ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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COLLECTIONS (4)

 

The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan

(3 vols. London: Henry S. King & Co., 1874. Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1874.)

Vol. I. continued

 

BALLADS AND POEMS OF LIFE.

_____

 

     ‘I overheard Jove one day,’ said Silenus, ‘talking of destroying the Earth. He said it had failed—they were all rogues and vixens, who went from bad to worse as fast as the days succeeded each other. Minerva said she hoped not: they were only ridiculous little creatures, with this odd circumstance, that they had a blur, or indeterminate aspect, seen far or seen near. If you called them bad they would appear so; if you called them good they would appear so; and there was no one person or action among them which would not puzzle her Owl, much more all Olympus, to know whether it was fundamentally bad or good.’ — R. W. EMERSON.

     Stage Manager. Hoity toity! here be death-beds! Every character in thy life-drama dies!
     Poet. Wherefore not? What life is complete without its last word? The public are eager, and would behold all.
     Stage Manager. But hast thou no fear of being deem’d dull?
     Poet. Let the grinning world go elsewhere! I do not disdain true comedy; but the strangest smiles I have seen have been in Death’s eyes. Patience; thou shalt see that the lean Anatomy is the veriest humourist of all.
                                                                                                                     THIS WORLD AND ANOTHER.

 

‘Bexhill, 1866’ - from London Poems, 1866. The original version was published in the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works, whereas this is a slightly revised version.

 

BEXHILL, 1866

BY mother’s side I draw descent
From Saxon squires most excellent,
Fat fellows, innocent of soul,
If lovers of the gaudriole;
By father’s side I heirship trace
To many a seer of Celtic race,
Whose blood, transmitted down to me,
Puts glamour into all I see.
Saxon and Celt, a modern creature,
Dower’d with a kind of double nature;
Eager to laugh, yet never quite
Escaping to the full free light,
Content to brood, yet constantly
Disturb’d by gleams of drollery;
I sing, with contradictions rife,
My modern songs of death and life.

 

NOW, when the catkins of the hazel swing
Wither'd above the leafy nook wherein
The chaffinch breasts her five blue-speckled eggs,
All round the thorn grows fragrant, white with may,
And underneath the fresh wild hyacinth-bed
Wavers like water in the whispering wind;
Now, on this gentle sunset of the spring,
I sit, within my cottage by the sea,
Thinking of yonder city where I dwelt,
Wherein I sicken'd, and whereof I learn’d
So much that broods like music on my brain.
A melancholy happiness is mine!
My thoughts, like blossoms of the muscatel,
Smell sweetest in the gloaming; and I feel
Visions and vanishings of other years,—
Faint as the scent of distant clover meadows—
Sweet, sweet, though they awaken serious cares—
Beautiful, beautiful, though they make me weep.

     The good days dead, the well-belovëd gone
Before me, lonely I abode amid
The buying, and the selling, and the strife
Of little natures; yet there still remain’d
Something to thank the Lord for.—I could live!
On winter nights, when wind and snow were out,
Afford a fire to keep the body warm;
And while I sat, with homeward-looking eyes,
And while I heard the trouble of the town,
I fancied ’twas the sound I used to hear
In Scotland, when I stood beside the Sea.
I knew not how it was, or why it was,
I only heard a sea-sound, and was sad.
It haunted me and pain’d me, and it made
That little life of penmanship a dream!
And yet it served my soul for company,
When the dark city gather’d on my brain,
And from the solitude came never a voice
To bring the good days back, and show my soul
It was not quite a solitary thing.

     The purifying trouble grew and grew,
Till silentness was more than I could bear.
Brought by the ocean murmur from afar,
Came silent phantoms of the misty hills
Which I had known and loved in other days;
And, ah! from time to time, the hum of life
Around me, the strange faces of the streets,
Mingling with those thin phantoms of the hills,
And with that ocean-murmur, made a cloud
That changed around my life with shades and sounds,
And, melting often in the light of day,
Left on my brow dews of delicious dream.
And then I sang of Scottish dales and dells,
And human shapes that lived and moved therein,
Close to the seven-days’ Sabbath of the hills.
Thereto, not seldom, did I seek to make
The busy life of London musical,
And phrase in modern song the troubled lives
Of dwellers in the sunless lanes and streets.
Yet ever I was haunted from afar,
While singing; and the presence of the Mountains
Was on me; and the sighing of the Sea
Strengthen’d my mood; and everywhere I saw,
Flowing beneath the blackness of the streets,
The current of sublimer, stronger, life,
Which is the source of human smiles and tears,
And, melodised, becomes the soul of song.

     Darkling, I long’d for utterance, whereby
Poor pilgrims might be holpen, gladden’d, cheer’d!
Brightening be times, I sang for singing’s sake!
The wild wind of ambition grew subdued,
And left the changeful current of my soul
Crystal and pure and clear, to glass like water
The sad and beautiful of human life;
Till, even in the unsung city’s streets
Seem’d quiet marvels meet for serious song,
Truths hard to phrase and render musical.
For ah! the weariness and weight of tears,
The crying out to God, the wish for slumber,
They lay so deep, so deep! God heard them all;
He set them unto music of His own;
But easier far the task to sing of kings,
Or weave weird ballads where the moon-dew glistens,
Than body forth this life in beauteous sound.
The crowd had voices, but each living man
Within the crowd seem’d silence-smit and hard;
They only heard the tumult of the town,
They only felt the dimness in their eyes,
And now and then turn’d startled, when they saw
Some weary one fling up his arms and drop,
Clay-cold, among them,—and they scarcely grieved,
But hush’d their hearts a time, and hurried on.

