David Gray.

In the shadows online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryDavid GrayIn the shadows → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook






With an Introduction by




Sixth Edition




Paper, //- net; cloth, 1/6 net












IT is remarkable how often Poetry and
Consumption have gone together. Is
there some unsuspected connection, one feels
tempted to ask, between the bacillus tuber-
culosis and the cupido carmina scribendi ? The
question is not without interest. Not a few
poets " whom the gods love " have died young.
But among all those cut off in early life the
figure of David Gray, author of The Luggie and
other Poems, seems to me to stand pathetically
alone. Bacillus tuberculosis is usually a de-
ceptive guest. But in David Gray, spes
phthisica was notably absent.

Gray's poems are inseparably connected
with his life. The son of a poor handloom
weaver, he was born near Kirkintilloch in
1838, and died at the age of twenty-three.
By pupil-teaching he supported himself for

four sessions at Glasgow University ; then,
bent on a literary life, he turned to London.

He had arranged with his friend, Robert
Buchanan, to leave Glasgow at a certain hour ;
but, unfortunately missing each other, they
travelled by different trains. On arriving
in London alone, the author of The Luggie
wandered aimlessly about for hours. It was
a raw, misty afternoon, and never perhaps
did a more disconsolate figure pace the pave-
ments of the city of his dreams. Carrying a
carpet-bag filled with MSS. and with but
a few shillings in his pocket, the homeless
poet sauntered about in the mist and rain, till
at last, footsore and weary, he turned into
Hyde Park to spend the night. One cannot
tell the thoughts that passed through his
mind as he strolled up and down the dismal
Park " from weary chime to chime " ; but
it is known that he contracted a violent cold
which settled on his lungs, and brought about
the consumption of which he died.

The two friends did not meet until upwards
of a week after their arrival in London. There-
after they lived together in what Gray calls
"the dear, old, ghastly, bankrupt garret."
Days and nights were spent in polishing the
poems meant to conquer literary London.
But the labour was in vain. He knocked
at the doors of many influential editors, but
failed to gain admission.

In the meantime, his disease had made rapid
progress. After a brief residence in the south
of England without benefit, Gray returned to
Kirkintilloch to die. " I wish to die there,"
he wrote to his mother from Torquay ; and so,
in due time the mere wreck of what he once
was he turned up at his father's house, never
to leave it alive again. He lingered for some
months, and the thirty sonnets here reprinted
were written while he lay waiting for death.

Through the exertions of friends, his MSS.
were sent to the printer ; and, the day before
his death, he had the satisfaction of holding in

his hand a specimen page of The Luggie in print.
On the following morning he died. He was
laid to rest beside the Luggie, " now numbered
with the streams illustrious in Scottish song."
The year after his death his poems were given
to the world. And thus Fame, which had
spurned the poet during his lifetime, laid her
wreath upon his humble grave.

David Gray's dying sonnets speak for them-
selves. Technically they may not fulfil all
the requirements of the perfect sonnet, but
they are so pathetic in their homeliness, so
genuine in feeling, and contain such delicate
flights of imaginative fancy that they cannot
be read without unstinted admiration. They
touch the heart, cling to the memory, and
are profoundly human. In the Shadows is, I
think, the most poignantly impressive " swan-
song " ever written by poet. Sonnet No. 5
pierces the soul. In anticipation of death the
poet describes his broken life, metaphor after
metaphor succeeding each other with almost

bewildering rapidity. Apart from its intrinsic
merit, Sonnet No. n is interesting as the
last sad memorial of the poet's friendship with
Robert Buchanan. Especially noteworthy are
Sonnets Nos. 12, 16, and 21 : No. 12 with
its inspiring lesson of " Sorrow and Death "
as ministers to raise humanity heavenward ;
No. 1 6, ending on a note of manly fortitude ;
and No. 21, presenting an unforgettable pic-
ture of the promise of life's day overcast and
finally sinking into the gloom of night. In its
autumnal tenderness Sonnet No. 19 is very
beautiful. It is a sonnet of rare loveliness,
providing a mournful commentary on the
reflection of the Hebrew prophet that "we
all do fade as a leaf."

