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





‘The Wandering Jew,’ published in 1893, although called by the poet a Christmas Carol, yet may in reality be considered the epic poem, to which ‘The Book of Orm,’ published more than twenty years previously, may be counted the prelude; in fact, to those interested in the history of this poem, it may be mentioned that ‘The Book of Orm’ has as its sub-title ‘a Prelude to the Epic,’ and that in the first edition, published in 1870, an advertisement appears, having relation to the epic poem, in which the very lines which serve to preface ‘The Wandering Jew’ are given:

Come Faith, with eyes of patient heavenward gaze!
Come Hope, with feet that bleed from thorny ways!
With hand for each, leading those twain to me,
Come with thy gifts of grace, fair Charity!
Bring music too, whose voices trouble so
Our very footfalls as we graveward go,
Whose bright eyes, as she sings to Humankind,
Shine with the glory of God which keeps them blind.

     In the volume published in 1893 are added some further lines, of which the following may be quoted:

Come, muses of the bleeding heart of Man,
Fairer than all the Nine Parnassean,


1 Quotations by kind permission of Messrs. Chatto and Windus.

Fairer and clad in grace more heavenly                                               202
Than those sweet visions of Man’s Infancy,
Come from your lonely heights with song and prayer,
To inspire an epic of the world’s despair!
     .         .          .         .          .         .          .

To prove that Light Divine is never sought in vain.

In a note to the second edition of the poem, Mr. Buchanan says: ‘I wished to appeal to those with whom Religion, real Religion, is an eternal verity. My poem was neither for the Pharisee who follows Jesus amongst the formulas of theology, nor for the Sadducee who interprets him through the letter of literature. It was meant to picture the absolute and simple truth as I see it, the presence in the world of a supreme and suffering Spirit who has been, and is outcast from all human habitations, and most of all from the Churches built in his Name. It is not a polemic against Jesus of Nazareth; it is an expression of love for his personality, and of sympathy with his unrealised Dream. . . . He survives and will survive as a Divine Ideal, a pathetic Figure, searching Heaven in vain for a sign, for a token that he has not failed. . . . He is asking himself, after eighteen hundred years of weary effort, the terrible question which I have put into his mouth: “After all, are men worth saving?” The only affirmative answer to that question would be the existence in the world of Christ-like men. When human beings really begin to love one another, when War and Prostitution have left the earth, when the wicked no longer reign, when the selfish and base cease 203 to flourish and the poor cease to starve and die, when Woman emerges from her long degradation and Man ceases to be her willing slave, the Christ may answer “Yes.” Then perhaps the God whom he now seeks vainly may vouchsafe him a sign, and so enable him to fulfil his beautiful promise; but till then, he will wander on, as he wanders on now, in spiritual weakness and despair.’
     As our work is with Mr. Buchanan alone, and not with his critics, with whom we have at times been associated, it will be unnecessary for us to enter into any lengthy consideration of that remarkable controversy which ‘turned the head’ of the Press, especially the English Metropolitan Press, at the time of the publication of these poems. ‘Major and minor’ littérateurs, log-rollers, priests, pedants and prigs, would-be satirists and heartburning Socialists joined in the affirmation and denial of the question phrased in a sporting key, ‘Is Christianity played out?’ Men, long encumbered by the tyranny of environment and habit, broke their bonds and spoke as they never spoke before. The eclectic spirit was rampant; and even the Church itself, humble perhaps before the terrible indictment of the poet, drank in a temporary draught of eclecticism.
     In one of a series of letters to the ‘Daily Chronicle,’ Mr. Buchanan further elaborated his position in reference to the spirit and object of his poem. ‘I distinguish absolutely,’ he said, ‘between the character of Jesus and the character of Christianity—in other words, between Jesus of 204 Nazareth and Jesus the Christ. Shorn of all supernatural pretensions, Jesus emerges from the gross mass of human beings as an almost perfect type of simplicity, veracity, and natural affection. “Love one another” was the Alpha and Omega of his teaching, and he carried out the precept through every hour of his too brief life. Then, looking round on his fellows, realising the extent of human misery and perceiving the follies of human existence, he thought, “Surely there must be some Divine solution to the problem. Surely there must be another and a fairer life to justify a life so ephemeral.” Therein he was right; without some such justification this life of ours is only dust and ashes. But with his insight began his sorrow. He turned from this world as from something, in its very nature, base and detestable. He conceived the soul as removed altogether from the necessities and privileges of the flesh. . . . He dreamed of a Divine kingdom where every riddle would be solved, the wicked would cease from troubling and the weary would be at rest; but in so doing, he forgot that the Divine kingdom, if it is to exist at all, must begin where God first localised it on this planet. The whole thesis of my poem, then, is this, that the Spirit of Jesus, surviving on into the present generation, still stands apart from the strife and tumult of the human race; and, most of all, from Christianity. In my arraignment of Jesus before humanity, I have not feared to state the whole case as conceived by men against him, to chronicle 205 the endless enormities committed in his name. . . . The whole aim of the work is to justify Jesus against the folly, the cruelty, the infamy, the ignorance of the Creed upbuilt above his grave. I show, in cipher as it were, that those who crucified him once would crucify him again, were he to return amongst us. I imply that among the first to crucify him would be the members of his own Church. But nowhere do I imply that his soul, in its purely personal elements, in its tender and sympathising humanity, was not the very divinest that ever wore earth above it. He judged men far too gently, he was far too sanguine about human perfectibility.
     ‘According to my critics, it is secularism, not Christianity, which is played out “intellectually.” If they mean by secularism the base and irreverent spirit which gibes and mocks at the beautiful dream of Jesus, and in so doing defames the stainless elder brother of all suffering men, I am cordially at one with them; but if they mean by secularism the spirit which rejects all compromises and frauds, however innocent, which affirms that the business of humanity is not to wear sackcloth and ashes, but to enlarge the area of its own happiness, and which incidentally, by way of illustration, points out the evils that other-worldliness has brought on man, I take leave to say, that at no time in the world’s history has secularism exercised so benign an influence over the lives of all who think and feel. It is secularism that is hastening on the cause of moral and 206 intellectual freedom in every land, spreading abroad the good news that science is beginning to formulate the laws of life, asserting in the face of all selfish institutions that human nature has a right not merely to its daily bread, but to its daily love and joy. It is only in so far as Christianity is itself secular that it is of the slightest influence upon the age in which we live. Personally I can find no words too strong to express my admiration of those “Christians “ who are devoting themselves to charitable work among the poor, ministering tenderly to the needs of their suffering brethren, going forth (like Father Damien) to face disease and death itself at the call of religious duty. But these men are sacrificing themselves, not because they are Christians but because, like Jesus, they are practically indifferent to all dogmatic creeds. They take the name, and wear the livery, of the Christian Church, but they are in reality secularists of the highest and noblest type.
     ‘There is nothing, I think, which so amazes a dispassionate observer of human progress as the feats of moral legerdemain of which Christianity, so-called, is capable. Its history is one of endless cruelties and countless horrors. Its constant effect has been to paralyse human activity, and to pervert every beautiful human instinct. Its teachers and preachers have been from age to age the enemies of human thought. Yet on the score of the beautiful words spoken by its founder, Christianity has, with overmastering arrogance, claimed for itself every great moral 207 victory that men have achieved. As well might it be claimed, on the score of the almost equally beautiful words of Pagan philosophers, that the victories of civilisation have been achieved by Paganism. . . .
     ‘Well, the dream of Jesus was of God, and so is ours. That it will be realised somehow and somewhere is my living faith. Nothing beautiful or true can perish, and this world would be a charnel-house if eternal death were possible. But Christ, the supreme sufferer, must admit at last that suffering is not Godhead, that the fountain of life cannot be one of tears; in a word, he must add to his endless transformation the transformation into the supreme secularist cognisant of all the necessities and realities of existence. He has already, in conjunction with Buddha, with Socrates, and with Seneca,  ay, with Walt Whitman, shown a decisive insight into the possibilities of human self-sacrifice and human affection. . . . I have granted that the creed of Christendom is not the creed of Christ, that Christ himself would have shuddered—nay, does shudder—at the abominations committed century after century in his name. But it is because the nebulæ of his love never cohered to an orb of rational polity; because mere sentiment can never save man till it changes into a science of life; because if this world is not something joyful and beautiful, all other worlds are dismal delusions, that Christ’s message to humanity has been spoken in vain. Human love and self-respect, human science and 208 verification, human perception of the limitation of knowledge, have done more in half a century to justify God and prove the Godliness of life, than the doctrine of other-worldliness has done in nineteen hundred years.’
     The poem opens in London, where the poet is wandering late in the City’s streets, sick at heart and chill, when he hears a feeble voice at his side crying in hollow human accents, ‘For God’s sake, mortal, let me lean on thee!’ and ‘a thin hand crept into mine own, clammy and cold as clay.’ It is Christmas Eve, snow had just ceased falling, and the poet’s musings were on life and death, and on God and man; and thinking of ‘the blinded herd who eat the dust and ashes of the Word, of the vanity of Christ’s death to save the world and to vanquish Death, and of his now rising again,’ he cries:

