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





The publication in 1888 of ‘The City of Dream,’ an epic poem, with a dedication ‘to the sainted spirit of John Bunyan,’ marks a distinctive place in the poetical history of Mr. Buchanan. Here for the first time, in a manner which has the appearance of a system, he views man and his pilgrimage through the intellectual and moral mazes of the world, in the search for truth. ‘I have called “The City of Dream,”’ he says, ‘an epic poem, using the term in a new and somewhat unfamiliar sense, and believing it applicable to any poetical work which embodies, in a series of grandiose pictures, the intellectual spirit of the age in which it was written. The “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” are the epic, or epoch, poems of the heroic or pagan period; the “De Rerum Natura” is the epic of Roman scepticism and decadence; the “Divine Comedy” is the epic of Roman Catholicism; the “Paradise Lost,” that of the epoch known as Protestant; Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” (as surely a poem, although written in prose, as any of those others) is the 178 epic of English Dissent; while to compare small things with great, “The City of Dream” is an epic of modern Revolt and Reconciliation.’
     Even on a superficial study of the poem, it is quite evident that years of thought and speculation must have been spent in its conception and preparation. ‘How much has been attempted may be seen in such a section as that of “The Amphitheatre,” where an effort is made to adumbrate the entire spirit of Greek poetry and theology.’ It is certainly the most ambitious of all the poet’s works, and perhaps the most successful as a complete work of art. ‘The Drama of Kings’ was a notable effort of ambition, but it is neither so complete a study, nor, if the conventional term may be used, is it as true to history. With perhaps a single exception, the record of the heartburnings, doubts, and experiences of the Pilgrim as painted in ‘The City of Dream’ is drawn on lines which are absolutely faithful to nature and to the various economies and phases which they represent. With the single exception mentioned, there is no attempt at useless overdrawing and exaggeration. Naturally enough, the situations are painted on dramatic lines, for in no other way could the truth be presented in a convincing manner; but the poet, true to the principle on which he has constructed the search of his Pilgrim, allows in nearly every case the conditions with which he seems to have the least sympathy to be developed so as to dramatically represent their most favourable aspect. In no 179 poem do we find more clear evidence of that power of appealing to Universal Humanity in which, according to Mr. George Henry Lewes, ‘lies Mr. Buchanan’s security. The light of nature is always his guide, the human heart always his study, and the dumb wistful yearning in man to something higher’ is here changed to notes which, however wistful, and however inadequate to express the real condition of the soul, come nearer to the interpretation of the heart-burnings, doubts, and experiences of the sympathetic modern than anything that has been attempted by modern poets, not even excepting Robert Browning.
     The argument of this new pilgrimage proceeds thus: One Ishmael, no longer able to bear the tumult and the terror, the tears and the sadness of the city where he dwelt, having heard strange tidings of a Heavenly City, ‘green sited, golden, and with heaven above it,’ soft as the shining of an angel’s hair, ‘where neither comes rain nor wind nor snow, nor the moans of miserable men,’ sets forth to seek the same. He had followed ‘a melancholy neighbour, old and blind, named Faith, led by a beauteous snow-white hound, named Peace,’ and as he fares forth he meets Evangelist, who tells him that the only possible way to reach the Heavenly City is to go blindfold, and when he comes among thorns and flints, ‘to praise God and pray, and when in some deep slough thou flounderest, bless God and struggle through.’ Evangelist blindfolds the 180 pilgrim Ishmael, leaving sufficient eye-space for him to gaze down upon a Book, which he gives to him; and reading this book, he wanders on, terrified and blindfold, learning the story of the creation, temptation, and degradation of the first man and woman; of the flood; of the history of Abraham and Jacob’s race; of King David; of ‘pale and wild-eyed kings, the clash of hosts in carnage, and the shriek of haggard prophets standing on the heights.’ He meets with, or rather overhears, the protestations and declamation of the old prophet Hurricane, who laughs to scorn those who seek for a sign, and those who speak of rights:

                 Worms, do ye rave of rights?
I tell you, He who fashion’d you for pain,
And set you in a sad and sunless world,
Scatters your rights as the eternal sea
Loosens the fading foam-bells from its hair.

