Joseph Skipsey: 'Songs and Lyrics'

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The Rydal Trip.

DEAR Willy, now the March hath blown
His last wild blast once more and flown,
And April, like my muse yet prone
                          To change, comes in,
Again, to thee my rhyming crone,
                          A rhyme I'd spin.

I'm brimming o'er with things to say,
Could I but only find the way
My thoughts and feelings to convey
                          In language clear,
About a visit I did pay
                          The Lakes last year.

Then up, Muse up, this task profound,
Up, up and do! with bound on bound,
Away to England's Pleasure Ground,
                          Away and ring,
And to thy Northern harp's wild sound,
                          Its glories sing!

First on to sacred Grasmere—Why,
Why what a giddy goose am I,
Away before my tale to fly!
                          On Rapture horsed,
We'll come to Grasmere by-and-by—
                          But Keswick first!

From there we'll in the day-dawn go
And o'er the clear, cool Derwent row;
Then scale Lodore, tho' e'er so slow,
                          Which having done,
Thro' Watendlith with mop and mow,
                          To Rosthwaite run!

Next to the Druid Cirque we'll fare,
And dream an hour o'er days that were;
And dreams will often show more clear
                          Life's issues than
The Daily Press from year to year
                          Read daily can.

—The D. P.? La! what wizen'd witch
Hath popt my nose into this ditch,
To smell the—pah!-the filth, the pitch
                          With which the drab,
The pimp and lackey of the Rich,
                          The Poor bedaub?

Help! help me out of this! then you
Sweet Elves may pinch me black and blue;
That's if you—Mercy!—how I rue—
                          Help, help, and O!
Let's fly to Rydal as we flew
                          One year ago!

To pitch and spite, cry we, Good Night!
Nor let Helvellyn in his might
Of magic to arrest one's flight,
                          A counter count,
Ere we with love a-glow alight
                          On Rydal Mount!

No sooner said than done: and there,
How wags the world, what need we care?
The men will at each other swear
                          Till they are blue;
The women tear each other's hair;
                          And let them! Pooh!

Are all not born to err? and worse—
But you can tell them that, of course,
Not I—I'm but a man of verse
                          That needeth bread,
And to put money in my purse
                          I must be read.

"Lo! from what height on which agog
You rode, down thro' what dense, dark fog,
Into what deep Serbonian bog
                          Have you been drawn,
Thus at Fate's feet a very dog
                          To whine and fawn?

"Up, up, for shame, thou wretch! and let
Thy face against the False be set;
Tho' harder lot be thine than yet
                          Thou once hast known,
Up, up, and let in hues of jet
                          The truth be shown!

"A bran new pen this moment grasp,
Not dipt in spue of toad or asp,
Not tipt with sting of critic-wasp,
                          But in, with what
May thy thought-burdened heart unclasp"—
                          To whom?   "Whom not?

"To one and all show, show"—But then,
What needs this fuss about a pen
To picture to my fellow-men
                          How very low
The masks in which they revel, when
                          This truth they know?

'Tis not so much from lack of light
To know the wrong, to know the right,
Nor yet from lack of feeling quite,
                          But want of will,
They chase the phantoms that delight
                          To cheat them still.

Their brains with fancies frantic teem,
At which their eyes with rapture gleam;
They seek to grasp their idols—seem
                          To grasp, anon,
To find each jewel but a dream—
                          Yet they dream on.

Yet with a glamour o'er them, they
Still play to lose, yet losers play
A game which, won, would not repay
                          A moment lost
Of but one golden summer day,
                          Its winning cost.

Ah, what is worse, the spell that binds,
Oft saps the very best of minds,
Nor leaves its victim till he finds
                          His love of all—
All good hath vanished with the winds,
                          Beyond recall!

Then lo, the plight of such; henceforth
Their natures change; then real worth
Becomes to them a theme for mirth;
                          While baubles small,
As oft in turn to praise give birth:
                          —Nor is that all.

Not all that one might say, and would,
Had we been in the cue, and could;
Then we must on, and leave or should,
                          This flowing fount
Of solemn thought—this neighbourhood
                          Of Rydal Mount.

A holy something in the air,
Yet makes the merry Muse forbear
Her quips and cranks; an inner prayer,
                          And thoughts of God,
Are mine, as I thro' pathways fare,
                          That Wordsworth trod.

You little tinkling waterfall,
That scented flower upon the wall,
That doth the ear and eye enthrall,
                          May once have warmed
And charmed a soul whose eye saw all,
                          As mine is charmed.

Upon this very garden seat,
Where now I sit with feelings meet,
I see him sit in spirit sweet,
                          With upward gaze,
And some grand song new-born repeat,
                          With glowing face.

