Later Poems (4)
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THE LANDLORD'S BEST.
A Humorous Reading.


A STRAPPIN', sonsie, weel-matched pair
Were Jock Macree an' Maggie Blair,
An' mony wusses, said an' thinkit,
They had that nicht when they were linkit.
An' on that day they baith were kirkit,
The lasses sat fu' gleg an' smirkit;
Though there was that upon their faces
That fain wad swappit Maggie places.
An' Jock looked unco gran' beside
His bonnie, blushin', weel-faured bride,
Whom he had vowed to love an' cherish—
Alas! that siccan vows should perish—
For twenty times, an' twenty mair,
When he was courtin' Maggie Blair,
He swore, without ae chance o' blinkin',
Ance Maggie his he'd stop the drinkin'.

For Jock—although I grieve to tell—
When left owre muckle to himsel',
Was jist a wee thing apt, if ony,
O' gettin' fuddled wi' a crony;
Could sing oor auld Scots sangs until
The tears cam' happin' at their will.
An' then the ither gill gaed roun',
Until they felt it tak' their croun;
Then nocht wad ser' them after that
But "Willie brewed a peck o' maut,"
And Jock wad rise to lead their singin',
Till a' the hoose an' streets were ringin',
"We are na fou we're no' that fou,"
Then stagger hame to prove it true.

But a' sic wark cam' to a stan'
When he took Maggie by the han';
The whisky stoup an' dissipation
Were noo for him a puir temptation.
Nae mair at nicht, when sprees were on,
An' a' the "Blue Bell" windows shone,
Was Jock's voice heard amid the thrang
Clear ringin' in an auld Scots sang,
In place o' a' sic rant and noise
He noo had calm domestic joys,
Sat wi' his pipe in lordly pride,
A monarch by his ain fireside.
An' Maggie, tidy, neat, an' braw,
The very life an' soul o' a',
Beside him knittin' unco thrang,
An' happy as the day was lang;
For she was ane that couldna sit
An idle moment, but wad knit.

Alas! in spite o' a' love's pleadin',
Jock left his sweet domestic Eden,
For by degrees he slippit doon
To see some neebors in the toon.
Then ane wad cry—"Come, Jock, what's wrang?
It's ages since I heard a sang.
Come in, come in, an' ha'e a gill—
A single glass can do nae ill;
Maggie, though she may look fu' sour,
Can surely spare ye for an hour."
Jock thocht on Maggie a' her lane,
The vows he made no' lang since gane;
Shook his rouch heid—"I've in the pin,
I canna gang," and then—gaed in.

That nicht Jock sang—"We are na fou,"
Alas! he sang what wasna true.
An' sae it cam' that mair an' mair
The forenichts saw his empty chair;
An' Maggie, unco wae to see't,
Took mony a lang an' lanely greet,
But ne'er gied Jock a bitter word,
For a' the stories that she heard.
He still was kin', although, by token,
The vows he ance made a' were broken.
Neebors cam' in to settle matters,
An' Maggie listened to their clatters.
Said ane, "Noo, Maggie, un'erstan'
It's time ye took the upper han',
Rage at him, whether late or sune,
An' cast up a' the ills he's dune;
My fegs, if I were in your place
I'd set my mark upon his face.
Let my gudeman play siccan pranks,
He kens what he wad get for thanks.
The deaf side o' his head wad hear't,
An' weel I ken for that he's fear't."
Ithers spoke oot wi' bold assertion,
An' a' to ae gran' en'—coercion.
But Maggie loot them say their say,
An', when they a' had gane away,
After anither spell o' grievin',
Sat doon, an' yokit to her weavin'.

Mony a sair, sair heart was hers
To see Jock on the road that errs;
The red upon her bonnie cheek
Grew less, although she wadna speak.
The glances o' her bonnie een
Hadna the licht that ance was seen.
O, Jock, man, look at their saft pleadin',
An' turn back to your ain sweet Eden.
In vain; Jock noo was far astray
Frae Eden an' its happy day;
Was oftener at the "Blue Bell" Inn
Makin' his weekly wages spin;
Singin', as only he could do—
"We are na fou," an' gettin' fou.

A neebor, wha had seen for lang
That things wi' her had a' gane wrang,
Cam' in, an', when the twa were sittin'
(Maggie as usual wi' her knittin'),
Said, "Maggie, hear me for a wee,
But dinna tak' it ill frae me.
I ken that Jock, yer ain gudeman,
Against ye never raised a han',
But we maun mak' him stop the drinkin',
An' here's the ootcome o' my thinkin'."

Fu' lang the twa were at their crack,
An' mony a face did Maggie mak'.
"Na, na, I couldna ha'e the face
To do that: 'twad be cot o' place.
Yet I wad work wi' a' my micht
To keep Jock trig an' douce an' richt."
"Then do but this," her neebor said,
"An' I could maist lay doon my head
He'd sooner jump owre Corsencon
Than look the road the "Blue Bell's" on.
The landlord will tak' up the plan,
An' try to help us a' he can.
Jist think; it's only ae half hour,
An' after that Jock's in your power—
A sober, decent man, the pride
O' you an' a' the kintra side."
Maggie thocht lang, an' deep, an' sair:
"If I thocht Jock wad drink nae mair—
I'll do't, I'll do't though a' the folk
Should speak; it's for the gude o' Jock."
"Aweel," her neebor said, "I'll pit
The landlord up to what's on fit,
An' let it be next Friday nicht,
An' gudesake see ye do it richt."

The Friday nicht cam' duly roun',
An' folk were busy in the toon,
The "Blue Bell" was as thrang's a fair,
An' Jock, ye needna doot, was there—
The gill stoup had gane roun' to settle
A' qualms an' pit him into fettle.
An' there he sat—a happy man—
A glass o' whisky in his han',
For he had just sat doon frae singin'
"We are na fou," an' a' was ringin';
When, bang! the door gaed wi' a clash,
An' in cam' Maggie wi' a dash,
Raxed oot her han', drew in a chair,
An' richt forenent him plumpit square;
Cried, "You that's nearest touch that bell."
An', when the landlord cam' himsel',
She gied her orders wi' the rest
"A gill, an' see it's o' your best."
The drink cam' ben: she filled her gless,
No half, but to the brim nae less,
Then, haudin't up wi' smirkin' pride,
She lookit owre at Jock an' cried
"Here's to ye, Jock, my man, ye see
What's gude for you is gude for me,
Here's to ye"—an' wi' that she drew
The gless up to her bonnie mou',
Cocked up her finger, drank it a',
Then gied her sonsie face a thraw.
"That's gude," cried Maggie; "to my min',
When ance it's owre, it's unco fine.
Nae wunner men drink, for, my sang,
Sic glesses warm the road they gang;
I'll ha'e anither—gude be thankit,"—
Then filled a second glass an' drank it.
But Jock!   He sat upon the chair
The very picture o' despair;
His mooth fell doon, an' wide he gapit,
Though no' a single word he shapit.
The glass o' whisky in his han'
Cowpit, an' owre the table ran.
He glowred at Maggie, rubbed his een,
Then glowred again.   What could it mean?
An' was that Maggie—surely no'?
An' yet it strack him like a blow.
He sat strecht up, as though his back
Had been o' airn, but never spak'.
"I wuss," cried Maggie, "I could sing,
But gi'e that bell anither ring.
Talkin's dry wark, an'—let me see—
Half mutchkin?   Ay, bring that to me,
I'll pay my way as lang's I'm able"—
An' banged a shillin' on the table.

Then Jock rose up wi' furious speed,
His een maist startin' frae his heid,
Sprang back, an' sent the coupit chair
Wi' ae kick richt across the flair,
Then, fu' o' shame, an' rage an' doot,
Hung doon his heid and boltit oot.

