ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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Poems from Red and White Heather

 

THE BALLAD OF LORD LANGSHAW.

 

‘AND will ye hae my house, lady,
     And will ye hae my land—
The house is old, the land is bare,
     And empty is my hand;
But gin ye hunger still for more
     This knife o’ steel I’ll gie—
To cut the breast, howk out the heart
     That’s sick wi’ love for thee!’

‘Bide in thy house, Lord Langshaw,
     And keep thy barren land,—
My plight is gien to Lauderdale
     Whose ring is on my hand;
He lifts me to my saddle-bow,
     And thro’ the glens we ride—
Sae sheathe thy knife, thou waefu’ man,
     And seek some ither bride!’

‘The silver sheckle wags its pow
     Around this house, my dear,
The wind across my lanesome land
     Is whistling shrill and drear—
It’s hey the blowing o’ the broom,
     And ho the wither’d thorn!
The bat blinks at the candlelight,
     And thinks it shining morn!’

Lightly, lightly,
     She trotted down the vale,
The gay goshawk upon her wrist,
     Wi’ fair young Lauderdale;
While at his door Lord Langshaw stood
     They pass’d his barren land,
And as they pass’d she look’d and laugh’d,
     And waved her lily hand.

‘O bonnie Mary Lindsay,
     You’ve left me here alane,
That last light look is like the steel
     To cut my heart in twain.
It’s hey the empty house and hall,
     And ho the blighted name—
But bide ye, bide ye, till the day
     Thy bridegroom leads thee hame!’

Lightly, lightly,
     The wedding bells did ring,
And on her middle finger sma’
     The bridegroom set the ring,
But as they came from oot the kirk
     The bride went white to see
Lord Langshaw on his airn-gray steed
     Under the black yew-tree!

Then hameward rode Lord Langshaw,
     That waefu’ man o’ men,
Heavy he droopit as ’neath the snaws
     O’ threescore years and ten;
All round his house the bitter blast
     Wail’d like a saul in pain,
He crept from off his airn-gray steed
     And threw his page the rein.

‘Come hither, come hither, my little foot-page,
     You’ve served your master weel—
When I lie bluidy on my bed
     Pluck out the blade o’ steel,
Then leave me in the lanesome house
     And do as I command,
And as ye do my last behest
     Thy saul be blest or ban’d!’

Lightly, lightly,
     They gallopt doon the vale,
Her een were shining bright as stars
     On young Lord Lauderdale;
The castle gate stood open wide,
     The wedding feast was spread;
Without, the moon rose thin and white;
     Within, the lights burnt red.

‘O bonnie Mary Lindsay,
     A happy dower is thine—
We pledge the bridegroom and the bride
     In stoups o’ Rhenish wine!’
Then up and laugh’d young Lauderdale,
     ‘A health to all,’ he said,
‘And a health to him who woo’d in vain
     The maiden I hae wed!’

From Patrickirk and Lammermoor,
     From Mirkmoss and from Doon,
Came wedding gifts o’ gems and gold,
     Silk snood, and broider’d goon.
It’s hey the braw braw wedding gifts,
     And ho the dance and sang!
But nae gift came that night from him
     Who’d loved sae weel and lang.

Lightly, brightly,
     The moon lit roof and tower,
Wi’ sheets o’ lawn and quilt o’ silk
     They spread the bridal bower.
The bower was dark, but thro’ the pane
     The moon keek’d in that night,
And on the pillow fringed wi’ gold
     Shed beams o’ siller light.

There’s laughing in the lighted hall
     ’Mong lords and ladies fair,
The merry bridesmaids and the bride
     Come smiling up the stair.
The bridal bower is open wide,
     Softly they enter in.
And on the pillow stain’d wi’ red
     Lord Langshaw’s gift is seen!

A gruesome gift, Lord Langshaw,
     Is this that comes from you!
A bluidy gift, the dripping knife
     That stab’d your strong heart thro’!
O bonnie Mary Lindsay,
     Weel may you scream and fall,
Thy lot is wae, this ae night,
     This ae night, and all!

This ae night, this ae night,
     This ae night and all,
The Lykewake dirge shall echo on
     Within your castle-wall.
Dead on his bed Lord Langshaw smiles
     Like marble cold and gray,
And at his feet his little foot-page
     Keeps watch till dawn o’ day!

_____

 

THE BROKEN TRYST

 

I.