Where'er I turn, his form appears
In fancy's eyes; in fancy's ears
One hears thy voice, enraptured hears,
                          Thou great Song-child,
Upon whose hopes thro' long, lone years
                          Thou mightst have smiled!

Thou mightst have grasped him by the hand,
And bid his heart with joy expand;
Thou mightst his flame of song have fann'd,
                          For thou wert strong
In human love, as thou wert grand
                          And great in song.

Yea, as thy brother in renown,
That Prince of Song in London Town,
Just ere his sun of life went down,
                          With thy regard
Thou mightst have stoopt this hour, to crown
                          The rustic bard.

Like him to—me?—In every limb,
I shake—I shake!—My senses swim—
What did I say? Thou memory grim,
                          What hast thou done?
Was ever bard, to me, like him
                          Beneath the sun?

Ah, why recall that moment, why,
That only came, anon, to fly
Before a day so dark?—I sigh—
                          While I have breath,
I'll mourn the wrench I suffered by
                          Rossetti's death!

"And yet, fond heart, no vain regret;
Our path's not all by thorns beset;
We mourn the lily vanished, yet
                          Oft fail to prize
Some little golden violet
                          Before our eyes.

"And with such boons thrice-blest art thou—
And woe betide the black-wind, woe!
Would turn, or lay their sweet heads low,
                          And so away
Its glory and its perfume blow
                          From thy life's day!

"Oft in the coal-pit's murky gloom
Would come that glory and perfume,
To cheer thee, sweeten, and illume,
                          What else had ne'er
Been other than a cruel doom
                          For bard to bear.

"With music sweeter than the trill
Of warbling bird, or gurgling rill,
Will memories dear the heart-strings thrill,
                          Or soon or late;
And thine are such, and will be still,
                          In spite of Fate! "

But this, of this, too much, and now
To Rydal we will make our bow,
"From Rydal you're afar, sir, now—
                          Down, you came down
So swift—Ah, slipt you not somehow,
                          And crack'd your crown?"

I crack'd my— Well, of this we'll crack
As we to Coaly Tyne go back;
And not to hold you on the rack,
                          One look we'll throw
At Windermere, pack up, off pack,
                          And back we'll go.

—The more the haste the less the speed,
As sang the tailor to his thread;
And this we'd find in very deed,
                          Unto our woe,
Did we to Memory give heed;
                          But—back we'll go.

"Come, come," she cries, "and I will show
You sights will charm your senses so;
Scolfell the huge and Silverhow,
                          And" —But our track
Is backward bent, and back we'll go;
                          Yes, we'll go back!

"A passing blink you'll not refuse
To Hunting Stile at least; nor choose
But yield the grace and worth one views
                          Thereat" —Just so;
Now would this charmer charm the Muse;
                          But—back we'll go!

Yes, we'll go back; yet had we power,
A song would be yon lady's dower,
As sweet as e'er in midnight hour,
                          To bugle-ring,
Did Echo from her airy tower
                          In rapture sing!

Ay, could the deed the will display,
Then, then were sung what thou, mad fay,
Sweet Echo, to its spells a prey,
                          Would yet prolong,
Till all the world had pass'd away
                          In one wild song!

So would we, could we; but between
This would and could doth intervene
A gulph, from which the Muse in teen
                          Must turn and —O!
That sudden jerk! What can it mean?
                          Where are we now?

"By Coaly Tyne, sir, and 'tis plain
Not on a hack, but in a Train,
Which you must out!"   Well, I've a brain!
                          —Well, I may Work
Myself into myself again
                          Thro' that same jerk.

Meanwhile, my friend, for heart and fun
Unmatched, Good Night!   Our task is done;
The Muse is off—her rhyme is spun—
                          Her zig-zag flight
Has ended where it was begun—
                          Good Night! Good Night!


To W. R.

A Friend in Australia.

TO you, on you, my Willy Reay,
To you, on you, so many a day,
Out o'er the seas and far away,—
                            A word or two,
A wee to ease my heart, I'd say
                            A word on you.

In this my wifie's thought's express'd,
For well I know within her breast
She ranks you with the truest, best
                            Of friends that I
Possess, or ever yet possest
                            In days gone by.

We've had our troubles great and small
Since last we met you, but 'mid all
We've thought of you and yours, and shall,
                            While life endures,
With rapture sweet the names recall
                            Of you and yours.

And often in the night-tide hours,
When, toil-relieved, and memory pours
Into our souls her sweetest showers,
                            Her healing dew,
Distilled from joy and sorrow's flowers,
                            We'll talk of you.

