sun
Make thee a Dial, worn and venerable,
To show the passing hour.

The old man’s ‘withered flesh is scented with a Soul,’ and Orm is filled with joy

                                         To meet
A royal face like thine; to touch the hand
Of such a soul-fellow; to feel the want,
The upward-crying hunger, the desire,
The common hope and pathos, justified
By knowledge and grey hairs.

He talks to him of life and its meaning, of the shadows which haunt us to the grave, and of the mystery beyond. They climb together higher, yet higher, though the path is steep, and take a view of the many-coloured picture before them, the immeasurable mountains, the glassy ocean like a sheet of mother-o’-pearl, and the sky—that field of dreamy blue ‘wherein the rayless crescent of the midday Moon lies like a reaper’s sickle’—and there Orm asks:

What magic? What Magician? O my Brother,
What strange Magician, mixing up those tints,
Pouring the water down, and sending forth
The crystal air like breath, showing the heavens
With luminous jewels of the day and night,
Look’d down, and saw thee lie a lifeless clod,
And lifted thee, and moulded thee to shape,
Colour’d thee with the sunlight till thy blood
Ran ruby, poured the chemic tints o’ the air
Through eyes that kindled into azure, stole
The flesh tints of the lily and the rose
To make thee wondrous fair unto thyself,
Knitted thy limbs with ruby bands, and blew
Into thy hollow heart until it stirred,—

67 and pointing to the vales, he continues:

Below, a Storm of people like to thee
Drifts with thee westward darkly, cloud on cloud,
Uttering a common moan, and to our eyes
Casting one common shadow; yet each Soul
Therein now seeketh, with a want like thine,
The inevitable bourne. Nor those alone,
Thy perishable brethren, share thy want,
And wander haunted through the world; but Beasts,
With that dumb hunger in their eyes, project
Their darkness—by the yeanling Lambkin’s side
Its shade plays, and the basking Lizard hath
Its image on the flat stone in the sun,—
And these, the greater and the less, like thee
Shall perish in their season: in the mere
The slender Water-Lily sees her shape,
And sheddeth softly on the summer air
Her last chill breathing; and the forest Tree
That, standing glorious for a hundred years,
Lengthens its shadow daily from the sun,
Fulfilleth its own prophecy at last,
And falleth, falleth. Art thou comforted?

Orm speaks on, of the wild desires of the soul, and of the eternal shadow which haunts it; of the blank eyes and blank souls which the seeing soul meets, as it wears

Westward, to the melancholy Realm
Where all the gather’d Shades of all the world
Lie as a cloud around the feet of God.

It sees the ox eye, the blank faces of brute beasts and small-eyed kings, the former the happier, ‘because never nameless trouble filled their eyes.’

Lift up thine eyes, old man, and look on me:
Like thee, a dark point in the scheme of things,
Where the dumb Spirit that pervadeth all—
Grass, trees, beasts, man—and lives and grows in all—
Pauses upon itself, and awe-struck feels
The shadow of the next and imminent
Transfiguration. So, a living Man!                                                   68
That entity within whose brooding brain
Knowledge begins and ends—that point in time
When Time becomes the Shadow of a Dial,—
That dreadful living and corporeal Hour,
Who, wafted by an unseen Hand apart
From the wild rush of temporal things that pass,
Pauses and listens,—listening sees his face
Glassed in still waters of Eternity,—
Gazes in awe at his own loveliness,
And fears it,—glanceth with affrighted eyes
Backward and forward, and beholds all dark,
Alike the place whence he unconscious came,
And that to which he conscious drifteth on,—
Yet seeth before him, wheresoe’er he turn,
The Shadow of himself, presaging doom.

The old man speaks and calls out that he sees

Shadows! I see them—all the Shadows—see!
Uprising from the wild green sea of graves
That beats forlorn about the shores of earth.
Shadows—behold them!—how they gather and gather,
More and yet more, darker and darker yet;
Drifting with a low moan of mystery
Upward, still upward, till they almost touch
The bright dim edge of the Bow, but there they pause,
Struggling in vain against a breath from heaven,
And blacken. Hark! their sound is like a Sea!
Above them, with how dim a light divine,
Burneth the Bow,—and lo! it is a Bridge,
Dim, many-colour'd, strangely brightening,
Whereon, all faint and fair and shadowless,
Spirits like those, with faces I remember,
With a low sound like the soft rain in spring,
With a faint echo of the cradle-song,
Coming and going, beckon me! I come!
Who holds me? Touch me not. O help! I am called!