For days Jock gaed aboot like ane
Whase very heid is on the spin,
While, noo an' then upon his face,
A puzzled look wad tak' its place.
Then he would stop an' scart his croon,
Hotch up his shou'der an' look roun',
Cry, as he gi'ed anither claw
"I canna un'erstan't ava!
Three gills an' no' a preen the waur,
Far less has garred me tak' the glaur.
It cowes the gowan, an' the mair
I think the mair I rive my hair."

But aye the upshot o' his thinkin'
Was, "What if Maggie tak's to drinkin'?
Maggie sae trig an' nice an' braw,
Nae wife like her amang them a',
An' tidy?   Ye micht tak', fu' fain,
Your dinner aff the clean hearthstane.
O, Jock, O, Jock, your a' to blame,
But this ae nicht when I get hame
I'll pit my thinkin' into action,
An' wi' her try to mak' a paction."

That nicht Jock sat, an' sat fu' lang,
Till Maggie thocht some thing was wrang,
For ae half-hour he never spoke,
Nor raxed his pipe doon for a smoke,
But aye he gi'ed anither shift,
Till Maggie catched at last his drift,
An' wi' a woman's tact an' wit,
Resolved to draw him oot a bit:—
"John I'm gaun doon the toon to see
Some frien's o' mine an' crack awee;
I'll no' be lang—rax me my shoon—
An' dinna let the fire gang doon.
I maist forgot, if I should meet
Auld frien's o' yours upon the street,
And should they stop and speer at me,
I'll say ye're weel—and should I see
The landlord—"

                          Here Jock started up,
Got Maggie's twa hands in his grup—
"Maggie, sit doon an' hear me speak
What I've been thinkin' a' this week,
For God's sake let us stop this drink,
An' never mair on whisky think.
I'm ready ony time to sign
The pledge, if your name gangs wi' mine."

Then Maggie hung her heid to screen
The joy that danced within her een.
But yet half-feared owre sune to strike—
"It's hard to gi'e up what I like,
But if I thocht ye wad be true,
An' swear to a' ye've said the noo,
I micht be coaxed to answer 'yes,'
An' seal't this moment wi' a kiss."

"I swear," quo' Jock, "an' there's my han',
O, Maggie, I'm a happy man,
But if ye kenned what awfu' doots
I had since"—Maggie whispered, "Hoots!
Let byganes be—they bring but grief,
For noo we've turned anither leaf,
An' there's your kiss—"
What mair was needin',
To draw Jock back again to Eden?

Lang after that, ae nicht when Jock
Was half-way through a glorious smoke,
A puzzled look spread o'er his face,
An', layin' his pipe upon the brace,
He turned to Maggie, wha was sittin'
As usual busy wi' her knittin',
An' said, "Noo, Maggie, tell me richt,
Hoo did ye stan' the drink that nicht?
To me 'twad been an unco test—
Hale three gills o' the landlord's best!"

"Aweel," quo' Maggie, "I've been thinkin',
That since we baith ha'e stoppit drinkin',
I'll own't—for noo it disna matter—
IT WAS HIS BEST, JOHN—IT WAS WATER."

 


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ERRATIC MUSINGS.


ALONE.   For Jack has gone away,
    To hide his head in proofs and letters;
And left me here to spend the day
    Inside, like many of my betters.
Outside the gusts of wind and rain
    And whirling leaves are something frightful;
And, for a fellow who would fain
    Go out, the prospect's not delightful.

Just at the window, where I sit,
    I see a row of trees that mutter,
"You can't get out to stroll a bit—
    You're better far behind the shutter."
I hear their speech, and, full of wrath
    To see my wished-for projects stranding,
Leap up, then take a sudden path
    To where I see the bookcase standing.

Insult on insult!   Let me note,
    Why, hang it! at the first stray venture,
Is Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat"—
    I cannot make a fourth and enter.
What use to read in silly books,
    Of skies with not a cloud remaining,
Of waving grass and shady nooks,
    When all the time you hear it raining?

I'll try another.   Worse and worse—
    "Familiar Wild Flowers," in five volumes,
Enough to make a poet curse
    In classic style "gods, men, and columns."
The very title conjures up
    Sweet glens and hills all clad with heather,
And tiny glades where fairies sup,
    And trip their minuets together!

The fairies!   Are they still alive,
    Those tender, little, sportive creatures,
Who in sweet flowers were wont to dive,
    Or show from thence their happy features?
Or when the moon hung broad and low,
    And when the dew was at its sweetest,
Danced, all their little hearts aglow,
    To see which one would do it neatest.

Alas! I own with many a sigh
    This iron time's a bad adviser.
The world has flung its playthings by—
    But, tell me, is it any wiser?
Gone all those tender little things,
    And in their place are lots of knowledge,
But knowledge has its frets and stings,
    And wonder dies when sent to college.

I wish they would come back again,
    Those merry, green-clad Lilliputians;
That something else were in our brain
    Than scientific dry confusions;
That all the world would go to sleep
    And dream again of early childhood,
Of fairies, flowers, and things that steep
    Their lives in dew within the wildwood.

But vain such wish.   This planet reels
    To some great purpose deep within it;
And we have only faith in wheels,
    That roar and crash their mile a minute.
Nay more, we have outdone the girth
    Puck talked about; above and under
We belt a whisper round the earth
    And smile if any one should wonder.

If we do this, yet think it slow,
    The future must be still more braving;
And with the wand of Prospero
    Compel far greater by its waving.
But I forget my present theme,
    Which was, I think, of books and weather,
Somehow I dreamt, and, in that dream,
    As usual jumbled things together.

Well, here I have another row—
    I thought so, just the usual novels;
And here's a set that tell you how
    Men rose to palaces from hovels.
Of course these books are kindly put,
    And may be read as well as others;
But give me Thoreau's Walden hut,
    And take your palace with its bothers.

Here, travels into distant lands—
    Their very titles bring up pictures
Of rolling plains, and swarthy bands
    Intent on predatory strictures.
I see them gay in paint and plume,
    You call it picturesque and striking;
It may be all that you presume,
    But—well, it does not suit my liking.

And yet there was—there was a time
    Long years ago (I need not mention
How many) ere I thought of rhyme,
    Or bored the muse with my attention.
I felt my head and bosom glow
    With visions of the noble savage,
Made dreadful arrows for a bow,
    And stalked about to slay or ravage.

My speech—to suit the life I led—
    Was full of all the Red Man's phrases,
I spoke of gory scalps, and led
    A band of braves through hidden places.
My face was painted red and blue;
    All this of course was very shocking,
It lasted for a year or two,
    And then I changed to "Leather-Stocking."

I put my bow and arrows past,
    With feelings that I scarce could stifle,
But I grew half resigned at last,
    When I had in their place a rifle.
I made it from a grand design,
    A weapon of my own creation;
A little rough, but it was mine,
    And shot well—in imagination.

I had my "happy hunting ground,"
    A strip of wood, where, free from neighbours,
I strove for weeks within its bound
    To mimic all that Trapper's labours.
I had my trophies rich and rare,
    I hid them like some needy squatter;
But how they came, and what they were,
    I cannot tell, nor does it matter.

For this, and many another mood
    That came and took up steady lodgment,
I blame not Cooper, as I should,
    Though looking back with sober judgment.
He filled my head and heart with men
    Who had the open sky for cover;
The woods lay open to their ken,
    And Nature—each was still her lover.

They laid their ear to mother earth,
    They heard her great heart soundly beating;
The forests, thousand-voiced in mirth,
    Waved their green arms and gave them greeting.
They took that mood each season brings,
    And stood so close to Nature's being
That she—she showed them deeper things,
    And they grew wiser by the seeing.

A sort of pagan life I grant,
    But still it was a life worth living;
Each day but brought its simple want,
    And little that might cause misgiving.
The scent of woods was all around;
    They lay down not exactly wealthy;
But rose up strong of limb and sound,
    Firm hand, keen eye, and very healthy.

Now, this was finer far, you see,
    Than being cooped in roaring cities,
Where each one lets the other be,
    And hurries on and no one pities.
I sometimes think in all the strife,
    Our likes and dislikes, as at present,
A strong dash of a wilder life
    Would be considered not unpleasant.

