ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{Undertones 1863}

 

                                                                                                                                                                 189

XVI.

ANTONY IN ARMS.

_____

 

LO, we are side by side!—One dark arm furls                                  [1:1]
     Around me like a serpent warm and bare;
The other, lifted ’mid a gleam of pearls,
     Holds a full golden goblet in the air:
Her face is shining through her cloudy curls
     With light that makes me drunken unaware,
And with my chin upon my breast I smile
     Upon her, darkening inward all the while.

And thro’ the chamber curtains, backward roll’d
     By spicy winds that fan my fever’d head,
I see a sandy flat slope yellow as gold
     To the brown banks of Nilus wrinkling red
In the slow sunset; and mine eyes behold                                           190
     The West, low down beyond the river’s bed,
Grow sullen, ribb’d with many a brazen bar,
Under the white smile of the Cyprian star.                                         [2:8]

A bitter Roman vision floateth black
     Before me, in my dizzy brain’s despite;                                         [3:2]
The Roman armour brindles on my back,
     My swelling nostrils drink the fumes of fight:
But then, she smiles upon me!—and I lack
     The warrior will that frowns on lewd delight,
And, passionately proud and desolate,
I smile an answer to the joy I hate.

Joy coming uninvoked, asleep, awake,
     Makes sunshine on the grave of buried powers;
Ofttimes I wholly loathe her for the sake
     Of manhood slipt away in easeful hours:
But from her lips mild words and kisses break,                                   [4:5]
     Till I am like a ruin mock’d with flowers;
I think of Honour’s face—then turn to hers—
Dark, like the splendid shame that she confers.

Lo, how her dark arm holds me!—I am bound                              191 [5:1]
     By the soft touch of fingers light as leaves:
I drag my face aside, but at the sound
     Of her low voice I turn—and she perceives
The cloud of Rome upon my face, and round
     My neck she twines her odorous arms and grieves,
Shedding upon a heart as soft as they
Tears ’tis a hero’s task to kiss away!

And then she loosens from me, trembling still
     Like a bright throbbing robe, and bids me “go!”—                        [6:2]
When pearly tears her drooping eyelids fill,
     And her swart beauty whitens into snow;                                     [6:4]
And lost to use of life and hope and will,
     I gaze upon her with a warrior’s woe,
And turn, and watch her sidelong in annoy—
Then snatch her to me, flush’d with shame and joy!

Once more, O Rome! I would be son of thine—
     This constant prayer my chain’d soul ever saith—
I thirst for honourable end—I pine
     Not thus to kiss away my mortal breath.
But comfort such as this may not be mine—                                      192
     I cannot even die a Roman death:
I seek a Roman’s grave, a Roman’s rest—
But, dying, I would die upon her breast!

 

[Notes:
Alterations in the 1882 Selected Poems::
v. 1, l. 1: LO, we are side by side!—One white arm furls
v. 2, l. 8: Under the swart smile of the Cyprian star.
v. 3, l. 2: Before me, in my busy brain’s despite;
v. 4, l. 5: But from her lips wild words and kisses break,
v. 5, l. 1: Lo, how her white arm holds me!—I am bound
v. 6, l. 2: Like a bright throbbing snake, and bids me “go!”—
v. 6, l. 4: And her bold beauty saddens into snow; ]

 

                                                                                                                                                               193

XVII.

FINE WEATHER ON THE DIGENTIA.

_____

 

HORATIUS COGITABUNDUS.

 

1.

FAVONIUS changes with sunny kisses
     The spring’s ice-fetters to bands of flowers,
And the delicate Graces, those thin-skinn’d Misses,
     Are beginning to dance with the rosy Hours;
The Dryades, feeling the breeze on their bosoms,
Thro’ tuby branches are blowing out blossoms;
The naked Naiad of every pool,
Lest the sunshine should drive her to playing the fool,
Lies full length in the water and keeps herself cool;
Pan is piping afar, ’mid the trees,
His ditty dies on the dying breeze,
While a wood-nymph leaneth her head on his knees,
In a dream, in a dream, with her wild eyes glistening,
Her bosom throbbing, her whole soul listening!                                 194
In fact, ’tis the season of billing and cooing,
Amorous flying and fond pursuing,
Kissing, and pressing, and mischief-doing;
And pleasant it is to take one’s tipple
     In the mild warm breath of the spicy South,
     And deftly to fasten one’s lips to the mouth
Of a flasket warmer than Venus’ nipple!
Pleasant, pleasant, at this the season
When folly is reason and reason treason,
When nought is so powerful near or far
               As the palpitating
               Titillating
Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle of the Cyprian star!

 

2.

