POEMS FROM OTHER SOURCES - 2
II. THE DEAD.
O CITY, that liest at rest
In the robe the snow-fairies have given,
With the graves of the dead on thy breast,
And the stars, like their Souls, up in heaven!
Sleep!—like the slumber called Death,
Not a sound, not a breath,
While I sing of the Dead in your keeping;
Let me feel in your stillness to-night
The mute unapproachable might
Of the sleep they are sleeping!
City, so husht, as in fear!
Asleep, with thy lives without number!
Each life little knoweth how near
To the secret of Death is its slumber;
And each Soul proves the labour of life
Is divine in its strife,
Its patience, its pain, and its duty,
By clothing the Day dead and dumb
With the glory which ne’er seems to come,
The hopeful To-Morrow, called Beauty.
The Dead! They are still as thy Heart,
This midnight of cold winter-weather,
Yet what are the Dead but a part
Of the goal not yet won altogether?
Each life thou hast lost, thou the whole,
Is a step to that goal,—
Something won, something beautiful spoken;
Each life had its labour to give
To the cause of the millions who live,
And thou keepest the dust as a token.
With the shades of the Dead as they flee
Your laws (which are Memory) lengthen—
E’en the suicide proveth in thee
A weakness his weakness will strengthen.
The Temple of Truth, born of breath,
Darkens on us from Death,
And our sleep is its sweeter reflection;
For nothing is lost, great or small,
Without something well-gained to us all,
And our Dead are our steps to perfection.
The multitudes passing away
Toil up to the goal happy-hearted,
And the Day yet unborn is a Day
More fair than the Day just departed;
We strain and we toil and we climb
Up the mountain of Time,
With Love the dark moments beguiling;
From the womb to the tomb let us go,
For high on the mountain, we know,
Stands Labour transfigured and smiling.
The Dead! They have laboured to show
Earth and Heaven a closer communion;
We are nearer the Dead than we know,
And our sleep is the sign of the union;
And we daily grow nearer our Dead
Who have laboured and fled,
The types of a duty completed!
Let us on—we shall join them at length,
Let us labour, for unto our strength
The labour before us is meted.
We labour together—’t is best;
We slumber with Hope for a neighbour,
And slowly departing to rest
Find the infinite end of our labour;
We toil in an infinite crowd,
And our toil is a cloud
The end of our pilgrimage screening—
But God, if His worshippers weep,
In the link of His death and their sleep
Hides hints of a beautiful meaning.
Sleep, City, and symbol the time
When our sleep bursts to lovely awaking,
When Death shows the Temple sublime
Our toil is unconsciously making!
Each is weak, each is small, each is vain,
In his pride and his pain,
But he leans on the rest if he falter;
And if taken together we show
The work that must brighten and grow,
When the Dead are the stones of God’s Altar!
’The Dead’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 2, January 1861). A review of the magazine in the Illustrated Times (5 January, 1861) referred to “a second of the ‘London Poems,’ full of fine thought and eloquent expression.”
THEY haunt the streets of the town by night,
But are banished from day for ever;
They come and go like the shadows cast
By clouds on a flowing river;
The ghosts of a sweetness long since lost,
Unpitied and dead to pity,
They wander, lonely and tempest-tost,
Where blackness clotheth the city;
They live their lives, forgotten and dead,
Forgiveless and unforgiven,—
For the angel of childhood seems to smile
Them back from the portals of heaven.
While far away, among English dales,
In beautiful country places,
Old couples whisper in bed o’ nights
And talk of the absent faces!
The old, old tale with the doleful end!—
A heart either wicked or broken,
A vacant place by the ingleside,
A name that is never spoken.
The end?—It is yonder beneath the gas,
The sin, the paint, and the patches;
Or in yonder house, where a woman dies
To a chorus of drunken catches.
The end ?—a shriek from the moonlit bridge,
A plunge to the death beneath,
And a bubble of light round a fluttering dress
Where the waters circle and seethe.
What curse lies yonder without the town,
Where the blue fresh rivers run,
There, in the pastoral homes whose hearths
Are smiled upon by the sun?
