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{North Coast and other Poems 1867}






O THOU whose ears incline unto my singing,
Turn with me to the mountains, and behold
A sad thing in the land wherein thou dwellest.

I have to utter dread things of man’s heart;
I have to point at evil with my finger;
I have to find the light of GOD in evil.

And yet I am no wielder of the thunders;
I have no little curse to hurl at sinners:
My full heart hungers out unto the stainéd.

I have a word to leave upon my tombstone;
I have a token for the men who follow:—
This man’s heart hungered out unto the stainéd.’

And love and sorrow and wrong shall scent my song;                         56
From discords I will wring harmonious breathings,
Sounding a plea for all men, here and yonder.

For I have stains upon me, and am base:
It is not much that such a man can say;
And yet ’tis much, if said with all his might.



O thou whose ears incline unto my singing,
Woman or man, thou surely bear’st thy burden,
And I who sing, and all men, bear their burdens.

Even as a meteor-stone from suns afar,
Didst thou not reach the ways of life, and breathe?
No wonder that to much thou art a stranger.

Sweet, sweet it is to sit in leafy places,
In a green darkness, and to hear the stirring
Of strange breaths hither—thither—in the branches;

And sweet it is to sail on purple waters,
Between the heaven o’er and heaven under,
The hills above us, and their ghosts beneath us;

And sweet it is to watch the blue-maned lightning                              57
Spring shrieking at the earth, and slowly perish
Under the falling of the leaden rain.

Thou lov’st all grand and gentle and sweet things,—
The wind-flower at the tree-root, and the white cloud,
The strength of mountains, and the power of waters.

And unto thee all seasons utter pleasure:
Spring, standing startled, listening to the skylark,
The wild flowers from her lap unheeded falling;

And Summer, in her gorgeous loose apparel;
And Autumn, with her dreamy silver eyebrows;
And Winter, with his white hair blown about him.

Yea, everywhere there stirs a dreamy beauty,
A gleaming and a flashing unto change,
An under-stream of sober meditation.

Yet nought endures, but all their glory fadeth,
And power and sweet and sorrow are interwoven;
There is no single presence of the Godhead.



The world is wondrous round thee — GOD’s green world—
A world of pleasant waters and soft places,
And weirdly woven colours in the air.

Yet evermore a trouble doth pursue thee,—
A hunger for the wherefore of thy being,
A wonder from what regions thou hast fallen.

Thou gladdenest in the glad things of the world,
Yet criest surely, ‘Wherefore, and oh, wherefore?
What am I? wherefore doth the world seem happy?’

Thou saddenest in the sad things of the world,
Yet criest on, ‘Why are men bruised and beaten?
Whence do I grieve and gladden to no end?’

Thy trouble grows tenfold when thou beholdest
The agony and burden of thy fellows,
The pains of sick men, and the groans of hungry.

Thou seest the good man tear his hair and weep;                                59
Thou seest the bad man tread on human necks,
Prospering and blaspheming; and thou wonderest.

The silken-natured woman is a bond-slave;
The gross man fouls her likeness in high places;
The innocent are heart-wrung; and thou wonderest.

The gifts of earth are given to the base;
The monster of the cities spurns the martyr;
The martyr dies, denying; and thou wonderest.

How shalt thou reconcile these bitter things?
How shalt thou cast thy hope beyond the sunset?
The sweetest man’s conception is a coward’s.—

How shalt thou ask for more from him who singeth?
He can but sing aloud that these things are,
And look about for signs that GOD perceives them.



The singer is the curious-eyéd man
Who searches in the byeways of the world
For little signs the LORD has dropped in passing.

For where His robe has brushed grow grass and pansies,                   60
And where His smile has fallen there are song birds,
And where His tears have dropped are tear-strung women;

And from His strange mysterious robe, in passing,
Drop jewels, and they lie in gloomy places,—
Yea, in the dark depths of a murderer’s spirit.

