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Harriett Jay

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{Idyls and Legends of Inverburn 1865}





O Loom, that loud art murmuring
What doth he hear thee say or sing
Thou hummest o’er the dead one’s songs,
     He cannot choose but hark,
His heart with tearful rapture throngs,
     But all his face grows dark.

O cottage Fire, that burnest bright,
What pictures sees he in thy light?
A city’s smoke, a white white face,
     Phantoms that fade and die,
And last, the lonely burial-place
     On the windy hill hard by.


’TIS near a year since Andrew went to sleep—
A winter and a summer. Yonder bed
Is where the boy was born, and where he died,
And yonder o’er the lowland is his grave:
The nook of grass and gowans where in thought
I found you standing at the set o’ sun . .
The Lord content us—’tis a weary world.

     These five-and-twenty years I’ve wrought and wrought                  40
In this same dwelling;—hearken! you can hear
The looms that whuzzle-whazzle ben the house,
Where Jean and Mysie, lassies in their teens,
And Jamie, and a neighbour’s son beside,
Work late and early. Andrew who is dead
Was our first-born; and when he crying came,
With beaded een and pale old-farrant face,
Out of the darkness, Mysie and mysel’
Were young and heartsome; and his smile, be sure,
Made daily toil the sweeter. Hey, his kiss
Put honey in the very porridge-pot!
His smile strung threads of sunshine on the loom!
And when he hung around his mother’s neck,
He deck’d her out in jewels and in gold
That even ladies envied! . . Weel! . . in time
Came other children, newer gems and gold,
And Andrew quitted Mysie’s breast for mine.
So years roll’d on, like bobbins on a loom;
And Mysie and mysel’ had work to do,
And Andrew took his turn among the rest,
No sweeter, dearer; till, one Sabbath day,
When Andrew was a curly-pated tot
Of sunny summers six, I had a crack                                                  41
With Mister Mucklewraith the Minister,
Who put his kindly hand on Andrew’s head,
Call’d him a clever wean, a bonnie wean,
Clever at learning, while the mannikin
Blush’d red as any rose, and peeping up
Went twinkle-twinkle with his round black een;
And then, while Andrew laugh’d and ran awa’,
The Minister went deeper in his praise,
And prophesied he would become in time
A man of mark. This set me thinking, sir,
And watching,—and the mannock puzzled me.

     Would sit for hours upon a stool and draw
Droll faces on the slate, while other lads
Were shouting at their play; dumbly would lie
Beside the Lintock, sailing, piloting,
Navies of docken-leaves a summer day;
Had learn’d the hymns of Doctor Watts by heart,
And as for old Scots songs, could lilt them a’—
From Yarrow Braes to Bonnie Bessie Lee—
And where he learn’d them, only Heaven knew;
And oft, altho’ he feared to sleep his lane,
Would cowrie at the threshold in a storm                                             42
To watch the lightning,—as a birdie sits,
With fluttering fearsome heart and dripping wings,
Among the branches. Once, I mind it weel,
In came he, running, with a bloody nose,
Part tears, part pleasure, to his fluttering heart
Holding a callow mavis golden-bill’d,
The thin white film of death across its een,
And told us, sobbing, how a neighbour’s son
Harried the birdie’s nest, and how by chance
He came upon the thief beside the burn
Throwing the birdies in to see them swim,
And how he fought him, till he yielded up
This one, the one remaining of the nest;—
And “O the birdie’s dying!” sobb’d he sore,
“The bonnie birdie’s dying!”—till it died;
And Andrew dug a grave behind the house,
Buried his dead, and cover’d it with earth,
And cut, to mark the grave, a grassy turf
Where blew a bunch of gowans. After that,
I thought and thought, and thick as bees the thoughts
Buzz’d to the whuzzle-whazzling of the loom—
I could make naething of the mannikin!
But by-and-by, when Hope was making hay,                                     43
And web-work rose, I settled it and said
To the good wife, “’Tis plain that yonder lad
Will never take to weaving—and at school
They say he beats the rest at all his tasks
Save figures only: I have settled it:
Andrew shall be a minister—a pride
And comfort to us, Mysie, in our age:
He shall to college in a year or twa
(If fortune smiles as now) at Edinglass.”
You guess the wife open’d her een, cried “Foosh!”
And call’d the plan a silly senseless dream,
A hopeless, useless castle in the air;
But ere the night was out, I talk’d her o’er,
And here she sat, her hands upon her knees,
Glow’ring and heark’ning, as I conjured up,
Amid the fog and reek of Edinglass
Life’s peaceful gloaming and a godly fame.
So it was broach’d, and after many cracks 
With Mister Mucklewraith, we plann’d it a’, 
And day by day we laid a penny by
To give the lad when he should quit the bield.