‘THIS ae night, this ae night,
     Every night and all,
Remember me, my heart’s delight,
     Now Christ receives my saul.’

Upon her bed of death she lay
     As white and still as snow,
Wearily, dimly, in her eyes
     The light of life burned low.

Sadly she keek’d into my face
     And sighed her last farewell;
And all around God’s snow lay deep
     On mountain and in dell.

‘O Marjorie!—my Marjorie—
     I’m weeping for thy sake.
Without thy love the world is dark,
     And my poor heart must break!’

The wind roared shrill; the lonely bield
     Shook like a stormtost tree,
But gently as a sleeping bairn
     My true-love smiled on me.

‘This ae night, this ae night,
     Every night and all,
Remember me, my heart’s delight,
     Now Christ receives my saul.

‘Remember that I loved thee dear,
     And loved nae man but thee.
Remember most when Death comes near
     To set thy spirit free.

‘Lift up thy head, my own true love,
     And dinna weep for me;
In yonder land beyond the grave
     Our trysting-place shall be.

‘The Lord has whispered in my ear
     Of that sweet promised land;
There thou shalt keek into my face
     And take me by the hand.

‘There, where the skies are ever clear,
     And falls nae snaw or rain,
I’ll keep the tryst I gave thee here,
     And kiss thee once again.’

Weeping, I held unto her lips
     The silver Cross of Christ.
She kissed the cross, and as she died
     She sware to keep our tryst.

 

II.

Silent she slept upon her bed,
     Done with all human care;
We held the mirror to her mouth—
     No touch of breath was there.

We wrapped her in her shroud, and placed
     Her hands upon her breast,
And then the lyke-wake dirge was sung
     About her bed of rest.

‘This ae night, this ae night,
     Every night and all,
Fire and salt and candlelight,
     And Christ receive thy saul!’

Heavily, heavily beat my heart
     Beneath its load of pain;
But I remembered while I wept
     Our tryst to meet again.

I listened to the grey-hair’d priest
     Who knelt and prayed with me—
God shrive his soul! By Christ his Cross
     He swore that tryst should be!

And when across the white, white snow
     They bore the light, light bier,
I followed slowly in a dream
     And didna shed a tear.

And when upon the coffin-lid
     They shook the cruel clay,
Although my heart was torn in twain
     My soul was far away.

My soul was thinking of its tryst
     In that fair promised land—
I saw my true-love waiting there,
     A lily in her hand.

‘O Marjorie! sweet Marjorie!—
     My own dear Marjorie!
’Tis only for a little while,
     And I shall come to thee!’

I blest the promise of the priest
     I blest the Cross of Christ;
And day and night, in weal or woe,
     I thought of that last tryst.

 

III.

Winds of the world, how bleak ye blew
     About my feeble form!
Snows of the world, how oft I bent
     Beneath your wintry storm!

Yet even when the strife was worst
     I fought and rose upright,
Beyond the darkness of the storm
     I saw a heavenly light.

It beckoned me from far away,
     And shrove my soul from sin;
The lattices of Heaven blew wide
     To show that light within.

What reck’d I of the daily strife,
     The hourly pain and care?
Boldly I met the storms of life,
     Because my tryst was there.

As one who flies to meet his love,
     Despite the wintry blast,
Patient and strong, because he knows
     That they must meet at last—

That softly on his aching heart
     Her cheek will pillow’d be;
That from the spell of Love’s despair
     Her kiss will set him free—

That lonely in the lonely night
     They two at last will stand,
Keeping the tryst with happy tears
     Together, hand in hand.

Yet sometimes, as I dreed my weird,
     And knelt to say a prayer,
I heard upon the moaning wind
     Faint wailings of despair!

Wild voices from the shores of Death
     Cried, ‘Sleep, eternal sleep!’
Wild voices from the depths of Hell
     Answered like deep to deep.

And one cried, ‘He who promised life
     Hath given but husks for bread!
How should He break the bonds of Death
     Since He Himself is dead?’

And one cried, ‘Cease to wail, since life
     Is but the breaking wave!’
And one, ‘Poor lamp of life blown out
     By winds from the gusty grave!’

I stopt my ears, I didna heed,
     I knelt upon my knee,
And swore by Christ to keep my tryst
     Yonder with Marjorie!

 

IV.

Methought, as all alone I sat
     Beside life’s surging sea,
Death pluck’d me by the sleeve, and said,
     ‘Rise up, and come with me!’