     ’Twas comfort deep as tears to sit alone,
Haunted by shadows from afar away,
And try to utter forth, in tuneful speech,
What lay so musically on my heart.
But, though it sweeten’d life, it seem’d in vain.
For while I sang, much that was clear before—
The souls of men and women in the streets,
The sounding Sea, the presence of the Hills,
And all the weariness, and all the fret,
And all the dim, strange pain for what had fled—
Turn’d into mist, mingled before mine eyes,
Roll’d up like wreaths of smoke to heaven, and died:
The pen dropt from my hand, mine eyes grew dim,
And the great roar was in mine ears again,
And I was all alone in London streets.

     Hither to pastoral solitude I came,
Happy to breathe again serener air
And feel a purer sunshine; and the woods
And meadows were to me an ecstasy,
The singing birds a glory, and the trees
A green perpetual feast to fill the eye
And shimmer in upon the soul; but chief,
There came the wonder of the Waters, sounds
Of sunny tides that wash on silver sands,
Or cries of waves that anguish’d and went white
Under the eyes of lightnings. ’Twas a bliss
Beyond the bliss of dreaming, yet in time
It grew familiar as my mother’s face;
And when the wonder and the ecstasy
Had mingled with the beatings of my heart,
The terrible City loom’d from far away
And gather’d on me cloudily, dropping dews,
Even as those phantoms of departed days
Had haunted me in London streets and lanes.
Wherefore in brighter mood I sought again
To make the life of London musical,
And sought the mirror of my soul for shapes
That linger’d, faces bright or agonised,
Yet ever taking something beautiful
From glamour of green branches, and of clouds
That glided piloted by golden airs.

     And if I list to sing of sad things oft,
It is that sad things in this life of breath
Are deepest and divinest. Tears bring forth
The richness of our natures, as the rain
Sweetens the smelling brier; and I, thank God,
Have anguish’d here in no ignoble tears—
Tears for the pale friend with the singing lips,
Tears for the father with the gentle eyes
(My dearest up in heaven next to God)
Who loved me like a woman. I have wrought
No girlond of the rose and passion-flower,
Grown in a careful garden in the sun;
But I have gather’d samphire dizzily,
Close to the hollow roaring of a Sea.

___

 

‘Meg Blane’ - from North Coast and Other Poems, 1867. The poem was revised for the 1874 Poetical Works, and this version of ‘Meg Blane’, with a few minor alterations was then published in the Chatto & Windus 1884 edition of the Poetical Works.

‘Tiger Bay: A Stormy Night’s Dream’ - originally published in Good Words, July, 1871. ‘Tiger Bay’ was included in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works.and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

‘Nell’ - from London Poems, 1866. The poem was revised for the 1874 Poetical Works, and this version of ‘Nell’ was then included in the ‘London Poems’ section of the Chatto & Windus 1884 edition of the Poetical Works.

‘The Starling’ - from London Poems, 1866.

‘To The Luggie’ - from North Coast and Other Poems, 1867, where it was entitled ‘The Brook’.

‘Charmian’ - originally published in The Broadway, August, 1867.

 

CHARMIAN

Cleo. Charmian!
Char. Madam?
Cleo. Give me to drink mandragora!
                                       Antony and Cleopatra.

 

IN the time when water-lilies shake
Their green and gold on river and lake,
When the cuckoo calls in the heart o’ the heat,
When the Dog-star foams and the shade is sweet;
Where cool and fresh the River ran,
I sat by the side of Charmian,
And heard no sound from the world of man.

All was so sweet and still that day!
The rustling shade, the rippling stream.
All life, all breath, dissolved away
Into a golden dream;
Warm and sweet the scented shade
Drowsily caught the breeze and stirred,
Faint and low through the green glade
Came hum of bee and song of bird.
Our hearts were full of drowsy bliss,                                                  [2:9]
And yet we did not clasp nor kiss,                                                     [2:10]
Nor did we break the happy spell
With tender tone or syllable.
But to ease our hearts and set thought free,
We pluckt the flowers of a red Rose-tree,
And leaf by leaf, we threw them, Sweet,
Into the River at our feet,
And in an indolent delight
Watch’d them glide onward, out of sight.                                           [2:18]

Sweet, had I spoken boldly then,
How might my love have garner’d thee!                                            [3:2]
But I had left the paths of men,
And sitting yonder dreamily,
Was happiness enough for me!
Seeking no gift of word or kiss,
But looking in thy face, was bliss!
Plucking the Rose-leaves in a dream,
Watching them glimmer down the stream,
Knowing that eastern heart of thine
Shared the dim ecstasy of mine!

Then, while we linger’d, cold and gray
Came Twilight, chilling soul and sense;
And you arose to go away,
Full of a sweet indifference!                                                              [4:4]
I missed the spell—I watch’d it break,—
And such come never twice to man:
In a less golden hour I spake,
And did not win thee, Charmian!

For wearily we turned away
Into the world of everyday,
And from thy heart the fancy fled
Like the Rose-leaves on the River shed;
But to me that hour is sweeter far
Than the world and all its treasures are:
Still to sit on so close to thee,
Were happiness enough for me!                                                        [5:8]
Still to sit on in a green nook,
Nor break the spell by word or look!
To reach out happy hands for ever,
To pluck the Rose-leaves, Charmian!
To watch them fade on the gleaming River,
And hear no sound from the world of man!