But what has a shaky quaky fellow,
Full of the sunshine but over-mellow,
To do with the beautiful Lesbian Queen,
The pink-eyed precious with locks of yellow,
The goddess of twenty and sweet eighteen,
Whose double conquest o’er Pride and Spleen
In the Greek King’s bed put a viper green
And darken’d the seas with the Grecian force?                                195
               Nothing, of course!
Well, even I have of joy my measure
And can welcome the newborn Adonis with pleasure;
For since at Philippi, worst of scrapes,
     I saved my skin for the good of the nation,
     And made my pious asseveration
To scorn ambition and cultivate grapes,
I’ve found by a curious convolution
     Of physical ailments and heavenly stars,
     And of wisdom wean’d on the blood-milk of Mars,
That my pluck is surpass’d by my elocution—
               And learnt, in fine,
               That rosy wine
And sunshine agree with my constitution!         (Bibit.)                   [l.xxii]

 

3.

Pleasant it is, I say, to sit here,
     Just in the sunshine without the threshold,
     And, with fond fingers and lips, caress old
Bacchus’ bottle, the source of wit, here!
Drowsily hum the honey-bees,
Drowsily murmur the birds in the trees,
Drowsily drops the spicy breeze,                                                     196
Drowsily I sit at mine ease.

 

4.

An idle life is the life for me,—
Idleness spiced by philosophy!
I care not a fig for the cares of business,
Politics fill me with doubt and dizziness,
Pomps and triumphs are simply a bore to me,
Crude ambition will come no more to me,
I hate the vulgar popular cattle,
And I modestly blush at the mention of battle.
No!—Here is my humble definition
Of a perfectly happy and virtuous condition:
A few fat acres aroundabout,
     To give one a sense of possession; a few
Servants to pour the sweet Massic out;
     Plenty to eat and nothing to do;
A feeling of cozy and proud virility;
               A few stray pence;—
               And the tiniest sense
Of self-conserving responsibility!

                                                                                                                                                               197

5.

For, what is life?—or, rather ask here,                                              [l.i]
     What is that fountain of music and motion
We call the Soul?—As I sit and bask here,
     I confess that I haven’t the slightest notion.
Yet Plato calls it eternal, telling
How its original lofty dwelling
Was among the stars, till, fairly repining
At eternally turning a pivot and shining,
               Heaven it quitted
               To dwell unpitied
In a fleshly mansion of wining and whining;
Aristotle, I don’t know why,
Believes that, born up above in the sky
The moment that Body is born on the earth,
’Tis married to Body that moment of birth;
Hippo and others, whose heads were a muddle,
Affirm ’tis compounded of water—puddle!
Fire, not a few, with Democritus, swear;
While others—chameleons—reduce it to Air;
Water and fire, cries Hippocrates!
No, water and earth, cries Xenophanes!
Earth and fire, cries Parmenides!
Stop! cries Empedocles,—all of these!                                            198
Ennius follow’d Pythagoras, thinking
The transmigration of spirits a truth;—
A doctrine I choose to apply in sooth
To the spirit that lies in the wine I’m drinking;
Speculation, muddle, trouble,
Some see obliquely, others double,
               While under their noses,
               Which smell not the roses,
Truth placidly bursts like a spangled bubble.

 

6.

Altogether, they puzzle me quite,
They all seem wrong and they all seem right.
The puzzle remains an unsatisfied question;
     But Epicurus has flatly tried
     To prove that the Soul is closely allied
To wine, and sunshine, and good digestion.
For without any prosing, head-racking, or preaching,
That’s the construction I put on his teaching!
’Tis simple: the Soul and the Body are one,
Like the Sun itself and the light of the Sun,
Born to change with all other creations,
Homunculi, qualities, emanations,                                                      199
To pass thro’ wondrous and strange gradations;
And if this be the case, our best resource
Is to make the most of our time, of course,
Nor grumble and question till hoary and hoarse.
And I slightly improve upon Epicurus,
Who shirk’d good living, as some assure us,
And assert, from experience long and rare,
That body and soul can be perfectly snug,
               With sunshine, fresh air,
               And no physical care,
In a garden that never requires to be dug.

 

7.

I, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, am learning
From the tuneful stars in my zenith turning,
From my bachelorhood, which is wide awake,
     That the sum of good is a life of ease,
     A friend or two, if the humour please,
And not a tie it would pain you to break.
Call me selfish, indolent, vain,
But I don’t and won’t see the virtue of pain,
Be it of body or be it of brain;
Philippi finish’d my education,                                                          200
For it taught me the doctrine of self-preservation.
I hate the barking of Scylla’s dogs,
     Round Charybdis your sailor may spin, but not I:—
     In short, I am one of those excellent hogs
That grunt in the Grecian epicure’s sty.
Day by day, my delight has grown wider
     Since I learnt that wine is a natural good,
     And the stubborn donkey called Fortitude
Has a knack of upsetting the bile of its rider.
All creeds that vex one are mere vexation;
But I firmly believe, and no man dare doubt me,
In Massia taken in moderation,                                                       [l.xxii]
And I like to dwell where no fools can flout me—
               Sans physical care,
               In the sunny air,
And to sing—when I feel the fresh world about me!          (Bibit.)