Shrouded in white from head to foot,
     He walked from field to field;
And lo! I followed him until
     He stopped at mine own bield.

He raised the latch and let me in.
     ‘’Tis time to sleep,’ he said,
And took me in his lean old arms
     And laid me on my bed.

And weary of the storm and strife,
     The sleep-stoure blinding me,
I calmly looked into his face
     And thought of Marjorie.

He waved his thin hands o’er me thrice;
     I didna moan or weep,
But peacefully I closed my een
     And sank to my last sleep.

 

V.

‘This ae night, this ae night,
     Every night and all,
Fire and salt and candlelight,
     And Christ receive his saul.’

I heard the sound as in a dream
     Blown on the wind to me,
While ’midst the wintry wold I walk’d
     To my tryst with Marjorie.

Swiftly I walked in my winding-sheet,
     Living though I had died;
In a waste of weariful snow I walked,
     With the angel Death for guide.

But as I walked the wold grew light,
     And the frosty stars shone clear,
And the land I saw grew like the land
     I had kenn’d for many a year.

Across the little bridge we passed
     With still and soundless tread,
And a light was burning at our backs
     In the bield where I lay dead.

And up above the windy hill
     There came a siller fire,
And the moon rose up like a great white moth
     Above the black kirk-spire.

And I kenn’d the kirkyard by the wood
     Where they laid my Marjorie doon,
And the wintry wold was white below,
     And the heavens were bright aboon.

‘O Death, our tryst was far away,
     In a sunny promised land!’
And Death was dumb, but walk’d before
     And beckon’d with his hand.

We stood alone in the white kirkyard,
     Under the black yew-tree,
And I saw her grave and the grey gravestane
     With the name of Marjorie.

And the place was dim with weary ghaists
     Who wandered to and fro,
And the moon shone through their shapes, that cast
     Nae shade upon the snow.

‘O Marjorie!—my Marjorie!—
     If this be our trysting-place,
Arise, dear love, out of thy grave,
     And let me see thy face!’

And the voice of Death, like a voice in sleep,
     Spake up and answer’d me:
‘The sleep-stoure fills her eyes and ears
     That neither hear nor see.

‘Never again the sun or moon
     Shall shine on Marjorie—
Never again shall thy true-love rise
     To keep her tryst with thee!

‘He lied who swore by Christ His Cross
     That you should meet again!
Lie down, lie down, and hush thy moans,
     For all thy quest is vain!

‘But yonder lies the open grave
     That they have dug for thee;
As sound as hers for evermore
     Thy sleep shall surely be!

‘This ae night, this ae night,
     Every night and all,
Fire and salt and candlelight,
     And Death to keep thy saul!’

I faded away beneath his touch
     Under the pale moonbeam,
And with a waeful cry I woke,
     And lo! it was a dream!

 

VI.

A dream! and leaping from my bed
     I saw the light o’ day,
And the Sabbath bells were ringing loud,
     And folk flocked forth to pray.

I wandered to the old kirkyard,
     And ’neath the dark yew-tree
I saw the grave and the white gravestane
     With the name of Marjorie!

And by the little grave I bent
     And sighed the much-loved name
And on my brow, like blessed dew
     The Sabbath music came.

‘O Death!’ I cried, ‘whose cruel hand
     Hath my dear Marjorie ta’en,
Whene’er my heart is faint with fear
     Send me that dream again!

‘Teach me how wae the world would be
     If that sad dream were true!’—
The kirkbells rang, and overhead
     The skies were bonnie and blue!

‘Not here—not here—but far away
     Our trysting-place shall be;
There, with a lily in her hand,
     Still waits my Marjorie!’

_____

 

THE DUMB BAIRN.

 

MY tale is brief yet strange (the Elder said);
Altho’ the days of miracles are fled,
Hear it and mark, all ye who smile at prayer!

John Sutherland, a minister of Ayr,
Stern and unbending, yet a man of worth,
Had one weak child, who, deaf and dumb from birth,
Had never spoke a word or heard a sound.
The mother, with her wild arms folded round
The breathing babe, and eyes upraised to see
Her husband’s face set hard in agony,
Had blest them both, the father and the child,
And sank to slumber, even as she smiled
That last farewell, and tryst to meet again
Beyond earth’s clouds of cruelty and pain.
Thus was the weary widower left alone
To keep sad watch o’er his afflicted son,
A tiny tender waif of feeble breath,
Wordless and still, a thing of life-in-death.