 

[Notes:
Alterations in the 1882 Selected Poems:
v. 2, l. 10: And yet we did not clasp or kiss,
v. 3, l. 2: Then might my love have garner’d thee!
Alterations in the 1892 The Buchanan Ballads, Old and New:
v. 2, l. 9: Our hearts were full of sleepy bliss,
v. 2, l. 10: And yet we did not clasp or kiss,
v. 2, l. 18: Watch’d them glide onward, slowly, out of sight.
v. 4, l. 4: Full of divine indifference!
v. 5, l. 8: Were Paradise enough for me! ]

___

 

‘The Scaith O’ Bartle’ - from London Poems, 1866. The poem was revised for the 1874 Poetical Works, and this version of ‘The Scaith O’ Bartle’ was then included in the ‘North Coast, and other Poems (1867-68)’ section of the Chatto & Windus 1884 edition of the Poetical Works.

‘Clari In The Well’ - originally published in Good Words, August, 1871.

 

CLARI IN THE WELL

         O MY fountain of a maiden,
               Sweet to hear and bright to see,
         Now before mine eyes love-laden
               Dancing, thrilling, flashing free,—
Still thy sparkling bliss a moment, sit thee down, and look at me.

         Gaze into my face, my dearest!
               Thro’ thy gleaming, golden hair;
         Meet mine eyes—ah! thine are clearest
               When my image floateth there;
Now, they still themselves, like waters when the windless skies are fair.

         In those depths of limpid azure
               See my baby likeness beam!
         Deep blue with reflected pleasure
               From some heavenly dome of dream,
Crystal currents of thy spirit swim around it, glance, and gleam!

         Hold my hand, and heark’ning to me
               For a space, be calm and cold.
         While that liquid look flows thro’ me,
               And I love thee twenty-fold,
I am smiling at a story thy dead mother often told.

         When thou wert a little blossom                                                        [5:1]
               Blown about thy village home,
         Thou didst on that mother’s bosom
               Put a question troublesome:
‘Mother, please, where did you find me? whence do little children come?’

         And the dame with bright beguiling
               Kiss’d her answer first, my dear!
         But, still prest, she answer’d smiling—
               ‘In the orchard Well so clear,
Thou wert seen one sunny morning, sleeping, and we brought thee here.’

         With a look as grave as this is
               Thou didst ponder thoughts profound;
         On the next day with fond kisses
               Clinging mother’s neck around—
‘Mother! mother! I’ve been looking in the Well where I was found!

         ‘Bright and clear it is! but—mother!’
               (Here thine eyes look’d wonderingly)
         ‘In the well there is another
               Just the very same as me!—
And it is awake and moving—and its pretty eyes can see!

         ‘When I stretch my arms unto it,
               Out its little arms stretch too!
         Apple-blossoms red I threw it,
               And it broke away from view—
Then again it look’d up laughing thro’ the waters deep and blue!’

         Then thy gentle mother kiss’d thee,
               Clari, as I kiss thee now,
         With a wondering fondness bless’d thee,
               Smooth’d the bright hair from thy brow—
Saying, ‘’Tis a little Sister, happy-eyed and sweet as thou!

         ‘Underneath the deep pure water
               Dwell its parents in green bowers—
         Yes, it is their little daughter,
               Just the same as thou art ours;
And it loves to lie there, looking at the pleasant orchard flowers.

         ‘Every day, while thou art growing,
               Thou wilt find thy Sister fair—
         Even when the skies are snowing
               And the water freezes there,
Break the blue ice,—thro’ the water with a cold nose she will stare!             [12:5]

         ‘As thou changest, growing taller,
               She will change, thro’ all the years—
         Well thou may’st thy Sister call her,
               She will share thy hopes and fears,
She will wear the face thou wearest, sweet in smiles and sad in tears.

         ‘Ah, my darling! may’st thou ever
               See her look as kind and bright,
         Find her woeful-featured never
               In the pleasant orchard light—
May you both be glad and happy, when your golden locks are white!’

         Golden locks!—what, these grow hoary?
               Wrinkles mar a face like this?
         Break the charm of the old story
               With the magic of a kiss—
Here thou art, my deep-eyed darling, as thou wert,—a thing of bliss.           [15:5]

         Does she love thee? does she miss thee?
               Thy sweet Sister in the well?
         Does she mourn because I kiss thee—
               Fearing what she cannot tell?—
For you both are link’d together by a truth and by a spell.

         Darling, be my love and duty
               Judged by her! and prove me so;
         When upon her mystic beauty
               Thou perceivest shame or woe;
When she changes into sadness, may God judge, and strike me low!

         Thou and thy sweet Sister move in
               A diviner element,
         Clear as light, more sweet to love in
               Than my world so turbulent;
Holy waters bathe and bless you, peaceful, bright, and innocent.

         And within those eyes of azure
               See! my baby image beam,
         Deep blue with reflected pleasure
               From some heavenly dome of dream,
Crystal currents of thy spirit swim around it, glance, and gleam.

         O my fountain of a maiden,
               Be thy days for ever blest,
         Dancing in mine eyes love-laden,
               Lying smiling on my breast,—
Brighter than a fount, in motion, deeper than a well, at rest.

