POEMS FROM OTHER SOURCES - 3
VI. A CITY PREACHER.
WITH Soul that, pure as Sabbath psalms,
Sings poised on soaring pinions,
I seek the church of God to hear
Good news from God’s dominions;
And by the Sabbath-day I mean
The Sabbath of a heart made clean,
To take God’s best revealings—
Divine and gracious feelings.
On my Soul’s tablet, as I pray,
Made low and single-hearted,
God writes His comment that sweet Day
On the six days departed;
And in His comments, that or this,
I find no interdict of bliss,
For Duty puts no measure
To proper human pleasure.
But yonder Pulpit has a voice
To mock what Love thus teaches—
“Woe to the wicked who rejoice!”
The noisy Pulpit preaches;
And preaching thus asserts this scroll,
This blessed Bible of my Soul,
This, God-created solely,
To be a lie unholy.
Hear it, O anxious crowd,—take heed
Or down to darkness tumble,
Distrust this God-created creed
Which keeps us pure and humble;
Forsake your pleasures and your balms,
And gnash your teeth to organ-psalms;
And contradict, ye nations,
Hope’s sweeter aspirations.
Hear it, thou toiling City-man,
Or never be forgiven;
Go to your dungeon, eat your bran,
Shut out the light of heaven;
Burrow in darkness like a mole;
For Satan made this lie your Soul,
This bounteous joy-dispenser,
This light within the censer!
Hear it, and quench all human love,
Ye lordlings and ye ladies,
God interdicts all light above,
Conceding light in Hades—
Hope, Joy, and Love are fleshly lies,
And Want and Woe are Paradise:
God kills, that He may win us,
All light divine within us.
Oh, hollow cheat! that wounds the mind
With narrow creeds and feelings,—
That kills the Soul and makes it blind
To all sublime revealings,—
That chokes the undevelopt trust,
The seed of Godhead, into dust,—
That makes this flesh a hovel
Where slimy monsters grovel.
Joy is a portion of the Word
Whence clearer light we borrow,
Men in their joy approach the Lord
More near than in their sorrow:
God lit dark skies with sun and moon,
And set them to a golden tune;
He set the Soul, our gladness,
Within the flesh, our sadness.
Through light and darkness Nature rolls,
Through light and fleshly leaven—
Joy is the music made by Souls
When most in tune with Heaven;
And we are like the common flowers,
Which, taking both the sun and showers,
Take from the sun above me
The hues which make them lovely.
And every little blossom strives
To help the summer-Maying;
Joy gives a colour to our lives,
And is the heart of praying:
We human drones on shifting soil
See glints of heaven in our toil,
Can hear the flute and tabor,
Though never ceasing labour.
Religion grows from thoughts and deeds,
The work we men inherit,
And he must question all the creeds
Who questions his own Spirit;
And those who wear a prison-dress
Subtract this life’s unloveliness,
Its bitter sunless duty,
From God the Father’s beauty.
O Pulpit, that wouldst prove us slime,
Poor things for beasts to pity,
Is yours the doctrine for the Time,
The Labour, and the City?
To fill our crowded streets and marts
With worship born of human hearts,
To aid the work now doing,
The end we are pursuing?
I vindicate this Soul from care
That mocks us in our starkness.
God made this Soul a shrine where Prayer
May touch His Hand in darkness;
It labours for the common end,
And Joy, your bugbear, is a friend
Which teaches it while living
Its worship and thanksgiving.
Pulpit, a light like that above
Burns on our calm home-altars,
Our household shrines where Joy and Love
Are priests as well as psalters;
Our loves are born without alloy,
Our tears but dignify our joy,
And Christ returns to bless us
When baby-arms caress us.
And Faith in God finds proper soil
In faith in man and woman,
In that freemasonry of toil
Embracing all things human.
When tortured texts our peace annoy
Our woe is blinder than our joy,
And quenches in its blindness
The light of human kindness.
Pulpit, whose words of war and strife
Mock yonder starry crescent,
We cannot mend the Future Life
Through warring on the present:
Our loves, our joys, our human ties,
Are tiny steps to Paradise;
And woe without cessation
Is base humiliation.
Remember, Pulpit, the sublime
Sweet Bethlehem called Pity;
Yours is mean doctrine for the Time,
The Labourer, and the City;
Our streets are black enough without
Unhallowed clouds of pain and doubt;
Who weep for aye in Tophet
Insult the gift they covet.
Love proves her reverence, I know,
By hate of all displaying,
And hearts that hate prayer’s hollow show
Unconsciously are praying:
Christ came in human shape to prove
The common truths of Hope and Love;
And if the Lord would win us,
His Christ must dwell within us.
’A City Preacher’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 8, July 1861).
THE FIRST OF JULY.
OVER this azure poplar glade
The sunshine, fainting high above,
Ebbs back from fleecy clouds that move
Like browsing lambs and cast no shade;
And straight before me, faintly seen
Thro’ emerald boughs that intervene,
The visible sun turns white and weaves
His webs of silver thro’ the leaves.
The grassy sward beneath my foot
Is soft as lips of lambs and beeves.
How cool those blue-bells at the root
Of yonder tree, that dimly glance
Thro’ dews of their own radiance!
