By Adam Lindsay Gordon
[British-born Australian Steeple-Chase Rider and Poet—1833-1870.]
Sea Spray and Smoke Drift Bush Ballads & Galloping Rhymes Miscellaneous Poems Ashtaroth: A Dramatic Lyric
IN MEMORIAM. (A. L. Gordon.)
At rest! Hard by the margin of that sea Whose sounds are mingled with his noble verse, Now lies the shell that never more will house The fine, strong spirit of my gifted friend. Yea, he who flashed upon us suddenly, A shining soul with syllables of fire, Who sang the first great songs these lands can claim To be their own; the one who did not seem To know what royal place awaited him Within the Temple of the Beautiful, Has passed away; and we who knew him, sit Aghast in darkness, dumb with that great grief, Whose stature yet we cannot comprehend; While over yonder churchyard, hearsed with pines, The night-wind sings its immemorial hymn, And sobs above a newly-covered grave.
The bard, the scholar, and the man who lived That frank, that open-hearted life which keeps The splendid fire of English chivalry From dying out; the one who never wronged A fellow-man; the faithful friend who judged The many, anxious to be loved of him, By what he saw, and not by what he heard, As lesser spirits do; the brave great soul That never told a lie, or turned aside To fly from danger; he, I say, was one Of that bright company this sin-stained world Can ill afford to lose.
They did not know, The hundreds who had read his sturdy verse, And revelled over ringing major notes, The mournful meaning of the undersong Which runs through all he wrote, and often takes The deep autumnal, half-prophetic tone Of forest winds in March; nor did they think That on that healthy-hearted man there lay The wild specific curse which seems to cling For ever to the Poet's twofold life!
To Adam Lindsay Gordon, I who laid Two years ago on Lionel Michael's grave A tender leaf of my regard; yea I, Who culled a garland from the flowers of song To place where Harpur sleeps; I, left alone, The sad disciple of a shining band Now gone! to Adam Lindsay Gordon's name I dedicate these lines; and if 'tis true That, past the darkness of the grave, the soul Becomes omniscient, then the bard may stoop From his high seat to take the offering, And read it with a sigh for human friends, In human bonds, and gray with human griefs.
And having wove and proffered this poor wreath, I stand to-day as lone as he who saw At nightfall through the glimmering moony mists, The last of Arthur on the wailing mere, And strained in vain to hear the going voice.
The poems of Gordon have an interest beyond the mere personal one which his friends attach to his name. Written, as they were, at odd times and leisure moments of a stirring and adventurous life, it is not to be wondered at if they are unequal or unfinished. The astonishment of those who knew the man, and can gauge the capacity of this city to foster poetic instinct, is that such work was ever produced here at all. Intensely nervous, and feeling much of that shame at the exercise of the higher intelligence which besets those who are known to be renowned in field sports, Gordon produced his poems shyly, scribbled them on scraps of paper, and sent them anonymously to magazines. It was not until he discovered one morning that everybody knew a couplet or two of "How we Beat the Favourite" that he consented to forego his anonymity and appear in the unsuspected character of a versemaker. The success of his republished "collected" poems gave him courage, and the unreserved praise which greeted "Bush Ballads" should have urged him to forget or to conquer those evil promptings which, unhappily, brought about his untimely death.
Adam Lindsay Gordon was the son of an officer in the English army, and was educated at Woolwich, in order that he might follow the profession of his family. At the time when he was a cadet there was no sign of either of the two great wars which were about to call forth the strength of English arms, and, like many other men of his day, he quitted his prospects of service and emigrated. He went to South Australia and started as a sheep farmer. His efforts were attended with failure. He lost his capital, and, owning nothing but a love for horsemanship and a head full of Browning and Shelley, plunged into the varied life which gold-mining, "overlanding", and cattle-driving affords. From this experience he emerged to light in Melbourne as the best amateur steeplechase rider in the colonies. The victory he won for Major Baker in 1868, when he rode Babbler for the Cup Steeplechase, made him popular, and the almost simultaneous publication of his last volume of poems gave him welcome entrance to the houses of all who had pretensions to literary taste. The reputation of the book spread to England, and Major Whyte Melville did not disdain to place the lines of the dashing Australian author at the head of his own dashing descriptions of sporting scenery. Unhappily, the melancholy which Gordon's friends had with pain observed increased daily, and in the full flood of his success, with congratulations pouring upon him from every side, he was found dead in the heather near his home with a bullet from his own rifle in his brain.
I do not propose to criticise the volumes which these few lines of preface introduce to the reader. The influence of Browning and of Swinburne upon the writer's taste is plain. There is plainly visible also, however, a keen sense for natural beauty and a manly admiration for healthy living. If in "Ashtaroth" and "Bellona" we recognise the swing of a familiar metre, in such poems as "The Sick Stockrider" we perceive the genuine poetic instinct united to a very clear perception of the loveliness of duty and of labour.
"'Twas merry in the glowing morn, among the gleaming grass, To wander as we've wandered many a mile, And blow the cool tobacco cloud, and watch the white wreaths pass, Sitting loosely in the saddle all the while; 'Twas merry 'mid the blackwoods, when we spied the station roofs, To wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard, With a running fire of stockwhips and a fiery run of hoofs, Oh! the hardest day was never then too hard!
"Aye! we had a glorious gallop after 'Starlight' and his gang, When they bolted from Sylvester's on the flat; How the sun-dried reed-beds crackled, how the flint-strewn ranges rang To the strokes of 'Mountaineer' and 'Acrobat'; Hard behind them in the timber, harder still across the heath, Close behind them through the tea-tree scrub we dashed; And the golden-tinted fern leaves, how they rustled underneath! And the honeysuckle osiers, how they crash'd!"
This is genuine. There is no "poetic evolution from the depths of internal consciousness" here. The writer has ridden his ride as well as written it.
The student of these unpretending volumes will be repaid for his labour. He will find in them something very like the beginnings of a national school of Australian poetry. In historic Europe, where every rood of ground is hallowed in legend and in song, the least imaginative can find food for sad and sweet reflection. When strolling at noon down an English country lane, lounging at sunset by some ruined chapel on the margin of an Irish lake, or watching the mists of morning unveil Ben Lomond, we feel all the charm which springs from association with the past. Soothed, saddened, and cheered by turns, we partake of the varied moods which belong not so much to ourselves as to the dead men who, in old days, sung, suffered, or conquered in the scenes which we survey. But this our native or adopted land has no past, no story. No poet speaks to us. Do we need a poet to interpret Nature's teachings, we must look into our own hearts, if perchance we may find a poet there.
What is the dominant note of Australian scenery? That which is the dominant note of Edgar Allan Poe's poetry—Weird Melancholy. A poem like "L'Allegro" could never be written by an Australian. It is too airy, too sweet, too freshly happy. The Australian mountain forests are funereal, secret, stern. Their solitude is desolation. They seem to stifle, in their black gorges, a story of sullen despair. No tender sentiment is nourished in their shade. In other lands the dying year is mourned, the falling leaves drop lightly on his bier. In the Australian forests no leaves fall. The savage winds shout among the rock clefts. From the melancholy gums strips of white bark hang and rustle. The very animal life of these frowning hills is either grotesque or ghostly. Great grey kangaroos hop noiselessly over the coarse grass. Flights of white cockatoos stream out, shrieking like evil souls. The sun suddenly sinks, and the mopokes burst out into horrible peals of semi-human laughter. The natives aver that, when night comes, from out the bottomless depth of some lagoon the Bunyip rises, and, in form like monstrous sea-calf, drags his loathsome length from out the ooze. From a corner of the silent forest rises a dismal chant, and around a fire dance natives painted like skeletons. All is fear-inspiring and gloomy. No bright fancies are linked with the memories of the mountains. Hopeless explorers have named them out of their sufferings—Mount Misery, Mount Dreadful, Mount Despair. As when among sylvan scenes in places
"Made green with the running of rivers, And gracious with temperate air,"
the soul is soothed and satisfied, so, placed before the frightful grandeur of these barren hills, it drinks in their sentiment of defiant ferocity, and is steeped in bitterness.
Australia has rightly been named the Land of the Dawning. Wrapped in the midst of early morning, her history looms vague and gigantic. The lonely horseman riding between the moonlight and the day sees vast shadows creeping across the shelterless and silent plains, hears strange noises in the primeval forest, where flourishes a vegetation long dead in other lands, and feels, despite his fortune, that the trim utilitarian civilisation which bred him shrinks into insignificance beside the contemptuous grandeur of forest and ranges coeval with an age in which European scientists have cradled his own race.
There is a poem in every form of tree or flower, but the poetry which lives in the trees and flowers of Australia differs from those of other countries. Europe is the home of knightly song, of bright deeds and clear morning thought. Asia sinks beneath the weighty recollections of her past magnificence, as the Suttee sinks, jewel burdened, upon the corpse of dread grandeur, destructive even in its death. America swiftly hurries on her way, rapid, glittering, insatiable even as one of her own giant waterfalls. From the jungles of Africa, and the creeper-tangled groves of the Islands of the South, arise, from the glowing hearts of a thousand flowers, heavy and intoxicating odours—the Upas-poison which dwells in barbaric sensuality. In Australia alone is to be found the Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribblings of Nature learning how to write. Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers without perfume, our birds who cannot fly, and our beasts who have not yet learned to walk on all fours. But the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities. He becomes familiar with the beauty of loneliness. Whispered to by the myriad tongues of the wilderness, he learns the language of the barren and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphics of haggard gum-trees, blown into odd shapes, distorted with fierce hot winds, or cramped with cold nights, when the Southern Cross freezes in a cloudless sky of icy blue. The phantasmagoria of that wild dreamland termed the Bush interprets itself, and the Poet of our desolation begins to comprehend why free Esau loved his heritage of desert sand better than all the bountiful richness of Egypt.