 

[Notes:
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 5, l. 1: When thou wast a little blossom
v. 12, l. 5: Break the blue ice,—thro’ the water with a cold cheek she will stare!
v. 15, l. 5: Here thou art, my deep-eyed darling, as thou wast,—a thing of bliss. ]

___

 

There follows a sequence of seven poems under the title, ‘LONDON LYRICS’:

‘I. The City Asleep’ - originally published in London Society, March, 1869. ‘The City Asleep’ was included in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

‘II. Up In An Attic’ - originally published in The Argosy, October, 1866. ‘Up In An Attic’ was included in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

‘III. To The Moon’ - originally published in London Society, February, 1868. ‘To The Moon’ was included in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

‘IV. Spring Song In The City’ - originally published in London Society, May, 1868. ‘Spring Song In The City’ was included in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

‘V. To David In Heaven’ - from Undertones, 1863. The original version of ‘To David In Heaven’ in the 1863, Moxon edition of Undertones, was revised for the 1865, Strahan edition. This version was later published in the 1884, Chatto & Windus edition of the Poetical Works. The 1874 King edition of the Poetical Works has this third revision of the poem:

 

V

TO DAVID IN HEAVEN

Quem Di diligunt, adolescens moritur.

 

                   SEE! the slow Moon roaming
                   Thro’ gray mists of gloaming,
Furrowing with pearl-bright edge the jewel-powder’d sky!
                   See, the Bridge moss-laden,
                   Arch’d like foot of maiden,
And on the Bridge, in silence, looking upward, you and I!                                    [1:6]
                   See, the pleasant season                                                                 [1:7]
                   Of reaping and of mowing—
The mournful Moon above—beneath, the River duskily flowing!

                   Blown from scented meadows,
                   Violet-colour’d shadows,
Pass o’er us to the pine-wood dark from yonder dim corn-ridge;
                   The River gleams and gushes
                   Thro’ shady sedge and rushes,
And gray gnats gather o’er the pools, beneath the mossy Bridge;—
                   And you and I stand darkly,
                   O’er the keystone leaning,
And watch the pale mesmeric Moon, in the time of gleaners and gleaning.

                   Do I dream, I wonder?
                   As, sitting sadly under
A lonely roof in London, thro’ the grim square pane I gaze?
                   Here of thee I ponder,
                   In a dream, and yonder
The sad streets seem to stir and breathe beneath the white Moon’s rays.
                   By the vision cherish’d,
                   By the battle bravèd,
Do I but dream a hopeless dream, in the City that slew you, David?

                   Is it fancy also,
                   That the light which falls so
Faintly upon the stony street below me, as I write,
                   Near tall mountain passes
                   Thro’ churchyard weeds and grasses,
Barely a mower’s mile away from that small Bridge, this night?
                   And, where you are lying,—
                   Grass and flowers above you—
Is mingled with your sleeping face, as calm as the hearts that love you?

                   Poet gentle-hearted,
                   Are you then departed,
Have you ceased to dream the dream we loved of old so well?
                   Has the deeply cherish’d
                   Aspiration perish’d,
And are you happy, David, in that heaven where you dwell?
                   Have you won the wisdom
                   We so wildly fought for,
Is your young Soul enswathed, at last, in the singing robes you sought for?

                   In some Heaven star-lighted,
                   Are you now united
Unto the poet-spirits that you loved, of English race?
                   Is Chatterton still dreaming?
                   To give it stately seeming,
Hath the music of his last strong song flash’d into Keats’s face?
                   Is Wordsworth there? and Spenser?
                   Beyond the grave’s black portals,
Can the grand eye of Milton see the glory he sang to mortals?

                   You at least could teach me,
                   Could your low voice reach me,
Where I sit and copy out for men my Soul’s strange speech,
                   Whether it be bootless,
                   Profitless, and fruitless,—
The weary aching upward strife to heights we cannot reach,
                   The fame we seek in sorrow,
                   The agony we forego not,
The haunting singing sense that makes us climb—whither we know not!

                   Must it last for ever,
                   The passionate endeavour,
Ay, have you, there in heaven, hearts to throb and still aspire?
                   In the life you know now,
                   Render’d white as snow now,
Doth a fresh mountain-range arise, and beckon higher—higher?
                   Are you dreaming, dreaming,
                   Is your Soul still roaming,
Still gazing upward as we gazed, of old, in the autumn gloaming!

                   Upward my face I turn to you,
                   I long for you, I yearn to you,
The spectral vision trances me to utt’rance wild and weak;
                   It is not that I mourn you, 
                   To mourn you were to scorn you,
For you are one step nearer to the secret Singers seek.
                   But I want, and cannot see you,
                   I seek, and cannot find you,
And, see! I touch the Book of Songs you tenderly left behind you!

                   Ay, me! I bend above it
                   With tearful eyes, and love it,
With tender hand I touch the leaves, but cannot find you there!
                   My sad eyes ever and only
                   Behold that gloaming lonely,
The shadows on the mossy Bridge, the glamour in the air!
                   I touch the leaves, and only
                   See rays which they retain not—
The Moon that is a lamp to Hope, who glorifies—what we gain not!

                   The aching and the yearning,
                   The hollow undiscerning,
Uplooking want I still retain, darken the leaves I touch—
                   Pale promise, with much sweetness
                   Solemnizing incompleteness,
But ah! you knew so little then—and now, you know so much!
                   By the vision cherish’d,
                   By the battle bravëd,
Have you, in Heaven, shamed the song, by a mightier music, David?

                   I, who loved and knew you,
                   In the City that slew you,
Still hunger on, and thirst, and climb, proud-hearted and alone:
                   Serpent-fears enfold me,
                   Syren-visions hold me,
And, like a wave, I gather strength, and, gathering strength, I moan;
                   Yea, the pale Moon beckons,
                   Still I follow, aching,
And gather strength, only to make a louder moan, in breaking!

                   Tho’ the world could turn from you,
                   This, at least, I learn from you:
Beauty and Truth, tho’ never found, are worthy to be sought;
                   The Singer, upward-springing,
                   Is grander than his singing,
And tranquil self-sufficing joy illumes the poet’s thought.
                   This, at least, you teach me,
                   In a revelation:
That Gods still snatch, as worthy death, the Soul in its aspiration.

