George MacDonald.

The poetical works of George MacDonald in two volumes — Volume 2 online

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You to the castle of Love belong:
Forgive the sore heart that made sharp the tongue!
Your swift-flying feet the Shepherd sends
To gather the lambs, his little friends,
And draw the sheep after for rich amends!
Sharp are your teeth, my wolves divine,
But loves and no hates in your deep eyes shine!
No more will I call you evil names,
No more assail you with untrue blames!
Wake me with howling, check me with biting,
Rouse up my strength for the holy fighting:
Hunt me still back, nor let me stray
Out of the infinite narrow way,
The radiant march of the Lord of Light
Home to the Father of Love and Might,
Where each puts Thou in the place of I,
And Love is the Law of Liberty.



Forth to his study the sculptor goes
In a mood of lofty mirth:
"Now shall the tongues of my carping foes
Confess what my art is worth!
In my brain last night the vision arose,
To-morrow shall see its birth!"

He stood like a god; with creating hand
He struck the formless clay:
"Psyche, arise," he said, "and stand;
In beauty confront the day.
I have sought nor found thee in any land;
I call thee: arise; obey!"

The sun was low in the eastern skies
When spoke the confident youth;
Sweet Psyche, all day, his hands and eyes
Wiled from the clay uncouth,
Nor ceased when the shadows came up like spies
That dog the steps of Truth.

He said, "I will do my will in spite
Of the rising dark; for, see,
She grows to my hand! The mar-work night
Shall hurry and hide and flee
From the glow of my lamp and the making might
That passeth out of me!"

In the flickering lamplight the figure swayed,
In the shadows did melt and swim:
With tool and thumb he modelled and made,
Nor knew that feature and limb
Half-obeying, half-disobeyed,
And mocking eluded him.

At the dawning Psyche of his brain
Joyous he wrought all night:
The oil went low, and he trimmed in vain,
The lamp would not burn bright;
But he still wrought on: through the high roof-pane
He saw the first faint light!

The dark retreated; the morning spread;
His creatures their shapes resume;
The plaster stares dumb-white and dead;
A faint blue liquid bloom
Lies on each marble bosom and head;
To his Psyche clings the gloom.

Backward he stept to see the clay:
His visage grew white and sear;
No beauty ideal confronted the day,
No Psyche from upper sphere,
But a once loved shape that in darkness lay,
Buried a lonesome year!

From maidenhood's wilderness fair and wild
A girl to his charm had hied:
He had blown out the lamp of the trusting child,
And in the darkness she died;
Now from the clay she sadly smiled,
And the sculptor stood staring-eyed.

He had summoned Psyche - and Psyche crept
From a half-forgotten tomb;
She brought her sad smile, that still she kept,
Her eyes she left in the gloom!
High grace had found him, for now he wept,
And love was his endless doom!

Night-long he pined, all day did rue;
He haunted her form with sighs:
As oft as his clay to a lady grew
The carvers, with dim surmise,
Would whisper, "The same shape come to woo,
With its blindly beseeching eyes!"


Through still, bare streets, and cold moonshine
His homeward way he bent;
The clocks gave out the midnight sign
As lost in thought he went
Along the rampart's ocean-line,
Where, high above the tossing brine,
Seaward his lattice leant.

He knew not why he left the throng,
Why there he could not rest,
What something pained him in the song
And mocked him in the jest,
Or why, the flitting crowd among,
A moveless moonbeam lay so long
Athwart one lady's breast!

He watched, but saw her speak to none,
Saw no one speak to her;
Like one decried, she stood alone,
From the window did not stir;
Her hair by a haunting gust was blown,
Her eyes in the shadow strangely shown,
She looked a wanderer.

He reached his room, he sought a book
His brooding to beguile;
But ever he saw her pallid look,
Her face too still to smile.
An hour he sat in his fireside nook,
The time flowed past like a silent brook,
Not a word he read the while.

