ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{The Book of Orm 1870}

 

                                                                                                                                                                 ix

INSCRIPTION.
_____

TO F. W. C.

 

FLOWERS pluckt upon a grave by moonlight, pale
And suffering, from the spiritual light
They grew in: these, with all the love and blessing
That prayers can gain of God, I send to thee!

If one of these poor flowers be worthy thee,
The sweetest Soul that I have known on earth,
The tenderest Soul that I can hope to know,
Hold that one flower, and kneel, and pray for me.

Pray for me, Comrade! Close to thee I creep,
Touching thy raiment: thy good eyes are calm;
But see! the fitful fever in mine eyes—
Pray for me!—bid all good men pray for me!

If Love will serve, lo! how I love my Friend—
If Reverence, lo! how I reverence him—
If Faith be asked in something beautiful,
Lo! what a splendour is my faith in him!

Now, as thou risest gently from thy knees,
Must we go different ways?—thou followest
Thy path, I mine;—but all go westering,
And all will meet among the Hills of God!

Thy face sails with me on a darker path,                                           x [6:1]
And smiles me onward! For a time, farewell;
Wear in thy breast a few of these poor flowers,
And let their scent remind my Friend of me!

Flowers of a grave,—yet deathless! Be my love
For thee as deathless! I am beckon’d on;—
But meantime, these, with all the love and blessing
That prayers can gain of God, I give to thee!

                                                                   ROBERT BUCHANAN.

Coruisk, 1870.

 

[Notes:
v. 6, l. 1: There is a misprint in this line - ‘Thy  ace sails with me on a darker path,’ - which I have corrected.
In the 1874 and 1884 editions of the Poetical Works only the first stanza of the Inscription (To F.W.C.) is included.
So far, I have been unable to ascertain the identity of ‘F. W. C.’]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 1

THE BOOK OF ORM.
__________

 

1.

Read these faint runes of Mystery,
O Celt, at home and o’er the sea;
The bond is loosed—the poor are free—
The world’s great future rests with thee!

 

2.

Till the soil—bid cities rise—
Be strong, O Celt—be rich, be wise—
But still, with those divine grave eyes,
Respect the realm of Mysteries.

 

[Notes:
This introductory verse is omitted in the 1874 Poetical Works (H. S. King), and in the 1884 edition (Chatto & Windus) it is replaced by the following:

PROEM.

(TO BOOK OF ORM AND POLITICAL MYSTICS.)

 

WHEN in these songs I name the Name of God,
I mean not Him who ruled with brazen rod
The rulers of the Jew; nor Him who calm
Sat reigning on Olympus; nay, nor Brahm,
Osiris, Allah, Odin, Balder, Thor,
(Though these I honour, with a hundred more);
Menu I mean not, nor the Man Divine,
The pallid Rainbow lighting Palestine;
Nor any lesser of the gods which Man
Hath conjured out of Night since Time began.
I mean the primal Mystery and Light,
The most Unfathomable, Infinite,
The Higher Law, Impersonal, Supreme,
The Life in Life, the Dream within the Dream,
The Fountain which in silent melody
Feeds the dumb waters of Eternity,
The Source whence every god hath flown and flows,
And whither each departs to find repose.                                     ]

 

                                                                                                         3

THE BOOK OF THE VISIONS SEEN BY ORM THE CELT.

 

THERE is a mortal, and his name is Orm,
Born in the evening of the world, and looking
Back from the sunset to the gates of morning.

And he is aged early, in a time
When all are aged early,—he was born
In twilight times, and in his soul is twilight.

O brother, hold me by the hand, and hearken,
For these things I shall phrase are thine and mine,
And all men's,—all are seeking for a sign.

Thou wert born yesterday, but thou art old,
Weary to-day, to-morrow thou wilt sleep—
Take these for kisses on thy closing eyelids.

 

                                                                                                         5

I.

FIRST SONG OF THE VEIL.

 

How God in the beginning drew
Over his face the Veil of blue,
Wherefore no soul of mortal race
Hath ever look’d upon the Face;
Children of earth whose spirits fail
Heark to the First Song of the Veil.

 

                                                                                               7

I.

FIRST SONG OF THE VEIL.

 

I.

THE VEIL WOVEN.