Gray's reverent love of Nature and of his
mother runs as an undercurrent through the
whole series. In the Shadows reveals a per-
sonality charming and spiritual, clinging to
earth yet resigning itself to inevitable destiny.
It is also unquestionably the work of a true


poetic artist whose sun went down long before
noon. And yet, as an able critic has said,
"he lived long enough to give evidence of a
warm heart and a sensitive nature ; of a keen
sympathy with all that is true, tender, and
beautiful ; of poetic insight, and considerable
power of expression. He was born a poet as
surely as the skylark is born to mount and
sing." In conception and execution, in simple
pathos and real sincerity of feeling, his sonnets
appeal alike to head and heart. They strike
a note of pity in every compassionate breast,
all the deeper when one remembers that the
youthful author, in his own words :

" Died, not knowing what it was to live."

In the earlier years of his " poor meagre
life," Gray hoped to win an imperishable
name. His poems, when they appeared, met
with a generous reception. Three editions
were issued in 1862, 1874, and 1886 copies
of which are now practically unprocurable.


In these circumstances I ventured to suggest
to Mr. Melrose the propriety of publishing a
new edition ; but, while rejecting the idea, he
fixed upon In the Shadows to be issued in an
unpretentious form as a separate publication.
I most earnestly trust that Mr. Melrose's in-
tuition may prove prophetic of a revived
interest in David Gray, and that the intensely
human note of the sonnets, as well as their
unusual beauty, may bring that lasting fame
to the poet which he once so confidently

February 1920.



ENTER, scared mortal ! and in awe

The chancel of a dying poet's mind,
Hung round, ah ! not adorned, with pictures

And quaint, but roughly touched for the


The chancel, not the charnel house ! For I
To God have raised a shrine immaculate
Therein, whereon His name to glorify,
And daily mercies meekly celebrate.
So in, scared breather ! here no hint of death-
Skull or cross-bones suggesting sceptic fear ;
Yea, rather calmer beauty, purer breath
Inhaled from a diviner atmosphere.


IF it must be ; if it must be, O God !
That I die young, and make no further

moans ;

That, underneath the unrespective sod,
In unescutcheoned privacy, my bones
Shall crumble soon, then give me strength

to bear
The last convulsive throe of too sweet

breath !
I tremble from the edge of life, to dare

The dark and fatal leap, having no faith,
No glorious yearning for the Apocalypse ;
But, like a child that in the night-time

For light, I cry ; forgetting the eclipse

Of knowledge and our human destinies.
O peevish and uncertain soul ! obey
The law of life in patience till the Day.



" T Y 7HOM the gods love die young." The
V V thought is old ;
And yet it soothed the sweet Athenian

I take it with all pleasure, overbold,

Perhaps, yet to its virtue much inclined
By an inherent love for what is fair.
This is the utter poetry of woe
That the bright-flashing gods should cure

By love, and make youth precious here

I die, being young ; and, dying, could become

A pagan, with the tender Grecian trust.
Let death, the fell anatomy, benumb
The hand that writes, and fill my mouth

with dust

Chant no funereal theme, but, with a choral
Hymn, O ye mourners ! hail immortal youth
auroral !



WITH the tear-worthy four, consumption
In youthful prime, before the nebulous


Had its symmetric shapeliness defined,
Had its transcendent destiny fulfilled

May future ages grant me gracious room,
With Pollok, in the voiceless solitude

Finding his holiest rapture, happiest mood ;
Poor White for ever poring o'er the tomb ;
With Keats, whose lucid fancy mounting


Saw heaven as an intenser, a more keen
Redintegration of the Beauty seen

And felt by all the breathers on this

star ;

With gentle Bruce, flinging melodious blame
Upon the Future for an uncompleted name.


OH many a time with Ovid have I borne
My father's vain, yet well-meant

To leave the sweet-air'd, clover-purpled


Of rhyme its Lares loftily forlorn,
With all their pure humanities unworn
To batten on the bare Theologies !
To quench a glory lighted at the skies,
Fed on one essence with the silver morn,

Were of all blasphemies the most insane.
So deeplier given to the delicious spell

I clung to thee, heart-soothing Poesy !
Now on a sick-bed rack'd with arrowy pain
I lift white hands of gratitude, and cry,
Spirit of God in Milton ! was it well ?

LAST night, on coughing slightly with
sharp pain,
There came arterial blood, and with a

Of absolute grief I cried in bitter vein,

That drop is my death-warrant : I must

Poor meagre life is mine, meagre and poor !

Rather a piece of childhood thrown away ;
An adumbration faint ; the overture

To stifled music ; year that ends in May ;
The sweet beginning of a tale unknown ;

A dream unspoken ; promise unfulfilled ;
A morning with no noon, a rose unblown-
All its deep rich vermilion crushed and

I' th' bud by frost : Thus in false fear I

Forgetting that to abolish death Christ died.