And dies, and as his soul passes, Orm asks:

                                         Art thou free?
Dost thou still hunger upward seeking rest,
Because some new horizon, strange as ours,
Shuts out the prospect of the place of peace?
Art thou a wave that, having broken once,
Gatherest up a glorious crest once more,                                         69
And glimmerest onward,—but to break again;
Or dost thou smooth thyself to perfect peace
In tranquil sight of some Eternal Shore?

No answer comes, and espying the Rainbow, he thus addresses it, as the Shadows gather round him:

The beautiful Bow of thoughts ineffable,
Last consequence of this fair cloud of flesh!
The dim miraculous Iris of sweet Dream!
Rainbow of promise! Colour, Light, and Soul!
That comes, dies, comes again, and ever draws
Its strangest source from tears—that lives, that dies—
That is, is not—now here, now faded wholly—
Ever assuring, ever blessing us,
Ever eluding, ever beckoning;
Born of our essence, yet more strange than we.

     Part III. is entitled ‘Songs of Corruption.’ The first of these, ‘Phantasy,’ telling of death which comes to take the pale wife. In the face of the mystery of death, the poet asks:

         What art thou—
     Art thou God’s angel?
     Or art thou only
     The chilly night-wind,
     Stealing downward
From the regions where the sun
Dwelleth alone with his shadow
     On a waste of snow?
Art thou the water or earth?
Or art thou the fatal air?
     Or art thou only
     An apparition
     Made by the mist
Of mine own eyes weeping?

the poet marvelling that one so gentle as Death should cast a Shadow so vast,—she, the pointing of whose finger

         Fadeth far away,
On the sunset-tinged edges,
Where Man’s company ends,
And God’s loneliness begins.

70 The second poem has for its title ‘The Dream of the World without Death,’ in which vision is pictured the possible despair of humanity at the absence of the signs of death. Instead of the bloomless face, shut eyes, and waxen fingers—nothing but wondrous parting and a blankness.

I could not see a kirkyard near or far;
I thirsted for a green grave, and my vision
Was weary for the white gleam of a tombstone.
         .          .         .          .         .          .

And the world shrieked, and the summer-time was bitter,
And men and women feared the air behind them!
And for lack of its green graves the world was hateful.

Women pour forth their cries to God to restore the signs of death:

The closing of dead eyelids is not dreadful,
For comfort comes upon us when we close them,
And tears fall, and our sorrow grows familiar;

And we can sit above them where they slumber,
And spin a dreamy pain into a sweetness,
And know indeed that we are very near them.

But to reach out empty arms is surely dreadful,
And to feel the hollow empty world is awful,
And bitter grow the silence and the distance.

There is no space for grieving or for weeping;
No touch, no cold, no agony to strive with,
And nothing but a horror and a blankness!
         .          .         .          .         .          .

‘Whither, and O whither,’ said the woman,
‘O Spirit of the Lord, hast Thou conveyed them,
My little ones, my little son and daughter?

‘For, lo! we wandered forth at early morning,
And winds were blowing round us, and their mouths
Blew rose-buds to the rose-buds, and their eyes

‘Looked violets at the violets, and their hair
Made sunshine in the sunshine, and their passing
Left a pleasure in the dewy leaves behind them;

‘And suddenly my little son looked upward,                                     71
And his eyes were dried like dew-drops; and his going
Was like a blow of fire upon my face.’

There was no comfort in the slow farewell,
Nor gentle shutting of belovèd eyes,
Nor beautiful broodings over sleeping features.

There were no kisses on familiar faces,
No weaving of white grave-clothes, no last pondering
Over the still wax cheeks and folded fingers.

The vision ends:

But I awoke, and, lo! the burthen was uplifted,
And I prayed within the chamber where she slumbered,
And my tears flowed fast and free, but were not bitter.

I eased my heart three days by watching near her,
And made her pillow sweet with scent and flowers,
And could bear at last to put her in the darkness.

And I heard the kirk-bells ringing very slowly,
And the priests were in their vestments, and the earth
Dripped awful on the hard wood, yet I bore it.

And I cried, ‘O unseen Sender of Corruption,
I bless Thee for the wonder of Thy mercy,
Which softeneth the mystery and the parting.