There is no place so wholly desolate
But tokens of His passing there lie hidden:
The curious-eyéd man must seek these out.

Have I not found them in an outcast’s hair?
And in the breast and on the feet of sinners?
There is no place so base that GOD hath scorned it.

And ever, when he comes upon such tokens,
A glamour fills the vision of the singer,
And he is sure the LORD hath passed that way.

And ’tis his task to put on blearéd eyes
The euphrasy of beauty, that his fellows
May see as he hath seen, and so be holpen.

There is no hope but one for him who singeth,—                               61
To wander in the highways and the byeways,
To see deep down into the depths of action.

Is there a cheek on earth he would not kiss?
Let him upon a mountain-top, and there
Ask for the lightning of annihilation.



All is not o’er if loving is not o’er:
Somewhere the basest thing contacts with GOD;
The curious-eyéd man discovers where.

He sitteth not within a purple chamber;
He hath read deep in books and deep in souls;
The cunning of a craft is on his fingers.

He knoweth the dark windings up to GOD;
He goeth where the murderer’s knife is lifted,
But feareth not.—GOD hath him by the hand.

He hath no stool to sit and suck his thoughts on;
He hath no creed where all creeds may not join him;
He hath no love that is not love for all men.

The eyes of men and women love the distant;                                    62
They scorn the wonders on their hearths and thresholds.
How should the stale grass on their doors look fair?

But, lo! the singer passeth by, and straightway
The common things are looming in the distance,
Distant in beauty and in revelation;

And long thin lines of meaning gleam afar off,
Like shafts of moonlight shimmering sweetly upward,
And then the singer’s voice is heard intoning.

And evermore the singer’s soul is troubled,
When Music, with her beautiful eyes bent upward,
Springs from his side, and soars, of earth disdainful.

And evermore, in those consummate moments,
The singer cries, ‘GOD is above the world!
Up, up! sing in His ears, belovéd spirit.’

And o’er the wastes where weary eyes are watching,
A sudden glory is shaken, like a banner
Unfolded rapidly to strains of music.


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






WELL, here’s the cuckoo come again, after the barley sowing,
The duckweed white upon the pond, all round the violets blowing,
The gorse has got its coat of gold, and smells as sweet as clover,
The lady-smocks are in the hedge, the primroses nigh over,
And out upon the common there you see the lambkins leaping,
The very snakes crawl here and there, — but Holy Tommie’s sleeping.



Ah, him that used to work with Bourne! Bourne told me how he blundered.
He used to preach. I heard him once. LORD! how he groaned and thundered!        64
The women squeaked like sucking-pigs, the men roared out like cattle,
And my gray hair stood up on end!



                                                       All trash and stuff and tattle!
He lost his head through meddling so with things that don’t concern us;
When we go questioning too close, ’tis little GOD will learn us;
’Tis hard enough to squeeze the crops from His dry ground about us,
But as for serving ’t other world,—it gets its crops without us.
Ah, Tommie’s was a loss that used to put me out completely!
No man about could plough a field or kill a pig so neatly.



That’s where it lies! We get no good by asking questions, neighbour:


Parsons are sent to watch our souls, while we are hard at labour:
This world needs help to get along, for men feed one another,                              66
And what do we pay parsons for,—if not to manage ’t other?



You’re right! No man as grumbles so with this here world has thriven;
Mutton won’t drop into our mouths, although we gape at heaven.
Why, Tommie was a ruddy lad, as rosy as an apple,
Till Methodism filled his head, and he was seen at chapel,
Found out that he’d received a call, grew dismal, dull, and surly,
Read tracts when working in the fields, went praying late and early,
And by-and-bye began himself to argue with the doubting,
And though he’d scarcely been to school, began his public spouting.
And soon I found—I wasn’t blind—how he let matters go here,—
While he was at his heavenly work, things suffered down below here:
The hens dropped off through want of feed, horses grew sick and useless,             67
For lack o’ milking presently the cows grew dry and juiceless;
And when I sought him out, and swore in rage and consternation,
I’m hanged if Tommy didn’t cry and talk about salvation!
‘Salvation’s mighty well,’ says I, right mad with my disaster,
‘But since I want my farm-stock saved, you find another master!’
And I was firm, and sent him off, though he seemed broken-hearted:
He slipt a tract into my fist the morning he departed;
Ay, got a place next day with Bourne, who knew the lad was clever,
But dawdled still about his work, and preached as much as ever.



