A LOST EPIC
A LOST EPIC
AND OTHER POEMS
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
EDINBURGH AND LONDON
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN.
When God enthroned You, fifty years ago,
And the grey Dukes in homage would have knelt,
Yoti rose up to prevent them, blushing
I am your niece Victoria ! "
Her heart beat ; England loved You ! It was good
So great a Queen should be a girl so true!
Madam, these Realms praise God and reverence You-
For Fifty Years of Sovereign Womanhood.
A LOST EPIC, I
THROUGH THE AGES. 1 4-
THE DEATH OF ANAXAGORAS, .... 25
THE LATTER LAW, 32
THE GOD AND THE SCHOOLBOY, .... 36
AN INDIAN COWRIE, 4!
THE WOODWELE, ....... 46
HOW SHOULD YOU MY TRUE LOVE KNOW? . . 52
RINGED WITH BLUE MOUNTAINS, .... 53
THE LEGEND OF THE ARK
I. THE GREAT WITNESS, .... 54
II. THE PENITENT, 6l
III. THE VOICES, 67
IV. THE WATERS, 71
KOZMA THE SMITH,
JOHN CALVIN'S DREAM, .
. . . 82
TWO LIVES, .
FLOWER FANCIES, .
A DESERTED GARDEN,
A BIRD'S FLIGHT,
THE WEIR, .
JANUARY AND JUNE,
, . . . 96
. . . 98
PINE AND PALM,
THE BROOK, .
LOVE AND LABOUR, .
A RUSSIAN GUN,
. . 106
UNDER TWO TREES, .
ON THE SHORE,
IN THE SHADOW,
IN THE FALL, .
COMFORT ON PELION,
POEMS OF CHILDHOOD
LAUS INFANTIUM, 150
ANY FATHER, 152
ANY MOTHER, I$3
A PHILOSOPHER, 154
A POET, 156
APPLE-BLOOM AND APPLE, .... l6o
THE WINTER SLEEP, 163
AN APRIL GRIEF, 164
THE GREAT WORLD, l6$
A NEW POET, 169
THE LADDER, 171
THE UPWARD LOOK, 1 72
THE ROBIN, 174
BIRTH AND DEATH, 176
THE STONE FACE, 179
MAKING MORNING-MIRTH, . . . . . 186
MENA THE LIBYAN, 187
PEARLS AND SIMPLES, 193
CHRISTMAS EVE, 2O$
ANNO DOMINI XXXVII., 211
A LOST EPIC.
HIS is his little grandchild ! . . . Run away,
And pluck the gentleman a bunch of
A pretty tot ! Poem he never wrote
To match in freshness and in winning grace
That rosy little slip of roguery !
Here are his poems all he gave the world
A crown octavo, thin and printed wide
Forgotten now, but forty years ago
Noted with wonder as a new-seen star,
Deemed sweet as snowdrops after months of snow,
And simple as snowdrops too ! He prized them
"The babble o' green fields in his feverish youth ;
Mere chirps and fluted trills because the earth
2 A Lost Epic.
Was sunny and blossom-blithe, and but to live
A very joy ; " for he'd outgrown the broad
Untutored heart of homely man and maid,
And, heedless of the common work-day life
Which prompts the poems all the world can feel,
Could scorn the only pages left to keep
His name in kindly memory.
Take the book ;
And since I prize his gift no doubt, no doubt !
Still, have a more than special care of this !
Four years ago he came and brought the child,
A prattling three-year-old, and lived alone
An aged maid for housekeeper and nurse
In yon small cottage, where the beechwood shrinks
From over-keen blown kisses of the sea.