He wanders on, ‘shadow’d with sorrow, smitten through with sin,’ until he comes by chance to the house of one Iconoclast, who relieves him of the bandages covering his eyes. They talk together, Iconoclast calling the Pilgrim a fool, to be led away by the ‘fat trencher knave’ Evangelist, who had bid him

                           To turn thy face
Into the tomb of dead intelligence;
To quit mortality and be a mole!

He leads him to an eminence, Mount Clear, whence he beholds all the Pilgrims of the World.

And it was noon, noon of a cold grey day,
A silvern, melancholy light in heaven,
All calm, the prospects and the distances
Sharp and distinct to vision, but no sun.

181 He beholds the City from which he had travelled, and other cities like his own, and coming from each he sees pilgrims toiling to the green slopes on which he stands. Iconoclast speaking, says:

And in each City thou dost look upon
A different legend and a different God
Lengthen man’s misery and make him mad,

and bids him go back to his city, and work his work, and dream no more of cities in the clouds. But Ishmael, weary of this ‘dreary echo of a hollow sound bred in an empty heart,’ and spying a Heavenly City ‘beyond the scoffer’s voice, beyond these vales, beyond the weary wailings of the sea,’ leaves him, and as he does so, hears a tumult, in which the tramp of horses’ feet and the sharp yelp of hounds are distinctly mingled, seeing directly afterwards a great company of Priests, and hoary crowned Kings and pallid Queens, and countless slaves, pursuing ‘In the name of God’ a naked man, who saves himself by seeking refuge in a house built by Iconoclast, ‘to the glory of God.’ He next meets Pitiful, and is directed towards the City of Christopolis. As he goes, he accosts many other pilgrims, journeying to the same city. He reads again in the Book ‘a tale so sad and sweet that all the darker matter of the Book dissolved away like mists around a star.’ He learns of the Man Divine and his sufferings under the omnipotent and vengeful God, and fears for his own safety, crying, ‘How should this God have mercy upon men, seeing He spared not His own anointed son?’ He is rebuked for blasphemy 182 by ‘Direful,’ high-priest in the Holy City, where is preached God’s thunder and the lightnings of the Cross. From Direful he hears the creeds of Christ’s Vicars, the popes and priests, and of the doom which awaits those who do not believe. He demands why man merits such a doom; for

               That duty the created owes
To the Creator, the Creator, too,
Owes the created. God hath given me life;
I thank my God if life a blessing is;
How may I bless Him if it proves a curse?

Direful replies, that in the city ‘neither words, nor deeds, nor love avail—they are but other names for vanity,’ and that only belief is of use, and proceeds to enumerate the main doctrines of the Creed. The Pilgrim leaves Direful and goes towards the City on a roadway strewn with the weary and the miserable.

And every face was lighted with the flame
Of famine; yea, and all like bloodshot stars
Shone forward the one way; but ah! the limbs
Were feeble, and the weary feet were sore,
And some upon the wayside fell and moan’d,
And many lay as white and cold as stone
With thin hands cross’d in prayer upon their rags.
Meantime there flash’d along on fiery wheels
Full many a glorious company which bare
Aloft the crimson Cross, and mighty priests
Glode by on steeds bridled with glittering gold,
And delicate wantons on white palfreys pass’d
With soft eyes downcast as they told their beads,
And few of these on those who fell and died
Look’d down, but seem’d with all their spirits bent
To reach the Golden Gate ere fall of night—
Only the priests stoop’d sometimes o’er the dead,
And made the hurried sign o’ the Cross, and went.

He passes a ballad-singer on the way, who sings of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’:

Tomb’d from the heavenly blue,
     Who lies in dreamless death?
               The Jew,
Jesus of Nazareth!—

and of ‘Mary Magdalen’:

I saw in the Holy City, when all the people slept,
The shape of a woeful woman, who look’d at heaven and wept.
     .         .          .         .          .         .          .         .          .

Tall in the moonlit City, pale as some statue of stone,
With the evil of earth upon her, she stood and she made her moan.