In vain.   The world must have its way
    To mould and build each constitution;
And so with us.   No good can stay
    The silent wheels of evolution.
There is no change but change.   We grow
    From each to each, and slowly linking
Ourselves to what it brings, though slow
    Reach higher planes of life and thinking.

But I have wandered from the track—
    A trick with bards whom thought immerses—
But now I ought to hurry back
    And lift the thread of former verses.
Digression is a fearful thing,
    One always ought to keep the highway;
But somehow poets when they sing
    Are always sure to take a bye-way.

Books?   That was it, and books that told
    Of men now sunk, as sinks a taper
When night is closing round—but hold,
    There's sunshine falling on the paper.
Thank heaven!   At last the cloudy wall
    Is past; and now for one hour's walking,
And just as well, for, after all,
    I may have bored you with my talking.

 


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EDZELL WOODS.


THE trees that shadow Alton Hall
    Are sweet by night and day;
The silver gleams that slip and change
    Along the rushing Tay,
They come and go like winds, but still,
    Though each and all be rare,
I turn my face to Edzell woods,
    Because my love is there.

O, Edzell woods are deep and green,
    And very sweet to me;
The summer light lies golden bright
    On all the fields I see.
Thy winds that wander by me speak
    Of yet a sweeter air—
I turn my face to Edzell woods,
    Because my love is there.

She moves in happy, household ways,
    With gracious touch of hands;
Her eyes are full of quiet love,
    And all its sweet commands.
Then what to me is all I see,
    Though Alton Hall be fair,
I turn my face to Edzell woods,
    Because my love is there.

 


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SING A SANG TO THE BAIRNS.


O, MITHER, sing a sang to the bairns,
    When the nicht-fa' gathers them in;
Wee Jamie oot at his elbows an' knees,
    An' Rab half-wat to the skin;
Tam skelpin' aboot wi' his buits flung aff,
    An' loupin' wi' a' his micht—
O, mither, sing a sang to the bairns
    Ere they cuddle doon for the nicht.

O, croon them a lilt as they hunker roun'
    The fire fu' o' daffin' an' glee—
When Jenny, wi' her wee doll in her lap,
    Lays her heid against your knee.
She will lilt the same to her ain bit weans,
    When your heid is aneath the swaird,
An' ye sleep fu' soun' wi' your kith an' kin,
    Where they lie in the auld kirkyaird.

An' Rab, an' Jamie, an' steerin' Tam,
    When they a' grow up to be men,
They will wan'er to a' the airts o' the win'
    To fecht for their bread an' to fen'.
But aye in their heart, though the faught be sair,
    An' the warl' is no' lookin' richt,
They will hear the lilts that ye sang langsyne
    Ere they cuddled doon for the nicht.

They are a' roun' your knee, an' their mirth an' glee
    Is unco sweet to hear,
An' your heart fills up wi' a mither's pride
    As you turn to hide the tear.
There are rough ways yet for their feet to gang.
    But, noo, let a' be bricht;
Then sing them a lilt o' the sangs they like
    Ere they cuddle doon for the nicht.

 


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NO ROOM FOR THE POET.


Is there any room for the poet
    In this nineteenth century time—
Room for the poet for singing
    His thoughts and his fancies in rhyme?

What could be heard of his music,
    Were it ever so noble and sweet,
In the hurry of life and its battle,
    And the tramp and clangour of feet?

He has fallen on days that are evil,
    He that would harp on the strings,
For the earth has grown harder and duller
    To the sound of the songs that he sings.

It hears, instead of the cadence
    That rises and sinks and falls,
Like the love-notes, heard in the woodland,
    Of some lonely bird that calls;

It hears the ring of the railway,
    The moan of the wind on the wire,
The groan of the torture of monsters
    In the coils of the pythons of fire;

It sees the twining and twisting
    Of belts that glisten about
The circle of wheel and of pulley
    Like the coils of serpents drawn out.

The ocean itself held downward,
    As a steed is held by the hand,
To foam and divide into pathways,
    As a share turns the furrow on land.

It shakes as if smitten with terror,
    It is black with the terrible breath
Of the things that men hammer and fashion
    To be lords of the kingdom of death.

It is naught then, this harping and piping,
    If it sounds it can only be heard
As one hears in the lull of the tempest
    The lone low cry of a bird.

There is no room for the poet
    In this nineteenth century time,
For the earth has grown up into manhood,
    And has turned its back upon rhyme.

 


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LIFE IN THE VILLAGE.


I STAND and look down on the village,
    With its little simple street,
The summer winds come upward,
    They stir the grass at my feet.

I watch the restless children,
    They rush about at their play,
And my heart stirs up with a sadness;
    So full of life are they.

Their mothers are busy with duties
    That the household has in store,
And old men, dreaming of boyhood,
    They sit in the sun at the door.

Their eyes are misty with thinking,
    As the eyes of old men be,
When they hear in the hush of the twilight
    The moan of the coming sea.

It is all so strange, but stranger
    Life ebbing to come again;
For I stand in the old green churchyard
    With my feet on the dust of men.

 


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A DREAMER'S PARADISE.
 

"Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
 Forget the spreading of the hideous town."

—THE EARTHLY PARADISE.


YES, William Morris, it were well
    To listen to your quiet teaching,
And for a few weeks breathe the spell
    That rises from your placid preaching.
This endless hurry up and down
    Is getting quite a serious question;
And what with worry and the town,
    We lose our livers and digestion.

What happy times were long ago,
    When people free from all dejection
Lived at their ease, nor made a show,
    Nor bored themselves with introspection;
But took life as it came, and thought
    That even winter could be sunny;
Who did not care a single jot
    For racing after fame or money.

Sweet-lettered ease—ah, yes! for then
    One could sit down and write epistles,
And give full freedom to the pen,
    And stick them full of puns and bristles.
Or anything to raise a laugh,
    To fill out column after column,
And breaking now and then from chaff,
    To show just that you could be solemn.

And fancy what sweet walks were theirs
    By wood and stream, and onward faring,
Their talk would be of home affairs,
    And criticisms kind and sparing.
They had not then our thirst for news,
    Nor cared to burn the midnight taper;
They never sprang up to peruse
    The columns of the daily paper.

"Mine be a cot beside a rill,"
    Where books would be my only lodgers;
(The first line's from another quill,
    So kindly put it down to Rogers).
"Beside a rill"—the rill itself
    Would still its grassy banks be flouting,
With here and there a rocky shelf,
    Suggestive of successful trouting.

Yes! that would be a pleasant thing—
    A cot, a rill, and, near, a garden,
Where flowers could grow and blackbirds sing,
    And I could smoke my pet "church-warden."
And, smoking, watch the spiral rings
    Go up, and in my dreaming fashion
Philosophise on human things,
    And lead a life of quiet passion.

I sometimes think—but never mind,
    I'm open to your admonitions,
This daily rubbing with one's kind,
    It does not sweeten dispositions.
And so I think the wiser men
    Were those who took to rocky portals,
And, hermit-like, from human ken
    Lived, keeping little touch with mortals.

And as for books; well, let me see,
    I'd have nice sets of those old fellows,
Who, true to Nature, frank and free,
    Spoke out, and were not over zealous
To change their desks to pulpits, so
    As to put in a gentler pleader,
Nor ended tales of mirth or woe
    With fitting moral for the reader.

Ah, how unlike our present age;
    Its rush and fret and toil incessant,
And certain novels all the rage,
    Whose purpose is not very pleasant.
The page is sickly, and a stain
    Rests on the leaves to those who read them;
Far better to go back again
    To those old fellows, for we need them.

The winds of heaven blow fresh and fair
    Within and all about their stories;
They laughed (a gift that's getting rare),
    And humour lent its ready chorus.
A healthy laughter-loving set,
    They left this spinning planet wiser,
In books that keep their spirit yet,
    As gold has value for the miser.