                               The golden dream is o’er,
And he whom Death has conquered wakes no more.

He becomes aware of the presence of one with ‘reverend silver beard and hair snow-white and sorrowful,’ and he hears again the tremulous voice. He implores the ancient wight to lean on him, and as he does so, asks from whence he comes and whither he goes:

Thereon, with deep-drawn breath and dull, dumb stare,
‘Far have I travelled, and the night is cold,’
He murmur’d, adding feebly, ‘I am old.’
He spake like one whose wits are wandering,
And strange his accents were, and seem’d to bring
The sense of some strange region far away,
And like a cagèd Lion gaunt and gray                                                 209
Who, looking thro’ the bars, all woe-begone,
Beholdeth not the men he looketh on,
But gazeth thro’ them on some lonely pool
Far in the desert, whither he crept to cool
His sunburnt loins and drink when strong and free,
Ev’n so with dull dumb stare he gazed thro’ me
On some far bourne.

He is full of pity for the man, with his heavy snow of years, the furrow’d cheeks, his wintry eyes, and his hand ‘dank as the drown’d dead,’ who is hungry and athirst, and has no place to rest his head. Across the sight of the poet flashes ‘a glamour of the Sleepers of the Night,’ ‘the sweet sleep of little children, the sleep of dainty ladies, and of beggarmen’:

These visions came and went, each gleaming clear
Yet spectral, in the act to disappear;
I mark’d the long streets empty to the sky,
And every dim square window was an eye
That gazing dimly inward saw within
Some hidden mystery of shame or sin,—
Lovebed and deathbed, raggedness and wealth,
Pale Murder, tiptoe, creeping on in stealth
With sharp uplifted knife, or haggard Lust
Mouthing his stolen fruit of tasteless dust.

The poet offers the weary man his humble hospitality; and as they go together, they pass the mighty Abbey:

And suddenly that old Man cried aloud,
Lifting his weary face and woe-begone
Up to the painted window-panes that shone
With frosty glimmers, ‘Open, O thou Priest
Who waitest in the Temple!’ As he ceased,
The fretted arches echoed to the cry,
And with a shriek the wintry wind went by
And died in silence.

A frozen smoke of incense that did creep                                         210
From Life’s deserted Altar

is hung over the city:

         The pulses of its heart scarce felt to beat,
Calm as a corpse, the snow its winding-sheet,
The sky its pall’;

and the poet passes on with the old man weary and footsore, questioning him as to his kindred, his name, his place of birth. In answer to which the old man cries:

         ‘For ever at the door of Death
Faintly I knocked, and when it openeth
Would fain creep in, but ever a Hand snow-cold
Thrusteth me back into the open wold,
And ever a voice intones early and late
“Until thy work is done, remain and wait!”
And century after century I have trod
The infinitely weary glooms of God,
And lo! the Winter of mine age is here!’

And as he stands there, ‘the consecration of a vast despair,’ the poet deems him ‘Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew.’ Then the soul of the poet almost bursts in pity for him who cannot die:

Death is the one good thing beneath the sky,
Death is the one sweet thing that men may see.
     .         .          .         .          .         .

Yes, Death is best, and yet I cannot die.

A Glamour of the Dead passes before the poet’s vision; the dead in the field of battle, the dead ‘in the great graveyard strewn with moonbeams chill like bleaching shrouds,’ and the dead at the ‘oozy bottom of the Sunless Sea’; while the Jew prays:

‘Father which art in Heaven,’ the old Man said,                                211
‘Thou from the holy shelter of whose wing
I came an innocent and shining thing,
A lily in my hand, and in mine eyes,
The passion and the peace of Paradise,
Thou who didst drop me gently down to rest
A little while upon my Mother’s breast,
Wrapt in the raiment of a mortal birth,
How long, how long, across thy stricken Earth
Must I fare onward, deathless?’

Soon after this the poet sees the bloody stigmata of the Cross, and discerns that this is not Ahasuerus but ‘that diviner Jew, who like a Phantom passeth everywhere, the World’s last hope and bitterest despair. Deathless, yet dead.’ Recovering from the swoon into which this revelation has thrown him, the poet gazes up, ‘blinking his eyes for dread of some new brightness.’ The Man Forlorn smiles ‘even as a Father looking on a child’:

Ay me! the sorrow of that smile! ’Twas such
As singer ne’er may sing or pencil touch!
But ye who have seen the light that is in snow,
The glimmer on the heights where sad and slow
Some happy day is dying—ye who have seen
Strange dawns and moonlit waters, woodlands green
Troubled with their own beauty; think of these,
And of all other tender images,
Then think of some belovèd face asleep
’Mid the dark pathos of the grave, blend deep
Its beauty with all those until ye weep,
And ye may partly guess the woe divine
Wherewith that Face was looking down on mine.

The poet falters:

Lord of Life, hast thou arisen?
     .         .          .         .          .

Arisen! Arisen! Arisen!
At the word                              212
The silent cisterns of the Night were stirred
And plashed with troublous waters, and in the sky,
The pale stars clung together, while the cry
Was wafted on the wind from street to street!
Like to a dreaming man whose heart doth beat
With thick pulsations, while he fights to break
The load of terror with a shriek and wake,
The sleeping City trembled thro’ and thro’;
And in its darkness, open’d to my view
As by enchantment, those who slumbered
Rose from their pillows, listening in dread,
And out of soot-black windows faces white
Gleamed ghost-like, peering forth into the night;
And haggard women by the River dark,
Crawling to plunge and drown, stood still to heark;
And in the silent shrouded Hospitals,
Where the dim night-lamp flickering on the walls
Made woeful shadows, men who dying lay,
Picking the coverlit as they pass’d away
And babbling babe-like, raised their heads to hear,
While all their darkening sense again grew clear,
And moaned ‘Arisen! Arisen!’ and in his cell
The Murderer, for whom the pitiless bell
Would toll at dawn, sat with uplifted hair
And broke to piteous impotence of prayer!