     And years wore on; and year on year was cheer’d                         44
By thoughts of Andrew, drest in decent black,
Throned in a Pulpit, preaching out the Word,
A house his own, and all the country-side
To touch their bonnets to him. Weel, the lad
Grew up among us, and at seventeen
His hands were genty white, and he was tall,
And slim, and narrow-shoulder’d: pale of face,
Silent, and bashful. Then we first began
To feel how muckle more he knew than we,
To eye his knowledge in a kind of fear,
As folk might look upon a crouching beast,
Bonnie, but like enough to rise and bite.
Up came the cloud between us silly folk
And the young lad that sat among his Books
Amid the silence of the night; and oft
It pain’d us sore to fancy he would learn
Enough to make him look with shame and scorn
On this old dwelling. ’Twas his manner, sir!
He seldom lookt his father in the face,
And when he walkt about the dwelling, seem’d
Like one superior; dumbly he would steal
To the burnside, or into Lintlin Woods,
With some new-farrant book,—and when I peep’d,                           45
Behold a book of jingling-jangling rhyme,
Fine-written nothings on a printed page;
And, press’d between the leaves, a flower perchance,
Anemone or blue Forget-me-not,
Pluckt in the grassy loanin’. Then I peep’d                                          [4:29]
Into his drawer, among his papers there,
And found—you guess?—a heap of idle rhymes,
Big-sounding, like the worthless printed book:
Some in old copies scribbled, some on scraps
Of writing paper, others finely writ
With spirls and flourishes on big white sheets.
I clench’d my teeth, and groan’d. The beauteous dream
Of the good Preacher in his braw black dress,
With house and income snug, began to fade
Before the picture of a drunken loon
Bawling out songs beneath the moon and stars,—
Of poet Willie Clay, who wrote a book
About King Robert Bruce, and aye got fu’,                                        [4:42]
And scatter’d stars in verse, and aye got fu’,                                       [4:43]
Wept the world’s sins, and then got fu’ again,—                                  [4:44]
Of Ferguson, the feckless limb o’ law,—
And Robin Burns, who gauged the whiskey-casks
And brake the seventh commandment. So at once                              46
I up and said to Andrew, “You’re a fool!
You waste your time in silly senseless verse,
Lame as your own conceit: take heed! take heed!
Or, like your betters, come to grief ere long!”
But Andrew flusht and never spake a word, 
Yet eyed me sidelong with his beaded een,
And turn’d awa’, and, as he turn’d, his look—
Half scorn, half sorrow—stang me. After that,
I felt he never heeded word of ours,
And tho’ we tried to teach him common-sense
He idled as he pleased; and many a year,
After I spake him first, that look of his
Came dark between us, and I held my tongue,
And felt he scorn’d me for the poetry’s sake.
This coldness grew and grew, until at last
We sat whole nights before the fire and spoke
No word to one another. One fine day,
Says Mister Mucklewraith to me, says he,
“So! you’ve a Poet in your house!” and smiled;
“A Poet? God forbid!” I cried; and then
It all came out: how Andrew slyly sent
Verse to the paper; how they printed it
In Poets’ Corner; how the printed verse                                              47
Had ca’t a girdle in the callant’s head;
How Mistress Mucklewraith they thought half daft
Had cut the verses out and pasted them
In albums, and had praised them to her friends.
I said but little; for my schemes and dreams
Were tumbling down like castles in the air,
And all my heart seem’d hardening to stone.
But after that, in secret stealth, I bought
The papers, hunted out the printed verse,
And read it like a thief; thought some were good,
And others foolish havers, and in most
Saw naething, neither common-sense nor sound—
Words pottle-bellied, meaningless, and strange,
That strutted up and down the printed page,
Like Bailies made to bluster and look big.

     ’Twas useless grumbling. All my silent looks
Were lost, all Mysie’s flyting fell on ears
Choke-full of other counsel; but we talk’d
In bed o’ nights, and Mysie wept, and I
Felt stubborn, wrothful, wrong’d. It was to be!
But mind you, though we mourn’d, we ne’er forsook
The college scheme. Our sorrow, as we saw                                      48
Our Andrew growing cold to homely ways,
And scornful of the bield, but strengthen’d more
Our wholesome wish to educate the lad,
And do our duty by him, and help him on
With our rough hands—the Lord would do the rest,
The Lord would mend or mar him. So at last,
New-clad from top to toe in homespun cloth,
With books and linen in a muckle trunk,
He went his way to college; and we sat,
Mysie and me, in weary darkness here;
For tho’ the younger bairns were still about,
It seem’d our hearts had gone to Edinglass
With Andrew, and were choking in the reek
Of Edinglass town.