Yonder I see the river run,
Half in the shadow, half in sun;
And as I near its rushy brink
The sparkling minnows, where they lie
With silver bellies to the sky,
Flash from me in a shower and sink.
I stand in shadows cool and sweet,
But in the mirror at my feet
The heated azure heavens wink.
All round about this shaded spot,
Whither the sunshine cometh not,
Where all is beautiful repose,—
I know the kindled landscape glows.
But in this place of shade and sound,
Hid from the garish heat around,
I feel like one removed from pain
And fever of the happy brain,
Like one who, in the pleasant shade
The peaceful dead have slowly made,
Walking in silence, just perceives
The gaudy world from which he went
Subdue itself to his content,
Like that white globe beyond the leaves!
‘The First of July’ was published in The Athenæum (6 July, 1861 - No. 1758, p. 18).
I LOVED a lady fair of face,
A witching girl who made me wise;
I was a city drone, but Grace
Made me a poet with her eyes;
For Grace was sweet as sweet could be—
To me, at least, divinely fair:
And I believe I loved her—See!
This little curl of golden hair.
This curl upon her brow has gleamed
Beneath the sun’s alchemic touch;
But I, who stole it, little dream’d
That it could ever mean so much:
It summons back her lovely look,
The brow alive with thoughts untold,
The blushing laughter, when she shook
The sunshine from her locks of gold.
We played a little pleasing game,
A playful love, we knew not why:
I made acrostics on her name,
But came to kisses by-and-by.
This sleeping Cupid, red as wine,—
A quiver here, a spire beyond,—
She sent me as a Valentine,
And it reminds me we were fond.
And here,—a book of tender rhymes
That (for a wonder) time has kept:
I read it out a hundred times,
And marked some portions, where we wept:
A foolish volume it may be,
Yet o’er it she has laughed and grieved—
It says, we were so young, that we
Conferred the beauty we perceived.
Well, time passed on. Within, without,
My brain was hot, my face was fired;
We played our pretty folly out,
Till I grew bold and she grew tired;
Till I grew bold and she grew cold,
Forgetful what the years might bring—
We quarrelled, she not loath. Behold
This tiny, tarnish’d golden ring.
I bought the ring unknown to Grace,
A golden ring my love to crown,
And often, looking on her face,
Dreamed of a cottage out of town,—
A little garden, deaf to fame;
Till, blind with projects small and big,
Sure of its object, Love became
A gross ambition for a gig!
O, common folly, short and proud!
We quarrelled, parted, turning backs—
The gig came never from its cloud,
The cottage never felt a tax.
I bade, while brow and bosom burned,
A bitter truce to all my joys;
She married (well, they say), and learned
The knack of rearing girls and boys.
I keep the tokens I have shown,
And hold them very dear, in truth,—
Not for the single loss, I own,
But for the general loss of youth;
Love dies, but memories renew
The heart whose crust is hard and cold:
Romeo is young at forty-two,
And Juliet can ne’er be old!
R. W. BUCHANAN.
‘Souvenirs’ was published in Once A Week (27 July, 1861).
“WHEN, as a girl, with future-seeking eyes,
I learnt those bloody tears which make us wise,
By marrying into perfect womanhood,
Few hopes were mine, and wishes few but good:
How to make glad one little happy place
Where he and I might worship God aright—
Some little happy home that I might grace,
And day by day grow nearer to the light
Of my own love reflected on his face.
Are mine eyes opened? Is my breast laid bare?
Ah, no, no, no! if love survive in duty.
And if his face seem vacant of the rare
Calm faith that maketh common things seem fair,
The dimly mirror’d beauty
Of mine own love, for ever lingering there,
Usurps the mind he will no longer share—
Mine own strong faith, which lives through shade and shine,
Reflected in his heart, is still divine,
And evermore unites us unaware.
“I reached his stature in a bridal kiss.
If love in that sweet time of dawning bliss
Existed, must it not survive in this
Sad time when still upon his strength I lean?
Why do the shadows seem to stand between
Myself and my beloved, while I miss
His stature, and seem mean?
“We dwell together, ’mong these lands of ours,
In this white mansion, high upon the hill
Above the village; and, with snows or flowers,
The changeful seasons come and.go at will.
The long blue river yonder, dimly rolled
Past farms with slips of sunshine on their eaves,—
Now trails the harvest in its skirt of gold:
The sun-tanned reaper binds the bearded sheaves,
The gleaners glean, the farmer’s heart rejoices,
And many villagers lift up their voices
For cheer of flocks and beeves.
So, wheresoever sun or shadow creeps,
The strong man sows and reaps,
The strong man garners while the woman weeps.
I sowed, though now I ask what Love may mean—
What do I reap, or glean?”
The lady shed no tear, but, looking out,
Saw the red hunt return with song and shout;
Then, deaf to sorrow and her sad behests,
Walked to the threshold as they trotted by,
And, clear and calm as any summer sky,
Smiled welcome on her husband and his guests.
Years passed; until there came a day when Fate
Levelled the man and woman from their height
Of easeful riches to a poor estate.
The man awoke, a beggar, in the night,
And, turning to the woman where she lay,
Said: “God at last has willed to take away
My fortune, place, and honour in this land,
Wherein we dwelt in affluence yesterday:
I bow my human head to His command,
And strive to conquer sorrow, as men may.