What taint is alive in that free clear air
Which comes not hither to woo us,
That it sends these pitiful shadows forth
To mock us and to undo us?
What blight is upon it, that it gives
These wandering daughters to us?
God made the country and man the town,
So runneth the trite old saying;
Yet half this wormwood has grown as flowers
Where country breezes are playing,
In little hamlets and tiny towns
Where children wander a-maying.
Fresh from the fields and the streams they come,
And the simple household duty,
To mock the march of the busy time
With error, new-born of beauty.
O City, the voice of the mountain breeze,
Where every leaflet rejoices,
The echo that rings in the hill and glen,
Is echoed in these sad voices;
And, ’mid the light of the midnight lamps
I see in some azure eye
Just such a beauty as brooklets catch
When full of the sun and sky;
And looking thro’ tears at the pale sad face
Of some sorrowful fair new-comer,
I trace a glory like that which clothes
The village church in the summer.
Sinners! they wander in wind and rain,
Haply remembering often
Old rough home phrases that time has power
To sweeten with tears and to soften—
Remembering how, when strong in toil,
Their hands were hardened and brown,
The mother went to church in her rags,
And purchased the girl a gown.
Ah, me! the wedded deny themselves
To buy the baby a toy,
They work with a will upon scanty fare
While they educate the boy;
But the boy as he grows to his proper height
Looks higher than mother or sire—
Too tall to sit in the cosy place
Kept for him beside the fire;
Or, falling perchance into evil ways,
Grows bitter and harsh and cold;
Or blocks their path to his cottage-door
With a slattern or a scold.
They load the girl with their homely gifts,
They rear her in wifely arts;
They dream of the girl in her bridal-dress,
While she sins and breaks their hearts.
Ah, me! to see the faces that haunt
The streets with their ghastly mirth,
To watch the vacant delight and see
The woman so gross with earth;
To find the sinner sweetening sin,
Mad with a vile unrest—
And then to think of the mother’s hope
As she smiles on the babe at her breast!
O City, rich in money and men,
And richer in work divine!
Whose is the sorrow and whose the sin?
And how much of the sin is thine?
Enough to know that the sin was born
Of a bitter delight or sorrow;
That the sorrow and sin can be cleansed away
Neither to-day nor to-morrow.
Enough to know that the broken heart
Needs the beauty of Christ to mend it;
That, ere we labour to kill the sin,
We must labour to comprehend it.
We men are narrow and harsh and vain,
We are petty amid our scorn!
But oh, to gaze on the crowded street
Where the sinners wander forlorn,
And then to kiss our daughters and wives
And our little babes new-born!
To see the sin and the sorrow flaunt
When the beautiful day is done,
And then to think of the homeless heart
Which mourns for the absent one,—
Of the free blue air and the country dales,
Where the bright fresh rivers run,—
Of the girl who sings in her mother’s house,
And the children that laugh in the sun!
’Outcasts’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 3, February 1861).
IV. THE DESTITUTE.
THE heart of the City is black with sin,
Black in its inmost core;
For Sorrow, God’s shadow, falls dark within
The hopeless homes of the poor;
The strong man gnaweth his iron chain,
And hungers from night to morn,
The woman lying apart in pain
Curses the babe unborn;
The little children make moan alway,
Shelterless, starven, bereaven,
With souls that glimmer thro’ slender clay,
And beacon their mothers from heaven.
The rich man’s larder is richly stored,
But the poor look-up unfed;
The rich man cries, “Give us light, O Lord!”
The hungry, “Give us bread!”
Blackness from morn till the pitiless stars
Veil their religion of light,
And blackness too when the brazen bars
Of sunset are molten in night;
Blackness on alley, and street, and lane,
Where singeth never a bird;
And yet in the midst of the pang and pain
No prayer for the light is heard:
The starving and destitute would not know:
Their spirits unclean and stark,
Circumscrib’d to their need and their woe,
Are better, they say, in the dark.
The rich man seeketh a pleasant sky
Beyond the graves of the dead;
And “Lord, give us light!” the wealthy cry,
The hungry, “Give us bread!”