                   And I think, as you thought,
                   Poesy and Truth ought
Never to lie silent in the Singer’s heart on earth;
                   Tho’ they be discarded,
                   Slighted, unrewarded,—
Tho’, unto vulgar seeming, they appear of little worth,—
                   Yet tender brother-singers,
                   Young or yet unborn to us,
May seek there, for the Singer’s sake, that love which sweeteneth scorn to us!

                   While I sit in silence,
                   Comes from mile on mile hence,
From English Keats’s Roman grave, a voice that lightens toil;
                   Think you, no fond creatures
                   Draw comfort from the features
Of Chatterton, that Phäethon pale, struck down to sunless soil?
                   Scorch’d with sunlight lying,
                   Eyes of sunlight hollow,
But, see! upon the lips a gleam of the chrism of Apollo!

                   Noble thought produces
                   Noble ends and uses,
Noble hopes are part of Hope wherever she may be,
                   Noble thought enhances
                   Life and all its chances,
And noble self is noble song,—all this I learn from thee!
                   And I learn, moreover,
                   ’Mid the City’s strife too,
That such faint song as sweetens Death can sweeten the Singer’s life too!

                   Lo, thy Book!—I hold it
                   In weary hands, and fold it
Unto my heart, if only as a token I aspire;
                   And, by Song’s assistance,
                   Unto your dim distance,
My Soul upwafted is on wings, and beckon’d higher, nigher.
                   By the sweeter wisdom
                   You retain unspeaking,
Though endless, hopeless, be the search, we exalt our Souls in seeking.

                   Higher, yet, and higher,
                   Ever nigher, ever nigher,
To glory we conceive not yet, let us still strive and strain!—
                   The agonizëd yearning,
                   The imploring and the burning,
Grown awfuller, intenser, at each vista we attain;
                   And clearer, brighter, growing,
                   By heavenly waters wander,
Higher, higher yet, and higher, to the Mystery we ponder;

                   Up! higher yet, and higher,
                   Ever nigher, ever nigher,
Thro’ voids that Milton and the rest beat still with seraph-wings;
                   Out thro’ the dark Gate creeping
                   Where God hath put his sleeping—
A dewy cloud detaining not the Soul that soars and sings,
                   Up! higher yet, and higher,
                   Fainting nor retreating,
Beyond the sun, beyond the stars, to the far bright realm of meeting!

                   O Mystery! O Passion!
                   To sit on earth, and fashion
What floods of music and of light may fill that fancied place!
                   To think, the least that singeth,
                   Aspireth and upspringeth,
May weep glad tears on Keats’s breast and look in Shakspeare’s face!
                   When human power and failure
                   Are equalised for ever,
And the one great Light that haloes all is the passionate bright endeavour!

                   . . . But ah! that pale Moon roaming
                   Thro’ the gray mists of gloaming,
Furrowing with pearl-bright edge the jewel-powder’d sky!
                   And ah! the days departed
                   With friendships gentle-hearted,
And ah! the dream we dreamt that night, together, you and I!
                   Is it fashion’d wisely,
                   To help us or to blind us,
At every height we gain, we turn, and behold our Heaven—behind us?

 

[Notes:
This version of ‘To David In Heaven’ was included in the 1882 Selected Poems, with the following alterations:
v. 1, l. 6: And on the Bridge, in silence, looking upwards, you and I!
v. 1, l. 7: ’Tis the pleasant season ]

___

 

‘VI. In London, March 1866’ - originally published in The Argosy, April, 1866. ‘In London, March 1866’ was included in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works.and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

‘VII. A Lark’s Flight’ - originally published in The Spectator, August, 1868 (available here), ‘A Lark’s Flight’ was revised for the 1874 Poetical Works, and this version (with a few alterations) was included in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works.and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

‘De Berny’ - although this was its first appearance in book form, ‘De Berny’ was included in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works.and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

‘The Wake Of Tim O’Hara’ - originally published in All The Year Round, July, 1869. ‘The Wake Of Tim O’Hara’ was included in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works.and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

‘The Northern Wooing’ - from North Coast and Other Poems, 1867. The poem was revised for the 1874 Poetical Works, and this version of ‘The Northern Wooing’ was then published in the Chatto & Windus 1884 edition of the Poetical Works.

‘An English Eclogue’ - from North Coast and Other Poems, 1867. The poem was revised for the 1874 Poetical Works, and this version of ‘An English Eclogue’ was then published in the Chatto & Windus 1884 edition of the Poetical Works.

‘A Scottish Eclogue’ - from North Coast and Other Poems, 1867. The poem was revised for the 1874 Poetical Works, and this version of ‘A Scottish Eclogue’ was then published in the Chatto & Windus 1884 edition of the Poetical Works.

‘Kitty Kemble’ - there is a letter from Buchanan to Alexander Strahan of 1st February, 1873, enclosing a copy of ‘Kitty Kemble’ for publication in The Saint Paul’s Magazine. For some reason it did not appear in the magazine and its first publication seems to be in the 1874 Poetical Works. ‘Kitty Kemble’ was included in the ‘London Poems (1866-70)’ section of the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

‘L’Envoi To Vol. I.’- This appeared in the 1884 Chatto & Windus Poetical Works as ‘L’Envoi To London Poems’ and can be found in the ‘Additional London Poems’ section of the site.

__________

 

The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan

(3 vols. London: Henry S. King & Co., 1874. Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1874.)

 

Vol. II.

BALLADS AND POEMS OF LIFE

LYRICAL POEMS &c.

