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{London Poems 1884}


LONDON, 1864.



WHY should the heart seem stiller,
     As the song grows stronger and surer?
Why should the brain grow chiller,
     And the utterance clearer and purer?
To lose what the people are gaining
     Seems often bitter as gall,
Though to sink in the proud attaining
     Were the bitterest of all.
I would to God I were lying
     Yonder ’mong mountains blue,
Chasing the morn with flying
     Feet in the morning dew!
Longing, and aching, and burning
     To conquer, to sing, and to teach,
A passionate face upturning
     To visions beyond my reach,—
But with never a feeling or yearning
     I could utter in tuneful speech!



Yea! that were a joy more stable
     Than all that my soul hath found,—
Than to see and to know, and be able
     To utter the seeing in sound;
For Art, the Angel of losses,
     Comes, with her still, gray eyes,
Coldly my forehead crosses,
     Whispers to make me wise;
And, too late, comes the revelation,
     After the feast and the play,
That she works God’s dispensation
     By cruelly taking away:
By burning the heart and steeling,
     Scorching the spirit deep,
And changing the flower of feeling,
     To a poor dried flower that may keep!
What wonder if much seems hollow,
     The passion, the wonder dies;
And I hate the angel I follow,
     And shrink from her passionless eyes,—
Who, instead of the rapture of being
     I held as the poet’s dower—
Instead of the glory of seeing,
     The impulse, the splendour, the power—
Instead of merrily blowing
     A trumpet proclaiming the day,
Gives, for her sole bestowing,
     A pipe whereon to play!
While the spirit of boyhood hath faded,
     And never again can be,
And the singing seemeth degraded,
     Since the glory hath gone from me,—
Though the glory around me and under,
     And the earth and the air and the sea,
And the manifold music and wonder,
     Are grand as they used to be!



Is there a consolation
     For the joy that comes never again?
Is there a reservation?
     Is there a refuge from pain?
Is there a gleam of gladness
     To still the grief and the stinging?
Only the sweet, strange sadness,
     That is the source of the singing.



For the sound of the city is weary,
     As the people pass to and fro,
And the friendless faces are dreary,
     As they come, and thrill through us, and go;
And the ties that bind us the nearest
     Of our error and weakness are born;
And our dear ones ever love dearest
     Those parts of ourselves that we scorn;
And the weariness will not be spoken,
     And the bitterness dare not be said,
The silence of souls is unbroken,
     And we hide ourselves from our Dead!
And what, then, secures us from madness?
     Dear ones, or fortune, or fame?
Only the sweet singing sadness
     Cometh between us and shame.



And there dawneth a time to the Poet,
     When the bitterness passes away,
With none but his God to know it,
     He kneels in the dark to pray;
And the prayer is turn’d into singing,
     And the singing findeth a tongue,
And Art, with her cold hands clinging,
     Comforts the soul she has stung.
Then the Poet, holding her to him,
     Findeth his loss is his gain:
The sweet singing sadness thrills through him,
     Though nought of the glory remain;
And the awful sound of the city,
     And the terrible faces around,
Take a truer, tenderer pity,
     And pass into sweetness and sound;
The mystery deepens to thunder,
     Strange vanishings gleam from the cloud,
And the Poet, with pale lips asunder,
     Stricken, and smitten, and bow’d,
Starteth at times from his wonder,
     And sendeth his Soul up aloud!





     O WARRIOR for the Right,
     Though thy shirt of mail be white
As the snows upon the breast of The Adored,
     Though the weapon thou mayest claim
     Hath been temper’d in the flame
Of the fire upon the Altar of the Lord,
     Ere the coming of the night,
     Thy mail shall be less bright,
And the taint of sin may settle on the Sword!

     For the foemen thou must meet
     Are the phantoms in the street,
And thine armour shall be foul’d in many a place,
     And the shameful mire and mud,
     With a grosser stain than blood,
Shall be scatter’d ’mid the fray upon thy face;
     And the helpless thou dost aid
     Shall shrink from thee dismayed,
Till thou comest to the knowledge of things base.

     Ah, mortal, with a brow
     Like the gleam of sunrise, thou
May’st wander from the pathway in thy turn,
     In the noontide of thy strength
     Be stricken down at length,
And cry to God for aid, and live, and learn;
     And when, with many a stain,
     Thou arisest up again,
The lightning of thy look will be less stern.

     Thou shalt see with humbler eye
     The adulteress go by,
Nor shudder at the touch of her attire;
     Thou shalt only look with grief
     On the liar and the thief,
Thou shalt meet the very murtherer in the mire—
     And to which wouldst thou accord,
     O thou Warrior of the Lord!
The vengeance of the Sword and of the Fire?

     Nay! batter’d in the fray,
     Thou shalt quake in act to slay,
And remember thy transgression and be meek;
     And the thief shall grasp thy hand,
     And the liar blushing stand,
And the harlot if she list shall kiss thy cheek;
     And the murtherer, unafraid,
     Shall meet thee in the shade,
And pray thee for the doom thou wilt not wreak.

     Yet thou shalt help the frail                                                           [6:1]
     From the phantoms that assail,
Yea, the strong man in his anger thou shalt dare;
     Thy voice shall be a song
     Against wickedness and wrong,
But the wicked and the wronger thou shalt spare.                               [6:6]
     And while thou lead’st the van,
     The ungrateful hand of man
Shall smite thee down and slay thee unaware.

     With an agonisëd cry
     Thou shalt shiver down and die,
With stainëd shirt of mail and broken brand;
     And the voice of men shall call,
     ‘He is fallen like us all,
Though the weapon of the Lord was in his hand;’
     And thine epitaph shall be,
     ‘He was wretched ev’n as we;’
And thy tomb may be unhonoured in the land.

     But the basest of the base
     Shall bless thy pale dead face
And the thief shall steal a bloody lock of hair;
     And over thee asleep,
     The adulteress shall weep
Such tears as she can never shed elsewhere,
     Shall bless the broken brand
     In thy chill and nerveless hand,
Shall kiss thy stainëd vesture with a prayer.

     Then, while in that chill place
     Stand the basest of the base,
Gather’d round thee in the silence of the dark,
     A white Face shall look down
     On the silence of the town,
And see thee lying dead with those to mark,
     And a voice shall fill the air,
     ‘Bear my Warrior lying there
To his sleep upon my Breast!’ and they shall heark.

     Lo, then those fallen things
     Shall perceive a rush of wings
Growing nearer down the azure gulfs untrod,
     And around them in the night
     There shall grow a wondrous light,
While they hide affrighted faces on the sod,
     But ere again ’tis dark,
     They shall raise their eyes, and mark
White arms that waft the Warrior up to God!


1874 King edition of The Poetical Works:
v. 6, l. 1: Yet shalt thou help the frail
v. 6, l. 6: But the wicked and the wronger thou wilt spare. ]




'Pan, Pan is dead!' – E. B. Browning.