The rich man hoardeth his nobler woe
To savour his pleasure and love;
The sweet delight of his earth below
Doth colour his heaven above;
His hopes lie beautiful on before,
He knoweth no petty strife,
And he has raiment and food in store
For his little ones and wife;
He craveth for light, while overhead
He perceives the golden day;
In flowery pleasures his babes are led,
And he has leisure to pray.
The rich man worshiping God by night
Sees the beckoning stars overhead;
The rich man prayeth, “Lord, give me light!”
The hungry, “Give me bread!”
The poor man hungereth in his doubt,
He can see nor stars nor sky,
For his eyes are on earth as he hollows out
Graves for the loved as they die;
He struggles onward in troublous breath,
With no holy of holies above,
Subtracting the wormwood of life and death
From the pity of God and His love;
The dead and buried are not to Him
Sweet charters to conquer the tomb,—
They gleam like angry devils and dim
On the brink of a fathomless gloom.
The rich man’s earthier paradise
Hints a heaven beyond the dead;
And “Lord, give us light!” the rich man cries,
The hungry, “Give us bread!”
“Bread, give us bread!” the poor man says;
“Bread, bread!” cry children and wives;
And “Lord, give us light!” the rich man prays,
The light of Thy holier lives.
The cries clash daily without accord,
They cease not morning or night,
The wealthy ask not for bread, O Lord,
The starving ask not for light;
There cometh no rest to low or to high,
Woe mirroreth earth, joy, heaven;
The poor ask bread, and the wealthy try
To sweeten the bread which is given.
The rich man, master of earth, seeks more
Beyond the graves of the dead;
But, narrow’d to that they lack, the poor
Cry loudly, “Give us bread!”
Ah, me!—to wander with ears and eyes,
Thro’ alley, and street, and lane,
To see the visions of paradise
Obscured by the grosser pain;
To see the strong man shrink from the path
That leadeth up to the sky,
To see the hungry arise in wrath,
And deny the light, and die;—
Oh, heal the earthly bitterness first,
Sisters and brothers mine;
And after bread shall follow the thirst
For the light which is divine!
The rich man’s plentiful nights and days
Are radiant with pleasures fled;
And “Lord, give me light!” the rich man prays,
The hungry, “Give me bread!”
Out in the fields where the sun is bright,
Upspringeth the yellow corn,
It springs and grows in the shining light
Till the bountiful acres are shorn;
The reaper reapeth on golden ground,
And the sun-tanned gleaners glean,
And the wheels of the mill go busily round
With the rich white grain between.
But the hungry live in the crowded street,
In poverty, sickness, and pain—
’Tis the blessed and beautiful grain they entreat,
Not the light that has ripened the grain!
In the wealthy granary corn is stored,
But the poor look up unfed:
The rich man prays, “Give us light, O Lord!”
The hungry, “Give us bread!”
Black is the heart of the man who hears
No beckoning voice sublime,
Who hardens inward until his tears
Are frozen at last into crime;
And bitter-sad is the woman’s mood,
And full of a hate untold,
Who hears her baby moaning for food
And shivering in the cold;
And sad are the children of wedded wives
As they die in the alleys dun,
To think of the rosy children whose lives
Are shone upon by the sun.
The rich man’s child has bountiful gifts,
The poor man’s child is unfed;
The rich ask light, but the poor man lifts
A threatening hand for bread.
And toiling downward, the homeless poor
Seek graves as their only goals;
The draught that comes from the rich man’s door
Blows out the lamps of their souls;
And reft of the guarding and guiding light
The beautiful Soul must give,
They hunger on in the pitiless night,
Knowing only by need that they live;
And stretched apart as the dregs of life,
They rot on the rich man’s land,
And when Death cometh for baby or wife,
They gnaw at his outstretch’d hand!
They ask not light to reveal the hate
In the eyes of living and dead:
“Light!” cry the wealthy early and late,
The poor ask only for bread!
‘The Destitute’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 4, March 1861).
GONE is the wintery woe,
With the fairies that sang in the snow
A hinted rhyme
Of the sunny time
When the seasons gain glory, and glow;
But I look on the earth—and, lo!