The poet has a vision of the Madonna and child:

A brightness touched the Babe and cover’d Him,—
Such brightness as we feel in summer days
When hawthorn blossoms scent the flowery ways
And all the happy clay is verdure-clad;
And the Babe seem’d as others who make glad
The homes of mortals, and the Mother’s face
Was like a fountain in a sunny place
Giving and taking gladness, and her eyes
Beheld no other sight in earth or skies
Save the blest Babe on whom their light did shine.

     Although so lonely and so woe-begone is the old man, the poet is conscious, as they proceed, of eyes that glimmered from the dark, and of shapes that crawled or crouched low on the Bridge, 213 waiting to catch the pity of his eyes, or to touch his raiment hem; and then arose suddenly what seemed like the clangour and roar of a storm-torn sea, and ‘shrill as shrieks of ocean birds that fly over the angry waters, rose the cry of human voices’; and suddenly he seems to find himself upon an open Plain beyond the City, and before his face rises, with mad surges thundering at its base, a mountain like Golgotha, and ‘the waves that surged round its sunless cliffs and caves were human—countless swarms of Quick and Dead.’ The dense cloud of human forms clamber round the Ancient Man, who trails along a woeful cross of wood, and as he goes, bruised, bleeding, and outworn, the phantoms of Golgotha prick him on with spears, and, laughing in scorn, shout: ‘At last thy Judgment Day hath come!’
     From this point the poet proceeds to draw for us, in imagery that seldom fails and often rises to eloquence of the most passionate and picturesque order, the trial of Christ before the Spirit of Humanity. The present writer has memories of many trials, but all seem dimmed in comparison with the picture of this ghostly tribunal, that the daring poet has drawn for us, out of the very caldrons of his imagination. We may recall the burning anxieties, the inspired rhetoric, of the trial of Warren Hastings; we may have ghastly memories of many struggles for liberty and life in the courts of France at the time of the Revolution, and stand with awe, 214 facing our own memories of pictures painted for us of the horrors of the Committee of Public Safety; but however keen our power of recollection, however bright the colouring of these pictures of the memory, they all sink into greyness before the purple, the ‘thundering’ blackness of this trial, as conceived in the imagination of Robert Buchanan.
     ‘In your dreams this thing will haunt you,’ was no idle boast of the poet. No reader of ‘The Wandering Jew’ will wipe from his memory the picture of the lonely Man of Sorrows, standing on Golgotha mount, washed incessantly by the seething, bleeding Waters of Humanity, and having witnessed against him the millions of those who have fallen by the growth, the development, and the politics of the Church founded in his name. However much we may find that the logic and the reasoning is turgid and unconvincing, however much we may be aroused to protest by occasional irrelevances, however much the whole spirit of the trial may disturb our spiritual momentum, and perhaps shock our sense of what we vaguely term ‘reverence,’ which may, after all, be only a voiceless fear, we will be compelled to own that the poet has drawn for us a picture, that, for glowing metaphor, dramatic surroundings, and poetic atmosphere, stands high among modern poetical creations. The speech of the advocate of the bleeding heart of humanity, if not suited for the cold judicious temperament of a judge, is yet, 215 as a forensic effort directed towards a jury, powerful by the very majesty of its rhetoric.
     The trial opens by an address in words of simplicity, addressed by the judge to the Christ:

‘Thou shalt be judged and hear thy judgment spoken
Before the World whose slumbers thou hast broken;
Thou saidst, “I have fought with Death and am the stronger.
Wake to Eternal Life and sleep no longer!”
And men, thy brethren, troubled by thy crying,
Have rush’d from Death to seek the Life undying,
And men have anguish’d, wearied out with waiting
For the great unknown Father of thy creating,
And now for vengeance on thy head they gather,
Crying, “Death reigns! There is no God—no Father!”’

Then in impassioned words the Advocate for the prosecution commences his long charge against the accused, telling how Death reigned since Time began, ‘Sovran of Life and change,’ ere the Christ came to break our rest, and that now, within the flesh of men, there grows

The poison of a dream that slays repose,
The trouble of a mirage in the air;

and how the Earth has been turned into a lazarhouse by the strife of woeful men, who rend each other in their search for barren glory and eternal life. In stately periods he proceeds to record the chief facts concerning the birth, education, and career of Christ; how, finding among the Jewish race the old prophecy of a Messiah, he threw the royal raiment ready made on his bare back, and, to clinch his claim, ‘proceeded by simple devices of the wizard’s trade’ to perform miracles; how he rode to Jerusalem and kept 216 his kingly state with publican and sinners, profaned the Holy Temple of the race, and was slain by his own race. But, he adds, ‘the Man’s black crime had scarce begun’:

Had this Man, like the rest of Adam’s seed,
Rested within his grave, turned back to dust,
Accepted dissolution, as were just,
Well had it been for him and all man’s race!

But ‘He rose—this Jew,’ and for a season hid his head; but after years had passed, ‘mortals began to see in divers lands a phantom,’ who cried, ‘I am the Christ—believe on me, or lose your soul eternally!’ Continuing, the Advocate tells of the fall of Paganism, and ‘of all the gentle gods that gladden’d man’—of how a glory passed away from the Mother Earth, ‘the gladsome mother, mother of things of clay.’ In her name, firstly, ‘he demands justice on her son, this Jew’:

               The rumour of his godhead grew;
Yea, men were conscious of a Presence sad,
Crownèd with thorns, in ragged raiment clad,
Haunting the sunless places of the Earth.

Mystic legends of his birth, stories of his miracles and of his death, were whispered abroad, and many weary souls worn out with cares,

But chiefly women bruised and undertrod,
Believed this Man indeed the Son of God,—
Because he said, ‘The high shall be estranged,
The low uplifted, and the weak avenged,
And blest be those who have cast this world away
To await the dawning of my Judgment Day!’

Straightway martyrs and ascetics and fanatics were found on every hand:

                       I deny not that to some, a few                                     217
Poor Souls without a hope, without a friend,
The lie brought comfort and a peaceful end;
Nor (to be just to him we judge, even him,
This Jew, whose presence makes the glad World dim)
That often to the martyr in his prison
He went and whisper’d ‘Comfort! I am risen’;
Nor that to sick-beds sad, as Death came near,
He stole with radiant face and whisper’d cheer,
And to the Crucified brought secretly
The vinegar and sponge of Charity!

And secondly, in the name of those

Who in his Name, with calm unbated breath,
Went smiling down the dark descent of Death,

he demands justice on their Christ, this Jew! From land to land the tidings flew of the Divinity of Christ, and on every hand, from beggar to king, came crawling myriads to the baptismal fonts. And soon ‘They set a Priest on High and crowned him king, next to Christ, next to God; and in the Pope’s name countless temples rose where Priests, grown bold, conceived damned deeds and thoughts befitting Hell’:

They went abroad, his Priests, like wolves that scent
Lambs in the field, and slew the innocent;
The holy Shepherds who in places green
To Isis sang, and Thammuz songs serene
They found and slaughter’d, till their red blood ran
In torrents down the streams Egyptian.

And thirdly, in the name of Pagans ‘blest and blind, who loved the old gods best, for they were kind,’ he demands justice on this Jew. In bitter tones and passioned words the Advocate proceeds to paint the pictures of the many devilries 218 that were associated with the Church in the middle ages:

     Now, in the name of vestals sacrificed
To feed the lust of those same priests of Christ,
Of acolyte children tangled in the mesh
Of infamous and nameless filths of flesh,
In the name of those whom King and Priest and Pope
Cast down to dust, beyond all peace and hope,
Yea, in their names who made this Man their guide,
And curst by men, by him were justified,
I demand justice on their Christ, this Jew!