In the crowded highways leading to the City with ‘the countless spires like fiery fingers pointing up to heaven,’ he stands aside to let a glorious company pass, meeting Eglantine, who warns him that Christopolis is not the City of his quest; yet nevertheless he proceeds thither in his new friend’s company; as they went:

Green were the fields with grass, and sweet with thyme,
And there were silver runlets everywhere,
O’er which the willow hung her tassell’d locks,
And song-birds sang, for it was summer-time,
And o’er the grass, in green and golden mail,
The grasshoppers were leaping, and o’erhead
A lark, pulsating in the warm still air,
Scatter’d sweet song like dewdrops from her wings.

Eglantine tells the Pilgrim of his own soul’s story, and of the history of man before civilisation and Christianisation were known, ‘when man drank the free sunshine, hungered, and was fed, and knew not superstition or disease,’ before the Church was formed which ‘made that evil which was fashioned good and blurs the crystal of Eternity.’ His own life had been

A crying out for light that hath not shone,
A sowing of sweet seeds that will not spring,
A prayer, a tumult, and an ecstasy.

184 They wander through Christopolis, and see many strange sights there, viewing with surprise and scorn the contrast of profession and conduct, of splendour and squalor, of beauty and of filth. They see a hunt of kings, with bloody priests for hounds, chasing a heretic across the river. Eglantine is charged before the Inquisitor, and asserts in stout words his eclectic belief, concluding thus:

The Everlasting and Imperishable
Eludes me, as the sight of the sweet stars
That shine uncomprehended yet serene;
For nightly, silently, their eyes unclose,
And whoso sees their light, and gazes on it
Till wonder turns to rapture, seemeth ever,
Like one that reads all secrets in Love’s eyes,
Swooning upon the verge of certainty—
Another look, another flash, it seems,
And all God’s mystery will be reveal’d,
But very silently they close again,
Shutting their secret ’neath their silvern lids,
And looking inward with a million orbs
On the Unfathomable far within
Their spheres, as is the soul within the soul.
God is their secret; but I turn to Earth,
My Mother, and in her dark fond face I gaze,
Still questioning until at last I find
Her secret, and its sweetest name is Love:
And this one word she murmurs secretly
Into the ears of birds and beasts and men;
And sometimes, listening to her, as she lies
Twining her lilies in her hair, and watching
Her blind eyes as they glimmer up to heaven,
I dream this word she whispers to herself
Is yet another mystic name of God.

He is denounced and condemned as an Atheist, and Ishmael, sympathising, shares the same fate, and takes refuge beyond a great gate dividing the City into two parts. Wise men accost him 185 and warn him that peace and assurance are to be found only in the Book given him by Evangelist; but this in his perversity he denies, and casting away the Book, is again denounced as unbelieving, Ishmael declaring that the only Book he reads was

         God’s in the beginning; on its front
He set the stars for signs, the sun for seal;
Golden the letters, bright the shining pages,
Holy the natural gospel of the earth;
Blessèd tenfold the language of that Book
For ever open; blessèd he who reads
The leaf that ever blossoms ever turn’d!

and he is driven out of the City into the dreary region beyond. He meets there one Merciful, and with him, at the feet of the Calvaries, holds converse, in the midst of which he tells of those who, in the hours of darkness, crawl to the feet of the Cross, and in the hours of light and success live godless and bloody lives:

Such conscience is an owl that flies by night;
No sweet white dove that moves abroad by day.
     .         .          .         .          .         .

And yet I know, by every breath I breathe,
The Mighty and the Merciful are one:
The morning dew that scarcely bends the flowers,
Inhaled to heaven becomes the lightning flash
That lights all heaven ere noon.

The Pilgrim, declining to kneel to the shapes of stone, is told by Merciful that he will never escape the shadow:

                               On the desert sands,
On the sad shores of the sea, upon the scroll
Of the star-printed heavens, on every flower
That blossoms, on each thing that flies or creeps
’Tis made—the sign is made, the Cross is made—
That cipher which whoever reads can read
The riddle of the worlds.

186 He muses on these sayings, and foresees the destiny laid out for mankind:

                         To each thing that lives
Is given, without a choice, this destiny—
To be a slayer or a sufferer,
A tyrant or a martyr; to be weak
Or cruel; to range Nature like a hawk,
Or fall in cruel talons like a dove.