But briefly, let us pluck up heart, and go,
Adventurers, to some strange foreign strand,
Where we may labour bravely, hand in hand,
To conquer present woe.”
Whereat she kissed him, saying, “Be it so!”
And would have fallen upon his neck, and cried
Aloud in tears, that God, who gave the blow,
Had blest her, separating love from pride,
And willing well that man and wife might know
A closer, holier labour, side by side—
Helpmeets, not prisoners. But her voice denied
Her heart; and, shedding tears, she murmured low:
“Women are less than women when untried.”
The man and weaker woman sailed together
Toward the morning sun in autumn weather:
Two lives, toward an unknown future hurled,
Seeing but little light in heaven above;
Two hearts, with little left them in the world,
With nothing in the world, not even Love.
So, poor in all the world, being love-bereft,
The man and woman left
Their youth behind them, all the lost delights
That Memory loves to brood on. Then the wife,
Hungering backward for the buried life,
Groped in her soul in secret through the nights,
And sought all silently if Love were there;
But only touched God’s Hand,
Pushing her onward to that distant land
Through clouds of hope and care.
And yet, not seldom, when their faces met,
A troublous light on one
(Born in a past that neither could forget)
Would to the pulses of the other run,
And make the blood rush up in crimson flame,
To mock the common name
Which bound them, wrist to wrist, in shade or sun,
With fetters that had rusted into shame.
And oftentimes, when the moist morn would make
Its milky path to heaven o’er the waves,
And, list’ning side by side, they lay awake,
The sea had voices like forgotten graves:—
They longed to make atonement, heart to heart,
And when the shame still kept their souls apart,
Each felt awe-stricken, blind, and helpless quite,
As doth a trancèd mother, who by night
Travails in darkness with the infant breath
Which listening down her eager blood she hears,
And, swimming in a mist of unshed tears,
Swoons in the Valley of the Shadow of Death!
And with them in the ship sailed men and wives
For that far country bound:
Mothers and daughters, rough-hewn, lowly lives,
Brown artizans, and tillers of the ground,
Whose arms an endless war of works did wage,
Carving out ingles for their feebler age.
Then oft the married man with these would speak,
And envy them their roughness labour-born;
And, looking on his own white hands, would seek
A coward’s refuge in a doubt and scorn
Of her—the married woman proud and weak.
But a great wind arose, and, murmuring hoarse,
Tore the thick seas by night with giant force,
And, roaring in the sails with shrieks and shocks,
Dragged up the waters by their foamy locks,
Striking the plunging vessel from its course!
The lightning sprang,
Rending the tempest’s bowels like a knife;
The thunder rang,
With fitful iteration of the strife
Waged by the lower ocean,
Which to the clouds, now bubbling upward, clang,
And now sank downward with a softer motion.
On the huge arms of storm
The ship was lifted like a toy to heaven,
And then dasht downward, black, and thunder-riven,
Moaning and writhing like a living form,
With meteors seething round it fierce and warm.
Strong men crouched trembling in the sweating hold,
The timid shrieking, and the brave less bold,
And mothers stirring up from slumber prest
Their babies to the breast,
Calling aloud on those they loved the best;
And maidens, clasping sturdy lovers more
Closely than they had ever done, before,
Their panting fear confest.
And thus the tempest boiled, while o’er and o’er
The lightnings ploughed heaven’s starry-paven floor,
And split the solid seas from east to west.
And on the wings of storm the ship was driven
They knew not whither,
And round about the seething waves were riven
Hither and thither,
And all was darkness, sound, and shrieks to heaven.
The man and woman, stript of half their pride,
Stood, soaked in brine of ocean, side by side;
His arms were wound around her, and her scared
Face lay upon his bosom torn and bared—
And now and then, when their eyes met in fright,
She would creep close as on their wedding-night,
And kiss him with her lips so snowy white.
Then said he, whispering in burning breath:
“The Holy Scripture saith
That prayer has power in moments such as these
To blunt the sickle of the reaper, Death:
Let us kneel, praying on our bended knees.”
Whereat they knelt and prayed;
And, being side by side, the words they said
Were a pure prayer, not for one, but both;
And, near each other’s hearts, the man and woman,
Praying for life, were ’ware that, willing or loath,
They did reiterate the marriage-oath,
Which gave them life in common.
But while they prayed, the vessel plunged and stirred
Along the deep sea-ruts, like some black bird
Shorn of its wings, and fallen in its pain
Upon the bosom of the watery main.
The tempest clove the brittle masts in twain,
And stript off helm and sail:
Sailless and helpless, like a living thing,
Panting from side to side, and quivering,
She lay before the gale,
Beaten and maim’d and scourged
By winds that swooped like eagles from on high,
And lifted with the waters, as they merged,
With whirling arms of foam and thunder-cry,
Into the skirts of storms that, whistling by,
With ceaseless motion, surged
Downward to meet them from a blackened sky!
Slowly the great clouds parted. Damp and cold
Dawn, like a molten sapphire, filled the sea,
And touched the shivering wretches in the hold—
A plank between them and eternity.
