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{The Book of Orm 1870}






Songs of Corruption, woven thus,
With tender thoughts and tremulous,
Sitting with a solemn face
In an island burying-place,
While weary waves broke sad and slow
O’er weedy wastes of sand below,
And stretch’d on every side of me
The rainy grief of the gray Sea.









         IF thou art an Angel,
         Who hath sent thee,                                                    [1:2]
     O Phantasy, brooding
Over my pale wife’s sleeping?
         In the darkness
         I am listening
For the rustle of thy robe;
Would I might feel thee breathing,
Would I might hear thee speaking,
Would I might only touch thee
         By the hand!

         She is very cold,                                                            58
     My wife is very cold,
     Her eyes are withered,
Her breath is dried like dew;—
The sound of my weeping
         Disturbeth her not;
Thy shadow, O Phantasy,
         Lieth like moonlight
         Upon her features,
And the lines of her mouth
         Are very sweet.

         In the night
I heard my pale wife moaning,
         Yet did not know
         What made her afraid.
         My pale wife said,
         “I am very cold,”
And shrank away from thee,
Though I saw thee not;
And she kissed me and went to sleep,                                     59
And gave a little start upon my arm
When on her living lips
     Thy freezing finger was laid.

         What art thou—
         Art thou God’s Angel?
         Or art thou only
         The chilly night-wind,
         Stealing downward
From the regions where the sun
Dwelleth alone with his shadow
         On a waste of snow?
Art thou the water or earth?
Or art thou the fatal air?
         Or art thou only
         An apparition
         Made by the mist
Of mine own eyes weeping?

         She is very cold,                                                            60
         My wife is very cold!
         I will kiss her,
And the silver-haired mother will kiss her,
And the little children will kiss her;
And then we will wrap her warm,
And hide her in a hollow space;
And the house will be empty
         Of thee, O Phantasy,
Cast on the unhappy household
         By the strange white clay.                                             [5:11]
Much I marvel, O Phantasy,
         That one so gentle,
         So sweet, when living,
Should cast a shadow as vast as thine;
         For, lo! thou loomest
         Upward and heavenward,
         Hiding the sunlight,
         Blackening the snow,
And the pointing of thy finger                                                   61
         Fadeth far away
On the sunset-tinged edges,
Where Man’s company ends,
And God’s loneliness begins.


Part I of ‘Songs of Corruption’ - ‘Phantasy’ - was originally published in North Coast and other Poems (1867) as the first part of the poem, ‘Celtic Mystics’. Details of the changes made to this earlier version are available in the North Coast - Revisions section.
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 1, l. 2: Who hath seen thee,
verse break added after v. 5, l. 11. ]






Now, sitting by her side, worn out with weeping,
Behold, I fell to sleep, and had a vision,
Wherein I heard a wondrous Voice intoning:

Crying aloud, “The Master on His throne
Openeth now the seventh seal of wonder,
And beckoneth back the angel men name Death.

And at His feet the mighty Angel kneeleth,
Breathing not; and the Lord doth look upon him,
Saying, “Thy wanderings on earth are ended.”

And lo! the mighty Shadow sitteth idle
Even at the silver gates of heaven,
Drowsily looking in on quiet waters,
And puts his silence among men no longer.                                        63


The world was very quiet. Men in traffic
Cast looks over their shoulders; pallid seamen
Shiver’d to walk upon the decks alone;

And women barred their doors with bars of iron,
In the silence of the night; and at the sunrise
Trembled behind the husbandmen afield.

I could not see a kirkyard near or far;
I thirsted for a green grave, and my vision
Was weary for the white gleam of a tombstone.

But hearkening dumbly, ever and anon
I heard a cry out of a human dwelling,
And felt the cold wind of a lost one’s going.

One struck a brother fiercely, and he fell,
And faded in a darkness; and that other
Tore his hair, and was afraid, and could not perish.

One struck his aged mother on the mouth,                                         64
And she vanished with a gray grief from his hearthstone.
One melted from her bairn, and on the ground

With sweet unconscious eyes the bairn lay smiling.
And many made a weeping among mountains,
And hid themselves in caverns, and were drunken.