 

8.

Bear witness, Flower!—One’s sense perceives
The rich sap lying within your leaves,
Which lusciously swoon to a soft blood-red
As the sunlight woos them from overhead!
Now, here is a parallel worth inspection                                           201
Of body and blood in perfect connexion
With what some call Soul, that obscure abstraction
Which I have proved to my satisfaction
To be body in lesser or greater perfection.
The perfect parts of the perfect flower
Were nourish’d by sunshine for many an hour,
Till the sunshine within them o’erflowing,—hence
The juice whose odorous quintessence,
Though sweetly expressing the parts and the whole,
Is simply a part of the whole, and still
Inseparate from the general will.
The Flower is the Body, the Scent is the Soul!
See! I press a thorn in the milky stalk:
The small thing droops o’er the garden walk,
The soft leaves shiver, the sap runs dry,
And never more will the flower’s mild eye
Drink the breath of the moon—it will linger, and die.
But the scent of the flower, some would cry, is the sweeter;
     True, but the scent, every moment, grows less,
     And, further observing, they would confess,
That the flower, as a flower, is the incompleter!
     Well, between my fingers I sharply press
The delicate leaves, and thro’ every vein                                          202
The perfect anatomy shrinks with pain,
     And the flower with its odorous quintessence
Will never, ’tis clear, be perfection again.
     Bah! I pluck it, I pluck it, and cast it hence,
As Death plucks humanity body and brain.                                   [l.xxxiii]
But the odour has not yet flown, you cry,
It sweetens the air, tho’ the flower doth die!
Of course; and the feelers and stem and leaves,
And the sap and the odour it interweaves,
     No longer perfect and gastronomic,
Are in common resolving themselves, one perceives,
     Back to first principles—say atomic;
And whatever destination your fine
Hard-headed philosophers choose to assign
To the several parts, they are reft of their power,
     And, so far as concerns its true functions—to scent
     The soft air, and look fair—and its first sweet intent,
’Tis clear that the whole is no longer a Flower.

 

9.

Take that bulky and truly delectable whole,
     The egotistic disciple of Bacchus,
With small hare’s-eyes and gray hairs on his poll,                             203
     Myself—good Quintus Horatius Flaccus!
There’s a Body! There’s a Soul!
Many a year, over Rome’s dominions,
Has he vaunted his epicurean opinions;                                           [l.vii]
He may be wrong, he may be right,
So he roars his creed in no mad heroics,—
Since down in the grave, where all creeds unite
Even Epicureans are changed to Stoics.         (Bibit.)

 

10.

Humph, the grave!—not the pleasantest prospect, affirms,
     This quiet old heart starting up with a beat—
Well, ’tis rather hard that liquor so sweet
Goes simply to flavour a meal for worms!
After all, I’m a sensible man,
To render my span
As happy and easeful as ever I can.
To-morrow may mingle, who knows, who knows,
     The Life that is Dream with the Death that is Sleep,
And the grass that covers my last repose
     May make a sward where the lambkins leap
Round a mild-eyed mellifluous musical boy
Who pipes to his flock in a pastoral joy,                                            204
While the sun that is shining upon him there
Draws silver threads thro’ his curly hair,
And Time with long shadows stalks past the spot,
And the Hours pass by, and he sees them not!
Instead of moping and idly rueing it,
Now, this is the pleasantest way of viewing it!—
To think, when all is over and done,
Of insensately feeling one’s way to the sun,
Of being a part of the verdure that chases
The mild west-wind into shady places,
While one’s liver, warming the roots of a tree,
Creeps upward and flutters delectably
In the leaves that tremble and sigh and sing,
And the breath bubbles up in a daisy ring,
And the heart, mingling strangely with rains and snows,
Bleeds up thro’ the turf in the blood of a rose.

 

11.