Of all the funny tales you'd tell
About the folks upon the Fell,
Where Teams flows onward yet to swell
                            Our own dear Tyne,
We'll talk as if beneath a spell
                            Almost divine.

The twinkle of your eye when aught
Grotesque or sweet your fancy caught,
And ended in some happy thought,
                            Or feeling deep;
Of this with painful pleasure fraught,
                            We'll talk and weep.

Your jokes that never left a sting,
Of your bright laugh, whose merry ring
Told of the pureness of its spring,
                            The hours away,
We'll talk, talk, talk of every thing
                            You'd do or say.

Nor only of the joys that were,
But what the golden hour will bear
When you return, we'll talk; for ne'er,
                            Befall what may,
Can we of your return despair,
                            Nay, never! nay.

That cruel thought we could not dree,
That cruel thought we'll flee and flee,
Till you again have cross'd the sea;
                            For come you will,
And with your heart-inspiring glee,
                            Our feelings thrill.

Then will we mock at curst mischance,
And sing our song and dance our dance;
And on our native hobbies prance,
                            Unlike yon crew
Who merely ape the apes of France
                            In all they do.

A little fun will oft engage
The moments of the deepest sage;
And tho' we're somewhat touched with age,
                            Our jokes we'll crack,—
Nay, Glee on Care a war will wage
                            When you come back.

As wont, we'll ramble up and down
Our smoky and yet rare old town;
Most rare I say, and with a frown
                            What!   Willy, what!
Would we not face a king or clown,
                            Would say it's not?

We'll down and see the castle grand,
So firmly built, so nobly planned;
And at whose feet two bridges stand,
                            Of rare design,
By which from bank to bank is spann'd,
                            Our Coaly Tyne.

We'll see St. Nicholas as of old,
For beauty worth its weight in gold,
Nor heed if others suns behold,
                            In fanes afar,
To which compared our own, we're told,
                            Is but a star.

Confound the carpers who compare
The virtues of our jewels fair,
As if they loved away to scare
                            Some vision which
Might otherwise with magic rare
                            Our lives enrich!

Have we not ills enough and more,
But we must keep a bolted door,
Lest some stray fay from Beauty's shore,
                            Of Love begot,
Glide in to charm us evermore?
                            La! have we not?

But whither flies the Muse?
A throng Of feelings hurries her along;
Yet like the tinkler in the song,
                            In all her flight,
Just when she seems to go most wrong,
                            She goes most right!

Your nags so hide-bound, stiff, and tough,
May suit old hags, gaunt, grim, and gruff,
But not the gipsy elves, enough,
                            Whose spirits high
Would into airy nothing puff
                            The world they fly!

On winged steeds they'd go; nor will
Our Muse less swift scour onward still,
When thrill our heart-strings as they thrill,
                            Nay, almost crack,
At thought of how the time we'll kill
                            When you come back!

We'll then, as I have said and say,
The glories of our town survey;
A visit to the Dene we'll pay;
                            Then down the burn
We'll link ho! ho! we'll link that day,
                            When you return.

Away to canny Shields will we,
And bonny Whitley-by-the-Sea,
Then up to Hexham in our glee;
                            Nay, rest we'll spurn
Till all the country-side we see,
                            When you return.

That will we view, and many a thing
To which our sweetest feelings cling,
And from our harps shall flow a spring
                            From rapture born,
That many a lad and lass shall sing,
                            When you return.

When you return; when Mary Jane
And you come sailing o'er the main,
No storm will blow the ship to strain—
                            Each charm-bound wave
Will duck its head down till you gain
                            Our harbour safe.

That day of days?—Run, Sally, run!
And stop the tune in love begun,
Or I shall harp till I'm undone,
                            And have, alack!
No strength to hug our cronies, none!
                            When they come back.

Not, not so fast. Ah, there, now there,
You've bumped your chin against the chair
And bit your tongue—well I declare!
                            That tongue that's rung
Me many a curtain song so rare,
                            Since we were young.

"Ha, ha!" you cry: well, darling, well,
I'm glad that naught occurr'd to quell
The music of that golden bell,
                            And that its clack
May help my welcome cry to swell
                            When Will comes back.

Till then, again, adieu, my friend,
And when you have an hour to spend
On rhyme, a rhyme thy crony send:
                            Do, Willy do;
Meanwhile, believe me to the end,
                            A brother true.