I heard a voice from out the beauteous earth,
Whose side rolled up from winter into summer,
Crying, “I am grievous for my children.”

I heard a voice from out the hoary ocean,
Crying, “Burial in the breast of me were better,
Yea, burial in the salt flags and green crystals.”

I heard a voice from out the hollow ether,
Saying, “The thing ye cursed hath been abolished—
Corruption, and decay, and dissolution!”

And the world shrieked, and the summer-time was bitter,                  65
And men and women feared the air behind them;
And for lack of its green graves the world was hateful.


Now at the bottom of a snowy mountain
I came upon a woman thin with sorrow,
Whose voice was like the crying of a sea-gull,

Saying, “O Angel of the Lord, come hither,
And bring me him I seek for on thy bosom,
That I may close his eyelids and embrace him.

“I curse thee that I cannot look upon him!
I curse thee that I know not he is sleeping!
Yet know that he has vanished upon God!

“I laid my little girl upon a wood-bier,
And very sweet she seemed, and near unto me;
And slipping flowers into her shroud was comfort.

“I put my silver mother in the darkness,                                             66
And kissed her, and was solaced by her kisses,
And set a stone, to mark the place, above her.

“And green, green were their quiet sleeping-places,
So green that it was pleasant to remember
That I and my tall man would sleep beside them.

“The closing of dead eyelids is not dreadful,
For comfort comes upon us when we close them,
And tears fall, and our sorrow grows familiar;

“And we can sit above them where they slumber,
And spin a dreamy pain into a sweetness,
And know indeed that we are very near them.

“But to reach out empty arms is surely dreadful,
And to feel the hollow empty world is awful,
And bitter grow the silence and the distance.

“There is no space for grieving or for weeping;                                  67
No touch, no cold, no agony to strive with,
And nothing but a horror and a blankness!”


Now behold I saw a woman in a mud-hut
Raking the white spent embers with her fingers,
And fouling her bright hair with the white ashes.

Her mouth was very bitter with the ashes;
Her eyes with dust were blinded; and her sorrow
Sobbed in the throat of her like gurgling water.

And all around the voiceless hills were hoary,
But red light scorched their edges; and above her
There was a soundless trouble of the vapours.

“Whither, and O whither,” said the woman,
“O Spirit of the Lord, hast thou conveyed them,
My little ones, my little son and daughter?

“For, lo! we wandered forth at early morning,                                    68
And winds were blowing round us, and their mouths
Blew rose-buds to the rose-buds, and their eyes

“Looked violets at the violets, and their hair
Made sunshine in the sunshine, and their passing
Left a pleasure in the dewy leaves behind them;

“And suddenly my little son looked upward,
And his eyes were dried like dew-drops; and his going
Was like a blow of fire upon my face.

“And my little son was gone. My little daughter
Looked round me for him, clinging to my vesture;
But the Lord had drawn him from me, and I knew it

“By the sign He gives the stricken, that the lost one
Lingers nowhere on the earth, on hill or valley,
Neither underneath the grasses nor the tree-roots.

“And my shriek was like the splitting of an ice-reef,                            69
And I sank among my hair, and all my palm
Was moist and warm where the little hand had filled it.

“Then I fled and sought him wildly, hither and thither—
Though I knew that he was stricken from me wholly
By the token that the Spirit gives the stricken.

“I sought him in the sunlight and the starlight,
I sought him in great forests, and in waters
Where I saw mine own pale image looking at me.

“And I forgot my little bright-haired daughter,
Though her voice was like a wild-bird’s far behind me,
Till the voice ceased, and the universe was silent.

“And stilly, in the starlight, came I backward
To the forest where I missed him; and no voices
Brake the stillness as I stooped down in the starlight,

“And saw two little shoes filled up with dew,                                    70
And no mark of little footsteps any farther,
And knew my little daughter had gone also.”


But beasts died: yea, the cattle in the yoke,
The milk-cow in the meadow, and the sheep,
And the dog upon the doorstep; and men envied.

And birds died; yea, the eagle at the sun-gate,
The swan upon the waters, and the farm-fowl,
And the swallows on the housetops; and men envied.

And reptiles; yea, the toad upon the roadside,
The slimy, speckled snake among the grass,
The lizard on the ruin; and men envied.