Mais en evant; the cot and rill,
    My dreams and all my other wishes,
Are with me still to fly at will,
    Like worthy Sancho Panza's dishes,
Whose doctor stood his friend, you see,
    His ills and stomach aches to banish;
Fate takes the doctor's place with me,
    She speaks, and all my dreamings vanish.

Well, well; so be it, after all
    We do not lose so much enjoyment;
And building castles great and small
    Is certainly a nice employment.
And though our dreams may come to mock,
    Accept the good they bring or leave us,
And this will keep the piston stroke
    From having any sound to grieve us.

 


__________________________

 
"DREW THE WRONG LEVER!"


THIS was what the pointsman said,
With both hands at his throbbing head:—

"I drew the wrong lever standing here
And the danger signals stood at clear;

"But before I could draw it back again
On came the fast express, and then—

"There came a roar and a crash that shook
This cabin-floor, but I could not look

"At the wreck, for I knew the dead would peer
With strange dull eyes at their murderer here."

"Drew the wrong lever?"   "Yes, I say!
Go, tell my wife, and—take me away!"

That was what the pointsman said,
With both hands at his throbbing head.

O ye of this nineteenth century time,
Who hold low dividends as a crime,

Listen.   So long as a twelve-hours' strain
Rests like a load of lead on the brain,

With its ringing of bells and rolling of wheels,
Drawing of levers until one feels

The hands grow numb with a nerveless touch,
And the handles shake and slip in the clutch,

So long will ye have pointsmen to say—
"Drew the wrong lever! take me away!"

 


__________________________

 
FAITH ARMING THE CHRISTIAN WARRIOR.
A Picture, by Sir Noel Paton, R.S.A., LL.D.


"Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may he able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."—Ephesians vi.13.


"ARM! for the foe is near," and as she spake
A glory clung around her brow, and made
A radiance of her hair, while in her eyes
The perfect faith of love and trust was seen
Like sunlight in a lake when all the winds
Have laid themselves to sleep among the hills.
"Arm!" and she knelt, and round his loins she drew
A mystic belt and, as its jewelled clasp
Tightened, the warrior felt a sudden strength
Shoot through his limbs, and all the blood begin.
To rush along each vein, till every nerve
And sinew felt its force.   As, at the thought
Of mighty conflicts waged and evils crushed,
He drew himself to fullest height, and turned
A high stern face and eager eyes to where
The smoke of battle mixed with sullen flame
Rose waving in the wind, as if some god
Robed in black clouds had taken wings of fire
And waited for the fight.   On his young cheek
Fell the wild glow of that dread battle-fire,
And, waving downward, ran a long thin edge
Of crimson over gleaming shoulder plates,
And curves of deftly fashioned steel, until
He stood as in a sudden light, and cried:
"The storm of peril nears, and I must go."

And, pausing, she, a hand upon the hilt,
Looked upward to him, and her eyes grew sweet
With that high love whose birth is not of earth
But from above—with that deep trust in Him
Who came and dwelt with men and made Himself
The Word to gather spirits.  In his face
She looked but for a moment, then her voice
Came still and low, yet steadfast with that strength,
Which cannot fail, she knowing Him, and all
The glory flashing on her inner soul.
"Thou goest forth to fight, but hast thou thought
Not for one hour this battle is, nor lasts
A summer afternoon, whose coming eve
Will bid thee sheathe thy sword and lay aside
The garb of steel and gleaming helm, to take
Thy rest among the shadows, or to dream
Of lighter things that, rising in thy heart,
May clog the soul's grand purpose, till thou grow'st
Yet weaker, and that moment comes in which,
Thine armour off, the foe slips in, and thou,
Half springing up, art slain?   But wilt thou hear
Before thou goest what thou hast to fight
Amid the flame of battle seen afar?"

And he, still keeping his keen eyes upon
The smoking drift of battle mixed with fire
And clang of strange dread voices, made reply:
"Yea, let me hear what foes I may expect
To rush against me in the fight—to fall;
For lo, my fingers clinging to the hilt
Of this sharp sword thou girdest on, I feel
A purpose touch my soul as if with fire
Caught from the heart of Him who names Himself
The God of Battles, and I do not fear.
Speak, yea, and as thou speakest—know I wait."

Then, as she drew the belt to firmer clasp
About him, lo, she spake, and all her tones
Took higher range, and sounded as a voice
A saint hears when his thoughts are up in heaven.
"Thou goest forth to hurl thyself against
The ranks of Error, and stern Doubt that stands
With visor down, and all from helm to heel
Harnessed in serpent scales, and deadly lance
In rest for every comer.   He will be
A stubborn foeman, for they fight to death
Who test the ring of truth.  But other foes
Will come against thee mightier far than he;
And Ignorance, who wallows in gross aims,
Will only lift his head to see thee pass
And sneer a scornful greeting.   All that springs
From the dark depths within thy kind; the sins
Of blood and inclination; the desires
That never seek to lift themselves above
The level of the eyes—a thousand such,
That lurk like tigers by half-hidden springs
To seize their panting victim.   These will come
And prowl with fierce malignant eyes to catch
A gap within thy mail at which to launch
Their arrows tipped with poison; and thy blood,
Stung with the venom, will rise up and war
Against thee, till thou wagest with thyself
An inner battle with no potence left
To quell such conflict.   Woe to him who wars
And cannot win; for all the outward foes
I spoke of can be fought and smitten down;
But when thou fightest with thyself, then comes
The great death-wrestle of the soul, in which
Thou must at once be victor or go down.
Say, wilt thou still go forth and, knowing all,
Stand in the evil day beheld afar,
Nor, fighting, quail to come against thyself?"

And he, with fearless eyes still turned to where
The smoke of carnage drifted, as the mist
Unfolds itself and creeps along the hill,
Made answer, and his voice rose calm and high,
And sounded like a sudden trumpet call
When men are waiting for it with their hearts
Hushed at the front of battle coming on:—

"Yea, I go forth to fight, and will not fear;
For having donned this armour forged of God,
And this keen sword within my hand to smite
The foes that compass me, I do not fear.
For, as I look between me and the flame,
I see a vision of a hill whereon
Temples and statues glisten, and around
A throng of haughty forms whose eyes are keen
With hate and wonder.   In the midst is one
Who towers above them with his hands upraised.
In pitying admonition.   On his brow
The west has woven a crown of light.   He speaks,
And all who hear are mute, although his voice
Is as word-lightning smiting down their gods.
He stands alone and in his Master's name
Hurls forth the gospel of the cross, and strikes
Error to right and left without one fear;
For who shall fear who knows he speaks the truth?
The strength that made him thus is strength for all,
And so I shrink not from the life-long fight,
Nor death whose touch will only make me stoop
To enter through the gateway of the grave,
That I may wear upon my brow the wreath
Whose leaves are burst in heaven."

                                    With that he seized
The golden shield, and, striking one strong arm
Throughout its clasps, upraised it.   As he stood
The glory glowing round the head of Faith
Shone also on his brow and face, and made
A light as of a victor.   And he went.

 


__________________________

 
GRASMERE.


FROM hill-encircled Windermere,
    And all through happy Ambleside,
Where every nook and spot were dear,
    A gentle Spirit was my guide.

He put his hand within my own,
    I felt his footsteps keep with mine;
He spoke and in his voice's tone
    Were whispers that were half-divine.

He spoke of one—an early friend—
    Who led me into perfect calm,
And brought me to that noble end
    Where all this earth is like a psalm.

He showed me wisdom in the touch
    Of mute things which we daily pass;
I blushed with shame to find how much
    Was in a single blade of grass.

He took me to the grand old hills
    That bare their foreheads to the sky;
We wandered by the singing rills
    And felt their inmost melody.

And when he found that I could see
    In his own light, stream, hill, and glen,
He touched my breast and said to me,
    "Now share thy love for these with men."

Then walked I forth in quiet wise,
    Communing as I went along,
Nor heard, far off, the breakers rise
    And dash on rocks of other song.