A tall, mild, wise-eyed, silver-bearded man
The sea-wind scattering down our village street
His sixtieth autumn's crimson leaves he moved
Among us, noting all our seaboard ways,
Stealing our little people's hearts with sweets,
And through the children winning all the wives ;
But when the men, rough storm-flushed fellows,
A Lost Epic. 3
With slightly pitying, half-amused contempt,
Their homespun wits he startled to respect
By better knowledge of the things they knew,
Till all our ale-house sages, pipe in cheek,
Confessed " the Doctor " knew a sight o' things
Beyond their weather-gage, and last of all
Our gaunt old whaler, ear-ringed and tattooed,
Bragged less of outland folk and foreign ports.
Nay, I, too, when the gracious Sunday bell *
Gathered our village little children all
Around a common knee began to feel
An undefined attraction to the man,
And found my sermon three-parts preached to him ;
While he, with reverend hair and solemn beard,
A sprig or flower-bud at his button-hole,
Would sit, his grandchild's tiny hand in his,
Listening and musing, musing most, I thought,
Patient if not improved, until the close.
I came to like the man who liked him not?
And watched his tall grey figure as he passed
Seaward along the bright side of the street,
Wee flax-head trotting gaily at his side
In crimson .cloak and buckled crimson shoes ;
Watched, and surprised him on the breezy downs
Poring through lenses o'er the silvery frost
4 A Lost Epic.
Of lichens on some ice-scored boulder-stone,
And oft at sunset met, a furlong off,
His spare stretched shadow on the glittering sands,
And then himself the little one asleep,
Nestled in flaxen hair and hoary beard.
The village folk, with that blank bovine stare
Which never seems to see the thing it scans,
Observed and gossiped, wondered, and surmised,
But found no evil in the lonely man
Whose life seemed wholly bound up in his child ;
And, tired of vain conjecture, grew content
To love him merely, and let him hold his way
Mysterious and unquestioned. So the year
From autumn round to autumn rolled ; and then,
Whether it were he felt the social need
Or simply liked me out of liberal heart,
The Doctor lost his strangeness and reserve,
At length cast all the anchors of his trust,
Nor found me lack that gracious temper of youth
Which worships lofty aims in patient lives.
A poet, heart and brain, the man but lived
To write one book which no man yet had dared ;
One life-work, one colossal poem, fraught
With all the joy and travail of mankind,
A Lost Epic.
Enriched with all the lore of all the years
" The Epic of the Pageants of the World."
Smiling, 'twas so he named it for the nonce ;
And truly as he sat in dreamy mood
And sketched the vasty outlines of his theme,
I, grown from very sympathy a bard,
Saw, as he spoke, strange masquerades of Time
Sweep past in awful splendour.
Years had fled,
Ay, forty years of florid life, since first
He planned this large majestic epopee ;
And years must still be spent in search and
And years, perchance, in waiting, sail outspread,
To catch the ever-imminent breeze of song ;
Years on the voyage through that sea of dreams ;
Years and the man who had thought and wrought,
To note the years, forgot that he was old !
Small wonder ! For his eye, grown keen to scan
The cosmic cycles from the nebular dawn,
Was dulled to human epochs, mortal dates.
Why, Rome was thatched and fenced but yesterday !
6 A Lost Epic.
The Pyramids were reared a year ago ?
Nay, mark, those fiery -blossomed weeds have
Along the furrows of an Aryan plough ;
These ripples wash the self-same water-line
As when the dwellers on the reed-roofed piles
Moulded clay crescents of the holy Moon !
What pageants these of his ! He spoke of Art ;
And the sea -crinkled, ice-cragged, palm -plumed
Spread like a marvellous map before the eye ;
And vaguely seen in dimly shimmering light,
Lo ! Man the Artist wrought. Before his cave
Th' autochthon sketched upon a mammoth's tooth
The picture of a mammoth, chipped the flint
To shape of prehistoric man or beast.