 

IN the beginning,
     Ere Man grew,
The Veil was woven
     Bright and blue;
Soft mists and vapours
Gather’d and mingled
Over the black world
     Stretched below,
While winds of heaven
Blew from all places,
Shining luminous,
     A starry snow.
Blindly, dumbly,
Darken’d under                                                                       8
Ocean and river,
     Mountain and dale,
While over his features,
Wondrous, terrible,
The beautiful Master
     Drew the Veil:
Then starry, luminous,
Rolled the Veil of azure
O’er the first dwellings
     Of mortal race;
—And since the beginning
No mortal vision,
Pure or sinning,
     Hath seen the Face!

Yet mark me closely!
     Strongly I swear,
Seen or seen not,
     The Face is there:
When the Veil is clearest                                                          9
     And sunniest,
Closest and nearest
     The Face is prest;
But when, grown weary
With long downlooking,
The Face withdrawing
     For a time is gone,
The great Veil darkens,
And ye see full clearly
Glittering numberless
     The gems thereon.
For the lamp of his features
Divinely burning,
Shines, and suffuses
     The Veil with light,
And the Face, drawn backward
With that deep sighing
Ye hear in the gloaming,
     Leaves ye the Night.                                                          [2:24]

     Thus it befell to men                                                           10
Graveward they journeyed,
From waking to sleeping,
     In doubt and in fear,
Evermore hoping,
Evermore seeking,
Nevermore guessing
     The Master so near:
Making strange idols,
Rearing fair Temples,
Crying, denying,
Questioning, dreaming,
Nevermore certain
     Of God and his grace,—
Evermore craving
To look on a token,
     To gaze on the Face.                                                        [3:17]

Now an evangel,
     Whom God loved deep,
Said, “See! the mortals,                                                           11
     How they weep!
They grope in darkness,
They blunder onward
     From race to race,
Were it not better,
Once and for ever,
     To unveil the Face?”
God smiled.
     He said—“Not yet!
Much is to remember,
     Much to forget;
Be thou of comfort!
How should the token
     Silence their wail?”

And, with eyes tear-clouded,
He gazed thro’ the luminous,
Star-inwrought, beautiful,
     Folds of the Veil.

 

[Notes:
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 2, l. 24: Leaveth the Night.
v. 3, l. 17: To gaze on a Face. ]

 

                                                                                               12

II.

EARTH THE MOTHER.

 

Beautiful, beautiful, she lay below,
     The mighty Mother of humanity,
Turning her sightless eyeballs to the glow
     Of light she could not see,
Feeling the happy warmth, and breathing slow
     As if her thoughts were shining tranquilly.
Beautiful, beautiful the Mother lay,
Crownëd with silver spray,
The greenness gathering hushfully around
     The peace of her great heart, while on her breast
The wayward Waters, with a weeping sound,
     Were sobbing into rest.
For all day long her face shone merrily,
And at its smile the waves leapt mad and free:
But at the darkening of the Veil, she drew
     The wild things to herself, and husht their cries—
Then, stiller, dumber, search’d the deepening blue                             13
     With passionate blind eyes;
And went the old life over in her thought,
Dreamily praying as her memory wrought
     The dimly guessed at, never utter’d tale,
         While, over her dreaming,
               Deepen’d the luminous,
         Star-inwrought, beautiful,
     Folds of the wondrous Veil.

For more than any of her children of clay
     The beautiful Mother knows—
         She is so old!
Ye would go wild to hearken, if this day
     Her dumb lips should unclose,
         And the tale be told:
     Such unfathomable things,
     Such mystic vanishings,
         She knoweth about God—she is so old.

For oft, in the beginning, long ago,                                                     14
Without a Veil looked down the Face ye know,
And Earth, an infant happy-eyed and bright,
Look’d smiling up, and gladden’d in its sight.
But later, when the Man-Flower from her womb
Burst into brightening bloom,
In her glad eyes a golden dust was blown
Out of the void, and she was blind as stone.

And since that day
She hath not seen, nor spoken,—lest her say
     Should be a sorrow and fear to mortal race,
And doth not know the Lord hath hid away,
     But turneth up blind orbs—to feel the Face.

 

                                                                                                       15

III.

CHILDREN OF EARTH.