SWEETLY, my mother! Go not yet

I have not told my story. Oh, not yet,
With the fair past before me, can I lay

My cheek upon the pillow to forget.
O sweet, fair past, my twenty years of youth

Thus thrown away, not fashioning a man ;
But fashioning a memory, forsooth !

More feminine than follower of Pan.
O God ! let me not die for years and more !

Fulfil Thyself, and I will live then surely
Longer than a mere childhood. Now heart-

Weary, with being weary weary, purely.
In dying, mother, I can find no pleasure
Except in being near thee without measure.



HEW Atlas for my monument-; upraise
A pyramid for my tomb, that, un-


By rank, oblivion and the hungry void,
My name shall echo through prospective


O careless conqueror ! cold, abysmal grave !
Is it not sad is it not sad, my heart-
To smother young ambition, and depart
Unhonoured and unwilling, like death's

slave ?

No rare immortal remnant of my thought
Embalms my life ; no poem, firmly reared
Against the shock of time, ignobly feared
But all my life's progression come to nought.
Hew Atlas ! build a pyramid in a plain !
Oh, cool the fever burning in my brain !



FROM this entangling labyrinthine maze
Of doctrine, creed and theory ; from


Vain speculations ; the detested plague
Of spiritual pride, and vile affrays

Sectarian, good Lord, deliver me !
Nature ! thy placid monitory glory
Shines uninterrogated, while the story
Goes round of this and that theology,
This creed, and that, till patience close the

Once more on Carronben's wind-shrilling

To sit in sovereign solitude, and quite

Forget the hollow world a pantheist
Beyond Bonaventura ! This were cheer
Passing the tedious tale of shallow pulpiteer.



A VALE of tears, a wilderness of woe,
A sad unmeaning mystery of strife ;
Reason with Passion strives, and Feeling ever
Battles with Conscience, clear-eyed arbiter.

Thus spake I in sad mood not long ago,
To my dear father, of this human life,

Its jars and phantasies. Soft answered he,
With soul of love strong as a mountain river :

We make ourselves Son, you are what you

Neither by fate nor providence nor cause

External : all unformed humanity
Waiteth the stamp of individual laws ;

And as you love and act, the plastic spirit

Doth the impression evermore inherit.

LAST Autumn we were four, and travelled

With Phoebe in her golden plenilune,
O'er stubble-fields where sheaves of harvest

Stood slanted. Many a clear and stedfast

Twinkled its radiance thro' crisp-leaved

Over the farm to which, with snatches rare

Of ancient ballads, songs and saucy speeches,
We hurried, happy mad. Then each had


A dove-eyed sister pining for him, four
Fair ladies legacied with loveliness,

Chaste as a group of stars, or lilies blown
In rural nunnery. O God ! Thy sore

Strange ways expound. Two to the grave

have gone
Without apparent reason more or less.

2 4

NOW, while the long- delaying ash
The delicate April green, and, loud and

Through the cool, yellow, mellow twilight

The thrush's song enchants the captive


Now, while a shower is pleasant in the falling,
Stirring the still perfume that wakes

around ;
Now, that doves mourn, and from the distance

The cuckoo answers, with a sovereign

Come, with thy native heart, O true and

tried !

But leave all books ; for what with con-
verse high,
Flavoured with Attic wit, the time shall glide

On smoothly, as a river floweth by,
Or as on stately pinion, through the grey
Evening, the culver cuts his liquid way.


WHY are all fair things at their death
the fairest ?

f Beauty the beautifullest in decay ?
Why doth rich sunset clothe each closing

With ever-new apparelling the rarest ?

Why are the sweetest melodies all born
Of pain and sorrow ? Mourneth not the

In the green forest gloom, an absent love ?

Leaning her breast against that cruel thorn,
Doth not the nightingale, poor bird, com-

And integrate her uncontrollable woe
To such perfection, that to hear is pain ?

Thus, Sorrow and Death alone realities-
Sweeten their ministration, and bestow
On troublous life a relish of the skies !



AND, well-beloved, is this all, this all ?
Gone, like a vapour which the potent


Kills, and in killing glorifies ! I call
Through the lone night for thee, my dear


Soul-fellow ! but my heart vibrates in vain.
Ah ! well I know, and often fancy forms
The weather-blown churchyard where thou

art lain
The churchyard whistling to the frequent


But down the valley, by the river side,
Huge walnut-trees bronze-f oliaged, motion-

As leaves of metal in their shadows hide
Warm nests, low music, and true tender-
But thou, betrothed ! art far from me, from

O heart ! be merciful I loved him utterly.