THE broken goblets of the Gods
     Lie scatter’d in the Waters deep,
Where the tall sea-flag blows and nods
     Over the shipwreck’d seamen’s sleep;
The gods like phantoms come and go
     Amid the wave-wash’d ocean-hall,
Above their heads the bleak winds blow;
They sigh, they shiver to and fro—
     ‘Pan, Pan!’ those phantoms call.

O Pan, great Pan, thou art not dead,
     Nor dost thou haunt that weedy place,
Tho’ blowing winds hear not thy tread,
     And silver runlets miss thy face;
Where ripe nuts fall thou hast no state,
     Where eagles soar, thou now art dumb,
By lonely meres thou dost not wait;—
But here ’mid living waves of fate
     We feel thee go and come!

O piteous one!—In wintry days
     Over the City falls the snow,
And, where it whitens stony ways,
     I see a Shade flit to and fro;
Over the dull street hangs a cloud—
     It parts, an ancient Face flits by,
’Tis thine! ’tis thou! Thy gray head bowed,
Dimly thou flutterest o’er the crowd,
     With a thin human cry.

Ghost-like, O Pan, thou glimmerest still,
     A spectral Face with sad dumb stare;
On rainy nights thy breath blows chill
     In the street-walker’s dripping hair;
Thy ragged woe from street to street
     Goes mist-like, constant day and night;
But often, where the black waves beat,
Thou hast a smile most strangely sweet
     For honest hearts and light!

Where’er thy shadowy vestments fly
     There comes across the waves of strife,
Across the souls of all close by,
     The gleam of some forgotten life:
There is a sense of waters clear,
     An odour faint of flowery nooks;
Strange-plumaged birds seem flitting near
The cold brain blossoms, lives that hear
     Ripple like running brooks.

And as thou passest, human eyes
     Look in each other and are wet—
Simple or gentle, weak or wise,
     Alike are full of tender fret;
And mean and noble, brave and base
     Raise common glances to the sky;—
And lo! the phantom of thy Face,
While sad and low thro’ all the place
     Thrills thy thin human cry!

Christ help thee, Pan! canst thou not go
     Now all the other gods are fled?
Why dost thou flutter to and fro
     When all the sages deem thee dead?
Or, if thou still must live and dream,
     Why leave the fields of harvest fair—
Why quit the peace of wood and stream—
And haunt the streets with eyes that gleam
     Through white and holy hair?





I DO not sing for Maidens. They are roses
     Blowing along the pathway I pursue:
No sweeter things the wondrous world discloses,
     And they are tender as the morning dew.
Blessed be maids and children: day and night
Their holy scent is with me as I write.

I do not sing for School-boys or School-men.
     To give them ease I have no languid theme
When, weary with the wear of book and pen,
     They seek their trim poetic Academe;
Nor can I sing them amorous ditties, bred
Of too much Ovid on an empty head.

I do not sing aloud in measured tone
     Of those fair paths the easy-soul’d pursue;
Nor do I sing for Lazarus alone,
     I sing for Dives and the Devil too.
Ah! would the feeble song I sing might swell                                       [3:5]
As high as Heaven, and as deep as Hell!

I sing of the stain’d outcast at Love’s feet,—
     Love with his wild eyes on the evening light;
I sing of sad lives trampled down like wheat
     Under the heel of Lust, in Love’s despite;
I glean behind those wretched shapes ye see
In the cold harvest-fields of Infamy.

I sing of death-beds (let no man rejoice
     Till that last piteous touch of all is given!);
I sing of Death and Life with equal voice,
     Heaven watching Hell, and Hell illumed by Heaven.
I have gone deep, far down the infernal stair—
And seen the spirits congregating there.                                             [5:6]

I sing of Hope, that all the lost may hear;
     I sing of Light, that all may feel its ray;
I sing of Soul, that no one man may fear;                                            [6:3]
     I sing of God, that some perchance may pray.
Angels in Hosts have praised Him loud and long,
But Lucifer’s shall be the harvest song.                                               [6:6]

Oh, hush a space the sounds of voices light
     Mix’d to the music of a lover’s lute.
Stranger than dream, so luminously bright,
     The eyes are dazzled and the mouth is mute,                                 [7:4]
Sits Lucifer; singing to sweeten care,                                                 [7:5]
He twines immortelles in his hoary hair!                                            [7:6]


1874 King edition of The Poetical Works:
v. 6, l. 3: I sing of Souls, that no one man may fear;
v. 7, l. 6: Twining immortelles in his hoary hair!
This also appeared as ‘L’Envoi to “Buchanan Ballads”’ in The Buchanan Ballads, Old and New, 1892, with the following alterations:
v. 3, l. 5: Ah! would the feeble songs I sing might swell
v. 5, l. 6: And seen the heirs of Heaven arising there!
v. 6, l. 3: I sing of Souls, that no one Soul may fear;
v. 6, l. 6: But Man’s shall be the last triumphal Song.
v. 7, l. 4: Eyes shall be dazzled and the mouth be mute,
v. 7, l. 5: Man shall arise, Lord of all things that be,
v. 7, l. 6: Last of the gods, and Heir of all things free! ]



London Poems concluded with a Miscellaneous section containing four poems -’The Death of Roland’, ‘The Scaith o’ Bartle’, ‘The Glamour’ and ‘The Gift of Eos’- which were assigned to different sections in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan. ’The Death of Roland’ and ‘The Scaith o’ Bartle’ had been extensively revised so these later versions are included below.


From The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan (Chatto & Windus, 1884) - ‘Miscellaneous Poems (1866-70.)’
p. 186-191.




De Karlemane et de Rolant,
Et d’Olivier, et des vassaus,
Qui moururent à Rainscevaux!



DEAD was Gerard the fair, the girl-mouth’d, the gay,
Who jested with the foe he slung his sword to slay;
Dead was the giant Guy, big-hearted, small of brain;
Dead was the hunchback Sanche, his red hunch slit in twain;
Dead was the old hawk Luz, and sleeping by his side
His twin-sons, Charles the fleet, and Pierre the serpent-eyed;
Dead was Antoine, the same who swore to speak no word
Till five score heathen heads fell by his single sword;
Dead was the wise Gerin, who gript both spear and pen;
Sansun was dead, Gereir was dead!—dead were the mighty men!



Then Roland felt his sense return, and stirr’d, and cried,
Felt down if Adalmar lay safe against his side,
And smiled most quietlie, for joy the Sword was there;
With heavy-mailed hand brush’d back his bloody hair,
And lying prone upon his back, beheld on high
The stars like leopard-spots strewn in the sapphire sky.
He turn’d his head, and lo! the large hills looming dim,
In the wan west the Moon with red and wasting rim;
Then sighing sore, swung round his head as in a swoon,
And met the hunchback’s eyne, glazèd beneath the Moon.
Chill was the air, and frosty vapours to and fro,
Like sheeted shapes, in dim moonshine, were stealing slow;
And Roland thought, because his wound had made him weak,
The cold shapes breathed alive their breath upon his cheek.
Crawling unto his knees, shivering in the cold,
He loosed his helm, and dimly gleaming down it roll’d;
And darkly his dim eyes distinguish’d things around,—
The mute and moveless shapes asleep upon the ground,
A helm glittering dim, a sword-hilt twinkling red,
A white steed quivering beside a warrior dead,
And in one moonlit place, a ring on a white hand,
When Roland thought, ‘Gerard! the brightest of the band!’
And no one stirr’d; behind, the hills loom’d large and dim;
And in the west the waning Moon with red and wasting rim.