 

So dumbly, blindly,
So cheerly, sweetly,
The beautiful Mother
     Of mortals smiled;
Her children marvell’d
And looked upon her—
Her patient features
     Were bright and mild;
And on her eyeballs
     Night and day,
A sweet light glimmer’d
     From far away.
Her children gather’d
     With sobs and cries,
To see the sweetness
     Of sightless eyes;
But tho’ she held them                                                             16
     So dear, so dear,
She could not answer,
     She could not hear.
She felt them flutter
     Around her knee,
She felt their weeping,
Yet knew not wherefore—
     She could not see.
“O Mother! Mother
     Of mortal race!
Is there a Father?
     Is there a Face?”
She felt their sorrow
     Against her cheek,—
She could not hearken,
     She could not speak;
With thin lips fluttering,
With blind eyes tearful,
     And features pale,
She clasp’d her children,                                                          17
And looked in silence
     Upon the Veil.

Her hair grew silvern,
     The swift days fled,
Her lap was heavy
     With children dead;
To her heart she held them,
But could not warm them—
The life within them
     Was gone like dew.
Whiter, stiller,
     The Mother grew.

The World grew hoary,
The World was weary,
The children cried at
     The empty air:
“Father of mortals!”
The children murmured,                                                           18
“Father! father!
     Art thou there?”
Then the Master answer’d
     From the thunder-cloud:
“I am God the Maker!
I am God the Master!
I am God the Father!”
     He cried aloud.
Further, the Master
     Made sign on sign—
Footprints of his spirits,
     Voices divine;
His breath was a water,
     His cry was a wind.

But the people heard not,
The people saw not,—
Earth and her children
     Were deaf and blind.

 

                                                                                               19

IV.

THE WISE MEN.

 

“Call the great philosophers!
Call them all hither,—
     The good, the wise!”
Their robes were snowy,
Their hearts were holy,
     They had cold still eyes.
To the mountain-summits
Wearily they wander’d,
Reaching the desolate
     Regions of snow,
Looming there lonely,
They search’d the Veil wonderful
With tubes fire-fashion’d
     In caverns below . . .
God withdrew backward,
And darker, dimmer,                                                              20
     Deepen’d the day:
O’er the philosophers
Looming there lonely
     Night gather’d gray.
Then the wise men gazing
Saw the lights above them
Thicken and thicken,
     And all went pale—
Ah! the lamps numberless,
The mystical jewels of God,
The luminous, wonderful,
     Beautiful Lights of the Veil!

Alas for the Wise Men!
The snows of the mountain
Drifted about them,
And the wind cried round them,
As the lights of wonder
     Multiplied!
The breath of the mountain                                                       21
Froze them into stillness,—
     They sighed and died.
Still in the desolate
     Heights overhead,
Stand their shapes frozen,
     Frozen and dead.
But a weary few,
     Weary and dull and cold,
Crept faintly down again,
     Looking very old;
And when the people
Gather’d around them,
The heart went sickly
     At their dull blank stare—
“O Wise Men answer!
Is there a Father?
Is there a beautiful
     Face up there?”
The Wise Men answer’d and said:
“Bury us deep when dead—                                                   22
     We have travelled a weary road,
We have seen no more than ye.
’Twere better not to be—
     There is no God!”

And the people, hearkening,
Saw the Veil above them,
And the darkness deepen’d,
     And the lights gleamed pale.
Ah! the lamps numberless,
The mystical jewels of God,
The luminous, wonderful,
     Beautiful lights of the Veil!

 

                                                                                               23

II.

THE MAN AND THE SHADOW.

 

On the high path where few men fare,
Orm meeteth one with hoary hair,
And speaketh, solemn and afraid,
Of that which haunteth him—a Shade.
Slowly, with weary feet and weak,
They wander to a mountain peak;
And to the man with hoary hair
A Bridge of Spirits riseth fair,
Whereon his Soul with gentle moan
Passeth unto the Land Unknown.

 

                                                                                               25

II.

THE MAN AND THE SHADOW.

 

I.

THE SHADOW.

 

O AGED MAN who, clad in pilgrim’s garb,
With staff of thorn and wallet lying near,
Sittest among the weeds of the wayside,
Gazing with hollow eyeballs in a dream
On that which sleeps—a Shadow—at thy feet!
Hearest thou?