Passing on, he tells how

                                         in time
The very smile of Life became a crime
Against his Godhead;

how fathers turned against their children, brother turned against brother, and sons against their mother, because the Jew cried, ‘Life itself is shame and sin; break ye all human ties and ye shall win my realm beyond the grave’; the world turning from the sunshine of life and donning the leprous garbs of famine, self-abnegation, and martyrdom:

     Now in the name of Life defiled and scorn’d,
Of hearts that broke because this Phantom warn’d,
Of weary mothers desolately dying
For sons whose hearts were hardened to their crying,
Of wives made husbandless and left unblest,
Of little children starving for the breast,
Of homes made desolate from sea to sea
Because he said, ‘Leave all, and follow me,’
I demand justice on their Christ, this Jew!

After dwelling on the prosecution of those who sought not the Cross but light, and in the names of those great souls

Who fathom’d Nature’s secret star-some ways,
And read the law of Life with fearless gaze,

219 demanding doom and justice on the Jew, the Advocate proceeds to call the individual witnesses ‘of this Man’s  crime.’
     First, Judas Iscariot, then Ahasuerus, the other wandering Jew, doomed to walk on from sleepless year to year, ‘because he demanded of the Christ that he should cast his Cross aside and take a Throne’; Pilate, ‘The Roman wars not with such foes as he’; and then the phantoms of Roman kingship, Tiberius, Sejanus, and the rest come, followed by Antichrist himself, who testifies that though he made the Earth vile to glut his lechery, the Christ rose not:

                                   To the old Gods I sang
My triumph-song that thro’ the nations rang
While Rome was burning! On my mother’s womb
I thrust the impious heel! Yet from his tomb
This Jesus stirr’d not!

In rapid succession come a throng of martyrs slain by the Antichrist. ‘Crowd after crowd they passed, and passing, threw a curse or prayer on him who anguished there’:

Crown’d with the calm of a divine despair.

     Then rose Julian, the apostate:

I heard the wretched weep, the weary moan,
Saw Nature sickening because this Man wrought
To scatter poison in the wells of Thought,
So that no Soul might live in peace and be
Baptized in wisdom and philosophy;
Wherefore I summoned from their lonely graves
The Spirits of the mountains and the waves,
The tutelary Sprites of flowers and trees,
The rough wild Gods and naked Goddesses,
And all alive with joy they leapt around
My leaf-hung chariot, to the trumpet’s sound!
Yea, and I wakened from ancestral night                                              220
The human shapes of Healing and of Light,
Asclepios with his green magician’s rod,
And Aristotle, Wisdom’s grave-eyed god,
And bade them teach the natural law and prove
The eternal verities of Life and Love.

Marcus Aurelius, Hypatia,

                   ‘Seeking in the fountains of the past
Strange pearls of Dream and dim poetic thought.’

Mahomet, Buddha,

                 ‘Star-eyed and sad and very beautiful,
They taught them how to live, I taught them how to die.’

Zoroaster, Menu, Mores, Confucius, Prometheus all testified and vanished. Following come in hoards the Vicars of this Christ, the ghostly heirs of Wisdom and of Woe, the Souls long fled, the Great, the Just, the Good, who cannot die ‘because this piteous phantom passeth by.’ Then come Galileo, Castilio, and Bruno, ‘butchered in Christ’s name,’ and myriads of others who sought to read the open scrolls of Earth and Heaven:

Wherever in their sadness they have sought
To find the stainless flowers of lonely Thought,
Raising the herb of Healing and the bloom
Of Love and Joy, this Man from out his Tomb
Hath stalk’d.

The Advocate declaims:

                                     Save for this Jew,
The luminous House of flesh and blood most fair,
Rainbow’d from dust and water and sweet air,
The green Earth round it, and the Seas that roll
To cleanse the Earth from shining pole to pole,
The Heavens, and Heavens beyond without a bound,
The Stars in their processions glory-crown’d,
Each star so vast that it transcends our dreams,
So small, a child might grasp it, so it seems,
Like a light butterfly! The wondrous screed                                         221
Of Nature open lay for Man to read;
World flashed to world, in yonder Void sublime,
The messages of Light and Change and Time;
The Sea had voices, and the Spirit of Earth
Had sung her mystic runes of Death and Birth,
Of all the dim progressions Life had known,
And writ them on the rocks in words of stone.

Ghostwise, the procession sweeps along, ‘martyrs of truth and warriors of the right,’ Justinian, Du Molay, Abelard, Eloise, King Frederick, ‘his step serene and strong as if he trod on altars,’ Algazali, Alhazen, Petrarch, John Huss, Da Gama, and Magellan faring forward on his quest; ‘putting the craven cowls of Rome to shame.’
     With waving brands pass along the testifiers of the world who were slain in the Christ’s name, the hosts of Ind, the children of Peru and the black seed of Ham, and last of all, ‘Montezuma, King and Lord,’ with many other monarchs less than he, and many slain under the banner of the Crusaders.
     After them, the ‘Followers of the Crucified, the ravening wolves of wrath that never sleep.’

Struggling unto the Judgment place they came,
Smiting each other in their Master’s Name;
Beneath their feet fell women stabb’d and cleft,
And little children anguishing bereft.
And like a River of Blood that ever grew,
They rush’d until they roll’d round that pale Jew,
And lo! his feet grew bloody ere he was ‘ware!
Yet still they smote each other, and in despair
Shriek’d out his praises as they multiplied
Their dead around him. . . . And thus they testified!

The Huguenot, the nun, the Martyrs of the Book and the Mass, priests of Rome, priests of Luther 222 swimming past in waves of carnage, with the Cross of Blood wildly waving o’er, gave place to Jean Calas, kneeling at the feet of Voltaire, Holbach, Diderot, ‘foes of the Godhead and the friends of Man,’ and, last of all, the seeds of the Jewish race themselves.

One God we worship, and this Man we slew,
Seeing he took the Holy Name in vain!
And since that hour that he was justly slain,
His hate hath follow’d us from place to place!
Wherefore, O judge, we, children of his race,
Scorn’d, tortured, shamed, defamed, defiled, and driven
Outcast from every gate of Earth or Heaven,
Still martyr’d living and still dishonour’d dead,
Demand thy wrath and judgment on his head,
Jesus the Jew, not Christ, but Antichrist!

Like hordes of wolves, fierce, foul and famishing, the children of the Ghetto pass singing, ‘Holy, holy still thy name shall be, Jerusalem, thro’ God’s eternity,’ and crying for vengeance on him who has brought their city to desolation, scattered their tents, riven their robes, and driven their race like chaff before the blast, in darkness, ever homeless, thro’ the lands.
     With the passing of these children of Israel, the case for the prosecution ends, and Christ is called upon to produce those who can and will testify in his name.

The Jew gazed round, and wheresoe’er his gaze
Shed on that throng its gentle suffering rays,
Tumult and wrath were hush’d, as in deep Night
Great waves lie down to lap the starry light
And lick the Moon’s cold feet that touch the Sea.

With gentle accents the weary Christ speaks of his own life:

                 ‘I remember, on this my Judgment Day,                             223
Not what is near, but what is far away.
Within my Father’s House, I fell to sleep
In dreamless slumber mystical and deep,
And when I waken’d to mine own faint crying,
Above the cradle small where I was lying,
A Mother’s face hung like a star and smiled.’

He proceeds to tell how he gradually lost the memories of his former simple existence and simple natural thoughts in the thoughts of the Life Eternal and of his Father’s face. Of the witnesses of the Christ, we have a glimpse of John the Baptist, who, in the course of his testimony, cries:

                                       ‘And tho’ thy brow
Is furrowed deep with years, I know thee now,
And in the name of all thou wast and art,
God’s substance, of the living God a part,
Bear witness still, as I bare witness then,
Before this miserable race of men!’

