John Davidson.

The last ballad and other poems online

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THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA



GIFT OF

Mrs* Edwin Grabhorn



THE LAST BALLAD

AND OTHER POEMS



BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

UNIFORM WITH THIS :

Ballads and Songs. 4th edition. $1.50.
A Random Itinerary. $1.50.

Also, small 4to, $2.50.
Plays. An Unhistorical Pastoral; A Romantic Farce;

Bruce, a Chronicle Play; Smith, a Tragic Farce ;

Scaramouch in Naxos, a Pantomime.

Godfrida. A Play.



John Lane, The Bodley Head, 140 Fifth Avenue,
New York.



JHE LAST gALLAD

AND OTHER POEMS




JOHN LANE

THE BODLEYHEAD

LONDON & NEW YORK

1599



Copyright, 1898,
Bv JOHN LANE
A II rights reserved



FIRST EDITION.




CONTENTS

PAGE

The Last Ballad i

The Ordeal 24

A Ballad of a Coward . . .85

Coming 93

Battle . . . . . . .95

The Hymn of Abdul Hamid . . 97

War-Song 101

The Badge of Men . . . . 106

The Unresigned Mourner . . . 109

The Gift no

Earth to Earth in

My Lily 114

Prince of the Fairies 116

The Stoop of Rhenish 118

Matinees : — I . .121

II 122

v



CONTENTS

PACK

Holiday at Hampton Court . . .124

In the Isle of Dogs 127

Afternoon 132

Insomnia 134

The Last Rose 136

Summer Rain . 140

The Price 142

The Unknown 144

Waiting 146

The Aristocrat 149

The Outcast 152

The Pioneer 155

The Hero 158

Eclogues :— 1 160

II. 165

III 168



VI



THE LAST BALLAD

By coasts where scalding deserts reek,

The apanages of despair ;
In outland wilds, by firth and creek,

O'er icy bournes of silver air;

In storm or calm delaying not,
To every noble task addressed,

Year after year, Sir Lancelot

Fulfilled King Arthur's high behest.

He helped the helpless ones ; withstood
Tyrants and sanctioners of vice ;

He rooted out the dragon brood,
And overthrew false deities.
i



THE LAST BALLAD

Alone with his own soul, alone

With life and death, with day and night,
His thought and strength grew great and
shone

A tongue of flame, a sword of light.

And yet not all alone. On high,
When midnight set the spaces free,

And brimming stars hung from the sky
Low down, and spilt their jewellery,

Behind the nightly squandered fire,
Through a dark lattice only seen

By love, a look of rapt desire
Fell from a vision of the Queen.

From heaven she bent when twilight knit
The dusky air and earth in one;



THE LAST BALLAD

He saw her like a goddess sit

Enthroned upon the noonday sun.

In passages of gulfs and sounds,

When wild winds dug the sailor's grave,

When clouds and billows merged their
bounds,
And the keel climbed the slippery wave,

A sweet sigh laced the tempest ; nay,
Low at his ear he heard her speak ;

Among the hurtling sheaves of spray
Her loosened tresses swept his cheek.

And in the revelry of death,

If human greed of slaughter cast

Remorse aside, a violet breath,
The incense of her being passed
3



THE LAST BALLAD

Across his soul, and deeply swayed
The fount of pity; o'er the strife

He curbed the lightning of his blade,
And gave the foe his forfeit life.

Low on the heath, or on the deck,
In bloody mail or wet with brine,

Asleep he saw about her neck

The wreath of gold and rubies shine ;

He saw her brows, her lovelit face,
And on her cheek one passionate tear;

He felt in dreams the rich embrace,
The beating heart of Guinevere.

M Visions that haunt my couch, my path,
Although the waste, unfathomed sea

Should rise against me white with wrath
I must behold her verily,
4



THE LAST BALLAD

" Once ere I die," he said, and turned
Westward his faded silken sails

From isles where cloudy mountains burned,
And north to Severn-watered Wales.

Beside the Usk King Arthur kept
His Easter court, a glittering rout.