     Then Roland cried aloud, ‘If living man there be
Among these heaps of slain, let that man answer me!’
And no soul spake. The wind crept chilly over all,
And no man felt it creep, or heard the leader call.
‘Ho, Olivier! Gerin! speak, an’ ye be not slain!’
The voices of the hills echoed the cry again,—
Only a heathen churl rose cursing on his side,
And spat at him who spake, and curl’d his limbs, and died.
Then Roland’s mighty heart was heavy with its woes,—
When fitfully, across the fields, faint radiance rose,
First a faint spark, and then a gleam, and then a glare,
Then smoke and crimson streaks that mingled in the air,
And as the thick flame clear’d, and the black smoke swam higher,
There loom’d beyond a Shape like one girt round with fire!
And Roland cried aloud, because his joy was great,
And brandish’d Adalmar, and fell beneath the weight,
But lying prone strain’d eyes, and, gazing through the night,
Still saw the glittering Shape circled with spectral light.
He seem’d in a dark dream, he could not think at all,
Until his heart rose up, and he had strength to crawl:
Then, like a bruisèd worm weary he slipt and slow,
Straining his fever’d eyes lest the sweet ghost should go,
And oft he paused to breathe, feeling his pulses fail,
’Mong heathens foul to smell and warriors clad in mail,
But coming near the gleam beheld the godly man,
Turpin the Archbishòp, unhelm’d and gaunt and wan,—
Gripping with skinny hand the ivory Cross sat he,
Clad head to heel in frost-white mail and propt against a tree.



And when on hands and knees the stricken Chief came near,
The Bishop raised the Cross, and knew his comrade dear;
And Roland’s heart swell’d up, and tears were on his cheek,
He touch’d the blessèd Cross, and smiled and did not speak;
While, ‘Glory be to God!’ the Bishop faintly said,
‘Thou livest, kinsman dear, though all the rest be dead!
For while I linger’d here and listen’d for a sound,
And in the dim red Moon beheld the dead around,
Thinking I heard a cry, I sought to cry again,
But all my force had fled, and I was spent with pain;
When, peering round, I saw this heathen at my heel,
And search’d his leathern scrip and gat me flint and steel,
Then crawl’d, though swooning-sick, and found his charger gray,
And searching in the bags found wither’d grass and hay,
And made a fire, a sign for thee, whoe’er thou wert,
But fainted when it blazed, for I am sorely hurt;
And waken’d to behold thee near, wounded and weak,
The red fire flaming on thy face, thy breath upon my cheek.’



     Then those brave Chiefs wrung hands, and as the crimson flare
Died out, and all was dark, the Bishop said a prayer;
And shadows loom’d out black against the frosty shine,
While Turpin search’d his pouch and murmur’d, ‘Here is wine!’
And Roland on his elbows raised himself and quaff’d,
Yea, till his head reel’d round, a great and goodly draught,
And quickly he felt strong, his heart was wild and light,
He placed his dear Sword softly down, and rose his height,
Loosening his mail, drew forth the shirt that lay beneath,
And took the blood-stain’d silk and tore it with his teeth,
Dressing the Bishop’s wounds with chilly hand and slow,
Then, while the Bishop pray’d, bound up his own wide wound alsoe.



     Then Roland search’d around, dipping his hands in blood,
Till in a henchman’s pack he found a torch of wood,
And taking flint and steel, blew with his mouth, and lo!
The torch blazed bright, and all grew crimson in the glow.
Then into Turpin’s hands he set that beacon bright
Who glittering like fire, sat looming in its light,
And crept across the mead, into the dark again,
And felt the faces of the dead, seeking the mighty men.



     Blest be thy name, White Mary, for thy breath and might,
Like vapour cold, did fill the nostrils of thy knight!
Yea, all his force came back, his red wound ceased to bleed,
And he had hands of strength to do a blessèd deed!
For one by one he found each well-belovèd head,
Sought out the mighty Chiefs, among the drifts of dead,
Softly unloosed their helms, let the long tresses flow,
Trail’d them to Turpin’s feet and set them in a row;
And underneath the tree the pine-torch blazing bright
Lit shapes in silvern mail and faces snowy white:
Sansun, who grasp’d his sword with grip that ne’er unloosed;
Gerin, with chin on breast, as if he breathed and mused;
Great Guy, with twisted limbs, and bosom gash’d and bare,
And blood-clots on his arms the frost had frozen there;
Old Luz, his skinny hands filled with a foeman’s beard;
Charles with his feet lopp’d off, Pierre with his green eye spear’d;
Sanche, the fierce woman’s foe, and round his neck, behold!
A lock of lady’s hair set in a ring of gold;
Antoine, with crafty smile, as if new fights he plann’d;
Gerard, still smiling on the ring that deckt his hand;
And, brightest of the host, our Roland’s comrade dear,
The iron woman-shape, the long-lock’d Olivier,
Who gript the bladeless hilt of Durandal his pride,
And held it to his kissing lips, as when he droop’d and died.



And Turpin raised the torch, counted them, one by one:
‘Ah, woe is me, sweet knights, for now your work is done!’
Then, reaching with the Cross, he touch’d their brows and cried:
‘White Mary take your souls, and place them at her side,
White Mary take your souls, and guard them tenderlie,—
For ye were goodly men as any men that be!’
And Roland stooping touch’d the brow of Olivier,
Smoothing the silken hair behind the small white ear,
And cried, ‘Ah, woe is me, that we should ever part!’
And kiss’d him on the clay-cold lips, and swoon’d, for ache of heart.



Then Turpin dropt the torch, that flamed upon the ground,
But drinking blood and dew, died out with drizzlie sound;
He groped for Roland’s heart, and felt it faintly beat,
And, feeling on the earth, he found the wine-flask sweet,
And fainting with the toil, slaked not his own great drouth,
But, shivering, held the flask to Roland’s gentle mouth:
E’en then, his Soul shot up, and in its shirt of steel
The Corse sank back, with crash like ice that cracks beneath the heel!



The frosty wind awaken’d Roland from his swound,
And, spitting salt foam from his tongue, he look’d around,
And saw the Bishop dear lying at length close by,—
Touch’d him, and found him cold, and utter’d a great cry:
‘Now, dead and cold, alas! lieth the noblest wight
For preaching sermons sweet and wielding sword in fight;
His voice was as a trump that on a mountain blows,
He scatter’d oils of grace and wasted heathen-foes,—
White Mary take his soul, to join our comrades dear,
And let him wear his Bishop’s crown in heaven above, as here!’