Now God, who to this little child forbad
The pretty speech that makes a parent glad
Who shut the tender doorways of his head,
Closing his soul in silence deep and dread,
Had made him very beautiful and bright,
With golden hair and eyes of heavenly light,
As sweet and bright a bairn in sooth was he
As ever crowed upon a father’s knee;
And lo! the father loved him with a love
Passing the love of women, and above
All dreams of men more lonely and more blest.
Fondly he reared him, sleeping and at rest,
And ever as he grew more strong and fair
Watching him with a haggard eye of care.
And so, though in that lonely house was heard
No baby prattling and no half-lisp’d word
To show the little spirit was astir,
The child became a silent messenger
Of love and blessing to the afflicted man;
And after, when the little one began
To move upon its feet, and when it knew
The joy of life as happier children do,
The Minister thanked God that it was sent
To be his loving comfort and content.

But ever in his hour of happiness
One thought to this good man brought dire distress,
Exceeding pity, and a nameless fear,
’Twas that the little one could never hear
The living voice of prayer,—nor understand
The Book of blessing writ by God’s own hand.
How, then, since our salvation we must reach
Only by what the holy gospels teach
(Nay, smile not, for his faith was absolute!)
Could that afflicted stem bear heavenly fruit?
How, never having even heard Christ’s name,
And how to atone for Adam’s fall He came,
Could this poor child be saved?

                                                   In secret fear
He watched the child grow on from year to year,
Till it was four years old; and then at length,
Having in secret prayed with all his strength,
He said, ‘The bairn shall not forsaken be
Through any lack of fitting faith in me,
But daily in his presence I will read
A chapter of the Holy Book, and plead
That God, who works all wonders, may convey
The message to his soul in some strange way
I comprehend not.’

                                 Ever after that
Each day with book in hand the father sat,
Reading a portion of the Holy Word
To his beloved, who neither spoke nor heard,
But ever with a silent sweet distress,
Shut in his little cloud of silentness,
Seem’d trying prettily to understand;
And sometimes he would stretch his tiny hand
And lay it softly on the leaves, meanwhile
Uplooking with a bright and heavenly smile.
And presently this time to read and pray
Became so loved a duty of the day
Ev’n to the child, that oft the little one,
Eager to see the silent service done,
Would run and lift the great book merrily,
And setting it upon his father’s knee,
Look up, and wait, with sweet expectant gaze.

And ever after, on the Sabbath days
When in the church the father preached and taught,
Thither the little silent one was brought,
And while the deep hymn rose, or from above
The good man preached of God’s great strength and love,
(Nay, very often, if the truth be told,
Of God’s avenging judgments manifold—
For the man’s creed was gloomy enough and sad)
Below him, looking round with glances glad
Out of his cloud of silence, the pale boy
Beheld the service with mysterious joy,
Smiled, while the light on painted windows played,
Watch’d while the black-robed preacher preached and prayed,
Saw the folk rise and fall like waves of the sea,
Standing erect or kneeling on the knee,
And mimick’d dumbly what he saw them do,
Knelt when they knelt, and seemed to hearken too!
Ah, oftentimes the preacher from his place
Looking with blinding tears upon his face,
Seeing his darling listening as it were,
Quickened his cry of agony and despair,
And as he blest his congregation, blest
The little silent form o’er all the rest!

Thus over father and child the seasons rolled
Until the little one was seven years old,
When suddenly, with some obscure disease
That wastes the tender blood by slow degrees,
The boy fell sick, and feebly, without pain,
The rosy light of life began to wane.
Doctors were called; they came with solemn tread
And coldly went. ‘He was not strong,’ they said.
‘Nay, ’twas a miracle that one so frail
Had lived so long and scarcely seemed to ail,
But now the end of all was surely nigh,
And in a little while the child must die.’

The father heard, and darkening in despair
Wrestled with God in agonies of prayer,
Then with the strength of loving faith moaned low,
‘My God knows best, maybe ’tis better so,
And in the air of heaven more sweet and clear
My bairn at last shall find a tongue, and hear
A music more divine than ours below!’
Thenceforward, grim as death, his hair like snow,
His body bent, with heavy hanging head,
He sat for hours beside the child and read
Out of the Holy Book! As the days passed
His hope grew stronger and less overcast,
And with a stronger voice of faith he poured
His soul forth, that his boy might know the Lord.
But ever when the seventh day came, alas,
Wearily to the pulpit would he pass,
And as he preached the news of heavenly grace
Look down and miss the upturn’d and smiling face,
The little kneeling form that once knelt there,
The tiny hands clasp’d tight in mimic prayer,
And oft his strong soul shook, his head was bowed,
And in the people’s sight he sobbed aloud!