But as I wandered on, and youth
    Shot the full pulses into play,
Alas! I lost the higher truth,
    And bent the knee to other sway.

Then faded from the hills a calm,
    A splendour from the sunset's gleam;
A simple note from some grand psalm
    Was heard no more within the stream.

I could not look behind the flower,
    Nor see deft fingers weaving there
The name of that mysterious power
    That breathes in earth and sky and air.

I lost that music, soft and clear,
    The inner harmony of things
Which sea and sky and winds can hear,
    And know that it divinely sings.

I lost that love of calm, the bliss
    Of quiet things that cannot fail,
And, in my heart, instead of this,
    Were ever echoes of the rail.

I heard on either side the clang
    Of engines clad in smoke and glare—
The rush of wheels, the wires that sang
    And quivered in the heedless air.

What wonder that within this strife,
    Along this narrow land of steam,
I could not keep my double life,
    But lost, alas! my higher dream;

That daily dimming with the years,
    And fading from beyond my reach,
I saw through mists of hidden tears
    Its dying sunset without speech:

That only in some gleams of calm
    I heard, as from a distant hill,
An echo of the Master's psalm,
    A sound of that old worship still.

And now the Master came again;
    He put his hand within my own;
He spoke: his voice was one of pain,
    And there was sadness in its tone.

He laid his finger on my heart,
    And at its touch the pulses stood—
"Ah, thou and I are far apart,
    For thou hast fever in thy blood.

"It beats not as of old when wed
    To that sweet calm of early prime;
Thou strugglest, with no lights ahead,
    And in the currents of thy time.

"I feel the throb of wilder deeds,
    Of thoughts that, like the knights of old,
Strike the hung shields of all the creeds,
    Lay lance in rest and, over bold,

"Fight, only to be overcome;
    And, stricken, hear their death-doom
            knelled;
And know each bitter wound was from
    The splinters of the lance they held.

"All this has been, and may be still;
    But in thy vain and blinded dream
Was there no meaning in the hill,
    No liquid glory in the stream?

"No converse with the humbler things
    To soothe thee into quiet rest,
When nature, like a mother, sings
    And lays thee kindly to her breast?"

"Yea, master," thus I made reply,
    "I come, for having stood without
The pale of thy sweet worship, I
    Am stronger, having had my doubt.

"For like to him who still will yearn
    The face of some old friend to see,
So from false lights that sank I turn
    And joy to find no change in thee.

"And thus am I like one who sees
    Some instruments he fain would try;
He runs his fingers o'er the keys
    To waken some old melody.

"But finding as he touches still
    That all are mute save only one,
He strikes that chord with simple skill,
    And wonders why it keeps its tone.

"Thus in my heart, though mute and dim,
    Was still that worship of the past,
To waken into one grand hymn
    When lifted up and touched at last.

"And thou once more art by my side;
    I fling the storms of youth away,
And turn my back upon that pride
    Which led my eager feet astray.

"I catch the visions of those years;
    They yet are mine.   My bosom fills,
And in my heart are joys and tears
    Like lights and shadows on the hills.

"And that new meaning—ever old—
    Again is on the waving tree;
It breathes from sunset's dying gold,
    And touches everything I see.

"What joy for me to walk once more
    And hear thy gentle footsteps fall,
To pass with thee through Nature's door,
    And see the Father of us all.

"To know and feel in some dim wise,
    That is not clear to mortal ken,
The calm yet splendid destinies
    The ages slowly shape for men;

"And, best of all, to understand
    That death, who makes this life to cease,
But takes that other by the hand,
    And leads it into perfect peace:

"To know the purpose of the leaves
    That come with spring to clothe the trees,
And why the grass in silence weaves
    A deeper green on graves like these."

For now we stood among the dead,
    And each green mound beside my feet
Seemed unto some high purpose wed,
    And that high purpose, as was meet,

Mingled with everything I saw,
    Stream, lake, and tree, and distant hill;
The sunshine had a tender law
    It was a pleasure to fulfil.

And ever, as the truth of this
    Grew up within me, I could hear
The Spirit whisper words of bliss
    And comfort in my eager ear.

His hand was firmer on my own,
    His voice grew sweet and sweeter still;
A something in its very tone
    Made stronger all my weaker will.

It ceased, like summer winds that pass,
    And I was left alone to stand,
Watching the sunshine on the grass,
    And yearning for that Spirit's hand.

The Rothay sang; there came to me
    One murmur of its gentlest wave;
The sunshine fell on grass and tree,
    And at my feet was Wordsworth's grave.

 


__________________________

 
ON YARROW BRAES.


THE wind, the summer wind of June,
    Was on our cheeks as, in the heather,
We lay that happy afternoon
    On Yarrow braes together.

Far down below was Yarrow Manse,
    Within its little woodland hiding,
And by it, like a silver glance,
    The stream itself was gliding.

And farther up in greyer light,
    The "dowie dens" lay in their shadow,
And only half made out to sight
    By spots of corn and meadow.

And Tinnis hill rose huge and steep,
    Its ridge against the sky receding;
And white upon its breast the sheep
    By twos and threes were feeding.

Westward from Yarrow Kirk, within
    A field that speaks of love and loving,
A single stone was seen to win
    The eye from all its roving.

Ah! well it might, for round that stone
    Such tender consecration hovers,
That love might rest his cheek thereon
    And weep for hapless lovers.

And in the wind, that came and went,
    We heard a music weird and lonely;
The past was in its tones and blent
    With human sorrow only.

And pity for all things that love
    Has set in legendary story,
To haunt grey crag and hill, and move
    Round ruins black and hoary.

The dim old world of song that sings
    Of tender love in old romances,
Was with us, touching all the strings
    That woke our saddest fancies.

We heard the sounds of wail and pain,
    Faint from that far-off time of sorrow;
The misty years came back again,
    And looked with us on Yarrow.

All this, and more, that summer day,
    Was with us as among the heather,
A ballad on our lips, we lay
    On Yarrow braes together.

 


__________________________

 
AN OLD COPY OF DANTE.


AN old worn copy of Dante,
    With its faded pencil notes,
But yet from out its pages
    A stern high music floats.

And my thoughts, along with the music
    Which the great sad poet sings,
Flow back to a time that mingles
    With the crash of railway things.

A time as thin as a shadow,
    And so very far away
That it seems but a strange faint echo
    That is heard from a former day.

Only this copy of Dante,
    Which I have not seen for years,
Brings back in fitful snatches
    A season of hopes and fears.

When I would out and in from toiling
    By the Tuscan followed be,
And slowly, slowly his music
    Unfolded its secret to me.

Ah, these were years of striving
    If striving were ever mine,
Yet my footsteps were led by the footsteps
    Of the mighty Florentine.

He spake in an unknown language,
    In a strange sad melody,
And I had to learn it as children
    Their own by their mother's knee.

I went through the threefold vision
    Of pain and sorrow and love,
And stood at last with the poet
    In the paradise above.

And yet it but seems like a shadow
    Of things that can never be—
Did I ever work on a railway?
    And did Dante follow me?

 


__________________________

 
THE BLIND READER.


JUST at the corner of the street,
Where meet the tides of human feet,

She sits; a pity on her face,
That will not pass nor change its place,

Rests, mixing with a look that fain
Would hint of uncomplaining pain;

And that expectant gaze that lies
Forever in unseeing eyes,

As if in thought she, too, must wait
Beside the thronging city gate,

For Him, whose gentle fingertips
Once drew from eyes their long eclipse.

All this is on her pale sad face,
As still her thin white fingers trace

The words her patient lips repeat
To passers-by upon the street,

Who hear them not, or, if they hear,
It is but with a feverish ear,

That, deadened with the city's din,
Has lost the power of drinking in

Those quiet messages that speak
Of comfort to the worn and weak.

Thus, day by day, she sits and reads,
A tone within her voice that pleads;

And, just at times for listeners
Who look up to those eyes of hers,

Children, who gather round her knee,
In silent awe to hear and see,

And watch with motionless surprise
Her speaking lips and sightless eyes.