Then the man whispered to her unawares,
Scarce thankful that the imminent death seemed o’er:
“God, then, has granted, wife, our foolish prayers,
And we are helpless wanderers as before,
Under unfriendly skies—
I almost wish it had been otherwise!”
Then rose a cry of joy among the rest,
Crusht from the dying terror in each breast:
“Saved! saved!” they cried, torn dizzily from death’s brink;
But at the word
The Master’s voice was heard:
“Man boats!—prepare to leave her;—for we sink!”
Whereat there rose a cry from old and young,
From fathers, mothers, daughters, and from sons,
And even from the shivering little ones,
That closer unto panting bosoms clung:
There rose a cry more piteous far than pain,
That chilled the blood like ice, and burnt the brain,
And echoing in the welkin, rung and rung
In mockery again.
Nor had the rough storm ceased.
The clouds were parted, and the wind seemed spent;
But groaning Ocean, like a wounded beast,
With foaming mane and gaping jaws, lay rent,
Curving a dark green back against the proud
Lance of the gold-clad champion in the east,
And, leaping up to clutch him from his skies,
Moaned to its depths aloud,
With a grand horror in its rolling eyes!
And a great awe, like dying hands that fall
O’er kneeling forms, fell sudden over all.
The Soul, communing with the end it neared,
And shuddering fleshward from the death it feared,
Trembling in clay like odour in a flower,
Took in the terrible beauty of that hour.
And speechless men
Turned pale and reverent faces eastward then;
And mothers, by their awe-struck hearts bereaven
Of living hope, looked on their little ones,
Their daughters and their sons,
And wondered if they would be theirs in heaven.
The man and woman, trembling in the golden
Dawn, thought of wedded life completer far
Than any wedded lives with mortals are,
And so again their lives, more close enfolden
By that calm thought, became a single scroll,
Sealed with one marriage Soul.
The ship was lifted upward on the rim
Of a huge wave, when one, a seaman he,
Cried out aloud, “Land, comrades, land! Oh, see!”
And far away upon the horizon dim,
Before we sank again, we sighted land—
A cloud no bigger than the prophet’s hand.
Then sense and soul did swim,
And mothers smiled again, and strong men wept.
And over all a sudden murmur crept
Crusht out of praying bosoms as a hymn.
Another cried, “A cloud in heaven, no more!”
As down along the deep sea-rut they leapt
Into the bright wide chasms with a roar.
Then the great waters surged them up again,
And, sick with fear, they watched the seamen’s eyes
Stretched keenly o’er the melancholy main,
And heard their eager cries.
“’Tis land,” the Master cried, and swiftly flew
His words from lip to lip,
And “Land!” was shouted o’er the tossing ship
Driving toward the cloud that huger grew.
But as the Master spoke
The jarring strife of thunder—
The women shrieked, the men rushed up in wonder:
“She sinks!”—and roaring, seething,
With loud and angry breathing,
With tremulous panting, groaning,
And fitful moaning,
The frail ship, shivering on a reef that stunned her,
Then in a shrieking crowd the great mass stirred,
Women and men with babes that cried and clung,
Toward the boats that swung
At the ship’s side, and, over all things heard,
The warning accents of the Master rung.
The man and woman moved not, pale and shrinking;
One turbulent mass of men and women pressed
Like waves into the braver boat, till, sinking,
It loosened, plunging underneath the crest
Of the green waters that did circle and seethe
And crush it underneath,
And lifted up its burden on the waves,
Plunging the men and women to their graves.
Some, stunned to see their groaning comrades drown,
Leapt from the dizzy bulwarks, plunging down;
While others for the smaller pinnace made,
And, pouring in a blackened flood into it,
Crushed in an instant’s time and overthrew it,
Then, stunned and blinded, sank, with shrieks for aid.
So, hopeless of all else, the living few,
With the calm Master and his silent crew,
Bound their frail bodies to the loosening spars;
And straining nerve and thew,
The married man and married woman flew
Unto the breaking hull, and, eager-eyed,
They lashed each other’s bodies side by side
With soaken cords thereto.
There came a listening silence, as it were,
Like the mute terror of a victim’s heart
When the priest’s knife is bare.
A hush was on the waves and on the air,
And with a gurgling sigh that rent apart
The swollen planks, the vessel struck the foam,
And, eddying with a whistling whirlpool, broke
To little fragments of its native oak,
And huger fragments black with harbour loam.
And all around the dying wretches lay,
Choked with the waters, blinded with the spray:
Here little children, torn from tender nests
Where mother’s milk was white with dewy rests,
And naked mothers bleeding bloody breath,
And clasping, in the agony of death,
Dead babies to their breasts.
Meantime the man and woman, firmly lashed
To a dark fragment of the hull, were dashed
Through dark sea-ruts, and suddenly were lifted
Upon the waters as they boiled and splashed
High o’er the reef that grimly shone between;
And, passing slowly o’er, were slowly drifted
Through foam-roof’d passages of emerald green.
Alone they floated on in a half-dream,
With flying waters wet,
They knew not whither; and the great waves met
Hugely above them in a shadowy gleam
Of green and shadowy purple splasht with light,
With intervals of night.
The imminent chasms boiled, and death seemed nigh,
When hugely in the distance there arose
Dark lines of ragged rocks, with foamy snows
Of the torn ocean, and the gulls did fly
Around about with screaming shriek and cry.