One lingers alone below.
The fairy lingers behind
The flight of its snowy kind;
And its sunlit lamp
Gleams in the damp
Darkness of rain and wind,—
And its solitude seems to bind
Its sorrow to humankind.
Is it sent to utter some true
Sweet prophecy, old or new?
Can it be sent
Without wise intent?—
I hold it has work to do,
For use is the privilege due
To beauty and sorrow too.
Does it prophesy summer hours,
When the snow is re-born in the showers?
Does it bind
The season of winter wind
To the season of buds and bowers?
Does it hint two separate powers
United,—the snow and the flowers?
When its errand is done, let it go!
For it hath an errand below;
And for beautiful ends
The snowdrop blends
Green leaves with the cold white snow!—
When the summer is here, you shall know
If the errand be gentle or no.
‘The Snowdrop’ was published in The Athenæum (23 March, 1861 - No. 1743, p.395).
AN ARTISAN’S STORY.
BY WILLIAMS BUCHANAN.
You ask my story? I have led
A dull and even life—
Little to hope for, less to love,
Save little ones and wife;
But those sweet chimes stir up old days,
I like their merry singing—
They mind me of the Christmas morn
My marriage bells were ringing;
When, thinking not of things above,
I found that hope of heaven, Love.
At that imperfect time when youth
Yearns back on early years,
And hard’ning down to manhood oft
Takes childhood back in tears,—
I—working hand and throbbing heart—
Mourning the years passed o’er me,
Turned from the early heaven behind
And saw a heaven before me:
Plain words, I married—saw the skies
Untroubled in a bride’s blue eyes.
We twain were poor; folk called our match
A hasty match and mad,—
But when two earnest hearts combine
To make each other glad,
With work to do and hands to work,
There’s little fear of fooling—
(Besides, our training was not nice
And we had little schooling).
We joined our hands and made a plight
To help each other as we might.
There’s something in a woman’s face
Invincible in trust;
It sends a kind of second soul
Through men of meanest dust;
To hearts like mine, slow-blunting down,
To selfish aims and uses,
A woman often vindicates
The folly she produces;
And she I married came to bless
A heart grown hard with loneliness.
No slender girl with golden hair,
No stately girl and tall—
In fact, a woman plump and set,
And not a girl at all;
A bustling, buxom, busy life,
Complete in love and duty,
Which, making all things beautiful,
Caught half the given beauty:
A little woman, wifely wise,
With laughing babies in our eyes.
God interposes purer things
Between our hearts and toil—
Sweet flowers that take the sun and air
But bloom on shifting soil;
But at the best the heart ground down
In narrow creeds and feelings,
Becomes a sunless heart and blind
To most divine revealings—
A hearth-flame, growing scant and thin,
And often going out in sin.
The ambler down the road of life
Upon an easy pad,
May bid us eat in joy because
The world he sees is glad;
But Beauty dwells in time and place,
Parch’d throats are sorry preachers,
And I have thought that toil and want
Are gross and evil teachers—
They choke the undevelop’d trust,
The seed of godhead, down to dust.
For faith in God and beauty grows
From faith in man and woman,
From that freemasonry of hope
Embracing all things human;
And those who deem their brother man
Cold, loveless, false to duty,
Subtract this want of loveliness
From God the Father’s beauty.
The man who lies with smiling eye
Deems every smiling face a lie.
Religion shapes itself to life
And grows from thoughts and deeds,
And he who questions his own Soul
Must question all the creeds;
Oh, often, when my lot seem’d hard,
And bitter thoughts would win me,
I’ve asked if God could be, because
I found no God within me—
I knew not then, as now I know,
Doubt is the shade God casts below
When times were bitter, hard, and cold,
And want was bringing pains,
When wages fell, and starving men
Were gnawing at their chains,
My heart grew hard and seemed stone-dead,
My tongue was oft unruly—
I curst myself for bringing want
On her who loved so truly.
(Two years had passed since we were wed—
A child was coming, to be fed.)