                     By the fluttering of thy lips,
I know thou hearest; yet, with downcast eyes,
Thou broodest moveless, letting yonder sun
Make thee a Dial, worn and venerable,
To show the passing hour. All things around
Share stillness with thee; for behold they keep                                    26
The gloaming of the year. To russet brown
The heather fadeth; on the treeless hills,
O’er rusted with the slow-decaying bracken,
The sheep crawl slow with damp and red-stain’d wool;
Keen cutting winds from the Cold Clime begin
To frost the edges of the cloud—the sun
Upriseth slow and silvern—many rainbows
People the desolate air with flowers that fade
Thro’ pallor unto tears; and tho’ these flash
Ever around thee, here thou sittest alone,—
Best Dial of them all, old, moveless, dumb,
Ineffably serene with aged eyes,
Still as a stone,—yet with some secret spell
Pertaining to the human, some faint touch
Of mystery in that worn face, to show
Thy wither’d flesh is scented with a Soul.

Nay, then, with how serene and sad a light
Thy face, strange gleams of spiritual pain                                           27
Fading there, turneth up to mine! Yea, smile!
Tender as sunlight on the autumn hills,
Cometh that kindly lustre! Aye, thy hand—
Something mysterious streameth from thy palm—
Spirit greets spirit—scent is mixed with scent—
Sweet is the touch of hands. Behold me,—Orm,
Thy brother!

                   Brother, we are surely bound
On the same journey,—and our eyes alike
Turn up and onward: wherefore, now thou risest,
Lean upon me, and let us for a space                                               [4:4]
Pursue the path together. Ah, ’tis much,
In this so weary pilgrimage, to meet
A royal face like thine—to touch the hand
Of such a soul-fellow—to feel the want,
The upward-crying hunger, the desire,
The common hope and pathos, justified
By knowledge and gray hairs. Come on! come on!
Up yonder! Slowly, leaning on my strength,                                       28
And I will surely pick my steps with thine,—
While at our backs the secret Shadows creep,
And imitate our motions with no sound.

Dost thou remember more than I? My Soul
Remembereth no beginning
.

                                             One still day,
I saw the hills around me, and beheld
The hills had shadows,—for beyond their rim
The fiery sun was setting;—then I saw
My ghost upon the ground, and as I ran
Eastward, the melancholy semblance ran
Before my footsteps; and I felt afraid.

Could I have shaken off this grievous thing,
Much had been spared me. Since that day I ran,
And saw it run before me in the sun,
It hath been with me in the day and night,
The sunlight and the starlight—at the board                                        29
Hath joined me, darkening the festal cup—
Hath risen black against the whitening wall
On lonely midnights, when by the wind’s shriek
Startled from terrible visions seen in dream,
Rising upon my couch, and with quick breath
Lighting the lamp, I hearkened—it hath track’d
My footsteps into pastoral churchyards,
And suddenly, when I was very calm,
Look’d darkly up out of the gentle graves,
So that I clench’d my teeth, or should have scream’d;
And still behind me—see!—it creeps and creeps,
Dim in the dimness of the autumn day.                                              [7:17]

Higher! yet higher! Tho’ the path is steep,
And all around the withering bracken rusts,
Up yonder on the crag a mossy spring,
Frosted with silver, glistens, and around
Grasses as green as hedgerows in the May
Cushion the lichen’d stones.

                                           Here let us pause:                                  30
Here, where the grass gleams emerald, and the spring
Upbubbling faintly seemeth as a sound,
A drowsy hum, heard in the mind itself—
Here, in this stillness, let us pause and mark
The many-colour’d picture. Far beneath
Sleepeth the glassy Ocean like a sheet
Of liquid mother-o’-pearl, and on its rim
A ship sleeps, and the shadow of the ship;
Astern the reef juts darkly, edged with foam,
Thro’ the smooth brine: oh, hark! how loudly sings
A wild, weird ditty to a watery tune,
The fisher among his nets upon the shore;
And yonder, far away, his shouting bairns
Are running, dwarf’d by distance small as mice,
Along the yellow sands. Behind us, see
The immeasurable mountains, rising silent
Against the fields of dreamy blue, wherein
The rayless crescent of the mid-day moon
Lies like a reaper’s sickle; and before us
The immeasurable mountains, rising silent                                          31
From bourne to bourne, from knolls of thyme and heather
To leafless slopes of granite, from the slopes
Of granite to the dim and ashen heights                                            [9:24]
Where, with a silver glimmer, silently
Pausing, the white cloud sheds miraculous snow
On the heights untravell’d,—whither we are bound.