Vague thoughts absorbed his passive brain
Of love that bleeding lies,
Of hoping ever and hoping in vain,
Of a sorrow that never dies -
When a sudden spatter of angry rain
Smote against every window-pane,
And he heard far sea-birds' cries.

He looked from the lattice: the misty moon
Hardly a glimmer gave;
The wind was like one that hums a tune,
The first low gathering stave;
The ocean lay in a sullen swoon,
With a moveless, monotonous, murmured croon
Like the moaning of a slave.

Sudden, with masterful, angry blare
It howled from the watery west:
The storm was up, he had left his lair!
The night would be no jest!
He turned: a lady sat in his chair!
Through her loose dim robe her arm came bare,
And it lay across her breast.

She sat a white queen on a ruined throne,
A lily bowed with blight;
In her eyes the darkness about was blown
By flashes of liquid light;
Her skin with very whiteness shone;
Back from her forehead loosely thrown
Her hair was dusk as night.

Wet, wet it hung, and wept like weeds
Down her pearly shoulders bare;
The pale drops glistened like diamond beads
Caught in a silken snare;
As the silver-filmy husk to its seeds
Her dank robe clings, and but half recedes
Her form so shadowy fair.

Doubting she gazed in his wondering face,
Wonder his utterance ties;
She searches, like one in forgetful case,
For something within his eyes,
For something that love holds ever in chase,
For something that is, and has no place,
But away in the thinking lies.

Speechless he ran, brought a wrap of wool,
And a fur that with down might vie;
Listless, into the gathering pool
She dropped them, and let them lie.
He piled the hearth with fagots so full
That the flames, as if from the log of Yule,
Up the chimney went roaring high.

Then she spoke, and lovely to heart and ear
Was her voice, though broke by pain;
Afar it sounded, though sweet and clear,
As if from out of the rain;
As if from out of the night-wind drear
It came like the voice of one in fear
Lest she should no welcome gain.

"I am too far off to feel the cold,
Too cold to feel the fire;
It cannot get through the heap of mould
That soaks in the drip from the spire:
Cerement of wax 'neath cloth of gold,
'Neath fur and wool in fold on fold,
Freezes in frost so dire."

Her voice and her eyes and her cheek so white
Thrilled him through heart and brain;
Wonder and pity and love unite
In a passion of bodiless pain;
Her beauty possessed him with strange delight:
He was out with her in the live wan night,
With her in the blowing rain!

Sudden she rose, she kneeled, she flung
Her loveliness at his feet:
"I am tired of being blown and swung
In the rain and the snow and the sleet!
But better no rest than stillness among
Things whose names would defile my tongue!
How I hate the mouldy sheet!

"Ah, though a ghost, I'm a lady still!"
The youth recoiled aghast.
Her eyes grew wide and pale and chill
With a terror that surpassed.
He caught her hand: a freezing thrill
Stung to his wrist, but with steadfast will
He held it warm and fast.

"What can I do to save thee, dear?"
At the word she sprang upright;
On tiptoe she stood, he bent his ear,
She whispered, whispered light.
She withdrew; she gazed with an asking fear:
Like one that looks on his lady's bier
He stood, with a face ghost-white.

"Six times - in vain, oh hapless maid! -
I have humbled myself to sue!
This is the last: as the sunset decayed,
Out with the twilight I grew,
And about the city flitted and strayed,
A wandering, lonely, forsaken shade:
No one saw me but you."

He shivered, he shook, he had turned to clay,
Vile fear had gone into his blood;
His face was a dismal ashy gray,
Through his heart crept slime and mud;
The lady stood in a still dismay,
She drooped, she shrank, she withered away
Like a half-blown frozen bud.

"Speak once more. Am I frightful then?
I live, though they call it death;
I am only cold! Say _dear_ again."
But scarce could he heave a breath;
Over a dank and steaming fen
He floated astray from the world of men,
A lost, half-conscious wraith.