[The poems are listed by alphabetical order.]
In Memoriam. By Henry Kendall. Preface. By Marcus Clarke.
A Basket of Flowers A Dedication A Fragment "After the Quarrel" A Hunting Song A Legend of Madrid An Exile's Farewell Ars Longa Ashtaroth: A Dramatic Lyric A Song of Autumn Banker's Dream Bellona Borrow'd Plumes By Flood and Field By Wood and Wold Cito Pede Preterit Aetas Confiteor Credat Judaeus Apella Cui Bono Delilah De Te "Discontent" Doubtful Dreams "Early Adieux" "Exeunt" Ex Fumo Dare Lucem Fauconshawe Finis Exoptatus Fragmentary Scenes from the Road to Avernus From Lightning and Tempest From the Wreck Gone Hippodromania; or, Whiffs from the Pipe How we Beat the Favourite "In the Garden" In Utrumque Paratus Laudamus Lex Talionis No Name Pastor Cum Podas Okus Potters' Clay Quare Fatigasti Rippling Water Sunlight on the Sea "Ten Paces Off" The Fields of Coleraine The Last Leap "The Old Leaven" The Rhyme of Joyous Garde The Roll of the Kettledrum; or, The Lay of the Last Charger The Romance of Britomarte The Sick Stockrider The Song of the Surf The Swimmer The Three Friends Thick-headed Thoughts Thora's Song To a Proud Beauty To My Sister "Two Exhortations" Unshriven Visions in the Smoke Whisperings in Wattle-Boughs Wolf and Hound Wormwood and Nightshade Ye Wearie Wayfarer, hys Ballad Zu der edlen Yagd
SEA SPRAY AND SMOKE DRIFT
Am I waking? Was I sleeping? Dearest, are you watching yet? Traces on your cheeks of weeping Glitter, 'tis in vain you fret; Drifting ever! drifting onward! In the glass the bright sand runs Steadily and slowly downward; Hushed are all the Myrmidons.
Has Automedon been banish'd From his post beside my bed? Where has Agamemnon vanished? Where is warlike Diomed? Where is Nestor? where Ulysses? Menelaus, where is he? Call them not, more dear your kisses Than their prosings are to me.
Daylight fades and night must follow, Low, where sea and sky combine, Droops the orb of great Apollo, Hostile god to me and mine. Through the tent's wide entrance streaming, In a flood of glory rare, Glides the golden sunset, gleaming On your golden, gleaming hair.
Chide him not, the leech who tarries, Surest aid were all too late; Surer far the shaft of Paris, Winged by Phoebus and by fate; When he crouch'd behind the gable, Had I once his features scann'd, Phoebus' self had scarce been able To have nerved his trembling hand.
Blue-eyed maiden! dear Athena! Goddess chaste, and wise and brave, From the snares of Polyxena Thou would'st fain thy favourite save. Tell me, is it not far better That it should be as it is? Jove's behest we cannot fetter, Fate's decrees are always his.
Many seek for peace and riches, Length of days and life of ease; I have sought for one thing, which is Fairer unto me than these. Often, too, I've heard the story, In my boyhood, of the doom Which the fates assigned me—Glory, Coupled with an early tomb.
Swift assault and sudden sally Underneath the Trojan wall; Charge, and countercharge, and rally, War-cry loud, and trumpet call; Doubtful strain of desp'rate battle, Cut and thrust and grapple fierce, Swords that ring on shields that rattle, Blades that gash and darts that pierce;—
I have done with these for ever; By the loud resounding sea, Where the reedy jav'lins quiver, There is now no place for me. Day by day our ranks diminish, We are falling day by day; But our sons the strife will finish, Where man tarries man must slay.
Life, 'tis said, to all men sweet is, Death to all must bitter be; Wherefore thus, oh, mother Thetis! None can baffle Jove's decree? I am ready, I am willing, To resign my stormy life; Weary of this long blood-spilling, Sated with this ceaseless strife.
Shorter doom I've pictured dimly, On a bed of crimson sand; Fighting hard and dying grimly, Silent lips, and striking hand. But the toughest lives are brittle, And the bravest and the best Lightly fall—it matters little; Now I only long for rest.
I have seen enough of slaughter, Seen Scamander's torrent red, Seen hot blood poured out like water, Seen the champaign heaped with dead. Men will call me unrelenting, Pitiless, vindictive, stern; Few will raise a voice dissenting, Few will better things discern.
Speak! the fires of life are reeling, Like the wildfires on the marsh, Was I to a friend unfeeling? Was I to a mistress harsh? Was there nought save bloodshed throbbing In this heart and on this brow? Whisper! girl, in silence sobbing! Dead Patroclus! answer thou!
Dry those violet orbs that glisten, Darling, I have had my day; Place your hand in mine and listen, Ere the strong soul cleaves its way Through the death mist hovering o'er me, As the stout ship cleaves the wave, To my fathers gone before me, To the gods who love the brave!
Courage, we must part for certain; Shades that sink and shades that rise, Blending in a shroud-like curtain, Gather o'er these weary eyes. O'er the fields we used to roam, in Brighter days and lighter cheer, Gathers thus the quiet gloaming— Now, I ween, the end is near.
For the hand that clasps your fingers, Closing in the death-grip tight, Scarcely feels the warmth that lingers, Scarcely heeds the pressure light; While the failing pulse that alters, Changing 'neath a death chill damp, Flickers, flutters, flags, and falters, Feebly like a waning lamp.
Think'st thou, love, 'twill chafe my ghost in Hades' realm, where heroes shine, Should I hear the shepherd boasting To his Argive concubine? Let him boast, the girlish victor, Let him brag; not thus, I trow, Were the laurels torn from Hector, Not so very long ago.
Does my voice sound thick and husky? Is my hand no longer warm? Round that neck where pearls look dusky Let me once more wind my arm; Rest my head upon that shoulder, Where it rested oft of yore; Warm and white, yet seeming colder Now than e'er it seem'd before.
'Twas the fraud of Priam's daughter, Not the force of Priam's son, Slew me—ask not why I sought her, 'Twas my doom—her work is done! Fairer far than she, and dearer, By a thousandfold thou art; Come, my own one, nestle nearer, Cheating death of half his smart.
Slowly, while your amber tresses Shower down their golden rain, Let me drink those last caresses, Never to be felt again; Yet th' Elysian halls are spacious, Somewhere near me I may keep Room—who knows?—The gods are gracious; Lay me lower—let me sleep!
Lower yet, my senses wander, And my spirit seems to roll With the tide of swift Scamander Rushing to a viewless goal. In my ears, like distant washing Of the surf upon the shore, Drones a murmur, faintly splashing, 'Tis the splash of Charon's oar.
Lower yet, my own Briseis, Denser shadows veil the light; Hush, what is to be, to be is, Close my eyes, and say good-night. Lightly lay your red lips, kissing, On this cold mouth, while your thumbs Lie on these cold eyelids pressing— Pallas! thus thy soldier comes!
In Collins-street standeth a statue tall— A statue tall on a pillar of stone, Telling its story, to great and small, Of the dust reclaimed from the sand waste lone. Weary and wasted, and worn and wan, Feeble and faint, and languid and low, He lay on the desert a dying man, Who has gone, my friends, where we all must go.
There are perils by land, and perils by water, Short, I ween, are the obsequies Of the landsman lost, but they may be shorter With the mariner lost in the trackless seas; And well for him when the timbers start, And the stout ship reels and settles below, Who goes to his doom with as bold a heart As that dead man gone where we all must go.
Man is stubborn his rights to yield, And redder than dews at eventide Are the dews of battle, shed on the field, By a nation's wrath or a despot's pride; But few who have heard their death-knell roll, From the cannon's lips where they faced the foe, Have fallen as stout and steady of soul As that dead man gone where we all must go.
Traverse yon spacious burial-ground, Many are sleeping soundly there, Who pass'd with mourners standing around, Kindred and friends, and children fair; Did he envy such ending? 'twere hard to say; Had he cause to envy such ending? no; Can the spirit feel for the senseless clay When it once has gone where we all must go?
What matters the sand or the whitening chalk, The blighted herbage, the black'ning log, The crooked beak of the eagle-hawk, Or the hot red tongue of the native dog? That couch was rugged, those sextons rude, Yet, in spite of a leaden shroud, we know That the bravest and fairest are earth-worms' food, When once they've gone where we all must go.
With the pistol clenched in his failing hand, With the death mist spread o'er his fading eyes, He saw the sun go down on the sand, And he slept, and never saw it rise; 'Twas well; he toil'd till his task was done, Constant and calm in his latest throe; The storm was weathered, the battle was won, When he went, my friends, where we all must go.
God grant that whenever, soon or late, Our course is run and our goal is reach'd, We may meet our fate as steady and straight As he whose bones in yon desert bleach'd; No tears are needed—our cheeks are dry, We have none to waste upon living woe; Shall we sigh for one who has ceased to sigh, Having gone, my friends, where we all must go?
