Adam Lindsay Gordon was an Australian poet, jockey, police officer and politician. According to his contemporary, writer Marcus Clarke, Gordon’s work represented “the beginnings of a national school of Australian poetry”.
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Famous Lindsay Gordon Poems
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 joinn ;
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 ere 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.
By Flood And Field 2
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 show’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
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 potter’s 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.
Cito Pede Preterit Aetas
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, ’till 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 ay 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 !’
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 exchanged,
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 our 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 strait 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 !!’
To A Proud Beauty (‘A Valentine’)
Though I have loved you well, I ween,
And you, too, fancied me,
Your heart hath too divided been
A constant heart to be.
And like the gay and youthful knight,
Who loved and rode away,
Your fleeting fancy takes a flight
With every fleeting day.
So let it be as you propose,
Tho’ hard the struggle be ;
‘Tis fitter far—that goodness knows !—
Since we cannot agree.
Let’s quarrel once for all, my sweet,
Forget the past—and then
I’ll kiss each pretty girl I meet,
While you’ll flirt with the men.
The Roll Of The Kettledrum
‘You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet,
Where is the Pyrrhic phalanx gone ?
Of two such lessons, why forget
The nobler and the manlier one ?’—Byron.
ONE line of swart profiles, and bearded lips dressing,
One ridge of bright helmets, one crest of fair plumes,
One streak of blue sword-blades all bared for the fleshing,
One row of red nostrils that scent battle-fumes.
Forward ! the trumpets were sounding the charge,
The roll of the kettledrum rapidly ran,
That music, like wild-fire spreading at large,
Madden’d the war-horse as well as the man.
Forward ! still forward ! we thunder’d along,
Steadily yet, for our strength we were nursing ;
Tall Ewart, our sergeant, was humming a song,
Lance-corporal Black Will was blaspheming and cursing.
Open’d their volley of guns on our right,
Puffs of grey smoke, veiling gleams of red flame,
Curling to leeward, were seen on the height,
Where the batteries were posted, as onward we came.
Spreading before us their cavalry lay,
Squadron on squadron, troop upon troop ;
We were so few, and so many were they—
Eagles wait calmly the sparrow-hawk’s stoop.
Forward ! still forward ! steed answering steed
Cheerily neigh’d, while the foam flakes were toss’d
From bridle to bridle—the top of our speed
Was gain’d, but the pride of our order was lost.
One was there, leading by nearly a rood,
Though we were racing he kept to the fore,
Still as a rock in his stirrups he stood,
High in the sunlight his sabre he bore.
Suddenly tottering, backwards he crash’d,
Loudly his helm right in front of us rung ;
Iron hoofs thunder’d, and naked steel flash’d
Over him—youngest, where many were young.
Now we were close to them, every horse striding
Madly ;—St. Luce pass’d with never a groan ;—
Sadly my master look’d round—he was riding
On the boy’s right, with a line of his own.
Thrusting his hand in his breast or breast pocket,
While from his wrist the sword swung by a chain,
Swiftly he drew out some trinket or locket,
Kiss’d it (I think) and replaced it again.
Burst, while his fingers reclosed on the haft,
Jarring concussion and earth shaking din,
Horse ‘counter’d horse, and I reel’d, but he laugh’d,
Down went his man, cloven clean to the chin !
Wedged in the midst of that struggling mass,
After the first shock, where each his foe singled,
Little was seen save a dazzle, like glass
In the sun, with grey smoke and black dust intermingled.
Here and there redden’d a pistol shot, flashing
Through the red sparkle of steel upon steel !
Redder the spark seem’d, and louder the clashing,
Struck from the helm by the iron-shod heel !
Over fallen riders, like wither’d leaves strewing
Uplands in autumn, we sunder’d their ranks ;
Steeds rearing and plunging, men hacking and hewing,
Fierce grinding of sword-blades, sharp goading of flanks.
Short was the crisis of conflict soon over,
Being too good (I suppose) to last long ;
Through them we cut, as the scythe cuts the clover,
Batter’d and stain’d we emerged from their throng.
Some of our saddles were emptied, of course ;
To heaven (or elsewhere) Black Will had been carried !
Ned Sullivan mounted Will’s riderless horse,
His mare being hurt, while ten seconds we tarried.
And then we re-formed, and went at them once more,
And ere they had rightly closed up the old track,
We broke through the lane we had open’d before,
And as we went forward e’en so we came back.
Our numbers were few, and our loss far from small,
They could fight, and, besides, they were twenty to one ;
We were clear of them all when we heard the recall,
And thus we returned, but my tale is not done.
For the hand of my rider felt strange on my bit,
He breathed once or twice like one partially choked,
And sway’d in his seat, then I knew he was hit :—
He must have bled fast, for my withers were soak’d,
And scarcely an inch of my housing was dry ;
I slacken’d my speed, yet I never quite stopp’d,
Ere he patted my neck, said, ‘Old fellow, good-bye !’
And dropp’d off me gently, and lay where he dropp’d !
Ah, me ! after all, they may call us dumb creatures—
I tried hard to neigh, but the sobs took my breath,
Yet I guess’d, gazing down at those still, quiet features,
He was never more happy in life than in death.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Two years back, at Aldershot, Elrington mentioned
My name to our colonel one field-day. He said,
‘ ‘Count,’ ‘Steeltrap,’ and ‘Challenger’ ought to be pension’d ;’
‘Count’ died the same week, and now ‘Steeltrap’ is dead.
That morning our colonel was riding ‘Theresa,’
The filly by ‘Teddington’ out of ‘Mistake’ ;
His girls, pretty Alice and fair-haired Louisa,
Were there on the ponies he purchased from Blake.
I remember he pointed me out to his daughters,
Said he, ‘In this troop I may fairly take pride,
But I’ve none left like him in my officers’ quarters,
Whose life-blood the mane of old ‘Challenger’ dyed.’
Where are they ? the war-steeds who shared in our glory,
The ‘Lanercost’ colt, and the ‘Acrobat’ mare,
And the Irish division, ‘Kate Kearney’ and ‘Rory,’
And rushing ‘Roscommon,’ and eager ‘Kildare,’
And ‘Freeny,’ a favourite once with my master,
And ‘Warlock,’ a sluggard, but honest and true,
And ‘Tancred,’ as honest as ‘Warlock,’ but faster,
And ‘Blacklock,’ and ‘Birdlime,’ and ‘Molly Carew’ ?—
All vanish’d, what wonder ! twelve summers have pass’d
Since then, and my comrade lies buried this day,—
Old ‘Steeltrap,’ the kicker,—and now I’m the last
Of the chargers who shared in that glorious fray.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Come, ‘Harlequin,’ keep your nose out of my manger,
You’ll get your allowance, my boy, and no more ;
Snort ! ‘Silvertail,’ snort ! when you’ve seen as much danger
As I have, you won’t mind the rats in the straw.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Our gallant old colonel came limping and halting,
The day before yesterday, into my stall ;
Oh ! light to the saddle I’ve once seen him vaulting,
In full marching order, steel broadsword and all.
And now his left leg than his right is made shorter
Three inches, he stoops, and his chest is unsound ;
He spoke to me gently, and patted my quarter,
I laid my ears back and look’d playfully round.
For that word kindly meant, that caress kindly given,
I thank’d him, though dumb, but my cheerfulness fled ;
More sadness I drew from the face of the living
Than years back I did from the face of the dead.
For the dead face, upturn’d, tranquil, joyous, and fearless,
Look’d straight from green sod to blue fathomless sky
With a smile ; but the living face, gloomy and tearless,
And haggard and harass’d, look’d down with a sigh.
Did he think on the first time he kiss’d Lady Mary ?
On the morning he wing’d Horace Greville the beau ?
On the winner he steer’d in the grand military ?
On the charge that he headed twelve long years ago ?
Did he think on each fresh year, of fresh grief the herald ?
On lids that are sunken, and locks that are grey ?
On Alice, who bolted with Brian Fitzgerald ?
On Rupert, his first-born, dishonour’d by ‘play’ ?
On Louey, his darling, who sleeps ‘neath the cypress,
That shades her and one whose last breath gave her life ?
I saw those strong fingers hard over each eye press—
Oh ! the dead rest in peace when the quick toil in strife !
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Scoff, man ! egotistical, proud, unobservant,
Since I with man’s grief dare to sympathize thus ;
Why scoff ?—fellow-creature I am, fellow-servant
Of God, can man fathom God’s dealings with us ?
The wide gulf that parts us may yet be no wider
Than that which parts you from some being more blest ;
And there may be more links ‘twixt the horse and his rider
Than ever your shallow philosophy guess’d.
You are proud of your power, and vain of your courage,
And your blood, Anglo-Saxon, or Norman, or Celt ;
Though your gifts you extol, and our gifts you disparage,
Your perils, your pleasures, your sorrows we’ve felt.
We, too, sprung from mares of the prophet of Mecca,
And nursed on the pride that was born with the milk,
And filtered through ‘Crucifix,’ ‘Beeswing,’ ‘Rebecca,’
We love sheen of scarlet and shimmer of silk.
We, too, sprung from loins of the Ishmaelite stallions,
We glory in daring that dies or prevails ;
From ‘counter of squadrons, and crash of battalions,
To rending of blackthorns, and rattle of rails.
In all strife where courage is tested, and power,
From the meet on the hill-side, the horn-blast, the find,
The burst, the long gallop that seems to devour
The champaign, all obstacles flinging behind,
To the cheer and the clarion, the war-music blended
With war-cry, the furious dash at the foe,
The terrible shock, the recoil, and the splendid
Bare sword, flashing blue rising red from the blow.
I’ve borne one through perils where many have seen us,
No tyrant, a kind friend, a patient instructor,
And I’ve felt some strange element flashing between us,
Till the saddle seem’d turn’d to a lightning conductor.
Did he see ? could he feel through the faintness, the numbness,
While linger’d the spirit half-loosed from the clay,
Dumb eyes seeking his in their piteous dumbness,
Dumb quivering nostrils, too stricken to neigh ?
And what then ? the colours reversed, the drums muffled,
The black nodding plumes, the dead march, and the pall,
The stern faces, soldier-like, silent, unruffled,
The slow sacred music that floats over all !
Cross carbine and boar-spear, hang bugle and banner,
Spur, sabre, and snaffle, and helm—Is it well ?
Vain ‘scutcheon, false trophies of Mars and Diana,—
Can the dead laurel sprout with the live immortelle ?
It may be,—we follow, and though we inherit
Our strength for a season, our pride for a span,
Say ! vanity are they ? vexation of spirit ?
Not so, since they serve for a time horse and man.
They serve for a time, and they make life worth living,
In spite of life’s troubles—’tis vain to despond ;
Oh, man ! we at least, we enjoy, with thanksgiving,
God’s gifts on this earth, though we look not beyond.
You sin, and you suffer, and we, too, find sorrow,
Perchance through your sin—yet it soon will be o’er ;
We labour to-day, and we slumber to-morrow,
Strong horse and bold rider !—and who knoweth more ?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
In our barrack-square shouted Drill-sergeant M’Cluskie,
The roll of the kettledrum rapidly ran,
The colonel wheel’d short, speaking once, dry and husky,
‘Would to God I had died with your master, old man !’