‘I bless Thee for the change and for the comfort,
The bloomless face, shut eyes, and waxen fingers,—
For Sleeping, and for Silence, and Corruption.’

     Part IV. ‘The Soul and the Dwelling,’ is a fine imaginative flight dealing with the loneliness of humanity, and the vanity of the wish that soul can ever really mix with soul. ‘Pent in each prison must each miraculous spirit remain.’

                               Not yet, not yet,
One dweller in a mortal tenement
Can know what secret faces hide away
Within the neighbouring dwelling. Ah beloved,
The mystery, the mystery! We cry
For God’s face, who have never looked upon
The poorest Soul’s face in the wonderful
Soul-haunted world.

72 And speaking of the soul he had sought in heart’s blood, that of the beloved one, he tells how each cried to the other in vain.

                         A spirit once there dwelt
Beside me, close as thou—two wedded souls,
We mingled—flesh was mixed with flesh—we knew
All joys, all unreserves of mingled life—
Yea, not a sunbeam filled the house of one
But touched the other’s threshold. Hear me swear
I never knew that Soul! All touch, all sound,
All light was insufficient. The Soul, pent
In its strange chambers, cried to mine in vain—
We saw each other not: but oftentimes
When I was glad, the windows of my neighbour
Were dark and drawn, as for a funeral;
And sometimes, when most weary of the world,
My Soul was looking forth at dead of night,
I saw the neighbouring dwelling brightly lit,
The happy windows flooded full of light,
As if a feast were being held within.
Yet were there passing flashes, random gleams,
Low sounds, from the inhabitant divine
I knew not; and I shrunk from some of these
In a mysterious pain. At last, Belovèd,
The frail fair mansion where that spirit dwelt
Totter’d and trembled, through the wondrous flesh
A dim sick glimmer from the fire within
Grew fainter, fainter. ‘I am going away,’
The Spirit seemed to cry; and as it cried,
Stood still and dim and very beautiful
Up in the windows of the eyes—there linger’d,
First seen, last seen, a moment, silently
So different, more beautiful tenfold
Than all that I had dreamed—I sobbed aloud
‘Stay! stay!’ but at the one despairing word
The spirit faded, from the hearth within
The dim fire died with one last quivering gleam—
The house became a ruin; and I moaned
‘God help me! ’twas herself that look’d at me!
First seen! I never knew her face before! . . .
Too late! too late! too late!’

     Part V. ‘Songs of Seeking,’ contains ‘The Happy Earth’ ‘O Unseen One!’ the ‘World’s Mystery’ 73 (the mystery of pain and suffering); ‘The Cities,’ in which the anomalies and injustices of life are mirrored; ‘The Priests,’ in which eternal condemnation is poured forth by ‘priests in divers vestments’ on the wicked; ‘The Lamb of God’ bleating like a thing in pain, with its bloodstains still bright; and ‘Doom,’ in which the poet again reiterates his steadfast belief in the immortality of all creation, to be so eloquently elaborated later in ‘The Vision of the Man Accurst’:

Master, if there be Doom,
     All men are bereaven!
If, in the universe,
One Spirit receive the curse,
     Alas for Heaven!
If there be doom for one,
Thou, Master, art undone.

This division also includes the beautiful ‘Flower of the World.’

Wherever men sinned and wept,
I wandered in my quest;
At last in a Garden of God
I saw the Flower of the World.

This Flower had human eyes,
Its breath was the breath of the mouth;
Sunlight and starlight came,
And the Flower drank bliss from both.

Whatever was base and unclean,
Whatever was sad and strange,
Was piled around its roots;
It drew its strength from the same.

Whatever was formless and base
Pass’d into fineness and form;
Whatever was lifeless and mean
Grew into beautiful bloom.

Then I thought, ‘O Flower of the World,                                            74
Miraculous Blossom of things,
Light as a faint wreath of snow
Thou tremblest to fall in the wind.

‘O beautiful Flower of the World,
Fall not nor wither away;
He is coming—He cannot be far—
The Lord of the Flow’rs and the Stars.

And I cried, ‘O Spirit divine!
That walkest the Garden unseen,
Come hither, and bless, ere it dies,
The beautiful Flower of the World.’