Is it the story as of old,
In answer to the over-bold,

That Truth, before she bows her head
To enter with her gracious tread,

To give her welcome sweet and fair,
Must find a child's heart beating there?

 


__________________________

 
AN APRIL SONGSTER.


I HEAR the lark to-day; he sings
    Against a hazy April cloud—
The glorious little soul with wings!
    Who sings so sweet and clear and loud,
That all the fields that lie around
Seem tingling with melodious sound.

I see him not, nor do I care
    To strain with upward view the sight.
Enough for me to know the air
    Is full of his intense delight.
I stand, nor do I care to miss
One falling rapture of his bliss.

He sings; the snow is on the hill,
    And over hedge and tree is seen,
When Spring has wandered at her will,
    A prophecy of misty green,
In which a bud or two displays
A soft desire for summer days.

But he—he knows that thus to pipe
    Brings on the summer that shall be,
That all his perfect song is ripe
    To wake the grass and touch the tree,
Until the toying day-wind weaves
A web of universal leaves.

All this he knows, and hence his song
    Throb's with the joy of what it brings;
And, being hid himself among
    The folding of the clouds, he sings
Knowing full well his song will be
The deeper for its mystery.

Thou poet of heaven, for of this earth
    We deem thee not: I stand to-day
With all the ripple of thy mirth
    Around, and, driving thoughts away,
Hearing thy glorious music fall
In one continuous madrigal.

And as I listen in this mood
    I leap to feel thy minstrel strain
Draw the street-fever from the blood,
    The city from the weary brain,
Till I am left such boon to bless,
Full of unthinking happiness.

 


__________________________

 
LIKE MISTS THAT TRAIL.


LIKE mists that trail along the hill,
    Dim playthings for the winds to toss,
We pass away, and all is still,
    Our little circle suffers loss.

A newer grave is in the plot
    Men set apart to hold their dead,
Another shares the common lot,
    And all is said that can be said.

The days come in, the days go out,
    They make the years, the years go by;
Our very name is touched with doubt,
    But still the light is in the sky.

We take our fate, whatever shape
    The gods may mould our fleeting breath;
And yet, like him who fought the Cape,*
    I cannot round this point of death.

A coward I—I dare not sing,
    Of battlefields and blood and war;
Nor lay my finger on the string
    That hymns the god of things that are.

My pulse is weak, I lack the strength
    To grasp the force of human things,
And, being weak, I touch, at length,
    With feeble fingers feebler strings.

I have no vision, I but see
    The narrow range of narrow creeds,
And cannot grasp the things that be
    Nor know the spirit of their needs.

I stand not on the hill; I keep
    The valley, where all things are sweet
And all the winds have gentler sweep—
    I leave the heights to bolder feet.

I dare not follow where they climb—
    Those eager spirits in whose eyes
The thirst to solve this world and time
    Far down like stricken hunger lies.

They front the light and in that light
    They solve it, each within his breast;
And after all their weary fight
    They put their armour off and rest.

* Vasco da Gama.

 


__________________________

 
SHADOW AND SUNSHINE.


SHADOW and light are lying
    On all the hills I see;
Flicker of shadow and sunshine
    On wood and stream and tree.

And I who am lying watching,
    With a dreamer's idle eye,
The changes coming and going
    Between the earth and sky.

I think of the human ocean
    With its dreary ebb and flow,
Foam on the crests of the surges,
    And dead men lying below.

Flicker of light and shadow,
    On wood and stream and tree;
Coming and going of changes
    As far as the eye can see.

What is it all but a symbol
    Of your petty hopes and fears,
A rainbow over the shadows,
    And sunshine through our tears.

 


__________________________

 
IN THE LIGHT OF BOYHOOD.


I LAY where the winds were seeking
    The nooks of the streams they love;
The shadows were slowly shifting
    With the great white clouds above.

Afar in the hazy distance
    The slanting sunlight fell,
And meadow and field and woodland
    Were underneath its spell.

Beneath me the long sweet valley
    Lay wide to the dreaming eye,
And through it the river was shining
    Like a mirror turned up to the sky.

The winds in fitful pauses,
    Came slowly up the stream,
They touched the ferns with their footsteps
    Then left them again to dream.

The thick green grass beside me,
    At once with life grew full;
The blue-bells nodded together,
    And a ripple ran over the pool.

It was a time for a dreamer
    To have no thoughts of men,
To let the fancy go backward
    To the early time again.

When field and meadow and woodland,
    And the golden stream at my feet,
Lay warm in the light of boyhood
    And a glory once so sweet.

 


__________________________

 
THE LARK'S SONG.


THE winds have their sweetest whisper,
    This golden summer day,
And the yellow corn is bowing
    Wherever their footsteps stray.

The lark above me is singing,
    As only a lark can sing,
When the sweet blue vault is above him,
    And sunshine is on his wing.

I lie in the light and listen
    To his perfect melody,
He sings for the joy of singing,
    And not for the sake of me.

It is meant for the long green meadows,
    The streams that ripple by,
For the clouds that uprear their banners
    In the pomp of their march through the sky.

For violets deep in the woodland,
    The daisies bright and gay,
That scatter their snowy blossoms
    Like a lower milky way.

All these drink deep of his music,
    Wherever it may fall,
But the note of a lower mortal
    Would shake discord through all.

 


__________________________

 
THE TIME OF THE ROSE IS OVER.


LOVE, turn thy gentle feet away,
    How can I be thy lover?
The years pass onward to decay
    And the bloom of the rose is over.

The sweet light fails from out the sky,
    The weary wind is wailing,
The rain, like tears, is falling nigh
    From the grey cloud o'er us sailing.

O rare, glad time when youth was sweet
    With all its pulses beating,
When music led thy gentle feet,
    And a rainbow was o'er our meeting.

The rose was bright, but brighter still,
    The eyes that shone like heaven;
O Love, come back again and thrill
    Our souls like a soul forgiven.

When heart to heart spoke soft and low,
    As lovers' words are spoken.
When truth was truth and youth was youth,
    And never a vow was broken.

Love, turn thy gentle feet away,
    How can I be thy lover?
A low wind grieves among the leaves,
    And the time of the rose is over.

 


__________________________

 
WHERE MAUDIE BIDES.


O, CAIRN row saft where Maudie bides,
    Row saft as saft can be,
There's no' a flower upon thy banks
    Can be sae fair to see.
Let a' her dreams be saft as licht
    That fa's through simmer heat—
O, Cairn row saft where Maudie bides,
    For Maudie's unco sweet.

O, Cairn row saft where Maudie bides,
    Where a' the hale day lang
She moves as licht as ony bird
    An' in her heart a sang.
An' a' her ain pure thochts to thee
    Her tender notes repeat—
O, Cairn row saft where Maudie bides,
    For Maudie's unco sweet.

O, Cairn row saft where Maudie bides,
    Row saft as saft can be,
They canna boast a fairer flower
    Frae Nith richt on to Dee.
An' he wha tak's her by the han'
    Maun guide her gentle feet;
Then, Cairn, row saft where Maudie bides,
    For Maudie's unco sweet.

 


__________________________

 
THE HILLS AROON' OOR AIN WEE TOON.


THE hills aroon' oor ain wee toon
    Are no' like ither hills to me,
They're sweet to see in simmer licht,
    An' sweet when winter sweeps the lea.
They dinna change, but year by year
    They dearer grow an' look mair braw;
The hills aroon' oor ain bit toon,
    Are no' like ither hills ava.

What though they talk o' ither hills
    That lift their tappans to the sky,
An' catch a glisk o' richer licht
    To please the passing stranger's eye.
I wadna gi'e oor ain green hills
    Though half the year they lay in snaw;
The hills aroon' oor ain bit toon,
    Are no' like ither hills ava.

For boyhood lends to sober age
    The past that saw them long ago;
They rise within oor dreams, and fill
    That fairy land with fairy glow.
What hopes we had when life was high,
    Still took their licht, though far awa',
The hills aroon' oor ain bit toon,
    Are no' like ither hills ava.