Which reminds me, here, that the simile drawn
From the flower that is withering on the lawn,
May, by a stretch of the thought, apply
To the universe—ocean, earth, air, and sky;
And dividing the whole into infinite less,                                             205
First principles, atomies numberless,
We find that the sum of the universe strange
Suffers continual mystical change;
While the parts of the whole, tho’ their compounds range
Thro’ all combinations from men down to daisies,
Are eternal, unchangeable, suffer no phases.
So that Death, to the dullest of heads so unsightly,
Is (here I improve Epicurus slightly)
Is but the period of dissolution
Into some untraceable constitution
Of the several parts of the Body and Soul,—
And a total extinction of Man as a whole.                                        [l.xvii]
As to Time—mere abstraction! With even motion,
Like waves that gathering foamy speech
Grow duskily up on a moonlit beach,
And seem to increase the huge bulk of the ocean,
Hours roll upon hours in the measureless sea
               Of eternity:
               Never ceasing, they seem increasing;
But the parts of the Infinite, changing never,
Increase not, tho’ changing, the Whole, the For Ever.
Time? Call it a compound, if you please,
A divisible drop in eternal seas,                                                        206
An abstract figure, by which we men
Try to count our sensations again and again,
And then you will know, perceiving we must                                   [l.xxxi]
Nourish some compound with dust of dust,
And seeing how short our sensations and powers,
               Why I am one,
               Who sits in the sun,
Whose Time is no limited number of hours,
But wine ever-present, in nectarine showers.

 

12.

O Mutability, dread abstraction,
Let me be wise in the satisfaction
Of my moderate needs in a half-inaction!
While Propertius grows love-sick and weary and wan,
While thou, Virgil, singest of arms and the man,
While assassins on Cæsar sharpen their eyes,
     While Agrippa stands grimly on blood-stained decks,
     While Mæcenas flirts with the female sex,
Teach me to sport and philosophize!
     O Mutability, lasting ever,
     Changing ever, yet changing never,
Teach me, O teach me, and make me wise!—                                 207
In the dreadful depth of thy eyeballs dumb,
     Strange meanings flutter and pass to nought,
And beautiful images fade as they come,
     Thro’ an under-trouble of shady thought!

 

13.

Yonder, yonder, the River doth run,
From sun to shade, and from shade to sun,
     Shaking the lilies to seed as it flows,
     Under the willow-trees taking a dose,                                         [l.iv]
And waking up in a flutter of fun!
Could you look at the leaves of yonder tree!
The wind is stirring them as the sun is stirring me!
The woolly clouds move quiet and slow,
     In the pale blue calm of the tranquil skies,
And their shades that run on the grass below
     Leave purple dreams in the violet’s eyes!
The vine droops over my head with bright
     Clusters of purple and green—the rose
     Breaks her heart on the air—and the orange glows
Like golden lamps in an emerald night.*
While I sit, with the stain of the wine on my lip,                                 208
Shall nature and I part fellowship?
No, by Bacchus! This view from the threshold of home
Is as glad to the core, and as sorrow-despising,
As Aphrodité when fresh from the foam
That still on her bosom was falling and rising,
While the sunshine crept thro’ her briny hair
And mingled itself with the shadows there,
And her deepening eyes drank their azure from air,
And she blush’d a new beauty surpassingly fair!

       * Golden lamps in a green night.—ANDREW MARVEL.

 

14.

’Tis absurd to tell me to ruffle a feather,
Because there may soon be a change of weather.
When the Dog-Star foams, I will lie in the shade,
And watch the white sun thro’ an emerald glade;
When winter murmurs with rain and storm,
I will watch my hearth smile to itself, and keep warm;
And for Death, who having fulfilled his task
     Leaves his deputy Silence in houses of mourning,—
Well, I hope he no troublesome questions will ask,
     But knock me down, like an ox, without warning.
Like the world, I most solemnly promise devotion
To pleasure commingled of light, music, motion.                                209
I like (as I said) to sit here in my mirth,
To be part of the joy of the sweet-smelling earth,
To feel the blood blush like a flower with its glee,
To sing like a bird, to be stirr’d like a tree,
Drowsily, drowsily, sit at mine ease,
While the odd rhymes buzz in my brain like bees,
And over my wine-cup to chirp and to nod,
               Ay to sit—till I fall
               Like that peach from the wall—
Self-sufficient, serene, happy-eyed,—like a GOD!          (Bibit.)

 

15.

Ay, crop the corn with the crooked sickle,
     Sow harvest early and reap too late,
Prove Fortune friendly or false or fickle,
     Blunder and bother with aching pate,
Attempting to conquer chance or fate,
Struggle, speculate, dig, and bleed,
Reap the whirlwind of Venus’ seed,
O senseless, impotent human breed!
What avails! what avails! Were ye less intent
     On your raking and digging, perchance ye’d behold                     210
     The fleecy vapours above you roll’d
Round the dozing Deities dead to strife,
With their mild great eyes on each other bent
Enchanging a wisdom indifferent
To the native honours of death and life.
Sober truths of a pleasure divine
Keep them supine!
The grand lazy fellows have nothing to do
With the hubble and trouble of me or of you,
The stars break around them in silver foam,
And they calmly amuse themselves, sometimes, by stealing
A peep at us pigmies, with much the same feeling
With which, from the candour and quiet of home,
I glance at the strife of political Rome.
Serene, happy-eyed, self-sufficient, they rest
On the hill where the blue sky is leaning her breast:—
Jove seated supreme in the midst, at his side
     Apollo the Sun and Selene the Moon,
Juno half dozing, her foot of pride
On the neck of Venus the drowsy-eyed,
     And Pallas humming the spheric tune.