FATHER! when I have passed, with
deathly swoon,

Into the ghost-world, immaterial, dim,
O may nor time nor circumstance dislimn
My image from thy memory, as noon
Steals from the fainting bloom the cooling

dew !

Like flower, itself completing bud and bell,
In lonely thicket, be thy sorrow true,

And in expression secret. Worse than hell
To see the grave hypocrisy to hear
The crocodilian sighs of summer friends
Outraging grief's assuasive, holy ends !
But thou art faithful, father, and sincere ;
And in thy brain the love of me shall dwell
Like the memorial music in the curved



FROM my sick-bed gazing upon the

Where all the bright effulgences of day
Lay steeped in sunless vapours, raw and


Herein (methought) is mournfully exprest
The end of false ambitions, sullen doom

Of my brave hopes, Promethean desires :

Barren and perfumeless, my name expires
Like summer-day setting in joyless gloom.

Yet faint I not in sceptical dismay,

Upheld by the belief that all pure thought
Is deathless, perfect : that the truths out-

By the laborious mind cannot decay,

Being evolutions of that Sovereign Mind
Akin to man's ; yet orbed, exhaustless,


THE daisy-flower is to the summer sweet,
Though utterly unknown it live and

die ;
The spheral harmony were incomplete

Did the dew'd laverock mount no more

the sky,

Because her music's linked sorcery
Bewitched no mortal heart to heavenly mood.

This is the law of nature, that the deed
Should dedicate its excellence to God,
And in so doing find sufficient meed.
Then why should I make these heart-burning


In sickly rhyme with morbid feeling rife,
For fame and temporal felicities ?
Forgetting that in holy labour lies
The scholarship severe of human life.


OGOD, it is a terrible thing to die
Into the inextinguishable life ;
To leave this known world with a feeble cry,

All its poor jarring and ignoble strife.
O that some shadowy spectre would disclose

The Future, and the soul's confineless

Satisfy with some knowledge of repose !

For here the lust of avarice waxeth stronger,
Making life hateful ; youth alone is true,

Full of a glorious self-forgetfulness :
Better to die inhabiting the new

Kingdom of faith and promise, and confess,
Even in the agony and last eclipse,
Some revelation of the Apocalypse !



WISE in his day that heathen emperor,
To whom, each morrow, came a

slave, and cried
" Philip, remember thou must die ; " no


To me such daily voice were misapplied
Disease guests with me ; and each cough, or


Or aching, like the Macedonian slave,
Is my memento mori. 'Tis the stamp

Of God's true life to be in dying brave.
" I fear not death, but dying " l not the


Hereafter, sweetened by immortal love ;
But the quick, terrible last breath the


Convulsion. Oh, my Lord of breath above !
Grant me a quiet end, in easeful rest
A sweet removal, on my mother's breast.

1 This is a saying of Socrates.



OCTOBER'S gold is dim the forests

The weary rain falls ceaseless, while the day
Is wrapp'd in damp. In mire of village

The hedgerow leaves are stamp'd, and, all


The broodless nest sits visible in the thorn.
Autumn, among her drooping marigolds,
Weeps all her garnered sheaves and empty


And dripping orchards plundered and for-

The season is a dead one, and I die !
No more, no more for me the spring shall


A resurrection in the earth and take
The death from out her heart O God, I

The cold throat-mist creeps nearer, till I


Corruption. Drop, stark night, upon my
death !


DIE down, O dismal day ! and let me
And come, blue deeps ! magnificently

With coloured clouds large, light and

By upper winds through pompous motions

Now it is death in life a vapour dense

Creeps round my window till I cannot see
The far snow-shining mountains, and the

Shagging the mountain-tops. O God!

make free

This barren, shackled earth, so deadly cold-
Breathe gently forth Thy spring, till winter

In rude amazement, fearful and yet bold,

While she performs her custom'd charities.
I weigh the loaded hours till life is bare
O God ! for one clear day, a snowdrop, and
sweet air !