Now it grew chiller far, the grass was moist with dew,
The landskip glimmer’d pale, the frosty breezes blew,
The many stars above melted like snowflakes white,
Behind the great blue hills the East was laced with light,
The dismal vale loom’d clear against a crimson glow,
Clouds spread above like wool, pale steam arose below,
And on the faces dead the frosty Morning came,
On mighty men of mark and squires unknown to fame,
And golden mail gleam’d bright, and broken steel gleam’d gray,
And cold dew filled the wounds of those who sleeping lay;
And Roland, rising, drank the dawn with lips apart,
But scents were in the air that sicken’d his proud heart!
Yea, all was deathly still; and now, though it was day,
The Moon grew small and pale, but did not pass away,
The white mist wreath’d and curl’d over the glittering dead;
A cock crew, far among the hills, and echoes answerèd.



Then peering to the East, through the thick vaporous steam,
He spied a naked wood, hard by a running stream;
Thirsting full sore, he rose, and thither did he hie,
Faintly, and panting hard, because his end was nigh;
But first he stooping loosed from Turpin’s fingers cold
The Cross inlaid with gems and wrought about with gold,
And bare the holy Cross aloft in one weak hand,
And with the other trail’d great Adalmar his brand.
Thus wearily he came into the woody place,
And stooping to the stream therein did dip his face,
And in the pleasant cold let swim his great black curls,
Then swung his head up, damp with the dim dewy pearls;
And while the black blood spouted in a burning jet,
He loosed the bandage of his wound and made it wet,
Wringing the silken folds, making them free from gore,
Then placed them cool upon the wound, and tighten’d them once more.



     Eastward rose cloudy mist, drifting like smoke in air,
Ghastly and round the Sun loom’d with a lurid glare,
High overhead the Moon shrivell’d with sickle chill,
The frosty wind dropp’d down, and all was deathlier still,
When Roland, drawing deep the breath of vapours cold
Beheld three marble steps, as of a Ruin old,
And at the great tree-bolls lay many a carven stone,
Thereto a Dial quaint, where slimy grass had grown;
And frosted were the boughs that gather’d all around,
And cold the runlet crept, with soft and soothing sound,
And sweetly Roland smiled, thinking, ‘Since death is nigh,
In sooth, I know no gentler place where gentle man could die!’



     Whereon he heard a cry, a crash of breaking boughs,
And from the thicket wild leapt one with painted brows;
Half-naked, glistening grim, with oily limbs, he came,
His long-nail’d fingers curl’d, his bloodshot eyes aflame,
Shrieking in his own tongue, as on the Chief he flew,
‘Yield thee thy sword of fame, and thine own flesh thereto!’
Then Roland gazed and frown’d, though nigh unto his death,
Sat still, and drew up all his strength in one great breath,
Pray’d swiftly to the Saints he served in former days,
With right hand clutch’d the Sword he was too weak to raise,
And in the left swung up the Cross!—and, shrieking hoarse,
Between the eyebrows smote the foe with all his force,
Yea, smote him to the brain, crashing through skin and bone,
And prone the heathen fell, as heavy as a stone,—
While gold and gems of price, unloosen’d by the blow,
Ev’n as he fell rain’d round the ringlets of the foe;
But Roland kiss’d the Cross, and, laughing, backward fell,
And on the hollow air the laugh rang heavy, like a knell.



     And Roland thought: ‘I surely die; but, ere I end,
Let me be sure that thou art ended too, O friend!
For should a heathen hand grasp thee when I am clay,
My ghost would grieve full sore until the Judgment Day!’
Then to the marble steps, under the tall bare trees,
Trailing the mighty Sword, he crawl’d on hands and knees,
And on the slimy stone he struck the blade with might—
The bright hilt sounding shook, the blade flash’d sparks of light;
Wildly again he struck, and his sick head went round,
Again there sparkled fire, again rang hollow sound;
Ten times he struck, and threw strange echoes down the glade,
Yet still unbroken, sparkling fire, glitter’d the peerless blade!



     Then Roland wept, and set his face against the stone—
‘Ah, woe! I shall not rest, though cold be flesh and bone!’
And sickness seized his soul to die so cheerless death;
When on his naked neck he felt a touch, like breath,—
And did not stir, but thought, ‘O God, that madest me,
And shall my sword of fame brandish’d by heathens be?
And shall I die accursed, beneath a heathen’s heel?
Too spent to slay the slave whose hated breath I feel!’
Then, clenching teeth, he turn’d to look upon the foe,
His bright eyes growing dim with coming death; and lo!
His life shot up in fire, his heart arose again,
For no unhallow’d face loom’d on his dying ken,
No heathen-breath he felt,—though he beheld, indeed,
The white arch’d head and round brown eyes of Veillintif, his Steed!



And pressing his moist cheek on his who gazed beneath,
Curling the upper lip to show the large white teeth,
The white horse, quivering, look’d with luminous liquid eye,
Then waved his streaming mane, and utter’d up a cry;
And Roland’s bitterness was spent—he laugh’d, he smiled,
He clasp’d his darling’s neck, wept like a little child;
He kiss’d the foam-fleck’d lips, and clasp’d his friend and cried:
‘Ah, nevermore, and nevermore, shall we to battle ride!
Ah, nevermore, and nevermore, shall we sweet comrades be,
And Veillintif, had I the heart to die forgetting thee?
To leave thy brave bright heart to break, in slavery to the foe?
I had not rested in the grave, if it had ended so!
Ah, never shall we conquering ride, with banners bright unfurl’d,
A shining light ’mong lesser lights, a wonder to the world!’



And Veillintif neigh’d low, breathing on him who died,
Wild rock’d his strong sad heart beneath his silken side,
Tears roll’d from his brown eyes upon his master’s cheek,
While Roland, gathering strength, though wholly worn and weak,
Held up the glittering point of Adalmar the brand,
And at his comrade’s heart drave with his dying hand;
And the black blood sprang forth, while heavily as lead,
With shivering, silken side, the mighty Steed fell dead.
Then Roland, for his eyes with frosty film were dim,
Groped for his friend, crept close, and smiled, embracing him;
And, pillow’d on his neck, kissing the pure white hair,
Clasp’d Adalmar the brand, and tried to say a prayer:
And that he conquering died wishing all men to know,
Set firm his lips, and turn’d his face towards the foe,
Then closed his eyes, and slept, and never woke again.

Roland is dead, the gentle knight! dead is the crown of men!



From The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan (Chatto & Windus, 1884) - ‘North Coast, and other Poems (1867- 68.)’ p. 232-241.




Fathoms deep the ship doth lie,
     Wreath’d with ocean weed and shell,
Still and deep the shadows lie,
     Dusky as a forest dell:
Tangled in the twisted sail,
     With the breathing of the Sea,
Stirs the Man who told this tale
     Staring upward dreamilie.


I LAID him here, and scarcely wept; but look!
His grave is green and wild and like a wave,
And strewn with ocean-shells instead of flowers.