"Ah, 'tis the last time! Save me!" Her cry
Entered his heart, and lay.
But he loved the sunshine, the golden sky,
And the ghosts' moonlight is gray! -
As feverous visions flit and fly
And without a motion elude the eye,
She stood three steps away.

But oh, her eyes! - refusal base
Those live-soul-stars had slain!
Frozen eyes in an icy face
They had grown. Like a ghost of the brain,
Beside the lattice, thought-moved in space,
She stood with a doleful despairing grace:
The fire burned! clanged the rain!

Faded or fled, she had vanished quite!
The loud wind sank to a sigh;
Pale faces without paled the face of night,
Sweeping the window by;
Some to the glass pressed a cheek of fright,
Some shot a gleam of decaying light
From a flickering, uncertain eye.

Whence did it come, from the sky or the deep,
That faint, long-cadenced wail?
From the closing door of the down-way steep,
His own bosom, or out of the gale?
From the land where dead dreams, or dead maidens sleep?
Out of every night to come will creep
That cry his heart to quail!

The clouds had broken, the wind was at rest,
The sea would be still ere morn,
The moon had gone down behind its breast
Save the tip of one blunt horn:
Was that the ghost-angel without a nest -
Across the moonset far in the west
That thin white vapour borne?

He turned from the lattice: the fire-lit room
With its ghost-forsaken chair
Was cold and drear as a rifled tomb,
Shameful and dreamless and bare!
Filled it was with his own soul's gloom,
With the sense of a traitor's merited doom,
With a lovely ghost's despair!

He had driven a lady, and lightly clad,
Out in the stormy cold!
Was she a ghost? - Divinely sad
Are the people of Hades old!
A wandering ghost? Oh, self-care bad,
Caitiff and craven and cowering, which had
Refused her an earthly fold!

Ill had she fared, his lovely guest! -
A passion of wild self-blame
Tore the heart that failed in the test
With a thousand hooks of shame,
Bent his proud head on his heaving breast,
Shore the plume from his ancient crest,
Puffed at his ancient name.

He sickened with scorn of a fallen will,
With love and remorse he wept;
He sank and kissed her footprints chill
And the track by her garment swept;
He kneeled by her chair, all ice-cold still,
Dropped his head in it, moaned until
For weariness he slept.

He slept until the flaming sun
Laughed at the by-gone dark:
"A frightful dream! - but the night is done,"
He said, "and I hear the lark!"
All day he held out; with the evening gun
A booming terror his brain did stun,
And Doubt, the jackal, gan bark.

Followed the lion, Conviction, fast,
And the truth no dream he knew!
Night after night raved the conscience-blast,
But stilled as the morning grew.
When seven slow moons had come and passed
His self-reproach aside he cast,
And the truth appeared untrue.

A lady fair - old story vile! -
Would make his heart her boast:
In the growing glamour of her smile
He forgot the lovely ghost:
Forgot her for bitterness wrapt in wile,
For the lady was false as a crocodile,
And her heart was a cave of frost.

Then the cold white face, with its woe divine,
Came back in the hour of sighs:
Not always with comfort to those that pine
The dear true faces arise!
He yearned for her, dreamed of her, prayed for a sign;
He wept for her pleading voice, and the shine
Of her solitary eyes.

"With thy face so still, which I made so sad -
Ah me! which I might have wooed -
Thou holdest my heart in a love not glad,
Sorrowful, shame-subdued!
Come to me, lady, in pardon clad;
Come to my dreams, white Aidead,
For on thee all day I brood!"

She came not. He sought her in churchyards old,
In churchyards by the sea;
And in many a church, when the midnight tolled
And the moon shone eerily,
Down to the crypt he crept, grown bold,
Sat all night in the dead men's cold,
And called to her: never came she.

Praying forgiveness more and more,
And her love at any cost,
Pining and sighing and longing sore
He grew like a creature lost;
Thin and spectral his body wore,
He faded out at the ghostly door,
And was himself a ghost.