                                 It was a gruesome fight,
Both for oursel’s at home, and for the boy,
That student life at college. Hard it was
To scrape the fees together, but beside,
The lad was young and needed meat and drink.
We sent him meal and bannocks by the train,
And country cheeses; and with this and that,
Though sorely push’d, he throve, though now and then                       49
With empty wame: spinning the siller out
By teaching grammar in a school at night.
Whiles he came home: weary old-farrant face
Pale from the midnight candle; bringing home
Good news of college. Then we shook awa’
The old sad load, began to build again
Our airy castles, and were hopeful Time
Would heal our wounds. But, sir, they plagued me still—
Some of his ways! When here, he spent his time
In yonder chamber, or about the woods,
And by the waterside,—and with him books
Of poetry, as of old. Mysel’ could get
But little of his company or tongue;
And when we talkt, atweel, a kind of frost,—
My consciousness of silly ignorance,
And worse, my knowledge that the lad himsel’
Felt sorely, keenly, all my ignorant shame,
Made talk a torture out of which we crept
With burning faces. Could you understand
One who was wild as if he found a mine
Of golden guineas, when he noticed first
The soft green streaks in a snowdrop’s inner leaves?
And once again, the moonlight glimmering                                           50
Thro’ watery transparent stalks of flax?
A flower’s a flower! . . . But Andrew snooved about,
Aye finding wonders, mighty mysteries,
In things that ilka learless cottar kenn’d.
Now, ’twas the falling snow or murmuring rain;
Now, ’twas the laverock singing in the sun,
And dropping slowly to the callow young;
Now, an old tune he heard his mother lilt;
And aye those trifles made his pallid face
Flush brighter, and his een flash keener far,
Than when he heard of yonder storm in France,
Or a King’s death, or, if the like had been,
A city’s downfall.

                               He was born with love
For things both great and small; yet seem’d to prize
The small things best. To me, it seem’d indeed
The callant cared for nothing for itsel’,
But for some special quality it had
To set him thinking, thinking, or bestow                                               [7:6]
A tearful sense he took for luxury.
He loved us in his silent fashion weel;
But in our feckless ignorance we knew                                                51
’Twas when the humour seized him—with a sense
Of some queer power we had to waken up
The poetry—ay, and help him in his rhyme!
A kind of patronising tenderness,
A pitying pleasure in our Scottish speech
And homely ways, a love that made him note
Both ways and speech with the same curious joy
As fill’d him when he watch’d the birds and flowers.

     He was as sore a puzzle to us then
As he had been before. It puzzled us,
How a big lad, down-cheek’d, almost a man,
Could pass his time in silly childish joys . . .
Until at last, a hasty letter came
From Andrew, telling he had broke awa’
From college, pack’d his things, and taken train
To London city, where he hoped (he said)
To make both fortune and a noble fame
Thro’ a grand poem, carried in his trunk;
How, after struggling on with bitter heart,
He could no longer bear to fight his way
Among the common scholars; and the end
Bade us be hopeful, trusting God, and sure                                         52
The light of this old home would guide him still
Amid the reek of evil.

                                     Sae it was!
We twa were less amazed than you may guess,
Though we had hoped, and fear’d, and hoped, sae long!                    [9:3]
But it was hard to bear—hard, hard to bear!
Our castle in the clouds was gone for good;
And as for Andrew—other lads had ta’en
The same mad path, and learn’d the bitter task
Of poortith, cold, and tears. She grat. I sat                                          [9:8]
In silence, looking on the fuffing fire,
Where streets and ghaistly faces came and went,
And London city crumbled down to crush
Our Andrew; and my heart was sick and cold.
Ere long, the news across the country-side
Speak quickly, like the crowing of a cock
From farm to farm—the women talkt it o’er
On doorsteps, o’er the garden rails; the men
Got fu’ upon it at the public-house,
And whisper’d it among the fields at work.
A cry was quickly raised from house to house,
That all the blame was mine, and canker’d een                                    53
Lookt cold upon me, as upon a kind
Of upstart. “Fie on pride!” the whisper said,
“The fault was Andrew’s less than those who taught
His heart to look in scorn on honest work,—
Shame on them!—but the lad, poor lad, would learn!”
O sir, the thought of this spoil’d many a web
In yonder—tingling, tingling, in my ears,
Until I fairly threw my gloom aside,
Smiled like a man whose heart is light and young,
And with a future-kenning happy look
Threw up my chin, and bade them wait and see . .
But, night by night, these een lookt Londonways,
And saw my laddie wandering all alone
’Mid darkness, fog, and reek, growing afar
To dark proportions and gigantic shape—
Just as the figure of a sheep-herd looms,
Awful and silent, thro’ a mountain mist.

     Ye aiblins ken the rest. At first, there came                                     [10:1]
Proud letters, swiftly writ, telling how folk
Now roundly call’d him ‘Poet,’ holding out
Bright pictures, which we smiled at wearily—
As people smile at pictures in a book,                                                 54
Untrue but bonnie. Then the letters ceased,
There came a silence cold and still as frost,—
We sat and hearken’d to our beating hearts,
And pray’d as we had never pray’d before.
Then lastly, on the silence broke the news
That Andrew, far awa’, was sick to death,
And, weary, weary of the noisy streets,
With aching head and weary hopeless heart,
Was coming home from mist and fog and noise
To grassy lowlands and the caller air.