Tribes perished, forests crumbled, sea and land
Changed places, and the stars changed colour and
In changing skies, but Man the Artist lived
Scratched, whittled, painted, grew in eye and hand ;
Pictured the river-bluffs, the rocky walls
Of sea-carved creeks, the snow-capped precipice,
The ice-borne boulder on the tropic isle,
A Lost Epic. 7
Till sun and moon, fish, reptile, bird and flower,
Mammal and Man, on ivory, slate, horn, rock,
Ringed with strange zodiacs all the savage globe !
And nations perished, cities rose and fell,
And Man the Artist lived and wrought and throve,
Grew bold in thought and opulent in means,
Survived all wreck, till Titian, Raphael came
For life indeed is short and art is long !
All this was but an episode conceive !
In some transcendent pageant he had named
" The Song of Colour." He began his strain
Far backward in the green Devonian Age,
When no bright blossom hung on any tree
Its crimson petals or its golden bell;
No single fruit gleamed ruddy in the sun,
But all the jungle- waste of primal growth,
Gigantic marestails, ferns, and ancient pines,
Rolled one susurrent sea of endless green ;
And giant May-flies poised on gauzy wing
O'er tepid swamps, and antique grasshoppers
Chirruped the oldest music of the world.
Threading that green and gloomy forest floor,
He marked, as emerald age succeeded age,
The slowly kindling dawn of sylvan love ;
8 A Lost Epic.
The pines and cycads sighed with tender need,
The grasses beckoned with their feathery plumes,
And whispered, " Hasten, sweetest, or we die."
And through the woods for centuries the wind
Drifted the amorous pollen, till the waste
Was checked by Colour, and th' instinctive tree
Hung out its lamps of blossom, wooed and won
The aid of myriad-murmuring insect swarms
In the vast stress and strain of leafy life ;
Hung out its glowing fruit, that beast and bird
Might guard its life, assist its kindly race
In conquest of the hungry continents.
So kindled through the centuries the world !
For love of brilliant food awoke a love
For brilliant mates ; and beetle and butterfly
Changed into creeping gem and fluttering flower,
And feather and fur were shot with luring tints ;
And plucking from the hospitable boughs
A coloured feast, the ancestry of Man
Bequeathed to Man the love of coloured things,
And Man became the Artist.
Such he deemed
The genesis of Art so vast the time,
So slow and subtly intricate the toil,
Ere God could make a Raphael ! Ponder that !
A Lost Epic. 9
Sublime it was but sad, this tardy growth,
This infinite waste of means to shape an end,
This frigid scorn of time, this recklessness
Of life potential and of potent life.
Nature, he felt, was ruthless, tyrannous,
Extravagant of pain ; and in a song,
BLOSSOM AND BABE, he touched the human stop
In the vast organ-music of his theme.
BLOSSOM AND BABE.
O happy little English cot ! O rustic-sweet vignette
Of red brick walls and thatched roof, in apple-
blossom set !
O happy Devon meadows, how you come to me again !
And I am riding as I rode along the cool green lane,
A-dreaming and a-dreaming ; and behold ! I see once
The fair young mother with her babe beside the
How bright it was! No blossom trembled in the
hot blue noon,
And grasshoppers were thrilling all the drowsy
heart of June !
O babe upon the bosom, O blossom on the tree !
io A Lost Epic.
And as I passed, the stridulous incessant jangle ran
Along the hedgerow following me, until my brain
To mingle in a waking dream the baby at the breast.
The woman and the apple-bloom, the shrilly sounding
To blend them with that great green age of trees
which never shed
A bell of gold or purple or a petal of white or red,
When all the music of the world a world too young
Was such a piercing riot made by such an insect
O babe upon the bosom, O blossom on the tree !
And then I thought of all the ages, all the waste of
That went to tinge one pulpy fruit, to flush one little
And just in this same wise, I mused, the Human too
Through waste of life, through blood and tears,
through centuries of woe,
To reach the perfect -flower and fruit ; for Nature
does not scan,
A Lost Epic. 1 1
More than the individual tree, the individual man;
A myriad blossoms shall be lavished, if but one shall
The onward impulse to the thought that Nature
means to live.