     Part VI. ‘The Lifting of the Veil,’ tells how in a dream Orm sees the Veil lifted, and the effect the revelation had upon the world. ‘The Face was there: it stirred not, changed not, though the world stood still amazed; but the eyes within it, like the eyes of a painted picture, met and followed the eyes of each that gazed.’ At once the eyes of all the world are held in an hypnotic trance by the awful eye of the world; all action ceases, and everywhere ‘tis a piteous Sabbath:

Each soul an eyeball,
Each face a stare.

There is no bartering, no trafficking, only staring; and of the faces some were glad, some pensive, and some mad—’twas everywhere a frozen pleasure and a frozen pain—and in his vision Orm seems to see the mortal race building covered cities to hide the Face; the common sorrow, yearning, and love passed from the earth; the heart of the world had no pulsation—‘’twas a piteous Sabbath everywhere.’
     Part VII. comprises the ‘Coruisken Sonnets,’ 75 in which for the first time the poet essays the Sonnet as a form of poetical expression. They are thirty-four in all, and the general ‘motif’ which underlies them is the Soul’s direct expression to a silent, pitiless, lonely, beautiful God. The ‘mise-en-scène’is Loch Coruisk, in the island of Skye, a woodless, barren, hill-topped waste of Celtic country—the very ‘back of beyont’ of tradition. The corry by the water, which in plain English is the name for this Western haunt of mists and shadows, was a fit place for the gathering of possible mystic forms, seeking to find in the eternal hills the silent and lonely God from whose breath springs the essences of natural growth. Fit place this for Die Walkyrie, for the ghostly visitations of Walpurgisnacht, the ideal sporting-ground of witches and water-kelpies, ‘the blackest mountain-side,’ to use Sir Walter Scott’s words, in the island; ‘black waves, bare crags, and banks of stone. I think,’ writes Mr. Buchanan, ‘this is the very stillest place on all God’s earth.’

Ghostly and livid, robed with shadow, see!
     Each mighty Mountain silent on its throne,
     From foot to scalp one stretch of livid stone,
Without one gleam of grass or greenery.
Silent they take the immutable decree—
     Darkness or sunlight come,—they do not stir;
Each bare brow lifted desolately free,
     Keepeth the silence of a death-chamber.
Silent they watch each other until-doom;
     They see each other’s phantoms come and go,
Yet stir not. Now the stormy hour brings gloom,
     Now all things grow confused and black below,
Specific through the cloudy Drift they loom,
     And each accepts his individual woe.
         .          .         .          .         .          .

Desolate! How the Peaks of ashen gray,                                         76
     The smoky Mists that drift from hill to hill,
The Waters dark, anticipate this day
     That sullen desolation. Oh, how still
     The shadows come and vanish, with no will!
How still the Waters watch the heaven’s array!
How still the melancholy vapours stray,
     Mirror’d below, and drifting on, fulfil
Thy mandate as they mingle!—Not a sound,
     Save that deep murmur of a torrent near,
Deepening silence. Hush! the dark profound
     Groans, as some gray crag loosens and falls sheer
To the abyss. Wildly I look around,
     O Spirit of the Human, art Thou here?

Here in this rugged temple, the God whom the poet pictures is faced with invocation and prayer. Joining with the Jewish psalmist, he cries, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’; yet asks, ‘What is all this glory to those who work and pray, who suffer and weep?’ and prays for one warm touch from a Father who neither hears nor speaks. The immemorial Heavens bend sweet eyes down, but cold are ‘they as clay.’

But I have found a voice, and I will pray.

The poet goes on to mourn that he has not found the Father by the starved widow’s bed, nor in sick-rooms, nor in the bloody and bleared eyes of cities, where innocence cried with feeble voice, strangled in the grip of treachery and lust. The Home is fair, yet all is desolate, because the Father comes not; the clouds of fate sodden above us; like children in an empty home sit all, castaway children, lone and fatherless. The anguish and the suffering, the hopelessness conceived under the merciless hand of an inexorable environment, 77 drive the poet to utter words that seem to suggest a failing regard for the eternity of things:

When He returns, and finds the World so drear—
     All sleeping,—young and old, unfair and fair,
Will He stoop down and whisper in each ear,
     ‘Awaken!’ or for pity’s sake forbear,—
     Saying, ‘How shall I meet their frozen stare
Of wonder, and their eyes so full of fear?
     How shall I comfort them in their despair,
If they cry out, “Too late! let us sleep here”?’
Perchance He will not wake us up, but when
     He sees us look so happy in our rest,
Will murmur, ‘Poor dead women and dead men!
     Dire was their doom, and weary was their quest.
Wherefore awake them unto life again?
     Let them sleep on untroubled—it is best.’