     You saw him long ago, on board the Erne,
Cod-fishing in Newfoundland, and (you mind?)
We drank a gill, all three, the very day
Before the Erne went down off Fitful Head,
And all the crew were drown’d but brother Dan.
Strange, that a man who faced so many a storm,
And stood on splitting planks and never quail’d,
And swam to save his life a dozen times,
Should ever die ashore! Why, from the first,
We twins were meant for sailors:—GOD Himself
Planted a breeze in both our brains to blow
Our bodies up and down His calms and storms.
Never had wilder, stormier year been known
Here in the clachan, than the very year
When Dan and I were born;—waters and winds
Roar’d through the wintry season, and the sounds
And sights weigh’d on our Highland mother’s heart,
Giving her whims and moods in which the clay
Beneath her heart was fashion’d; and in March
The Scaith came down the valley, screaming past
Her ears the very hour that we were born.

     When other boys were mumping at the school,
I went as cabin-lad on board a whaler,
And Dan took up his canvas-bag, tied up
His serk and comb and brush, with two or three
Big home-baked bannocks and a lump of cheese,
Kiss’d mother, (that’s her grave beside his own,)
And walk’d to Aberdeen, where soon he found
A berth on board a brig—the Jessie Gray,
Bound south for Cadiz. After that for years
We drifted up and down;—and when we met
Down in the Forth, and journey’d home together,
We both were twenty, Dan was poor as ever,
But I had saved. How changed he look’d! how fine!
Brown cheek and bit o’ whisker, hands like steel,
A build as sturdy as a mountain fir’s,—
Ay, every inch a sailor! Then, the tales
We had for one another!—tales of storms
And sights on land, pranks play’d and places seen!—
But, ‘Bob, I’m tired of being on the seas,
The life’s a hard one at the best,’ says Dan;
And I was like a fool and thought the same.
So home we came, found father dead and gone,
And mother sorely push’d; and round her neck
We threw our arms, and kiss’d her, and she cried,
And we cried too, and I took out my pay
And pour’d it in her lap; but Dan look’d grieved,
And, glancing from the pay to mother, cried,
‘I’ll never, never go to sea again!’

     ’Tis thirty years ago, and yet right well
I mind it all. How pleasant for a time
Was life on land: the tousling with the girls,
The merry-making in the public-house,
The cosy bed on winter nights. We work’d—
I at the fishing, Dan at making nets—
And kept old mother for a year and more.
But ere the year was out, the life grew dull:
We never heard the wind blow, but we thought
Of sailing on the sea,—we got a knack
Of lying on the beach and listening
To the great waters. Still, for mother’s sake,
Ashore we had to tarry. By and by,
The restlessness grew worse, and show’d itself
In other ways,—taking a drop too much,
Fighting and cutty-stooling—and the folk
Began to shake their heads. Amid it all,
One night when Dan was reading out God’s Book,
(That bit about the Storm, where Peter tries
To walk on water, and begins to sink,)
Old mother sigh’d and seem’d to go to sleep,
And when we tried to wake her, she was dead.

     With sore, sore hearts we laid poor mother down;
And walk’d that day up yonder cliffs, and lay
A hearkening to the Sea that wash’d beneath:
Far, far away we saw a sail gleam wet
Out of a rainy spot below the line
Where sky and water meet; the Deep was calm,
And overhead went clouds whose shadows floated
Slowly beneath, and here and there were places
Purple and green and blue, and close to land
The red-sail’d fish-boats in a violet patch.
I look’d at brother Dan, Dan look’d at me,—
And that same morning, off we went again!

     No rest for us on land from that day forth.
We grew to love the waters; they became
Part of our flesh and blood; the Sea, the Sea,
The busy whistling round the foam-girt world,
Was all our pleasure. Now and then we met,—
Once in a year or two, and never came
To Scotland but we took a journey here
To look on mother’s grave, and spend a day
With old companions. But we never thought
Of resting long, and never hoped to die
Ashore, like mother: we had fix’d it, Jack,
That we must drown some day. At last, by luck,
We ran together. Dan had got a place
As captain of a brig, and, press’d by him,
They made me mate. Ten years we sail’d together,
From Liverpool to New South Wales and back;
And we were lads no more, but staid, strong men,
Forty and upward,—yet with kibble arms,
Brown cheeks, and cheerful hearts. Then the ill wind
That blows no good to anyone began,
And brought us back to Scotland, to this place
Where we were born and bred.

                               Now, mark you, Jack,
Even a sailor is but flesh and blood,
Though out upon the water he can laugh
At women and their ways; a run on shore,
A splash among the dawties and the drink,
Soon tires, soon tires—then hey! away again
To the wild life that’s worthy of a man!
At forty, though, a sailor should be wise,
And ’ware temptation: whole a sailor, free,
But only half a sailor, though afloat,
When wedded. Don’t you guess? Though Dan was old,
His head was turn’d, while in the clachan here,
And by a woman,—Effie Paterson,
The daughter of a farmer on the hills,
And only twenty. Bonnie, say you? Ay!
As sweet a pout as ever grew on land;
But soft and tender, with a quiet face
That needed the warm hearth to light it up,
And went snow-pallid at a puff of wind
Or whiff of danger. When I saw the trap,
I tried my best to wheedle Dan away,
Back to the brig; but, red as ricks on fire,
He glinted with those angry eyes of his,
And linger’d. Then, ’twas nearly time to sail;
I talk’d of going, and it all came out:
He meant to marry, Jack!—and not content
With marrying, he meant to stop ashore!

     Why, if a lightning flash had split our craft,
I should have wonder’d less. But, ‘Bob,’ says he,
‘I love this lassie as I never thought
’Twas in my heart to love; and I have saved;
And I am tired of drifting here and there
On yonder waters: I have earn’d my rest,
And mean to stop ashore until I die.’
’Twas little use to argue things with Dan
When he had settled aught within his mind;
So all I said was vain. What could I do
But put a sunny face upon it all,
And bid him hasten on the day, that I
Might see his wedding, and be off again?

     Yet soon I guess’d, before the wedding day,
That Effie did not care a cheep for Dan,
But scunner’d at his brave rough ways and tales
Of danger on the deep. His was a voice
Meant for the winds, with little power to whisper
The soft sleek things that make the women blush,
And tingle, and look sweet. Moreover, Dan
Was forty, and the lassie but a child.
I saw it all, but dared not speak my thought!
For Dan had money, Effie’s folks were poor,
And Dan was blind, and Effie gave consent,
And talk was no avail. The wedding guests
Went up to Effie’s home one pleasant day,
The minister dropp’d in, the kirk-bells rang,
And all was over. ’Twas a summer morn,
The blue above was fleck’d with feathery down,
The Sea was smooth, and peaceful, and the kirk
Stood mossy here upon the little hill,
And seem’d to smile a blessing over all.