 


__________________________

 
THE HAPPY EARTH.


SO beautiful, so beautiful
    Is all this happy earth to-day;
I sit within the shadows cool,
    I sit and dream with naught to say.

The flowers in the garden nigh,
    They think a thousand simple things;
Above them floats a butterfly
    With all their purple on his wings.

He is the guardian of their band,
    He watches how their blossoms blow,
Then hies him back to fairyland
    And tells them all they wish to know.

A fancy this, but fancies come
    With all the changing of the mood;
The swaying wind, the distant hum
    Of joyous life within the wood.

The tinkle of the little streams,
    The murmur of the bees that win
Their way from where the moorland gleams,
    To swell their golden store within.

So much of life around me lies,
    This summer day, to stir and call,
A sadder look would dim my eyes
    If I could think that death was all.

 


__________________________

 
ANVIL AND NEWSPAPER.


HE lays his heavy toil aside
    To take his mid-day rest;
The anvil, silent, shakes no more
    His labour-pulsing breast.

The forge sleeps like a sullen thing,
    With half-awakened eye,
Ready to leap, and rush, and rear
    Its great red arms on high.

The hammer rests, its master's hand
    Grips a more potent power,
Whose unheard beats throughout the land
    Are throbbing every hour.

That moulds the iron into shape
    Of all device and plan;
This moulds a subtler power than all—
    The intellect of man.

All day the forges flare and flume,
    Like giants in despair,
And belch from out their murky throats
    Their black breath on the air.

All night the forges of the mind,
    Without one single sound,
Have welded thought to thought, and flung
    Their light the world around.

The chains are struck from off the slave,
    And quaking tyrants feel
A mightier weapon cross their own,
    And snap their blood-red steel.

Sound on, thou hammer sure and strong,
    And fashion in thy toil
The wedge to split the stubborn rock,
    The plough to rend the soil.

Sound on, too, hammer of the thought,
    To widen human good,
And forge between each yearning heart
    The links of brotherhood.

 


__________________________

 
THE LARK.


THOU feathered happiness, come down to me,
    For I am sick with sorrow.   If I sing
    My heart will darken as I touch the string,
And yet this summer day is fair to see.
Come nearer to me, O thou glorious bird!
    The half of heaven is somewhere in thy song;
    Caught when some angel left the full-voiced throng
To hear thee and in turn by thee was heard.
Art thou not coming?   Lo! against the sky
    A single speck is fading, but I hear
    A perfect rain of music to the ear,
Though thou art sightless to the eager eye.
    Sing on, and singing lift an upward wing,
    It is a perfect bliss to hear thee sing.

 


__________________________

 
I SAW THE ARRAN HILLS.


I SAW the Arran Hills shine through
    A tender veil of shining haze;
Goatfell was seen—a fainter blue,
    And Ailsa where the ocean plays
    Around, a perfect silver blaze,
You think that sky and ocean kiss—
    The first of all September days,
Was never such a day as this.

And nearer was the Ballast Bank,
    And farther on the Lady Isle;
And each and all they seemed to thank
    The day for having such a smile.
    Dear heart, how sweet it was the while
To feel the wind upon my cheek,
    To walk in silence for a mile,
To think and think and never speak.

And farther down the spires of Ayr
    Rose up, and with them one grand name,
As wide as summer winds that bear
    To all the ends of earth the same.
    It boasts a century of fame
That widens; even the winds that blow,
    They seem to babble and acclaim
One dead a hundred years ago.

And this the sea of Homer's song,
    As swift as swiftest steeds are fleet;
An incommunicable wrong
    Is in the waves, and they repeat
    The same old sorrow at my feet.
The very light this summer day,
    And all the winds that rush along
They cannot take their grief away.

 


__________________________

 
THE MUIRLAN' LASSIE.


Twa miles frae here, or maybe mair,
    A herd's hoose sits atween twa wuds,
An' there a lassie bides as fair
    An' sweet as heather purple buds.

She's just awee ayont sixteen,
    An' pure as gowans on the braes;
The spring o' love is in her een,
    Whose dew weets a' she thinks an' says.

An' aye, at hame or Sanquhar toon,
    She hings her head sae bonnilie,
As I ha'e seen the flowers hing doon
    In howms o' Kello wi' the bee.

She's tall an' stately in her mien,
    Like foxglove growin' richly fair,
An' slim as some straucht hazel seen
    Alang the edge o' Craigengair.

Sweet is the glint alang the West
    When o'er braid Corsencon's steep heicht
The simmer sun sinks into rest,
    An' Nith lies glowin' in his licht.

But sweeter is the glow o' youth
    Upon her bloomin' cheek to see,
As if a rosebud, saft an' smooth,
    Was there, half-blawn, to tak' the ee.

Noo, he who wins the lassie's heart,
    An' tak's her frae her muirlan' cot,
Maun keep her simple life frae smart,
    An' croon wi' love her happy lot.

But come what may in life's quick thrang,
    Where crood together gude an' ill,
May she aye quately slip alang,
    A simple, artless lassie still.

 


__________________________

 
KILLED ON THE TELEGRAPH WIRE.


Within the rough four-foot he lay,
    A touch of blood on breast and wing—
His life-blood, that had sent away
    This only singer of the spring.

For he, while morning yet was dim,
    And all his singing soul on fire,
And throbbing with an unsung hymn,
    Had dashed against the heedless wire.

And in the dark he fell to lie
    The cold, unheeding rails between,
A song within his heart to die
    Unheard, and he himself unseen.

I took him up; he lay so light,
    That in my heart I did him wrong
To think a thing so frail and slight
    Could have such splendid wealth of song.

Was this the bird I could not see?
    That somewhere from the wooded hill
Poured forth such music from a tree
    That even the very stream grew still.

Was this the spirit who sang and shot
    The soul of summer through the air,
Till all the buds grew quick with thought,
    And sweet, green births were everywhere?

The very bird!   And this was all
    His crown of song for such display—
To strike against the wire, and fall,
    And bleed his little life away.

He sang of Spring in fond delight,
    He would not see her blossoming;
He sang of Summer, but its light
    Would never strike against his wing.

Yet these were throbbing in his song,
    As yearns some poet in his rhyme,
To flash against a burning wrong
    The sunshine of a happier time.

But ere the light, for which he woke
    His song, dawns upward, faint and dim,
He, bleeding from an unseen stroke,
    Sinks in the dark, and dies like him.

 


__________________________

 
THE LOVE-LILT O' THE LARK.


A LARK lap up frae the daisied field,
    An', O, but his sang was sweet;
His wee wings shook till the draps o' dew
    Fell doon beside my feet.

My heart grew fain as I heard him sing,
    An' the tears were in my een,
For it thrilled wi' the love o' the fields and hills,
    An' the banks sae sweet an' green.

"What gars ye sing, thou bonnie bird,
    Sae high in the simmer air?
An' what is the secret a' your sang,
    That I fain wad like to share?

"Is your lilt sae sweet for the sake o' the flowers—
    The daisies sae braw and bricht—
Or the burnies that row by the gowden broom,
    Where the blue-bell's nod in the licht?

"Is your sang sae sweet for the sake o' the trees
    That wave their leaves in the win'?
Or that, as ye mount to the sunny sky,
    Ye are leavin' the earth ahin'?"

Then he faulded his wings and doon he cam'
    Frae the sky sae blue an' clear,
An' aye, as nearer he cam' to the earth,
    His sang was sweeter to hear.

"It's no' for the flowers nor the hingin' blue-bells,"
    Sang the bonnie bird to me,
"Nor yet for the trees nor the burnies that row
    An' murmur an' rin in their glee.

"But my sang is sweet for the sake o' the love
    That is loupin' within my breast,
For I ken as I sing there is ane wha hears,
    An' she's sittin' upon her nest.

 


__________________________

 
IN SELKIRK.