                                                                                                                                                               211

16.

Flash!
Lightning, I swear!—there’s a tempest brewing!
Crash!
Thunder, too—swift-footed lightning pursuing!
The leaves are troubled, the winds drop dead,
The air grows ruminant overhead—
Splash!
That great round drop fell pat on my nose.
Flash! crash! splash!—
I must run for it, I suppose.
O what a flashing and crashing and splashing,
     The earth is rocking, the skies are riven—
Jove in a passion, in god-like fashion,
     Is breaking the crystal urns of heaven.

 

[Notes:
v. 2, l. xxii: (Bibit.) Translation: (Drinks.)
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 5, l. i: For, what is Life?—or, rather ask here,
v. 7, l. xxii: In Massic taken in moderation,
v. 8, l. xxxiii: As Death plucks humanity body and brain!
v. 9, l. vii: Has he vaunted his Epicurean opinions:
v. 11, l. xvii: And the total extinction of Man as a whole.
v. 11, l. xxxi: And then you will know, perceiving we must
v. 13, l. iv: Under the willow-trees taking a doze, ]

 

                                                                                                                                                               212

XVIII.

FINE WEATHER BY BAIAE.

_____

 

VIRGIL TO HORACE.

 

1.

SWEET is soft slumber, Horace, after toil,
To him who holds the glebe and ploughs the fruitful soil,
Sweet to salt-blooded mariners, on decks washed red with storm,
Deep sleep wherein past tempest and green waves
               Make shadows multiform;

 

2.

Sweet ’tis to Cæsar, when the red star, grown
Swart with war’s dust, doth fade, to loll upon a throne
Dispensing gifts, while on his lips a crafty half-smile dies,
And the soft whispers of approving Rome
               Fan his half-closëd eyes!

                                                                                                                                                               213

3.

Sweet to Tibullus, sick and out of tune,
What time his elegies like wolves howl at the moon,
Comes Pity loos’ning Delia’s zone as breezes part a cloud;
And sweet to thee a wine-cup rough with sleep,
               After the tawny crowd.

 

4.

And further, sweetly comes a scroll from thee
To Virgil where he dwells at Baiae near the sea—
For, sick with servile snakes of state that twine round Cæsar’s foot,
He welcomes thy moist greeting and thy thought
               Poetically put.

 

5.

Such alternation of unrest and rest,
All fitful peace and passion of the yearning breast,
Deepen the meanings flashing swift in Joy’s pink-lidded eyne,
And help the Hours to juggle with the fruits
               Of easy creeds like thine.

                                                                                                                                                               214

6.

The time-glass runs, the seasons come and go,
After the rain, the flowers, after the flowers, the snow;
This Hour is pale and olive-crown’d, that splash’d with rebel-mud—
This, flusht to gaze on Cæsar’s laurell’d brows,
               That, drunk with Cæsar’s blood!

 

7.

Shall merest mortal man with drowsy nod
Sit under purple vine and doze and ape the god?
Wave down the everlasting strife of earth and air and sea?
And, like a full-fed fruit that gorges light,
               Grow rotten on the tree?

 

8.

Leave the grand mental war that mortals keep?
Eat the fat ears of corn, yet neither sow nor reap?
Loll in the sunshine, sipping sweets, what time the din of fights
Quenches the wind round Troy, and very gods
               Feel dizzy on their heights?

                                                                                                                                                               215

9.

Nay, friend!—For such a man each hour supplies
Portents that mock his ease, affright his languid eyes:
The very elements are leagued to goad him blood and brain,
The very Sun sows drouth within his throat
               Until it raves for rain!

 

10.

Methinks I see thee sitting in the sun,
Whose kisses melt thy crusty wrinkles one by one:
Thy lips droop darkly with a worm of thought, half sad, half wroth,
Which stirs the chrysalis mouth, then, ripe with wine,
               Bursts like a golden moth.

 

11.

Unfaith is with thee, Horace. Sun and wind
Disturb the tranquil currents of thy heart and mind;
In midst of Joy, comes pigmy doubt, prick-pricking like a flea,
Till, wide awake, you rack your brains to prove
               Your perfect joy to me.                                                             [l.v]

                                                                                                                                                               216

12.