But Lancelot, because there swept
A passion of despair throughout

His being, when he saw once more
The sky that canopied, the tide

That girdled Guinevere, forbore

His soul's desire, and wandered wide

In unknown seas companionless,
Eating his heart, until by chance

He drifted into Lyonesse,
The wave-worn kingdom of romance.
5



THE LAST BALLAD

He leapt ashore and watched his barque
Unmastered stagger to its doom ;

Then doffed his arms and fled baresark
Into the forest's beckoning gloom.

The exceeding anguish of his mind

Had broken him. ' ' King Arthur's trust, ' '

He cried; " ignoble, fateful, blind!
Her love and my love, noxious lust !

" Dupes of our senses ! Let us eat
In caverns fathoms underground,

Alone, ashamed ! To sit at meat

In jocund throngs ? — the most profound

" Device of life the mountebank,
Vendor of gilded ashes ! Steal

From every sight to use the rank

And loathsome needs that men conceal ;
6



THE LAST BALLAD

M And crush and drain in curtained beds
The clusters called of love ; but feed

With garlanded uplifted heads ;

Invite the powers that sanction greed

" To countenance the revel; boast
Of hunger, thirst ; be drunken ; claim

Indulgence to the uttermost,

Replenishing the founts of shame ! "

He gathered berries, efts, and snails,
Sorrel, and new-burst hawthorn leaves ;

Uprooted with his savage nails

Earth-nuts ; and under rocky eaves

Shamefast devoured them, out of sight

In darkness, lest the eye of beast,
Or bird, or star, or thing of night

Uncouth, unknown, should watch him
feast.

7



THE LAST BALLAD

At noon in twilight depths of pine
He heard the word Amaimon spoke;

He saw the pallid, evil sign
The wred-eld lit upon the oak.

The viper loitered in his way;

The minx looked up with bloodshot leer;
Ill-meaning fauns and lamiae

With icy laughter flitted near.

But if he came upon a ring

Of sinless elves, and crept unseen

Beneath the brake to hear them sing,
And watch them dancing on the green,

They touched earth with their finger-tips ;

They ceased their roundelay; they laid

A seal upon their elfin lips

And vanished in the purple shade.
8



THE LAST BALLAD

At times he rent the dappled flank
Of some fair creature of the chase,

Mumbled its flesh, or growling drank
From the still-beating heart, his face

And jowl ruddled, and in his hair

And beard, blood-painted straws and
burs,

While eagles barked screening the air,
And wolves that were his pensioners.

Sometimes at night his mournful cry-
Troubled all waking things ; the mole

Dived to his deepest gallery;

The vixen from the moonlit knoll

Passed like a shadow underground,
And the mad satyr in his lair
9



THE LAST BALLAD

Whined bodeful at the world-old sound
Of inarticulate despair.

Sir Lancelot, beloved of men !

The ancient earth gat hold of him ;
A year was blotted from his ken

In the enchanted forest dim.

At Easter when the thorn beset

The bronzing wood with silver sprays,

And hyacinth and violet

Empurpled all the russet ways ;

When buttercup and daffodil

A stainless treasure-trove unrolled,

And cowslips had begun to fill
Their chalices with sweeter gold,
10



THE LAST BALLAD

He heard a sound of summer rush
By swarthy grove and kindled lawn ;

He heard, he sighed to hear the thrush
Singing alone before the dawn.

Forward he stalked with eyes on fire
Like one who keeps in sound and sight

An angel with celestial lyre
Descanting rapturous delight.

He left behind the spell-bound wood ;

He saw the branchless air unfurled ;
He climbed a hill and trembling stood

Above the prospect of the world.

With lustre in its bosom pent

From many a shining summer day

And harvest moon, the wan sea leant
Against a heaven of iron-grey.



THE LAST BALLAD

Inland on the horizon beat

And flickered, drooping heavily,

A fervid haze, a vaporous heat,
The dusky eyelid of the sky.

White ways, white gables, russet thatch
Fretted the green and purple plain ;

The herd undid his woven latch ;
The bleating flock went forth again ;

The skylarks uttered lauds and prime ;

The sheep-bells rang from hill to hill ;
The cuckoo pealed his mellow chime;

The orient bore a burden shrill.