SOMETIMES, when sunshine and blue
sky prevail
When spent winds sleep, and, from the

budding larch,

Small birds, with incomplete, vague sweet-
ness, hail
The unconfirmed, yet quickening life of

Then say I to myself, half-eased of care,

Toying with hope as with a maiden's token
" This glorious, invisible fresh air
Will clear my blood till the disease be


But slowly, from the wild and infinite west,
Up-sails a cloud, full-charged with bitter


The omen gives my spirit deep unrest ;
I fling aside the hope, as indiscreet
A false enchantment, treacherous and fair
And sink into my habit of despair.



O WINTER ! wilt thou never, never

O Summer ! but I weary for thy coming ;
Longing once more to hear the Luggie flow,

And frugal bees laboriously humming.
Now, the east wind diseases the infirm,
And I must crouch in corners from rough


Sometimes a winter sunset is a charm-
When the fired clouds, compacted, blaze


And the large sun dips, red, behind the hills.
I, from my window, can behold this

pleasure ;
And the eternal moon, what time she fills

Her orb with argent, treading a soft measure,
With queenly motion of a bridal mood,
Through the white spaces of infinitude.

3 6


OH, beautiful moon ! Oh, beautiful moon !

Thou persecutest me until I bend
My brow, and soothe the aching of my brain.

I cannot see what handmaidens attend
Thy silver passage as the heaven clears ;

For, like a slender mist, a sweet vexation
Works in my heart, till the impulsive tears

Confess the bitter pain of adoration.
Oh, too, too beautiful moon ! lift the white

Of thy soft splendour through the shining

air !
I own the magic power, the witching spell,

And, blinded by thy beauty, call thee fair !
Alas ! not often now thy silver horn
Shall me delight with dreams and mystic
love forlorn !



'^ ^IS April, yet the wind retains its tooth.

A I cannot venture in the biting air,
But sit and feign wild trash, and dreams


" Stretched on the rack of a too easy chair."
And when the day has howled itself to sleep,

The lamp is lighted in my little room ;
And lowly, as the tender lapwings creep,
Comes my own mother, with her love's


O living sons with living mothers ! learn
Their worth, and use them gently, with

no chiding,
For youth, I know, is quick ; of temper

Sometimes ; and apt to blunder without


So was I long, but now I see her move,
Transfigured in the radiant mist of love.


LYING awake at holy eventide,
While in clear mournfulness the

throstle's hymn
Hushes the night, and the great west,

grown dim,

Laments the sunset's evanescent pride :
Lo ! I behold an orb of silver brightly

Grow from the fringe of sunset, like a


From Thought's severe infinitude, and nightly
Show forth God's glory in its sacred gleam.
Ah, Hesper ! maidenliest star that ere
Twinkled in firmament ! cool gloaming's

Cheerer, whose fairness maketh wondrous


Old pastorals, and the Spenserian rhyme :
Thy soft seduction doth my soul enthral
Like music, with a dying, dying fall !



THERE are three bonnie Scottish melodies,
So native to the music of my soul,
That of its humours they seem prophecies.

The ravishment of Chaucer was less whole,
Less perfect, when the April nightingale
Let itself in upon him. Surely, Lord !
Before whom psaltery and clarichord,
Concentual with saintly song, prevail,

There lurks some subtle sorcery, to Thee
And heaven akin, in each woe-burning air 1
Land of the Leal, and Bonnie Bessie Lee,
And Home, Sweet Home, the lilt of love's

Now, in remembrance even, the feelings

For lo ! a shower of grace is on my cheek.



" Thou art wearin' awa', Jean,
Like snaw when it's thaw, Jean j
Thou art wearin' awa'
To the land o' the leal."

OTHE impassable sorrow, mother mine !
Of the sweet, mournful air which,

clear and well,
For me thou singest ! Never the divine

Mahomedan harper, famous Israfel,
Such rich enchanting luxury of woe

Elicited from all his golden strings !
Therefore, dear singer sad ! chant clear and


And lovingly the bard's imaginings.
O poet unknown ! conning thy verses o'er

In lone, dim places, sorrowfully sweet ;
And O musician ! touching the quick core

Of pity, when thy skilful closes meet
My tears confess your witchery as they flow,
Since I, too, wear away like the unenduring


\ TPLIFT in unparticipated night
\J Oh indefinable Being ! far retired
From mortal ken in uncreated light :

While demonstrating glories unacquired
When shall the wavering sciences evolve
The infinite secret, Thee ? What mind

shall scan
The tenour of Thy workmanship, or solve

The dark, perplexing destiny of man ?
Oh ! in the hereafter border-land of wonder,
Shall the proud world's inveterate tale be


Online LibraryDavid GrayIn the shadows → online text (page 1 of 2)