But Bourne soon sent him packing off—Bourne’s just the sort of fellow;
Why, even when the parson calls, he grumbles and looks yellow!



He got another master, though, but soon began to tire him;
His wages sank, and by-and-bye no farmer here would hire him;
And soon between this world and that, poor Tommie grew more mournful,
His strength and cleverness went off—the country folk looked scornful—
And soon the blessed Methodists grew tired, and would not hear him,
And bolted when he tried to speak, and shrank from sitting near him.



’Tis just the way with Methodists. Give me the High Church, neighbour.



‘Why don’t you be a man?’ said they, ‘keep clean, and do your labour?’
And what d’ye think that Tommie said?—‘I don’t play shilly-shally;
If I’m to serve the LORD at all, ’twill be continuálly:                                              69
You think that you can grub and cheat from Sunday on to Sunday,
And put the LORD ALMIGHTY off by howling out on one day;
But if you want to get to heaven, your feelings must be stronger.’
And Holy Tommie would not go to chapel any longer.
Learned sense? No, no! Reformed? Not he! But moped and fretted blindly,
Because the blessed Methodists had used him so unkindly.
His life grew hard, his back grew bare, his brain grew dreadful airy,
He thought of t’other world the more ’cause this seemed so contrary;
Went wandering on the river-side, and in the woods lay lurking,
Gaped at the sky in summer-time when other men were working,
And once was spied a-looking up where a wild lark was winging,
And tears a-shining in his eyes,—because the lark was singing!
Last harvest-time he came to me, and begged for work so sadly,                         70
And vowed he had reformed so much, and looked so sick and badly,
I had not heart to send him off, but put him out a-reaping,
But, LORD! the same tale o’er again—he worked like one half-sleeping.
‘Be off!’ says I, ‘you’re good for nought;’ and all the rest stood sneering.
‘Master, you may be right,’ says he,—‘the LORD seems hard o’ hearing!
I thought I could fulfil below the call that I had gotten,
But here’s the harvest come again, and all my life seems rotten.
The Methodists are little good, the High Church folk are lazy,
And even when I pray alone, the ways o’ Heaven seem hazy.
Religion don’t appear to keep an honest lad from sad things,
And though the world is fine to see, ’tis full of cruel bad things.
Why, I can’t walk in fields and lanes, and see the flowers a-growing,                    71
And look upon the bright blue sky, or watch the river flowing,
But even there, where things look fine, out creeps the speckled adder,
Or silver snakes crawl by, and all at once the world looks sadder.
The better I have seemed to grow, the worse all things have gone with me.
It’s all a great blank mystery! I wish the LORD was done with me!’
And slowly, ever after that, Tommie grew paler, stiller,
And soon he could not work at all, and quickly he grew iller:
And when the early new-year rains were yellowing pool and river,
He closed his eyes, and slept, and gave the puzzle up for ever.



His head was gone, that’s clear enough—the chapel set it turning.



Now, this is how I look at it, although I have no learning:
In this here world, to do like him is nothing but self-slaughter,—
He went close to the edge o’ life, and heard a roar like water,
His head went round, his face grew pale, his blood lost life and motion,—
’Twas just as vi’lets lose their scent when set beside the ocean.
But there’s the parson riding up, with Doctor Barth, his crony;
Some of these days the parson’s weight will kill that blessed pony!
Ah, he’s the man to settle things that make the wits unsteady!
Wife, here’s the parson! Draw some ale, and set the table ready.