     And Effie? Ah! keep me from women, Jack!
Give them a bit o’ sunshine—and they smile,
Give them a bit o’ darkness—and they weep;
But smiles and tears with them are easy things,
And cheat ye like the winds. On such a day,
With everybody happy roundabout,
Effie look’d happy too; and if her face
Flush’d and was fearful, that was only joy;
For when a woman blushes, who can tell
Whether the cause be gladness, pride, or shame?
And Dan (God bless him!) look’d as young as you,
Trembled and redden’d lass-like, and I swear,
Had he not been a sailor, would have cried.
So I was cheer’d, next day, when off I went
To take his post as captain of the brig,
And I forgot my fears, and thought them wrong,
And went across the seas with easy heart,
Thinking I left a happy man behind.

     But often, out at sea, I thought of Dan,
Wonder’d if he was happy. When the nights
Were quiet, still, and peaceful, I would lie
And listen to the washing of the waves,
And think: ‘I wonder if this very light
Is dropping far away on poor old Dan?
And if his face looks happy in it, while
He sleeps by Effie’s side?’ On windy nights
I used to think of Dan with trouble and fear;
And often, when the waves were mountains high,
And we were lying-to before the wind,
The screaming surges seem’d to take the shape
Of this old clachan, and I seem’d to hear
Dan calling me; and I would drink the salt,
And pace the deck with all my blood on fire,
Thinking—‘If Dan were driving on out here,
Dashing and weather-beaten, never still,
He would be happier!’

                                       Ay! though the Storm
Roll’d on between us, voices came from Dan
To tell me he was lonely on the land.
Often, when I was sailing in the ship,
He crept about these caves and watch’d the Moon
Silv’ring the windless places of the sea,
And thought of me! or on the beach he lay,
And wearied to the breaking of the waves!
Or out from land he row’d his boat, and gazed
Wistfully eastward! or on windy nights
He speel’d yon cliffs above the shore, and set
His teeth together in the rain and wind,
Straining eyes seaward, seeking lights at sea,
And pacing up and down upon the brink
As if he trode the decks! Why, things like those
Saved him from sinking, salted all his blood,
And soothed his heartache. Wind and wave are far
More merciful than a young woman’s heart!

     Why, had she been a bickering hizzie, fill’d
With fire and temper, stubborn as a whin,
And cushlingmushling o’er a cheerless fire,
Dan might have brought her round: that was the work
He understood full well; and, right or wrong,
He would have been the Skipper to the end.
But though a man who has been train’d at sea,
Holding a hard strong grip on desperate men,
Can sink his voice and play a gentle part
In sunny seasons, he has little power
To fight with women’s weapons. Dan, be sure,
Loved Effie with a love the deeper far
And tenderer because he had been bred
On the rough brine; but when, from day to day,
He met a weary and a waning face,
That tried to smile, indeed, but could not smile,
And saw the tears where never tears should be,
Yet never met an angry look or word,
What could he do? He loved the lass too well
To scold; tried soothing words, but they were spent
Upon a heart where the cold crancreuch grew;
And, when the sorrow grew too sharp to bear,
Stole sicken’d from the dwelling. Plain he saw
The lass was dreary, though she kept so still,
And loved him not, though nothing harsh was said,
But fretted, and grew thin, and haunted him
With a pale face of gentleness and grief.
O Jack, Jack, Jack! of all the things accurst,
Worse than a tempest and the rocks ahead,
Is misty weather, not a breath of wind,
And the low moaning of some unseen shore!
Homeless and sad and troubled by her face,
If Dan had let his heart and brain keep still,
Let the sick mildew settle on his soul,
He would have shrunk into a wretched thing
The rains might beat on, and the winds might lash,
And ne’er have had the heart to stand erect,
And set his teeth, and face them, and subdue.
What could he do, but try to ease his heart
By haunting yonder beach, and glorying
In stormy seasons, thinking of the life
He used to lead, with ocean-sound for ever
Making a second life within his blood,
Thinking of me, and feeling that his soul
Was soothed a bit by his old friend the Sea?

     And Effie, as the dawn look’d down each day,
Turn’d from the happy shining of the sun,
In wanrest and in tears; and poor old Dan
Dree’d bitterly the dreary life on land.
No stanchgrass ever heal’d a wound so deep!

     ’Twas comfort dwelling in so wild a place,
So near to open water; but for that,
I do not think he could have borne to dwell
Pining ashore. His trouble grew and grew:
No corsy-belly warm’d at Effie’s fire,
No doctor’s watch tick’d by the jizzen-bed,
No sound of tiny footfalls fill’d the house
With happy cheer; the dull and lifeless mood
Grew on the wife; her sense of shame seem’d gone;
She paid no heed to dress, or to the house,
But faded, like a pale-faced, listless flower,
Grown in a weedy garden. Then, indeed,
To see all household goods neglected so,                                         [15:13]
The crowsfeet gathering round Effie’s eyes,
The ingleside so cheerless and so cold,
Dan clench’d his fists, and storm’d with thunder-voice;
But Effie only trembled, and was still,
Or threw her apron o’er her face and wept;
And Dan, who never in his life could bear
To see a woman weep, pleaded and begg’d,—
Without avail. Then many and many a night
He roam’d the silent cliffs till peep of day,
Or join’d the fishers, out upon the sea;
And many and many a night he thought he heard
My voice a-calling him. One night of storm,
When the sky murmur’d, and the foam-fleck’d sea
Flash’d in the fireflaught round the shadowy cliffs,
He fix’d to run away;—but could not go,
Until he gazed on Effie’s face once more;
And when he stole into her room unheard,
He saw her sleeping with a happy smile,
So still, so sweet, so bonnie in her dream,
So like the shining lass she used to be,
That his heart sank, he swaver’d forth again,
And lay upon the waterside and wept,
And tho’ the wind was whistling in his eyes,
Tho’ the still fireflaught flash’d upon the foam,
He felt too weak, too timid, and too sad,
To quit her in the little cottage here,
And dree again the dangers of the deep.

     The house is yonder—ay, the slated house,
With little patch of garden. Mark the pool
Of water at the door. Beyond you see
The line of boats, drawn high and dry, and yonder
The dull, green water, with the purple stain
Out eastward, and the sunlight slanting through
Upon a sail. Mark how the clachan lies
Down in the gully, with the barren hills,
Where never ran-tree waves its silver hair,
On either side. Look backward, now! The glen,
Hollow’d between the hills, goes inland, far
As eye can see—with yellow pools of rain,
And cattle looking shadowy in the mists
Upon the slopes. How still and dull looks all!
’Tis plain you gather, with a sailor’s eye,
The danger. When the rains have lasted long,
The yellow Waters (rightly christen’d here
The Scaith o’ Bartle) gather up the glen,
Suck in the strength of flying mist and cloud,
And, bursting from the hollows where they meet,
Rush seaward, with a roaring like the sea,
O’erwhelming all. Thrice has the mischief come
In one-and-twenty years.