The dog in lonely places cried not over
The body of his master; but it missed him,
And whined into the air, and died, and rotted.

The traveller’s horse lay swollen in the pathway,                                71
And the blue fly fed upon it; but no traveller
Was there; nay, not his footprint on the ground.

The cat mewed in the midnight, and the blind
Gave a rustle, and the lamp burnt blue and faint,
And the father’s bed was empty in the morning.

The mother fell to sleep beside the cradle,
Rocking it, while she slumbered, with her foot,
And wakened,—and the cradle there was empty.

I saw a two-year’s child, and he was playing;
And he found a dead white bird upon the doorway,
And laughed, and ran to show it to his mother.

The mother moaned, and clutched him, and was bitter,
And flung the dead white bird across the threshold;
And another white bird flitted round and round it,

And uttered a sharp cry, and twittered and twittered,                        72
And lit beside its dead mate, and grew busy,
Strewing it over with green leaves and yellow.


So far, so far to seek for were the limits
Of affliction; and men’s terror grew a homeless
Terror, yea, and a fatal sense of blankness.

There was no little token of distraction,
There was no visible presence of bereavement,
Such as the mourner easeth out his heart on.

There was no comfort in the slow farewell,
Nor gentle shutting of belovëd eyes,
Nor beautiful broodings over sleeping features.

There were no kisses on familiar faces,
No weaving of white grave-clothes, no last pondering
Over the still wax cheeks and folded fingers.

There was no putting tokens under pillows,                                       73
There was no dreadful beauty slowly fading,
Fading like moonlight softly into darkness.

There were no churchyard paths to walk on, thinking
How near the well-beloved ones are lying.
There were no sweet green graves to sit and muse on,

Till grief should grow a summer meditation,
The shadow of the passing of an angel,
And sleeping should seem easy, and not cruel.

Nothing but wondrous parting and a blankness.


But I woke.                                                                                   [59:1]

               And, lo! the burthen was uplifted,
And I prayed within the chamber where she slumbered,
And my tears flowed fast and free, but were not bitter.

I eased my heart three days by watching near her,                            74
And made her pillow sweet with scent and flowers,
And could bear at last to put her in the darkness.

And I heard the kirk-bells ringing very slowly,
And the priests were in their vestments, and the earth
Dripped awful on the hard wood, yet I bore it.

And I cried, “O unseen Sender of Corruption,
I bless Thee for the wonder of Thy mercy,
Which softeneth the mystery and the parting.

“I bless Thee for the change and for the comfort,
The bloomless face, shut eyes, and waxen fingers,—
For Sleeping, and for Silence, and Corruption.”


Part II of ‘Songs of Corruption’ - ‘The Dream Of The World Without Death’ - was originally published in North Coast and other Poems (1867) as the second part of the poem, ‘Celtic Mystics’, with the subtitle ‘The Vision’. Details of the changes made to this earlier version are available in the North Coast - Revisions section.
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 59, l. 1: [verse break omitted] But I awoke, and, lo! the burthen was uplifted, ]






My Soul, thou art wed
     To a perishable thing,
But death from thy strange mate
Shall sever thee full soon,
If thou wilt reap wings
Take all the Flesh can give:

The touch of the smelling dead,
The kiss of the maiden’s mouth,
The sorrow, the hope, the fear,
That floweth along the veins:
Take all, nor be afraid;
Cling close to thy mortal mate!

So shalt thou duly wring
Out of thy long embrace
The hunger and thirst whereof                                                  76
The Master maketh thee wings,—
The beautiful, wondrous yearning,
The mighty thirst to endure.

Be not afraid, my Soul,
To leave thy mate at last,
Though ye shall learn in time
To love each other well;
But put her gently down
In the earth beneath thy feet.

And dry thine eyes and hasten
To the imperishable springs;
And it shall be well for thee
In the beautiful Master’s sight,
If it be found in the end
Thou hast used her tenderly.


Part III of ‘Songs of Corruption’ - ‘Soul And Flesh’ - was originally published in North Coast and other Poems (1867) as the fifth part of the poem, ‘Celtic Mystics’, with the subtitle ‘Soul And Body’.Details of the changes made to this earlier version are available in the North Coast - Revisions section.]