And praying, he cries:

And wise, and gentle, oh come down come down!
     Come like an Angel with a human face,
Pass through the gates into the hungry Town,
     Comfort the weary, send the afflicted grace,
Shine brighter on the Graves where we lay down
     Our dear ones, cheer them in the narrow place!

Carried away by the splendour of the world itself, the grandeur of the scene o’er which the God broods with loveless eye for humanity, the poet speaks:

Oh, Thou art beautiful! and Thou dost bestow
Thy beauty on this stillness—still as sheep
The Hills lie under Thee; the Waters deep
Murmur for joy of Thee; the voids below
Mirror Thy strange fair Vapours as they flow.

     The sonnets throughout contain many fine efforts at word-painting.

See! onward swim
     The ghostly Mists, from silent land to land,
From gulf to gulf; now the whole air grows dim—
     Like living men, darkling a space, they stand.
But lo! a Sunbeam, like the Cherubim,
     Scatters them onward with a flaming brand.
         .          .         .          .         .          .         .

O hoary Hills, though ye look aged, ye                                               78
     Are but the children of a latter time—
     Methinks I see ye in that hour sublime
When from the hissing cauldron of the Sea
Ye were upheaven, while so terribly
     The Clouds boiled, and the Lightning scorched ye bare.
Wild, new-born, blind, Titans in agony,
     Ye glared at heaven through folds of fiery hair! . . .
Then, in an instant, while ye trembled thus,
A Hand from heaven, white and luminous,
     Pass’d o’er your brows, and husht your fiery breath.
Lo! one by one the still Stars gather’d round,
The great Deep glass’d itself, and with no sound
     A cold Snow fell, and all was still as death.
         .          .         .          .         .          .         .

O Rainbow, Rainbow, on the livid height,
     Softening its ashen outlines into dream,
Dewy yet brilliant, delicately bright
     As pink wild-roses’ leaves, why dost thou gleam
So beckoningly? Whom dost thou invite
     Still higher upward on the bitter quest?
What dost thou promise to the weary sight
     In that strange region whence thou issuest?
Speakest thou of pensive runlets by whose side
Our dear ones wander sweet and gentle-eyed,
     In the soft dawn of some diviner Day?
Art thou a promise? Come those hues and dyes
From heavenly Meads, near which thou dost arise,
     Iris’d from Quiet Waters, far away!

     The appeal to the inexorable Father, which is continued throughout the sonnets, is sometimes drowned in tears of helplessness, and sometimes roused to the pitch of fiery anger and remorse:

Oh, what have sickly Children done, to share
Thy cup of sorrows? yet their dull, sad pain
Makes the earth awful;
         .          .         .          .         .          .

The Angels Thou has sent to haunt the street
Are Hunger and Distortion and Decay.
         .          .         .          .         .          .

Over and over again, the poet harps back to the helplessness of God. ‘There is no death; powerless 79 even God's right hand, full arm’d with fate, to slay the meanest thing beneath the sky.’

Yet hear me, Mountains! echo me, O Sea!
     Murmur an answer, Winds, from out your caves;
     Cry loudly, Torrents, Mountains, Winds, and Waves—
Hark to my crying all, and echo me—
All things that live are deathless—I and ye.
     The Father could not slay us if He would;
     The Elements in all their multitude
Will rise against their Master terribly,
If but one hair upon a human head
     Should perish! . . . Darkness grows on crag and steep,
A hollow thunder fills the torrent's bed;
     The wild Mists moan and threaten as they creep;
And hush! now, when all other cries are fled,
     The warning murmur of the white-hair’d Deep.

If love could only spring between Maker and man, if man could see that love worked, instead of law, all would be well with the poet.

     Here in the dark I grope, confused, purblind;
I have not seen the glory and the peace;
     But on the darken’d mirror of the mind
Strange glimmers fall, and shake me till they cease—
Then, wondering, dazzled, on Thy name I call,
     And, like a child, reach empty hands and moan,
And broken accents from my wild lips fall,
     And I implore Thee in this human tone;—
If such as I can follow Him at all
     Into Thy presence, ’tis by love alone.