The Feud: A Border Ballad
Rixa super mero
They sat by their wine in the tavern that night,
But not in good fellowship true :
The Rhenish was strong and the Burgundy bright,
And hotter the argument grew.
‘I asked your consent when I first sought her hand,
Nor did you refuse to agree,
Tho’ her father declared that the half of his land
Her dower at our wedding should be.’
‘No dower shall be given (the brother replied)
With a maiden of beauty so rare,
Nor yet shall my father my birthright divide,
Our lands with a foeman to share.’
The knight stood erect in the midst of the hall,
And sterner his visage became,
‘Now, shame and dishonour my ‘scutcheon befall
If thus I relinquish my claim.’
The brother then drained a tall goblet of wine,
And fiercely this answer he made—
‘Before like a coward my rights I resign
I’ll claim an appeal to the blade.
‘The passes at Yarrow are rugged and wide,
There meet me to-morrow alone ;
This quarrel we two with our swords will decide,
And one shall this folly atone.’
They’ve settled the time and they’ve settled the place,
They’ve paid for the wine and the ale,
They’ve bitten their gloves, and their steps they retrace
To their castles in Ettrick’s Vale.
Morituri (te) salutant
Now, buckle my broadsword at my side
And saddle my trusty steed ;
And bid me adieu, my bonnie bride,
To Yarrow I go with speed.
‘I’ve passed through many a bloody fray,
Unharmed in health or limb ;
Then why’s your brow so sad this day
And your dark eye so dim ?’
‘Oh, belt not on your broadsword bright,
Oh ! leave your steed in the stall,
For I dreamt last night of a stubborn fight,
And I dreamt I saw you fall.’
‘On Yarrow’s braes there will be strife,
Yet I am safe from ill ;
And if I thought it would cost my life
I must take this journey still.’
He turned his charger to depart
In the misty morning air,
But he stood and pressed her to his heart
And smoothed her glossy hair.
And her red lips he fondly kissed
Beside the castle door,
And he rode away in the morning mist,
And he never saw her more !
Heu ! deserta domus
She sits by the eastern casement now,
And the sunlight enters there,
And settles on her ivory brow
And gleams in her golden hair.
On the deerskin rug the staghound lies
And dozes dreamily,
And the quaint carved oak reflects the dyes
Of the curtain’s canopy.
The lark has sprung from the new-mown hay,
And the plover’s note is shrill
And the song of the mavis far away
Comes from the distant hill ;
And in the wide courtyard below
She heard the horses neigh,
The men-at-arms pass to and fro
The scraps of border-lay.
She heard each boisterous oath and jest
The rough moss-troopers made,
Who scoured the rust from spur or crest,
Or polished bit or blade.
They loved her well, those rugged men,—
How could they be so gay
When he perchance in some lone glen
Lay dying far away ?
She was a fearless Border girl,
Who from her earliest days
Had seen the banners oft unfurl
And the war-beacons blaze—
Had seen her father’s men march out,
Roused by the trumpet’s call,
And heard the foeman’s savage shout
Close to their fortress wall.
And when her kin were arming fast,
Had belted many a brand—
Why was her spirit now o’ercast ?
Where was her self-command ?
She strove to quell those childish fears,
Unworthy of her name ;
She dashed away the rising tears,
And, flushed with pride and shame,
She rose and hurried down the stair,
The castle yard to roam ;
And she met her elder sister there,
Come from their father’s home,
‘Sister, I’ve ridden here alone,
Your lord and you to greet.’
‘Sister, to Yarrow he has gone
Our brother there to meet ;
I dreamt last night of a stubborn fray
Where I saw him fall and bleed,
And he rode away at break of day
With his broadsword and his steed.’
‘Oh ! sister dear, there will be strife :
Our brother likes him ill,
And one or both must forfeit life
On Yarrow’s lonely hill.’
A stout moss-trooper, standing near,
Spoke with a careless smile :
‘Now, have no fear for my master dear,—
He may travel many a mile,
And those who ride on the Border side,
Albeit they like him not,
They know his mettle has oft been tried
Where blows were thick and hot.
He left command that none should go
From hence till home he came ;
But, lady, the truth you soon shall know
If you will bear the blame.
Your palfrey fair I’ll saddle with care,
Your sister shall ride the grey,
And I’ll mount myself on the sorrel mare,
And to Yarrow we’ll haste away.’
The sun was low in the western sky,
And steep was the mountain track,
But they rode from the castle rapidly—
Oh ! how will they travel back ?
He came to the spot where his foe had agreed
To meet him in Yarrow’s dark glade,
And there he drew rein amd dismounted his steed,
And fastened him under the shade.
Close by in the greenwood the ambush was set,
And scarce had he entered the glen
When, armed for the combat, the brother he met,
And with him were eight of his men.
‘Now, swear to relinquish all claim to our land,
Or to give as a hostage your bride !
Or fly if you’re able, or yield where you stand,
Or die as your betters have died !’
His doublet and hat on the greensward he threw,
He wrapt round the left arm his cloak ;
And out of its scabbard his broadsword he drew,
And stood with his back to an oak.
‘My claim to your land I refuse to deny,
Nor will I restore you my bride,
Now will I surrender, nor yet will I fly :
Come on, and the steel shall decide !’
Oh ! sudden and sure were the blows that he dealt !
Like lightning the sweep of his blade !
Cut and thrust, point and edge, all around him they fell,
They fell one by one in the glade !
And pierced in the gullet their leader goes down !
And sinks with a curse on the plain ;
And his squire falls dead ! cut through headpiece and crown !
And his groom by a back stroke is slain.
Now five are stretched lifeless ; disabled are three !
Hard pressed, see the last caitiff reel !
The brother behind struggles up on one knee,
And drives through his body the steel.
Non habeo mihi facta adhuc cur Herculis uxor
Credar coniugii mors mihi pignus erit.
The traitor’s father heard the tale,
In haste he mounted then,
And spurred his horse from Ettrick Vale
To Yarrow’s lonely glen,
Some troopers followed in his track—
For them he tarried not,
He neither halted nor looked back
Until he found the spot.
The earth was trod and trampled bare,
And stained with dark red dew,
A broken blade lay here, and there
A bonnet cut in two ;
And stretched in ghastly shapes around
The lifeless corpses lie,
Some with their faces to the ground,
And some towards the sky.
And there the ancient Border chief
Stood silent and alone—
Too stubborn to give way to grief,
Too stern remorse to own.
A soldier in the midst of strife
Since he had first drawn breath,
He’d grown to undervalue life
And feel at home with death.
And yet he shuddered when he saw
The work that had been done ;
He knew his fearless son-in-law,
He knew his dastard son.
Despite the failings of his race
A brave old man was he,
Who would not stoop to actions base,
And hated treachery.
He loved his younger daughter well,
And though severe and rude,
For her sake he had tried to quell
That foolish Border feud.
Her brother all his schemes had marred,
And given his pledge the lie,
And sense of justice struggled hard
With nature’s stronger tie.
He knew his son had richly earned
The stroke that laid him low,
Yet had not quite forgiveness learned
For him that dealt the blow.
There came a tramp of horses’ feet :
He raised his startled eyes,
And felt his pulses throb and beat
With sorrow and surprise.
He saw his daughter riding fast,
And from her steed she sprung,
And on her lover’s corpse she cast
Herself, and round him clung.
Her head she pillowed on his waist,
And all her clustering hair
Hung down, disordered by her haste
In silken masses there.
Her sister and their sturdy guide
Dismounted and drew nigh,
The elder daughter stood aside—
Her tears fell silently.
The stout moss-trooper glanced around
But not a word he said ;
He knelt upon the battered ground
And raised his master’s head.
The face had set serene and sad,
Nor was there on the clay
The stamp of that fierce soul which had
In anger passed away.
With dagger blade he ripped the skirt,
The fatal wound to show,
And wiped the stains of blood and dirt
From throat and cheek and brow.
And all the while she did not stir,
She lay there calm and still,
Nor could he hope to comfort her,—
Her case was past his skill.
The father first that silence broke ;
His voice was firm and clear,
And every accent that he spoke
Fell on the listener’s ear.
‘Daughter, this quarrel to forgo,
I offered half our land
A dower to him—a feudal foe—
When first he sought your hand.
I only asked for some brief while,
Some few short weeks’ delay,
Till I my son could reconcile ;
For this he would not stay.
He was your husband, so I’m told ;
But you yourself must own
He took you to his fortress-hold
With your consent alone.
Of late the strife broke out anew ;
They blame your brother there ;
But he was hot and headstrong, too—
He doubtless did his share.
Oh ! stout of heart, and strong of hand,
With all his faults was he,
The champion of his Border land ;
I ne’er his judge will be !
Now, grieve no more for what is done ;
Alike we share the cost ;
For, girl, I too have lost a son,
If you your love have lost.
Forget the deed ! and learn to call
A worthier man your lord
Than he whose arm has vexed us all ;
Here lies his fatal sword.
Think, when you seek his guilt to cloak,
Whose blood has dyed it red.
Who fell beneath its deadly stroke,
Whose life is forfeited.’
The old man paused, for while he spoke
The girl had raised her head.
Her silken hair she proudly dashed
Back from her crimson face !
And in her bright eyes once more flashed
The spirit of her race !
He beauty made her stand abashed !
Her voice rang thro’ the place !
‘Who held the treacherous dagger’s hilt
When against odds he fought ?
My brother’s blood was fairly spilt !
But his was basely sought !
Now, Christ absolve his soul from guilt ;
He sinned as he was taught !
‘His next of kin by blood and birth
May claim his house and land !
His groom may slack his saddle-girth,
Or bid his charger stand !
But never a man on God’s wide earth
Shall touch his darling’s hand !’
The colour faded from her cheek,
Her eyelids drooped and fell,
And when again she sought to speak
Her accents came so low and weak
Her words they scarce could tell.
‘Oh ! father, all I ask is rest,—
Here let me once more lie !’
She stretched upon the dead man’s breast
With one long weary sigh ;
And the old man bowed his lofty crest
And hid his troubled eye !
They called her, but she spoke no more,
And when they raised her head
She seemed as lovely as before,
Though all her bloom had fled ;
But they grew pale at that they saw—
They knew that she was dead !
Dies irae : dies illa
The requiem breaks the midnight air, the funeral bell they toll,—
A mass or prayer we well may spare, for a brave moss-trooper’s soul ;
And the fairest bride on the Border side, may she too be forgiven !
The dirge we ring, the chant we sing, the rest we leave to Heaven !
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 wouldst 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 naught 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 thousand-fold 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.
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 met him hilt to hilt,
Than have found him lying low.’
He turned 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 through 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 open 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.
Part V: Ex Fumo Dare Lucem
[‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip]
Calm and clear ! the bright day is declining,
The crystal expanse of the bay,
Like a shield of pure metal, lies shining
‘Twixt headlands of purple and grey,
While the little waves leap in the sunset,
And strike with a miniature shock,
In sportive and infantine onset,
The base of the iron-stone rock.