O babe upon the bosom, O blossom on the tree !
O fair young mother, far removed from visions of
Be happy in the baby blossom flushing at thy
The bles seder condition thine, that thou canst never
The strife, the cruel waste, the cyclic growth in man
and tree ;
That thou canst trust a heart, more kind than ever
Will gather each baby bloom that falls, will cherish
each that blows ;
Canst need no solace from the faith, that since the
The Brute hath reached the Human through the
martyrdom of man.
O babe upon the bosom, O blossom on the tree I
1 2 A Lost Epic.
Why should I tire you with his dreams ? And yet
To me they bring the saddest hours I know.
His pageant of migrations swarming hosts
Of plant, beast, insect, man, in ceaseless march
Netting with footprints all the restless world
Age after age ; his vision of the tombs
Caves, barrows, rings and avenues of stone,
Ship-mounds and pyramids, by sea-washed shore,
Far inland, by the river, in the waste,
On snow-peaked mountain and on grassy plain,
On continent and isle, here one all lone,
There grouped in multitudes, till all the earth
Seemed one vast graveyard whence the Spirit of
Cried unto God for immortality ;
His pageant of the altars yearning arms
Stretched to the spirits of the kindly dead,
The blood-drenched idols and the shrieking fires,
The magic drums why speak of these, of aught ?
The song of BLOSSOM AND BABE was all he wrote
Of this stupendous Epic of the World.
Last spring he died, left me his grandchild there,
His fossils, books, and manuscripts. The last
I searched with eagerness, and found the song
A single arrow-head in heaps of flakes,
A Lost Epic. 1 3
Notes, observations, comments, chips of thought !
His heart was light unto the last : he felt
A joyous confidence that all was well.
No premonition saddened his decline ;
And, dying, he believed in years of love
To lavish on his poem and his child.
The mighty Epic that had filled his brain,
Absorbed his very being forty years,
He took away with him. A larger life
May yield it larger utterance who can fell ?
Yes, give them to the gentleman, my dear !
THROUGH THE AGES.
*A LEGEND OF A STONE AXE.
R the swamp in the forest
The sunset is red ;
And the sad reedy waters,
In black mirrors spread,
Are aflame with the great crimson tree-tops o'er-
By the swamp in the forest
The oak-branches groan,
As the Savage primeval,
With russet hair thrown
O'er his huge naked limbs, swings his hatchet of
Through the Ages. 1 5
By the swamp in the forest
Sings shrilly in glee
The stark forester's lass
Plucking mast in a tree
And hairy and brown as a squirrel is she !
With the strokes of the flint axe
The blind woodland rings,
And the echoes laugh back as
The sylvan girl sings :
And the Sabre-tooth growls in his lair ere he
Like two stars of green splendour,
His great eyeballs burn
As he crawls ! Chilled to silence,
The girl can discern
The fierce pantings which thrill through the fronds
of the fern.
And the brown frolic face of
The girl has grown white,
As the large fronds are swayed in
The weird crimson light,
And she sobs with the strained throbbing dumb-
ness of fright.
1 6 Through the Ages.
With his blue eyes agleam, and
His wild russet hair
Streaming back, the Man travails,
Of the lithe shape that crouches, the green eyes
And now, hark ! as he drives with
A last mighty swing
The stone blade of the axe through
The oak's central ring,
From the blanched lips what screams of wild
agony spring !
There's a rush through the fern-fronds
A yell of affright
And the Savage and Sabre-tooth
Close in fierce fight :
And^the red sunset smoulders and blackens to night.
On the swamp in the forest
One clear star is shown,
And the reeds fill the night with
A long troubled moan
And the girl sits and sobs in the darkness, alone !
Through the Ages. 17
The great dim centuries of long ago
Sweep past with rain and fire, with wind and snow,
And where the Savage swung his axe of stone
The blue clay silts on Titan trunks o'erthrown,
O'er mammoth's tusks, in river-horse's lair;
And, armed with deer-horn, clad in girdled hair,
A later savage in his hollow tree
Hunts the strange broods of a primeval sea.