The revised version of ‘An English Eclogue’ is available in the North Coast - Revisions section.]






BAR the door! put out the light, for it gleams across the night,
     And guides the bloody motion of their feet;
Hush the bairn upon thy breast, lest it guide them in their quest,
     And with water quench the blazing of the peat.
Now, wife, sit still and hark!—hold my hand amid the dark;
     O Jeanie, we are scattered e’en as sleet!

It was down on Drumliemoor, where it slopes upon the shore,
     And looks upon the white surf of the bay,
In the kirkyard of the dead, where the heather is turned red
     By the bloody clan that sleep beneath the clay;
And the Howiesons were there, and the people of Glen Ayr,                                74
     And we gathered in the dark o’ night to pray.

How! Sit at home in fear, when GOD’s voice was in mine ear,
     When the priests of Baal were slaughtering His sheep?
Nay, there I took my stand, with my reap-hook in my hand,
     For bloody was the sheaf that I might reap;
And the LORD was in His skies, with a thousand dreadful eyes,
     And His breathing made a trouble on the deep.

Each mortal of the band brought his weapon in his hand,
     Though the chopper or the spit was all he bare;
And not a man but knew the work he had to do,
     If the Fiend should fall upon us unaware.
And our looks were ghastly white, but it was not with affright,
     For we knew the LORD was hearking to our prayer.



Oh, solemn, sad, and slow, rose the stern voice of Monroe,
     And he cursed the curse of Babylon the Whore;                                               76
And we could not see his face, but a gleam was in its place,
     Like the phosphor of the foam upon the shore;
And the eyes of all were dim as they fixed themselves on him,
     And the Sea filled up the pauses with its roar.

And when, with accents calm, Kilmahoe gave out the psalm,
     And the sweetness of GOD’s voice was on his tongue,
With one voice we praised the LORD of the Fire and of the Sword,
     And louder than the winter wind it rung;
And across the stars on high went the reek of vapour by,
     And a white mist drifted round us as we sung.

It was terrible to hear our cry rise deep and clear,
     Though we could not see the criers of the cry,
But we sang and gripped our brands, and touched each other’s hands,
     While a thin sleet smote our faces from the sky;
And, sudden, strange, and low, hissed the accents of Monroe,                             77
     ‘Grip your weapons! Yea, be silent! They are nigh!


And heark’ning, with clenched teeth, we could hear across the heath
     The tramping of the horses as they flew,
And no man breathed a breath, but all were still as death,
     And close together shivering we drew;
And deeper round us fell all the eyeless gloom of Hell,                                          78
     And the Fiend was in among us ere we knew.

Then a shriek of men arose, and the cursing of our foes—
     No face of friend or foeman could we mark;
But I struck and kept my stand, trusting GOD to guide my hand,
     And struck, and struck, and heard the hell-hounds bark;
And I fell beneath a horse, but I reached with all my force,
     And ripped him with my reap-hook through the dark.

As we struggled, knowing not whose hand was at our throat,
     Whose blood was spouting warm into our eyes,
We felt the thick snow-drift swoop upon us from the rift,
     And murmur in the pauses of our cries;
But, lo! before we wist, rose the black reek and the mist,
     And the pale Moon made a glamour from the skies.

O GOD! it was a sight that made the hair turn white,                                              79
     That withered up the heart’s blood into woe,
To see the faces loom in the dimly lighted gloom,
     And the dead men lying bloodily below;
While melting, with no sound, fell with gentleness around
     The white peace and the wonder of the Snow!

Ay, and thicker, thicker, poured the pale silence of the LORD,
     From the hollow of His hand we saw it shed,
And it thickened round us there, till we choked and gasped for air,
     And beneath was ankle-deep and stainéd red;
And soon, whatever wight was smitten down in fight
     Was buried in the drift ere he was dead.

Then we beheld at length the troopers in their strength,
     For faster, faster, faster up they streamed,
And their pistols flashing bright showed their faces ashen white,
     And their blue steel caught the driving moon and gleamed.                               80
And a dying voice cried, ‘Fly!’ And behold, e’en at the cry,
     A panic fell upon us, and we screamed!