Calm and clear ! the sea-breezes are laden
With a fragrance, a freshness, a power,
With a song like the song of a maiden,
With a scent like the scent of a flower ;
And a whisper, half-weird, half-prophetic,
Comes home with the sigh of the surf ;—
But I pause, for your fancies poetic
Never rise from the level of ‘Turf.’
Fellow-bungler of mine, fellow-sinner,
In public performances past,
In trials whence touts take their winner,
In rumours that circulate fast,
In strains from Prunella or Priam,
Staying stayers, or goers that go,
You’re much better posted than I am,
‘Tis little I care, less I know.
Alas ! neither poet nor prophet
Am I, though a jingler of rhymes—
‘Tis a hobby of mine, and I’m off it
At times, and I’m on it at times ;
And whether I’m off it or on it,
Your readers my counsels will shun,
Since I scarce know Van Tromp from Blue Bonnet,
Though I might know Cigar from The Nun.
With ‘visions’ you ought to be sated
And sicken’d by this time ; I swear
That mine are all myths self-created,
Air visions that vanish in air ;
If I had some loose coins I might chuck one,
To settle this question and say,
Here goes ! ‘this is tails for the black one,
And heads for my fav’rite, the bay.’
And must I rob Paul to pay Peter,
Or Peter defraud to pay Paul ?
My rhymes, are they stale ? if my metre
Is varied, one chime rings through all ;
One chime—though I sing more or sing less,
I have but one string to my lute,
And it might have been better if, stringless
And songless, the same had been mute.
Yet not as a seer of visions,
Nor yet as a dreamer of dreams,
I send you these partial decisions
On hackney’d, impoverish’d themes ;
But with song out of tune, sung to pass time,
Flung heedless to friends or to foes,
Where the false notes that ring for the last time
May blend with some real ones, who knows ?
On the hill they are crowding together,
In the stand they are crushing for room,
Like midge-flies they swarm on the heather,
They gather like bees on the broom ;
They flutter like moths round a candle—
Stale similes, granted, what then ?
I’ve got a stale subject to handle,
A very stale stump of a pen.
Hark ! the shuffle of feet that are many,
Of voices the many-tongued clang—
‘Has he had a bad night ?’ ‘Has he any
Friends left ?’—How I hate your turf slang ;
‘Tis stale to begin with, not witty,
But dull, and inclined to be coarse,
But bad men can’t use (more’s the pity)
Good words when they slate a good horse.
Heu ! heu ! quantus equis (that’s Latin
For ‘bellows to mend’ with the weeds),
They’re off ! lights and shades ! silk and satin !
A rainbow of riders and steeds !
And one shows in front, and another
Goes up and is seen in his place,
Sic transit (more Latin)—Oh ! bother,
Let’s get to the end of the race.
. . . . . . .
See, they come round the last turn careering,
Already Tait’s colours are struck,
And the green in the vanguard is steering,
And the red’s in the rear of the ruck !
Are the stripes in the shade doom’d to lie long ?
Do the blue stars on white skies wax dim ?
Is it Tamworth or Smuggler ? ‘Tis Bylong
That wins—either Bylong or Tim.
As the shell through the breach that is riven
And sapp’d by the springing of mines,
As the bolt from the thunder-cloud driven,
That levels the larches and pines
Through yon mass parti-colour’d that dashes
Goal-turn’d, clad in many-hued garb,
From rear to van, surges and flashes
The yellow and black of The Barb.
Past The Fly, falling back on the right, and
The Gull, giving way on the left,
Past Tamworth, who feels the whip smite, and
Whose sides by the rowels are cleft ;
Where Tim and the chestnut together
Still bear of the battle the brunt,
As if eight stone twelve were a feather,
He comes with a rush to the front.
Tim Whiffler may yet prove a Tartar,
And Bylong’s the horse that can stay,
But Kean is in trouble—and Carter
Is hard on the satin-skinn’d bay ;
And The Barb comes away unextended,
Hard held, like a second Eclipse,
While behind, the hoof-thunder is blended
With the whistling and crackling of whips.
He wins ; yes, he wins upon paper,
He hasn’t yet won upon turf,
And these rhymes are but moonshine and vapour,
Air-bubbles and spume from the surf.
So be it, at least they are given
Free, gratis, for just what they’re worth,
And (whatever there may be in heaven)
There’s little worth much upon earth.
When, with satellites round them, the centre
Of all eyes, hard press’d by the crowd,
The pair, horse and rider, re-enter
The gate, ‘mid a shout long and loud,
You may feel, as you might feel, just landed
Full length on the grass from the clip
Of a vicious cross-counter, right-handed,
Or upper-cut whizzing from hip.
And that’s not so bad if you’re pick’d up
Discreetly, and carefully nursed ;
Loose teeth by the sponge are soon lick’d up,
And next time you may get home first.
Still I’m not sure you’d like it exactly
(Such tastes as a rule are acquired),
And you’ll find in a nutshell this fact lie,
Bruised optics are not much admired.
Do I bore you with vulgar allusions ?
Forgive me, I speak as I feel,
I’ve ponder’d and made my conclusions—
As the mill grinds the corn to the meal ;
So man striving boldly but blindly,
Ground piecemeal in Destiny’s mill,
At his best, taking punishment kindly,
Is only a chopping-block still.
Are we wise ? Our abstruse calculations
Are based on experience long ;
Are we sanguine ? Our high expectations
Are founded on hope that is strong ;
Thus we build an air-castle that crumbles
And drifts till no traces remain,
And the fool builds again while he grumbles,
And the wise one laughs, building again.
‘How came they to pass, these rash blunders,
These false steps so hard to defend ?’
Our friend puts the question and wonders,
We laugh and reply, ‘Ah ! my friend,
Could you trace the first stride falsely taken,
The distance misjudged, where or how,
When you pick’d yourself up, stunn’d and shaken,
At the fence ‘twixt the turf and the plough ?’
In the jar of the panel rebounding !
In the crash of the splintering wood !
In the ears to the earth shock resounding
In the eyes flashing fire and blood !
In the quarters above you revolving !
In the sods underneath heaving high !
There was little to aid you in solving
Such questions—the how or the why.
And destiny, steadfast in trifles,
Is steadfast for better or worse
In great things, it crushes and stifles,
And swallows the hopes that we nurse.
Men wiser than we are may wonder,
When the future they cling to so fast,
To the roll of that destiny’s thunder,
Goes down with the wrecks of the past.
. . . . . . .
The past! the dead past! that has swallow’d
All the honey of life and the milk,
Brighter dreams than mere pastimes we’ve follow’d,
Better things than our scarlet or silk ;
Aye, and worse things—that past is it really
Dead to us who again and again
Feel sharply, hear plainly, see clearly,
Past days with their joy and their pain ?
Like corpses embalm’d and unburied
They lie, and in spite of our will,
Our souls on the wings of thought carried,
Revisit their sepulchres still ;
Down the channels of mystery gliding,
They conjure strange tales, rarely read,
Of the priests of dead Pharaohs presiding
At mystical feasts of the dead.
Weird pictures arise, quaint devices,
Rude emblems, baked funeral meats,
Strong incense, rare wines, and rich spices,
The ashes, the shrouds, and the sheets ;
Does our thraldom fall short of completeness
For the magic of a charnel-house charm,
And the flavour of a poisonous sweetness,
And the odour of a poisonous balm ?
And the links of the past—but, no matter,
For I’m getting beyond you, I guess,
And you’ll call me ‘as mad as a hatter’
If my thoughts I too freely express ;
I subjoin a quotation, pray learn it,
And with the aid of your lexicon tell us
The meaning thereof—’Res discernit
Sapiens, quas confundit asellus.’
Already green hillocks are swelling,
And combing white locks on the bar,
Where a dull, droning murmur is telling
Of winds that have gather’d afar ;
Thus we know not the day, nor the morrow,
Nor yet what the night may bring forth,
Nor the storm, nor the sleep, nor the sorrow,
Nor the strife, nor the rest, nor the wrath.
Yet the skies are still tranquil and starlit,
The sun ‘twixt the wave and the west
Dies in purple, and crimson, and scarlet,
And gold ; let us hope for the best,
Since again from the earth his effulgence
The darkness and damp-dews shall wipe,
Kind reader, extend your indulgence
To this the last lay of ‘The Pipe.’
Part Iii: Credat Judaeus Apella
Dear Bell,—I enclose what you ask in a letter,
A short rhyme at random, no more and no less,
And you may insert it, for want of a better
Or leave it, it doesn’t much matter, I guess ;
And as for a tip, why, there isn’t much in it,
I may hit the right nail, but first, I declare,
I haven’t a notion what’s going to win it
(The Champion, I mean), and what’s more, I don’t care.
Imprimis, there’s Cowra—few nags can go quicker
Than she can—and Smith takes his oath she can fly ;
While Brown, Jones, and Robinson swear she’s a sticker,
But ‘credat Judaeus Apella,’ say I.
There’s old Volunteer, I’d be sorry to sneer
At his chance ; he’ll be there, if he goes at the rate
He went at last year, when a customer queer,
Johnny Higgerson, fancied him lock’d in the straight.
I’ve heard that the old horse has never been fitter,
I’ve heard all performances past he’ll outvie ;
He may gallop a docker, and finish a splitter,
But ‘credat Judaeus Apella,’ say I.
I know what they say, sir, ‘The Hook’ he can stay, sir,
And stick to his work like a sleuth-hound or beagle ;
He stays ‘with a hook,’ and he sticks in the clay, sir,
I’d rather, for choice, pop my money on Seagull ;
I’m told that the Sydney division will rue, sir,
Their rashness in front of the stand when they spy,
With a clear lead, the white jacket spotted with blue, sir,
But ‘credat Judaeus Apella,’ say I.
There’s The Barb—you may talk of your flyers and stayers,
All bosh—when he strips you can see his eye range
Round his rivals, with much the same look as Tom Sayers
Once wore when he faced the big novice, Bill Bainge.
Like Stow, at our hustings, confronting the hisses
Of roughs, with his queer Mephistopheles’ smile ;
Like Baker, or Baker’s more wonderful Mrs.,
The terror of blacks at the source of the Nile ;
Like Triton ‘mid minnows ; like hawk among chickens ;
Like—anything better than everything else ;
He stands at the post. Now they’re off ! the plot thickens !
Quoth Stanley to Davis, ‘How is your pulse ?’
He skims o’er the smooth turf, he scuds through the mire,
He waits with them, passes them, bids them good-bye !
Two miles and three-quarters, cries Filgate, ‘He’ll tire.’
But ‘credat Judaeus Apella,’ say I.
Lest my tale should come true, let me give you fair warning,
You may ‘shout’ some cheroots, if you like, no champagne
For this child—’Oh ! think of my head in the morning,’
Old chap, you don’t get me on that lay again.
The last time those games I look’d likely to try on,
Says Bradshawe, ‘You’ll feel very sheepish and shy
When you are haul’d up and caution’d by D—g—y and L—n,’
But ‘credat Judaeus Apella,’ say I.
This writing bad verses is very fatiguing,
The brain and the liver against it combine,
And nerves with digestion in concert are leaguing,
To punish excess in the pen and ink line ;
Already I feel just as if I’d been rowing
Hard all—on a supper of onions and tripe
(A thing I abhor), but my steam I’ve done blowing,
I am, my dear Bell, yours truly, ‘The Pipe’.