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‘Willie Baird’ - from Idyls and Legends of Inverburn, 1865. A revised version of ‘Willie Baird’ was published in the 1874, King edition of the Poetical Works but for the 1884, Chatto & Windus Poetical Works, Buchanan largely reverted to the original version.

‘John’ - from Idyls and Legends of Inverburn, 1865, where its original title was ‘The English Huswife’s Gossip’. Buchanan gives an explanation for this revised version in a note at the end of the poem. The setting of the poem was changed from Scotland to England, which explains the changes of the names of some of the characters and places. However, for the 1884, Chatto & Windus Poetical Works, Buchanan reverted to the original version of the poem, just altering a few of the lines.

 

JOHN

(ENGLAND)

A ploughman’s English wife, bright-eyed, sharp-speech’d,
Plump as a pillow, fresh as clothes new-bleach’d:
The firelight dancing ruddy on her cheeks,
Irons Tom’s Sunday linen as she speaks.

AT three-and-forty, simple as a child,
Soft as a sheep yet curious as a daw,
Wise, cunning, in a fashion of his own,
Queer, watchful, strange, a puzzle to us all:—
That’s John!

                       My husband’s brother—seven years
Younger than Tom. When we were wed and one,
John came to dwell with Tom and me for good,
And now has dwelt beside us twenty years,
But now, at forty-three, is breaking fast,
Grows weaker, brain and body, every day.
At times he works, and earns his meat and drink,
At times is sick, and lies and moans in bed,
Man-bodied, but in many things a child;
Unfinish’d somewhere—where, the Lord knows best
Who made and guards him; wiser, craftier,
Than Tom, or any other man I know,
In tiny things few men perceive at all;
No fool at cooking, clever at his work,
Thoughtful when Tom is senseless and unkind,
Kind with a grace that sweetens silentness,—
But weak where other working-men are strong,
And strong where they are weak. An angry word
From one he loves,—and off he creeps in pain—
Perhaps to ease his tender heart in tears.
But easy-sadden’d, sir, is easy-pleased!
Give him the babe to nurse, he sits him down,
Smiles like a woman, and is glad at heart.

     Crazed? There’s the question! For the Minister,
Your friend—and John’s as well—will answer ‘No!’
And often has he scolded when I seem’d
To answer ‘Yea.’ Of late the weary limbs
Have tried the weary brain, that every day
Grows feebler, duller; yet the Minister
Still stands his friend and helps him as he can.
‘Tender of heart, goodwife, is wise of head:
If John is weak, his heart is to be blamed;
And can the erring heart of mortal be
O’er gentle?’ Hey, ’tis little use to talk!
The Minister is soft at heart as he!

     But yesterday John sat him on a stool,
And ripp’d the bellows up, to find from where
The wind came: slowly did it bit by bit,
As sage as Solomon, and when ’twas done
Just scratch’d his head, still puzzled, creeping off
To some still corner in the green fields, there
To think the puzzle out in peace alone.
There is his weakness—curiosity!
Those watchful, prying, curious eyes of his,
That like a cat’s see better in the dark,
Are ne’er at rest; his hands and eyes and ears
Are eager getting knowledge,—when ’tis got
Lord knoweth in what corner of his head
He hides it, but it ne’er sees light again!

     He buys a coat: what does he first, but count
The pockets and the buttons one by one—
A mighty calculation sagely summ’d;
Our eldest daughter goes a trip to town,
Brings home a box—John eyes the box with greed,
And next, we catch him in the wench’s room,
The box wide open, John upon the floor,
And in his hand a bonnet, eyed and eyed,
Turn’d o’er and o’er, examined bit by bit,
Like something wondrous as a tumbled star.
Our youngest has a gift—a box of toys,
A penny trumpet—not a wink for John
Till he has seen the whole, or by and by
He gives the child a sixpence for the toy,
And creeping off dissects it all to bits
In wonder and in joy. It makes me cry
For fun to watch his pranks, the Natural!
But think not, sir, that he was ever so:—
Nay! twenty years ago he looked a man,
His step was firm, he kept his head erect,
Could hold his tongue, because he knew full well
That he was simpler-headed than the rest.—
Now, when his wits have gone so fast asleep,
He thinks he is the wisest man of men!
Yet ah! his heart is kindly to the core,
Tho’ sensitive to touch as fly-trap flowers:
He loves them best that seem to think him wise,
Consult him, notice him, and those that mock
His tenderness he never will forgive.
Money he saves to buy the children gifts—
Clothes, toys, whate’er he fancies like to please—
And many of his ways so tender are,
So gentle and so good, it fires my blood
To see him vex’d and troubled. Just a child!
He weeps in silence, if a little ill;
A cold, a headache—he is going to die;
But then, beside, he can be trusted, sir!
(You cannot say the like of many men!)
Tell him a secret,—torture, death itself,
Would fail to make him whisper and betray.