     Flying on, he knows not whither, he encounters rain and tempest, and takes shelter in a woeful Wayside Inn, where he meets the Outcasts of all the creeds—Despair, Isaac, Deadheart, Wormwood, and others. In this dreary company he discusses the problems that haunt his soul, and, leaving them, wanders through the night and encounters a wild horseman, Esau, who carries him over the Hills on a horse ‘maned like a comet, and as black as clouds that blot a comet’s path’; and as they fly through the night past rocks, and crags, and peaks, and gaunt ravines, he cries, ‘Whither, O whither?’ and the answer comes ‘in a wild strange song, to which the sobbing of the torrents, the moaning of the wind, and the beating of the horse’s thunderous feet, kept strange accord’:

Winds of the mountain, mingle with my crying,
Clouds of the tempest, flee as I am flying,
Gods of the cloudland, Christus and Apollo,
               Follow, O follow!

Through the dark valleys, up the misty mountains,
Over the black wastes, past the gleaming fountains,
Praying not, hoping not, resting nor abiding,
               Lo, I am riding!
     .         .          .         .          .         .          .

Clangour and anger of elements are round me,                                     187
Torture has clasp’d me, cruelty has crown’d me,
Sorrow awaits me, Death is waiting with her—
               Fast speed I thither!

Not ’neath the greenwood, not where roses blossom,
Not on the green vale on a loving bosom,
Not on the sea-sands, not across the billow,
               Seek I a pillow!
     .         .          .         .          .         .          .

Gods let them follow!—gods, for I defy them!
They call me, mock me; but I gallop by them—
If they would find me, touch me, whisper to me,
               Let them pursue me!

Faster, O faster! Darker and more dreary
Groweth the pathway, yet I am not weary—
Gods, I defy them! gods, I can unmake them,
               Bruise them and break them!

White steed of wonder, with thy feet of thunder,
Find out their temples, tread their high-priests under,—
Leave them behind thee—if their gods speed after,
               Mock them with laughter.
     .         .          .         .          .         .          .

Shall a god grieve me? shall a phantom win me?
Nay—by the wild wind around and o’er and in me—
Be his name Vishnu, Christus, or Apollo—
               Let the god follow!

Esau carries him to the Groves of Faun, saying:

                                     And here thy soul
May rest a space and worship at its will
Whatever god thou choosest, or indeed,
May make an idol of its own despair,
And kneeling, pray to that!

Esau holds out to the Pilgrim the satisfaction both to the soul and body of such a life as he leads, to whom, after thought, the Pilgrim replies:

         Yea, there is wisdom in thy words—
Better to wander up and down the world
All outcast, or in Nature’s stormy fanes
To pray in protestation and despair,
Than in Christopolis with priests and slaves                                         188
To gnaw the frozen crust of a cold creed
Amid the brazen glory of a lie.

‘Yea,’ says Esau:

‘Better to be the weariest wave that breaks
Moaning and dying on Thought’s shoreless sea,
Than the supremest blossom born i’ the wood,
And like a snow-flake shed upon the ground!’

     The Groves of Faun are watched over by the Shepherd Thyrsis and his child, a maid of surpassing beauty. Led by Thyrsis, he sees the Vales of Vain delight, and after drinking of the waters of oblivion, beholds the living apparition of the Greek god Eros.
     Suiting the poetical expression to the environment conceived, the poet finds himself for the next fifty pages bathed in an atmosphere of colour. The rigidity of thought and the stern intellectualism which bathe the environments of the previous encounters, find their substitutes in scenes of purple sensuous lights which are a fitting accompaniment of the Pagan atmosphere which we are made to breathe. In the vales of vain delight we hear sung the one song of passion that the epic contains. Here, where ‘pale youths and students Time had snow’d upon; gaunt poets, clasping to the cold breast-bones their harps of gold; and hunters, gross-mouth’d and lewd; and kings, that proffered crowns for one cold kiss,’ the song is sung:

Kiss, dream, and die! love, let thy lips divine
In one long heavenly kiss be seal’d to mine,
     While singing low the flower-crown’d Hours steal by—
Thy beauty warms my blood like wondrous wine—                        189
While yet the sun hangs still in yonder sky,
               Kiss, dream, and die!
.          .         .          .         .          .         .          .

Kiss, dream, and die!—Love, after life comes Death,
No spirit to rapture reawakeneth
     When once Love’s sun hath sunk in yonder sky—
Cling closer, drink my being, draw my breath,—
Soul answering soul, in one long rapturous sigh,
               Kiss, dream, and die!