         O perishable brother, what a world!
How wondrous and how fair! Look! look! and think!
What magic mixed the tints of yonder west,
Wherein, upon a cushion soft as moss,
A heaven pink-tinted like a maiden’s flesh,
The dim star of the ocean lieth cool
In palpitating silver, while beneath
Her image, putting luminous feelers forth,
Bathes liquid, like a living thing o’ the sea.
What magic? What magician? O my brother,
What strange Magician, mixing up those tints,
Pouring the water down, and sending forth                                        32
The crystal air like breath, snowing the heavens
With luminous jewels of the day and night,
Look’d down and saw thee lie a lifeless clod,
And lifted thee, and moulded thee to shape,
Colour’d thee with the sunlight till thy blood
Ran ruby, poured the chemic tints o’ the air
Thro’ eyes that kindled into azure, stole
The flesh-tints of the lily and the rose
To make thee wondrous fair unto thyself,
Knitted thy limbs with ruby bands, and blew
Into thy hollow heart until it stirred,—
Then to the inner chamber of his heaven
Withdrawing, left in midst of such a world
The living apparition of a Man,—
A mystery amid the mysteries,—
A lonely semblance, with a wild appeal
To which no form that lives, however dear,
Hath given a tearless answer,—a Shape, a Soul,
Projecting ever as it ageth on
A Shade which is a silence and a sleep.

     Yet not companionless, within this waste                                      33
Of splendour, dwellest thou—here by thy side
I linger, girdled for the road like thee,
With pilgrim’s staff and scrip, and thro’ the vales
Below, a storm of people like to thee
Drifts with thee westward darkly, cloud on cloud,
Uttering a common moan, and to our eyes
Casting one common shadow; yet each soul
Therein now seeketh, with a want like thine,
The inevitable bourne. Nor those alone,
Thy perishable brethren, share thy want,
And wander haunted thro’ the world; but beasts,
With that dumb hunger in their eyes, project
Their darkness—by the yeanling lambkin’s side
Its shade plays, and the basking lizard hath
Its image on the flat stone in the sun,—
And these, the greater and the less, like thee
Shall perish in their season: in the mere
The slender water-lily sees her shape,
And sheddeth softly on the summer air
Her last chill breathing, and the forest tree                                          34
That, standing glorious for a hundred years,
Lengthens its shadow daily from the sun,
Fulfilleth its own prophecy at last,
And falleth, falleth. Art thou comforted?
Nay, then,—behold the shadows of the Hills,
Attesting these are perishable too,
And cry no more thou art companionless.

         How, like a melancholy bell, thy voice
Echoes the word! “Companionless!” Thine eyes
Suffer with light and tears, and wearily
Thou searchest all the picture beautiful
For vanished faces. Still, “companionless!”
O brother, let me hold thy hand again—
Spirit greets spirit—scent is mixed with scent—
Sweet is the touch of hands. Look on me! Orm!
Thy brother!
                       And no nearer? O ’tis sad
That here, like dumb beasts, yearning with blank eyes,
Wringing each other’s hands, pale, passionate,                                   35
Full of immortal likeness, wild with thirst
To mingle, yet we here must stand asunder,
Two human shapes, two mansions built apart,
Two pale men,—and two ghosts upon the ground!

Tread back my footsteps with me in thy mind:
I have wander’d long and far, and O I have seen
Strange visions; for my soul resembles not
The miserable souls of common men—
Mere lamps to guide the body to the board
And lustful bed—say, rather, ’tis a Wind
Prison’d in flesh, and shrieking to be free
To blow on the high places of the Lord!
Hither and hither hath its pent-up struggle
Compelled my footsteps—o’er the snowy steeps,
Thro’ the green valleys—into huts of hinds
And palaces of princes. It hath raved
Loud as the wind among the pines for rest,
Answered by all the winds of all the world
Gather’d like howling wolves beneath the moon;                               36
And it hath lain still as the air that broods
On meres Coruisken on dead days of frost,
In supreme moments of unearthly bliss,
Feeling the pathos and exceeding peace
Of thoughts as delicate and far removed
As starlight. But in stormy times and calm,
In pain or pleasure, came the Shadow too,
Meeting the Soul in its superbest hour,
And making it afraid.