     John, simple as he is, has had his cares:
They came upon him in his younger days
When he was tougher-headed, and I think
They help’d to make him silly as he is:
Time that has stolen all his little wits,
By just a change of chances, might have made
Our John another man and strengthen’d him.
The current gave a swirl, and caught the straw,
And John was doom’d to be a natural!
Oft when he sits and smokes his pipe and thinks,
Ye know by his downcast eyes and quivering lips
His heart is aching; but he ne’er complains
Of that—the sorest thought he has to bear.
We know he thinks of Jennie Glover then;
But let him be, till o’er his head the cloud
Passes and leaves a meekness and a hush
Upon the heart it shadow’d. Jennie, sir?—
She was a neighbour’s daughter in her teens,
A bold and forward huzzie, tho’ her face
Was pretty in its way: a jet-black eye,
Red cheeks, black eyebrows, and a comely shape.
In here she came and stood and talked for hours
[Her tongue was like a bell upon a sheep—
Her very motion seem’d to make it jing]
And, ere I guess’d it, John and she were friends.
She pierced the silly with her jet-black eye,
Humour’d him ever, seem’d to think him wise,
Was serious, gentle, kindly, to his face,
And, ere I guess’d, so flatter’d his conceit
That, tho’ his lips were silent at her side,
He grew a mighty man behind her back,
Held up his head in gladness and in pride,
And seem’d to have an errand in the world.
At first I laugh’d and banter’d with the rest—
‘How’s Jennie, John?’ and ‘Name the happy day;’
And, ‘Have ye spoken to the minister?’
Thinking it just a joke; and when the girl
Would sit by John, her arm about his neck,
Holding his hand in hers, and humour him,
Yet laugh her fill behind the silly’s back,
I let it pass. I little liked her ways—
I guess’d her heart was tough as cobbler’s wax—
Yet what of that?—’Twas but a piece of fun.

     A piece of fun!—’Twas serious work to John!
The huzzie lured him with her wicked eyes,
And danced about him, ever on the watch,
Like pussie yonder playing with a mouse.
I saw but little of them, never dream’d
They met unknown to me; but by and by
The country-side was ringing with the talk
That John and she went walking thro’ the fields,
Sat underneath the slanted harvest sheaves
Watching the motion of the silver moon,
Met late and early—courted night and day—
John earnest as you please, and Jen for fun.
I held my peace awhile, and used my eyes!
New bows and ribbons upon Jennie’s back,
Cheap brooches, and a bonnet once or twice,
Proved that the piece of fun paid Jennie well,
And showed why John no longer spent his pence
In presents to the boys. I saw it all,
But, pitying John, afraid to give him pain,
I spake to Jennie, sharply bade her heed,
Cried ‘shame’ upon her, for her heartlessness.
The huzzie laugh’d and coolly went her way,
And after that came hither nevermore
To talk and clatter. But the cruel sport
Went on, I found. One day, to my surprise,
Up came a waggon to the cottage door,
John walking by the side, and while I stared
He quickly carried to the kitchen here,
A table, chairs, a wooden stool, a broom,
Two monster saucepans, and a washing tub,
And last, a roll of blankets and of sheets.
The waggon went away, here linger’d John
Among the things, and blushing red says he,
‘I bought them all at Farmer Simpson’s sale—
Ye’ll keep them till I need them for myself!’
And then walk’d out. Long time I stood and stared,
Puzzled, amazed; but by and by I saw
The meaning of it all. Alas for John!
The droll beginning of a stock in trade
For marriage stood before me. Jennie’s eyes
And lying tongue had made him fairly crazed,
And ta’en the little wits he had to spare.
With flushing face, set teeth, away I ran
To Jennie Glover, and I told her all;
And for a while she could not speak a word
For laughter. ‘Shame upon thee, shame, shame, shame!
Thus to misuse the lad who loves thee so!
Mind, Jennie Glover, folks with scanty brains
Have hearts that can be broken!’ Still she laugh’d!
But trust me, sir, I went not home again
Till Jennie’s parents knew her wickedness;
And last, I wrung a promise from her lips
From that day forth to trouble John no more,
To let him know her fondness was a joke,
Pass by him in the street without a word,
And, though perhaps his gentle heart might ache,
Shake him as one would shake a drunken man
Until his sleepy wits awoke again.

     I saw that Jennie Glover kept her word.

     That night, when John was seated here alone,
Smoking his pipe, and dreaming as I guess’d
Of Jennie Glover and a wedding ring,
I stole behind him silently and placed
My hand upon his shoulder: when he saw
The shadow on my face, he trembled, flush’d,
And knew that I was sad. I sank my voice,
And gently as I could I spake my mind,
Spake like a mother, told him he was wrong,
That Jennie only was befooling him
And laugh’d his love to scorn behind his back;
And last, to soothe his pain, I rail’d at her,
Hoping to make him angry. Here he sat,
And let his pipe go out, and hung his head,
And never answer’d back a single word.
’Twas hard, ’twas hard, to make him understand!
He could not, would not! All his heart was wrapt
In Jennie Glover; and at twenty-three
A full-grown notion thrusts its roots so deep,
’Tis hard indeed to drag it up and spare
The bleeding heart as well. Without a word
He crept away to bed. Next morn, his eyes
Were red with weeping—but ’twas plain to see
He thought I wrong’d both Jennie and himself.

     That morning Jennie pass’d him on the road:
He ran to speak—she toss’d her head and laugh’d—
And sneering pass’d him by. All day he wrought
In silence at the plough—ne’er had he borne
A pang so quietly. At twilight hour
Home came he, weary: here was I alone:
Stubborn as stone he turn’d his head away,
Sat on his stool before the fire and smoked;
Then while he smoked I saw his eyes were dim.
‘John!’—and I placed my hand upon his arm.
He turn’d, seem’d choking, tried in vain to speak,
Then fairly hid his face and wept aloud,—
But never wept again.

                                     The days pass’d on.
I held my tongue, and left the rest to time,
And warn’d both father and the boys. My heart
Was sore for John! He was so dumb and sad,
Never complaining as he did of old,
And toiling late and early. By and by,
‘Margaret,’ says he, as quiet as a lamb,
‘Ye’ll keep the things I bought at Simpson’s sale—
I do not need them now!’ and tried to smile,
But could not. Well, I thank’d him cheerily,
Nor seem’d to see his heart was aching so:
Then after that the boys got pence from John,—
The smaller playthings, and the bigger clothes:
He eased his heart by spending as of old
His money on the like.