P.S.—Tell J. P., if he fancies a good ‘un,
That old chestnut pony of mine is for sale.
N.B.—His fore legs are uncommonly wooden,
I fancy the near one’s beginning to fail,
And why shouldn’t I do as W—n does oft,
And swear that a cripple is sound—on the Bible—
Hold hard ! though the man I allude to is soft,
He’s game to go in for an action of libel.
Part I: Visions In The Smoke
Rest, and be thankful ! On the verge
Of the tall cliff rugged and grey,
But whose granite base the breakers surge,
And shiver their frothy spray,
Outstretched, I gaze on the eddying wreath
That gathers and flits away,
With the surf beneath, and between my teeth
The stem of the ‘ancient clay’.
With the anodyne cloud on my listless eyes,
With its spell on my dreamy brain,
As I watch the circling vapours rise
From the brown bowl up to the sullen skies.
My vision becomes more plain,
Till a dim kaleidoscope succeeds
Through the smoke-rack drifting and veering,
Like ghostly riders on phantom steeds
To a shadowy goal careering.
In their own generation the wise may sneer,
They hold our sports in derision ;
Perchance to sophist, or sage, or seer,
Were allotted a graver vision.
Yet if man, of all the Creator plann’d,
His noblest work is reckoned,
Of the works of His hand, by sea or by land,
The horse may at least rank second.
Did they quail, those steeds of the squadrons light,
Did they flinch from the battle’s roar,
When they burst on the guns of the Muscovite,
By the echoing Black Sea shore ?
On ! on ! to the cannon’s mouth they stride,
With never a swerve nor a shy,
Oh ! the minutes of yonder maddening ride,
Long years of pleasure outvie !
No slave, but a comrade staunch, in this,
Is the horse, for he takes his share,
Not in peril alone, but in feverish bliss,
And in longing to do and dare.
Where bullets whistle, and round shot whiz,
Hoofs trample, and blades flash bare,
God send me an ending as fair as his
Who died in his stirrups there !
The wind has slumbered throughout the day,
Now a fitful gust springs over the bay,
My wandering thoughts no longer stray,
I’ll fix my overcoat buttons ;
Secure my old hat as best I may
(And a shocking bad one it is, by the way),
Blow a denser cloud from my stunted clay,
And then, friend Bell, as the Frenchmen say,
We’ll ‘go back again to our muttons’.
There’s a lull in the tumult on yonder hill,
And the clamour has grown less loud,
Though the Babel of tongues is never still,
With the presence of such a crowd.
The bell has rung. With their riders up
At the starting post they muster,
The racers stripp’d for the ‘Melbourne Cup’,
All gloss and polish and lustre ;
And the course is seen, with its emerald sheen,
By the bright spring-tide renew’d,
Like a ribbon of green, stretched out between
The ranks of the multitude.
The flag is lowered. ‘They’re off !’ ‘They come !’
The squadron is sweeping on ;
A sway in the crowd—a murmuring hum !
‘They’re here !’ ‘They’re past !’ ‘They’re gone !’
They came with the rush of the southern surf,
On the bar of the storm-girt bay ;
And like muffled drums on the sounding turf
Their hoof-strokes echo away.
The rose and black draws clear of the ruck,
And the murmur swells to a roar,
As the brave old colours that never were struck,
Are seen with the lead once more.
Though the feathery ferns and grasses wave
O’er the sod where Lantern sleeps,
Though the turf is green on Fisherman’s grave,
The stable its prestige keeps.
Six lengths in front she scours along,
She’s bringing the field to trouble ;
She’s tailing them off, she’s running strong,
She shakes her head and pulls double.
Now Minstrel falters and Exile flags,
The Barb finds the pace too hot,
And Toryboy loiters, and Playboy lags,
And the bolt of Ben Bolt is shot.
That she never may be caught this day,
Is the worst that the public wish her.
She won’t be caught ; she comes right away ;
Hurrah for Seagull and Fisher ;
See, Strop falls back, though his reins are slack,
Sultana begins to tire,
And the top-weight tells on the Sydney crack,
And the pace on ‘the Gippsland flyer’.
The rowels, as round the turn they sweep,
Just graze Tim Whiffler’s flanks ;
Like the hunted deer that flies through the sheep,
He strides through the beaten ranks.
Daughter of Omen, prove your birth,
The colt will take lots of choking ;
The hot breath steams at your saddle girth,
From his scarlet nostril smoking.
The shouts of the Ring for a space subside,
And slackens the bookmaker’s roar ;
Now, Davis, rally ; now, Carter, ride,
As man never rode before.
When Sparrowhawk’s backers cease to cheer,
When Yattendon’s friends are dumb,
When hushed is the clamour for Volunteer—
Alone in the race they come !
They’re neck and neck ; they’re head and head ;
They’re stroke for stroke in the running ;
The whalebone whistles, the steel is red,
No shirking as yet nor shunning.
One effort, Seagull, the blood you boast
Should struggle when nerves are strained ;—
With a rush on the post, by a neck at the most,
The verdict for Tim is gained.
Tim Whiffler wins. Is blood alone
The sine qua non for a flyer ?
The breed of his dam is a myth unknown,
And we’ve doubts respecting his sire.
Yet few (if any) those proud names are,
On the pages of peerage or stud,
In whose ‘scutcheon lurks no sinister bar,
No taint of the base black blood.
Aye, Shorthouse, laugh—laugh loud and long,
For pedigree you’re a sticker ;
You may be right, I may be wrong,
Wiseacres both ! Let’s liquor.
Our common descent we may each recall
To a lady of old caught tripping,
The fair one in fig leaves, who d——d us all
For a bite at a golden pippin.
When first on this rocky ledge I lay,
There was scarce a ripple in yonder bay,
The air was serenely still ;
Each column that sailed from my swarthy clay
Hung loitering long ere it passed away,
Though the skies wore a tinge of leaden grey,
And the atmosphere was chill.
But the red sun sank to his evening shroud,
Where the western billows are roll’d
Behind a curtain of sable cloud,
With a fringe of scarlet and gold ;
There’s a misty glare in the yellow moon,
And the drift is scudding fast,
There’ll be storm, and rattle, and tempest soon,
When the heavens are overcast.
The neutral tint of the sullen sea
Is fleck’d with the snowy foam,
And the distant gale sighs drearilie,
As the wanderer sighs for his home.
The white sea-horses toss their manes
On the bar of the southern reef,
And the breakers moan, and—by Jove, it rains
(I thought I should come to grief) ;
Though it can’t well damage my shabby hat,
Though my coat looks best when it’s damp ;
Since the shaking I got (no matter where at),
I’ve a mortal dread of the cramp.
My matches are wet, my pipe’s put out,
And the wind blows colder and stronger ;
I’ll be stiff, and sore, and sorry, no doubt,
If I lie here any longer.
To My Sister
On 4th August, 1853.
Being three days before he sailed for Australia.
Across the trackless seas I go,
No matter when or where,
And few my future lot will know,
And fewer still will care.
My hopes are gone, my time is spent,
I little heed their loss,
And if I cannot feel content,
I cannot feel remorse.
My parents bid me cross the flood,
My kindred frowned at me;
They say I have belied my blood,
And stained my pedigree.
But I must turn from those who chide,
And laugh at those who frown;
I cannot quench my stubborn pride,
Nor keep my spirits down.
I once had talents fit to win
Success in life’s career,
And if I chose a part of sin,
My choice has cost me dear.
But those who brand me with disgrace
Will scarcely dare to say
They spoke the taunt before my face,
And went unscathed away.
My friends will miss a comrade’s face,
And pledge me on the seas,
Who shared the wine-cup or the chase,
Or follies worse than these.
A careless smile, a parting glass,
A hand that waves adieu,
And from my sight they soon will pass,
And from my memory too.
I loved a girl not long ago,
And, till my suit was told,
I thought her breast as fair as snow,
‘Twas very near as cold;
And yet I spoke, with feelings more
Of recklessness than pain,
Those words I never spoke before,
Nor never shall again.
Her cheek grew pale, in her dark eye
I saw the tear-drop shine;
Her red lips faltered in reply,
And then were pressed to mine.
A quick pulsation of the heart!
A flutter of the breath!
A smothered sob — and thus we part,
To meet no more till death.
And yet I may at times recall
Her memory with a sigh;
At times for me the tears may fall
And dim her sparkling eye.
But absent friends are soon forgot,
And in a year or less
‘Twill doubtless be another’s lot
Those very lips to press!
With adverse fate we best can cope
When all we prize has fled;
And where there’s little left to hope,
There’s little left to dread!
Oh, time glides ever quickly by!
Destroying all that’s dear;
On earth there’s little worth a sigh,
And nothing worth a tear!
What fears have I? What hopes in life?
What joys can I command?
A few short years of toil and strife
In a strange and distant land!
When green grass sprouts above this clay
(And that might be ere long),
Some friends may read these lines and say,
The world has judged him wrong.
There is a spot not far away
Where my young sister sleeps,
Who seems alive but yesterday,
So fresh her memory keeps;
For we have played in childhood there
Beneath the hawthorn’s bough,
And bent our knee in childish prayer
I cannot utter now!
Of late so reckless and so wild,
That spot recalls to me
That I was once a laughing child,
As innocent as she;
And there, while August’s wild flow’rs wave,
I wandered all alone,
Strewed blossoms on her little grave,
And knelt beside the stone.
I seem to have a load to bear,
A heavy, choking grief;
Could I have forced a single tear
I might have felt relief.
I think my hot and restless heart
Has scorched the channels dry,
From which those sighs of sorrow start
To moisten cheek and eye.
Sister, farewell! farewell once more
To every youthful tie!
Friends! parents! kinsmen! native shore!
To each and all good-bye!
And thoughts which for the moment seem
To bind me with a spell,
Ambitious hope! love’s boyish dream!
To you a last farewell!
“A stone upon her heart and head,
But no name written on that stone;
Sweet neighbours whisper low instead,
This sinner was a loving one.”
— Mrs. Browning.
‘Tis a nameless stone that stands at your head —
The gusts in the gloomy gorges whirl
Brown leaves and red till they cover your bed —
Now I trust that your sleep is a sound one, girl!
I said in my wrath, when his shadow cross’d
From your garden gate to your cottage door,
“What does it matter for one soul lost?
Millions of souls have been lost before.”
Yet I warn’d you — ah! but my words came true —
“Perhaps some day you will find him out.”
He who was not worthy to loosen your shoe,
Does his conscience therefore prick him? I doubt.
You laughed and were deaf to my warning voice —
Blush’d and were blind to his cloven hoof —
You have had your chance, you have taken your choice
How could I help you, standing aloof?
He has prosper’d well with the world — he says
I am mad — if so, and if he be sane,
I, at least, give God thanksgiving and praise
That there lies between us one difference plain.
You in your beauty above me bent
In the pause of a wild west country ball —
Spoke to me — touched me without intent —
Made me your servant for once and all.
Light laughter rippled your rose-red lip,
And you swept my cheek with a shining curl,
That stray’d from your shoulder’s snowy tip —
Now I pray that your sleep is a sound one, girl!