The woman said: “The waves whereon we hie
Toward the rugged rocks that yonder lie
Will crush us on them soon, and we shall die!”
Whereat he answered, “Let us die in love—
Not disunited, Dear, but breast to breast,
As close as these black waves will let us rest
To one another; and the heaven above
Shall take our wedded souls and make them blest!”
The woman twined about him limb in limb,
With eyes that utter gladness rendered dim,
And murmured—“Death is better! Death is best!
And hand in hand, as suppliants, let us go
To God and crave His final mercy, lest
Our souls have sinned against the high behest
Which made us happy lovers long ago.”
And panting closelier, heart to heart, too weak
To utter all the peace their hearts would speak,
They floated onward in a blissful vision
Of that sweet time Elysian
When joy was with them, and their doubts and fears
Were white as virgin tears—
Till, with the quiet bliss within the brain,
And with the bodily pain,
They fell into a sleep of peaceful breath,
As little ones, whom gladness overpowers,
Are fascinated on a bed of flowers
By the wise serpent Death!
In a half-dream they lay;
And strange weird visions for their half-closed eyes
Were woven in the many-coloured spray
And in the fitful skies;
And closelier, closelier, they clung in calm—
Souls mingled like the singer and the psalm—
And murmured such sweet names as lovers prize.
Was it the sun that, passing from behind
A cloud, then forth in rich apparel came,
And with a wand of flame
Wove a swift spell that hushed the gusty wind,
And smiled upon their sleep?
The waves received the sunshine, and the deep
Lifted the man and woman in its hands,
Bearing them o’er the rugged rocks asleep,
And laid them smiling on the further sands.
Breathless they wakened in a foamy shower,
And clomb together to the safer strands,
United by a heavenly voice of power—
The Mercy of that hour.
’The Twice-Wedded’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 9, August 1861). In its review of this issue (which also contained an essay by Buchanan on John Donne), the Illustrated Times (10 August, 1861) commented:
“There is rather more than the usual allowance of poetry; but perhaps none of it deserves, as verses go, any severe criticism. Mr. Williams Buchanan, who seems to be a regular contributor, ought to become a poet. So thinking and so hoping, we would advise him to write less and blot more. The article upon Donne, the metaphysician, is, on the whole, pleasant, entertaining, and appreciating; but would it not be as well if not quite so many magazine-writers were on such uncommonly good terms with their readers? This trick of familiarity is borrowed from Mr. Thackeray, who is becoming so objectionable in this particular as to warn, not instigate, further imitation.”
VII. THE RIVER.
THE many golden eyes of night
Grow wide to gaze upon the light
Of the unrisen dawn,
And from the sleeping clouds afar
The twilight of the morning star
Is delicately drawn—
The constellations one by one
Curtain their jewels from the sun.
I stand upon the Bridge alone.
Below my feet, with sullen moan,
I see the River roam
Blackly along the speckled shade,
Toward the sunrise, dark with trade
And dank with harbour loam;
It flows from shady places where
Laburnums lave their golden hair.
And looking down upon its face,
I fashion fancies of the place
From whence it singing flows,
Till underneath its blackened breast
I see a Naiad in her nest
Where the wild lily blows,
With glimpses of a mossy wood
Where hyacinths and harebells brood;
The country in its harvest trance,
The slanted sheaves, where gleaners dance,
Where haymakers carouse;
And, dreaming sweetly thus at will,
I hear the birds, and feel the still
Eye-music of green boughs.
Such pictures, different in degree,
The mighty River makes for me.
Towards the sea the River rolls,
With gloomy wealth of human souls,
And dreams of harvest-home:
Beyond those clouds, the ocean’s lips
Are shady with returning ships,
And white with flying foam;
To kiss those lips the River thrills,
With rumours from the summer hills.
Stirring and moaning while it sleeps,
In echoing dreams the City keeps
Trade’s busy restless roar—
Like a great sea whose sunless waves
Retain the thunder in their caves
When the loud storm is o’er.
But, through its quiet breast, the River
Flows with a throbbing heart for ever.
Save when, within a distant street,
I hear the pulse of labour beat,
The hour is still as when
The tameless thunder fierce and warm,
Before the lightning-lance of storm,
Crouches, then springs again.
But still the River traileth tides
Foul with the sin of suicides.
O City, dreaming of your wealth!
O River, creeping on in stealth!
While all seems still as death,
Still as those dirges which awake
The spirit of the storm, and shake
The leaves without a breath!
I stand between ye both, a part
Of the black City’s restless heart.
Roof’d by the fading stars, I stand,
With night and day on either hand:
All human joy and grief
Are husht around me at this hour;
The silence flutters like a flower,
And opens leaf by leaf;
A little sunny hand glides down
To touch the forehead of the town.
O River, rich in glimpses sweet
Of sunny slopes where lambkins bleat,
Of many a quiet glade
Where all is coolness, while above
The sunshine faints on clouds that move
Slowly, and cast no shade!
O River dark, whose waters croon
O’er floating dresses in the moon!
O City, while a hand of light
Unjewelleth the robe of night,
Sleep with thy sin and crime!