     Part VIII. ‘The Coruisken Vision’ is cast on the same stage, with a dramatis personæ of Orm, the Spirit of Sorrow, and a chorus of voices, built on the lines of the Greek tragedies. Here Orm, led by the Spirit of Sorrow,1 is shown under the ‘white smile of the ghostly Moon, an edifice that whirls on serpent columns heavenward, at whose gates


1 Satan. See ‘The Devil’s Case.’

80 sits a little Child, turning the dim leaves of a Prayer Book:

With fingers light, as are a rose’s leaves,
And smiling on the things it sees therein.

Here in this edifice sit the Kings of Thought in meditation, while Bael, the immortal Child at the door, who sat on Eve’s shoulder, and is immortal because he has not eaten of the Tree of Sorrow, reads on. Here we find Menu, the son of Brahm, who grew so wise, they took him for a god; Orpheus, who ‘having swept each circle course divine’:

Whirl’d like a moth around an altar lamp,
A moment round that inmost flame of all,

then fell to Lesbos, blind with light; Socrates, who, tasting the bitterness of wisdom, smiled gloriously, and so passed up to God, wise in his dying; Diogenes:

Who stole the wondrous fruit,
And munched it in the mud, and scowled on all,
Because it tasted sourly;

Plato, with great eyes dim with dream of all who ever lived and died:

The one who loved the quest for its own sake
Because it led him into paths so fair;
Married his days and nights to thought, and left
Broods of angelic dreams attesting all,
That by the unassisted mind of man
Could be conceived of immortality,
Saw Truth in open daylight, face to face,
And would have loved and understood her too,
Had he not thought knowledge so beautiful.

David, king of Israel, ‘with blue eyes looking down on the pale youth swinging by hair of gold 81 to the black branches of a forest tree’—all these seeking the Eternal wisdom, striving to open the Book of the World which abideth under the waters. All

Search’d for the same from birth to the grave,
And wearily westering perished!

while the little one at the gate points with hand to a passage in the book:

                                 ‘Verily I say,
Except a man be born again, he shall not
Enter the kingdom of God.’

Then, while voices sing:

The smile of a little child
     Disturbs us where we sit
On our thrones—the Wise and the Mighty.
     Never heretofore
     Have our thrones been shaken,
     Never heretofore
     Did we know and wonder!
We are, and we are not, we know and we know not,
     We come and we go at thy bidding;

the child kisses the Spirit of Sorrow and the Temple vanishes, and in a mist Orm seems to see the shadow of a cross—which the Spirit tells him is the shadow of his thought crossing the luminous silence of the stars. Bidding him farewell, Satan cries:

And when thou prayest, pray for me,
Pray for the outcast Spirit! Pray for all
Strong Spirits that are outcast!

And falling on his knees, Orm prays:

                                     Father God,
Forgive thy child! behold him on his knee!
Evil is Evil, Father, Good is Good,
Darkness is dreadful, and the Light Divine.

82   ‘The Devil’s Mystics’ comprises Part IX., in which ‘The Tree of Life’ deals with the three gardeners, Regret, Hope and Memory, and the setting and feeding of the Seed by the world’s smiles and tears bringing forth a blossom which the Angels named ‘Spirit,’ a flower which is to bear no seed, but is to be plucked by the Sun and worn till it withers in his hair.
     The second of this series is ‘The Seeds,’ with its recurring lines:

‘Grow, Seed! blossom, Brain!
Deepen, deepen, into pain!’


When standing in the perfect light
     I saw the first-born Mortal rise—
The flower of things he stood his height
     With melancholy eyes.
‘Grow, Seed! blossom, Brain!
Deepen, deepen, into pain!’

From all the rest he drew apart,
     And stood erect on the green sod,
Holding his hand upon his heart,
     And looking up at God!
‘Grow, Seed! blossom, Brain!
Deepen, deepen, into pain!’

He stood so terrible, so dread,
     With right hand lifted pale and proud,
God feared the thing He fashionèd,
     And fled into a cloud.
‘Grow, Seed! blossom, Brain!
Deepen, deepen, into pain!’

And since that day He hid away
     Man hath not seen the Face that fled,
And the wild question of that day
     Hath not been answerèd.
‘Grow, Seed! blossom, Brain!
Deepen, deepen, into pain!’