We tarry yet, we are toiling still, He is gone and he fares the best, He fought against odds, he struggled up hill, He has fairly earned his season of rest; No tears are needed—fill out the wine, Let the goblets clash, and the grape juice flow; Ho! pledge me a death-drink, comrade mine, To a brave man gone where we all must go.
Oh! the sun rose on the lea, and the bird sang merrilie, And the steed stood ready harness'd in the hall, And he left his lady's bower, and he sought the eastern tower, And he lifted cloak and weapon from the wall.
"We were wed but yester-noon, must we separate so soon? Must you travel unassoiled and, aye, unshriven, With the blood stain on your hand, and the red streak on your brand, And your guilt all unconfessed and unforgiven?"
"Tho' it were but yester-even we were wedded, still unshriven, Across the moor this morning I must ride; I must gallop fast and straight, for my errand will not wait; Fear naught, I shall return at eventide."
"If I fear, it is for thee, thy weal is dear to me, Yon moor with retribution seemeth rife; As we've sown so must we reap, and I've started in my sleep At the voice of the avenger, 'Life for life'."
"My arm is strong, I ween, and my trusty blade is keen, And the courser that I ride is swift and sure, And I cannot break my oath, though to leave thee I am loth, There is one that I must meet upon the moor."
* * * * *
Oh! the sun shone on the lea, and the bird sang merrilie, Down the avenue and through the iron gate, Spurr'd and belted, so he rode, steel to draw and steel to goad, And across the moor he galloped fast and straight.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Oh! the sun shone on the lea, and the bird sang full of glee, Ere the mists of evening gather'd chill and grey; But the wild bird's merry note on the deaf ear never smote, And the sunshine never warmed the lifeless clay.
Ere the sun began to droop, or the mist began to stoop, The youthful bride lay swooning in the hall; Empty saddle on his back, broken bridle hanging slack, The steed returned full gallop to the stall.
Oh! the sun sank in the sea, and the wind wailed drearilie; Let the bells in yonder monastery toll, For the night rack nestles dark round the body stiff and stark, And unshriven to its Maker flies the soul.
Ye Wearie Wayfarer, hys Ballad In Eight Fyttes.
Fytte I By Wood and Wold [A Preamble]
"Beneath the greenwood bough."—W. Scott.
Lightly the breath of the spring wind blows, Though laden with faint perfume, 'Tis the fragrance rare that the bushman knows, The scent of the wattle bloom. Two-thirds of our journey at least are done, Old horse! let us take a spell In the shade from the glare of the noonday sun, Thus far we have travell'd well; Your bridle I'll slip, your saddle ungirth, And lay them beside this log, For you'll roll in that track of reddish earth, And shake like a water-dog.
Upon yonder rise there's a clump of trees— Their shadows look cool and broad— You can crop the grass as fast as you please, While I stretch my limbs on the sward; 'Tis pleasant, I ween, with a leafy screen O'er the weary head, to lie On the mossy carpet of emerald green, 'Neath the vault of the azure sky; Thus all alone by the wood and wold, I yield myself once again To the memories old that, like tales fresh told, Come flitting across the brain.
Fytte II By Flood and Field [A Legend of the Cottiswold]
"They have saddled a hundred milk-white steeds, They have bridled a hundred black."—Old Ballad. "He turned in his saddle, now follow who dare. I ride for my country, quoth ——." —Lawrence.
I remember the lowering wintry morn, And the mist on the Cotswold hills, Where I once heard the blast of the huntsman's horn, Not far from the seven rills. Jack Esdale was there, and Hugh St. Clair, Bob Chapman and Andrew Kerr, And big George Griffiths on Devil-May-Care, And—black Tom Oliver. And one who rode on a dark-brown steed, Clean jointed, sinewy, spare, With the lean game head of the Blacklock breed, And the resolute eye that loves the lead, And the quarters massive and square— A tower of strength, with a promise of speed (There was Celtic blood in the pair).
I remember how merry a start we got, When the red fox broke from the gorse, In a country so deep, with a scent so hot, That the hound could outpace the horse; I remember how few in the front rank shew'd, How endless appeared the tail, On the brown hill-side, where we cross'd the road, And headed towards the vale. The dark-brown steed on the left was there, On the right was a dappled grey, And between the pair, on a chestnut mare, The duffer who writes this lay. What business had "this child" there to ride? But little or none at all; Yet I held my own for a while in "the pride That goeth before a fall." Though rashness can hope for but one result, We are heedless when fate draws nigh us, And the maxim holds good, "Quem perdere vult Deus, dementat prius."
The right hand man to the left hand said, As down in the vale we went, "Harden your heart like a millstone, Ned, And set your face as flint; Solid and tall is the rasping wall That stretches before us yonder; You must have it at speed or not at all, 'Twere better to halt than to ponder, For the stream runs wide on the take-off side, And washes the clay bank under; Here goes for a pull, 'tis a madman's ride, And a broken neck if you blunder."
No word in reply his comrade spoke, Nor waver'd nor once look'd round, But I saw him shorten his horse's stroke As we splash'd through the marshy ground; I remember the laugh that all the while On his quiet features play'd:— So he rode to his death, with that careless smile, In the van of the "Light Brigade"; So stricken by Russian grape, the cheer Rang out, while he toppled back, From the shattered lungs as merry and clear As it did when it roused the pack. Let never a tear his memory stain, Give his ashes never a sigh, One of many who perished, NOT IN VAIN, AS A TYPE OF OUR CHIVALRY—
I remember one thrust he gave to his hat, And two to the flanks of the brown, And still as a statue of old he sat, And he shot to the front, hands down; I remember the snort and the stag-like bound Of the steed six lengths to the fore, And the laugh of the rider while, landing sound, He turned in his saddle and glanced around; I remember—but little more, Save a bird's-eye gleam of the dashing stream, A jarring thud on the wall, A shock and the blank of a nightmare's dream— I was down with a stunning fall.
Fytte III Zu der edlen Yagd [A Treatise on Trees—Vine-tree v. Saddle-tree]
"Now, welcome, welcome, masters mine, Thrice welcome to the noble chase, Nor earthly sport, nor sport divine, Can take such honourable place."—Ballad of the Wild Huntsman. (Free Translation.)
I remember some words my father said, When I was an urchin vain;— God rest his soul, in his narrow bed These ten long years he hath lain. When I think one drop of the blood he bore This faint heart surely must hold, It may be my fancy and nothing more, But the faint heart seemeth bold.
He said that as from the blood of grape, Or from juice distilled from the grain, False vigour, soon to evaporate, Is lent to nerve and brain, So the coward will dare on the gallant horse What he never would dare alone, Because he exults in a borrowed force, And a hardihood not his own.
And it may be so, yet this difference lies 'Twixt the vine and the saddle-tree, The spurious courage that drink supplies Sets our baser passions free; But the stimulant which the horseman feels When he gallops fast and straight, To his better nature most appeals, And charity conquers hate.
As the kindly sunshine thaws the snow, E'en malice and spite will yield, We could almost welcome our mortal foe In the saddle by flood and field; And chivalry dawns in the merry tale That "Market Harborough" writes, And the yarns of "Nimrod" and "Martingale" Seem legends of loyal knights.
Now tell me for once, old horse of mine, Grazing round me loose and free, Does your ancient equine heart repine For a burst in such companie, Where "the POWERS that be" in the front rank ride, To hold your own with the throng, Or to plunge at "Faugh-a-Ballagh's" side In the rapids of Dandenong.
Don't tread on my toes, you're no foolish weight, So I found to my cost, as under Your carcase I lay, when you rose too late, Yet I blame you not for the blunder. What! sulky old man, your under-lip falls! You think I, too, ready to rail am At your kinship remote to that duffer at walls, The talkative roadster of Balaam.
Fytte IV In Utrumque Paratus [A Logical Discussion]
"Then hey for boot and horse, lad! And round the world away! Young blood will have its course, lad! And every dog his day!"—C. Kingsley.
There's a formula which the west country clowns Once used, ere their blows fell thick, At the fairs on the Devon and Cornwall downs, In their bouts with the single-stick. You may read a moral, not far amiss, If you care to moralise, In the crossing-guard, where the ash-plants kiss, To the words "God spare our eyes". No game was ever yet worth a rap For a rational man to play, Into which no accident, no mishap, Could possibly find its way.
If you hold the willow, a shooter from Wills May transform you into a hopper, And the football meadow is rife with spills, If you feel disposed for a cropper; In a rattling gallop with hound and horse You may chance to reverse the medal On the sward, with the saddle your loins across, And your hunter's loins on the saddle; In the stubbles you'll find it hard to frame A remonstrance firm, yet civil, When oft as "our mutual friend" takes aim, Long odds may be laid on the rising game, And against your gaiters level; There's danger even where fish are caught, To those who a wetting fear; For what's worth having must aye be bought, And sport's like life and life's like sport, "It ain't all skittles and beer."
The honey bag lies close to the sting, The rose is fenced by the thorn, Shall we leave to others their gathering, And turn from clustering fruits that cling To the garden wall in scorn? Albeit those purple grapes hang high, Like the fox in the ancient tale, Let us pause and try, ere we pass them by, Though we, like the fox, may fail.