                                 These twain have dwelt
Together, haunting one another’s bliss,—
The Wind, that would be on the extremest peaks,
And the strange Shadow of the prison-house,
Wherein ’tis pent so very cunningly.
Nay, how they mock each other! “Shade accursed,”
The Wind moans, “yet a little while, and thou
Shalt perish with the poor and mean abode
That casts thee—follow and admonish that,—
To me thine admonition promiseth                                                    37
The crumbling of the ruin chain’d wherein
I cry for perfect freedom.” Then methinks
The wild Shade waves its arms grotesque and says,
In dumb show, “Peace, thou unsubstantial Wind!
Bred of the peevish humour of the flesh,
Born in the body and the cells o’ the brain;
With these things shalt thou perish,—foul as gas
Thou senseless shalt dissolve upon the air,
And none shall know that thou hast ever been.”
Thus have they mock’d each other morn and mirk
In speech not human. When I lay at night,
Drunk with the ichor of the form I clasp’d,
How hath the sad Soul, mocking the brute bliss,
The radiant glistening play o’ the sense, withdrawn
Unto the innermost chamber of the brain,
And moan’d in shame; while in the taper light,
The Shades, with clasping arms and waving hair,
Seem’d saying, “Gather roses while thou mayst,
O royal purple Body doom’d to die!                                                 38
And hush, O Wind, for thou shalt perish too!”

I saw a hind at sunrise—dumb he stood,
And saw the Dawn press with her rosy feet
The dewy sweetness from the fields of hay,
Felt the world brighten—leaves and flowers and grass
Grow luminous—yet beside the pool he stood,
Wherein, in the gray vapour of the marsh,
His mottled oxen stood with large blank eyes
And steaming nostrils: and his eyes like theirs
Were empty, and he humm’d a surly song
Out of a hollow heart akin to beast’s:
Yea, sun nor star had little joy for him,
Nor tree nor flower,—to him the world was all
Mere matter for a ploughshare. On the hill
Above him, with loose jerkin backward blown
By winds of morning, and his white brow bare
Like marble, stood a singer—one of those
Who write in heart’s-blood what is blotted out
With ox-gall; and his soul was in his eyes                                           39
To see the coming of the beautiful Day,
His lips hung heavy with beauty, and he looked
Down on the surly clod among the kine,
And sent his Soul unto him thro’ his eyes,
Transfiguring him with beauty and with praise
Into the common pathos. Of such stuffs
Is mankind shapen, both, like thee and me,
Wear westward, to the melancholy realm
Where all the gather’d shades of all the world
Lie as a cloud around the feet of God.

This darkens all my seeking. O my friend!
If the whole world had royal eyes like thine,
I were much holpen; but to look upon
Eyes like the ox-herd’s, blank as very beast’s,
Shoots sorrow to the very roots of life.
Aye! there were hope indeed if each man seemed
A spirit’s habitation,—but the world
Is curst with these blank faces, still as stone,
And darkening inward. Have these dumb things Souls?                      40
If they be tenantless, dare thou and I
Christen by so sublime a name the Wind
Bred in the wasting body?

                                           Yestermorn,
In yonder city that afar away
Staineth the peaceful blue with its foul breath,
I passed into a dimly-lighted hall,
And heard a lanthorn-jaw’d Philosopher,
Clawing his straw-like bunch of yellow hair,
With skeletonian periods and a voice
Shrill as the grating of two bones. “O Soul,”
Quoth he, “O beauteousness we name the Soul,
Thou art the Flower of all the life o’ the World,
And not in every clod of flesh shoots forth
The perfect apparition of thy tints
Immortal! Flower and scented bloom of things,
Thou growest on no dunghill in the sun!”
A flower, a flower immortal? How I laugh’d!
Clip me the lily from its secret roots,                                                  41
And farewell all the wonder of the flower!