Then saw I, as he ceased and stood aside,
Another Spirit fair and radiant-eyed,
Who, creeping thither, at the Jew’s feet fell,
And looking up with love ineffable
Cried ‘Master!’ and I knew that I beheld,
Tho’ his face, too, was worn and grey with eld,
That other John whom Jesus to his breast
Drew tenderly, because he loved him best!
But even as I gazed, my soul was stirred
By other Shapes that stole without a word
Out of the silent dark, and kneeling low
Stretched out loving hands and wept in woe;
The gentle Mother of God grown grey and old,
Her silver hair still thinly sown with gold,
Mary the wife, and Mary Magdalen,
Who murmur’d, ‘Lord, behold thy Handmaiden,’
And kiss’d his feet, her face so sadly fair
Hid in the shadows of her snow-strewn hair;
And close to them, as thick as stars, appear’d
Faces of children, brightening as they near’d                                        224
The presence of their Father: and following these,
Pallid Apostles, failing upon their knees,
Crying, ‘Messiah—Master—we are here!’

Of other witnesses, the Apostle Paul speaks thus:

                                           And I upraised
Temples of marble where thy flocks might pray,
And where no Temple was from day to day,
I made the earth thy Temple, and the sky
A roof for thy Belovèd. Lamb of God,
Thy blood redeem’d the Nations, while I trod
The garden of thy Gospel, bearing thence
Strange flowers of Love and Holy Innocence,
And setting up aloft for all to see
Thy Hûleh-lilies, Faith, Hope, Charity;
And of these three I knew the last was best,
Because, like thee, dear Lord, ’twas lowliest!
Thy Witnesses? Countless as desert sands
Their bones are scatter’d o’er the seas and lands!
Whene’er the Lamp of Life hath sunken low,
Whene’er Death beckon’d and ’twas time to go,
Where’er dark Pestilence and Disease had crawl’d,
Where’er the Soul was darken’d and appall’d,
Where mothers wept above their dead first-born,
Where children to green graves brought gifts forlorn
Of flowers and tears, where, struck ’spite helm and shield,
Pale warriors moan’d upon the battlefield,
Where Horror thicken’d as a spider’s mesh
Round plague-smit men and lepers foul of flesh,
Where Love and Innocence were brought to shame,
And Life forgot its conscience and its aim,
Thy blessing, even as Light from far away,
Came bright and radiant upon eyes of clay
And turn’d the tears of pain to tears of bliss!
Nay, more, to Death itself thy loving kiss
Brought consecration; he, that Angel sad,
Ran like a Lamb beside thee, and was glad.

     When he ceased, shapes of dead saints arose, a shining throng, shouting, ‘Hosannah to the Lord!’ while the fierce anger of the hosts around gave vent to a wild cry for Judgment on the Jew. Far as the sight could penetrate the blackness of the 225 Night, stretched the multitudinous living sea, the angry waters of Humanity, and the Man Divine seemed like a lonely Pharos on a rock. While the Judgment is being spoken, ‘the grey mother to his bosom crept, and the other Mary,’ who held him dear for the human love within his eyes, both yearning to share his failure or his glory. With piteous, eloquent voice Christ pours forth to that turbulent ocean of yearning humanity his heart’s blood. ‘Ye hungered, and I fed ye. Ye thirsted, and I gave ye drink. Ye revelled, and I moaned without your door, outcast and cold. Ye sinned in my name, and flung me the remnant of your shame. All I sowed in love, ye reaped in scorn.’

Woe to ye all, and endless woe to me,
Who deem’d that I could save Humanity.
.        .          .         .          .         .          .

I plough’d the rocks, and cast in rifts of stone
The seeds of Life Divine that ne’er have grown.

And as he stands there, ‘serene and luminous as an Alpine peak shining above these valleys,’ his Doom is spoken:

‘Thou shalt abide while all things ebb and flow,
Wake while the weary sleep, wait while they go,
And treading paths no human feet have trod,
Search on still vainly for thy Father, God;
Thy blessing shall pursue thee as a curse
To hunt thee, homeless, thro’ the Universe;
No hand shall slay thee, for no hand shall dare
To strike the godhead Death itself must spare!
With all the woes of Earth upon thy head,
Uplift thy Cross and go. Thy Doom is said.’
.          .         .          .         .          .         .

And lo! while all men come and pass away,
That phantom of the Christ, forlorn and gray,
Haunteth the Earth with desolate footfall. . . .

226 The poet ends this epos of the World’s despair with the prayer:

God help the Christ, that Christ may help us all!

     We have here at some length, and yet in a very superficial manner, taken a glimpse at the general character of this strange Christmas carol. Not losing sight of the essentially dramatic element in the poem, we must approach it, not as the majority of the Press did at the time of its publication, with a half-concealed sneer, but in the same spirit of reverence which inspires the poet himself throughout. There is scarcely a passage that does not betray the prayer of an almost broken-hearted poet, seeking for a solution of the meaning of human misery, human suffering, and human darkness. It is, as a contemporary says, ‘a half-tremulous, half-wistful wail over the gigantic failure of Christ; and the main drift of the poem is love for Christ, and impatience with the Eternal Father for His delay in securing him his triumph.’
     Whatever its poetic failings, however unfaithful it is to ‘classic tradition,’ however ‘false to poetry,’ whatever these expressions may mean, it is neither nebulous nor dishonest. It is the expression, in a poetical sense, of the aspirations and feelings of the aspiring modern. Breathing neither the spirit nor the poetry of Dante and Milton, it is nevertheless as true to nineteenth-century aspiration, and as true to Mr. Buchanan’s own conception of artistic work, as those ancients’ works were true to the spirit of their age, and their conceptions 227 of artistic rectitude. The Alpha and Omega of poetic construction have yet to be written, and as to the subjects that are legitimate for poetic treatment, the Alpha begins at man’s first aspiration, and the Omega ends at man’s last triumphal song. Thirty years ago Mr. Buchanan had bewailed the fact that Christianity was quite forgotten as a subject for poetry, and in the face of Philistines and those who would confine the poet to a fairyland of sylvan ways, and to singing of patriotic odes, he has essayed here a task, and succeeded so far in it as to ensure for him a distinctive place, not only among the singers, but also among the suggestive and constructive thinkers of the age. ‘I would not,’ said one critic, ‘give one “Poet Andrew” for a hundred Wandering Jews.’ The poet is quite content—for those who want ‘Poet Andrew’ the poem and other of its class are there; but the poet has other business in hand, and another audience to whom religion is an eternal verity, composed of those who can only reach intellectual satisfaction and moral encouragement by aspiring above mere domestic aspirations and fireside dreaming, and coming with their souls to the very gates of heaven and hell.
     The natural sequence of the poet’s thought is expressed in the poem published four years later, entitled ‘The Ballad of Mary the Mother.’ It is here that we have definitely stated the views which the poet holds as to the birth and life of Christ, and the essential factors that go to make up his place in the economy of human thought and 228 conduct. Love for the humanity of the Nazarene has not been expressed by the poet in stronger terms than here, a love unaltered throughout the whole of the period wherein the poet has evolved his eclectic faith. In a prose note, Mr. Buchanan says: ‘I have thought myself justified, while trying to realise how Jesus of Nazareth may have struck a contemporary, in using as my dramatic mouthpiece his own mother, the wife of Joseph the Carpenter. All the phases of my conception can be supported, if necessary, by the existing Christian documents; and if they could not be so supported, they are still justifiable, since the imagination of a modern poet is fully as reliable as the imagination of a mediæva1 monk.
     ‘Goethe, in his old age, foresaw the time when Christianity might become a “subject” for Poetry, a subject, that is to say, to be treated without reference of any kind to existing dogma or superstition. Thanks to modern scientific thought, the time has come sooner than was anticipated. We have reached the vantage-ground where the story of Jesus can be taken out of the realm of Supernaturalism and viewed humanely, in the domain of sympathetic Art. To even so late an observer as Renan, such a point of view was difficult, not to say impossible. Now, for the first time, human science has actually uttered its fiat, and written it on the rock. That fiat is, ‘The Law of God is “never” broken.’ Whosoever professes to break the Eternal Order is ignorant of the Divine Method—the true Atheist—