His memory struggled half awake;
Dimly he groped within to see

12



THE LAST BALLAD

What star, what sun, what light should
break
And set his darkened spirit free.

But from without deliverance came:
Afar he saw a horseman speed,

A knight, a spirit clad in flame
Riding upon a milkwhite steed.

For now the sun had quenched outright
The clouds and all their working charms,

Marshalled his legionary light,
And fired the rider's golden arms.

Softly the silver billows flowed ;

Beneath the hill the emerald vale
Dipped seaward ; on the burnished road

The milkwhite steed, the dazzling mail
13



THE LAST BALLAD

Advanced and flamed against the wind ;

And Lancelot, his body rent
With the fierce trial of his mind

To know, reeled down the steep descent.

Remembrances of battle plied

His soul with ruddy beams of day.

" A horse! a lance! to arms! " he cried,
And stood there weeping in the way.

V Speak! " said the knight. " What man
are you ?"

M I know not yet. Surely of old
I rode in arms, and fought and slew

In jousts and battles manifold."

Oh, wistfully he drew anear,

Fingered the reins, the jewelled sheath;
14



THE LAST BALLAD

With rigid hand he grasped the spear,
And shuddering whispered, M Life and
death,

" Love, lofty deeds, renown — did these
Attend me once in days unknown ?"

With courtesy, with comely ease,

And brows that like his armour shone,

The golden knight dismounting took
Sir Lancelot by the hand and said,

" Your voice of woe, your lonely look
As of a dead man whom the dead

" Themselves cast out — whence are they,
friend ? M
Sir Lancelot a moment hung
In doubt, then knelt and made an end
Of all his madness, tensely strung
i5



THE LAST BALLAD

In one last effort to be free

Of evil things that wait for men

In secret, strangle memory,

And shut the soul up in their den.

** Spirit," he said, " I know your eyes:
They bridge with light the heavy drift

Of years. ... A woman said, ' Arise ;
And if you love the Queen, be swift! '

" The token was an emerald chased
In gold, once mine. Wherefore I rode

At dead of night in proudest haste
To Payarne where the Queen abode.

" A crafty witch gave me to drink:
Almost till undern of the morn

Silent, in darkness. . . . When I think
It was not Guinevere, self-scorn
16



THE LAST BALLAD

" Cuts to the marrow of my bones,
A blade of fire. Can wisdom yield

No mood, no counsel, that atones

For wasted love ! . . . Heaven had re-
vealed

" That she should bear a child to me

My bed-mate said. . . . Yet am I mad ? .

The offspring of that treachery !

The maiden knight ! You — Galahad,

" My son, who make my trespass dear! "
His look released his father's thought —

The darkling orbs of Guinevere;

For so had Lancelot's passion wrought.

With tenderer tears than women shed

Sir Galahad held his father fast.
2 17



THE LAST BALLAD

" Now I shall be your squire/ ' he said.
But Lancelot fought him long. At last

The maiden gently overpowered

The man. Upon his milkwhite steed

He brought him where a castle towered
Midmost a green enamelled mead;

And clothed his body, clothed his heart
In human garniture once more.

" My father, bid me now depart.
I hear beside the clanging shore,

" Above the storm, or in the wind,
Outland, or on the old Roman street,

A chord of music intertwined

From wandering tones deep-hued and

sweet.

18



THE LAST BALLAD

" Afar or near, at noon, at night,
The braided sound attends and fills

My soul with peace, as heaven with light
O'erflows when morning crowns the hills.

" And with the music, seen or hid,
A blood-rose on the palace lawn,

A fount of crimson, dark amid

The stains and glories of the dawn ;

" Above the city's earthly hell

A token ominous of doom,
A cup on fire and terrible

With thunders in its ruddy womb;

'* But o'er the hamlet's fragrant smoke,
The dance and song at eventide,

A beating heart, the gentle yoke

Of life the bridegroom gives the bride;
19



THE LAST BALLAD

" A ruby shadow on the snow ;

A flower, a lamp — through every veil
And mutable device I know,

And follow still the Holy Grail

u Until God gives me my new name
Empyreal, and the quest be done/'

Then like a spirit clad in flame,
He kissed his father and was gone.