That self-same day, in that same city of souls,
I saw the King, a man of flesh and blood,
In gorgeous raiment. O the little eyes
Glimmering underneath the golden crown,
While sitting on a throne in open court,
Fountains of perfume sprinkling him with spray,
He heard the gray men of his kingdom speak
Of mighty public matters solemnly,
And nodding grave approval, all the while
Crack’d filberts like a monkey; yet at times
His shadow, and the shadow of his throne,
Falling against a grand sarcophagus
That filled one corner of the fountain’d court,
Awoke a nameless trouble, and the more
The sun shone, deeper on the tomb close by
The double shadow linger’d. Then methought
I was transported to a marvellous land,
A mighty forest of primæval growth                                                   42
Brooding in its own darkness—underwood
Breast-deep, and swarming thick with monstrous shapes;
And from a bough above me, by his tail
A man-beast swung and glimmer’d down at me
With little eyes and shining ivory teeth.
Laugh with me! Brute-beast and the small-eyed King
Seem’d brethren—face, eyes, mouth, and lips the same—
Only the brute-beast was the happier,
Since never nameless trouble filled his eyes,
Because his ghost upon the glimmering grass
Beneath him quivered, while he poised above
With philosophic swing by claws and tail.
“O Soul the Flower of all the life o’ the World,
O perfect Flower and scented bloom of things!”
O birth betoken’d in that windy hour,
When, sloughing off the brute, we stand and groan,
First frighten’d by the Shadow that has chased                                 43
Our changes up through all the grooves of Time!

Lift up thine eyes, old man, and look on me:
Like thee, a dark point in the scheme of things,
Where the dumb Spirit that pervadeth all—
Grass, trees, beasts, man—and lives and grows in all—
Pauses upon itself, and awe-struck feels
The shadow of the next and imminent
Transfiguration. So, a living Man!
That entity within whose brooding brain
Knowledge begins and ends—that point in time
When time becomes the shadow of a Dial,—
That dreadful living and corporeal Hour,
Who, wafted by an unseen Hand apart
From the wild rush of temporal things that pass,
Pauses and listens,—listening sees his face
Glassed in still waters of eternity,—
Gazes in awe at his own loveliness,
And fears it,—glanceth with affrighted eyes
Backward and forward, and beholds all dark,                                  44
Alike the place whence he unconscious came,
And that to which he conscious drifteth on,—
Yet seeth before him, wheresoe’er he turn,
The Shadow of himself, presaging doom.

 

[Notes:
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 4, l. 4: Lean on mine arm, and let us for a space
v. 7, l. 17: Dim in the dimness of this autumn day.
v. 9, l. 24: Of granite to the dim and dusky heights, ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 45

II.

THE RAINBOW.
_____

 

THE OLD MAN SPEAKS.

Mine eyes are dim. Where am I? Is this Snow
Falling in the cold air? All darkeneth,—
As if between me and the light there stood
Some shape that lived. My God, is this the end?

 

ORM.

Not yet! not yet! Look up! Thou livest yet!
’Tis but a little faintness, and will pass!

 

OLD MAN.

Pass? All things pass. The light, the morning dew,
The power that plotted and the foot that clomb;
And delicate bloom of life upon the flesh
Fading like peach-bloom ’neath a finger-press.
O God, to blossom like a flower in a day,
Then wear a winter in slow withering. . . .                                          46
Why not with sun-flash, Lord, or bolt of fire? . . .
Where am I?

 

ORM.

                       On the lonely heights of Earth;
Beneath thee lies the Ocean, and above thee
The hills stand silent in the setting sun.

 

OLD MAN.

What forms are these that come and change and go?

 

ORM.

Desolate shadows of the gathering Rain.

 

OLD MAN.

What sound is that I hear?

 

ORM.

                                         The homeless Wind
Shivering behind the shadows as they glide,
And moaning.

                                                                                                       47

OLD MAN.

                                           Ah!

 

ORM.

               Some phantom of the brain
Appalleth thee! Cling to me! Courage!

 

OLD MAN.

                                       Hark!
Dost thou not hear?

 

ORM.

                                           What?

 

OLD MAN.

                               Voices of the shapes
That yonder, with their silvern robes wind-blown,
All faint and shadowless against the light
Beckon me. Hush! They sing a lullaby!
They are the spirits that so long ago
Sung round my cradle,—and they sing the same,—
Though I am grown the ghost of that fair time.                             48 [13:7]
No, faces! These are faces I remember!                                         [13:8]
A fair face that, sweet in its golden hair—
And lower, see! a little pale-faced child’s,
Sad as a star. “Father!” A voice cried “Father!”
Lift me up! Look! How they are gathering!
All sing! All beckon!

 

ORM.

                               . . . ’Tis the end indeed.
Within his breast the life-blood of the heart
Swells like a breaking wave, as, clinging round me,
He yearneth, fascinated yet afraid,
With wild dim eyes that look on vacancy!