A House miraculous of breath
The royal Soul inhabiteth.
Alone therein for evermore,
It seeks in vain to pass the door;
But through the windows of the eyne
Signalleth to its kin divine. . . .
This is a song Orm sang of old
To Oona with the locks of gold.






COME to me! clasp me!
Spirit to spirit!
Bosom to bosom!
Tenderly, clingingly,
     Mingle to one! . . .

Now, from my kisses
Withdrawing, and blushing,
Why dost thou gaze on me?
Why dost thou weep?
Why dost thou cling to me,
Imploring, adoring?
What are those meanings
     That flash from thine eyes?

     Pitiful! pitiful!                                                                     80
Now I conceive thee!—
Yea, it were easier
Striking two swords,
To weld them together,
Than spirit with spirit
To mingle, tho’ rapture
     Be perfect as this.
Shut in a tremulous
Prison, each spirit
Hungers and yearns—
Never, ah never,
Belovëd, belovëd,
Have these eyes look’d on
     The face of thy Soul.

Ours are two dwellings,
Wondrously beautiful,
Made in the darkness
     Of soft-tinted flesh:
In the one dwelling,                                                                 81
Prison’d I dwell,
And lo! from the other
     Thou beckonest me!
I am a Soul!
Thou art a Soul!
These are our dwellings!
     O to be free!

Beauteous, belovëd,
Is thy dear dwelling;
All o’er it blowing
The roses of dawn—
Bright is the portal,
The dwelling is scented
     Within and without;
Strange are the windows,
So clouded with azure,
The faces are hidden
     That look from within.

Now I approach thee,                                                             82
Sweetness and odour
Tremble upon me—
Wild is the rapture!
Thick is the perfume!
Sweet bursts of music
     Thrill from within!
Closer, yet closer!
Bosom to bosom!
Tenderly, clingingly,
     Mingle to one. . . .
Ah! but what faces
     Are those that look forth! . . .

Faces? What faces? As I speak they die,
And all my gaze is empty as of old.
O love! the world was fair, and everywhere
Rose wondrous human dwellings like mine own,
And many of these were foul and dark with dust,
Haunted by things obscene, not beautiful,
But most were very royal, meet to serve                                            83
Angels for habitation. All alone
Brooded my Soul by a mysterious fire
Dim-burning, never-dying, from the first
Lit in the place by God; the winds and rains
Struck on the abode and spared it; day and night
Above it came and went; and in the night
My Soul gazed from the threshold silently,
And saw the congregated lamps that swung
Above it in the dark and dreamy blue;
And in the day my Soul gazed on the earth,
And sought the dwellings there for signs, and lo!
None answer'd; for the Souls inhabitant
Drew coldly back and darken’d; and I said,
“In all the habitations I behold,
Some old, some young, some fair, and some not fair,
There dwells no Soul I know.” But as I spake,
I saw beside me in a dreamy light
Thy habitation, so serene and fair,
So stately in a rosy dawn of day,
That all my Soul look’d forth and cried, “Behold,                              84
The sweetest dwelling in the whole wide world!”
And thought not of the inmate, but gazed on,
Lingeringly, hushfully; for as I gazed
Something came glistening up into thine eyes,
And beckon’d, and a murmur from the portal,
A murmur and a perfume, floated hither,
Thrill’d thro’ my dwelling, making every chamber
               Tremble with mystical,
               Dazzling desire!

               . . Come to me! close to me!
               Bosom to bosom!
               Tenderly, clingingly,
                   Mingle to one!
               Wildly within me
               Some eager inmate
               Rushes and trembles,
               Peers from the eyes
               And calls in the ears,
               Yearns to thee, cries to thee!                                              85
               Claiming old kinship
               In lives far removed! . .
               Vainly, ah vainly!
               Pent in its prison
               Must each miraculous
                   Spirit remain,—
               Yet inarticulate,
               Striving to language
               Music and memory,
                   Rapture and dream!