From a long way off to look at your charms
Made my blood run redder in every vein,
And he — he has held you long in his arms,
And has kiss’d you over and over again.
Is it well that he keeps well out of my way?
If we met, he and I — we alone — we two —
Would I give him one moment’s grace to pray?
Not I, for the sake of the soul he slew.
A life like a shuttlecock may be toss’d
With the hand of fate for a battledore;
But it matters much for your sweet soul lost,
As much as a million souls and more.
And I know that if, here or there, alone,
I found him, fairly and face to face,
Having slain his body, I would slay my own,
That my soul to Satan his soul might chase.
He hardens his heart in the public way —
Who am I? I am but a nameless churl;
But God will put all things straight some day —
Till then may your sleep be a sound one, girl!
Fragmentary Scenes From The Road To Avernus
I said to young Allan M’Ilveray,
Beside the swift swirls of the North,
When, in lilac shot through with a silver ray,
We haul’d the strong salmon fish forth
Said only, ‘He gave us some trouble
To land him, and what does he weigh?
Our friend has caught one that weighs double,
The game for the candle won’t pay
We may tie up our rods and away.’
I said to old Norman M’Gregor,
Three leagues to the west of Glen Dhu
I had drawn, with a touch of the trigger,
The best BEAD that ever I drew
Said merely, ‘For birds in the stubble
I once had an eye-I could swear
He’s down-but he’s not worth the trouble
Of seeking. You once shot a bear
In his lair-
‘Tis only a buck that lies there.’
I said to Lord Charles only last year,
The time that we topp’d the oak rail
Between Wharton’s plough and Whynne’s pasture,
And clear’d the big brook in Blakesvale
We only-at Warburton’s double
He fell, then I finish’d the run
And kill’d clean-said, ‘So bursts a bubble
That shone half an hour in the sun
What is won?
Your sire clear’d and captured a gun.’
I said to myself, in true sorrow,
I said yestere’en, ‘A fair prize
Is won, and it may be to-morrow
‘Twill not seem so fair in thine eyes
Real life is a race through sore trouble,
That gains not an inch on the goal,
And bliss an intangible bubble
That cheats an unsatisfied soul,
And the whole
Of the rest an illegible scroll.’
A Shooting-box in the West of Ireland. A Bedchamber.
LAURENCE RABY and MELCHIOR. Night.
Surely in the great beginning God made all things good, and still
That soul-sickness men call sinning entered not without His will.
Nay, our wisest have asserted that, as shade enhances light,
Evil is but good perverted, wrong is but the foil of right.
Banish sickness, then you banish joy for health to all that live;
Slay all sin, all good must vanish, good being but comparative.
Sophistry, you say-yet listen: look you skyward, there ’tis known
Worlds on worlds in myriads glisten-larger, lovelier than our own
This has been, and this still shall be, here as there, in sun or star;
These things are to be and will be, those things were to be and are.
Man in man’s imperfect nature is by imperfection taught:
Add one cubit to your stature if you can by taking thought.
Thus you would not teach that peasant, though he calls you ‘father’.
I should magnify this present, mystify that future, too
We adapt our conversation always to our hearer’s light.
I am not of your persuasion.
Melchior: Yet the difference is but slight.
I, EVEN I, say, ‘He who barters worldly weal for heavenly worth
He does well’-your saints and martyrs were examples here on earth.
Aye, in earlier Christian ages, while the heathen empire stood,
When the war ‘twixt saints and sages cried aloud for saintly blood,
Christ was then their model truly. Now, if all were meek and pure,
Save the ungodly and the unruly, would the Christian Church endure?
Shall the toiler or the fighter dream by day and watch by night,
Turn the left cheek to the smiter, smitten rudely on the right?
Strong men must encounter bad men-so-called saints of latter days
Have been mostly pious madmen, lusting after righteous praise
Or the thralls of superstition, doubtless worthy some reward,
Since they came by their condition hardly of their free accord.
‘Tis but madness, sad and solemn, that these fakir-Christians feel
Saint Stylites on his column gratified a morbid zeal.
By your showing, good is really on a par (of worth) with ill.
Nay, I said not so; I merely tell you both some ends fulfil
Priestly vows were my vocation, fast and vigil wait for me.
You must work and face temptation. Never should the strong man flee,
Though God wills the inclination with the soul at war to be. (Pauses.)
In the strife ‘twixt flesh and spirit, while you can the spirit aid.
Should you fall not less your merit, be not for a fall afraid.
Whatsoe’er most right, most fit is you shall do. When all is done
Chaunt the noble Nunc Dimittis-Benedicimur, my son.
Why do I provoke these wrangles? Melchior talks (as well he may)
With the tongues of men and angels.
(Takes up a pamphlet.) What has this man got to say?
(Reads.) Sic sacerdos fatur (ejus nomen quondam erat Burgo.)
Mala mens est, caro pejus, anima infirma, ergo
I nunc, ora, sine mora-orat etiam Sancta Virgo.
(Speaks.) So it seems they mean to make her wed the usurer, Nathan Lee.
Poor Estelle! her friends forsake her; what has this to do with me?
Glad I am, at least, that Helen still refuses to discard
Her, through tales false gossips tell
in spite or heedlessness.-‘Tis hard!
Lee, the Levite!-some few years back Herbert horsewhipp’d him-the cur
Show’d his teeth and laid his ears back. Now his wealth has purchased her.
Must his baseness mar her brightness? Shall the callous, cunning churl
Revel in the rosy whiteness of that golden-headed girl?
(Thinks and smokes.)
(Reads.) Cito certe venit vitae finis (sic sacerdos fatur),
Nunc audite omnes, ite, vobis fabula narratur
Nunc orate et laudate, laudat etiam Alma Mater.
(Muses.) Such has been, and such shall still be,
here as there, in sun or star;
These things are to be and will be, those things were to be and are.
If I thought that speech worth heeding I should-Nay, it seems to me
More like Satan’s special pleading than like Gloria Domine.
(Lies down on his couch.)
(Reads.) Et tuquoque frater meus facta mala quod fecisti
Denique confundit Deus omnes res quas tetegisti.
Nunc si unquam, nunc aut nunquam, sanguine adjuro Christi.
‘In the Garden’
Aylmer’s Garden, near the Lake. LAURENCE RABY and ESTELLE.
Come to the bank where the boat is moor’d to the willow-tree low;
Bertha, the baby, won’t notice, Brian, the blockhead, won’t know.
Bertha is not such a baby, sir, as you seem to suppose;
Brian, a blockhead he may be, more than you think for he knows.
This much, at least, of your brother, from the beginning he knew
Somewhat concerning that other made such a fool of by you.
Firmer those bonds were and faster, Frank was my spaniel, my slave.
You! you would fain be my master; mark you! the difference is grave.
Call me your spaniel, your starling, take me and treat me as these,
I would be anything, darling! aye, whatsoever you please.
Brian and Basil are ‘punting’, leave them their dice and their wine,
Bertha is butterfly hunting, surely one hour shall be mine.
See, I have done with all duty; see, I can dare all disgrace,
Only to look at your beauty, feasting my eyes on your face.
Look at me, aye, till your eyes ache! How, let me ask, will it end?
Neither for your sake, nor my sake, but for the sake of my friend?
Is she your friend then? I own it, this is all wrong, and the rest,
Frustra sed anima monet, caro quod fortius est.
Not quite so close, Laurence Raby, not with your arm round my waist;
Something to look at I may be, nothing to touch or to taste.
Wilful as ever and wayward; why did you tempt me, Estelle?
You misinterpret each stray word, you for each inch take an ell.
Lightly all laws and ties trammel me, I am warn’d for all that.
Perhaps she will swallow her camel when she has strained at her gnat.
Therefore take thought and consider, weigh well, as I do, the whole,
You for mere beauty a bidder, say, would you barter a soul?
Girl! THAT MAY happen, but THIS IS; after this welcome the worst;
Blest for one hour by your kisses, let me be evermore curs’d.
Talk not of ties to me reckless, here every tie I discard
Make me your girdle, your necklace
She: Laurence, you kiss me too hard.
Aye, ’tis the road to Avernus, n’est ce pas vrai donc, ma belle?
There let them bind us or burn us, mais le jeu vaut la chandelle.
Am I your lord or your vassal? Are you my sun or my torch?
You, when I look at you, dazzle, yet when I touch you, you scorch.
Yonder are Brian and Basil watching us fools from the porch.
‘After the Quarrel’
Laurence Raby’s Chamber. LAURENCE enters, a little the worse for liquor.
He never gave me a chance to speak,
And he call’d her-worse than a dog
The girl stood up with a crimson cheek,
And I fell’d him there like a log.
I can feel the blow on my knuckles yet
He feels it more on his brow.
In a thousand years we shall all forget
The things that trouble us now.
‘Ten Paces Off’
An open country. LAURENCE RABY and FORREST, BRIAN AYLMER and PRESCOT.
I’ve won the two tosses from Prescot;
Now hear me, and hearken and heed,
And pull that vile flower from your waistcoat,
And throw down that beast of a weed;
I’m going to give you the signal
I gave Harry Hunt at Boulogne,
The morning he met Major Bignell,
And shot him as dead as a stone;
For he must look round on his right hand
To watch the white flutter-that stops
His aim, for it takes off his sight, and
I COUGH WHILE THE HANDKERCHIEF DROPS.
And you keep both eyes on his figure,
Old fellow, and don’t take them off.
You’ve got the sawhandled hair trigger
You sight him and shoot when I cough.
Though God will never forgive me,
Though men make light of my name,
Though my sin and my shame outlive me,
I shall not outlast my shame.
The coward, does he mean to miss me?
His right hand shakes like a leaf;
Shall I live for my friends to hiss me,
Of fools and of knaves the chief?
Shall I live for my foes to twit me?
He has master’d his nerve again
He is firm, he will surely hit me
Will he reach the heart or the brain?
One long look eastward and northward
One prayer-‘Our Father which art’
And the cough chimes in with the fourth word,
And I shoot skyward-the heart.
Where the grave-deeps rot, where the grave-dews rust,
They dug, crying, ‘Earth to earth’
Crying, ‘Ashes to ashes and dust to dust’
And what are my poor prayers worth?
Upon whom shall I call, or in whom shall I trust,
Though death were indeed new birth.
And they bid me be glad for my baby’s sake
That she suffered sinless and young
Would they have me be glad when my breasts still ache
Where that small, soft, sweet mouth clung?
I am glad that the heart will so surely break
That has been so bitterly wrung.
He was false, they tell me, and what if he were?
I can only shudder and pray,
Pouring out my soul in a passionate prayer
For the soul that he cast away;
Was there nothing that once was created fair
In the potter’s perishing clay?
Is it well for the sinner that souls endure?
For the sinless soul is it well?
Does the pure child lisp to the angels pure?
And where does the strong man dwell,
If the sad assurance of priests be sure,
Or the tale that our preachers tell?
The unclean has follow’d the undefiled,
And the ill MAY regain the good,
And the man MAY be even as the little child!
We are children lost in the wood
Lord! lead us out of this tangled wild,
Where the wise and the prudent have been beguil’d,
And only the babes have stood.
In Utrumque Paratus
‘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 moralize,
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 ay 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 naught 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.