 

OLD MAN.

What gleameth yonder in the brightening air?

 

ORM.

The Spirit of the Rainbow hovering faint
Amid the wind-blown shadows of the Rain.

                                                                                                       49

OLD MAN.

Shadows! I see them—all the Shadows—see!
Uprising from the wild green sea of graves
That beats forlorn about the shores of earth.
Shadows—behold them!—how they gather and gather,
More and yet more, darker and darker yet;
Drifting with a low moan of mystery
Upward, still upward, till they almost touch
The bright dim edge of the Bow, but there they pause,
Struggling in vain against a breath from heaven,
And blacken. Hark! their sound is like a Sea!
Above them, with how dim a light divine,
Burneth the Bow,—and lo! it is a Bridge,
Dim, many-colour’d, strangely brightening,
Whereon all faint and fair and shadowless
Spirits like those, with faces I remember,
With a low sound like the soft rain in spring,
With a faint echo of the cradle song,
Coming and going, beckon me! I come!                                           50
Who holds me? Touch me not. O help! I am called!
Ah!                                                                        [Dies.

 

ORM.

     Gone! Dead! Something very cold past by
And touched my cheek like breath; even then, O God,
My comrade heard Thy summons, and behold!
Here lieth, void and cold and tenantless,
His feeble habitation. Poor gray hairs
Thin with long blowing in the windy cold,
At last ye sadden ruin! poor sweet lips,
Ye are dewless, ye are silent! poor worn heart,
No more shalt thou, like to a worn-out watch,
Tick feebly out the time!

                                     O Shadow sad,
Monitor, haunter, waiter till the end,
Brother of that which darkeneth at my feet,
Hast thou too fled, and dost thou follow still
The Spirit’s quest divine. Nay, thou dark ghost!                                 51
Thy work is done for ever—thou art doom’d—
A breath from heaven holds thee to the ground,
And here unto the ruin thou art chained,
Moveless, and dark, no more the ghost of life,
But dead, the shadow of a thing of stone.

Thus far, no further, Shadow!—but O brother,
O Spirit, where art thou? From what far height
Up yonder, pausing for a moment’s space,
Lookest thou back thy blessing? Art thou free?
Dost thou still hunger upward seeking rest,
Because some new horizon strange as ours
Shuts out the prospect of the place of peace?
Art thou a wave that, having broken once,
Gatherest up a glorious crest once more,
And glimmerest onward,—but to break again;
Or dost thou smooth thyself to perfect peace
In tranquil sight of some Eternal Shore?

     From the still region whither thou hast fled                                    52
No answer cometh; but with dewy wings
Brightening before it dieth, how divine
Burneth the Rainbow, at its earthliest edge
Now fading like a flower! Is it indeed
A Bridge whereon fair spirits come and go?
O Brother, didst thou glide to peace that way?
Silent—all silent—dimmer, dimmer yet,
Hue by hue dying, creeping back to heaven—
O let me too pass by it up to God!
Too late—it fadeth, faint and far away!

The Shadows gather round me—from the ground
My dark familiar looketh silently.
O Shadows, be at peace, for ye shall rest,
Yea, surely ye shall cease; for now, as ever,
Out of your cloudy being springs serene
The Bow of Mystery that spans the globe!

The beautiful Bow of thoughts ineffable,
Last consequence of this fair cloud of flesh!                                      53
The dim miraculous Iris of sweet Dream!
Rainbow of promise! Colour, Light, and Soul!
That comes, dies, comes again, and ever draws
Its strangest source from tears—that lives, that dies—
That is, is not—now here, now faded wholly—
Ever assuring, ever blessing us,
Ever eluding, ever beckoning,
Born of our essence, yet more strange than we,
As human, yet more beautiful tenfold,—
Rising in earth out of our cloudy being,
Touching forlornest places with its tints,
Strewing the sea with opal, scattering roses
Across the hollow pathways of the wind,
Fringing the clouds with flowers of crimson fire,
And melting, melting (whither our wild eyes
Follow imploring, whither our weak feet
Totter for ever), melting far away,
Yonder! upon the dimmest peak of Heaven!

 

[Notes:
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 13, l. 7: Though I am grown the ghosts of that fair time.
v. 13, l. 8: No! faces! These are faces I remember! ]

_____

 

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