Rapture and dream! Belovëd one, in vain
My spirit seeks for utterance. Alas,
Not yet shall there be speech. Not yet, not yet,
One dweller in a mortal tenement
Can know what secret faces hide away
Within the neighbouring dwelling. Ah beloved,
The mystery, the mystery! We cry
For God’s face, who have never looked upon
The poorest Soul’s face in the wonderful                                           86
Soul-haunted world. A spirit once there dwelt
Beside me, close as thou—two wedded souls,
We mingled—flesh was mixed with flesh—we knew
All joys, all unreserves of mingled life—
Yea, not a sunbeam filled the house of one
But touched the other’s threshold. Hear me swear
I never knew that Soul! All touch, all sound,
All light was insufficient. The Soul, pent
In its strange chambers, cried to mine in vain—
We saw each other not: but oftentimes
When I was glad, the windows of my neighbour
Were dark and drawn, as for a funeral;
And sometimes, when, most weary of the world,
My Soul was looking forth at dead of night,
I saw the neighbouring dwelling brightly lit,
The happy windows flooded full of light,
As if a feast were being held within.
Yet were there passing flashes, random gleams,
Low sounds, from the inhabitant divine
I knew not; and I shrunk from some of these                                      87
In a mysterious pain. At last, Belovëd,
The frail fair mansion where that spirit dwelt
Totter’d and trembled, thro’ the wondrous flesh
A dim sick glimmer from the fire within
Grew fainter, fainter. “I am going away,”
The Spirit seemed to cry; and as it cried,
Stood still and dim and very beautiful
Up in the windows of the eyes—there linger’d,
First seen, last seen, a moment, silently—
So different, more beautiful tenfold
Than all that I had dreamed—I sobbed aloud
“Stay! stay!” but at the one despairing word
The spirit faded,— from the hearth within
The dim fire died with one last quivering gleam—
The house became a ruin; and I moaned
“God help me! ’twas herself that look’d at me!
First seen! I never knew her face before! . .
Too late! too late! too late!”

. . . Yea, from my forehead                                                      88
Kiss the dark fantasy!
Tenderly, clingingly,
     Mingle to one!
Is not this language?
Music and memory,
     Rapture and dream?—
O in the dewy-bright
     Day-dawn of love,
Is it not wondrous,
Blush-red with roses,
The beautiful, mystical
     House of the Soul!
Lo in mine innermost                                                             [10:14]
Chambers is floating
Soft perfume and music
     That tremble from thee. . . .
Ah, but what faces
     Are these, that look forth?

. . . Sit still, Belovëd, while I search thy looks                                     89
For memories. O thou art beautiful!
Crownëd with silken gold,—soft amber tints
Coming and going on thy peach-hued flesh,—
Thy breath a perfume,—thy blue eyes twain stars—
Thy lips like dewy rosebuds to the eye,
Tho’ living to the touch. O royal abode,
Flooded with music, light, and precious scent,
Curtainëd soft with subtle mystery!
Nay, stir not, but gaze on, still and serene,
Possessing me with thy superb still sweep
Of eyes ineffable—sit still, my queen,
And let me, clinging on thee, court the ways
Wherein I know thee. Nay, even now, Belovëd,
When all the world like some vast tidal wave
Withdraws and leaves us on a golden shore
Alone together—when thou most art mine—
When the winds blow for us, and the soft stars
Are shining for us, where we dream apart,—
Now our two dwellings in a dizzy hour
Have mingled their foundations,—clinging thus                                  90
And hungering round thee in mine ecstasy,—                                 [11:22]
Belovëd, do I know thee? Hath my Soul
Spoken to thine the imperial speech of Souls,
Perfect in meaning and in melody?
Tell me, Belovëd, while thou sittest so,
Mine own, my queen, my palace of delights,
What lights are these that pass and come again
Within thee? Is the Spirit looking forth,
Or is it but the glittering gleams of time
Playing on vacant windows? Can I swear
Thou thinkest of me now at all? Behold
Now all thy beauty is suffused with brightness—
Thou blushest and thou smilest. Tell me true,
Thou then wast far within, and with that cry
I woke thee out of dream. O speak to me!—
Soul’s speech, Belovëd! Do not smile that way—
A flood of brightness issues from thy door,
But mine is scarcely bright. Lovest thou me,
Belovëd, my belovëd? Soul belovëd,
Do I possess thee? Sight and scent and touch                                     91
Are insufficient. Open! let me in
To the strange chambers I have never seen!
Heart of the rose, unopen! or I die!                                                 [11:44]


Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 10, l. 14: Lo in my innermost
v. 11, l. 22: And hungering round me in mine ecstasy,—
As well as the above changes, the 1882 Selected Poems also has an altered final line:
v. 11, l. 44:
Heart of the rose, blow open! or I die! ]






Songs of Seeking, day by day
Sung while wearying on the way,—
Feeble cries of one who knows
Nor whence he comes, nor whither goes,
Yet of his own free will doth wear
The bloody Cross of those who fare
Upward and in sad accord,—                                            
The footsore Seekers of the Lord.


Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 1, l. 7: Upward and on in sad accord,— ]







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

Even as a meteor-stone from suns afar,
I fell unto the ways of life and breathed,
Wherefore to much on earth I feel a stranger.

I found myself in a green norland valley,
A place of gleaming waters and gray heavens,
And weirdly woven colours in the air.

A basin round whose margin rose the mountains
Green-based, snow-crown’d, and windy saeters midway,
And the thin line of a spire against the mountains.

Around were homes of peasants rude and holy,                                 96
Who look’d upon the mountains and the forests,
On the waters, on the vapours, without wonder;

Who, happy in their labours six days weekly,
Were happy on their knees upon the seventh.
But I wonder’d, being strange, and was not happy.

For I cried: “O Thou Unseen, how shall I praise Thee—
How shall I name Thee glorious whom I know not—
If Thou art as these say, I scarce conceive thee.

“Unfold to me the image of Thy features,
Come down upon my heart, that I may know Thee;”—
And I made a song of seeking, on a mountain.






As in the snowy stillness,
         Where the stars shine greenly
     In a mirror of ice,
The Reindeer abideth alone,
And speedeth swiftly
From her following shadow
         In the moon,—
I speed for ever
From the mystic shape
That my life projects,
And my soul perceives;
And I loom for ever
Through desolate regions
Of wondrous thought,
And I fear the thing
That follows me,
And cannot escape it
         Night or day.

     Doth Thy wingëd lightning                                                   98
Strike, O Master!
The timid Reindeer
         Flying her shade?
Will Thy wrath pursue me,
Because I cannot
Escape the shadow
         Of the thing I am?

I have pried and pondered,
         I have agonized,
I have sought to find Thee,
         Yet still must roam,
Affrighted, fleeing Thee,
Chased by the shadow
Of the thing I am,
Through desolate regions
Of wondrous thought!


Part II of ‘Songs of Seeking’ - ‘Quest’ - was originally published in North Coast and other Poems (1867) as the third part of the poem, ‘Celtic Mystics’. Details of the changes made to this earlier version are available in the North Coast - Revisions section.]






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

And sweet it was to sail on crystal Waters,
Between the dome above and the dome under,
The Hills above me, and the Hills beneath me;

And sweet it was to watch the wondrous Lightning
Spring flashing at the earth, and slowly perish
Under the falling of the summer Rain.

I loved all grand and gentle and strange things,—
The wind-flower at the tree-root, and the white cloud,
The strength of Mountains, and the power of Waters.

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

And Summer, in her gorgeous loose apparel;                                   100
And Autumn, with her dreamy silver eyebrows;                               [6:2]
And Winter, with his white hair blown about him.

Yea, everywhere there stirred a deathless beauty,
A gleaming and a flashing into change,
An under-stream of sober consecration.

Yet nought endured, but all the glory faded,
And power and sweet and sorrow were interwoven;                        [8:2]
There was no single presence of the Spirit.


Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 6, l. 2: And Autumn, with her dreamy drooping lashes;
v. 8, l. 2: And power and joy and sorrow were interwoven; ]






Because Thou art beautiful,
Because Thou art mysterious,
     Because Thou art strong,
Or because Thou art pitiless,
Shall my soul worship Thee,
     O thou Unseen One?

As men bow to monarchs,
As slaves to their owners,
     Shall I bow to Thee?
As one that is fearful,
As one that is insolent,                                                           [2:5]
     Shall I pray to Thee?