But if he found the lady then,
So sorrowfully lost
For lack of the love 'mong earthly men
That was ready to brave love's cost,
I know not till I drop my pen,
Wander away from earthly ken,
And am myself a ghost.


"If I sit in the dust
For lauding good wine,
Ha, ha! it is just:
So sits the vine!"

Abu Midjan sang as he sat in chains,
For the blood of the grape ran the juice of his veins.
The Prophet had said, "O Faithful, drink not!"
Abu Midjan drank till his heart was hot;
Yea, he sang a song in praise of wine,
He called it good names - a joy divine,
The giver of might, the opener of eyes,
Love's handmaid, the water of Paradise!
Therefore Saad his chief spake words of blame,
And set him in irons - a fettered flame;
But he sings of the wine as he sits in his chains,
For the blood of the grape runs the juice of his veins:

"I will not think
That the Prophet said
_Ye shall not drink
Of the flowing red!_"

"'Tis a drenched brain
Whose after-sting
Cries out, _Refrain:
'Tis an evil thing!_

"But I will dare,
With a goodly drought,
To drink, nor spare
Till my thirst be out.

"_I_ do not laugh
Like a Christian fool
But in silence quaff
The liquor cool

"At door of tent
'Neath evening star,
With daylight spent,
And Uriel afar!

"Then, through the sky,
Lo, the emerald hills!
My faith swells high,
My bosom thrills:

"I see them hearken,
The Houris that wait!
Their dark eyes darken
The diamond gate!

"I hear the float
Of their chant divine,
And my heart like a boat
Sails thither on wine!

"Can an evil thing
Make beauty more?
Or a sinner bring
To the heavenly door?

"The sun-rain fine
Would sink and escape,
But is drunk by the vine,
Is stored in the grape:

"And the prisoned light
I free again:
It flows in might
Through my shining brain

"I love and I know;
The truth is mine;
I walk in the glow
Of the sun-bred wine.

"_I_ will not think
That the Prophet said
_Ye shall not drink
Of the flowing red!_

"For his promises, lo,
Sevenfold they shine
When the channels o'erflow
With the singing wine!

"But I care not, I! - 'tis a small annoy
To sit in chains for a heavenly joy!"

Away went the song on the light wind borne;
His head sank down, and a ripple of scorn
Shook the hair that flowed from his curling lip
As he eyed his brown limbs in the iron's grip.

Sudden his forehead he lifted high:
A faint sound strayed like a moth-wing by!
Like beacons his eyes burst blazing forth:
A dust-cloud he spied in the distant north!
A noise and a smoke on the plain afar?
'Tis the cloud and the clang of the Moslem war!
He leapt aloft like a tiger snared;
The wine in his veins through his visage flared;
He tore at his fetters in bootless ire,
He called the Prophet, he named his sire;
From his lips, with wild shout, the Techir burst;
He danced in his irons; the Giaours he cursed;
And his eyes they flamed like a beacon dun,
Or like wine in the crystal twixt eye and sun.

The lady of Saad heard him shout,
Heard his fetters ring on the stones about
The heart of a warrior she understood,
And the rage of the thwarted battle-mood:
Her name, with the cry of an angry prayer,
He called but once, and the lady was there.

"The Giaour!" he panted, "the Godless brute!
And me like a camel tied foot to foot!
Let me go, and I swear by Allah's fear
At sunset I don again this gear,
Or lie in a heaven of starry eyes,
Kissed by moon-maidens of Paradise!
O lady, grant me the death of the just!
Hark to the hurtle! see the dust!"

With ready fingers the noble dame
Unlocked her husband's iron blame;
Brought his second horse, his Abdon, out,
And his second hauberk, light and stout;
Harnessed the warrior, and hight him go
An angel of vengeance upon the foe.

With clank of steel and thud of hoof
Away he galloped; she climbed the roof.