O River, flowing dark and deep,
To hearts that ache and eyes that weep
Recall a sweeter time!
Sleep on, flow on, mysterious vast,
Unite the present and the past.
Dark River, end of many a vow,
Oft have I lingered here as now,
What time the fiend of fire
Raved from thy banks to yonder skies,
With fiery arms and bloodshot eyes,
And ever surging higher,
With sulphurous shades that o’er the plain
Swept backward like a comet’s mane.
And I have watched the Demon fold
His smoky robe of brazen gold
Around his crimson bones,
And, surging downward, roar and rave,
Grasp at his image in your wave,
And rise again with groans;
Then, clutching at the pallid sky,
Hiss backward with a sob, and die!
Roll, mighty River, from the land!
Oft have I stood, as now I stand,
With panting heart and brain,
And seen the stars within your glass
Broaden to liquid moons and pass
On noisy nights of rain,
And heard you moan like one who hears
The intonation of his tears;
And oft, on windy nights of June,
Oft have I watched the driven moon
Grow blue in the wind’s teeth,
And, looking downward, seen her form
Plough your dark depths, while mimic storm
Spread ragged underneath,
Until the wondrous sight did seem
The pageant of a human dream.
The steadfast stars; the light that shrouds
A summer sky with gold; the clouds
That march and countermarch;
The sun and moon, that sleep and wake;
The meteor writhing like a snake
Round heaven’s azure arch:
These be the pageants that you keep,
While strong men sleep and mourners weep.
The City shades thee with its pride,
Darkly, but has no power to hide
Thy starry architraves;
Thou bring’st it music from the leas,
And whispers from the further seas,
That smite thee with their waves.
Roll on, thou River, black and strange,
And change, as men and women change.
Behold! in sudden pomp and power
The many-coloured sunrise-flower
Hath burgeon’d out of night;
Afar, I know, the larks upstart,
Embower’d, as in a rose’s heart,
Each in its spot of light!
And hark! from dreams of hope and doubt
The busy millions hunger out.
A touch! one sunny kiss of morn;
And, sudden as a star is born
To some gray watcher’s ken,
The City wakens from its dream,
And, flushed from God, pours forth its stream
Of women and of men,—
A stream of lives, a blackened flood,
With starry motions in the blood.
Dark Stream of Life! It flows from spots
Where blow the blue forget-me-nots,
Netted in silver air;
From quiet spots that daisies bless,
Urged by its own strong loveliness
To broaden unaware;
Then, deepening into colder state,
It darkens with the further fate.
Our souls unite in toil, and flow
Toward the further joy or woe,
In sorrow or in sin:
Strange lights are mirror’d in our dream;
And often, trembling o’er the stream,
Love’s outcast, plunging in,
Floats on in blackness with the waves
That, breaking, splinter light on graves.
Toward the distant ocean rolls
This busy stream of human souls.
Sweet sympathies that are
A moment’s glory make us wise;
Love, shining on us from his skies,
Is trebled like a star;
When stars are hid, the soul supplies
The pause with its own melodies.
Dark River, keep thy sights divine;
Our souls have visions rich as thine,
As terrible, as fair:
The law, the impulse, and the thought,
Whose restless shadows, star-inwrought,
Disturb our lives with prayer,—
The meteor-meanings from the sky,
Which flash a moment’s space and die!
’The River’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 10, September 1861). Buchanan also used some of the lines from ‘The River’ in ‘Afloat on the Stream’, published in the 1866 collection, Wayside Posies.
VIII. CHRISTMAS IN THE CITY.
UPON thy raiment-skirts, O Night,
Shudders a radiance dimly bright;
And ere thou fliest a morning light
Makes cloudy phantoms of thy flight:
The ghost of Day, with cold caress,
Doth haunt thy tawny loveliness;
Thy silver stars grow less and less,
And drop like jewels from a dress;
The pale moon, brightening on thy stole,
Doth inward as an eyeball roll,—
Like a calm eye that seeks the scroll
Silence illumines in the soul.
Then, with a broad’ning purple glow,
The sun climbs hills to see thee go;
Thy white star sickens, and below
Lies nature trancèd in the snow.
Then sudden, while thy mists are shorn,
Unto the happy or forlorn
The bells ring in the Christmas morn:
“This the day our Lord was born.”
When sudden brightness floods the spires
Of the white city into fires,
And, dropping liquid through the quires,
Fades on the tombstones of our sires;
And the great City travaileth
To hear what that sweet music saith,
And draweth in a morning breath
Of dreams from off the shores of death.
Then, flushed, it wakens, in a strain
Of music tingling down like rain,
As a wild sleeper starts in pain,
With thick pulsations in the brain.
“Peace upon earth,” ring out the bells;
“Good-will to men,” in dying swells,—
Sparkling on hearts whose blood rebels,
Like dew on banks of asphodels.
“Peace upon earth,” the morning cries,
And in our hearts the music dies;
We start from sleep, and in surprise
See heaven through our loved one’s eyes.
We clasp the wives we honour best;
They kiss the babies on the breast;
The red sun widens, and from rest
We tremble in a joy confest;
And, looking forth, we see the close
Of morning redden like a rose
Along the City in its snows,
Like Beauty blushing o’er Repose.