Despite the splendid spiritualisation and intellectualism of the rest of the book, there is no doubt that, in the gorgeous imagery of the Pagan period of the Epic, the poet is at his white heat of inspiration. In dazzling contrast to the gloom and sadness, introspection and heart-searching, of the time when the poet treads the path with the newer gods, is this kaleidoscope of fiery imagery, this ever-coloured picture of the pasture-lands and hunting-grounds of the older gods. Satyrs, Nymphs, and Fauns fill up the intervals between the moments when the gods front the picture, and all the world is one continued song of irresponsible mirth, dreaminess, and indolence. The Pilgrim, like one who sleeps, tottered heavy- eyed through woods of poppy and rank hellebore. ‘In vain ripe fruits were crush’d against his lips, in vain the branches with their blossom’d arms entwined around him; vainly in his face the naked dryad and the wood-nymph laughed’—his goal was not in slumbersome Ennui; his was to find the final answer to the soul’s great question, and it certainly was not to be found there.
190 By his side walked the old shepherd and his daughter.

                           Her face was bright
As sunlight, but her lips were poppy-red,
And o’er her brows and alabaster limbs,
The lilies and the roses interblent
In that full glory. Raven-black her hair,
And black her brow o’er azure eyes that swam
With passionate and never-ceasing fires,
Deep hidden ’neath her snows; most brilliantly
They burnt, but with no trembling, fitful light,
Nay, rather, steady as two vestal fires,
And though their flame was passionately bright,
Soul-’trancing, soul-consuming, yet it seem’d
Most virginal and sweetly terrible,
Chaste with the splendour of an appetite
That never could be fed on food of earth,
Or stoop to quench its chastity with less
Than perfect godhead.

This perfect godhead in the maid’s eyes is the god Eros, who reveals himself walking ‘like a slow star sailing through the clouds of twilight, and gliding in the glory of a dream,’ and to whom the Pilgrim is introduced as one ‘from the dusty tracts of Time, and a seeker of the secret Beautiful no ear hath heard.’
     The Pilgrim sails with Eros over strange waters:

Then was I ’ware that underneath me throbb’d
Strange vistas, dim and wonderful, wherein
The great ghost of the burning sun did shine
Subdued and dim, amid a heaven as blue,
As blue and deep, as that which burnt o’erhead;
And in the under-void like gold-fish gleam’d
Innumerable Spirits of the lake,
Naked, blown hither and thither light as leaves,
With lilies in their hands, their eyes half closed,
Their hair like drifting weeds; thick as the flowers
Above, they floated; near the surface some,
And others far away as films of cloud
In that deep under-heaven; but all their eyes                                        191
Were softly upturn’d, as unto some strange star,
To him who in the shallop’s glittering wake
Swam ’mid the light of his lone loveliness.

Then all grew dim! I closed my heated eyes,
Like one who on a summer hill lies down
Face upward, blinded by the burning blue,
And in my ears there grew a dreamy hum
Of lark-like song. The heaven above my head,
The heaven below my feet, swam swiftly by,
Till clouds and birds and flowers and water-elves
Were blent to one bright flash of rainbow light
Bewildering the sense. And now I swam
By jewell’d islands smother’d deep in flowers
Glassily mirror’d in the golden river;
And from the isles blue-plumaged warblers humm’d,
Swinging to boughs of purple, yellow, and green,
Their pendent nests of down; and on the banks,
Dim-shaded by the umbrage and the flowers,
Sat naked fauns who fluted to the swans
On pipes of reeds, while in the purple shallows,
Wading knee-deep, listen’d the golden cranes,
And walking upon floating lotus-leaves
The red jacana scream’d.

     As they sail, he holds converse with the god, who, seeing the Pilgrim gazing on these scenes which are as hollow as a pleasure snatched in sleep, murmurs:

                             Fly from thy dream,
And it shall last for ever; cherish it,
And it shall wither in thy cherishing!