Oh, shrill and awful rose, ’mid the splashing blood and blows,
     Our scream unto the LORD that let us die;
And the Fiend amid us roared his defiance at the LORD,
     And his servants slew the strong man ’mid his cry;
And the LORD kept still in heaven, and the only answer given
     Was the white Snow falling, falling, from the sky.

Then we fled! the darkness grew! ’mid the driving cold we flew,
     Each alone, yea, each for those whom he held dear;
And I heard upon the wind the thud of hoofs behind,
     And the scream of those who perished in their fear,
But I knew by heart each path through the darkness of the strath,                          81
     And I hid myself at dawn,—and I am here.


Ah! gathered in one fold be the holy men and old,
     And beside them lie the curséd and the proud;
The Howiesons are there, and the people of Glen Ayr,
     Kirkpatrick, and Macdonald, and Macleod.
And while the widow groans, lo! GOD’s hand around their bones
     His thin ice windeth softly as a shroud.

Ay, on mountain and in vale our women will look pale,                                        82
     And palest where the ocean surges boom;
Buried ’neath snow-drift white, with no holy prayer or rite,
     Lie the lovéd ones they look for in the gloom;
And deeper, deeper still, drops the Snow on vale and hill,
     And deeper and yet deeper is their Tomb!


The revised version of ‘The Battle of Drumliemoor’ is available in the North Coast - Revisions section.]





BELL from the North hath journeyed hither;
She brings the scent of heather with her,
     To show in what sweet glens she grew.
Where’er she trips, in any weather,
She steps as if she trod on heather,
     And leaves a sense like dropping dew.

The mountains own her for their daughter;
Her presence feels like running water,
     Cooled from the sun in a green glade:
So strange she seems to city seeing,—
A playmate of the winds,—a being
     Made of the dew and mountain shade.

In the strange streets she stops to listen,
Her red lips part, her blue eyes glisten,
     Wild windy voices round her speak;
She sees the streets roll dark and clouded,                                        84
Fearless as when she paused, enshrouded
     By mists upon a mountain-peak.

And oft, while wondrous-eyed she wanders,
She meets a sweet face,—pauses, ponders,—
     And then peers backward as she goes;
As in the far-off solemn places
She drooped the tenderest of faces
     Over some tender thing that grows.

Long have the clouds and winds been by her,
Long have the waters murmured nigh her,
     And sweet delight in those hath she;
Long has she watched the shapes of wonder
Darken around with crying thunder,
     Yet all have used her tenderlie.

Yea, she hath been a frail flower, lying
Under the peak where storms were crying,
     Feeling the hills quake through and through,
And, when the storm was ended, raising
A little dewy head, and gazing
     With pensive pleasure up the blue.


Yea, then the serpent lightning often                                                  [7:1] Watched her with eyes that seemed to soften,
     And smiled, and fled, and smiled again;
Till, all around her gentler growing,                                                    86
She felt the moist winds blowing, blowing,
     While shafts of cool light drank the rain.

When mighty shapes had love and pity,
What should appal her in the city?
     What should she fear in sun or shower?
The cloud of life is pleasure-laden,
She fears it not,—she is a maiden
     Familiar with the things of power.

She is as sweet as maidens may be,
Yet does not seem as things of clay be,
     But seemeth, as she passes by,
The shadow of a spirit-lady
(A wool-white cloud with image shady)
     Floating above her in the sky!

Yet seems she made in mortal fashion,—                                           [10:1]
A thing of pureness and of passion,
     A winning thing of eyes and lips,
A maiden with a cheek to sigh on,
A heart to love, a breast to die on,                                                     [10:5]
     Kiss-worthy to the finger-tips!

No pantaloon, no simpering sinner,                                                     87
No little man of straw shall win her,
     No scented darling of the sun;
But he who wins must win in honour,
And stir her soul, and breathe upon her,
     Even as the shapes of power have done.

