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{North Coast and other Poems 1867}





HAKON of Thule, ere he died,
Summoned a priest to his bed-side.

‘Ho, priest,’ he said, with glazéd e’e,                                                [2:1]
‘What comfort canst thou give to me?’                                              [2:2]

The young priest, with a timorous mouth,
Told of the new gods of the South,—

Of Mary mother and her Child,
And holy saints with features mild;

Of those who hate and those who love,
Of hell below and heaven above.                                                      [5:2]


Then Hakon laughed full loud and shrill—
‘Serve thy puny gods who will!

‘’Neath braver gods my star was born;                                              217
How should I pray to things I scorn?’

Then, calling to his henchman red,                                                     [8:1]
‘Slit me the throat o’ the priest,’ he said;

‘His red heart’s blood shall flow before,
As gracious sacrifice to Thor!                                                           [9:2]

‘Bring me my mighty drinking-cup!
With fiery wine now fill it up!’

Then, though so faint his life’s blood ran,—
‘Let me die standing, like a man!’

He swore, and staggered to his legs,
And drained the goblet to the dregs.

‘Skaal be to the gods!’ he said—
His great heart burst, and he was dead!


In the original version of this poem in North Coast, the title is given as ‘HAHON’ and that name is used throughout. I believe this was a misprint and have corrected it in this transcript. The poem was reprinted in The Poetical Works Vol. I (London: H. S. King & Co., 1874. Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1874) and this version was also included in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan with the following alterations:
The name is changed from Hahon to Hakon.
v. 2, l. 1: ‘Ho, Priest!’ with blackening brow quoth he,
v. 2, l. 2: ‘What comfort canst thou cast to me?’
v. 5, l. 2: Of Hell beneath and Heaven above.
verse 7 is omitted
v. 8, l. 1: Then, roaring to his henchman red,
v. 9, l. 2: As steaming sacrifice to Thor! ]






         IF thou art an Angel,
         Who hath sent thee,
         O Phantasy, brooding
Over my pale wife’s sleeping?
         In the darkness
         I am listening
For the rustle of thy robe;
Would I might feel thee breathing,
Would I might hear thee speaking,
Would I might only touch thee
         By the hand!

         She is very cold,
         My wife is very cold,
         Her eyes are withered,
Her breath is dried like dew,—                                               219
The sound of my weeping
         Disturbeth her not.
Thy shadow, O Phantasy,
         Lieth like moonlight
         Upon her features,
And the lines of her mouth
         Are very sweet.

         In the night
I heard my pale wife moaning,
         Yet did not know
         What made her afraid.
         My pale wife said,
         ‘I am very cold,’
And shrank away from thee,
Though I saw thee not;
And she kissed me and went to sleep,
And gave a little start upon my arm
When thou camest near
         And touchedst her!

         What art thou?
         Art thou an Angel?
         Or art thou only                                                             220
         The chilly night-wind,
         Stealing downward
From the regions where the sun
Dwelleth alone with his shadow
         On a waste of snow?
Art thou the water or earth?
Or art thou the scented air?
         Or art thou only
         An apparition
         Made by the mist
Of mine own eyes weeping?

         She is very cold,
         My wife is very cold!
         I will kiss her,
And the silver-haired mother will kiss her,
And the little children will kiss her;
And then we will wrap her warm,
And hide her in a hollow space;
And the house will be empty
         Of thee, O Phantasy,
Cast on the unhappy household
         By the strange white clay.


Much I marvel, O Phantasy,
         That one so gentle,
         So sweet, when living,
Should cast a shadow so huge as thine;
         For, lo! thou loomest
         Upward and heavenward,
         Hiding the sunlight,
         Blackening the snow,
And the pointing of thy finger
         Fadeth afar away
On the sunset-tinged edges,
Where Time and mortal vision perish,
Where Man’s company ends,
And GOD’s loneliness begins.





AND sitting by her side, worn out with weeping,
Behold, I fell to sleep, and had a vision,
Wherein I heard a wondrous voice intoning:

Crying aloud, ‘The Master on His throne
Openeth now the seventh seal of wonder,
And beckoneth back the angel men name Death;

‘And at His feet the filmy terror kneeleth,
Breathing not; and the LORD doth look upon him,
Saying, “Thy wanderings, dear Cain, are ended.