All hurry is worse than useless; think On the adage, "'Tis pace that kills"; Shun bad tobacco, avoid strong drink, Abstain from Holloway's pills, Wear woollen socks, they're the best you'll find, Beware how you leave off flannel; And whatever you do, don't change your mind When once you have picked your panel; With a bank of cloud in the south south-east, Stand ready to shorten sail; Fight shy of a corporation feast; Don't trust to a martingale; Keep your powder dry, and shut one eye, Not both, when you touch your trigger; Don't stop with your head too frequently (This advice ain't meant for a nigger); Look before you leap, if you like, but if You mean leaping, don't look long, Or the weakest place will soon grow stiff, And the strongest doubly strong; As far as you can, to every man, Let your aid be freely given, And hit out straight, 'tis your shortest plan, When against the ropes you're driven.
Mere pluck, though not in the least sublime, Is wiser than blank dismay, Since "No sparrow can fall before its time", And we're valued higher than they; So hope for the best and leave the rest In charge of a stronger hand, Like the honest boors in the far-off west, With the formula terse and grand.
They were men for the most part rough and rude, Dull and illiterate, But they nursed no quarrel, they cherished no feud, They were strangers to spite and hate; In a kindly spirit they took their stand, That brothers and sons might learn How a man should uphold the sports of his land, And strike his best with a strong right hand, And take his strokes in return. "'Twas a barbarous practice," the Quaker cries, "'Tis a thing of the past, thank heaven"— Keep your thanks till the combative instinct dies With the taint of the olden leaven; Yes, the times are changed, for better or worse, The prayer that no harm befall Has given its place to a drunken curse, And the manly game to a brawl.
Our burdens are heavy, our natures weak, Some pastime devoid of harm May we look for? "Puritan elder, speak!" "Yea, friend, peradventure thou mayest seek Recreation singing a psalm." If I did, your visage so grim and stern Would relax in a ghastly smile, For of music I never one note could learn, And my feeble minstrelsy would turn Your chant to discord vile.
Tho' the Philistine's mail could not avail, Nor the spear like a weaver's beam, There are episodes yet in the Psalmist's tale, To obliterate which his poems fail, Which his exploits fail to redeem. Can the Hittite's wrongs forgotten be? Does HE warble "Non nobis Domine", With his monarch in blissful concert, free From all malice to flesh inherent; Zeruiah's offspring, who served so well, Yet between the horns of the altar fell— Does HIS voice the "Quid gloriaris" swell, Or the "Quare fremuerunt"? It may well be thus where DAVID sings, And Uriah joins in the chorus, But while earth to earthy matter clings, Neither you nor the bravest of Judah's kings As a pattern can stand before us.
Fytte V Lex Talionis [A Moral Discourse]
"And if there's blood upon his hand, 'Tis but the blood of deer."—W. Scott.
To beasts of the field, and fowls of the air, And fish of the sea alike, Man's hand is ever slow to spare, And ever ready to strike; With a license to kill, and to work our will, In season by land or by water, To our heart's content we may take our fill Of the joys we derive from slaughter.
And few, I reckon, our rights gainsay In this world of rapine and wrong, Where the weak and the timid seem lawful prey For the resolute and the strong; Fins, furs, and feathers, they are and were For our use and pleasure created, We can shoot, and hunt, and angle, and snare, Unquestioned, if not unsated.
I have neither the will nor the right to blame, Yet to many (though not to all) The sweets of destruction are somewhat tame When no personal risks befall; Our victims suffer but little, we trust (Mere guess-work and blank enigma), If they suffer at all, our field sports must Of cruelty bear the stigma.
Shall we, hard-hearted to their fates, thus Soft-hearted shrink from our own, When the measure we mete is meted to us, When we reap as we've always sown? Shall we who for pastime have squander'd life, Who are styled "the Lords of Creation", Recoil from our chance of more equal strife, And our risk of retaliation?
Though short is the dying pheasant's pain, Scant pity you well may spare, And the partridge slain is a triumph vain, And a risk that a child may dare; You feel, when you lower the smoking gun, Some ruth for yon slaughtered hare, And hit or miss, in your selfish fun The widgeon has little share.
But you've no remorseful qualms or pangs When you kneel by the grizzly's lair, On that conical bullet your sole chance hangs, 'Tis the weak one's advantage fair, And the shaggy giant's terrific fangs Are ready to crush and tear; Should you miss, one vision of home and friends, Five words of unfinished prayer, Three savage knife stabs, so your sport ends In the worrying grapple that chokes and rends;— Rare sport, at least, for the bear.
Short shrift! sharp fate! dark doom to dree! Hard struggle, though quickly ending! At home or abroad, by land or sea, In peace or war, sore trials must be, And worse may happen to you or to me, For none are secure, and none can flee From a destiny impending.
Ah! friend, did you think when the LONDON sank, Timber by timber, plank by plank, In a cauldron of boiling surf, How alone at least, with never a flinch, In a rally contested inch by inch, You could fall on the trampled turf? When a livid wall of the sea leaps high, In the lurid light of a leaden sky, And bursts on the quarter railing; While the howling storm-gust seems to vie With the crash of splintered beams that fly, Yet fails too oft to smother the cry Of women and children wailing?
Then those who listen in sinking ships To despairing sobs from their lov'd one's lips, Where the green wave thus slowly shatters, May long for the crescent-claw that rips The bison into ribbons and strips, And tears the strong elk to tatters.
Oh! sunderings short of body and breath! Oh! "battle and murder and sudden death!" Against which the Liturgy preaches; By the will of a just, yet a merciful Power, Less bitter, perchance, in the mystic hour, When the wings of the shadowy angel lower, Than man in his blindness teaches!
Fytte VI Potters' Clay [An Allegorical Interlude]
"Nec propter vitam vivendi perdere causas."
Though the pitcher that goes to the sparkling rill Too oft gets broken at last, There are scores of others its place to fill When its earth to the earth is cast; Keep that pitcher at home, let it never roam, But lie like a useless clod, Yet sooner or later the hour will come When its chips are thrown to the sod.
Is it wise, then, say, in the waning day, When the vessel is crack'd and old, To cherish the battered potters' clay, As though it were virgin gold? Take care of yourself, dull, boorish elf, Though prudent and safe you seem, Your pitcher will break on the musty shelf, And mine by the dazzling stream.
Fytte VII Cito Pede Preterit Aetas [A Philosophical Dissertation]
"Gillian's dead, God rest her bier— How I loved her many years syne; Marion's married, but I sit here, Alive and merry at three-score year, Dipping my nose in Gascoigne wine."—Wamba's Song—Thackeray.
A mellower light doth Sol afford, His meridian glare has pass'd, And the trees on the broad and sloping sward Their length'ning shadows cast. "Time flies." The current will be no joke, If swollen by recent rain, To cross in the dark, so I'll have a smoke, And then I'll be off again.
What's up, old horse? Your ears you prick, And your eager eyeballs glisten; 'Tis the wild dog's note in the tea-tree thick, By the river, to which you listen. With head erect and tail flung out, For a gallop you seem to beg, But I feel the qualm of a chilling doubt, As I glance at your fav'rite leg.
Let the dingo rest, 'tis all for the best; In this world there's room enough For him and you and me and the rest, And the country is awful rough. We've had our gallop in days of yore, Now down the hill we must run; Yet at times we long for one gallop more, Although it were only one.
Did our spirits quail at a new four-rail, Could a "double" double-bank us, Ere nerve and sinew began to fail In the consulship of Plancus? When our blood ran rapidly, and when Our bones were pliant and limber, Could we stand a merry cross-counter then, A slogging fall over timber?
Arcades ambo! Duffers both, In our best of days, alas! (I tell the truth, though to tell it loth) 'Tis time we were gone to grass; The young leaves shoot, the sere leaves fall, And the old gives way to the new, While the preacher cries, "'Tis vanity all, And vexation of spirit, too."
Now over my head the vapours curl From the bowl of the soothing clay, In the misty forms that eddy and whirl My thoughts are flitting away; Yes, the preacher's right, 'tis vanity all, But the sweeping rebuke he showers On vanities all may heaviest fall On vanities worse than ours.
We have no wish to exaggerate The worth of the sports we prize, Some toil for their Church, and some for their State, And some for their merchandise; Some traffic and trade in the city's mart, Some travel by land and sea, Some follow science, some cleave to art, And some to scandal and tea;
And some for their country and their queen Would fight, if the chance they had, Good sooth, 'twere a sorry world, I ween, If we all went galloping mad; Yet if once we efface the joys of the chase From the land, and outroot the Stud, GOOD-BYE TO THE ANGLO-SAXON RACE! FAREWELL TO THE NORMAN BLOOD!
Where the burn runs down to the uplands brown, From the heights of the snow-clad range, What anodyne drawn from the stifling town Can be reckon'd a fair exchange For the stalker's stride, on the mountain side, In the bracing northern weather, To the slopes where couch, in their antler'd pride, The deer on the perfum'd heather?
Oh! the vigour with which the air is rife! The spirit of joyous motion; The fever, the fulness of animal life, Can be drain'd from no earthly potion! The lungs with the living gas grow light, And the limbs feel the strength of ten, While the chest expands with its madd'ning might, GOD'S GLORIOUS OXYGEN.
Thus the measur'd stroke, on elastic sward, Of the steed three parts extended, Hard held, the breath of his nostrils broad, With the golden ether blended; Then the leap, the rise from the springy turf, The rush through the buoyant air, And the light shock landing—the veriest serf Is an emperor then and there!