And such a one his plaint should utter
Where the torn wings of tempests flutter,
     Where waters stir and winds are loud;
Or in the dark mysterious city,
When she is stirred to human pity,
     In the windy motion of the cloud.

Bell from the North, how shall I win her?
Wind, cloud, shade, water dwell within her,
     And she, like those, is meek and strong.
How shall I weave, O mountain daughter,
A song of wind, cloud, shade, and water?
     How make thee mine with such a song?

Lo! here the things of power are meaner,
The flowers around our feet uncleaner,
     Than where her vagrant footsteps climb;
And here we prize ignoble thinking,                                                    88
And here sit latter rhymesters drinking
     The muddy lees of ancient rhyme.

And, oh! the singing must be mournful;                                             [15:1]
Strong things are cruel, sweet things scornful,                                    [15:2]
     And the fresh breath of life grows foul;                                        [15:3]
While where she roams strong things are tender,
Great things are grand things, sounds of splendour
     Drown the dull hooting of the owl.                                              [15:6]

The life-cloud round me thunders, lightens;
Strong without gentleness, it frightens
     The timid soul to grovelling deeds;
And when the brave soul, hating error,
Upbraids the many-headed terror,
     It smites him down, and no man heeds.

If, ere the song be uttered duly,
I who have served her long and truly
     Should faint and fall, though strong and brave,
Last I will pray in loving duty
That Bell will come, with all her beauty,
     To look a little on my grave.

And she will come (while up above her                                              89
The spirit-lady still will hover,
     Pausing a space, with white wings furled);
Her foot will rest, her eye look nor’ward,
And that one grave will be thenceforward
     The sweetest grave in all the world.

And surely, when she wanders thither,
The scent of heather will be with her,
     The shady peace of mountains blue;
And she will breathe like fresh winds blowing,
And glide away like water flowing,
     And leave a sense like dropping dew.

‘The Northern Muse’ is not included in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan. However I did come across an earlier version of the poem, published in the September, 1866 edition of The Argosy and reprinted in The New York Times on 7th October, 1866 under the title, ‘A London Lyric’. The following changes refer to this earlier version:
v. 7, l. 1: Yea, then the tameless Lightning often
v. 10, l. 1: Yet is she made in mortal fashion,—
v. 10, l. 5: A waist to clasp, a heart to die on,—
v. 15, l. 1: And ah! the singing must be mournful;—
v. 15, l. 2: Strong things are tender, sweet things scornful,
v. 15, l. 3: And the fresh breath of faith grows foul;
v. 15, l. 6: Drown the dull whooting of the owl.
The illustration below accompanied the poem in The Argosy.]






STOP! that’s your training. You’re too hard, I say,
Far, far too hard on those that go astray:
There’s something to be said, by folk who feel,
For girls that step astray, and lads who steal,
And they are human souls in sin’s despite.
’Tis hard to find one’s way without a light
Through this dark world, seeking the bit o’ bread;
And being good comes after being fed.
If you had seen as much of town as me,
As much of wickedness and misery,
You’d look on townsfolk with a friendlier gaze;
But you are from the country, and their ways
Look black beside the life that you have led.


     How did I know that you were country bred?
Ah, that’s a trick I keep, though I am gray;
For once I lived in Sussex, far away;                                                  92
And though full forty years have passed, and more,
I know a country face among a score,
By tokens that I catch before it flies—
Dress, voice, and something cow-like in the eyes.
Ay, and whene’er a coster girl I meet
Selling her violets up and down the street,
Or see a country cart go past with hay,
It seems I lived in Sussex yesterday,
And I can see the salt green marsh, and hear
The washing of the waters low and clear,
And see the silver sails out in the bay
Come in the moon like ghosts, and dip, and melt away.