O better far, if Man would climb, to range
Thro’ sun and thunder-storm tempestuous paths of change,
To mingle with the motion huge of earth and air and main,
And lastly, fall upon a bed of flowers
               When wearied down by pain.

 

13.

Deep, deep, within Man’s elemental parts—
Earth, water, fire, and air that mix in human hearts,—
Subsists Unrest that seeketh Rest, and flashes into gleams
That haunt the soul to action, and by night
               Disturb our sleep with dreams.

 

14.

And thus we fashion with a piteous will
The gods in drowsy mildness seated on a hill,
The day before them evermore, the starry night behind,—
Inheritors of the divine repose
               We seek and cannot find.

                                                                                                                                                               217

15.

Woe, woe, to him, who craving that calm boon
Falleth to sleep on beds of poppy flowers too soon!
The elements shall hem him in and fright his shrieking soul,
And, since he asks for light, Lightning itself
               Shall scorch his eyes to coal!

 

16.

My Horace!—I am here beside the deep,
Weaving at will this verse for Memory to keep:
I share the sunshine with my friend, and like a lizard bask;
But I, friend, doubt this summer joy,—and you
               Shall answer what I ask.—

 

17.

Bluff March has blown his clarion out of tune,
Gone is the blue-edged sickle of the April moon;
Faded hath fretful May behind a tremulous veil of rain,—
But I would the boisterous season of the winds
               And snows were here again!

                                                                                                                                                               218

18.

For I am kneeling on the white sea-sand,
Letting the cold soft waves creep up and kiss my hand;
A golden glare of sunshine fills the blue air at my back,
And swims between the meadows and the skies,
               Leaving the meadows black.

 

19.

All is as still and beautiful as sleep:
Nay, all is sleep—the quiet air, the azure deep;
The cool blue waves creep thro’ my fingers with a silver gleam,
As, lost in utter calm, I neither think
               Nor act, but only dream.

 

20.

This is the poetry of Heart’s repose,
For which my spirit yearn’d thro’ drifting winds and snows—
Only the tingling coolness on my hand seems part akin
To that bleak winter warring when the dream
               Of peace arose within.

                                                                                                                                                               219

21.

What time I dream’d of this, the winds, cast free,
Swoop’d eagle-like and tore the white bowels of the sea;
The winter tempest moved above, and storm on storm did frown;—
I saw the awful Sea bound up in cloud
               And then torn hugely down.

 

22.

Within my blood arose the wild commotion,
My soul was battling abroad with winds and ocean;
But in the centre of the wrath, all nature, sea and sky,
Call’d out aloud for peace divine as this,
               And lo, I join’d the cry.

 

23.

And calm has come, and June is on the deep,
The winds are nested, and the earth takes mellow sleep;
Yet, friend, my soul, though husht in awe, feels peace so still is pain,—
And the monotonous yearning voice within
               Calls out for war again!

                                                                                                                                                               220

24.

For hark! into my dream of golden ease
Breaketh the hollow murmur of untroubled seas;
And behold, my blood awakens with a thrill and sinks and swells,
As when low breezes die and rise again
               On beds of asphodels.

 

25.

Ay, now, when all is placid as a star,
My soul in incompleteness longs for active war;
Amid its utter happiness, it sighs imperfectly
In answer to the beautiful unrest
               Within the sleeping sea.

 

26.

Unsatisfied, I hunger on the land,
Only subdued by this bright water on my hand;
The beating heart within my breast for louder utterance yearns—
I listen, and the sympathetic sea
               Its endless moan returns.

                                                                                                                                                                 221

27.

Quiet, monotonous, breathless, almost drown’d,
Inaudibly audible, felt scarce heard, cometh the sound,
Monotonous, so monotonous, but oh! so sweet, so sweet,
When my hid heart is throbbing forth a voice,
               And the two voices meet.

 

28.

The void within the calm for which I yearned,
Until this moment was imperfectly discerned;
But now I feel to the roots of life an inner melody,
That harmonises my unquiet heart
               With the unquiet sea.

 

29.

Hear I the crawling movements of the main?
Or hear I dim heart-echoes dying in the brain?
Is there but one impatient moan, and is it of the sea?
And, if two voices speak, which voice belongs
               To ocean, which to me?

                                                                                                                                                               222

30.

The sounds have mingled into some faint whole,
Inseparate, trembling o’er the fibres of my soul;
And the cool waves have a magic all my swooning blood to quell;
The sea glides thro’ and thro’ me, and my soul
               Keeps sea-sound like a shell.

 

31.

Ah, the monotonous music in my soul,
Enlarging like the waves, murmuring without control!—
Is it that changeful nature can rest not night nor day?
And is the music born of this lorn Man,
               Or Ocean,—Horace, say?

 

32.