Such scenes! sensation and sound and sight! To some undiscover'd shore On the current of Time's remorseless flight Have they swept to return no more? While, like phantoms bright of the fever'd night, That have vex'd our slumbers of yore, You follow us still in your ghostly might, Dead days that have gone before.
Vain dreams, again and again re-told, Must you crowd on the weary brain, Till the fingers are cold that entwin'd of old Round foil and trigger and rein, Till stay'd for aye are the roving feet, Till the restless hands are quiet, Till the stubborn heart has forgotten to beat, Till the hot blood has ceas'd to riot?
In Exeter Hall the saint may chide, The sinner may scoff outright, The Bacchanal steep'd in the flagon's tide, Or the sensual Sybarite; But NOLAN'S name will flourish in fame, When our galloping days are past, When we go to the place from whence we came, Perchance to find rest at last.
Thy riddles grow dark, oh! drifting cloud, And thy misty shapes grow drear, Thou hang'st in the air like a shadowy shroud, But I am of lighter cheer; Though our future lot is a sable blot, Though the wise ones of earth will blame us, Though our saddles will rot, and our rides be forgot, "DUM VIVIMUS, VIVAMUS!"
Fytte VIII Finis Exoptatus [A Metaphysical Song]
"There's something in this world amiss Shall be unriddled by-and-bye."—Tennyson.
Boot and saddle, see, the slanting Rays begin to fall, Flinging lights and colours flaunting Through the shadows tall. Onward! onward! must we travel? When will come the goal? Riddle I may not unravel, Cease to vex my soul.
Harshly break those peals of laughter From the jays aloft, Can we guess what they cry after? We have heard them oft; Perhaps some strain of rude thanksgiving Mingles in their song, Are they glad that they are living? Are they right or wrong? Right, 'tis joy that makes them call so, Why should they be sad? Certes! we are living also, Shall not we be glad? Onward! onward! must we travel? Is the goal more near? Riddle we may not unravel, Why so dark and drear?
Yon small bird his hymn outpouring, On the branch close by, Recks not for the kestrel soaring In the nether sky, Though the hawk with wings extended Poises over head, Motionless as though suspended By a viewless thread. See, he stoops, nay, shooting forward With the arrow's flight, Swift and straight away to nor'ward Sails he out of sight. Onward! onward! thus we travel, Comes the goal more nigh? Riddle we may not unravel, Who shall make reply?
Ha! Friend Ephraim, saint or sinner, Tell me if you can— Tho' we may not judge the inner, By the outer man, Yet by girth of broadcloth ample, And by cheeks that shine, Surely you set no example In the fasting line—
Could you, like yon bird, discov'ring, Fate as close at hand, As the kestrel o'er him hov'ring, Still, as he did, stand? Trusting grandly, singing gaily, Confident and calm, Not one false note in your daily Hymn or weekly psalm?
Oft your oily tones are heard in Chapel, where you preach, This the everlasting burden Of the tale you teach: "We are d——d, our sins are deadly, You alone are heal'd"— 'Twas not thus their gospel redly Saints and martyrs seal'd. You had seem'd more like a martyr, Than you seem to us, To the beasts that caught a Tartar Once at Ephesus; Rather than the stout apostle Of the Gentiles, who, Pagan-like, could cuff and wrestle, They'd have chosen you.
Yet, I ween, on such occasion, Your dissenting voice Would have been, in mild persuasion, Raised against their choice; Man of peace, and man of merit, Pompous, wise, and grave, Ephraim! is it flesh or spirit You strive most to save? Vain is half this care and caution O'er the earthly shell, We can neither baffle nor shun Dark plumed Azrael. Onward! onward! still we wander, Nearer draws the goal; Half the riddle's read, we ponder Vainly on the whole.
Eastward! in the pink horizon, Fleecy hillocks shame This dim range dull earth that lies on, Tinged with rosy flame. Westward! as a stricken giant Stoops his bloody crest, And tho' vanquished, frowns defiant, Sinks the sun to rest. Distant, yet approaching quickly, From the shades that lurk, Like a black pall gathers thickly, Night, when none may work. Soon our restless occupation Shall have ceas'd to be; Units! in God's vast creation, Ciphers! what are we? Onward! onward! oh! faint-hearted; Nearer and more near Has the goal drawn since we started, Be of better cheer.
Preacher! all forbearance ask, for All are worthless found, Man must aye take man to task for Faults while earth goes round. On this dank soil thistles muster, Thorns are broadcast sown; Seek not figs where thistles cluster, Grapes where thorns have grown.
Sun and rain and dew from heaven, Light and shade and air, Heat and moisture freely given, Thorns and thistles share. Vegetation rank and rotten Feels the cheering ray; Not uncared for, unforgotten, We, too, have our day.
Unforgotten! though we cumber Earth we work His will. Shall we sleep through night's long slumber Unforgotten still? Onward! onward! toiling ever, Weary steps and slow, Doubting oft, despairing never, To the goal we go!
Hark! the bells on distant cattle Waft across the range; Through the golden-tufted wattle, Music low and strange; Like the marriage peal of fairies Comes the tinkling sound, Or like chimes of sweet St. Mary's On far English ground. How my courser champs the snaffle, And with nostril spread, Snorts and scarcely seems to ruffle Fern leaves with his tread; Cool and pleasant on his haunches Blows the evening breeze, Through the overhanging branches Of the wattle trees: Onward! to the Southern Ocean, Glides the breath of Spring. Onward! with a dreary motion, I, too, glide and sing— Forward! forward! still we wander— Tinted hills that lie In the red horizon yonder— Is the goal so nigh?
Whisper, spring-wind, softly singing, Whisper in my ear; Respite and nepenthe bringing, Can the goal be near? Laden with the dew of vespers, From the fragrant sky, In my ear the wind that whispers Seems to make reply—
"Question not, but live and labour Till yon goal be won, Helping every feeble neighbour, Seeking help from none; Life is mostly froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone, KINDNESS in another's trouble, COURAGE in your own."
Courage, comrades, this is certain, All is for the best— There are lights behind the curtain— Gentiles, let us rest. As the smoke-rack veers to seaward, From "the ancient clay", With its moral drifting leeward, Ends the wanderer's lay.
[A Preface and a Piracy]
Of borrow'd plumes I take the sin, My extracts will apply To some few silly songs which in These pages scatter'd lie.
The words are Edgar Allan Poe's, As any man may see, But what a POE-t wrote in prose, Shall make blank verse for me.
These trifles are collected and republished chiefly with a view to their redemption from the many improvements to which they have been subjected while going at random the rounds of the Press. I am naturally anxious that what I have written should circulate as I wrote it, if it circulate at all. * * * * * * In defence of my own taste, nevertheless, it is incumbent upon me to say that I think nothing in this volume of much value to the public, or very creditable to myself. E. A. P.
(See Preface to Poe's Poetical Works.)
And now that my theft stands detected, The first of my extracts may call To some of the rhymes here collected Your notice, the second to all.
Ah! friend, you may shake your head sadly, Yet this much you'll say for my verse, I've written of old something badly, But written anew something worse.
Pastor Cum [Translation from Horace]
When he, that shepherd false, 'neath Phrygian sails, Carried his hostess Helen o'er the seas, In fitful slumber Nereus hush'd the gales, That he might sing their future destinies. A curse to your ancestral home you take With her, whom Greece, with many a soldier bold Shall seek again, in concert sworn to break Your nuptial ties and Priam's kingdom old. Alas! what sweat from man and horse must flow, What devastation to the Trojan realm You carry, even now doth Pallas show Her wrath, preparing buckler, car, and helm. In vain, secure in Aphrodite's care, You comb your locks, and on the girlish lyre Select the strains most pleasant to the fair; In vain, on couch reclining, you desire To shun the darts that threaten, and the thrust Of Cretan lance, the battle's wild turmoil, And Ajax swift to follow—in the dust Condemned, though late, your wanton curls to soil. Ah! see you not where (fatal to your race) Laertes' son comes with the Pylean sage; Fearless alike, with Teucer joins the chase Stenelaus, skill'd the fistic strife to wage, Nor less expert the fiery steeds to quell; And Meriones, you must know. Behold A warrior, than his sire more fierce and fell, To find you rages,—Diomed the bold, Whom like the stag that, far across the vale, The wolf being seen, no herbage can allure, So fly you, panting sorely, dastard pale!— Not thus you boasted to your paramour. Achilles' anger for a space defers The day of wrath to Troy and Trojan dame; Inevitable glide the allotted years, And Dardan roofs must waste in Argive flame.
A Legend of Madrid
[Translated from the Spanish]
Crush'd and throng'd are all the places In our amphitheatre, 'Midst a sea of swarming faces I can yet distinguish her; Dost thou triumph, dark-brow'd Nina? Is my secret known to thee? On the sands of yon arena I shall yet my vengeance see. Now through portals fast careering Picadors are disappearing; Now the barriers nimbly clearing Has the hindmost chulo flown. Clots of dusky crimson streaking, Brindled flanks and haunches reeking, Wheels the wild bull, vengeance seeking, On the matador alone. Features by sombrero shaded, Pale and passionless and cold; Doublet richly laced and braided, Trunks of velvet slash'd with gold, Blood-red scarf, and bare Toledo,— Mask more subtle, and disguise Far less shallow, thou dost need, oh, Traitor, to deceive my eyes. Shouts of noisy acclamation, Breathing savage expectation, Greet him while he takes his station Leisurely, disdaining haste; Now he doffs his tall sombrero, Fools! applaud your butcher hero, Ye would idolise a Nero, Pandering to public taste.