Long gazed Sir Lancelot on the ground
Tormented till benign repose

Enveloped him in depths profound
Of sweet oblivion. When he rose

The bitterest was past. " And I
Shall follow now the Holy Grail,

Seen, or unseen, until I die:
My very purpose shall avail



THE LAST BALLAD

" My soul," he said. By day, by night, v
He rode abroad, his vizor up ;

With sun and moon his vehement sight
Fought for a vision of the cup —

In vain. For evermore on high
When darkness set the spaces free,

And brimming stars hung from the sky
Low down, and spilt their jewellery,

Behind the nightly squandered fire,
Through a dim lattice only seen

By love, a look of rapt desire
Fell from a vision of the Queen.

From heaven she bent when twilight knit
The dusky air and earth in one ;

He saw her like a goddess sit

Enthroned upon the noonday sun.



THE LAST BALLAD

Wherefore he girt himself again :
In lawless towns and savage lands,

He overthrew unrighteous men,
Accomplishing the King's commands.

In passages of gulfs and sounds

When wild winds dug the sailor's grave,

When clouds and billows merged their
bounds,
And the keel climbed the slippery wave,

A sweet sigh laced the tempest ; nay,
Low at his ear he heard her speak ;

Among the hurtling sheaves of spray
Her loosened tresses swept his cheek.

And in the revelry of death,

If human greed of slaughter cast

22



THE LAST BALLAD

Remorse aside, a violet breath,
The incense of her b *ing passed

Across his soul, and deeply swayed
The fount of pity; o'er the strife

He curbed the lightning of his blade,
And gave the foe his forfeit life.

His love, in utter woe annealed,

Escaped the furnace, sweet and clear-

His love that on the world had sealed
The look, the soul of Guinevere.



23



THE ORDEAL

Exceedingly tame is the devil \ with all his forks and flam-
ing stuff :

To be conscious and not omnipotent is more than torture
enough.

Between the Golden City and the sea
A damasked meadow lay, the saffron beach
And silver loops of surge dissevering *
The violet water from the grass-green land.

While yet the morning sun swung low in

heaven,
A crystal censer in a turquoise dome,
Emanuel meted justice in the gate,
Emanuel of the Golden City King.
24



THE ORDEAL

To him there came Sir Hilary; his wife,
The comely Bertha ; after them their sons
And daughters grieving. Godfrey also came,
Knight-errant of the Phoenix; from that

quest
Lately returned : guarded he was and

bound.

" Justice, my lord and king! M cried Hilary,
With passion hoarse, and wanner than a

flame
That flickers in the sun. " I saw them kiss :
I saw her from her bosom take a ring
And place it warm upon his finger. Here ' ' —
He gave the King the ring — " an old worn

hoop
Of pale alloy, but clasping, doubt it not,
A horde of sweet and shameful memories
25



THE ORDEAL

More dear to them than mines of virgin

gold.
Justice, my lord and king! "

" Whom do you charge ? M

* ' Sir Godfrey and my wife. I saw them kiss ;
I saw her tearfully assign the ring
Warm from her bosom to his lustful hand.
For him the gallows and for her the stake ! "

" But if you saw this done, Sir Hilary,
Why is her lover here alive to-day ? M

" I ran upon him in the garden-close

When I espied them ; but he beat me back.

Hearing the clash of steel my folk rushed

forth

. 26



THE ORDEAL

And fettered him. Vengeance miscarrying

thus,
Before the world the law shall have its way.
The age is dissolute ; the hearts of men
Know every sin by rote; their starveling

souls
Are blind and lame : I publish my disgrace
To warn the world. This woman is my

wife;
These well-grown youths; these budding

damsels — look . . .
I scarce can say the words . . . look

you, my liege,
These are our children: treasure, you would

say,
To fill a woman's heart? Oh no! He

there,
That lecher, is her lover, gray and gaunt.
27



THE ORDEAL

If she be burned before her children's eyes,
The wanton blood they have from her,

refined
By fire, in her fierce torment drained and

seared,
May leave them humble-hearted and afraid
Even of the lawful kiss of married love.
Justice, my lord, upon the shameful pair! M

" Do they admit the charge ? What do you

say,
Sir Godfrey ? Bertha, answer."