Is there a climbing element in life
Which is at war with rest, alternates strife with strife,
Whereby we reach eternal seas upon whose shores unstirr’d
Ev’n Joy can sleep,—because no moan like this
               Within those waves is heard?

 

[Notes:
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 11, l. v: Your perfect bliss to me. ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                   223

XIX.

THE SWAN-SONG OF APOLLO.

 

1.

               O LYRE! O Lyre!
               Strung with celestial fire!
     Thou living soul of sound that answereth
         These fingers that have troubled thee so long,
     With passion, and with radiance, and with breath                                  [l.v]
         Of melancholy song,—
               Answer, answer, answer me,
               With thy withering melody!
               For the earth is old, and strange
               Mysteries are working change,
               And the Dead who slumber’d deep
               Startle troubled from their sleep,
               And the ancient gods divine,
               Pale and haggard o’er their wine,
Fade in their ghastly banquet-halls, with large eyes fixed on mine!

                                                                                                                                                                 224

2.

               Ah me! ah me!
               The earth and air and sea
     Are shaken; and the great pale gods sit still,
         The roseate mists around them roll away:—
     Lo! Hebe listens in the act to fill,
         And groweth wan and grey;
               On the banquet-table spread,
               Fruits and flowers grow sick and dead,
               Pale pure mead in every cup                                                       [l.ix]
               Gleams to blood and withers up;
               Aphrodité breathes a charm,
               Gripping Pallas’ bronzëd arm;
               Zeus the Father clenches teeth,
               While his cloud-throne shakes beneath;
The passion-flower in Heré’s hair melts in a snowy wreath!

 

3.

               Ah, woe! ah, woe!
               One climbeth from below,—
     A mortal shape with pallid smile divine,
         Bearing a heavy Cross and crown’d with thorn,—
     His brow is moist with blood, his strange sweet eyne
         Look piteous and forlorn:                                                                225
               Hark, O hark! his cold foot-fall
               Breaks upon the banquet-hall!
               God and goddess start to hear,
               Earth, air, ocean, moan in fear;
               Shadows of the Cross and Him
               Dark the banquet-table dim,
               Silent sit the gods divine,
               Old and haggard over wine,
And slowly to thy song they fade, with large eyes fixed on mine!

 

4.

               O Lyre! O Lyre!
               Thy strings of golden fire
     Fade to their fading, and the hand is chill
         That touches thee; the great bright brow grows gray—
     I faint, I wither, while that conclave still
         Dies wearily away!
               Ah, the prophecy of old
               Sung by us to smilers cold!—
               God and goddess pale and die,                                                   [l.ix]
               Chilly cold against the sky,                                                          226
               There is change and all is done,
               Strange look Moon and Stars and Sun!
               God and goddess fade, and see!
               All their large eyes look at me!
While woe! ah, woe! in dying song, I fade, I fade, with thee!

 

[Notes:
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 1, l. v: With passion, and with music, and with breath
v. 2, l. ix: Nectar cold in every cup
v. 4, l. ix: God and goddess droop and die,

A slightly revised version of ‘The Swan-Song Of Apollo’ with the title, ‘The Last Song Of Apollo’, was published in The Poetical Works Vol. I (London: H. S. King & Co., 1874).]

 

                                                                                                                                                               227

 

POET’S EPILOGUE.

_____

 

TO MARY ON EARTH.

__________

 

Simplex munditiis!

 

                                                                                                                                                               229

EPILOGUE.

_____

 

TO MARY ON EARTH.

__________

 

1.

So! now the task is ended; and to-night,
Sick, impotent, no longer soul-sustain’d,
Withdrawing eyes from that ideal height
Where, in low undertones, those Spirits plain’d,
Each full of special glory unattain’d,—
I turn on you, Sweet-Heart, my weary sight.—
Shut out the darkness, shutting in the light:
So! now the task is ended. What is gain’d?

 

2.

First, sit beside me. Place your hand in mine.
From deepest fountain of your veins the while
Call up your Soul; and briefly let it shine                                            230
In those gray eyes with mildness feminine.
Yes, smile, Dear!—you are truest when you smile.

 

3.

My heart to-night is calm as peaceful dreams.—
Afar away the wind is shrill, the culver
Blows up and down the moors with windy gleams,
The birch unlooseneth her locks of silver
And shakes them softly on the mountain streams,
And o’er the grave that holds my David’s dust
The Moon uplifts her empty dripping horn:
Thither my fancies turn, but turn in trust,
Not wholly sadly, faithful though forlorn.
For you, too, love him, mourn his life’s quick fleeting;
We think of him in common. Is it so?—
Your little hand has answer’d, and I know
His name makes music in your heart’s soft beating;
And——well, ’tis something gain’d for him and me—
Him, in his heaven, and me, in this low spot,
Something his eyes will see, and joy to see—
That you, too, love him, though you knew him not.