     ’Twas strange, ’twas strange!—but this, the weary end
Of all our bonnie biggins in the clouds,
Came like a tearful comfort. Love sprang up
Out of the ashes of the household fire,
Where Hope was fluttering like the loose white film;
And Andrew, our own boy, seem’d nearer now
To this old dwelling and our aching hearts
Than he had ever been since he became
Wise with book-learning. With an eager pain,
I met him at the train and brought him home;
And when we met that sunny day in hairst,
The ice that long had sunder’d us had thaw’d,                                      55
We met in silence, and our een were dim.
Och, I can see that look of his this night!                                              [11:14]
Part pain, part tenderness,—a weary look
Yearning for comfort such as God the Lord
Puts into parents’ een. I brought him here.
Gently we set him here beside the fire,                                                [11:18]
And spake few words, and hush’d the noisy house;
Then eyed his hollow cheeks and lustrous een,
His clammy hueless brow and faded hands,
Blue vein’d and white like lily-flowers. The wife
Forgot the sickness of his face, and moved
With light and happy footstep but and ben,
As though she welcomed to a merry feast
A happy guest. In time, out came the truth:
Andrew was dying: in his lungs the dust
Of cities stole unseen, and hot as fire
Burnt—like a deil’s red een that gazed at Death.
Too late for doctor’s skill, tho’ doctor’s skill
We had in plenty; but the ill had ta’en
Too sure a grip. Andrew was dying, dying:
The beauteous dream had melted like a mist
The sunlight feeds on: a’ remaining now 
Was Andrew, bare and barren of his pride,                                        56
Stark of conceit, a weel-belovëd child,
Helpless to help himsel’, and dearer thus,
As when his yaumer*—like the corn-craik’s cry
Heard in a field of wheat at dead o’ night—
Brake on the hearkening darkness of the bield.

     And as he nearer grew to God the Lord,
Nearer and dearer ilka day he grew
To Mysie and mysel’—our own to love,
The world’s no longer. For the first last time,
We twa, the lad and I, could sit and crack
With open hearts—free-spoken, at our ease;
I seem’d to know as muckle then as he,
Because I was sae sad.

                                     Thus grief, sae deep
It flow’d without a murmur, brought the balm
Which blunts the edge of worldly sense and makes
Old people weans again. In this sad time,
We never troubled at his childish ways;
We seem’d to share his pleasure when he sat

* Yaumer, a child’s cry.

List’ning to birds upon the eaves; we felt                                             57
Small wonder when we found him weeping o’er
His old torn books of pencill’d thoughts and verse;
And if, outbye, I saw a bonnie flower,
I pluckt it carefully and bore it home
To my sick boy. To me, it somehow seem’d
His care for lovely earthly things had changed—
Changed from the curious love it once had been,
Grown larger, bigger, holier, peacefuller;
And though he never lost the luxury
Of loving beauteous things for poetry’s sake,
His heart was God the Lord’s, and he was calm.
Death came to lengthen out his solemn thoughts
Like shadows to the sunset. So no more                                             [13:20]
We wonder’d. What is folly in a lad                                                    [13:21]
Healthy and heartsome, one with work to do,
Befits the freedom of a dying man . . .
Mother, who chided loud the idle lad
Of old, now sat her sadly by his side,
And read from out the Bible soft and low,
Or lilted lowly, keeking in his face,
The old Scots songs that made his een so dim.
I went about my daily work as one
Who waits to hear a knocking at the door,                                          58
Ere Death creeps in and shadows those that watch;
And seated here at e’en i’ the ingleside,
I watch’d the pictures in the fire and smoked
My pipe in silence; for my head was fu’
Of many rhymes the lad had made of old
(Rhymes I had read in secret, as I said),
No one of which I minded till they came
Unsummon’d, buzzing-buzzing in my ears                                           [13:38]
Like bees among the leaves.

                                               The end drew near.
Came Winter moaning, and the Doctor said
That Andrew couldna live to see the Spring; 
And day by day, while frost was hard at work,
The lad grew weaker, paler, and the blood
Came redder from the lung. One Sabbath day—
The last of winter, for the caller air
Was drawing sweetness from the barks of trees—
When down the lane, I saw to my surprise
A snowdrop blooming underneath a birk,
And gladly pluckt the flower to carry home
To Andrew. Ere I reach’d the bield, the air
Was thick wi’ snow, and ben in yonder room                                     59
I found him, Mysie seated at his side,
Drawn to the window in the old arm-chair,
Gazing wi’ lustrous een and sickly cheek                                             [14:16]
Out on the shower, that waver’d softly down
In glistening siller glamour. Saying nought,
Into his hand I put the year’s first flower,
And turn’d awa’ to hide my face; and he . .
. . He smiled . . and at the smile, I knew not why,
It swam upon us, in a frosty pain,
The end was come at last, at last, and Death                                       [14:23]
Was creeping ben, his shadow on our hearts.
We gazed on Andrew, call’d him by his name,
And touch’d him softly . . and he lay awhile,
His een upon the snow, in a dark dream,
Yet neither heard nor saw; but suddenly,
He shook awa’ the vision wi’ a smile,
Raised lustrous een, still smiling, to the sky,
Next upon us, then dropt them to the flower
That trembled in his hand, and murmur’d low,
Like one that gladly murmurs to himsel’—
“Out of the Snow, the Snowdrop—out of Death
Comes Life;” then closed his eyes and made a moan,
And never spake another word again.                                                  60