‘“To thee, O Cain, I gave in the beginning
The punishment of dealing out decay,
And, lo! thou art the sweeter from thy labour.

‘“Hie back into the City of the Chosen,                                              223
Where Abel is awaiting to embrace thee;
I need thee on the earth of men no longer.”’

And there the dreamy angel sitteth silent,
Even at the silver gates of heaven,
Drowsily looking in on the Eternal,

And puts his silence among men no longer.


And at the bottom of a snowy mountain
I came upon a woman sorrow-thinned,
Whose voice was like the crying of a sea-gull.

Saying, ‘O Death, Death, Death, come hither, hither;
And bring the corpse I seek for on thy bosom,
That I may close its eyelids and embrace it.

‘I curse thee that I cannot look upon him!
I curse thee that I know not he is sleeping!
Yet know that he has vanished upon GOD!

‘I laid my little girl upon a wood-bier,                                                 224
And very sweet she seemed, and near unto me,
And putting flowers into her shroud was comfort.

‘I put my silver mother in the darkness,
And kissed her, and was solaced by her kisses,
And set a stone, to mark the place, above her.

‘And green, green were their quiet sleeping-places,
So green that it was pleasant to remember
That I and my tall man would sleep beside them.

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

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

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


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



And, behold! I saw a woman in a mud-hut,
Raking the white spent embers with her fingers,
And fouling her bright hair with the white ashes;

And her mouth was very bitter with the ashes;
Her eyes with dust were blinded; and her sorrow
Sobbed in the throat of her like gurgling water.

And all around the voiceless hills were hoary,
And a red light scorched their edges; and above her
There was a soundless trouble of the cloud-reek.

‘Whither, and, oh, whither,’ said the woman,
‘O Spirit of the LORD, hast thou conveyed them—
My little ones, my little son and daughter?

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

‘Looked violets at the violets, and their hair


Made a sunshine in the sunshine, and their passing
Left a pleasure in the dewy leaves behind them;

‘And suddenly my little son looked upward,                                       228
And his eyes were dried like dew-drops; and his going
Was like a blow of fire upon my face.

‘And my little son was gone. My little daughter
Looked round me for him, clinging to my vesture;
But the LORD had blown him from me, and I knew it

‘By the sign He gives the stricken that the lost one
Lingers nowhere on the earth on hill or valley,
Neither underneath the grasses or the tree-roots.

‘And my shriek was like the splitting of an ice-reef,
And I sank among my hair, and all my palm
Was moist and warm where the little hand had filled it.

‘Then I fled and sought him wildly hither—thither—
Though I knew that he was stricken from me wholly
By the token that the spirit gives the stricken.

‘I sought him in the sunlight and the starlight,
I sought him in the forests, and in waters
Where I saw mine own pale image looking at me.

‘And I forgot my little bright-haired daughter,                                    229
Though her voice was like a wild bird far behind me,
Till the voice ceased, and the universe was silent.

‘And stilly, in the starlight, came I backward
To the forest where I missed him; and no voices
Brake the stillness as I stooped down in the starlight,

‘And saw two little shoes filled up with dew,
And no mark of little footsteps any farther,
And knew my little daughter had gone also.’


The world was very quiet. Men in traffic
Cast looks over their shoulders; pallid seamen
Went wild to walk upon the decks alone;

And women barred their doors with bars of iron,
In the silence of the night; and at the sunrise
Shivered behind their husbandmen afield.

Only the children sported very stilly,                                                   230
And grew paler and still paler, and drew closer
Unto their mothers as they wox the older.

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

But hearkening dumbly, ever and anon
I heard a cry out of a human dwelling,
And felt the cold wind of a lost one’s going.

One struck a brother fiercely, and he fell,
And faded in a darkness; and that other
Tore his hair, and was afraid, and could not perish.

One struck his aged mother on the mouth,
And she vanished with a gray grief from her hearth-stone.
One melted from her bairn, and on the ground

The bairn lay smiling up, with pink curled fingers.
And many made a weeping among mountains,
And hid themselves in caverns, and were drunken.


And I heard a voice from out the beauteous earth,
Whose side rolled up from winter into summer,
Crying, ‘I am grievous for my children.’