And thus they glided on:

The wonder deepen’d. Earth and Heaven seem’d blent
In one still rapture, for their beating hearts
Were prest like breasts of lovers, close together;

until they come, betimes, to an amphitheatre among mountains, where he finds pilgrims like unto himself, seeking the solution of the Eternal 192 mystery. Amongst other visions he has one of Silenos:

For of much peace he told, of golden fields,
Of shepherds in dim dales Arcadian,
Of gods that gather’d the still stars like sheep
Dawn after dawn to shut them in their folds
And every dawn did loose them once again,
Of vintage and of fruitage, and of Loves
Ripe kisses stolen in the reaping time;

and a gorgeous spectacle of the ‘ripe rose of womanhood supreme,’ Helena, ‘more fair than Cytherea rising from the sea or seated naked on the lover’s star, strewing the seas beneath her silvern feet with pearls and emeralds all a summer  night.’
     After that miracle of womanhood come Argos, Clytemnestra, Ida, Cassandra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Orestes, Eteokles, Œdipus, and the Eumenides:

                           ‘As the innumerable waves
Sink after tempest to completest calm,
For surcease of the mighty tumult pass’d,
So these wild waifs of being grow subdued
To subtle music of sublime despairs;
For out of wrath comes love, and out of pain
Dumb resignation brooding like a dove,
On sunless waters, and of unbelief
Is born a faith more precious and divine
Than e’er blind Ignorance with his mother’s milk
Suck’d smiling down!

And then:

                                             As he spake,
There came a twittering as of birds on boughs,
A music as of rain pattering on leaves;
And to this murmur the great curtain fell,
Revealing slopes of greenest emerald
By shallow rivulets fed with flashing falls,
And far away soft throbb’d the evening star,
And everywhere across those pastures sweet
Moved Lambs as white as snow! Then as I gazed
I heard Apollo singing on the heights
A shepherd’s song divine.

193 And following Apollo, the daughter of Colonos, Alcestis, ‘pallid from the kiss of Death’; the daughters of Danaos, and the seed of Epaphos and Io, and the fair Heifer’s self, ‘as white as snow, star-vision’d, woman-faced, miraculous,’ and then, ‘with all the still cold heaven above his head,’ a vision of Prometheus Purkaieus. The Pilgrim witnesses the sacrificial tragedy of Cheiron, and the transubstantiation of Eros—transfigured before the Man Divine, on the cross of wood.
     Hastening from the amphitheatre, he passes through the Valley of Dead Gods, seeing in despair ‘the empty thrones of heaven,’ and wheresoe’er he trod, the earth was still torn open into graves.

                                                     Then methought,
While Heaven and Hell moan’d answer to each other,
And throngs of gods like wolves around a fire
Gather’d, and earth as far as eye could see
Was one wild sea of open graves, that broke
To foam of dead shapes shining in their shrouds,
I heard a voice out of the darkness calling
And weary voices answering as it sang:—

     Black is the night, but blacker my despair;
     The world is dark—I walk I know not where;
         Yet phantoms beckon still, and I pursue—
     Phantoms, still phantoms! there they loom—and there!
         Adonai! Lord! art thou a Phantom, too?

     One strikes—before the blow I bend full weak;
     One beckoning smiles, but fades in act to speak;
         One with a clammy touch doth chill me thro’—
     See! they join hands in circle, while I shriek,
         Adonai! Lord! art thou a Phantom, too?

     Dark and gigantic, one, with crimson hands
     Upstretch’d in protestation, frowning stands,
         While tears like blood his night-black cheeks bedew—
     He tears his hair, he sinks in shifting sands—
         Adonai! Lord! art thou a Phantom, too?

     The sad, the glad, the hideous, and the bright,                               194
     The kings of darkness, and the lords of light,
         The shapes I loved, the forms whose wrath I flew,
     Now wail together in eternal night—
         Adonai! Lord! art thou a Phantom, too?