Wert Thou a demigod,
Wert Thou an angel,
     Lip-worship might serve;
To Thee, most beautiful,                                                         102
Wondrous, mysterious,
     How shall it avail?

Thou art not a demigod,
Thou art not a monarch,—
     Why should I bow to Thee?
I am not fearful,
I am not insolent,—                                                                [4:5]
     Why should I pray to Thee?

O Spirit of mountains!
Strong Master of Waters!
     Strange Shaper of clouds!
When these things worship Thee,
I too will worship Thee,
     O Maker of Men!


Part IV of ‘Songs of Seeking’ - ‘O Unseen One!’ - was originally published in North Coast and other Poems (1867) as the fourth part of the poem, ‘Celtic Mystics’. Details of the changes made to this earlier version are available in the North Coast - Revisions section.
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 2, l. 5: As one that is slavish,
v. 4, l. 5: I am not slavish,— ]






The World was wondrous round me— God’s green World—
A world of gleaming waters and green places,
And weirdly woven colours in the air.

Yet evermore a trouble did pursue me—
A hunger for the wherefore of my being,
A wonder from what regions I had fallen.

I gladdened in the glad things of the World,
Yet crying always, “Wherefore, and oh, wherefore?
What am I? Wherefore doth the world seem happy?”

I saddened in the sad things of the World,
Yet crying, “Wherefore are men bruised and beaten?
Whence do I grieve and gladden to no end?”






I took my staff and wandered o’er the mountains,
And came among the heaps of gold and silver,
The gorgeous desolation of the Cities.

My trouble grew tenfold when I beheld
The agony and burden of my fellows,
The pains of sick men and the groans of hungry.

I saw the good man tear his hair and weep;
I saw the bad man tread on human necks
Prospering and blaspheming; and I wondered.

The silken-natured woman was a bond-slave;
The gross man foul’d her likeness in high places;
The innocent were heart-wrung; and I wondered.

The gifts of earth are given to the base;
The monster of the Cities spurned the martyr;
The martyr died, denying; and I wondered.






Three Priests in divers vestments passed and whispered:
“Worship the one God, stranger, or thou diest;
Yea, worship, or thy tortures shall be endless.”

I cried, “Which God, O wise ones, must I worship?”
And neither answer’d, but one showed a Picture,
A fair Man dying on a Cross of wood.

And this one said, “The others err, O stranger!
Repent, and love thy brother,—’tis enough!
The Doom of Dooms is only for the wicked.”

I turned and cried unto him, “Who is wicked?”
He vanish’d, and within a house beside me
I heard a hard man bless his little children.

My heart was full of comfort for the wicked,                                               106
Mine eyes were cleared with love, and everywhere
The wicked wore a piteousness like starlight.

I felt my spirit foul with misconceivings,
I thought of old transgressions and was humble,
I cried: “O God, whose doom is on the wicked!

“Thou art not He for whom my being hungers!
The Spirit of the grand things and the gentle,
The strength of mountains and the power of waters!”

And lo! that very night I had a Vision.







I saw in a vision of the night
The Lamb of God, and it was white;
White as snow it wander’d thro’
Silent fields of harebell-blue,
Still it wandering fed, and sweet
Flower’d the stars around its feet.



I heard in vision a strange voice
Cry aloud, “Rejoice! rejoice!
Dead men rise and come away,
Now it is the Judgment Day!”
And I heard the host intone
Round the footstool of the Throne.



Then the vision pained my sight,
All I saw became so bright—
All the Souls of men were there,                                             108
All the Angels of the air;
God was smiling on His seat,
And the Lamb was at His feet.



Then I heard a voice—“’Tis done!
Blest be those whom God hath won!”
And the loud hosannah grew,
And the golden trumpets blew,
And around the place of rest
Rose the bright mist of the Blest.



Then suddenly I saw again,
Bleating like a thing in pain,
The Lamb of God;—and all in fear
Gazed and cried as it came near,
For on its robe of holy white
Crimson blood-stains glimmer’d bright.



O the vision of the night!
The Lamb of God! the blood-stains bright!
In quiet waters of the skies
It bathed itself with piteous eyes—
Vainly on its raiment fell
Cleansing dews ineffable!