And I heard a voice from out the dreadful ocean,                               232
Crying, ‘Burial in the breast of me were better,
Yea, burial in the salt flags and green crystals.’

And I heard a voice from out the hollow ether
Saying, ‘The thing ye cursed hath been abolished,—
Corruption, and decay, and dissolution!’

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


But beasts died; yea, the cattle in the yoke,
The milk-cow in the meadow, and the sheep,
And the dog upon the door-step; and men envied.

And birds died; yea, the eagle at the sun-gate,
The swan upon the waters, and the farm-fowl,
And the swallows on the house-tops; and men envied.

And reptiles; yea, the toad upon the road-side,                                  233
The slimy speckled snake among the grass,
The lizard on the ruin; and men envied.


The dog in lonely places cried not over
The body of his master; but it missed him,
And whined into the air, and died, and rotted.

And the traveller’s horse lay swollen in the pathway,
And the blue fly fed upon it; but no traveller
Was there,—yea, not his footprint on the ground.

And the cat mewed in the midnight, and the blind                               234
Gave a rustle, and the lamp burnt blue and faint,—
And the father’s bed was empty in the morning.

And the mother fell to sleep beside the cradle,
Rocking it while she slumbered with her foot,
And wakened,—and the cradle there was empty.

I saw a two-years’ child, and he was playing;
And he found a dead white bird upon the doorway,
And laughed, and ran to show it to his mother.

And the mother moaned, and clutched him, and was bitter,
And flung the dead white bird across the threshold,
And another white bird flitted round and round it,

And uttered a sharp cry, and twittered, and twittered,
And lit beside its dead mate, and grew busy,
Strewing it over with green leaves and yellow.


So far, so far to seek for were the limits                                             235
Of affliction; and men’s terror grew a homeless
Terror, and a fatal sense of blankness.

There was no little token of distraction,
There was no visible presence of bereavement,
Such as the mourner easeth out his heart on.

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

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

There was no putting tokens under pillows,
There was no dreadful beauty slowly fading
From the vision, slowly fading into darkness,—

So slowly, that, when it doth vanish wholly,
The heart is ready with its tears and outlet,
And parting can be borne with, though so bitter.

There were no churchyard paths to walk on, thinking                          236
How near the well-belovéd ones are lying;
There were no sweet green graves to sit and muse on,

Till grief should grow a summer meditation,
The shadow of the passing of an Angel,
And sleeping should seem easy and not cruel.

Nothing but wondrous parting and a blankness.


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

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

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

And I cried, ‘O unseen Sender of corruption!                                     237
I bless Thee for the wonder of Thy mercy,
Wherein Thou helpest us to lose our loved ones.

‘I bless Thee for the change and for the comfort,
The fixéd face, shut eyes, and waxen fingers;
For sleeping, and for silence and corruption.

‘I bless Thee that she slumbers underneath me,
I bless Thee for the place that will be cheerful
When the winter of mine agony is over.’



AS in the snowy stillness,
Where the stars shine greenly
     In a mirror of ice,
The reindeer abideth alone,
And fleeth swiftly
From her following shadow
     In the moon,—
I speed for ever
From the shape abhorréd
That my mind projects,
And my soul believes;
And I loom for ever
Through desolate regions
Of wondrous thought;
And I fear the thing
That follows me,
And cannot escape it
     Night or day.


Doth thy wingéd lightning
Strike, O Master!
The reindeer flying                                                                  240
Her shade?
Will Thy wrath pursue me,
Because I cannot
Escape the shadow
Of the thing I am?

I have pried and pondered,
I have agonized,
I have sought to find Thee,
     Yet still must roam,
Affrighted, fleeing Thee,
Chased by the shadow
Of the thing I am,
Through desolate regions
Of wondrous thought!



BECAUSE Thou art beautiful,
Because Thou art mysterious,
     Because Thou art strong,
Or because Thou art shadowy,
Shall my soul worship Thee,
     O thou Unseen One?

As men bow to monarchs,
As servants to masters,
     Shall I bow to Thee?
As one that is fearful,
As one that is insolent,
     Shall I pray to Thee?

Wert Thou a demigod,
Wert Thou an angel,
     Prayer-worship might serve;
To Thee, most beautiful,
Wondrous, mysterious,                                                            242
How shall it avail?