                                   When I came home,
A month ago, and walk’d across the hills
From Cardy town, I paused on yonder cliffs,
And saw the clachan lying at my feet,—
The setting sun shining upon the house
Where Dan was dwelling. Nought was alter’d there!
The very smacks and fish-boats just the same
As when I quitted. While I stood and gazed,
I saw a stooping figure with a staff,
Standing hard by me on the cliffs, and gazing
Silently seaward. As I look’d, he turn’d,
And though the face was haggard, worn, and old,
And every hair upon the head was gray,
And the fresh life about the limbs was lost,
I knew old Dan, and, shouting blithely, ran
To hug him to my heart; and he turn’d white,
Shaking like straw in wind, to find ’twas me.
Then, when the shock was over, and we talk’d,
He brighten'd,—as an icicle turns bright
When shone on. But my heart was shock’d and sore!
He was the ghost of what he once had been;
His voice was broken, and his welcome seem’d
Like one’s who, sinking on his pillow, smiles
To see a face he loves before he dies;
And when his air grew cheerier, and at last
His love for me came lighter on his look,
His cheeriness seem’d sadder far than all.
Swavering down the path, he took my arm,
Leant heavily on his staff, as if he dream’d,
Talk’d of old times, and friends alive and dead,
Until we halted at his cottage door;
And, while he lifted up the latch, he cast
His eyes to windward, read the weather signs,
After old habit, ere he enter’d in.

     Effie was there,—changed too; she welcomed me,
Moved but and ben the house with a light step,
And smiled a bit:—all women have a smile,
A happiness, a kind of second self,
Kept for fresh faces. Yet I saw full soon
The bield was homeless; little love was there;
Ah, that was common talk aroundabout!
The first flush faded soon from Effie’s face,
Leaving it dull and wan; she moved about
Like a sick lassie risen from a dream;
And oft, when we were seated in the lowe,
She started, and her colour went and came;
And though her features wore a kind of fear,
There was a light of youth there: she would keek
At Dan, whose eyes were fix’d upon the fire,
Hang o’er her knitting, breathing deep, and then
Hearken and hearken, till the soft bright blush
Died by degrees, her face became composed
To pallor, and the light had gone away,
Leaving her sick and soopit once again.

     At last, when we were smoking in the bield
One dull day in November, Dan arose
And took his stick, and, beckoning me, went out:
I follow’d; and he never spake a word,
But gript me by the arm, and walk’d along,
Until we left the clachan far behind,
And took a pathway winding up the hills.
For many weeks, at intervals, the rain
Had fallen; and the hills were dreeping damp,
And down their sides ran many streams new-born,
Making an eerie murmur. Far away
Ben Callachan was glimmering through a mist,
And all round Bartle rose a vaporous steam
Silent and white, with cattle here and there
Dismally looming. Still and dull was all—
So still, so chill; only the faint sharp stir
That is a sound, but seems a click within
The ear itself;—save when from far away
A cow would low, and echoes faint and far
Died inland, or when, blowing on the wind,
A cry came from the sea, whose waves we saw
Beyond us, breaking in a shadowy cloud,
With gleams of glittering foam. But Dan walk’d on,
Scarce heeding ought; and yet his sailor’s eye
Took in the signs, and glinted up and down
With the old cunning; but his heart was full,
His voice was broken like a weeping wean’s,
And as we went along he told me all.

     All that you guess! but somewhat more—a thought
Of later growth, a nettle in his heart—
That Effie was not true, as wives should be;
And that her fairest thoughts were fallen things
That clung around a fresh young lover’s knees.
I stared at Dan, and hearken’d in amaze!
His grip was tight upon my arm, his face
White as the snow on Callachan, his voice
Shrill as a sea-gull’s shriek; and all at once
He waved his arms, turn’d his wild face away,
And cried aloud with a full heart—‘O God!
Why did I ever cease to sail the Sea?’

     I tried to argue with him—he was dumb!
And yet I saw, had I been daft enough
To echo him, he would have hated me.
He only half believed the things he said,
And would have turn’d in wrath on any man
Who could believe them true, and say the same.
He loved the braxie still, as few can love.
Save the Good Shepherd, who has love for all!
Could not have tholed to hear another’s thoughts
Condemn her! blamed himself for all his grief!
And gladly would have died beneath her feet,
To win one word, one kiss, one shining look,
To show his love had not been quite in vain!

     But on we fared, so fill’d with our own thoughts,
We scarcely saw how far away we wander’d,
How mirk all grew, how close the gathering clouds
Drew to the hill-tops, while the cattle raised
Their heads into the dismal air and cried.
Then, suddenly, there came a lightning gleam
That for a moment lighted up the hills,
The far-off cliffs, and the far flash of foam,
And faded,—to a sound as if the earth
And heavens were torn asunder. Soon the storm
Deepen’d—the thunder and the lightning came
Ofter than dark or silence; and I felt
Far less myself on those dull endless heights,
Than seeing, hearing, from my ship at sea.
But Dan said little; only, as the drops
Of rain began to fall, he led the way
Into a mountain shieling, roof’d with turfs,
Where we in shelter crouch’d, and still talk’d on
Of his dull ingleside, his darken’d days,
The terror and the pain he had to dree.
And ‘All I care for now is ended, Bob!
I want to die, but not to leave the lass
Untended and unhappy. After all,
I cannot blame her for her crancreuch face,—
She is so young—mid-eild is past with me—
Be sure that she would love me if she could!’
And then he glower’d out on the dark, and groan’d,
‘Would I were in my grave!—would I were doom’d
Among the waves!—would I were far out yonder,
Praying and sinking in a boat at sea!’

     And I was silent; but the elements
Made answer. With a clash like iron fell
The headlong torrent of the soot-black clouds,
Drowning the thunders with its dreesome cry,
Birming above, around, and smiting earth
With strength of stone. Never for many a year
Had such a fall been known: it seem’d the Lord
Unlocking all His waters to destroy
The bad world o’er again. No rainbow there
To promise sunshine and a speedy end!
For ’twas the Black Rain, which had once or twice
Gone southward, making frighted Elders groan,
And which old wives in Bartle often call
The ‘Deil’s rain,’ thinking Satan flies himself,
Dropping the dreadful blackness from above.
Silent we waited, watching, and the air
Was full of a great roar—the sods beneath
Seem’d shaking—and the rain-wash forced a way
Through the thick turf above our heads, and fell
Upon us, splashing, as with watery ink,
Our hands and faces. But I saw Dan’s eye
Had kindled. He was younger. For the sounds
Quicken’d his sense of life, brought up his strength,
And minded him of former fearsome days
Upon the Ocean; and his other self—
The sickly self that lived the life on land—
Forsook him. Then there was a lull, a pause—
Not broken by the further fall of rain,
Nor by the thunder-claps, but by a sign
More terrible than all—a roar, a groan,
A motion as of waters, and a sound
Like the dread surging of an angry Sea.

     And Dan threw up his arms, screaming aloud,
‘THE SCAITH! THE SCAITH!’—and groan’d, and rush’d away,—
I following close behind him in the mirk.