Carols, Songs, and Ballads,


    "The whole book deserves to be read, and much of it deserves to be loved. . . As for the qualities of his poetry, they are its directness and its natural grace.  He has an intellectual as well as metrical affinity with Blake, and possesses something of Blake's marvellous power of making simple things seem strange to us, and strange things seem simple.  How delightful, for instance, is this little poem! . . How exquisite and fanciful this stray lyric! . . .  We admit that Mr. Skipsey's work is extremely unequal, but when it is at its best it is full of sweetness and strength; and though he has carefully studied the artistic capabilities of language, he never makes his form formal by over-polishing.  Beauty with him seems to be an unconscious result rather than a conscious aim; his style has all the delicate charm of chance. . . .  We have already pointed out his affinity to Blake, but with Burns also he may be said to have a spiritual kinship, and in the songs of the Northumbrian miner we meet with something of the Ayrshire peasant's wild gaiety and mad humour.  He gives himself up freely to his impressions, and there is a fine careless rapture in his laughter. . .  Mr. Skipsey can find music for every mood, whether he is dealing with the real experiences of the pitman, or with the imaginative experiences of the poet, and his verse has a rich vitality about it.  In these latter days of shallow rhymers it is pleasant to come across some one to whom poetry is a passion, not a profession."— Pall Mall Gazette, Feb. 1, 1887.

    "Mr. Skipsey is always original.  The echoes of any former poets are few and faint.  Blake, perhaps, oftener than any other, is suggested; for example, in 'The Moth,' or in the graceful verses named 'The Violet and the Rose.' . .  There may be a suggestion of Blake in these lines; but certainly there is no imitation. . . .  Mr. Skipsey's range is a very wide one.  He passes easily from grave to gay, from lively to severe. . .  He has his hours of depression, and can sing. . . .  But his wonted attitude is one of aspiration and hope. . .  Shakespeare need not have been ashamed if he had written this song."—The Academy, January 22, 1887.

    "Bright with many a flash of genuine poetry."—Glasgow Herald.

    "He has humour, pathos, imagination, and a kind of unaffected veracity.  Perhaps his 'Collier Lad' is the most effective and popular of his pieces, but his 'Arachne' shows fancy in a very different class of work.  Contrast this with the miner's ditty, 'Get up.' . . .  Is not that good and manly and natural?  It is as terse as an epigram from the Greek anthology.  Mr. Skipsey has a very great width of range. His love poems are extremely touching and earnest. . .  Like the minstrel in the Odysseus, he might probably say, 'Self-taught am I, and the God puts all manner of songs into my heart,' whence they spring again in ringing measures, worth many volumes of cultivated and decorated verse." —Daily News, December 17, 1886.

    "In healthy, homely sentiment, and often, too, in lyrical quality, his lyrics remind us of Robert Burns. . . .  They go straight from heart to heart."—Scotsman.

    "Mr. Skipsey is decidedly at his best in such poems as 'Mother Wept,' ' My Little Boy,' 'Tit-for-Tat,' 'Life and Death,' and 'Willy and Jimmy'; the last named we cannot forbear quoting. . .  Many of the shorter poems have a delicacy of imagery and subtle romanticism which remind us of Heine, for example, 'Annie Lee,' 'The Three Maidens,' 'The Fatal Errand,' 'Stanzas,' and 'Lo, the Day,' while often a deeper chord is struck by such a verse as the following . . .  and true to the life is his portrait of the collier-lad." —The Mining Journal, March 8, 1887.

    "There is enough of natural spontaneity and vigour to interest and charm.  Some of the ballads and lyrics have a pleasing air of unaffected homeliness, and are free from imitative trick or dexterity." —Saturday Review, November 1886.

    "Mr. Skipsey has produced a volume of genuine poetry of such sweetness and dignified simplicity, spontaneity, and directness, as are rare in Literature." —Birmingham Daily Post.

    "There is a happiness of execution in verses like this which our poets seem to have lost for some generations past.  Suckling had it, and Lovelace had it.  But the genius for this kind of work is altogether exceptional and of rare occurrence, a happy simplicity being indeed among the most scarce of poetic gifts.  In Mr. Skipsey's volume, however, we are continually encountering such delicate passages, as sparkling as the drops of rain upon the leaves of a wild brier."—Shields Daily Gazette, July 16, 1887.

    "The real life pieces are more sustained, and decided than almost anything of the same class I know.  I mean in poetry coming really from a poet of the people, who describes what he knows and mixes in.   ... 'Thistle and Nettle' shows the most varied power of all, perhaps.  Other favourites of mine are 'Persecuted' [Cruel Annie], 'Willy to Lily,'  'Mother Wept' (this very sterling), the image evolved at page 25 [Alas, the Woe!], and 'Nanny to Bessy.'  'The Violet and the Rose' I think very perfect, and 'Get up' seems to me equal to anything in the language for direct and quiet pathetic force." —Dante G. Rossetti, October 29, 1878, on A Book of Lyrics.





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