At last one quiet Sabbath eventide,
When home he hastened to the bairn’s bedside,
He found him lying very wan and white,
His face illumed by the red sunset light
That crept across the pane, and on the bed
Like roses bright was luminously shed.
His eyes were closed, and on his face there fell
The shadow of some peace ineffable,
And very softly, thinking that he slept,
The father by the bedside knelt, and wept.
But suddenly the piteous eyes of azure
Were opened with a heavenly look of pleasure,
The little arms up-reach’d, the pale face yearned,
The soft mouth pouting for a kiss upturned,
And while the strong man in his anguish shook,
The sick bairn smiled, and pointing to the Book,
Which lay by open, made a sign he knew
That he should read as he was wont to do.
He took the Book, and on it fixed his eyes,
And choking down the tears that still would rise,
Read in a broken voice that chapter blest
Which tells of ‘Quiet Waters,’ peace, and rest,
Where all the weary shall have comforting.

Now, mark what followed;—I but tell this thing,
As it was told to me, by one who heard
The very man relate it word by word.
Even as he sat and read, and seem’d to hear
Those heavenly waters softly murmuring near,
There came a cry, and startled at the sound
He raised his eyes and saw with glory crowned
The child’s seraphic face; and lo! he heard,
With all his being mystically stirred,
The dumb lips speak! Yea, on his ears there fell
A faint last cry of rapture and farewell;
The bairn stretched out his little arms and cried,
Yes, papa!—quiet waters!’—smiled, and died! . . .

O faith divine of days ere faith was fled!
Light of a creed once quick that now is dead!
Was it reality or but a dream?
Did the voice call indeed, or only seem?
Who knows? and who can tell which most doth prove,—
A miracle of fact or one of Love?
Yet this is sure—could such deep faith have seat
Again in some few hearts of all that beat,
Mammon and Antichrist would cease to reign,
Doubts die, and miracles be wrought again!

_____

 

L’ENVOI

CALEDONIA

 

I

GOD bless thee, dear old Godmother!
     Tho’ far I fare from thee,
I see thee yet, among thy hills,
     Thine eyes on the gray Sea!

Thy white hair, that was golden once,
     Blown by the mountain storm,
The ragged tartan of the clans
     Folded around thy form!

’Tis ragged, dear old Godmother,
     That brave old tartan plaid,
The form it wraps is bent and old,
But on thy face burns bright and bold
     A love that cannot fade!

Thou thinkest of thy many sons
     Scatter’d in many lands,
Thou nam’st them o’er, thou blessest them
     With trembling outstretch’d hands.

They harry earth from east to west,
     These rievers born of thee,
And they forget thee sitting lone
     Beside the norland Sea!

 

II

Blood of thy veins runs on in mine,
     Flesh of thy flesh am I,
Breath of thy nostrils filleth mine
     Where’er my feet may fly!

Above my cradle bent thy face,
     Kindly yet grim and stern,
Thy mouth made mountain melodie
     To soothe the savage bairn.

Thy music was of Trolls and Fays
     And all the Elfin throng—
Thy glamour slid into my Soul
     Out of that cradle-song!

And fierce and wild my nature grew,
     Yet kindly, like thine own,
When out into the world I fared,
     To dree my weird, alone.

Tho’ I forgot thee for a time,
     Gray Spirit of the Free,
My Soul was haunted night and day
     By that first glamourie!

And when the foeman’s dirk was drawn
     To stab me as I slept,
Wounded and weak, yet unafraid,
     Back to thine arms I crept!

Again I heard thy cradle-song
     Soothing and blessing me!
Again I saw, with sadder eyes,
     Thy Mountains and thy Sea!

Thine arms were round me, while I set
     My head upon thy breast—
The dear old Godmother was true,
     Tho’ false were all the rest!

The riever’s blood is in my veins,
     Thy blood!—and here I stand
Alone ’mong strangers, haunted still
     By thine old Fairyland!

Tho’ in my heart there leaps the flame
     That keeps thee strong and stern,
Low in mine ear thy Fays still call
     As when I was a bairn!

God bless thee, dear old Godmother!
     God bless thee evermore!
When life runs low, when night is near
     Croon to me as of yore!

_____

 

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