From the restless Guadalquivir To my sire's estates he came, Woo'd and won me, how I shiver! Though my temples burn with shame. I, a proud and high-born lady, Daughter of an ancient race, 'Neath the vine and olive shade I Yielded to a churl's embrace. To a churl my vows were plighted, Well my madness he requited, Since, by priestly ties, united To the muleteer's child; And my prayers are wafted o'er him, That the bull may crush and gore him, Since the love that once I bore him Has been changed to hatred wild.
Save him! aid him! oh, Madonna! Two are slain if he is slain; Shield his life, and guard his honour, Let me not entreat in vain. Sullenly the brindled savage Tears and tosses up the sand; Horns that rend and hoofs that ravage, How shall man your shock withstand? On the shaggy neck and head lie Frothy flakes, the eyeballs redly Flash, the horns so sharp and deadly Lower, short, and strong, and straight; Fast, and furious, and fearless, Now he charges;—virgin peerless, Lifting lids, all dry and tearless, At thy throne I supplicate.
Cool and calm, the perjured varlet Stands on strongly-planted heel, In his left a strip of scarlet, In his right a streak of steel; Ah! the monster topples over, Till his haunches strike the plain!— Low-born clown and lying lover, Thou hast conquer'd once again.
Sweet Madonna, maiden mother, Thou hast saved him, and no other; Now the tears I cannot smother, Tears of joy my vision blind; Where thou sittest I am gazing, These glad, misty eyes upraising, I have pray'd, and I am praising, Bless thee! bless thee! virgin kind.
While the crowd still sways and surges, Ere the applauding shouts have ceas'd, See, the second bull emerges— 'Tis the famed Cordovan beast,— By the picador ungoaded, Scathless of the chulo's dart. Slay him, and with guerdon loaded, And with honours crown'd depart. No vain brutish strife he wages, Never uselessly he rages, And his cunning, as he ages, With his hatred seems to grow; Though he stands amid the cheering, Sluggish to the eye appearing, Few will venture on the spearing Of so resolute a foe.
Courage, there is little danger, Yonder dull-eyed craven seems Fitter far for stall and manger Than for scarf and blade that gleams; Shorter, and of frame less massive, Than his comrade lying low, Tame, and cowardly, and passive,— He will prove a feebler foe. I have done with doubt and anguish, Fears like dews in sunshine languish, Courage, husband, we shall vanquish, Thou art calm and so am I. For the rush he has not waited, On he strides with step elated, And the steel with blood unsated, Leaps to end the butchery.
Tyro! mark the brands of battle On those shoulders dusk and dun, Such as he is are the cattle Skill'd tauridors gladly shun; Warier than the Andalusian, Swifter far, though not so large, Think'st thou, to his own confusion, He, like him, will blindly charge? Inch by inch the brute advances, Stealthy yet vindictive glances, Horns as straight as levell'd lances, Crouching withers, stooping haunches;— Closer yet, until the tightening Strains of rapt excitement height'ning Grows oppressive. Ha! like lightning On his enemy he launches.
O'er the horn'd front drops the streamer, In the nape the sharp steel hisses, Glances, grazes,—Christ! Redeemer! By a hair the spine he misses.
Hark! that shock like muffled thunder, Booming from the Pyrenees! Both are down—the man is under— Now he struggles to his knees, Now he sinks, his features leaden Sharpen rigidly and deaden, Sands beneath him soak and redden, Skies above him spin and veer; Through the doublet torn and riven, Where the stunted horn was driven, Wells the life-blood—We are even, Daughter of the muleteer!
To fetch clear water out of the spring The little maid Margaret ran; From the stream to the castle's western wing It was but a bowshot span; On the sedgy brink where the osiers cling Lay a dead man, pallid and wan.
The lady Mabel rose from her bed, And walked in the castle hall, Where the porch through the western turret led She met with her handmaid small. "What aileth thee, Margaret?" the lady said, "Hast let thy pitcher fall?
"Say, what hast thou seen by the streamlet side— A nymph or a water sprite— That thou comest with eyes so wild and wide, And with cheeks so ghostly white?" "Nor nymph nor sprite," the maiden cried, "But the corpse of a slaughtered knight."
The lady Mabel summon'd straight To her presence Sir Hugh de Vere, Of the guests who tarried within the gate Of Fauconshawe most dear Was he to that lady; betrothed in state They had been since many a year.
"Little Margaret sayeth a dead man lies By the western spring, Sir Hugh; I can scarce believe that the maiden lies— Yet scarce can believe her true." And the knight replies, "Till we test her eyes Let her words gain credence due."
Down the rocky path knight and lady led, While guests and retainers bold Followed in haste, for like wildfire spread The news by the maiden told. They found 'twas even as she had said— The corpse had some while been cold.
How the spirit had pass'd in the moments last There was little trace to reveal: On the still calm face lay no imprint ghast, Save the angel's solemn seal, Yet the hands were clench'd in a death-grip fast, And the sods stamp'd down by the heel.
Sir Hugh by the side of the dead man knelt, Said, "Full well these features I know, We have faced each other where blows were dealt, And he was a stalwart foe; I had rather have met him hilt to hilt Than have found him lying low."
He turn'd the body up on its face, And never a word was spoken, While he ripp'd the doublet, and tore the lace, And tugg'd—by the self-same token,— And strain'd, till he wrench'd it out of its place, The dagger-blade that was broken.
Then he turned the body over again, And said, while he rose upright, "May the brand of Cain, with its withering stain, On the murderer's forehead light, For he never was slain on the open plain, Nor yet in the open fight."
Solemn and stern were the words he spoke, And he look'd at his lady's men, But his speech no answering echoes woke, All were silent there and then, Till a clear, cold voice the silence broke:— Lady Mabel cried, "Amen."
His glance met hers, the twain stood hush'd, With the dead between them there; But the blood to her snowy temples rush'd Till it tinged the roots of her hair, Then paled, but a thin red streak still flush'd In the midst of her forehead fair.
Four yeomen raised the corpse from the ground, At a sign from Sir Hugh de Vere; It was borne to the western turret round, And laid on a knightly bier, With never a sob nor a mourning sound,— No friend to the dead was near.
Yet that night was neither revel nor dance In the halls of Fauconshawe; Men looked askance with a doubtful glance At Sir Hugh, for they stood in awe Of his prowess, but he, like one in a trance, Regarded naught that he saw.
* * * * *
Night black and chill, wind gathering still, With its wail in the turret tall, And its headlong blast like a catapult cast On the crest of the outer wall, And its hail and rain on the crashing pane, Till the glassy splinters fall.
A moody knight by the fitful light Of the great hall fire below; A corpse upstairs, and a woman at prayers, Will they profit her, aye or no? By'r lady fain, an' she comfort gain, There is comfort for us also.
The guests were gone, save Sir Hugh alone, And he watched the gleams that broke On the pale hearth-stone, and flickered and shone On the panels of polish'd oak; He was 'ware of no presence except his own Till the voice of young Margaret spoke:
"I've risen, Sir Hugh, at the mirk midnight, I cannot sleep in my bed, Now, unless my tale can be told aright, I wot it were best unsaid; It lies, the blood of yon northern knight, On my lady's hand and head."
"Oh! the wild wind raves and rushes along, But thy ravings seem more wild— She never could do so foul a wrong— Yet I blame thee not, my child, For the fever'd dreams on thy rest that throng!" He frown'd though his speech was mild.
"Let storm winds eddy, and scream, and hurl Their wrath, they disturb me naught; The daughter she of a high-born earl, No secret of hers I've sought; I am but the child of a peasant churl, Yet look to the proofs I've brought;
"This dagger snapp'd so close to the hilt— Dost remember thy token well? Will it match with the broken blade that spilt His life in the western dell? Nay! read her handwriting an' thou wilt, From her paramour's breast it fell."
The knight in silence the letter read, Oh! the characters well he knew! And his face might have match'd the face of the dead, So ashen white was its hue! Then he tore the parchment shred by shred, And the strips in the flames he threw.
And he muttered, "Densely those shadows fall In the copse where the alders thicken; There she bade him come to her, once for all— Now, I well may shudder and sicken;— Gramercy! that hand so white and small, How strongly it must have stricken."
* * * * *
At midnight hour, in the western tower, Alone with the dead man there, Lady Mabel kneels, nor heeds nor feels The shock of the rushing air, Though the gusts that pass through the riven glass Have scattered her raven hair.
Across the floor, through the opening door, Where standeth a stately knight, The lamplight streams, and flickers, and gleams, On his features stern and white— 'Tis Sir Hugh de Vere, and he cometh more near, And the lady standeth upright.
"'Tis little," he said, "that I know or care Of the guilt (if guilt there be) That lies 'twixt thee and yon dead man there, Nor matters it now to me; I thought thee pure, thou art only fair, And to-morrow I cross the sea.
"He perish'd! I ask not why or how? I come to recall my troth; Take back, my lady, thy broken vow, Give back my allegiance oath; Let the past be buried between us now For ever—'tis best for both.