apart from God. 229 It seems a paradox to say so, but in this respect—ignorance of the Divine Law, assumption of power to break it or suspend it—Jesus of Nazareth was an unbeliever, perhaps the most audacious unbeliever who has ever lived.
     ‘He led the war against Nature, against the God of Nature, and that unhappy war is not over yet. But he, the new Prometheus, urging on his legions of despairing Titans, adopted a new system of attack—he assumed that the God of Nature “did not exist”; and he substituted in his imagination a new Personality, his own. History has furnished the answer to his pretensions, and the God of Nature, the great unknown God who is at once the master and servant of His own inexorable Will, has conquered all along the line. God reigns—Jesus and the Titans have failed; and their failure has deluged the world with innocent blood.
     ‘In saying so much, I do not wish to infer that my sympathy is with the Conqueror. No; it is with the fallen Atheists, not with the ever-victorious Deity whom they have one by one denied; with Prometheus, with Jesus; with the Dreamers who would fain dry the weeping eyes of men. Though they turn from the living God and substitute the gentle Phantom of their own desire; though they utter a promise which is ever broken, assume a hope which can never be realised: they are still, in the sweetest and surest meaning of the word, our Brethren, and we forgive them their sins against the eternal 230 Law, because we, too, would fain dream as they do. Alas, that the time should come when we must dream no more!
     ‘Meantime, let it be clearly understood that the Poets have ever been on the losing side, on the side, that is to say, of Jesus and the Titan-Dreamers: and hence the proof of the Poet is still to be found in his temperamental antagonism to the God of Nature.
     ‘In this connection, therefore, it is necessary to repeat with emphasis that it is on the truth or falsehood of the supernatural pretension that the “moral” character of Jesus must finally stand or fall. It was by Miracles that he attested his divine sovereignty; it was by Miracles that be won his first following; it was by Miracles that he proclaimed himself the Son of God; and without the historical belief in the Miracles Christianity would have died a natural death in its first  infancy. It is not, indeed, a creed of Love which has fascinated Humanity. “God is Love,” cried Jesus; “and my ‘proof’ that God is Love is this—I can heal the sick, and I can raise the dead.” The whole question, therefore, is reduced to one of facts, of proof. If we can believe that Jesus raised the dead, if we can even believe that any dead man since the world’s beginning has slipt his shroud and arisen, then we need not hesitate for a moment in accepting the pretensions of Christianity. If, on the other hand, we believe that the eternal Law is “never” broken, we need not pause to consider the moral 231 character of Jesus. We may accept him (as we are bound to do) as a man of supremely noble and loving nature, we may even believe that, in the assumption of supernatural power, he was merely self-deluded, not dishonest; but we cannot bow down before him as either the incarnate God or even the wisest of men.
     ‘The fit and only platform to discuss and examine this religion, this many-coloured kaleidoscope which men call Christianity, is, consequently, our own experience of human and natural phenomena. In the light or darkness of our own dwellings, in the silence of our own thoughts, in the record of all we have seen, known, and felt, in the presence of our own beloved ones, and by the sleeping-places of our own dead, we have to ask ourselves—has the God of Love, in whom we may otherwise believe, ever attested his being by any interruption of his own laws? Has he not, on the contrary, sealed up the eyes of the blind, left the leper to die of his disease, forborne to disturb, or even break, the sleep of Death? If it is borne in upon us, every day we live, that the laws of life are “never” broken, and that God has never vouchsafed us a sign, even a glimmer, of His personal presence, what shall we say of the folly, or the insanity, of the great Atheists who have perished miserably in the assumption of miraculous or God-like power?
     ‘“Grant, indeed,” says the bewildered sentimentalist, “that the proof has failed, that no miracle was ever wrought, does not the divine 232 spirit of Jesus remain secure to pervade creation?” By no means. The spirit was that of a deluded sceptic who aspired to break, and who misinterpreted, the laws of God, and who perished, of necessity, like a fly on the wheel. How then, it is asked, has Christianity itself emerged to save and gladden the souls of men? Here, again, our opponents are arguing in a circle, for the religion of Jesus has never really triumphed at all, except in the area of priestly politics and popular superstition. Our time has been wasted, we have been made the sport of a kindly thaumaturgist, for nearly nineteen hundred years.
     ‘Meantime we have constructed, out of the débris of historical documents, an ideal Jesus, a fanciful and fictitious Son of God. All the hope and despair of Humanity, the blood of the Martyrs, the visions of the Prophets, the dreams of the Poets, have nurtured this imaginary Messiah, who sums up in his nebulous person all that we mortals are, or hope to be. He heals no sick, he raises no dead, it is true; we begin to realise at last that he can never have done so; but Jesus, like Mesopotamia, is a blessed word, and we cling to it with fond tenacity.
     ‘In this poem, however, I at least acquit the Nazarene of his atheism—that is, I make him realise, after his momentary madness of supposed godhead, that the creature who endeavours to break the Divine Order must meet the Atheist’s 233 doom. Cruel and inexplicable as that order is, it is absolute and inevitable. Humanity will never free itself from its chains by assuming “that they do not exist.” The true believer in God is the man who discovers and recognises His pitiless laws, from the first Law till the last. The true witness to God is the man who, much as he execrates the anarchy and cruelty of Nature, and as a consequence of the God of Nature, accepts things as they are and endeavours to lighten the burthen for his fellow-men. Jesus was a man of a beautiful temperament, carried beyond himself by a false and sentimental conception of the mechanism of Life. He uttered, no one so exquisitely, the human cry for a Divine Fatherhood. But unfortunately, he appealed to Nature for corroboration of his appeal. Nature never answered him; then as now, she kept God’s secret.’
     These are strong words, and it is necessary to quote them to understand to what point the poet has reached. Mr. Buchanan’s hatred of trimming prevents us daring, even if we so desired in some way, to mask or modify these expressions. They are the natural outcome of the position he took up at first, they are the evolved expression of the idea he conceived when he wrote ‘The Book of Orm’; we doubt not that the genesis of these fully expressed ideas could be found even in earlier days. There is little need now in questioning Mr. Buchanan as to his views; he may be met squarely and openly on the wide field where myriads of 234 thinkers have long taken their stand and wrestled—on the basis of pure, abstract thought. He still remains after it all a ‘Believer,’ and from a Catechism appended to this particular poem we extract the following:

Dost thou believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son?

In Him, and in my Brethren every one:
The child of Mary who was crucified,
The gods of Hellas fair and radiant-eyed,
Brahm, Balder, Guatama, and Mahomet,
All who have pledged their gains to pay my debt
Of sorrows,—all who through this world of dream
Breathe mystery and ecstasy supreme;
The greater and the less: the wise, the good,
Inheritors of Nature’s godlike mood;
In these I do believe eternally,
Knowing them deathless, like the God in me.

Dost thou not in thine inmost heart believe,
Despite the lies which faithless sophists weave,
In Holy Church?