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 unconfess’d 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 loath,
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 gallop’d 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.
I’ve something of the bull-dog in my breed,
The spaniel is developed somewhat less ;
While life is in me I can fight and bleed,
But never the chastising hand caress.
You say the stroke was well intended. ‘True.’
You mention ‘It was meant to do me good.’
‘That may be.’ ‘You deserve it.’ ‘Granted, too.’
‘Then take it kindly.’ ‘No-I never could.’
. . . . . . .
How many a resolution to amend
Is made and broken, as the years run round !
And how can others on your word depend,
When faithless to ourselves we’re often found ?
I’ve often swore—’Henceforward I’ll reform,
And bid my vices, follies, all take wing.’
To keep my promise, ‘mid temptation’s storm,
I’ve always found was quite another thing.
. . . . . . .
I saw a donkey going down the road
The other day ; a boy was on his back,
Who on the long-eared quadruped bestowed,
With a stout cudgel, many a hearty thwack ;
But lazier and lazier grew the beast,
Until he dwindled to a step so slow
That I felt sure ‘twould take him, at the least,
Full half an hour one blessed mile to go.
Soliloquising on this state of things,
‘That moke’s like me,’ I muttered, with a sigh ;
‘He might go faster if he’d got some wings,
But Nature’s made him better off than I ;
For though I’ve all his obstinacy—aye ! all—
His sullen spirit, and his dogged ways,
I’ve not one particle, however small,
Of that praiseworthy patience he displays.’
A MAN is independent of the world,
And little recks of strife or angry brawl,
If ‘gainst a host his banner unfurled,
Be his heart stout, it matters not at all.
With woman ’tis not so ; for she seems hurled
From hand to hand, as is a tennis ball.
How queer that such a difference should be
Between a human he and human she.
‘TIS a wicked world we live in ;
Wrong in reason, wrong in rhyme ;
But no matter : we’ll not give in
While we still can come to time.
Strength’s a shadow ; Hope is madness ;
Love, delusion ; Friendship, sham ;
Pleasure fades away to sadness,
None of these are worth a d———n.
There is naught on earth to please us ;
All things at the crisis fail.
Friends desert us, bailiffs tease us—
(To such foes we give leg-bail).
But a stout heart still maintaining,
Quells the ills we all must meet,
And a spirit fear disdaining
Lays our troubles at our feet.
So we’ll ne’er surrender tamely
To the ills that throng us fast.
If we must die, let’s die gamely ;
Luck may take a turn at last.
The Rhyme Of Joyous Garde
Through the lattice rushes the south wind, dense
With fumes of the flowery frankincense
From hawthorn blossoming thickly ;
And gold is shower’d on grass unshorn,
And poppy-fire on shuddering corn,
With May-dew flooded and flush’d with morn,
And scented with sweetness sickly.
The bloom and brilliance of summer days,
The buds that brighten, the fields that blaze,
The fruits that ripen and redden,
And all the gifts of a God-sent light
Are sadder things in my shameful sight
Than the blackest gloom of the bitterest night,
When the senses darken and deaden.
For the days recall what the nights efface,
Scenes of glory and seasons of grace,
For which there is no returning—
Else the days were even as the nights to me,
Now the axe is laid to the root of the tree,
And to-morrow the barren trunk may be
Cut down—cast forth for the burning.
Would God I had died the death that day
When the bishop blessed us before the fray
At the shrine of the Saviour’s Mother ;
We buckled the spur, we braced the belt,
Arthur and I—together we knelt,
And the grasp of his kingly hand I felt
As the grasp of an only brother.
The body and the blood of Christ we shared,
Knees bended and heads bow’d down and bared,
We listened throughout the praying.
Eftsoon the shock of the foe we bore,
Shoulder to shoulder on Severn’s shore,
Till our hilts were glued to our hands with gore,
And our sinews slacken’d with slaying.
Was I far from Thy Kingdom, gracious Lord,
With a shattered casque and a shiver’d sword,
On the threshold of Mary’s chapel ?
Pardie ! I had well-nigh won that crown
Which endureth more than a knight’s renown,
When the pagan giant had got me down,
Sore spent in the deadly grapple.
May his craven spirit find little grace,
He was seal’d to Satan in any case,
Yet the loser had been the winner ;
Had I waxed fainter or he less faint,
Then my soul was free from this loathsome taint,
I had died as a Christian knight—no saint
Perchance, yet a pardon’d sinner.
But I strove full grimly beneath his weight,
I clung to his poignard desperate
I baffled the thrust that followed,
And writhing uppermost rose, to deal,
With bare three inches of broken steel,
One stroke—Ha ! the headpiece crash’d piecemeal,
And the knave in his black blood wallow’d.
So I lived for worse—in fulness of time,
When peace for a season sway’d the clime,
And spears for a space were idle ;
Trusted and chosen of all the court,
A favoured herald of fair report,
I travell’d eastward, and duly brought
A bride to a queenly bridal.
Pardie ! ’twas a morning even as this
(The skies were warmer if aught, I wis,
Albeit the fields were duller ;
Or it may be that the envious spring,
Abash’d at the sight of a fairer thing,
Wax’d somewhat sadder of colouring
Because of her faultless colour).
With her through the Lyonesse I rode,
Till the woods with the noontide fervour glow’d,
And there for a space we halted,
Where the intertwining branches made
Cool carpets of olive-tinted shade,
And the floors with fretwork of flame inlaid
From leafy lattices vaulted.
And scarf and mantle for her I spread,
And strewed them over the grassiest bed
And under the greenest awning,
And loosen’d latch and buckle, and freed
From selle and housing the red roan steed,
And the jennet of swift Iberian breed,
That had carried us since the dawning.
The brown thrush sang through the briar and bower,
All flush’d or frosted with forest flower
In the warm sun’s wanton glances ;
And I grew deaf to the song bird—blind
To blossom that sweeten’d the sweet spring wind—
I saw her only—a girl reclined
In her girlhood’s indolent trances.
And the song and the scent and sense wax’d weak,
The wild rose withered beside the cheek
She poised on her fingers slender ;
The soft spun gold of her glittering hair
Ran rippling into a wondrous snare,
That flooded the round arm bright and bare,
And the shoulder’s silvery splendour.
The deep dusk fires in those dreamy eyes,
Like seas clear-coloured in summer skies,
Were guiltless of future treason ;
And I stood watching her, still and mute
Yet the evil seed in my soul found root,
And the sad plant throve, and the sinful fruit
Grew ripe in the shameful season.
Let the sin be mine as the shame was hers,
In desolate days of departed years
She had leisure for shame and sorrow—
There was light repentance and brief remorse,
When I rode against Saxon foes or Norse,
With clang of harness and clatter of horse,
And little heed for the morrow.
And now she is dead, men tell me, and I,
In this living death must I linger and lie
Till my cup to the dregs is drunken ?
I looked through the lattice, worn and grim,
With eyelids darken’d and eyesight dim,
And weary body and wasted limb,
And sinew slacken’d and shrunken.
She is dead ! Gone down to the burial-place,
Where the grave-dews cleave to her faultless face ;
Where the grave-sods crumble around her ;
And that bright burden of burnish’d gold,
That once on those waxen shoulders roll’d,
Will it spoil with the damps of the deadly mould ?
Was it shorn when the church vows bound her ?
Now I know full well that the fair spear shaft
Shall never gladden my hand, nor the haft
Of the good sword grow to my fingers ;
Now the maddest fray, the merriest din,
Would fail to quicken this life-stream thin,
Yet the sleepy poison of that sweet sin
In the sluggish current still lingers.
Would God I had slept with the slain men, long
Or ever the heart conceiv’d a wrong
That the innermost soul abhorred—
Or ever these lying lips were strained
To her lids, pearl-tinted and purple-vein’d,
Or ever those traitorous kisses stained
The snows of her spotless forehead.
Let me gather a little strength to think,
As one who reels on the outermost brink,
To the innermost gulf descending.
In that truce the longest and last of all,
In the summer nights of that festival—
Soft vesture of samite and silken pall—
The beginning came of the ending.
And one trod softly with sandall’d feet—
Ah ! why are the stolen waters sweet ?—
And one crept stealthily after ;
I would I had taken him there and wrung
His knavish neck when the dark door swung,
Or torn by the roots his treacherous tongue,
And stifled his hateful laughter.
So the smouldering scandal blazed—but he,
My king, to the last put trust in me—
Aye, well was his trust requited !
Now priests may patter, and bells may toll,
He will need no masses to aid his soul ;
When the angels open the judgment scroll,
His wrong will be tenfold righted.
Then dawn’d the day when the mail was donn’d,
And the steed for the strife caparison’d,
But not ‘gainst the Norse invader.
Then was bloodshed—not by untoward chance,
As the blood that is drawn by the jouster’s lance,
The fray in the castle of Melegrance,
The fight in the lists with Mador.
Then the guilt made manifest, then the siege,
When the true men rallying round the liege
Beleaguer’d his base betrayer ;
Then the fruitless parleys, the pleadings vain,
And the hard-fought battles with brave Gawaine,
Twice worsted, and once so nearly slain,
I may well be counted his slayer.
Then the crime of Modred—a little sin
At the side of mine, though the knave was kin
To the king by the knave’s hand stricken.
And the once-loved knight, was he there to save
That knightly king who that knighthood gave ?
Ah, Christ ! will he greet me as knight or knave
In the day when the dust shall quicken.
Had he lightly loved, had he trusted less,
I had sinn’d perchance with the sinfulness
That through prayer and penance is pardon’d.
Oh, love most loyal ! Oh, faith most sure !
In the purity of a soul so pure
I found my safeguard—I sinn’d secure,
Till my heart to the sin grew harden’d.
We were glad together in gladsome meads,
When they shook to the strokes of our snorting steeds ;
We were joyful in joyous lustre
When it flush’d the coppice or fill’d the glade,
Where the horn of the Dane or the Saxon bray’d,
And we saw the heathen banner display’d,
And the heathen lances cluster.
Then a steel-shod rush and a steel-clad ring,
And a crash of the spear staves splintering,
And the billowy battle blended.
Riot of chargers, revel of blows,
And fierce flush’d faces of fighting foes,
From croup to bridle, that reel’d and rose,
In a sparkle of sword-play splendid.
And the long, lithe sword in the hand became
As a leaping light, as a falling flame,
As a fire through the flax that hasted ;
Slender, and shining, and beautiful,
How it shore through shivering casque and skull,
And never a stroke was void and null,
And never a thrust was wasted.
I have done for ever with all these things—
Deeds that were joyous to knights and kings,
In days that with songs were cherish’d.
The songs are ended, the deeds are done,
There shall none of them gladden me now, not one ;
There is nothing good for me under the sun,
But to perish as these things perish’d.
Shall it profit me aught that the bishop seeks
My presence daily, and duly speaks
Soft words of comfort and kindness ?
Shall it aught avail me ? ‘Certes,’ he said,
‘Though thy soul is darken’d, be not afraid—
God hateth nothing that He hath made—
His light shall disperse thy blindness.’
I am not afraid for myself, although
I know I have had that light, and I know
The greater my condemnation.