She sees the cloud and the flashes that leap
From the scythe-shaped swords inside it that sweep
Down with back-stroke the disordered swath:
Thither he speeds, a bolt of wrath!
Straight as an arrow she sees him go,
Abu Midjan, the singer, upon the foe!
Like an eagle he vanishes in the cloud,
And the thunder of battle bursts more loud,
Mingled of crashes and blows and falls,
Of the whish that severs the throat that calls,
Of neighing and shouting and groaning grim:
Abu Midjan, she sees no more of him!
Northward the battle drifts afar
On the flowing tide of the holy war.

Lonely across the desert sand,
From his wrist by its thong hung his clotted brand,
Red in the sunset's level flame
Back to his bonds Abu Midjan came.

"Lady, I swear your Saad's horse -
The Prophet himself might have rode a worse!
Like the knots of a serpent the play of his flesh
As he tore to the quarry in Allah's mesh!
I forgot him, and mowed at the traitor weeds,
Which fell before me like rushes and reeds,
Or like the tall poppies that sudden drop low
Their heads to an urchin's unstrung bow!
Fled the Giaour; the faithful flew after to kill;
I turned to surrender: beneath me still
Was Abdon unjaded, fresh in force,
Faithful and fearless - a heavenly horse!
Give him water, lady, and barley to eat;
Then haste thee and fetter the wine-bibber's feet."

To the terrace he went, and she to the stall;
She tended the horse like guest in hall,
Then to the warrior unhasting returned.
The fire of the fight in his eyes yet burned,
But he sat in a silence that might betoken
One ashamed that his heart had spoken -
Though where was the word to breed remorse?
He had lauded only his chief's brave horse!
Not a word she spoke, but his fetters locked;
He watched with a smile that himself bemocked;
She left him seated in caitiff-plight,
Like one that had feared and fled the fight.

But what singer ever sat lonely long
Ere the hidden fountain burst in song!
The battle wine foamed in the warrior's veins,
And he sang sword-tempest who sat in chains.

"Oh, the wine
Of the vine
Is a feeble thing!
In the rattle
Of battle
The true grapes spring!

"When on whir
Of Tecbir
Allah's wrath flies,
And the power
Of the Giaour
A blasted leaf lies!

"When on force
Of the horse
The arm flung abroad
Is sweeping,
And reaping
The harvest of God!

"Ha! they drop
From the top
To the sear heap below!
Ha! deeper,
Down steeper,
The infidels go!

Sheer to hell
Shoots the foul shoals!
There Monker
And Nakir
Torture their souls!

"But when drop
On their crop
The scimitars red,
And under
War's thunder
The faithful lie dead,

"Oh, bright
Is the light
On hero slow breaking!
Rapturous faces
Bent for embraces
Watch for his waking!

"And he hears
In his ears
The voice of Life's river,
Like a song
Of the strong,
Jubilant ever!

"Oh, the wine
Of the vine
May lead to the gates,
But the rattle
Of battle
Wakes the angel who waits!

"To the lord
Of the sword
Open it must!
The drinker,
The thinker
Sits in the dust!

"He dreams
Of the gleams
Of their garments of white;
He misses
Their kisses,
The maidens of light!

"They long
For the strong
Who has burst through alarms -
Up, by the labour
Of stirrup and sabre,
Up to their arms!

"Oh, the wine of the grape is a feeble ghost!
The wine of the fight is the joy of a host!"

When Saad came home from the far pursuit,
An hour he sat, and an hour was mute.
Then he opened his mouth: "Ah, wife, the fight
Had been lost full sure, but an arm of might
Sudden rose up on the crest of the battle,
Flashed blue lightnings, thundered steel rattle,
Took up the fighting, and drove it on -
Enoch sure, or the good Saint John!
Wherever he leaped, like a lion he,
The battle was thickest, or soon to be!
Wherever he sprang with his lion roar,
In a minute the battle was there no more!
With a headlong fear, the sinners fled,
And we swept them down the steep of the dead:
Before us, not from us, did they flee,
They ceased in the depths of a new Red Sea!
But him who saved us we saw no more;
He went as he came, by a secret door!
And strangest of all - nor think I err
If a miracle I for truth aver -
I was close to him thrice - the holy Force
Wore my silver-ringed hauberk, rode Abdon my horse!"