                       All Churches, great or small!
But most, that roof’d with blue celestial,
And fairer far than Temples built by hands,
Which, while all others fall, survives and stands!
More, I believe in Hell, and hope for Heaven!
Yea, also, that my fears may be forgiven,
And that this Body shall arise again
To Light and Everlasting Life. AMEN.

Name the Commandments!

                           Ten. Thou shalt have one
God, and one only (may His will be done!)
Thou shalt not fashion graven images
Of Him, or any other, and to these
Give prayer or praise; nor shall thy faith be priced
By any priest of Christ or Antichrist,
In any Temple or in any Fane;
Thou shalt not take the Name of God in vain.
All days shalt thou keep holy, pure and blest,
Six shalt thou labour, on the seventh rest,
But every day shall as a Sabbath be                                                      235
Of heavenly hope and love and charity.
Honour thy father and thy mother,—not
That God may lengthen and make bright thy lot,
But that the love thou bearest them may spring
Fountain-like to refresh each living thing
Which lives and loves like thee. Slay not at all,—
Neither to feed thy wrath, nor at the call
Of nations lusting in accursèd strife,
Nor to appease the Law’s black lust for life;
But take the murderer by the hand, and bring
Pity and mercy for his comforting.
Tho’ thou must never an Adulterer be,
Deem not the deed of kind Adultery,
But reverence that function which keeps fair
The Earth, the Sea, the Ether, and the Air,
And peopling countless worlds with lives like thine,
Maketh all Nature fruitful and divine;
For as thou dost despise thy flesh and frame
Shalt thou despise the Lord thro’ whom they came,
And if one act of these thou deemest base
Thou spittest in the Fountain of all Grace.
Thou shalt not steal, nor any lie sustain
Against thy neighbour; covet not his gain,
His wife, or ought that’s his to have and hold,
For robbing him, thou robb’st thyself tenfold!

What dost thou learn from these Commandments?

For things around me, and for things above
Worship and reverence; hate of deeds that sin
Against the living God who dwells within
This Temple of my life; obedience
To that celestial Light which issues thence.

The ‘Ballad’ is written in the metre familiar to all who know the poet’s ‘Ballad of Judas Iscariot.’ The opening stanzas are reproductions in verse of those words of the New Testament which tell of the coming of Mary the Mother to the door of the Synagogue and asking for her Son, and of the answer Jesus gave: ‘These are my mother, these are my 236 brethren.’ We are told how Mary was left weeping sore while Jesus passed on his heavenward way:

He turned away from his mother’s face
     To his Father’s face in heaven.
     .         .          .         .          .         .

As he wandered on from door to door,
     She followed him from afar;
His face was bright as the moon in heaven,
     And hers like a lonely star.

The whole poem, indeed, pictures the loneliness of the Mother in the loss of the love of a perfect human Son, by his assumption of the claims of Godhead. Never was higher tribute paid to womanhood than the poet has paid here to the dove-eyed woman of Galilee, and equally eloquent in its tribute of pure manhood and graceful sonhood is the picture of the infant Jesus. With the heart’s desire of the Son sprung the yearning of the Mother for the love that she had lost, a love which never changed, and was fiercest in its intensity when, after the storm and the stress, the weary ‘dreamer,’ the crucified Christ, the dead Son was clasped to the mother’s breast.
     The two Marys, Mary the Mother and Mary the Maiden, sit in the bower in a high seat and alone, while the white- robed sewing maiden is moving to and fro, the weariful mother telling to the other Mary the story of her life:

As fair as the Hûleh-lily
     That blooms in the summer beam,
Was Mary the Maiden, wearing
     Her robe of the silken seam;

And on her hair and her bosom                                                            237
     Were jewels and gems of price,
And round her neck there was hanging
     A charm with a strange device:

A heart of amber, and round it
     Ruby and emerald bands,
And over it, wrought in crystal,
     Two little wingèd hands!

White and warm was her bosom
     That rose and fell below,
And light on her face was playing,
     Deep, like the after-glow;

With the waves of her heaving bosom
     That strange light went and came,
Now dim and dark with the shadow of earth,
     Now flush’d with a heavenly flame;

And the warmth of the glad green meadows,
     The scent of the Night and the Day,
Flowed up from Mary the Maiden
     To Mary the old and grey.

There is much love between the two, the Mother poor and lonely in lot, and the other Mary who is painted here as one of high birth; the mutual feeling springing from the love which the latter bears for the man Jesus:

’Twas Mary, the woeful Mother,
     Bent down and kissed her brow,
‘God help thee, Mary, my daughter,
     And all such maids as thou!

‘His love is not for the things of earth,
     His blessing for things of clay,—
A voice from the Land beyond the grave
     Is calling my Son away!

‘How should he stoop to a love like thine
     Who hath no love for me?
In my womb he grew, from my womb he fell,
     And I nursed him on my knee.’

’Twas Mary, the dark-eyed Maiden,                                                    238
     Smiled through her night-black hair:
‘I met his eyes as he passed this day,
     And methought he found me fair!

‘There is never a man of the sons of men
     Who would not smile on me,
But if thy Son is more than a man,
     Alack for me and thee!

‘But if thy Son is Joseph’s son,
     E’en as his brethren be,
Why, I am Mary of Magdala!
     And a King might mate with me.’

’Twas Mary, the woeful Mother,
     Answered again, and said:
‘The love of the world is not for him,
     Nor the happy bridal bed!

‘He has cast away all women of earth
     Even as he casts out me,—
In my womb he grew, from my womb he fell,
     And I nursed him on my knee.’

With rending heart the Mother speaks of her loss and what it meant to her, and with gentle and suggestive words she disavows the Godhead of her Son:

‘The God of Israel passeth
     From world to world on high.
The seas and the mighty mountains
     Quake as He passeth by;

‘No eye hath looked upon Him,
     No soul hath fathom’d His ways,
His face is veil’d, though His breathing
     Filleth our nights and days;

‘His Hand is a Hand in the darkness,
     His Voice is a Voice in the gloom,
But seed of Jehovah hath never
     Been sown in a woman’s womb.’

The betrothal to Joseph is told of, and the agony of the Mother, who already knew that

‘A little hand in the darkness                                                               239
     Was lifting the latch of my heart.’

And a splendid tribute is made to a forgiving, an understanding Joseph:

‘The heart of a woman is feeble,
     But the strength of a man is strong;
Wisest and best of mortals
     Was Joseph of Nazareth.’

Following this is a description of the happy home at Nazareth, and of the growth of the loving Son in all the fine attributes of manhood and sonhood. The intense passion of the Mother for the Son is never lost sight of:

‘The ways of the world are weary,
     But the kiss of a mouth is sweet!’

And in her pride of motherhood she cries to Mary:

‘A maid’s love. O my daughter
     Is a pearl that men may buy,
But the love of a new-made mother
     Is a rainbow in the sky!’

And in language that recalls the descriptions in the Song of Solomon, she dwells on the beauty and glamour of the child. Even in these early days, however, he seemed not as other children that play in the summer beam, but seemed to live in a dreamland of his own:

‘And while from hillock to hillock
     They flew with laugh and cry,
He watch’d the white clouds passing
     Over the still blue sky!

‘So grave and yet so gentle,
     So still and yet so blest,—
It seemed some fountain of wonder
     Flow’d in his baby breast.’

240 Yet there was always joy in the house, and always a burning sunshine in the Mother’s heart, and as the days passed, the new joys and new hopes drowned the possible fears.

‘The peace of God was upon me,
     The smile of God at my door,
My soul was a summer fountain
     That filleth and floweth o’er!

‘Fairer and fairer my first-born grew
     Till he was seven years old,
And his eyes had the glint o’ the waters blue
     And his hair the sunset’s gold.’