"All my life,"
The lady said, looking upon the ground:
Because when she looked up herstricken eyes
Turned to her children, sorrowing by her

side;

28



THE ORDEAL

And her true heart when most she needed

strength
Began to break : wherefore upon the ground
She cast her gaze and answered, " All my

life
I have been faithful to my husband's

bed."

"And I," said Godfrey, "never did him
wrong."

Knight-errant of the Phcenix, fancy-charmed

At fifty still, but as inept to lie

As tongueless men to sing, even furtive

minds

A grudging credence paid him : jealousy

That calls the moon a leper, and will swear

There never was a maid of sweet sixteen,
29



THE ORDEAL

Only the heart's attorney, jealousy,
Had any countenance to doubt his word.

" He lies/' cried Hilary, M as their lovers'

code
Requires."

" The ring, the keepsake? M said the King :
*'' Did you receive it with a kiss from her ? "

" I kissed her, and she gave me back the
ring."

" Oh ! she returned the ring! " cried Hilary.
" A stale, old shame ! I might have guessed

as much.
The happiest of men I judged myself.
My wife, so delicate, so meek, so chaste,




THE ORDEAL

A rare obedience gave ; but unperfumed,
Unlit by passion : so she seemed, and so
To me she was, because her false blood

burned
In the dark-lantern of a lawless love.
Where did he hunt the Phoenix ? Ask him

that.
How often has he, wandering secretly,
Discovered in my arbours, here at home,
Or on my pillows, Araby the Blest ? "

*' Nay," said the King; "have patience,

Hilary.
Let Godfrey plead ; she after him shall tell
Her own romance. Lead her aside mean-
while."

" Content," said Hilary.
3i



THE ORDEAL

And it was done.
Her children gathered round her as she

went,
Worship and sorrow fighting in their looks.
The youngest, eager to be near her, trod
Upon her skirt, making her halt. Abashed
He shrank behind the others; but she

turned,
And, seeing him distressed, held out her

hand,
Moving her fingers as she used to do
Winningly when her children first could

walk.
She sent him also so humane a smile,
So sweet, so patient, that his ruddy cheek
Grew pale as hers ; and, suffering more

than she,
Because he hardly knew — and yet he knew —
32



THE ORDEAL

The naked meaning of his father's charge,
He cried aloud, and, throttled by his sobs,
Sank to the ground : the mounting tide of

life
Had but begun to press upon his heart
With murmured news of mystery unveiled ;
And all his fancy innocently clung
About his mother — he, her latest born ;
And she, his earliest sweetheart.

Silently,
Before another could, she reached her son,
And lifted him and bore him in her arms.
Dismayed to find himself a babe again,
He pushed her from him, straining towards
the ground.

' Be still ! " she said. " This is a thing to
do!

33



THE ORDEAL

Something to do!" and crushed him to
her breast.

East of the city wall a virgin wood
Discovered twilight gleams of emerald
In depths of leafy darkness treasured up.
Upon its verge a grove of hawthorn hung,
The friendly tree — and Nature's favourite :
For now that all its own unhoarded bloom
Was withered, and its incense sacrificed,
The honeysuckle lit the matted boughs
With cressets burning odour, and the briar
Enwreathed and overhung them lovingly,
Its pallid rose like elfin faces sweet
Peering from out the swart-green thicket-
side.

Thither they led dame Bertha. In the shade
She sat : her son, still as a nursling now,
34



THE ORDEAL

With solemn eyes where stately dreams

reside,
Lay in her arms and watched her ashen lips.
The brilliant blackbirds, sauntering through

the brake,
Doled out indifferently their golden notes,
Or sprinkled magic phrases, summer showers
Of jewelled rain, the while Sir Godfrey's

voice
Re-echoed faintly from the City gate.
Then Bertha, all benumbed with misery,
Caressed her son, and, swaying to and fro,
In troubled whispers told a fairy tale
Of how a lady, deeply wronged, became
The happiest princess in the world at last.
Her other children, kneeling by her side,
Powerless to comfort, worshipped her and

wept.