"Yet, Mabel, I could ask, dost thou dare Lay hand on that corpse's heart, And call on thy Maker, and boldly swear, That thou hadst in his death no part? I ask not, while threescore proofs I share With one doubt—uncondemn'd thou art."
Oh! cold and bleak upon Mabel's cheek Came the blast of the storm-wind keen, And her tresses black, as the glossy back Of the raven, glanced between Her fingers slight, like the ivory white, As she parted their sable sheen.
Yet with steady lip, and with fearless eye, And with cheek like the flush of dawn, Unflinchingly she spoke in reply— "Go hence with the break of morn, I will neither confess, nor yet deny, I will return thee scorn for scorn."
The knight bow'd low as he turn'd to go; He travell'd by land and sea, But naught of his future fate I know, And naught of his fair ladye; My story is told as, long ago, My story was told to me.
The maiden sat by the river side (The rippling water murmurs by), And sadly into the clear blue tide The salt tear fell from her clear blue eye. "'Tis fixed for better, for worse," she cried, "And to-morrow the bridegroom claims the bride. Oh! wealth and power and rank and pride Can surely peace and happiness buy. I was merry, nathless, in my girlhood's hours, 'Mid the waving grass when the bright sun shone, Shall I be as merry in Marmaduke's towers?" (The rippling water murmurs on).
Stephen works for his daily bread (The rippling water murmurs low). Through the crazy thatch that covers his head The rain-drops fall and the wind-gusts blow. "I'll mend the old roof-tree," so he said, "And repair the cottage when we are wed." And my pulses throbb'd, and my cheek grew red, When he kiss'd me—that was long ago. Stephen and I, should we meet again, Not as we've met in days that are gone, Will my pulses throb with pleasure or pain? (The rippling water murmurs on).
Old Giles, the gardener, strok'd my curls (The rippling water murmurs past), Quoth he, "In laces and silks and pearls My child will see her reflection cast; Now I trust in my heart that your lord will be Kinder to you than he was to me, When I lay in the gaol, and my children three, With their sickly mother, kept bitter fast." With Marmaduke now my will is law, Marmaduke's will may be law anon; Does the sheath of velvet cover the claw? (The rippling water murmurs on).
Dame Martha patted me on the cheek (The rippling water murmurs low), Saying, "There are words that I fain would speak— Perhaps they were best unspoken though; I can't persuade you to change your mind, And useless warnings are scarcely kind, And I may be foolish as well as blind, But take my blessing whether or no." Dame Martha's wise, though her hair is white, Her sense is good, though her sight is gone— Can she really be gifted with second sight? (The rippling water murmurs on).
Brian of Hawksmede came to our cot (The rippling water murmurs by), Scatter'd the sods of our garden plot, Riding his roan horse recklessly; Trinket and token and tress of hair, He flung them down at the door-step there, Said, "Elsie! ask your lord, if you dare, Who gave him the blow as well as the lie." That evening I mentioned Brian's name, And Marmaduke's face grew white and wan, Am I pledged to one of a spirit so tame? (The rippling water murmurs on).
Brian is headstrong, rash, and vain (The rippling water murmurs still), Stephen is somewhat duller of brain, Slower of speech, and milder of will; Stephen must toil a living to gain, Plough and harrow and gather the grain; Brian has little enough to maintain The station in life which he needs must fill; Both are fearless and kind and frank, But we can't win all gifts under the sun— What have I won save riches and rank? (The rippling water murmurs on).
Riches and rank, and what beside? (The rippling water murmurs yet), The mansion is stately, the manor is wide, Their lord for a while may pamper and pet; Liveried lackeys may jeer aside, Though the peasant girl is their master's bride, At her shyness, mingled with awkward pride,— 'Twere folly for trifles like these to fret; But the love of one that I cannot love, Will it last when the gloss of his toy is gone? Is there naught beyond, below, or above? (The rippling water murmurs on).
Oh! wind that whistles o'er thorns and thistles, Of this fruitful earth like a goblin elf; Why should he labour to help his neighbour Who feels too reckless to help himself? The wail of the breeze in the bending trees Is something between a laugh and a groan; And the hollow roar of the surf on the shore Is a dull, discordant monotone; I wish I could guess what sense they express, There's a meaning, doubtless, in every sound, Yet no one can tell, and it may be as well— Whom would it profit?—The world goes round!
On this earth so rough we know quite enough, And, I sometimes fancy, a little too much; The sage may be wiser than clown or than kaiser, Is he more to be envied for being such? Neither more nor less, in his idleness The sage is doom'd to vexation sure; The kaiser may rule, but the slippery stool, That he calls his throne, is no sinecure; And as for the clown, you may give him a crown, Maybe he'll thank you, and maybe not, And before you can wink he may spend it in drink— To whom does it profit?—We ripe and rot!
Yet under the sun much work is done By clown and kaiser, by serf and sage; All sow and some reap, and few gather the heap Of the garner'd grain of a by-gone age. By sea or by soil man is bound to toil, And the dreamer, waiting for time and tide, For awhile may shirk his share of the work, But he grows with his dream dissatisfied; He may climb to the edge of the beetling ledge, Where the loose crag topples and well-nigh reels 'Neath the lashing gale, but the tonic will fail— What does it profit?—Wheels within wheels!
Aye! work we must, or with idlers rust, And eat we must our bodies to nurse; Some folk grow fatter—what does it matter? I'm blest if I do—quite the reverse; 'Tis a weary round to which we are bound, The same thing over and over again; Much toil and trouble, and a glittering bubble, That rises and bursts, is the best we gain; And we murmur, and yet 'tis certain we get What good we deserve—can we hope for more?— They are roaring, those waves, in their echoing caves— To whom do they profit?—Let them roar!
Thou art moulded in marble impassive, False goddess, fair statue of strife, Yet standest on pedestal massive, A symbol and token of life. Thou art still, not with stillness of languor, And calm, not with calm boding rest; For thine is all wrath and all anger That throbs far and near in the breast Of man, by thy presence possess'd.
With the brow of a fallen archangel, The lips of a beautiful fiend, And locks that are snake-like to strangle, And eyes from whose depths may be glean'd The presence of passions, that tremble Unbidden, yet shine as they may Through features too proud to dissemble, Too cold and too calm to betray Their secrets to creatures of clay.
Thy breath stirreth faction and party, Men rise, and no voice can avail To stay them—rose-tinted Astarte Herself at thy presence turns pale. For deeper and richer the crimson That gathers behind thee throws forth A halo thy raiment and limbs on, And leaves a red track in the path That flows from thy wine-press of wrath.
For behind thee red rivulets trickle, Men fall by thy hands swift and lithe, As corn falleth down to the sickle, As grass falleth down to the scythe, Thine arm, strong and cruel, and shapely, Lifts high the sharp, pitiless lance, And rapine and ruin and rape lie Around thee. The Furies advance, And Ares awakes from his trance.
We, too, with our bodies thus weakly, With hearts hard and dangerous, thus We owe thee—the saints suffered meekly Their wrongs—it is not so with us. Some share of thy strength thou hast given To mortals refusing in vain Thine aid. We have suffered and striven Till we have grown reckless of pain, Though feeble of heart and of brain.
Fair spirit, alluring if wicked, False deity, terribly real, Our senses are trapp'd, our souls tricked By thee and thy hollow ideal. The soldier who falls in his harness, And strikes his last stroke with slack hand, On his dead face thy wrath and thy scorn is Imprinted. Oh! seeks he a land Where he shall escape thy command?
When the blood of thy victims lies red on That stricken field, fiercest and last, In the sunset that gilds Armageddon With battle-drift still overcast— When the smoke of thy hot conflagrations O'ershadows the earth as with wings, Where nations have fought against nations, And kings have encounter'd with kings, When cometh the end of all things—
Then those who have patiently waited, And borne, unresisting, the pain Of thy vengeance unglutted, unsated, Shall they be rewarded again? Then those who, enticed by thy laurels, Or urged by thy promptings unblest, Have striven and stricken in quarrels, Shall they, too, find pardon and rest? We know not, yet hope for the best.
The Song of the Surf
White steeds of ocean, that leap with a hollow and wearisome roar On the bar of ironstone steep, not a fathom's length from the shore, Is there never a seer nor sophist can interpret your wild refrain, When speech the harshest and roughest is seldom studied in vain? My ears are constantly smitten by that dreary monotone, In a hieroglyphic 'tis written—'tis spoken in a tongue unknown; Gathering, growing, and swelling, and surging, and shivering, say! What is the tale you are telling? What is the drift of your lay?
You come, and your crests are hoary with the foam of your countless years; You break, with a rainbow of glory, through the spray of your glittering tears. Is your song a song of gladness? a paean of joyous might? Or a wail of discordant sadness for the wrongs you never can right? For the empty seat by the ingle? for children 'reft of their sire? For the bride sitting sad, and single, and pale, by the flickering fire? For your ravenous pools of suction? for your shattering billow swell? For your ceaseless work of destruction? for your hunger insatiable?
Not far from this very place, on the sand and the shingle dry, He lay, with his batter'd face upturned to the frowning sky. When your waters wash'd and swill'd high over his drowning head, When his nostrils and lungs were filled, when his feet and hands were as lead, When against the rock he was hurl'd, and suck'd again to the sea, On the shores of another world, on the brink of eternity, On the verge of annihilation, did it come to that swimmer strong, The sudden interpretation of your mystical, weird-like song?