I WALKED for an hour in Selkirk,
    In the folds of a noonday dream;
And through it there ran for music
    The murmur of Yarrow stream.

Murmur of Yarrow and Ettrick,
    With their song and their old-world deed;
And then like a far-off organ
    The monotone of the Tweed.

Then up through my dreaming rose visions,
    And about me their spell was cast;
Till the present vanished around me,
    And I was deep in the past.

I saw one stalwart figure,
    With the stoop of one at the plough;
The tan of the winds of Ayrshire
    Deep upon cheek and brow.

There was light on his swarthy forehead,
    As he strode in thought along;
For his sensitive lips were moving
    With the tremulous throbbing of song.

And just an arm's length from me,
    Hot with the winds and dark,
I saw, but just for a moment,
    The figure of Mungo Park.

One walked for a little beside me,
    With a shepherd's crook in his hand;
On his lips were snatches of music
    He had heard in fairyland.

Then right in front came onward,
    Halting a little and lame;
The Merlin of the Border
    With the magic none may claim.

The last of the mighty minstrels
    That will ever be born to sing;
His cheek wore a touch of the colour
    Which the winds of Ettrick bring.

I brushed his elbow in passing,
    And my heart beat high at the thought
That I, in the streets of Selkirk,
    Had touched Sir Walter Scott.

A change came over my vision;
    And from out the past and its might,
Like the wind that sweeps the moorland,
    When not a star is in sight,

Came upward an infinite sorrow
    That human things will yield;
And through it there ran the wailing
    For the dead on Flodden Field.

Mothers hushing their children
    And ever weeping between;
And the long, deep sigh of maidens
    Whose lovers would never be seen.

I saw old men at the harvest,
    Bending over the sheaf;
Their long', thin fingers shaking,
    And gray hairs hiding their grief.

But ever behind this picture,
    One firm-set, terrible ring
Of faces and red-tipped lances
    Around a fallen king.

All this was born of the murmur
    Of Yarrow and Ettrick stream,
As I walked for an hour in Selkirk
    In the folds of a noonday dream.

 


__________________________

 
BY SAINT MARY'S LAKE.


AWAY from all the restless street,
    The whirlpool of the toiling race,
Where Traffic in the dusty heat
    Toils with the sweat upon his face.

Away from this; and far away,
    Fight the strong wind upon the hill;
Or rest upon the brackened brae,
    And shape our dreamland as we will.

What boon to lie as now I lie,
    And see in silver at my feet
Saint Mary's Lake, as if the sky
    Had fallen between those hills so sweet.

And this old churchyard on the hill,
    That keeps the graves of olden time,
So calm, so sweet, so lone and still,
    Where solitude is in its prime.

Ah! here they lie, the simple race
    Who lived their little flight of years,
Then laid them in this quiet place,
    At rest for ever from their fears.

The winds sing as they sang to them;
    The waving bracken is the same;
The hills still wear their diadem
    Of heather and the sunset's flame.

No change in these; the waves still break
    In ripple or in foam upon
The green shore of Saint Mary's Lake
    As in the ages dead and gone.

Beneath the hills, whose shadows seem
    Fit haunt for lonely sounds that be,
Flows, half in sunshine, Yarrow stream,
    The spirit of all I hear and see.

Thou Yarrow of my early dreams,
    When Fancy heard thee murmur on,
A light has left all other streams,
    And seems to shine on thee alone.

It crowns thee with a magic dower;
    It makes thy windings ever sweet;
The Mary Scott of Dryhope Tower
    Still follows thee with unseen feet.

Her name is wed to thine; the vale
    Is witness as thou rollest on,
And with thee all the tender wail
    Of song with sorrow in its tone.

Men pass from thee; the years prolong
    No name of theirs for ear or eye;
But she—a little whirl of song
    Has caught her, and she cannot die.

And, lying on the brackened hill,
    The sunshine on my brow to-day,
The old love-ballad echoes still
    In throbs that will not pass away.

And, as I listen, like a dream
    That changes into softer things,
Saint Mary's Lake and Yarrow stream
    Take all the sorrow which it sings.


__________________________

 
TO AN ENGLISH GIRL.


YOU smile, and half in jest you ask
A song from me.   A simple task,
If he who sings had all the youth
And freshness of thy maiden truth,
To give to words the glow and light,
Without which who can sing aright?
But other years than those which make
Thy brow a splendour for thy sake
Are mine, and at their touch I feel
A certain sadness upward steal,
That whispers, only heard by me:
"He must be young who sings to thee."

You answer: "It is said or sung
That poets must be always young—
That unto them the years pass by,
And leave no shade on brow or eye—
That youth still keeps its summer day,
And age is ever far away."
Alas! a sage* has said, who dwelt
Where beauty like a sun is felt,
That poets start this life in gladness,
But in the end there cometh madness.
Sad truth; for when we journey on,
The golden mists of fancy gone,
Which, fools of our own dreams, we threw
O'er all that came within our view,
We catch with sadness in our eye,
Dull hills beneath a duller sky,
And miss the light that came and went
Like music o'er an instrument.
Enough!   No threnody from me;
No sorrow when I sing to thee.

But what to say or sing?   In sooth,
My muse must be thy blooming youth,
And that fair face and cheeks, whereon
Love has his sweetest roses thrown,
And touched with dainty finger-tips
The dewy crimson of thy lips.
And set in light, with half a sigh,
His own sweet language in thine eye—
This must my inspiration be,
Or how else could I sing to thee?

I dream, and dreaming, place thy feet
In woodland paths when spring is sweet,
Where, in the silence scarcely stirred,
The bursting of the leaves is heard,
And like a murmur through the air
The new life throbs, and all is fair.
Or better, on an afternoon
In some rich English lane in June,
With all the hedge on either side
Aglow with roses in their pride;
The winds of summer in thy hair,
As loth to wander otherwhere;
And overhead a sky serene,
Where not a single cloud is seen;
And humming as you trip along
Stray snatches of an English song,
Of lovers talking as they pass
Through meadows thick with springing grass,
Or plighting love-troth at the stile,
And I to see thee all the while,
Deeming thy voice—ah, who would not?—
The fairy echo of the spot.

This, this, were sweeter for your prime,
An English lane in summer-time,
Than this cold city, where the dust
Of streets corrodes and eats like rust;
Where life roars on, and pulses beat
With throbbing blood at fever-heat,
And all the weary waves we see
Of this strange, sad humanity,
Flow and re-flow without a pause,
Like tidal-breaths that ocean draws,
Till weary of such yearning quest,
They moan at midnight into rest.

Ah, wherefore ask a song from me,
As if it could be aught to thee?
For sweeter far than verse is all
Thy young heart's happy madrigal,
Which, sung to thee when all is still
And fancy wanders at her will,
Wafts thee, as light as clouds are blown,
To that fair realm where dreams alone
May enter, and where, low and clear,
Love, with his lips against thine ear,
Whispers those words that, said or sung,
Remould this world, and make it young,
Till fields and woods, and seas and skies
Draw back the light of Paradise,
And in its sunshine thou dost stand,
Full maiden in a maiden's land,
And on thy brow, as horoscope,
The golden aureole of hope.

Ah, wherefore ask a song from me?
He must be young who sings to thee.

* Wordsworth.


__________________________

 
ON BEING SHOWN A FEW HAIRS
FROM THE HEAD OF NAPOLEON.


THE great Napoleon! and these simple hairs
    Are from his head!   Behind him I can see
A lurid background, which the cannon tears
    Apart, as clouds are by the bolt.   And he,
The pigmy reaper of the human grain,
    Stands, with no catch or quiver in his breath,
    While the dread messengers of sudden death
Belch forth in thunder all their iron rain.
Then one blood ocean slowly covers all,
    On which a million faces of the dead
Float, with their eyes to God.   The shame-struck years
    Fall back in time, with failing footsteps red,
And mix with his their bitter, blood-shot tears,
    Alas for glory when these hairs are all.



THE END




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