. . And you think weel of Andrew’s book? You think
That folk will love him, for the poetry’s sake,
Many a year to come? We take it kind
You speak so weel of Andrew!—As for me,
I can make naething of the printed book;
I am no scholar, sir, as I have said,
And Mysie there can just read print a wee.
Ay! we are feckless, ignorant of the world!
And though ’twere joy to have our boy again
And place him far above our lowly house,
We like to think of Andrew as he was
When, dumb and wee, he hung his gold and gems                              [15:12]
Round Mysie’s neck; or—as he is this night—
Lying asleep, his face to heaven—asleep,
Near to our hearts, as when he was a bairn,
Without the poetry and human pride
That came between us, to our grief, langsyne.


A revised version of ‘Poet Andrew’ 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.
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
Introductory verse: v. i, l. 2: What doth he hear thee say or sing?
v. 4, l. 29: Pluckt in the grassy woodland. Then I look’d
v. 4, l. 42: About King Robert Bruce, and aye got fou,
v. 4, l. 43: And scatter’d stars in verse, and aye got fou,
v. 4, l. 44: Wept the world’s sins, and then got fou, again,—
v. 7, l. 6: To set him thinking, or at least bestow
v. 9, l. 3: Though we had hoped, and fear’d, and hoped, so long!
v. 9, l. 8: Of poverty and tears. She grat. I sat,
v. 10, l. 1: You may be ken the rest. At first, there came
v. 11, l. 14: Ah!—I can see that look of his this night!
v. 11, l. 18: Gently we set him down beside the fire,
v. 13, l. 20: Like shadows to the sunset. So we ceased
v. 13, l. 21: To wonder. What is folly in a lad
v. 13, l. 38: Unsummon’d, murmuring about my ears
v. 14, l. 16: Gazing with lustrous een and sickly cheek
v. 14, l. 23: The end of a’ was come at last, and Death
v. 15, l. 12: When, dumb and wee, he hung his helpless arms ]







ALL day the sunshine loves to dwell
Upon the pool of Weardale Well;
But when the sunbeams shine no more
     The Monk stalks down the moonlit dell:
His robe is black, his hair is hoar,
     He sits him down by Weardale Well;
He hears the water moan below,
He sees a face as white as snow,
His nightly penance there is done,
And he shall never see the sun.



Hear them, old Anatomy!
Down the glade I see them flee—                                                        62
White-robed Elfins, three times three!



Night by night, in pale moonlight,
     The Monk shall tell his story o’er,
And the grinning Gnome with teeth of white
     Hearkeneth laughing evermore;
His nightly penance thus is done—
And he shall never see the sun!



Ever new and ever old,
Comrade, be thy story told,
While the face as white as snow
Sighs upon the pool below.



“I love the sunshine,” said
White Lily of Weardale-head.

And underneath the greenwood tree,
     She wander’d free, she wander’d bold;
The merry sun smiled bright to see,                                                      63
     And turn’d her yellow hair to gold:
Then the bee, and the moth, and the butterfly,
     Hunting for sweets in the wood-bowers fair,
Rose from the blooms as she wander’d by,
     And play’d in the light of her shining hair.
She sat her down by Weardale Well,
And her gleaming ringlets rustled and fell,
Clothing her round with a golden glow,
And her shadow was light for the pool below;
Then the yellow adder fold in fold
Writhed from his lair in the grass and roll’d
With glittering scales in a curl o’ the gold:
She stroked his head with her finger light,
     And he gazed with still and glistening eye;
And she laught and clapt her hands of white,
     And overhead the sun went by
     Thro’ the azure gulfs of a cloudless sky;
“All things that love the sun, love me,
And O but the sun is sweet to see,
And I love to look on the sun,” said she.