Following this are the poems of ‘The 83 Philosophers,’ the drinkers of hemlock, ‘worn and old, who drink and dream, each with the sad forehead, each with the cup of gold’; and the ‘Prayer from the Deep.’ The series ends with two prayers, one a general invocation of pity for those who weep and weep, for those who have passed through the gate, and for those who wander free after the passing through, with a final note that the Son may help all those who go before the Father, and a second personal prayer of Orm the Celt.

In the time of transfiguration,
Melt me, Master, like snow;
Melt me, dissolve me, inhale me
Into Thy wool-white cloud;
With a warm wind blow me upward
Over the hills and the seas,
And upon a summer morning
Poise me over the valley
Of Thy mellow, mellow realm;
Then, for a wondrous moment,
Watch me from infinite space
With Thy round red Eyeball of sunlight,
And melt and dissolve me downward
In the beautiful silver Rain
That drippeth musically,
With a gleam like Starlight and Moonlight,
On the footstool of Thy Throne.

‘The Vision of the Man Accurst’ is the fitting peroration of this splendid piece of spiritual eloquence. The rhetoric, which has seldom failed throughout the whole book, reaches its highest pitch in the stately diction of this remarkable poem. ‘Thou shalt not cast away any man’ serves as the text of the whole, which 84 commences with ‘Judgment was over; all the world redeemed save one Man,’ and ends with

‘The Man is saved; let the Man enter in!’

It is the embodiment, the central fire, of all the poet’s philosophy, of the one belief to which he has clung with a fierce tenacity. This man, ‘the basest mortal born,’ ‘who had sinned all sins, whose soul was blackness and foul odour,’ had in him, in the poet’s view, the seeds of immortality like all children of the Godhead, and must be saved.

                                     Like golden waves
That break on a green island of the south,
Amid the flash of many plumaged wings,
Passed the fair days in Heaven. By the side
Of quiet waters perfect Spirits walked,
Low singing, in the star-dew, full of joy
In their own thoughts, and pictures of those thoughts
Flash’d into eyes that loved them; while beside them,
After exceeding storm, the Waters of Life
With soft sea-sound subsided. Then God said,
‘’Tis finished—all is well!’ But as He spake
A voice, from out the lonely Deep beneath,
                 Then to the Seraph at the Gate,
Who looketh on the Deep with steadfast eyes
For ever, God cried, ‘What is he that mocks?’
The Seraph answered, ‘’Tis the Man accurst!’
And, with a voice of most exceeding peace,
God ask’d, ‘What doth the Man?’

                                             The Seraph said:
‘Upon a desolate peak, with hoar-frost hung,
Amid the steaming vapours of the Moon,
He sitteth on a throne, and hideously
Playeth at judgment; at his feet, with eyes
Slimy and luminous, squats a monstrous Toad;
Above his head pale phantoms of the Stars
Fulfil cold ministrations of the Void,
And in their dim and melancholy lustre
His shadow, and the shadow of the Toad                                           85
Beneath him, linger. Sceptred, thron’d, and crown’d,
The foul judgeth the foul, and sitting grim,

With a simple directness the poet proceeds to tell of the daring defiance which the foulest of mankind hurls at the Throne, and still

                                 The Waters of Life,
The living, spiritual Waters, broke,
Fountain-like, up against the Master’s Breast,
Giving and taking blessing. Overhead
Gather’d the shining legions of the Stars,
Led by the ethereal Moon, with dewy eyes
Of lustre: these have been baptized with fire,
Their raiment is of molten diamond,
And ’tis their office, as they circling move
In their blue orbits, evermore to turn
Their faces heavenward, drinking peace and strength
From that great Flame which, in the core of Heaven,
Like to the white heart of a violet burns,
Diffusing rays and odour. Blessing all,
God sought their beauteous orbits, and behold!
The Eyes innumerably glistening
Were turned away from Heaven, and with sick stare,
Like the blue gleam of salt dissolved in fire,
They searched the Void, as human faces look
On horror.

The Master is petitioned to send forth His fire to wither up ‘the worm’ who repenteth not but blasphemeth; but He answers, ‘What I have made, a living Soul, cannot be unmade, but endures for ever,’ and says, ‘Call the Man!’ and ere the man could fly, the wild wind in its circuit swept upon him, and like a straw whirled him and lifted him and cast him at the gate. The Lord asking what the man doeth, learns that he thirsts, and gives him water, having 86 partaken of which ‘the Man, looking up out of his drooping hair, grinned mockery at the Giver.’ Then saith the Lord, ‘Doth the Man crave to enter in?’ ‘Not so; he says his Soul is filled with hate of Thee and of Thy ways; he loathes pure pathways; and he spitteth hate on all Thy Children.’ ‘What doth he crave?’