All night the silent snowy hoard
Fell dimly unto rock and sward,—
Like radiance shaken from the sword
Of some sweet angel near the Lord;
Like stainless thoughts distinct with prayer,
That, mingling with the soul, can bear
Worship so precious and so fair
They make an angel unaware;—
So fell the snows for many days,
Clothing the world that now doth raise
Sweet music in a mystic haze,
Like a gigantic form that prays.
Now cry the bells: “’Tis Christmas morn;
This is the day that Hope was born
For sickly, lonely, and forlorn;”—
Till like a smile the hope is worn.
Rich in his solitary seat,
Great Dives robes himself to greet
The morning with obeisance meet;
While Lazarus brightens in the street!
And o’er the crowds that outward roam,
And, meeting, make a sound like foam,
An awe falls dim from heaven’s gray dome,
Like wind that darkens harvest-home.
But to the crowd the music saith,
“This is the morning when a breath
Of life arose in Nazareth,
And open blew the gates of death,
And showed to eyes made dim with woes
Glimpses of life’s divinest close:
But mists of wings did interpose,
Whereof our emblem is the snows.”
The soul within the flesh upsprings,
Instinct with sweet imaginings;
And, lo! the snow that sighs and sings
Doth seem indeed those angel-wings!
And sudden, ere the song is done,
Joy through the crowd like blood doth run.
The glad heart answers; all and one
See double glory in the sun.
Mirth—the mad instinct of the boy—
Quickens within without alloy;
The strong man hugs himself in joy;
The poor forgets his harsh annoy.
The widow gladdens; and the strain
Ebbs inward to the bed of pain,
Till fresh blood lights the emptied vein,
Like wine in cups of porcelain.
Pile high the fire with log and thorn;
Pluck the green holly this Christmas morn;
Warm ye and fill ye, O forlorn:
“This is the day that Joy was born!”
And in that Joy this morning gay
Came as a child, in child’s array,
With Love to light him on his way,
Let little ones keep holiday.
Gather the small things round the fire,
And let them sport until they tire;
And let the mother and the sire,
Softly beholding them, aspire,—
Ay, let the women and the men,
In mansion proud or narrow den,
Partake the children’s joy, and then
Deem them the Christ-Child come again.
Then the sweet bells swim in to pale
Homes where the little children ail,
Where Hope and Joy themselves are frail,
Where fathers groan and mothers wail.
Then cry the bells, “This is the morn
That Pity very pure was born,—
To wipe the eyes of those forlorn,
To brighten doubt and soften scorn:
Suffer the little ones to go;
Forbid them not,—’tis better so;
For they, each Christmas morn below,
Shall come with raiments like the snow—
Fall like the snow, so soft, so fair,
It makes a moonlight in the air;
And dropping dimly, unaware,
Renders the spirit pure for prayer.”
And Death, to whom the task is given,
Trances the mourner; while the shriven
Children forsake the poor bereaven,
To hold their Christmas-day in heaven.
The mourner weepeth in her place,
But Christmas prayer is on her face;
The poor take joy, the rich ask grace;
And still the sweet bells ring apace:
“Pile high the fire with log and thorn;
Pluck the green holly this Christmas morn;
Warm ye and fill ye, O forlorn:
This is the day that Love was born.”
’Christmas in the City’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 14, January 1862).
IX. HAUNTED LONDON.
As in this prison-house of clay,
Shut in beneath the stars, we live,
We see around us night and day
Shadows remote and fugitive;
Ours is a double life of breath—
And, while we journey onward fast,
Strange shadows from the mists of death
Are round our being dimly cast:
Thus the great City, tower’d and steepled,
Is doubly peopled,
Haunted by ghosts of its remembered Past.
Over its busy multitudes
The Present like a cloud doth fall,
But in the Soul’s diviner moods
The mystic Past transfigures all;
The City changes in a trice,
Strange antique pageants ebb and flow,
The streets take shapes of quaint device,
Strange men and women come and go;
And here and there, in famous places,
Flash great men’s faces
From the black crowd like stars as white as snow!
So, plodding on from street to street,
Hunting my aims from place to place,
Disturbed by sympathy, I meet
The ghosts in silence face to face:
They meet me here, they greet me there,
They haunt my life with bliss or pain,
And make a glamour in the air
With countless hues of heart and brain;
And ever-shifting, ever-flowing,
Coming and going,
They seem a part of all I lose and gain.
What time I wander at my will
These visions warm my blood like wine:—
With laugh and jest down Holborn Hill
Come jocund pilgrims twenty-nine;
Slim knights on chargers sable black,
Plump dames on palfreys milky white,
Red burghers reeling ripe with sack,
And courtly damsels sweet and slight;
Afar a trumpet bloweth faintly,
The street curves quaintly,
And cumbrous sign-boards creak on left and right.
The tumult of the street is loud,
But down its midst the pilgrims flaunt;
I elbow Chaucer in the crowd,
And trotting by see John of Gaunt.
A shout!—and to the river’s shores
I float in dream with heart that fails,
While slowly past, with soundless oars,
A gold-prow’d barge, dight gaily, sails;
And in the crowded stern the stately
Bess sits sedately,
Mid lords in ruffs and dames in farthingales.