     But the Abbess grey of Lintlin Brae
Hated to look on the light of day;                                                         64
She mumbled prayers, she counted beads,
     She whipt and whipt her shoulders bare,
She slept on a bed of straw and reeds,
     And wore a serk of horse’s hair.
By candle-light she sat and read,
     And heard a song from far-away,
She cross’d herself and raised her head—
     “Who sings so loud?” said the Abbess grey.
I, who sat both early and late
A shadow black at the Abbey gate:
“Mater sacra, it is one
Who wanders evermore in the sun,
A little maiden of Weardale-head,
Whose father and mother have long been dead,
But she loves to wander in greenwood bowers,
Singing and plucking the forest flowers.”
The Abbess frown’d, half quick, half dead,
“There is a sin!” the Abbess said.

I found her singing a ditty wild,
     Her gleaming locks around her roll’d;
I seized her while she sang and smiled,
     And dragg’d her along by the hair of gold:                                      65
The moth and butterfly, fluttering,
     Follow’d me on to Lintlin Brae,
The adder leapt at my heart to sting,
     But with sandall’d heel I thrust it away;
And the bee dropt down ere I was ’ware
On the hand that gript the yellow hair,
And stang me deep, and I cursed aloud,
And the sun went in behind a cloud!



Nightly be his penance done!
He shall never see the sun!



The cell was deep, the cell was cold,
It quench’d the light of her hair of gold;
One little loop alone was there,
     One little eye-hole letting in
     A slender ray of light as thin
As a tress of yellow hair.

“Oh for the sunshine!” said
White Lily of Weardale-head;                                                             66
And in the dark she lay,
     Reaching her fingers small
To feel the little ray
     That glimmer’d down the wall.

And while she linger’d white as snow
She heard a fluttering faint and low;
And stealing thro’ the looplet thin
The moth and butterfly crept in—
With golden shadows as they flew
     They waver’d up and down in air,
Then dropping slowly ere she knew,
     Fell on her eyes and rested there:
And O she slept with balmy sighs,
     Dreaming a dream of golden day,
The shining insects on her eyes,
     Their shadows on her cheeks, she lay;
And while she smiled on pleasant lands,
     On the happy sky and wood and stream,
I, creeping in with outstretch’d hands,
     Murder’d the things that brought the dream.
She woke and stretch’d her hands and smiled,
     Then gazed around with sunless eyes,                                            67
Her white face gloom’d, her heart went wild,
     She sank with tears and sighs.
“Oh for the sunshine!” said
White Lily of Weardale-head.

And while she lay with cries and tears,
There came a humming in her ears;
And stealing through the looplet thin
The yellow honey-bee crept in,
And hover’d round with summer sound
     Round and around the gloomy cell;
     Then softly on her lips he fell,
And moisten’d them with honey found                                                [13:8]
     Among the flowers by Weardale Well;
And O she smiled and sang a song,
     And closed her eyelids in the shade,
And thought she singing walkt among
     The lily-blooms in the greenwood glade.
I heard the song and downward crept,
     And enter’d cold and black as sin,
And slew, although she raved and wept,
     The bee that brought the honey in:                                                  [13:17]
“Oh for the sunshine!” said                                                                  68
White Lily of Weardale-head.

And while she lay as white as snow
She heard a hissing sad and low;
And writhing through the looplet thin
The little yellow snake crept in:
His golden coils cast shadows dim,
     With glistening eye he writhed and crept,
And while she smiled to welcome him,
     Into her breast he stole, and slept;
And O his coils fell warm and sweet
Upon her heart and husht its beat,
And softest thrills of pleasure deep
Ran through her, though she could not sleep,
But lay with closëd eyes awake,
Her little hand upon the snake—
“All things that love the sun, love me,
And O but the sun is sweet to see!
And I long to look on the sun,” said she.

Then down, on sandall’d foot, I crept,
     To kill the snake that heal’d the pang,
But up, with waving arms, she leapt,                                                   69
     And out across the threshold sprang,
And up the shadowy Abbey stairs,
Past the gray Abbess at her prayers,
Through the black court with leap and run,
Out at the gate, and into the sun!
There for a space she halted, blind
     With joy to feel the light again,
But heard my rushing foot behind,
     And sped along the Abbey lane;
The sunshine made her strong and fleet,
     As on she fled by field and fold,
Her shining locks fell to her feet
     In ring on ring of living gold;
But the sun went in behind a cloud,
     As I gript her by the shining locks,
I gript them tight, I laught aloud,
     The echoes rang through woods and rocks;
Moaning she droopt, then up she sprang,
The adder leapt at my heart and stang,
And like a flash o’ the light she fell
Into the depths of Weardale Well.
The adder stang with fatal fang,                                                           70
Around I whirl’d and shriek’d and sprang,
     Then fell and struggled, clenching teeth;
Then to the oozy grass I clang,
     And gazed upon the pool beneath;
The white death-film was on mine eye,
Yet look’d I down in agony;
And as I look’d in throes of death,
In shining bubbles rose her breath
And burst in little rings of light,
     And upward came a moaning sound;
But suddenly the sun shone bright,
     And all the place was gold around,
And to the surface, calm and dead,
Uprose White Lily of Weardale-head:
Her golden hair around her blown
Made gentle radiance of its own;
Her face was turn’d to the summer sky
     With smile that seem’d to live and speak,
The golden moth and butterfly,
     With glowing shadows, on her cheek;
And lying on her lips apart
     The honey-bee with wings of gold,
And sleeping softly on her heart                                                           71
     The yellow adder fold in fold;
And as I closed mine eyes to die,
Overhead the sun went by
Through the azure gulfs of a cloudless sky!