When I well-nigh swoon’d in the deep-drawn bliss
Of that first long, sweet, slow, stolen kiss,
I would gladly have given, for less than this
Myself, with my soul’s salvation.
I would languish thus in some loathsome den,
As a thing of naught in the eyes of men,
In the mouths of men as a byword,
Through years of pain, and when God saw fit,
Singing His praises my soul should flit
To the darkest depth of the nethermost pit,
If hers could be wafted skyward.
Lord Christ ! have patience a little while,
I have sinn’d because I am utterly vile,
Having light, loving darkness rather.
And I pray Thee deal with me as Thou wilt,
Yet the blood of Thy foes I have freely spilt,
And, moreover, mine is the greater guilt
In the sight of Thee and Thy Father.
That saint, Thy servant, was counted dear
Whose sword in the garden grazed the ear
Of Thine enemy, Lord Redeemer !
Not thus on the shattering visor jarr’d
In this hand the iron of the hilt cross-barr’d,
When the blade was swallow’d up to the guard
Through the teeth of the strong blasphemer.
If ever I smote as a man should smite,
If I struck one stroke that seem’d good in Thy sight,
By Thy loving mercy prevailing,
Lord ! let her stand in the light of Thy face,
Cloth’d with Thy love and crown’d with Thy grace,
When I gnash my teeth in the terrible place
That is fill’d with weeping and wailing.
Shall I comfort my soul on account of this ?
In the world to come, whatsoever it is,
There is no more earthly ill-doing—
For the dusty darkness shall slay desire,
And the chaff may burn with unquenchable fire,
But for green wild growth of thistle and briar,
At least there is no renewing.
And this grievous burden of life shall change
In the dim hereafter, dreamy and strange,
And sorrows and joys diurnal.
And partial blessings and perishing ills
Shall fade in the praise, or the pang that fills
The glory of God’s eternal hills,
Or the gloom of His gulf eternal.
Yet if all things change to the glory of One
Who for all ill-doers gave His Own sweet Son,
To His goodness so shall He change ill,
When the world as a wither’d leaf shall be,
And the sky like a shrivell’d scroll shall flee,
And souls shall be summon’d from land and sea,
At the blast of His bright archangel.
Two years ago I was thinking
On the changes that years bring forth ;
Now I stand where I then stood drinking
The gust and the salt sea froth ;
And the shuddering wave strikes, linking
With the waves subsiding and sinking,
And clots the coast herbage, shrinking,
With the hue of the white cere-cloth.
Is there aught worth losing or keeping ?
The bitters or sweets men quaff ?
The sowing or the doubtful reaping ?
The harvest of grain or chaff ?
Or squandering days or heaping,
Or waking seasons or sleeping,
The laughter that dries the weeping,
Or the weeping that drowns the laugh ?
For joys wax dim and woes deaden,
We forget the sorrowful biers,
And the garlands glad that have fled in
The merciful march of years ;
And the sunny skies, and the leaden,
And the faces that pale or redden,
And the smiles that lovers are wed in
Who are born and buried in tears.
And the myrtle bloom turns hoary,
And the blush of the rose decays,
And sodden with sweat and gory
Are the hard won laurels and bays ;
We are neither joyous nor sorry
When time has ended our story,
And blotted out grief and glory,
And pain, and pleasure, and praise.
Weigh justly, throw good and bad in
The scales, will the balance veer
With the joys or the sorrows had in
The sum of a life’s career ?
In the end, spite of dreams that sadden
The sad, or the sanguine madden,
There is nothing to grieve or gladden,
There is nothing to hope or fear.
‘Thou hast gone astray,’ quoth the preacher,
‘In the gall of thy bitterness,’
Thou hast taught me in vain, oh, teacher !
I neither blame thee nor bless ;
If bitter is sure and sweet sure,
These vanish with form and feature—
Can the creature fathom the creature
Whose Creator is fathomless ?
Is this dry land sure ? Is the sea sure ?
Is there aught that shall long remain,
Pain, or peril, or pleasure,
Pleasure, or peril, or pain ?
Shall we labour or take our leisure,
And who shall inherit treasure,
If the measure with which we measure
Is meted to us again ?
I am slow in learning, and swift in
Forgetting, and I have grown
So weary with long sand sifting ;
T’wards the mist where the breakers moan
The rudderless bark is drifting,
Through the shoals and the quicksands shifting—
In the end shall the night-rack lifting,
Discover the shores unknown ?
When he, that shepherd false, ‘neath Phrygian sail ;
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
Steneläus, 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.
How We Beat The Favourite
A Lay of the Loamshire Hunt Cup
‘Aye, squire,’ said Stevens, ‘they back him at evens ;
The race is all over, bar shouting, they say ;
The Clown ought to beat her ; Dick Neville is sweeter
Than ever—he swears he can win all the way.
‘A gentleman rider—well, I’m an outsider,
But if he’s a gent who the mischief’s a jock ?
You swells mostly blunder, Dick rides for the plunder,
He rides, too, like thunder—he sits like a rock.
‘He calls ‘hunted fairly’ a horse that has barely
Been stripp’d for a trot within sight of the hounds,
A horse that at Warwick beat Birdlime and Yorick,
And gave Abdelkader at Aintree nine pounds.
‘They say we have no test to warrant a protest ;
Dick rides for a lord and stands in with a steward ;
The light of their faces they show him—his case is
Prejudged and his verdict already secured.
‘But none can outlast her, and few travel faster,
She strides in her work clean away from The Drag ;
You hold her and sit her, she couldn’t be fitter,
Whenever you hit her she’ll spring like a stag.
‘And p’rhaps the green jacket, at odds though they back it,
May fall, or there’s no knowing what may turn up ;
The mare is quite ready, sit still and ride steady,
Keep cool ; and I think you may just win the Cup.’
Dark-brown with tan muzzle, just stripped for the tussle,
Stood Iseult, arching her neck to the curb,
A lean head and fiery, strong quarters and wiry,
A loin rather light, but a shoulder superb.
Some parting injunction, bestowed with great unction,
I tried to recall, but forgot like a dunce,
When Reginald Murray, full tilt on White Surrey,
Came down in a hurry to start us at once.
‘Keep back in the yellow ! Come up on Othello !
Hold hard on the chestnut ! Turn round on The Drag !
Keep back there on Spartan ! Back you, sir, in tartan !
So, steady there, easy !’ and down went the flag.
We started, and Kerr made strong running on Mermaid,
Through furrows that led to the first stake-and-bound,
The crack, half extended, look’d bloodlike and splendid,
Held wide on the right where the headland was sound.
I pulled hard to baffle her rush with the snaffle,
Before her two-thirds of the field got away ;
All through the wet pasture where floods of the last year
Still loitered, they clotted my crimson with clay.
The fourth fence, a wattle, floor’d Monk and Bluebottle ;
The Drag came to grief at the blackthorn and ditch,
The rails toppled over Redoubt and Red Rover,
The lane stopped Lycurgus and Leicestershire Witch.
She passed like an arrow Kildare and Cock Sparrow,
And Mantrap and Mermaid refused the stone wall ;
And Giles on The Greyling came down at the paling,
And I was left sailing in front of them all.
I took them a burster, nor eased her nor nursed her
Until the Black Bullfinch led into the plough,
And through the strong bramble we bored with a scramble—
My cap was knock’d off by the hazel-tree bough.
Where furrows looked lighter I drew the rein tighter—
Her dark chest all dappled with flakes of white foam,
Her flanks mud-bespattered, a weak rail she shattered—
We landed on turf with our heads turn’d for home.
Then crash’d a low binder, and then close behind her
The sward to the strokes of the favourite shook ;
His rush roused her mettle, yet ever so little
She shortened her stride as we raced at the brook.
She rose when I hit her. I saw the stream glitter,
A wide scarlet nostril flashed close to my knee,
Between sky and water The Clown came and caught her,
The space that he cleared was a caution to see.
And forcing the running, discarding all cunning,
A length to the front went the rider in green ;
A long strip of stubble, and then the big double,
Two stiff flights of rails with a quickset between.
She raced at the rasper, I felt my knees grasp her,
I found my hands give to her strain on the bit ;
She rose when The Clown did—our silks as we bounded
Brush’d lightly, our stirrups clash’d loud as we lit.
A rise steeply sloping, a fence with stone coping—
The last—we diverged round the base of the hill ;
His path was the nearer, his leap was the clearer,
I flogg’d up the straight, and he led sitting still.
She came to his quarter, and on still I brought her,
And up to his girth, to his breastplate she drew ;
A short prayer from Neville just reach’d me, ‘The Devil !’
He muttered—lock’d level the hurdles we flew.
A hum of hoarse cheering, a dense crowd careering,
All sights seen obscurely, all shouts vaguely heard ;
‘The green wins !’ ‘The crimson !’ The multitude swims on,
And figures are blended and features are blurr’d.
‘The horse is her master !’ ‘The green forges past her !’
‘The Clown will outlast her !’ ‘The Clown wins !’ ‘The Clown !’
The white railing races with all the white faces,
The chestnut outpaces, outstretches the brown.
On still past the gateway she strains in the straightway,
Still struggles, ‘The Clown by a short neck at most,’
He swerves, the green scourges, the stand rocks and surges,
And flashes, and verges, and flits the white post.
Aye ! so ends the tussle,—I knew the tan muzzle
Was first, though the ring-men were yelling ‘Dead heat !’
A nose I could swear by, but Clarke said, ‘The mare by
A short head.’ And that’s how the favourite was beat.
Part Iv: Banker’s Dream
Of chases and courses dogs dream, so do horses—
Last night I was dozing and dreaming,
The crowd and the bustle were there, and the rustle
Of the silk in the autumn sky gleaming.
The stand throng’d with faces, the broadcloth and laces,
The booths, and the tents, and the cars,
The bookmakers’ jargon, for odds making bargain,
The nasty stale smell of cigars.
We formed into line, ‘neath the merry sunshine,
Near the logs at the end of the railing ;
‘Are you ready, boys ? Go !’ cried the starter, and low
Sank the flag, and away we went sailing.
In the van of the battle we heard the stones rattle,
Some slogging was done, but no slaughter,
A shout from the stand, and the whole of our band
Skimm’d merrily over the water.
Two fences we clear’d, and the roadway we near’d,
When three of our troop came to troublen ;
Like a bird on the wing, or a stone from a sling,
Flew Cadger, first over the double.
And Western was there, head and tail in the air,
And Pondon was there, too—what noodle
Could so name a horse ? I should feel some remorse
If I gave such a name to a poodle.
In and out of the lane, to the racecourse again,
Craig’s pony was first, I was third,
And Ingleside lit in my tracks, with the bit
In his teeth, and came up ‘like a bird.’
In the van of the battle we heard the rails rattle,
Says he, ‘Though I don’t care for shunning
My share of the raps, I shall look out for gaps,
When the light weight’s away with the running.’
At the fence just ahead the outsider still led,
The chestnut play’d follow my leader ;
Oh ! the devil a gap, he went into it slap,
And he and his jock took a header.
Says Ingleside, ‘Mate, should the pony go straight,
You’ve no time to stop or turn restive ;’
Says I, ‘Who means to stop ? I shall go till I drop ;’
Says he, ‘Go it, old cuss, gay and festive.’