Well, times grew harder every day,
My life grew hard, lives will,
But when I knew the child was near
My life grew harder still;
I cursed my marriage in my heart,
My fire and folly rueing—
For babes must eat, and bread was dear,
And there was nothing doing—
I thought hard thoughts and frowned to see
The patient face that smiled on me.
I knew the men who crushed us down,
Who sat in pomp and peace,
Denied the right the wretched have
To marry and increase;
I thought of this with bitter heart,
Half owning and half scorning,
And while the woman lay apart
I cursed my marriage morning;
Methought I saw a birth accurst,
With body starving, soul a-thirst.
And when our ailing marriage-tree
Put forth its baby-bud,
I brooded by the fire and felt
A demon in my blood;
I cursed the men that kept us down,
I cursed the coming morrow,
I cast my bitterness at God
With more of hate than sorrow,—
But I confessed His just control
By owning Satan in my soul!
But gentler music touched my heart,
My blood felt fresh and free,
When Wife brought forth the little one
And set him on my knee;
I liked his dreamy querulous face,
And eyes that laughed so drolly,
I mingled with the innocence
That made him seem so holy—
The Future seemed a fairer place,
And took the sweetness of his face.
And so when times were black and hard,
When men were gross with strife,
Our dove came with its olive-branch
To bless our ark of life;
Over our little helpless one
Wife leant in tearful blisses,
And I could see her marriage day
Blush back between her kisses—
A patient sign that, born from death,
Christ then was in our Nazareth.
Christ came in stainless infant-robes
To heal the wounds of earth,
And Christ, I do believe, returns
In every baby-birth;
A laughing wisdom lights his face,
And calm is in his carriage.
He routs the Pharisees within
The Temple men call Marriage;
And oft, while sense and eyes grow dim,
We leave our hearths and follow Him!
I thought, “This trouble is too weak
To drag a strong man down,
God gives a property in Love
Alike to king and clown;
This is an earnest, I believe,
Between our hearts and heaven,
That when we help each other on
The gift of strength is given.”
Howe’er it be, I left the door
With thrice the strength I had before.
And being young and hale and stout,
I drove the clouds away,
And when times brightened, blessed the wife
Who taught me tears that day;
I had been hot with those I served,
Unused to smooth professions,
And somehow that new face compelled
My mind to make concessions;
Joy came upon me in a flood—
A second boyhood in my blood.
To think those little pleading hands,
That little wife and true,
Should draw so many clouds apart
And show a sky so blue!
Oh, mine became a willing heart
That ruled a willing hand—
Wife, with my baby at her breast,
Was lady of the land.
Our hearts were prayers, our hopes were high,
And joy was with my wife and I.
Mine is an uneventful tale,
But take it at its worth—
It tells how simply lowly hearts
Grow out of lowly earth:
For every sorrow, every sin,
That proved me basely human,
I gained a broader faith in God,
Though broader faith in woman:
A saving patience touch’d my years,
Tried with the mystery of tears.
Hot, angry blood was always mine,
Impatient of control,
But love, unconscious, veiled in toil,
Kissed down my sterner soul.
Those pleading hands, that patient heart,
Complete in hope and duty,
Wove in the gloomy web of work
A rainbow thread of beauty.
I saw at last, and seeing throve,
The golden link ’tween use and love.
Love is another name for Use,
A bond of hand and heart,
Use is another name for Love—
They cannot dwell apart.
Love is the poetry of toil,
And toil is faith supernal,
Framed as a human law to hint
The law of things eternal,
Christ was of woman born to prove
Use, through the mystery of Love.
Oh, ere I bravely swam to shore
From that unhappy wreck,
How wise was I to stay and tie
My jewels round my neck!
While the salt tears yet dimm’d mine eye,
Warm prayers my lips were saying,
With benediction of white hands
I stoop’d to kiss them, praying;
Caught, far away from petty things,
Within a music made by wings.
I vindicate the task of all
Who mean true love to life,
The help of heaven was with me when
I blessed my babe and wife.
Measure not human love and use,
In flesh of man or woman:
The mountains and the valleys share
The sun and stars in common—
The sun completes the mountain shower,
And both complete the valley-flower.