     And on he tore, until he gain’d a craig,
Above the glen, yonder between the hills;
And cattle huddled round him, lowing loud,
And the Scaith thicken’d, and the murmur grew,
While we gazed down. The mists hung round the heights,
The rain still fell, but faintly,—and below,
Roaring on seaward, snatching in its course
Boulders and trees and cattle, rush’d the Scaith,
A blacken’d yellow wash of waters, foaming
Where’er it touched the feet of stone or steep,
And dizzily whirling round the great tree-roots
To twist them from their beds. White, scared, and stunn’d,
Dan groan’d, and sank upon his knees, and sobbed.
Done was the thunder; but the waters made
Another thunder, and the fireflaught came
Fainter and fainter. Then we heard from far
A sound more awful—shrieks of living men,
Children and women; while the thinning clouds
Parted to westward, brightening at the rims,
And rays of misty sunset slanted down
On Bartle, and the Scaith had seized its prey.

     ‘Effie!’ cried Dan; and sped along the hills,
And would have rush’d right downward to his death
Had I not gript him. But we found a way
O’er the hillside, and gain’d the northern height
Above the clachan. Jack, until I die,
That hour will haunt me! For the village lay
Naip-deep beneath the moaning rain-dyed flood,
And bields sank shatter’d, and the sunset cold
Gleam’d upon Bartle and the sea beyond;
And on the slopes on either side there gather’d
Women and men: some screeching as they saw
The Scaith drink up their houses and their goods,
Some crying for the friends they could not see,
Some sitting still, and looking on their bairns,
As if they had gone wild. Then Dan glared round,
Seeking for Effie,—but he saw her not;
And the damp sunset gleaming on his face,
Grimed with the rain-drops, show’d it ghastly pale,
But he was cool as he had often been
On gruesome nights at sea. ‘She is not here!’
He whispered; ‘yet she cannot but be saved.
Perchance she gathers with the folk that stand
Waving their arms yonder across the flood:
Oh! would my eyes were young that I might see.’
That way I gazed; but all that I could see
Were mists beyond the clachan; down below,
The wildly washing waters; here and there,
Women and children screaming on the roofs,
While punts and skiffs were gliding here and there,
Piloting slowly through the rocks and walls,
To succour those unsaved; at intervals
A leafless tree-top peering through the water,
While frighted birds lit on its twigs, or wheel’d
Around it crying. Then, ‘A boat! a boat!’
Dan cried; but he was crying to the air:
The folk around him heard and made a stir,—
But some scarce raised their wild and watery eyes,
And some stopp’d moaning, look’d at him who cried,
And then again sat rocking to and fro,
Gazing straight downward, and with eerie groans
Bewailing their own sorrow.

                                           Then the place
Blacken’d in gloaming—mists rose from the flood—
The sky turn’d black, with neither stars nor moon,
And down below, flashing from place to place,
The lights, like corpse-lights warning folk of death,
Flitted and faded, showing where the boats
Still moved about upon their weary work
And those who grieved were stiller all around;
The solemn moaning of the Scaith was hush’d,
Your ears could hear the sobbing of the Sea;
And only now and then a hollow splash
Spake plain of walls that yielded and slipt down
Into the waters. Then a light came near,
And to the water’s edge a fishing-boat
Brought a dead fisher, and a little child
Who cried for ‘mither’; and as he who row’d
Handed the bairn to hungry outstretch’d arms,
And landed with the corpse, old Dan leapt in,
Snatching the lanthorn from the fisher’s hand,
Push’d off ere I could follow, and had flown
Into the darkness . . .

                                 Jack,—I never again
Saw poor old Dan, alive! Yet it was well
His woes were ended; for that very day,
Ere the Scaith came, Effie had crept from home,—
Ay, with a man;—and ere I knew the truth
Why, she was out upon the ocean waves,
And fleeing with the loon to Canada.
Ill winds pursue her! God will find her out!
He sent His water down to free old Dan,
And He is after her across the Deep!

     Next dawning, when the Scaith was part subdued,
And sinking slowly through the seams of earth,
Pouring in bright brown burns to join the sea,
Fouling with mud the line of breaking foam,
’Twas a most piteous sight to see the folk,
With spade and mattock, digging at the graves
Of their own dwellings; taking what was saved
With bitter thankless faces. Fallen walls,
And trees uprooted from the waste hillsides,
And boulders swept from far along the glen,
And household lumber gather’d everywhere,
Mingled in ruin; and the frailer bields
Were swept away for ever. As for me,
I had my work in hand. I took a spade
And waded through the thick and muddy pools,
(’Twas still waist-deep,) right onward to the place
Where Dan had dwelt. For something drew me there,
Foremost of all. The bield was standing still,
Though doors and windows had been beaten in;
And as I splash’d along the passage, bits
Of household lumber tripped me; but I went
Right on to Effie’s room, and there the flood
Was lying black and cold;—and there lay Dan.

     Washing upon the water, with his face
Drawn downward, his hands clench’d, his long gray hair
Rippling around him—stiff, and cold, and dead
And when I turn’d his face up to the light,
I did not scunner much—it look’d so strong,
So seaman-like, and fine. I saw it all!
How he had drifted thither in the dark,
And found the water low around the bield,
But slowly rising; how he fought his way,
Search’d but and ben, and last, in Effie’s room,
Stood ghastly in the lanthorn light, and saw
The place was empty; how, while there he stood,
Staring in horror, with an eldritch cry
The wild SCAITH struck the crashing window panes,
Dash’d down the lanthorn, gript him in the dark,
Roar’d in his ears, and while it struck him down,
Out of his nostrils suck’d the breath of life.
Jack, Jack, we know there comes to men who drown
A sudden flashing picture of the past,—
And ah! how pitiful, how pitiful,
In that last minute did the picture come:
A vision of the sounding Sea afar,
A ghaistly ship upon it,—Effie’s face,
Coming and going like to floating foam,—
The picture of the kirk upon the hill,
And sunshine smiling on the wedding guests,—
The shadowy cliffs where he had paced in pain,
The waves, the sun, the moon, the thought of me,
All thicken’d on him as he scream’d her name,
And struggled with the cruel Scaith, and died!

     Ay! GOD Almighty’s water, e’en ashore,
More merciful than women, found him out;
And here he lies, but should have lain elsewhere.
Had Scots law, and the blethering women’s tongues,
Not hinder’d me,—I would have ta’en a boat,
And sewn his body in a sheet, with stones
Fasten’d beneath his soles to sink him down,
And row’d out yonder, westward, where the sun
Dips red beneath the straight blue water line,
Then said a prayer, and softly sent him down
Where he could sleep in peace, and hear for ever
The washing of the waters through the depths:
With flag-flowers o’er his head, great weeds all round,
And white salt foam-bells hanging in his ears,
His would have been a sailor’s sleep indeed!
But as it is, he slumbers here on land,
In shade of Bartle Kirk, ’mong country loons
And fishermen that shrink at open Sea.


This revised version of ‘The Scaith o’ Bartle’ was first published in the 1874, H. S. King edition of The Poetical Works. There is one change in the 1884 version:
v. 15, l. 13: To see all household needs neglected so, ]



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