     Yes, friend, I am the man who makes the rhyme;
Much have I made and sold too in my time:
This room is papered with them, big and small,
So that a man can read them on the wall.
And they are but a few of those I made,
Since I began the task and found it paid.
There’s one that every ’prentice boy has read,—
How Tommie Thresher shot his sweetheart dead;
And that’s another on the poisoner Brown,
And there’s a comic song that took the town.

     But these are poor weak things, although they pay;                        93
There’s something in me better far than they!
There’s nothing in them fine, and fresh, and true,—
They jingle, but they never thrill one through,
Like some by other men that I have read.
But I should like for once, ere I am dead,
To write a thing more true, and fresh, and fair,
Fit for poor folk whose hearts are full of care.
Why, if a man, just by a rhyme, could show
How fresh the winds down in the country blow,
How by the sea the marsh smells salt and sweet,
Or how the bird cries ‘cuckoo’ in the heat,
Or if a man his feelings could write down
When flower girls sell their flowers about the town,
Or put in music all the frets and fears
Of townsfolk, the deep murmur in their ears,
The crying out for sleep, the fight for bread,
The strange hard thoughts they feel when they lay down their dead.

     Ah, many a night I’ve tried to speak my mind,—
I wanted learning, though, as now I find;
The rhymes would never answer as they ought,
Or, coming, killed the feeling and the thought.
And so I found ’t was useless waste of time,                                     94
But turned again to money-making rhyme,
Where thoughts and feelings were of small ado,
So that the words were strong, the jingle true;
And when the printer sold ’em far and wide,
Was fool enough to feel a kind of pride.

     Last year I tried it hard, but all in vain,
Although my heart was full of a sharp pain,
Because my little neighbour, up on high,
Was taken badly, and about to die,—
Little Jem Hart, half coster lad, half thief,
One of the sort you wish to bring to grief;
Only sixteen, and with his spine amiss,—
So thin, that when he raised his hand like this,
You saw the yellow sunlight shining through.

     He had been bred among a wicked crew,
And ne’er a friend in all the world had he,—
Never a friend in all the world but me,
To nurse him, shake the straws to make his bed,
And stuff with rags a pillow for his head.
For hope was gone—he knew that he must die;
But life was dismal, and he did not cry,
And wore away with little pain—up there.

     And so, whenever I had time to spare,                                         95
I sat by Jem, and tried to give him cheer;
And he was thankful from his heart, poor dear!
And proud he had at least one friend to stay
Beside him watching as he went away.
And though he said but little, now and then
He startled me with what he knew of men:
For it was terrible how one so young
Could have such crafty sayings on his tongue;
And sore to look on one so weak and wan,
A child, yet weary as an old, old man.

     He knew full well his time was short below,
And yet his heart was not afraid to go;
And when I sunk my voice and took his hand,
And talked to him about a better land,
He seemed to think it sure no place could be
More dull than London was to such as he.
But now and then, when he could hear the cries
Of boys outside, a sharp look filled his eyes,
And his thin hand hung heavier on mine.

     And it was summer, and the days were fine,
And through the smoky glass the light came red,
And tinted little Jem upon his bed;                                                    96
And he would wake for hours, and watch the pane,
Until it dazzled him to sleep again.
And he would have strange dreams, and toss, and moan,
And cry to some one to be let alone,
Whining for fear; and often it would seem
He stole or picked a pocket in his dream,
And drew breath hard, hearing the folk rush by,
And ran till he was caught, and wakened with a cry.

     It was a sight to make a man’s heart ache
To sit like me up there and see him wake
From one of those hard dreams; for ‘Dick,’ he said,
‘Give me your hand—I thought that I was dead.’
And then, afraid, he told me all he dreamed.
He thought he was in Heaven, and it seemed
Pleasant and bright and green like Primrose Hill,
And there was no one there, but all was still;
And he was clean and naked, and the light
Shone on his body, and made it golden bright;
And though a little hungry, through his breast
He felt a tired and pleasant peace and rest.
Then, seeing no one nigh, and tired, he crept
Into a corner full of flowers, and slept.
But all at once, while lying on the sod,                                               97
He heard a deep gruff voice, and knew ’t was GOD,
And felt rough fingers seize him by the ears,
While he was thick with sleep, and full of fears;
And heard GOD say, ‘What boy lies here apart?’
And some one said it was the thief, Jem Hart;
And though he sobbed and cried, they would not hark,
But took him to a gateway, cold and dark,
And thrust him out—and full of pain he woke.