                                     Well may you cry
Shame, shame on Jennie! Heartless, graceless girl!
I could have whipt her shoulders with a staff!—
But God above had sorer tasks in store.
Ere long the village, like a peal of bells,
Rang out the tale that Jennie was a thief,
Had gone to Stanley Farm to work a week,
And stolen Phœbe Fleming’s watch and chain—
They found them in her trunk, with scores of things
From poorer houses. Woe to Jennie then
If Farmer Fleming had unkindly been,
Nor spared her for her sickly father’s sake!
The punishment was spared—she kept the shame!
The scandal rose, with jingling-jangling din,
And chattering wenches, wives, and mothers join’d.
At first she saw not that the sin was guess’d;
But slowly, one by one, her maiden friends,
Her very bosom-gossips, shook her off:
She heard the din, she blush’d and hid her face,
Shrinking away and trembling as with cold,
Like Eve within the Garden when her mouth
Was bitter with the apple of the Tree.

     One night, when John returned from work and took
His seat upon the stool beside the fire,
I saw he knew the truth. For he was changed!
His look was dark, his voice was loud, his eyes
Had lost their meekness; when we spoke to him,
He flush’d and answer’d sharply. He had heard
The tale of Jennie’s shame and wickedness,—
What thought he of it all? Believe me, sir,
He was a riddle still: in many things
So peevish and so simple, but in one—
His silly dream of Jennie Glover’s face—
So manly and so dumb,—with power to hide
His sorrow in his heart and turn away
Like one that shuts his eyes when men pass by
But looks on Him. ’Twas natural to think
John would have taken angry spiteful joy
In Jennie’s fall,—for he was ever slow
Forgetting and forgiving injuries;
But no! his voice was dumb, his eyes were fierce,
Yet chiefly when they mention’d Jen in scorn,
He seem’d confused and would not understand,
Perplext as when he breaks the children’s toys.

     Now, bold as Jennie was, she could not bear
The shame her sin had brought her, and whene’er
We met she tingled to the finger-tips;
And soon she fled away to London town,
To hide among the smoke. It came to pass,
The Sabbath after she had flitted off,
That Mister Mortimer (God bless him!) preach’d
One of those gentle sermons low and sad
Wherewith he gathers grain for Him he serves:
The text—let him who is sinless cast the first
Stone at the sinner; and we knew he preach’d
Of Jennie Glover. Hey! to hear him talk
Ye would have sworn that Jennie was a saint,
An injured thing for folk to pet and coax!
But tho’ you knew ’twas folly, springing up
Out of a heart so kindly to the core,
Your eyes were dim with tears while hearkening—
He spake so low and sadly. John was there.

     And early down the stairs came John next day
Drest in his Sabbath clothes. ‘I’m going away,’
He whispers, ‘for a day or maybe two—
Don’t be afraid if I’m away at night,
And do not speak to Tom;’ and off he ran
Ere I could question. When the evening came,
No sign of John! Night pass’d, and not a sign!
Tom sought him far and near without avail.
The next night came, and we were sitting here
Weary and wondering, listening, as we sat,
To every step that pass’d, when in stept John,
And sat beside the fire; but when we ask’d
Where he had been, he snapt us short and crept
Away to bed.

                         Yet by and by, I heard
The truth from John himself—a truth indeed
That was and is a puzzle, will remain
A puzzle to the end. And can ye guess
Where John had been? Away in London town
At Jennie Glover’s side, holding her hand
And looking in her eyes!

                                         ‘Jennie!’ he said;
And while she stared stood scraping with his shoes,
And humm’d and haw’d and stammer’d out a speech,
Whose sense, made clear and shorten’d, came to this:
The country folk that call’d her cruel names
And mock’d her so, had done the same by him!
He did not give a straw for what they said!
He did not give a straw, and why should she?
And tho’ she laugh’d before, perchance when folk
Miscall’d her, frighten’d her from home and friends,
She’d turn to simple John and marry him?
For he had money, seven pound and more,
And yonder in his home, to stock a house,
He had the things he bought at Simpson’s sale;
His master paid him well, and he could work;
And, if she dried her eyes and married him,
Who cared for country tattle, and the folk
That thought them crazed? . . . John, then and now ashamed,
Said that she flung her arms about his neck,
And wept as if her heart was like to break,
And told him sadly that it could not be.
He scratch’d his head, and stared, and answer’d nought—
His stock of words was done; but last, he forced
His money in the weeping woman’s hand,
And hasten’d home as fast as he could come.

     He feels it still! it haunts him night and day!
Ay, silly tho’ he be, he keeps the thought
Of Jennie hidden in his heart; and now,
Wearing away like snowdrift in the sun,
If e’er he chance to see, on nights at home,
One of the things he bought at Simpson’s sale
(I keep them still, tho’ they are worn and old),
His eyes gleam up, then listen,—then are dark.*

 

     * ‘John,’ like many of the writer’s crude early studies, is a picture from the life. When the
poem was written, the original still lived, but since its publication he has died; and though the
reader may weary of death-beds, I wish I could describe this one—it was so sweet and strange.
I write this note because this very poem, when it first appeared, was described by a hostile critic
as a production ‘of the inner consciousness.’ In revising it now (1873) I merely transpose the
scene back to England, where it was originally laid, and where the events really occurred. It was
first issued in the Scottish series, Idyls of Inverburn.—R. B.

_____

 

The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan, Vol. II - continued

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