                                                                                                                                                               231

4.

Yet this is bitter. We were boy and boy,
Hand link’d in hand we dreamt of power and fame,
We shared each other’s sorrow, pride, and joy,
To one wild tune our swift blood went and came,
Eyes drank each other’s hope with flash of flame.
Then, side by side, we clomb the hill of life,
We ranged thro’ mist and mist, thro’ storm and strife;
But then,——it is so bitter, now, to feel
That his pale Soul to mine was so akin,
Firm-fix’d on goals we each set forth to win,
So twinly conscious of the sweet Ideal,
So wedded (God forgive me if I sin!)
That neither he, my friend, nor I could steal
One glimpse of heaven’s divinities—alone,
And flushing seek his brother, and reveal
Some hope, some joy, some beauty, else unknown;
Nor, bringing down his sunlight from the Sun,
Call sudden up, to light his fellow’s face,
A smile as proud, as glad, as that I trace
In your dear eyes, now, when my work is done.

                                                                                                                                                               232

5.

Love gains in giving. What had I to give
Whereof his Poet-Soul was not possest?
What gleams of stars he knew not, fugitive
As lightning-flashes, could I manifest?
What music fainting from a clearer air?
What lights of sunrise from beyond the grave?
What pride in knowledge that he could not share?—
Ay, Mary, it is bitter; for I swear
He took with him, to heav’n, no wealth I gave.

 

6.

No, Love, it is not bitter! Thoughts like those
Were sin these songs I sing you must adjust.
Not bitter, ah, not bitter!—God is just;
And, seeing our one-knowledge, just God chose,
By one swift stroke, to part us. Far above
The measure of my hope, my pride, my love,
Above our seasons, suns and rains and snows,—
He, like an exhalation, thus arose                                                     [l.viii]
Hearing in a diviner atmosphere
Music we only see, when, dewy and dim,                                         [l.x]
The stars thro’ gulfs of azure darkness swim,
Music we seem to see, but cannot hear.                                           233
But evermore, my Poet, on his height,
Fills up my Soul with sweetness to the brim,
Rains influence, and warning, and delight;
And now, I smile for pride and joy in him!

 

7.

I said, Love gains by giving. And to know
That I, who could not glorify my Friend,
Soul of my Soul, although I loved him so,
Have power and strength and privilege to lend
Glimpses of heav’n to Thee, of hope, of bliss!
Power to go heavenward, pluck flowers and blend
Their hues in wreaths I give you with a kiss—
You, Love, who climb not up the heights at all!
To think, to think, I never could upcall
On his dead face, so proud a smile as this!

 

8.

Most just is God: who bids me not be sad
For his dear sake whose name is dear to thee,
Who bids me proudly climb and sometimes see
With joy a glimpse of him in glory clad;
Who, further, bids your life be proud and glad,                                  234
When I have climb’d and seen, for joy in me.
My lowly-minded, gentle-hearted Love!
I bring you down his gifts, and am sustain’d:
You watch and pray—I climb—he stands above.
So, now the task is ended, what is gain’d?

 

9.

This knowledge.—Better in your arms to rest,
Better to love you till my heart should break,
Than pause to ask if he who would be blest
Should love for more than his own loving’s sake.
So closer, closer still; for (while afar,
Mile upon mile toward the polar star,
Now in the autumn time our Poet’s dust
Sucks back thro’ grassy sods the flowers it thrust
To feel the summer on the outer earth)
I turn to you, and on your bosom fall.
Love grows by giving. I have given my all.
So, smile—to show you hold the gift of worth.

 

10.

Ay, all the thanks that I on earth can render
To him who sends me such good news from God,                             235
Is, in due turn, to thy young life to tender
Hopes that denote, while blossoming in splendour,
Where an invisible Angel’s foot hath trode.
So, Sweet-Heart, I have given unto thee,
Not only such poor song as here I twine,
But Hope, Ambition, all of mine or me,
My flesh and blood, and more, my Soul divine.
Take all, take all! Ay, wind white arms about
My neck and from my Soul draw bliss for thine:                               [l.xi]
Smile, Sweet-Heart, and be happy—lest thou doubt
How much the gift I give thee makes thee mine!

 

[Notes:
Page 227: Simplex munditiis!” (Horace - Odes i.5) is variously translated as’unaffected by manners’ or ‘simple elegance’.
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 6, l. viii: He, like an exhalation, thus arose;
v. 6, l. x: Music we only see, when, dewy and dim,
v. 10, l. xi: My neck and from my breath draw bliss for thine: ]

 

 

THE END.

 

BRADBURY AND EVANS, PRINTERS, WHITEFRIARS.

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