As he passes through the Valley, he finds his townsman Faith lying dead and cold. Yet the Pilgrim dies not, but, ‘sadder than night, and sunless as the grave,’ finds himself on a wan wayside, close to a rain-worn Cross, ‘watching the crimson eyeballs of the dawn,’ and holds speech with Sylvan, whom leaving, he climbs again upward among mountains, and shelters with the Hermit of the Mere. Thereon, one Nightshade leads him up the highest peaks:

The crags and rocks and air-hung precipices
Redden in sunset, and above the peaks,
Upon a bed of crimson, duskly gleam’d
The argent sickle of the beamless morn;
And lo, the winds had fallen and curl’d themselves
Like tired-out hounds in hollows of the hills,
Restlessly sleeping but from time to time
Audibly breathing; and deep stillness lay
Upon the mountains and the darkening slopes
Beneath their snows, and the low far-off moan
Of torrents deepening that stillness came
From the untrodden heights;

and shows him the Spectre of the Inconceivable, after which sight of wonder he finds himself worn and old, but emerges in full daylight on the open way.

The rosy hand of Dawn closed softly o’er
One fluttering moth-like star.
     .         .          .         .          .

                             Once more above
The radiant rose of heaven openeth,
Petal by petal, glimmering in the dew.
     .         .          .         .          .

O bright the morning came, as brightly shining
Upon the trembling murtherer’s raisèd hair                                         195
As on the little clenched hand of the babe
Smiling in sleep! softly the white clouds sail’d,
Edged with vermilion, to the east; the mists
Rose like white altar-smoke from that green vale,
The forests stirr’d with numerous leafy gleams,
The birch unbound her shining hair, the oak
Shone in his tawny mail, and from the wood
The brook sprang laughing; and above the fields
The lark rose, singing that same song it sang
On Adam’s nuptial morn!

     On the open way he first holds parley with Literal, ‘who smiled calm greeting, such as fellow-scholars give half- absently, when pacing slow within the groves of Academe,’ the talk being in the grooves of philosophy, in which is contrasted the cold academic mind of Literal and the ‘extra-mural’ enthusiasm of the Pilgrim. Literal advises the Pilgrim to leave the riddle of the gods, and quench his sad desire in blessed toil; but the Pilgrim, seeing in him ‘the sexton of the creeds—a cold and humorous knave, with never a guess beyond his spade, and the cold skull it strikes in digging his own grave,’ bids him farewell, and leaves the pallid scholar far behind. On every side he meets ‘the drowsy stare of bovine human faces, and hears the hum of hollow human voices,’ until he accosts a student, ‘smiling softly, with the studied scorn of perfect courtesy,’ Microcos by name, another disbeliever in God. After talk with him he meets with a gentle stranger, by whom he is guided to the gates of the City builded without God, a beautiful city, constructed and governed on the lines of the latest conceptions and experiences of scientific man— 196 where the name of God is never mentioned, where no spirit is known except the spirit of man.

                                     Down every street
A cooling rivulet ran, and in the squares
Bright fountains sparkled; and where’er I walk’d
The library, the gymnasium, and the bath
Were open to the sun; virgins and youths
Swung in the golden air like wingèd things,
Or in the crystal waters plunged and swam,
Or raced with oilèd limbs from goal to goal;
And in the hush’d and shadowy libraries,
Or in the galleries of painted art,
Or in the dusk museum, neophytes
Walk’d undisturb’d, and never sound of war,
Clarion or trumpet, cry of Priest or King,
Came to disturb the City’s summer peace;
And never a sick face made the sunlight sad,
And never a blind face hunger’d for the light,
And never a form that was not strong and fair
Walk’d in the brightness of those golden streets.

     His weary wanderings and experiences in this city, ‘latest and fairest of any built by Man,’ are detailed. How he grew heart-sick at the life that was governed by mathematics and machinery, how his soul is stirred to anger by the priests of the laboratories whose ready methods to destroy the infirm and frail infants, and whose vivisection experiments, his soul protests against. A time comes when, sickened and afraid, he forsakes the city and flees on into the region of Monsters and strange births of Time. At last, in the winter of his pilgrimage, he beholds the old man ‘Masterful,’ who becomes his guide to the brink of the Celestial Ocean. Lone on the heights they stand, while the daylight fades,

                           While the hand of Night
Hung closed a moment o’er the rayless snows,
Then open’d suddenly, and from its grasp
Loosen’d one lustrous star!