35



THE ORDEAL

Sir Godfrey, standing bound before the King,
Spoke thus: " My cognizance has wrought

my fate :
A Phoenix burning in his nest ; the scroll,
Viget in cinere virtus. In my youth
I swore to find the Phoenix, being scorned
By many who averred that no such fowl
Inhabited the earth. And here, my lord,
Before I answer Hilary's reproach,
I beg all men to know the Phoenix lives ;
For I have seen him fly across the Nile,
Beating the air with gold and purple plumes,
Towards Yemen, where he reigns; this was

last year,
The thirtieth of- my quest."

" Sir," said the King:
* * I marvel at your patience. Thirty years ! ' '

36



THE ORDEAL

M Patience ? I know it not! Embarked, I

swore
That thirty weeks, and sorely grudged the

time,
Should see the Phoenix caught and caged ;

myself,
Renowned throughout the world, and fixed

in fame
With Lancelot and Roland. Youth and hope
Spare none of us — Syren and Circe linked
In one divine betrayal of the world !
Even while the Golden City towered behind
And bathed its glittering shadow in the deep
The Berber galleys swooped : captivity
Her twisted talons settled in my flesh
To tire on body and soul with dripping beak
For thrice the time I vowed. That was the

dawn!

37



THE ORDEAL

Also in Hadramaut, five savage years
Of lash and shackle, scornful destiny
Awarded me. Tenacious death, in shapes
Of thraldom, pestilence, contention, thirst,
Shipwreck and famine, flame and blind

despair,
Remained my mate by day, my watch by

night.
Yet, and although I still am buffeted
By every busy wind and stroke of chance:
Deceived, disgraced, contemptuously foiled
By oracles, by wantonness of fools,
And by the sleepless masked malignity
That men pursue the soul of man withal,
I am neither taught nor tamed. Intolerance
Of mundane things — of utter sanctity
As of indulged desire — shines in the stars,
And in the icy menace of the moon.
38



THE ORDEAL

From them my fire is kindled, keenest

flame
Of passion ; for I look not to be praised
Here in the courts of Kings and homes of

men;
Nor happily hereafter to usurp
A blissful throne of that imagined world
By terror-stricken envy reared in air
For the immortal solace and reward
Of humbleness and chastity, the true
Accomplices, the virtuous other selves
Of mediocrity and impotence.
But I desire to follow out this quest:
Achieved or unachieved it is my own :
Even if the glorious creature were no

more . . .
A foolish word ! I have seen him, as I said :
From Heliopolis he took his flight
39



THE ORDEAL

Towards Yemen, like a rainbow laced with

gems.
Whether I find him, or am overthrown
Pursuing him, the world shall never know:
My purpose is sufficient for my soul.
Farewell at once. I must be gone — again
To feel my heart leap at the sudden foe,
The lonely battle in the wilderness ;
To come at night under the desert moon
On pillars, ghostly porches, temples, towers
Silent for centuries ; to see at dawn
The shadow of the Arab on the sand."

Sir Godfrey bowed and strode a pace away;

Then stopped like one enchanted, wonder-
ing

What spell o'ermastered him. When from
his dream

40



THE ORDEAL

He woke, and felt his pinioned arms, a

blush
Shone on his tawny cheek and untanned

brow.
He muttered something quickly; stumbled

— stood,
Staring before him.

" Mediocrity
And impotence I" cried Hilary. " The

phrase,
The very motto lechery inscribes
Beneath the cuckold's sign armorial,
Crested dilemma, honour's hatchment,

horns.
This Phoenix-hunt, this magpie-tale of his
Allures no sober judgment from the nest
He fouled ! Incredible effrontery \ "
4i



THE ORDEAL

94 Not in my thought, Sir Hilary/ ' said the

King.
" I cannot press a finger on the wrist
Of treason, and declare ' This blood is

false * ;
Nor is there a divining-rod for kings
To tell the hearts of gold ; but I dare stake
My Crown against an apple that the man
Is honest : he forgot the charge preferred


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Online LibraryJohn DavidsonThe last ballad and other poems → online text (page 1 of 4)