The lady rose up, withholding her word,
And led to the terrace her wondering lord,
Where, song-soothed, and weary with battle strain,
Abu Midjan sat counting the links of his chain:
"The battle was raging, he raging worse;
I freed him, harnessed him, gave him thy horse."

"Abu Midjan! the singer of love and of wine!
The arm of the battle, it also was thine?
Rise up, shake the irons from off thy feet:
For the lord of the fight are fetters meet?
If thou wilt, then drink till thou be hoar:
Allah shall judge thee; I judge no more!"

Abu Midjan arose; he flung aside
The clanking fetters, and thus he cried:
"If thou give me to God and his decrees,
Nor purge my sin with the shame of these,
Wrath against me I dare not store:
In the name of Allah, I drink no more!"


It is May, and the moon leans down at night
Over a blossomy land;
Leans from her window a lady white,
With her cheek upon her hand.

"Oh, why in the blue so misty, moon?
Why so dull in the sky?
Thou look'st like one that is ready to swoon
Because her tear-well is dry.

"Enough, enough of longing and wail!
Oh, bird, I pray thee, be glad!
Sing to me once, dear nightingale,
The old song, merry mad.

"Hold, hold with thy blossoming, colourless, cold,
Apple-tree white as woe!
Blossom yet once with the blossom of old,
Let the roses shine through the snow!"

The moon and the blossoms they gloomily gleam,
The bird will not be glad:
The dead never speak when the mournful dream,
They are too weak and sad.

Listened she listless till night grew late,
Bound by a weary spell;
Then clanked the latch of the garden-gate,
And a wondrous thing befell:

Out burst the gladness, up dawned the love.
In the song, in the waiting show;
Grew silver the moon in the sky above.
Blushed rosy the blossom below.

But the merry bird, nor the silvery moon,
Nor the blossoms that flushed the night
Had one poor thanks for the granted boon:
The lady forgot them quite!


Prince Breacan of Denmark was lord of the strand
And lord of the billowy sea;
Lord of the sea and lord of the land,
He might have let maidens be!

A maiden he met with locks of gold,
Straying beside the sea:
Maidens listened in days of old,
And repented grievously.

Wiser he left her in evil wiles,
Went sailing over the sea;
Came to the lord of the Western Isles:
Give me thy daughter, said he.

The lord of the Isles he laughed, and said:
Only a king of the sea
May think the Maid of the Isles to wed,
And such, men call not thee!

Hold thine own three nights and days
In yon whirlpool of the sea,
Or turn thy prow and go thy ways
And let the isle-maiden be.

Prince Breacan he turned his dragon prow
To Denmark over the sea:
Wise women, he said, now tell me how
In yon whirlpool to anchor me.

Make a cable of hemp and a cable of wool
And a cable of maidens' hair,
And hie thee back to the roaring pool
And anchor in safety there.

The smiths of Greydule, on the eve of Yule,
Will forge three anchors rare;
The hemp thou shalt pull, thou shalt shear the wool,
And the maidens will bring their hair.

Of the hair that is brown thou shalt twist one strand,
Of the hair that is raven another;
Of the golden hair thou shalt twine a band
To bind the one to the other!

The smiths of Greydule, on the eve of Yule,
They forged three anchors rare;
The hemp he did pull, and he shore the wool,
And the maidens brought their hair.

He twisted the brown hair for one strand,
The raven hair for another;
He twined the golden hair in a band
To bind the one to the other.

He took the cables of hemp and wool.
He took the cable of hair,
He hied him back to the roaring pool,

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