All day the sunshine loves to dwell
Upon the sleep of Weardale Well;
All day there is a gentle sound,
     And little insects pause and sing,
The butterfly and moth float round,
     The bee drops down with humming wing,
And all the pool lies clear and cold,
Yet glittering like hair of gold.
All day the Monk in hollow shell
     Lies dumb among the Abbey-tombs,
     While, in the grass and honey-blooms,                                           [16:11]
The adder basks by Weardale Well;
But the adder stings his heart by night:
     His tale is told, his penance done,
His eyes are dark, they long for light,
     Yet they shall never see the sun!


Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 13, l. 8: And moisten’d them with sweetness found
v. 13, l. 17: The bee that brought the sweetness in:
v. 16, l. 11: While, in the grass and foxglove-blooms, ]





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,                              [2:2]
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,                               73
At times is sick, and lies and moans in bed,
Beside the noisy clishmaclavering                                                        [2:9]
He makes when he is glad. A natural!
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,                                 [2:19]
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! Mister Mucklewraith,
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                                           74
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,” says Mister Mucklewraith,
“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!

     Talk of the . . John! and home again so soon?
The children are at school, the dinner o’er,
Tom still is busy working at the plough.
Weary?—then sit you down and rest awhile.
John fears all strangers—is ashamed to speak—
But stares and counts his fingers o’er as now,
Yet—trust him!—when you vanish he will tell
The colour of your hair, your hat, your clothes,
The number of the buttons on your coat—
Eh, John?—he laughs—as sly as sly can be!

     Now, run to Tom—as quickly as you can—
Say he is wanted by the gentleman                                                      75
[Tom knows the name] from Mister Mucklewraith’s.

     Off, like an arrow from a bow, you see!
That’s nothing! John would run until he dropt
For me, and need no thanking but a smile,
Would work and work his fingers to the bone,
Do aught I asked, without or in the house,—
And just because I cheer him merrily
And speak him kindly. Tom he little likes,
And would not budge a single step to serve,
For Tom is rough, and says I humour him,
And mocks him for his silly childish ways.
And Tom has reason to be wroth at times!
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 lowland, there                                             [6:17]
To think the puzzle out in place alone.                                                [6:18]
There is his weakness—curiosity!
Those watchful, prying, curious eyes of his,
That like a cat’s see better in the dark,                                                76
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!

     Oft he reminds me of a painter lad
Who came to Inverburn a summer since,
Went poking everywhere with pallid face,
Thought, painted, wander’d in the woods alone,
Work’d a long morning at a leaf or flower,
And got the name of clever. John and he
Made friends—a thing I never could make out;
But, bless my life! it seem’d to me the lad
Was just a John who had learnt to read, to write, and paint!               [7:9]

     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 to Edinglass,
Brings home a box—John eyes the box with greed,
And next, we catch him in the lassie’s room,
The box wide open, John upon the floor,
And in his hand a bonnet, eyed and eyed,                                           77
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 creeps away and cuts it up 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 but few could tell
That he was simpler than the rest of men—
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.—                                       [8:23]
Now, when his wits have gone so fast asleep,
He thinks he is the wisest man of men!
Yet, sir, 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—                                          78
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!                                              [8:38]
(Ye cannot say the like of many men!)
Tell him a secret,—torture, death itself,
Would fail to make him whisper and betray.

     Nay, sit you down—and smoke? Ay, smoke your fill:
Both John and father like their cutty-pipe;
Tom will be here as fast as he can come;
And I can crack and talk as well as work.                                          [9:4]

     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                                          [10:3]
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.                                       79
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                                [10:11]
His heart is aching; but he ne’er complains
Of that—the sorest thought he has to bear.
We know he thinks of Jessie Glover then;                                           [10:14]
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. Jessie, 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
The petticoat and short-gown suited well.
In here she came and stood and talk’d 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                                           80
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 Jessie, John?” and “Name the happy day;”
And, “Have ye spoken to the minister?”
Thinking it just a joke; and when the lass
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,                                   81
Sat underneath the slanted harvest sheaves
Watching the motion of the honied moon,                                            [11:10]
Met late and early—courted night and day—
John earnest as you please, and Jess for fun.
I held my peace awhile, and used my eyes!
New bows and ribbons upon Jessie’s back,
Cheap brooches, and a bonnet once or twice,
Proved that the piece of fun paid Jessie 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 Jessie, 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.                                            82
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. Jessie’s eyes                                      [11:40]
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                                              [11:43]
To Jessie—found her washing at a tub,
Half guilt, half soap-suds—and I told her all;                                       [11:45]
And for a while she could not speak a word
For laughter. “Shame upon ye, shame, shame, shame!
Thus to misuse the lad who loves ye so!
Mind, Jessie Glover, folks with scanty brains
Have hearts that can be broken!” Still she laugh’d!
While tears of mirth ran down her crimson cheeks
And mingled with the frothy suds of soap;
But trust me, sir, I went not home again
Till Jessie’s parents knew her wickedness;                                           83
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 watch’d that Jessie Glover kept her word.