The fence stiff and tall, just beyond the log wall,
We cross’d, and the walls, and the water,—
I took off too near, a small made fence to clear,
And just touch’d the grass with my snorter.
At the next post and rail up went Western’s bang tail,
And down (by the very same token)
To earth went his nose, for the panel he chose
Stood firm and refused to be broken.
I dreamt someone said that the bay would have made
The race safe if he’d stood a while longer ;
If he had,—but, like if, there the panel stands stiff—
He stood, but the panel stood stronger.
In and out of the road, with a clear lead still show’d
The violet fluted with amber ;
Says Johnson, ‘Old man, catch him now if you can,
‘Tis the second time round, you’ll remember.’
At the road once again, pulling hard on the rein,
Craig’s pony popp’d in and popp’d out ;
I followed like smoke, and the pace was no joke,
For his friends were beginning to shout.
And Ingleside came to my side, strong and game,
And once he appear’d to outstrip me,
But I felt the steel gore, and I shot to the fore,
Only Cadger seem’d likely to whip me.
In the van of the battle I heard the logs rattle,
His stroke never seem’d to diminish,
And thrice I drew near him, and thrice he drew clear,
For the weight served him well at the finish.
Ha ! Cadger goes down, see, he stands on his crown—
Those rails take a power of clouting—
A long sliding blunder—he’s up—well, I wonder
If now it’s all over but shouting.
All loosely he’s striding, the amateur’s riding
All loosely, some reverie locked in
Of a ‘vision in smoke,’ or a ‘wayfaring bloke,’
His poetical rubbish concocting.
Now comes from afar the faint cry, ‘Here they are,’
‘The violet winning with ease,’
‘Fred goes up like a shot,’ ‘Does he catch him or not ?’
Level money, I’ll take the cerise.
To his haunches I spring, and my muzzle I bring
To his flank, to his girth, to his shoulder ;
Through the shouting and yelling I hear my name swelling,
The hearts of my backers grow bolder.
Neck and neck ! head and head ! staring eye ! nostrils spread !
Girth and stifle laid close to the ground !
Stride for stride ! stroke for stroke ! through one hurdle we’ve broke!
On the splinters we’ve lit with one bound.
And ‘Banker for choice’ is the cry, and one voice
Screams, ‘Six to four once upon Banker ;’
‘Banker wins,’ ‘Banker’s beat,’ ‘Cadger wins,’ ‘A dead heat’—
‘Ah ! there goes Fred’s whalebone a flanker.’
Springs the whip with a crack ! nine stone ten on his back,
Fit and light he can race like the devil ;
I draw past him—’tis vain ; he draws past me again,
Springs the whip ! and again we are level.
Steel and cord do their worst, now my head struggles first !
That tug my last spurt has expended—
Nose to nose ! lip to lip ! from the sound of the whip
He strains to the utmost extended.
How they swim through the air, as we roll to the chair,
Stand, faces, and railings flit past ;
Now I spring. . .
from my lair, with a snort and a stare,
Rous’d by Fred with my supper at last.
Part Ii: The Fields Of Coleraine
On the fields of Col’raine there’ll be labour in vain
Before the Great Western is ended,
The nags will have toil’d, and the silks will be soil’d.
And the rails will require to be mended.
For the gullies are deep, and the uplands are steep,
And mud will of purls be the token,
And the tough stringy-bark, that invites us to lark,
With impunity may not be broken.
Though Ballarat’s fast, and they say he can last,
And that may be granted hereafter,
Yet the judge’s decision to the Border division
Will bring neither shouting nor laughter.
And Blueskin, I’ve heard that he goes like a bird,
And I’m told that to back him would pay me ;
He’s a good bit of stuff, but not quite good enough,
‘Non licuit credere famae.’
Alfred ought to be there, we all of us swear
By the blood of King Alfred, his sire ;
He’s not the real jam, by the blood of his dam,
So I shan’t put him down as a flyer.
Now, Hynam, my boy, I wish you great joy,
I know that when fresh you can jump, sir ;
But you’ll scarce be in clover, when you’re ridden all over,
And punish’d from shoulder to rump, sir.
Archer goes like a shot, they can put on their pot,
And boil it to cover expenses ;
Their pot will boil over, the run of his Dover
He’ll never earn over big fences.
There’s a horse in the race, with a blaze on his face,
And we know he can gallop a docker !
He’s proved himself stout, of his speed there’s no doubt,
And his jumping’s according to Cocker.
When Hynam’s outstripp’d, and when Alfred is whipp’d,
To keep him in sight of the leaders,
While Blueskin runs true, but his backers look blue,
For his rider’s at work with the bleeders ;
When his carcase of beef brings ‘the bullock’ to grief,
And the rush of the tartan is ended ;
When Archer’s in trouble—who’s that pulling double,
And taking his leaps unextended ?
He wins all the way, and the rest—sweet, they say,
Is the smell of the newly-turn’d plough, friend,
But you smell it too close when it stops eyes and nose,
And you can’t tell your horse from your cow, friend.
From The Wreck
‘Turn out, boys’—’What’s up with our super. to-night ?
The man’s mad—Two hours to daybreak I’d swear—
Stark mad—why, there isn’t a glimmer of light.’
‘Take Bolingbroke, Alec, give Jack the young mare ;
Look sharp. A large vessel lies jamm’d on the reef,
And many on board still, and some wash’d on shore.
Ride straight with the news—they may send some relief
From the township ; and we—we can do little more.
You, Alec, you know the near cuts ; you can cross
‘The Sugarloaf’ ford with a scramble, I think ;
Don’t spare the blood filly, nor yet the black horse ;
Should the wind rise, God help them ! the ship will soon sink.
Old Peter’s away down the paddock, to drive
The nags to the stockyard as fast as he can—
A life and death matter ; so, lads, look alive.’
Half-dressed, in the dark to the stockyard we ran.
There was bridling with hurry, and saddling with haste,
Confusion and cursing for lack of a moon ;
‘Be quick with these buckles, we’ve no time to waste ;’
‘Mind the mare, she can use her hind legs to some tune.’
‘Make sure of the crossing-place ; strike the old track,
They’ve fenced off the new one ; look out for the holes
On the wombat hills.’ ‘Down with the slip rails ; stand back.’
‘And ride, boys, the pair of you, ride for your souls.’
In the low branches heavily laden with dew,
In the long grasses spoiling with deadwood that day,
Where the blackwood, the box, and the bastard oak grew,
Between the tall gum-trees we gallop’d away—
We crashed through a brush fence, we splash’d through a swamp—
We steered for the north near ‘The Eaglehawk’s Nest’—
We bore to the left, just beyond ‘The Red Camp’,
And round the black tea-tree belt wheel’d to the west—
We cross’d a low range sickly scented with musk
From wattle-tree blossom—we skirted a marsh—
Then the dawn faintly dappled with orange the dusk,
And peal’d overhead the jay’s laughter note harsh,
And shot the first sunstreak behind us, and soon
The dim dewy uplands were dreamy with light ;
And full on our left flash’d ‘The Reedy Lagoon,’
And sharply ‘The Sugarloaf’ rear’d on our right.
A smother’d curse broke through the bushman’s brown beard,
He turn’d in his saddle, his brick-colour’d cheek
Flush’d feebly with sundawn, said, ‘Just what I fear’d ;
Last fortnight’s late rainfall has flooded the creek.’
Black Bolingbroke snorted, and stood on the brink
One instant, then deep in the dark sluggish swirl
Plunged headlong. I saw the horse suddenly sink,
Till round the man’s armpits the waves seemed to curl.
We follow’d,—one cold shock, and deeper we sank
Than they did, and twice tried the landing in vain ;
The third struggle won it ; straight up the steep bank
We stagger’d, then out on the skirts of the plain.
The stockrider, Alec, at starting had got
The lead, and had kept it throughout ; ’twas his boast
That through thickest of scrub he could steer like a shot,
And the black horse was counted the best on the coast.
The mare had been awkward enough in the dark,
She was eager and headstrong, and barely half broke ;
She had had me too close to a big stringy-bark,
And had made a near thing of a crooked sheoak.
But now on the open, lit up by the morn,
She flung the white foam-flakes from nostril to neck,
And chased him—I hatless, with shirt sleeves all torn
(For he may ride ragged who rides from a wreck)—
And faster and faster across the wide heath
We rode till we raced. Then I gave her her head,
And she—stretching out with the bit in her teeth—
She caught him, outpaced him, and passed him, and led.
We neared the new fence, we were wide of the track;
I look’d right and left—she had never been tried
At a stiff leap ; ’twas little he cared on the black.
‘You’re more than a mile from the gateway,’ he cried.
I hung to her head, touched her flank with the spurs
(In the red streak of rail not the ghost of a gap) ;
She shortened her long stroke, she pricked her sharp ears,
She flung it behind her with hardly a rap—
I saw the post quiver where Bolingbroke struck,
And guessed that the pace we had come the last mile
Had blown him a bit (he could jump like a buck).
We galloped more steadily then for a while.
The heath was soon pass’d, in the dim distance lay
The mountain. The sun was just clearing the tips
Of the ranges to eastward. The mare—could she stay?
She was bred very nearly as clean as Eclipse ;
She led, and as oft as he came to her side,
She took the bit free and untiring as yet ;
Her neck was arched double, her nostrils were wide,
And the tips of her tapering ears nearly met—
‘You’re lighter than I am,’ said Alec at last ;
‘The horse is dead beat and the mare isn’t blown.
She must be a good one—ride on and ride fast,
You know your way now.’ So I rode on alone.
Still galloping forward we pass’d the two flocks
At M’Intyre’s hut and M’Allister’s hill—
She was galloping strong at the Warrigal Rocks—
On the Wallaby Range she was galloping still—
And over the wasteland and under the wood,
By down and by dale, and by fell and by flat,
She gallop’d, and here in the stirrups I stood
To ease her, and there in the saddle I sat
To steer her. We suddenly struck the red loam
Of the track near the troughs—then she reeled on the rise—
From her crest to her croup covered over with foam,
And blood-red her nostrils, and bloodshot her eyes,
A dip in the dell where the wattle fire bloomed—
A bend round a bank that had shut out the view—
Large framed in the mild light the mountain had loomed,
With a tall, purple peak bursting out from the blue.
I pull’d her together, I press’d her, and she
Shot down the decline to the Company’s yard,
And on by the paddocks, yet under my knee
I could feel her heart thumping the saddle-flaps hard.
Yet a mile and another, and now we were near
The goal, and the fields and the farms flitted past ;
And ‘twixt the two fences I turned with a cheer,
For a green grass-fed mare ’twas a far thing and fast ;
And labourers, roused by her galloping hoofs,
Saw bare-headed rider and foam-sheeted steed;
And shone the white walls and the slate-coloured roofs
Of the township. I steadied her then—I had need—
Where stood the old chapel (where stands the new church—
Since chapels to churches have changed in that town).
A short, sidelong stagger, a long, forward lurch,
A slight, choking sob, and the mare had gone down.
I slipp’d off the bridle, I slacken’d the girth,
I ran on and left her and told them my news ;
I saw her soon afterwards. What was she worth ?
How much for her hide ? She had never worn shoes.