     Pale was his face and fearful as he spoke:
But when I answered him in cheerful style,
I coaxed his poor pinched features to a smile.
And lying back be watched the smoky pane,
And hearkened to the people down the lane,
In silence thinking till his eyelids closed;
But, looking up o’ sudden as he dozed,
He pressed my hand more tight, and held his head,—
‘Dick, say some bits of poetry,’ he said.

     I stared at first, because it seemed so new;
But, after pondering what to say and do,
I murmured low some things that I had made,—
Fine-sounding things, that took the town and paid;
And Jem closed eyes, and noted every one,                                      98
And kept as still as stone till I had done,
And hearkened to the rhyme as one might list
To the clock’s ticking, careless though he missed
The meaning of the ditty, sad or glad.

     But when my stock was done, and still the lad
Asked me to tell him more, I called to thought
A poor thing I had made when overwrought,
One of those weary times I tried in vain
To put in honest verse my own heart’s pain;
And I was troubled, as I said it o’er,
By feelings written down so long before,
And my voice broke,—my throat was full of tears,—
The sounding city murmured in my ears,—
I felt Jem’s hand between my fingers creeping,
And, looking down, I saw that little Jem was weeping.

     Then I was touched to see him grieving so,
And clasped his hand, and spoke more sad and low,
Peering upon his face; and as I spoke,
Instead of the low hum of city folk,
I heard the washing sea upon the shore;
And when I had said the silly verses o’er,


‘Say it again!’ cried little Jem; and when,
To please his heart, I said the song again,
In through the smoky glass the setting sun                                           100
Gleamed sickly, and the day was nearly done.



Oh, London is a dismal city,
     When one is all alone,
And it’s hard to keep your heart up
     When your friends are dead and gone;
And what is the good of living,
     And struggling bitterly, wet or dry?
It’s better just to shut your eyes,
     And lie down on your back and die!



Oh, who would struggle and struggle
     To get the bit of bread,
Who would be cold and weary,
     With an aching heart and weary head,
When all in the dark still earth
     Quiet and peaceful you can lie?
Then isn’t it better to close your eyes,
     And lie down on your back and die?



There’s green fields, flowers, and cresses
     In the place where I was born,
And you hear the waters of the sea
     A-sounding night and morn;
But London city is dismal work,
     And your heart feels lonely as the days go by;
Then isn’t it better to close your eyes,
     And lie down on your back and die?


     That was the song, and o’er and o’er to him
I murmured it until mine eyes were dim,
And my heart ached again;—for all the time
There seemed a kind of magic in the rhyme,
And I could hear the washing sea, and smell
The salt green marshes where I used to dwell,
And see the grim room melt around me, showing
The water trembling, and the fresh breeze blowing,
And white-sailed fish-boats dipping in the breeze.

     But while my heart was full of things like these,
The evening came; and when the pale moonlight
Crept o’er the house-tops, dim and dusky bright,
The arm of little Jem grew heavy as lead,                                          102
And, looking down, I saw that he was dead.

     And even then, far, far away, I seemed
Staring down dumbly at a face that gleamed
On water in the moonlight silver clear,
And though ’twas night, full plainly I could hear
The bird that comes when summer days are blue,
Crying afar away, ‘Cuckoo! cuckoo! cuckoo!’

     Ah! many a time, amid the hum of town,
I’ve tried my best to put such feelings down:
Full oft they come, they go; but when I try
To hold them fast, they turn to mist, and die.



North Coast and other Poems continued

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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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