‘Neither Thy Heaven nor by Thy holy ways.
He murmureth out he is content to dwell
In the Cold Clime for ever, so Thou sendest
A face to look upon, a heart that beats,
A hand to touch—albeit like himself,
Black, venomous, unblest, exiled, and base:
Give him this thing, he will be very still,
Nor trouble Thee again.’

                                     The Lord mused.

Scarce audible trembled the Waters of Life—
Over all Heaven the Snow of the same Thought
Which rose within the Spirit of the Lord
Fell hushedly; the innumerable eyes
Swam in a lustrous dream.

                                       Then said the Lord:
‘In all the waste of worlds there dwelleth not
Another like himself—behold he is
The basest Mortal born. Yet ’tis not meet
His cruel cry, however piteous,
Should trouble my eternal Sabbath-day.
Is there a Spirit here, a human thing,
Will pass this day from the Gate Beautiful
To share the exile of this Man accurst,—
That he may cease the shrill pain of his cry,
And I have peace?'

                                       Hushedly, hushedly,
Snow’d down the Thought Divine—the living Waters
Murmured and darkened. But like mournful mist
That hovers o’er an autumn pool, two Shapes,
Beautiful, human, glided to the Gate
And waited.

               ‘What art thou?’ in a stern voice                                             87
The Seraph said, with dreadful forefinger
Pointing to one. A gentle voice replied,
‘I will go forth with him whom ye call curst!
He grew within my womb—my milk was white
Upon his lips. I will go forth with him!’
‘And thou?’ the Seraph said. The second Shape
Answered, ‘I also will go forth with him;
I have kist his lips, I have lain upon his breast,
I bare him children, and I closed his eyes;
I will go forth with him!’

                                             Then said the Lord:
‘What Shapes are these who speak?’ The Seraph answered,
‘The woman who bore him and the wife he wed—
The one he slew in anger—the other he stript,
With ravenous claws, of raiment and of food.’
Then said the Lord, ‘Doth the Man hear?’ ‘He hears,’
Answer’d the Seraph; ‘like a wolf he lies,
Venomous, bloody, dark, a thing accurst,
And hearkeneth, with no sign!’ Then said the Lord:
‘Show them the Man,’ and the pale Seraph cried,

                             Hushedly, hushedly, hushedly,
In heaven fell the Snow of Thought Divine,
Gleaming upon the Waters of Life beneath,
And melting,—as with slow and lingering pace,
The Shapes stole forth into the windy cold,
And saw the thing that lay and throbbed and lived,
And stooped above him. Then one reach’d a hand
And touch’d him, and the fierce thing shrank and spat,
Hiding his face.

                                 ‘Have they beheld the Man?’
The Lord said; and the Seraph answer’d ‘Yea’;
And the Lord said again, ‘What doth the Man?’

‘He lieth like a log in the wild blast,
And as he lieth, lo! one sitting takes
His head into her lap, and moans his name,
And smoothes his matted hair from off his brow,
And croons in a low voice a cradle-song;
And lo! the other kneeleth at his side,
Half-shrinking in the old habit of her fear,
Yet hungering with her eyes, and passionately
Kissing his bloody hands.’

                                         Then said the Lord,                                  88
‘Will they go forth with him?’ A voice replied,
‘He grew within my womb—my milk was white
Upon his lips. I will go forth with him!’
And a voice cried, ‘I will go forth with him;
I have kist his lips, I have lain upon his breast,
I bare him children, and I closed his eyes;
I will go forth with him!’

                                               Still hushedly
Snowed down the Thought Divine, the Waters of Life
Flow’d softly, sadly; for an alien sound,
A piteous human cry, a sob forlorn
Thrill’d to the heart of Heaven.

                                             The Man wept.

     And in a voice of most exceeding peace
The Lord said (while against the Breast Divine
The Waters of Life leapt, gleaming, gladdening):
‘The Man is saved; let the Man enter in!’



Next: Chapter IV. ‘THE DRAMA OF KINGS’

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