Thou art not a monarch,
Thou art not a master,—
     Why should I bow to Thee?
I am not fearful,
I am not insolent,—
     Why should I pray to Thee?

Enough, if Thou beest,
Gently and humanly
     To ask if Thou art?
To worship and wonder at,
Pray to and strive with,
     The wonders which be?





MY Soul, thou art wed
To a perishable thing,
But death shall dissolve
Thee and thy slimy mate.
If thou wilt reap wings,
Take all thy mate can give:

The touch of the smelling dead
The kiss of the maiden’s mouth,
The sorrow, the hope, the fear,
That floweth along her flesh:
Take all, nor be afraid;
Cling close to thy mortal mate!

So shalt thou duly wring
Out of thy foul embrace
The hunger and thirst whereof
The Master maketh thee wings,                                                244
The beautiful wondrous yearning,
The mighty thirst to endure.

Be not afraid, my soul,
To leave thy mate at last,
Though thou shalt learn in time
To love each other well;
But put her gently down
In the earth beneath thy feet.

And dry thine eyes, and hasten
To the imperishable springs;
And it shall be well for thee,
In the beautiful Master’s sight,
If it be found in the end
Thou hast used her tenderlie.



MASTER, if there be Hell,
     All men are bereaven!
If, in the universe,
One spirit receive the curse,
     How is there Heaven?
If there be hell for one,
Thou, Master, art undone.

Were I a soul in heaven,
     Afar from pain,
Yea, on Thy breast of snow,
At the scream of one below
     I should scream again.
Art Thou less piteous than
The conception of a man?



HE heard a voice, ‘How should GOD pardon sin?
How should He save the sinner with the sinless?’
That would be ill: the LORD my GOD is just.

Further he heard, ‘How shall GOD pardon lust?
How should he smile on the adulteress?’
That would be ill: the LORD my GOD is just.

Further he heard, ‘How should GOD pardon blood?
How should the murtherer have a place in heaven
Beside the innocent life he took away?’

And GOD was on His throne; and in a dream
Saw small things making figures out of clay,
Shapen like men, and calling them GOD’s justice.

And saw the shapes look up into His eyes,
Exclaiming, ‘Thou dost ill to save this man;
Damn Thou this woman, and curse this cutthroat, LORD!’

GOD dreamt this, and His dreaming was the world;                            247
And Thou and I are dreams within His dream;
And nothing dieth GOD hath dreamt or thought.



‘SAD, and sweet, and wise,
     Here a babe reposes;
Dust is on his eyes,
Quietly he lies,—
     Satan, strew roses!’

Weeping low, creeping slow,
     Came the weary-wingéd;
Roses red over the dead
     Quietly he flingéd.

‘I am old,’ he thought,
     ‘And the world’s day closes,
Pale and fever-wrought.
Darkly have I wrought
     These blood-red roses.’

By his side the mother came,
     Shudderingly creeping;
The Devil’s and the woman’s heart                                          249
Bitterly were weeping.

‘Sweet he came, and swift he flew;
     Hopeless he reposes:
Waiting on is weary too,—
Wherefore on his grave we strew
     Bitter withering roses.’

The Devil gripped the woman’s heart,
     With gall he staunched its bleeding.
Far away beyond the day
     The LORD heard interceding.

‘LORD GOD, One in Three!
     Sure Thy anger closes:
Yesterday I died, and see
The weary-wingéd over me
     Bitterly streweth roses!’

The voice cried out, ‘Rejoice! rejoice!
     There shall be sleep for evil;’
And all the sweetness of GOD’s voice
     Passed rustling through the Devil.



IN the time of my tribulation
Melt me, Master, like snow;
Melt me, dissolve me, exhale me,
Into thy wool-white cloud;
With a warm wind blow me upward
Over the hills and the seas,
And upon a summer morning
Poise me over the valley
Of Thy mellow yellow realm;
Then, for a wondrous moment,
Watch me from infinite space
With Thy round red eyeball of sunlight,
And melt and dissolve me downward
In the beautiful silver rain
That drippeth musically,
With a gleam like starlight and moonlight,
On the footstool of Thy throne.


‘Celtic Mystics’ was reworked by Buchanan for The Book of Orm: more information in the North Coast - Revisions section.]


North Coast - Revisions

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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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