197 Then with reverent eyes upgazing, and upon his pallid face light falling faintly from a million worlds, the old man spoke:

Thou seekest God—behold thou standest now
Within His Temple. Lo, how brilliantly
The Altar, fed with ceaseless starry fires,
Burns, for its footstool is the mountain-peaks,
The skies its star-enwoven panoply!—
Lo, then, how silently, how mystically,
Yonder unsullied Moon uplifts the Host,
While from the continents and seas beneath,
And from the planets that bow down as lambs,
And from the constellations clustering
With eyes of wonder upon every side,
Rises the murmur which Creation heard
In the beginning! Hearken! Strain thine ears!
Are they so thick with dust they cannot hear
The plagal cadence of the instrument
Set in the veiled centre of the Shrine?

Standing on those mysterious shores, the highest peak of earth, he sees a ship of Souls, and ‘lo, methought these spirits of men and women which seemed to float before him sang in piteous human tones, which found an echo in the Pilgrim’s soul, this song:

Unseen, Unknown, yet seen and known
By the still soul that broods alone
     On visions eyesight cannot see,
By that, thy seed within me sown,
     Forget not me!

Forget me not, but hear me cry,
Ere in my lonely bed I lie,
     Thus stooping low on bended knee,
And if in glooms of sleep I die,
     Forget not me!

Forget me not as men forget,
But let thy light be with me yet
     Where’er my vagrant footsteps flee,
Until my earthly sun is set,
     Forget not me!

Though dumb thou broodest far away,                                                198
Beyond the night, beyond the day,
     Across the great celestial Sea,
Forget me not, but hear me pray
     ‘Forget not me!’

By the long path that I have trod,
The sunless tracks, the shining road,
     From forms of dread to forms of thee,
By all my dumb despairs, O God,
     Forget not me!

Forget not when mine eyelids close,
And sinking to my last repose,
     All round the sleeping dead I see,
Yea, when I sleep as sound as those,
     Forget not me!

Though deeper than the deepest Deep
Be the dark void wherein I sleep,
     Though ocean-deep I buried be,
I charge thee, by these tears I weep,
     Forget not me!

Remember, Lord, my lifelong quest,
How painfully my soul hath prest
     From dark to light, pursuing Thee;
So, though I fail and sink to rest,
     Forget not me!

Say not ‘He sleeps—he doth forget
All that he sought with eyes tear-wet—
     ’Tis o’er—he slumbers—let him be!’
Though I forget, remember yet—
     Forget not me!

Forget me not, but come, O King,
And find me softly slumbering
     In dark and troubled dreams of Thee—
Then, with one waft of Thy bright wing,
     Awaken me!

And as the ship vanishes in the cerulean haze, the Pilgrim awakens, and knows that all he has seen—yea, all his spirit’s lifelong quest—has been only a Dream within a Dream.
199 There is so much elaboration of the scenery against which move the various characters in the epic, there is so much detail in the various movements of the characters, that it has been impossible to give anything but the vaguest idea of the scope and general significance of the poem. The particular grandeur, and the poetic success achieved in such a chapter as ‘The Amphitheatre,’ have led us in fact to treat that portion of the epic in the most cursory manner, as any attempt to indicate its strength and beauty could only have ended in dismal failure. All we have attempted is to place on record the numerous paths taken by the Pilgrim in his wanderings, and to suggest the various environments and different philosophic standpoints that came in his way, in his long and weary question for some solution of the Eternal mysteries. It will be seen that the poet remains absolutely true to experience, in that whatsoever circumstances and surroundings the Pilgrim is placed, he never loses what, after all, is the most clinging and the most important environment, that of his own tendencies, his own fears, passions, and prejudices.
     For the form and style of the work the poet owes no apology. It illustrates once more the theory of poetical expression that has guided him throughout his career: ‘the theory that the end and crown of Art is simplicity, and that words, where they only conceal thoughts, are the veriest weeds, to be cut remorselessly away.’ Without troubling ourselves much with the critical 200 appreciation and depreciation that met the work at its publication, we may be allowed to quote Mr. Lecky’s words spoken at the Royal Academy. ‘The illustrious historian of the Crimean War (Kinglake) has completed his noble historic gallery. And if it be said that this great master of picturesque English was reared in the traditions of a more artistic age, I would venture to point to a poem which is destined to take a prominent place in the literature of our time. I refer to “The City of Dream,” by Robert Buchanan. While such works are produced in England, it cannot, I think, be said that the artistic spirit in English literature has very seriously decayed.’




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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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