The people shout, she bends in pride,
And slowly, queenly glides along;
When swaggering to the water’s side
Comes Raleigh with a courtly throng;
The common herd draws back the while,—
They bow, she nods, the people cheer,
While Leicester smiles a crafty smile
And stoops to whisper in her ear;
Sharply she smiles, with eyes cast downward:
When, turning townward,
I see Will Shakspere lounging idly near.
At sight of whom the pageant dies,
And I am swiftly carried far,
Unto a tavern where the wise
Are made by wine oracular;
And Jonson’s learnèd sock is on,
Beyond the wisdom of the schools,
And, placed at Selden’s side, I con
The golden Apollonian rules:
“He who drinks water but abuses
The jocund Muses;
Mirth is to care what sages are to fools!”
The vision fades!—In crowds again
I stand mid husht and awful breath:
There is a tramp of armed men,
Who lead a monarch on to death;
And expectation, like a cloud,
Broods on my heart, I know not why,
As murmurs gather in the crowd
And a pale monarch passes by,—
Proud in a travail not unholy,
He passes slowly,
With sorrowful possession in his eye.
Then, while the shadow of the wan
Proud face still haunts the heart’s sad gloom,
I see in dream a blind old man
Sit in a quaint and lonely room;
His thoughts are with that martyr’d life,
Its stubborn wrong and fretful spleen,
And with the past degenerate strife
When Charles was mad and Cromwell mean;
But in his age, divine and shriven,
Visions of heaven
Subdue the fretful war his life has been.
Then trumpets blow, fifes play, drums beat,
Gay banners flutter in the sun;
All men and women throng the street,
And joy is with them every one;
And down the centre of the throng,
Who shout and cry with might and main,
A merry monarch rides along,
With easy pace and slackened rein;
Gaily apparel’d, on he prances,
With beaming glances,
While wine-soak’d Frenchmen chatter in his train.
And all is changed!—Mid lords and wits,
As false as wits and lords can be,
In yonder inn the monarch sits,
And giggling Nell is on his knee;
Or, watched by silent squires and grooms,
Mid laugh and jest that find no pause,
He wanders through his stately rooms
With wits he helps to scorn the laws;
While Wilmott, in his madcap passion,
Libels king fashion,
And Dryden, at his elbow, hums and haws.
Again a change!—From London flies
A king, with priestcraft on his lips,
And o’er the sea a proud and wise
Monarch comes sailing slow in ships;
And through the streets of London town
The wiser monarch rides in pride,
To win a beautiful renown
And wave the olive far and wide;
Rich hopes are with him, and his face is
Full of stern graces,
Born of a heart fresh as the salt-sea tide.
And then I see a sickly queen
Among her palace-gardens stand,
A vacant fear is in her mien,
The sceptre trembles in her hand;
While ’neath the shade of Temple Bar
Walk shabby wits, who serve the state—
Steele, with mad laughter steeped in war,
And Addison, with smile sedate,
And Swift, the bilious English Rabelais,
Plods westward shabbily,
On my Lord Bolingbroke, alone, to wait.
The people pass me to and fro,
Chairman and tradesman, wit and lord;
Here the thin shadow of a beau,
With palsied wig, and slender sword;
And at a shout I step aside,
And carried in her chair, between
Two serving-men, comes happy-eyed
Vanessa, nodding to the Dean;
And Pope along the footpath passes—
The scourge of asses—
With melancholy settled in his spleen.
By Temple Bar I lean again,
Haunted by many a famous face,
With oddest pictures in my brain,
Jumbling together time and place:
The night drops down, the moonlight fades
Along the filmy City sky;
With draggled hose and broken blades
The Mohawks come with shriek and cry;
And in the light, the dim street clothing,
I see with loathing
Two hideous rebels’ heads that rot on high.
And as I stand, there wander by—
Earnestly talking as they go—
A burly man with wig awry,
And a spare wanderer pale as snow;
The moonlight, on their faces cast,
Illumes them—shadows proud and worn,
The one of sorrow not yet past,
And one of greatness yet unborn;
And one defies the cloud cast o’er him
And born before him,
And one has blow for blow and scorn for scorn.
The morning breaks!—They pass along,
The base-born poet and the hack;
A lord reels by, with tipsy song,
And fills a gutter at their back;
Then, passing up a narrow lane,
Begrimed with smoke and black with soot,
Led by a droning dying strain
Of melody, I watch a mute
And ragged crowd of urchins muster,
Wide-mouth’d, and cluster
Round simple Goldsmith playing on his flute.
Enough—enough—of dreams like these;
A poet’s visions scant and vain,
A flock of wandering images
That please the heart, inspire the brain.
The vagrant shadows pass away,
And I am left alone at last;
The pageants fade to common day,
The pleasant dream is overcast;
And in the centre of the City,
Its pain and pity,
Standing, I ache with echoes from the past.
But the great City in its strife
Grows, while brown Labour digs and delves,
And ghosts of its forgotten life
Haunt it, like shadows of ourselves;
They work beside us night and day,
And we in their clear footprints tread:
We are a part of them, for they
Hinted the problems we have read;
And the great City, in whose bosom
Our children blossom,
Is troubled with the glory of its Dead.
’Haunted London’ was published in Temple Bar (No. 15, February 1862).
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