His gentleness, his love for all things that God made, especially his love for the weak things of the world, the gentle, the sick, the God-stricken, the poor, the lepers, is spoken of with motherly pride; and Jesus is also indicated here as a questioning young soul, ever eager to learn, and to hear the tales that a thousand mothers tell to their sons, of the bondage of the Jewish race, of the psalm of the poet-king, of the wise men of old, and of the promise of a Messiah.

‘O sweet he was as the summer rain
     That falleth on desert ways,
But ever the cry of human pain
     Troubled his nights and days!

‘And ’twas “O, mother,” and “why, mother,
     Are folks so weary and sad?
The sick folk die, and the lepers cry,
     Though the sun shines bright and glad!”’

     The arrival at the Holy City for the Feast, his experiences in the Temple, and his gradual growth in physical, moral, and mental strength and beauty, the death of Joseph, his toiling in the 241 carpenter’s shop of Galilee, his teaching in the synagogue, are all recalled in tones of fond remembrance by the Mother, till there comes on the scene the figure of John the Baptist, and from this point everything is changed. ‘From morning star unto evening star,’ the eyes of John and Jesus spoke, and into a desert place goes the Son, never to return as before. There, alone with the silence, he fasts and hides his face, until the ‘flesh of his bones was wasted, and the light of his life burnt low’; and when he came again to the Mother, ‘the dews of Death were upon him, and his face seemed set in a shroud,’ and although his smile was loving and gentle as of old, ‘his eyes were gazing through me at something far away.’ The Son speaks to the Mother of his revelation, and at his strange words the Mother has fears of his physical condition, telling him of God that

His face no eye hath looked on,
     His voice no ear hath heard;
And yet His face is the light o’ life,
     And His voice is a wingèd word.

Jesus refuses all sympathy and advice, and in the familiar words renounces the world and all old associations, and assumes (in the poem) the attributes of Godhead. In simple yet telling lines, the poet continues to put into the mouth of the Mother her impression of the life of the Son in all its varied and various forms; of the message he gave to a tired and aching world, and of his gleam of the Promised Land.

‘For his voice was sweet as a fountain                                                 242
     Or the voice of the turtle dove,
As he told of a Heavenly Kingdom
     And the love that is more than love;

‘And the burden of earth was uplifted
     By the touch of a magic hand,
And the folk beheld as they hearken’d
     The gleam of the Promised Land:

‘A land of milk and of honey,
     Golden and bright and blest,
Where the wicked would cease from troubling
     And the weary would be at rest!’

With touching pathos she speaks of the Son’s message to the hungry, the weeping, the stricken; the message spoken in those words which, in their personal element, have been the very foundation of the power of Christ amongst those who have fallen or barely succeeded in the struggle for life: ‘Come unto me!’
     But through it all the riddle of the Son’s language as to his relation with the Godhead troubles and oppresses the Mother, who continually reminds the Son:

‘Seed art thou of a mortal man,
     And grew in thy mother’s womb’;

and weeps that his thoughts are yonder in heaven, and not here on the earth with her.
     Mary, the dark-eyed maiden, rejoices in him, whatsoever he does, and as he passes along midst shouts of ‘Rabbi,’ and as she hears of the tales of his healings and raisings from the dead, she exclaims, ‘Surely this man, O mother, is more than flesh of thine.’ The Mother replies:

‘Gladly my soul would greet him                                                      243
     Though he were thricefold King,
But ever behind him as he walks
     The Shadow is following!

‘Man is a spark in the darkness,
     His days are only a breath,
The wings of the Lord are wide as the world
     And the shadow thereof is Death’;


‘The ways of the world are many,
     But yonder all ways meet’;

while the other Mary is continually echoing in words her heart’s yearning:

‘There is never a man of the sons of men
     Who is half so fair as he,—
Be he seed of a mortal or son of God,
     He is Master of men and me.’

And then comes Golgotha:

As they parted his raiment among them,
     For his vesture casting lots,
On the clouds of the night burnt brands of light
     Like crimson leper-spots;

But the storm of the night was over
     And the wild winds ceased to cry,
Yea, all was still on the skull-shaped hill
     As the Spirit of Death crept by.

’Twas Mary the woeful Mother
     Lay prone beneath the Tree,
And Mary the Maid knelt down and prayed
     With Mary of Bethany.

And the light came out of the skies
     And struck the Cross on the hill . . .
And Jesus moaned and open’d his eyes,
     And the heart of the world stood still!

and the reiteration of the splendour of human love:

The love of the Lord of Heaven                                                         244
     Is a dream that passeth by,
But the love of a mortal Mother
     Is a love that doth not die!

The sword of the Lord of Heaven
     Husheth his children’s cry,
But the love of a mortal Mother
     Shines on, tho’ God goes by!

And he bowed his head on his breast
     And utter’d a woeful cry,
And the weariful Mother’s lips were prest
     To his wounds,—while God went by!

     The descent from the Cross, the embalmment, the burial, and the sorrow of the women here follow in their place:

And the birth-star looked from the gates o’ Death,
     As she rock’d the corse on her knee,
And the Earth lay silently down to watch
     In the still bright arms o’ the Sea.

And from over the hill the stars looked down
     With dim sad tearful eyes,
For the cry of the Mother’s broken heart
     Rang through the empty skies.

(It rang to the foot of the Throne of God
     Where all the wide world’s woe,
The dole of a million broken hearts,
     Melts like a flake of snow)—

with the final despairing cry of a bereaved Mother, bereaved because of the hopeless hope of her Son, that he could stand between man and his Maker, and save the world from a humanly conceived damnation:

‘How shall the hand of a mortal
     Gather the sheaves of the Lord?
The hand of a man is ashes and dust,
     God’s hand is fire and a sword!

‘How shall the seed of a woman                                                         245
     Master Euroclydon?
A woman’s seed is as thistlebloom,
     And lo, with a breath ’tis gone!

‘My son was fair as a lily,
     His hair was of golden sheen,
But the lilies of Sharon perish
     When the winds of the Lord blow keen!

‘What man shall stand in the whirlwind
     Where only the Lord may stand?
The feet of the Lord are on the Dead,
     And the Quick blow round like sand!’

And then when all was over, the last rites, the last despairing moan of godly motherhood; the despair in the face of the unchangeable inexorableness of Nature!

And over the hill the Dawn’s bright feet
     Plash’d in the Night’s cold springs,
And a lark rose, shaking the drops o’ pearl
     From the tips of his dewy wings;

And the heart of the world throbb’d deep and strong
     As on Creation’s Day,
And the skies that roof the happy earth
     Were as blue and as far away!

     This is a hasty view of a poem written with more searching of heart, we conceive, than anything the poet had yet ventured. The blessed sanctity of motherhood, which has always stood high in the creed of the poet, is made the theme of the ballad, and the uselessness of the whole aspiration, together with the human misery it evoked, has touched the poet to speak these words, despite all temptation to the contrary. From a poetical point of view, ‘The Ballad of Mary 246 the Mother’ stands high, in our opinion, amongst the poet’s best work. For its very fearlessness of expression, combined with its simplicity of language, a simplicity which faithfully reflects the spirit and tone of the Gospel, it remains an important contribution to the poetical literature of religion. There is none of the fiery rhetoric of ‘The Wandering Jew,’ little of the mysticism of ‘The Book of Orm’ and ‘The City of Dream,’ or even of the ballad of the same metre, ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’; but from its faithfulness to Eastern colour, its remarkable poetic reproduction of the scriptural records, and its never-halting metre, the poem must be regarded as part of the vanguard of Mr. Buchanan’s endeavour.



Next: Chapter X. THE DEVIL

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
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