All the while it cried for pain,
It could not wash away the stain—
All the gentle blissful sky
Felt the trouble of its cry—
All the streams of silver sheen
Sought in vain to make it clean.                                               [7:6]



Where’er it went along the skies
The Happy turned away their eyes;
Where’er it past from shore to shore                                       110
All wept for those whose blood it bore—
Its piteous cry filled all the air,
Till the dream was more than I could bear.



And in the darkness of my bed
Weeping I awakenëd—
In the silence of the night,
Dying softly from my sight,
Melted that pale Dream of pain
Like a snow-flake from my brain.                                           [9:6]


Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 7, l. 6: ‘Sought it vain to make it clean’ in the original edition, corrected in the 1874 and 1884 Poetical Works.
v. 9, l. 6: Like a snow-flake from thy brain. ]






Master, if there be Doom,
     All men are bereaven!
If, in the universe,
One Spirit receive the curse,
     Alas for Heaven!
If there be Doom for one,
Thou, Master, art undone.

Were I a Soul in heaven,
     Afar from pain,
Yea, on Thy breast of snow,
At the scream of one below
     I should scream again.
Art Thou less piteous than
The conception of a Man?


Part IX of ‘Songs of Seeking’ - ‘Doom’ - was originally published in North Coast and other Poems (1867) as the sixth part of the poem, ‘Celtic Mystics’. Details of the changes made to this earlier version are available in the North Coast - Revisions section.]






I hear a voice, “How should God pardon sin?
How should He save the sinner with the sinless?
That would be ill: the Lord my God is just.”

Further I hear, “How should God pardon lust?
How should He comfort the adulteress?
That would be foul: the Lord my God is pure.”

Further I hear, “How should God pardon blood?
How should the murtherer have a place in heaven
Beside the innocent life he took away?”

And God is on His throne; and in a dream
Sees mortals making figures out of clay,
Shapen like men, and calling them God’s angels.

And sees the shapes look up into His eyes,                                       113
Exclaiming, “Thou dost ill to save this man;                                       [5:2]
Damn Thou this woman, and curse this cut-throat, Lord!”

God dreams this, and His dreaming is the world;
And thou and I are dreams within His dream;
And nothing dieth God hath dreamt or thought.


Part X of ‘Songs of Seeking’ - ‘God’s Dream’ - was originally published in North Coast and other Poems (1867) as the seventh part of the poem, ‘Celtic Mystics’. Details of the changes made to this earlier version are available in the North Coast - Revisions section.
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v.5, l. 2: Exclaiming, “Thou didst ill to save this man; ]






Wherever men sinned and wept,
I wandered in my quest;
At last in a Garden of God
I saw the Flower of the World.

This Flower had human eyes,
Its breath was the breath of the mouth;
Sunlight and starlight came,
And the Flower drank bliss from both.

Whatever was base and unclean,
Whatever was sad and strange,
Was piled around its roots;
It drew its strength from the same.

Whatever was formless and base
Pass’d into fineness and form;
Whatever was lifeless and mean                                             115
Grew into beautiful bloom.

Then I thought, “O Flower of the World!
Miraculous Blossom of things,
Light as a faint wreath of snow
Thou tremblest to fall in the wind.

“O beautiful Flower of the World,
Fall not nor wither away;
He is coming—He cannot be far—
The Lord of the Flow’rs and the Stars.

And I cried, “O Spirit divine!
That walkest the Garden unseen,
Come hither, and bless, ere it dies,
The beautiful Flower of the World.”






Weary with seeking, weary with long waiting,
I fell upon my knees, and wept, exclaiming,
“O Spirit of the grand things and the gentle!

“Thou hidest from our seeking—Thou art crafty—
Thou wilt not let our hearts admit Thee wholly—
But believing hath a core of unbelieving—                                        [2:3]

“A coward dare not look upon Thy features,
But museth in a cloud of misconceiving;
The bravest man’s conception is a coward’s.

“Wherefore, O wherefore, art Thou veil’d and hidden?
The world were well, and wickedness were over,
If Thou upon Thy throne were one thing certain.”

And lo! that very night I had a Vision.


Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 2, l. 3: Believing hath a core of unbelieving— ]



The Book of Orm 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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