"Mortal! that which thou askest, ask not thou of the waves; Fool! thou foolishly taskest us—we are only slaves; Might, more mighty, impels us—we must our lot fulfil, He who gathers and swells us curbs us, too, at His will. Think'st thou the wave that shatters questioneth His decree? Little to us it matters, and naught it matters to thee. Not thus, murmuring idly, we from our duty would swerve, Over the world spread widely ever we labour and serve."
Whisperings in Wattle-Boughs
Oh, gaily sings the bird! and the wattle-boughs are stirr'd And rustled by the scented breath of spring; Oh, the dreary wistful longing! Oh, the faces that are thronging! Oh, the voices that are vaguely whispering!
Oh, tell me, father mine, ere the good ship cross'd the brine, On the gangway one mute hand-grip we exchang'd; Do you, past the grave, employ, for your stubborn, reckless boy, Those petitions that in life were ne'er estranged?
Oh, tell me, sister dear, parting word and parting tear Never pass'd between us;—let me bear the blame, Are you living, girl, or dead? bitter tears since then I've shed For the lips that lisp'd with mine a mother's name.
Oh, tell me, ancient friend, ever ready to defend, In our boyhood, at the base of life's long hill, Are you waking yet or sleeping? have you left this vale of weeping? Or do you, like your comrade, linger still?
Oh, whisper, buried love, is there rest and peace above?— There is little hope or comfort here below; On your sweet face lies the mould, and your bed is straight and cold— Near the harbour where the sea-tides ebb and flow.
* * * * *
All silent—they are dumb—and the breezes go and come With an apathy that mocks at man's distress; Laugh, scoffer, while you may! I could bow me down and pray For an answer that might stay my bitterness.
Oh, harshly screams the bird! and the wattle-bloom is stirr'd; There's a sullen, weird-like whisper in the bough: "Aye, kneel, and pray, and weep, but HIS BELOVED SLEEP CAN NEVER BE DISTURB'D BY SUCH AS THOU!!"
The shore-boat lies in the morning light, By the good ship ready for sailing; The skies are clear, and the dawn is bright, Tho' the bar of the bay is fleck'd with white, And the wind is fitfully wailing; Near the tiller stands the priest, and the knight Leans over the quarter-railing.
"There is time while the vessel tarries still, There is time while her shrouds are slack, There is time ere her sails to the west wind fill, Ere her tall masts vanish from town and from hill, Ere cleaves to her keel the track: There is time for confession to those who will, To those who may never come back."
"Sir priest, you can shrive these men of mine, And, I pray you, shrive them fast, And shrive those hardy sons of the brine, Captain and mates of the EGLANTINE, And sailors before the mast; Then pledge me a cup of the Cyprus wine, For I fain would bury the past."
"And hast thou naught to repent, my son? Dost thou scorn confession and shrift? Ere thy sands from the glass of time shall run Is there naught undone that thou should'st have done, Naught done that thou should'st have left? The guiltiest soul may from guilt be won, And the stoniest heart may be cleft."
"Have my ears been closed to the prayer of the poor, Or deaf to the cry of distress? Have I given little, and taken more? Have I brought a curse to the widow's door? Have I wrong'd the fatherless? Have I steep'd my fingers in guiltless gore, That I must perforce confess?"
"Have thy steps been guided by purity Through the paths with wickedness rife? Hast thou never smitten thine enemy? Hast thou yielded naught to the lust of the eye, And naught to the pride of life? Hast thou pass'd all snares of pleasure by? Hast thou shunn'd all wrath and strife?"
"Nay, certes! a sinful life I've led, Yet I've suffered, and lived in hope; I may suffer still, but my hope has fled,— I've nothing now to hope or to dread, And with fate I can fairly cope; Were the waters closing over my head, I should scarcely catch at a rope."
"Dost suffer? thy pain may be fraught with grace, Since never by works alone We are saved;—the penitent thief may trace The wealth of love in the Saviour's face To the Pharisee rarely shown; And the Magdalene's arms may yet embrace The foot of the jasper throne."
"Sir priest, a heavier doom I dree, For I feel no quickening pain, But a dull, dumb weight when I bow my knee, And (not with the words of the Pharisee) My hard eyes heavenward strain, Where my dead darling prayeth for me! Now, I wot, she prayeth in vain!
"Still I hear it over the battle's din, And over the festive cheer,— So she pray'd with clasp'd hands, white and thin,— The prayer of a soul absolved from sin, For a soul that is dark and drear, For the light of repentance bursting in, And the flood of the blinding tear.
"Say, priest! when the saint must vainly plead, Oh! how shall the sinner fare? I hold your comfort a broken reed; Let the wither'd branch for itself take heed, While the green shoots wait your care; I've striven, though feebly, to grasp your creed, And I've grappled my own despair."
"By the little within thee, good and brave, Not wholly shattered, though shaken; By the soul that crieth beyond the grave, The love that He once in His mercy gave, In His mercy since retaken, I conjure thee, oh! sinner, pardon crave, I implore thee, oh! sleeper, waken!"
"Go to! shall I lay my black soul bare To a vain, self-righteous man? In my sin, in my sorrow, you may not share, And yet could I meet with one who must bear The load of an equal ban, With him I might strive to blend one prayer, The wail of the Publican."
"My son, I, too, am a withered bough, My place is to others given; Thou hast sinn'd, thou sayest; I ask not how, For I, too, have sinn'd, even as thou, And I, too, have feebly striven, And with thee I must bow, crying, 'Shrive us now! Our Father which art in heaven!'"
Sunlight on the Sea
[The Philosophy of a Feast]
Make merry, comrades, eat and drink (The sunlight flickers on the sea), The garlands gleam, the glasses clink, The grape juice mantles fair and free, The lamps are trimm'd, although the light Of day still lingers on the sky; We sit between the day and night, And push the wine flask merrily. I see you feasting round me still, All gay of heart and strong of limb; Make merry, friends, your glasses fill, The lights are growing dim.
I miss the voice of one I've heard (The sunlight sinks upon the sea), He sang as blythe as any bird, And shook the rafters with his glee; But times have changed with him, I wot, By fickle fortune cross'd and flung; Far stouter heart than mine he's got If now he sings as then he sung. Yet some must swim when others sink, And some must sink when others swim; Make merry, comrades, eat and drink, The lights are growing dim.
I miss the face of one I've loved (The sunlight settles on the sea)— Long since to distant climes he roved, He had his faults, and so have we; His name was mentioned here this day, And it was coupled with a sneer; I heard, nor had I aught to say, Though once I held his memory dear. Who cares, 'mid wines and fruits and flowers, Though death or danger compass him; He had his faults, and we have ours, The lights are growing dim.
I miss the form of one I know (The sunlight wanes upon the sea)— 'Tis not so very long ago, We drank his health with three-times-three, And we were gay when he was here; And he is gone, and we are gay. Where has he gone? or far or near? Good sooth, 'twere somewhat hard to say. You glance aside, you doubtless think My homily a foolish whim, 'Twill soon be ended, eat and drink, The lights are growing dim.
The fruit is ripe, the wine is red (The sunlight fades upon the sea); To us the absent are the dead, The dead to us must absent be. We, too, the absent ranks must join; And friends will censure and forget: There's metal base in every coin; Men vanish, leaving traces yet Of evil and of good behind, Since false notes taint the skylark's hymn, And dross still lurks in gold refined— The lights are growing dim.
We eat and drink or e'er we die (The sunlight flushes on the sea). Three hundred soldiers feasted high An hour before Thermopylae; Leonidas pour'd out the wine, And shouted ere he drain'd the cup, "Ho! comrades, let us gaily dine— This night with Pluto we shall sup"; And if they leant upon a reed, And if their reed was slight and slim, There's something good in Spartan creed— The lights are growing dim.
Make merry, comrades, eat and drink (The sunlight flashes on the sea); My spirit is rejoiced to think That even as they were so are we; For they, like us, were mortals vain, The slaves to earthly passions wild, Who slept with heaps of Persians slain For winding-sheets around them piled. The dead man's deeds are living still— My Festive speech is somewhat grim— Their good obliterates their ill— The lights are growing dim.
We eat and drink, we come and go (The sunlight dies upon the open sea). I speak in riddles. Is it so? My riddles need not mar your glee; For I will neither bid you share My thoughts, nor will I bid you shun, Though I should see in yonder chair Th' Egyptian's muffled skeleton. One toast with me your glasses fill, Aye, fill them level with the brim, De mortuis, nisi bonum, nil! The lights are growing dim.
[From a Picture]
The sun has gone down, spreading wide on The sky-line one ray of red fire; Prepare the soft cushions of Sidon, Make ready the rich loom of Tyre. The day, with its toil and its sorrow, Its shade, and its sunshine, at length Has ended; dost fear for the morrow, Strong man, in the pride of thy strength?
Like fire-flies, heavenward clinging, They multiply, star upon star; And the breeze a low murmur is bringing From the tents of my people afar. Nay, frown not, I am but a Pagan, Yet little for these things I care; 'Tis the hymn to our deity Dagon That comes with the pleasant night air.
It shall not disturb thee, nor can it; See, closed are the curtains, the lights Gleam down on the cloven pomegranate, Whose thirst-slaking nectar invites; The red wine of Hebron glows brightly In yon goblet—the draught of a king; And through the silk awning steals lightly The sweet song my handmaidens sing.