     That night, when John was seated here alone,
Smoking his pipe, and dreaming as I guess’d
Of Jessie 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 Jessie 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,                                             84
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 Jessie Glover; and at twenty-three
A full-grown notion thrusts its roots so deep,
’Tis hard indeed to drag it up without
Tearing the 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 Jessie and himself.

     That morning Jessie 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 gloaming 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 wet:
“John!” and I placed my hand upon his arm.
He turn’d, seem’d choking, tried in vain to speak,                               85
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,
“Maggie,” says he, as quiet as a lamb,                                                 [15:7]
“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 Jessie! Heartless, graceless lass!
I could have whipt her shoulders with a staff!—
But Him above had sorer tasks in store.                                          86 [16:4]
Ere long the village, like a peal of bells,
Rang out the tale that Jessie was a thief,
Had gone to Innis Farm to work a week,
And stolen Maggie Fleming’s watch and chain—
They found them in her trunk, with scores of things
From poorer houses. Woe to Jessie 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 lassies, wives, and mothers join’d.
At first she saw not that the sin was guess’d;
But slowly, one by one, her lassie 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                                  87
Had lost their meekness; when we spoke to him,
He flush’d and answer’d sharply. He had heard
The tale of Jessie’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 Jessie 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 Jessie’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 Jess in scorn,
He seem’d confused and would not understand,
Perplext as when he breaks the children’s toys.

Now, bold as Jessie 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 Edinglass                                                  88
To hide among the smoke. It came to pass,
The Sabbath after she had flitted off,
That Mister Mucklewraith (God bless him!) preach’d
One of those gentle sermons low and sad
Wherewith he gathers wheat 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 Jessie Glover. Hey! to hear him talk
Ye would have sworn that Jessie was a saint,
An injured thing for folk to pet and coax!
But tho’ ye know ’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.                                           89
The next night came, and we were sitting here
Weary and pensive, listening, listening,                                                 [19:10]
To every step that pass’d, when in stept John,
And sat beside the fire, and when we ask’d
Where he had been, he snapt us short and crept
Away to bed.

                         But 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 Edinglass,
At Jessie Glover’s side, holding her hand
And looking in her eyes!

                                         “Jessie!” 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?                                     90
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,                                   [21:14]
John Thomson paid him well, and he could work,
And, if she dried her eyes and married him,
Who cared for Tom and Maggie, and the folk                                     [21:17]
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 run.

     He minds it still! it haunts him night and day!                                   [22:1]
Ay, silly tho’ he be, he keeps the thought
Of Jess still hidden in his heart; and now,
Wearing away like snowdrift in the sun,
If e’er he chance to see, on nights at home,                                         91
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 glisten,—then are dark.


A revised version of ‘The English Huswife’s Gossip’, retitled ‘John’,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.
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 2, l. 2: Younger than Tom. When we were newly wed,
v. 2, l. 9: Beside the noisy racket up and down
v. 2, l. 19: But weak when other working-men are strong,
v. 6, l. 17: To some still corner in the meadow, there
v. 6, l. 18: To think the puzzle out in peace alone!
v. 7, l. 9: Was just a John who had learnt to read and paint!
!v. 8, l. 23: That he was not so clever as the rest.—
v. 8, l. 38: But then, again, he can be trusted, sir!
v. 9, l. 4: And I can chat and talk as well as work.
v. 10, l. 3: When he was tougher-hearted, and I think
v. 10, l. 11: I know by his downcast eyes and quivering lips
v. 10, l. 14: I know he thinks of Jessie Glover then;
v. 11, l. 10: Watching the glimmer of the silver moon,
v. 11, l. 40: For marriage stood before me! Jessie’s eyes
v. 11, l. 43: With flashing face, set teeth, away I ran
v. 11, l. 45: Covered with soap-suds—and I told her all;
v. 15, l. 7: “Jenny,” says he, as quiet as a lamb,
v. 16, l. 4: But One above had sorer tasks in store.
v. 19, l. 10: Weary and pensive, wondering, listening,
v. 21, l. 14: The household things he bought at Simpson’s sale;
v. 21, l. 17: Who cared for Tom and Jennie, and the folk
v. 22, l. 1: He feels it still! it haunts him night and day! ]



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