And yet the great dim centuries again
Sweep past with snow and fire, with wind and rain
And where that warm primeval ocean rolled
A second forest buds, blooms broad, grows old;
And a new race of prehistoric men
Springs from the mystic soil, and once again
Fades like a wood mist through the woodlands hoar.
For lo ! the great dim centuries once more
With wind and fire, with rain and snow sweep by ;
And where the forest stood, an empty sky
Arches with lonely blue a lonely land.
The great white stilted storks in silence stand
Far from each other, motionless as stone,
And melancholy leagues of marsh-reeds moan,
And dead tarns blacken 'neath the mournful blue.
1 8 Through the Ages.
The ages speed ! And now the skin canoe
Darts with swift paddle through the drear morass,
But ere the painted fisherman can pass,
The brazen horns ring out ; a thund'rous throng
Bronzed faces, brazen helmets sweeps along,
The silver Eagles flash and disappear
Across the Roman causeway !
Year by year
The dim time lapses till that vesper hour
Broods o'er the summer lake with peaceful power,
When the carved galley through the sunset floats,
The rowers, with chains of gold about their throats,
Hang on their dripping oars, and sweet and clear
The sound of singing steals across the mere,
And rising with glad face and outstretched hand,
" Row, Knights, a little nearer to the land,
And let us hear these monks of Ely sing ; "
Says KNUT, the King.
In the dim years what fateful hour arrives,
And who is this rides Fenward from St Ives ?
A man of massive presence, bluff and stern.
Beneath their craggy brows his deep eyes burn
With awful thoughts and purposes sublime.
The face is one to abash the front of time,
Through the Ages. 19
Hewn of red rock, so vital, even now
One sees the wart above that shaggy brow.
At Ely there in these idyllic days
His sickles reap, his sheep and oxen graze,
And all the ambition of his sober life
Is but to please Elizabeth his wife,
To drain the Fens and magnify the Lord.
So in his plain cloth suit, with close-tucked sword,
OLIVER CROMWELL, fated but unknown,
Rides where the Savage swung his axe of stone.
In the class-room blue-eyed Phemie
Sits, half listening, hushed and dreamy,
To the grey-haired pinched Professor droning to
his class of girls.
And around her in their places
Rows of arch and sweet young faces
Seem to fill the air with colour shed from eyes
and lips and curls !
Eyes of every shade of splendour,
Brown and bashful, blue and tender,
Grey and giddy, black and throbbing with a deep
impassioned light :
2O Through the Ages.
Golden ringlets, raven clusters,
Auburn braids with sunny lustres
Falling on white necks, plump shoulders clothed
in green and blue and white.
And the sun with leafy reflex
Of the rustling linden-tree flecks
All the glass doors of the cases ranged along the
Flecks with shadow and gold the Teacher's
Thin grey hair and worn pinched features, :
And the pupils' heads, and sends a thrill of July
And the leafy golden tremor
Witches so the blue-eyed dreamer
That the room seems filling straightway with a
forest green and old;
And the grey Professor's speech is
Heard like wind among the beeches
Murmuring wondrous cosmic secrets never quite
Through the Ages. 2 1
And the girls around seem turning
Into trees laburnums burning,
Graceful ashes, silver birches but through all the
glamour and change
Phemie is conscious that those cases
Hold reliques of vanished races,
The pre-Adamitic fossils of a dead world grim and
Labelled shells suggest the motion,
Moan, and glimmer of that ocean
Where the belemnites dropped spindles and the
sand-stars shed their rays ;
Monstrous birds stalk stilted by as
She perceives the slab of Trias
Scrawled with hieroglyphic claw - tracks of the
And before her she sees dawn a
Pageant of an awful fauna
While across Silurian ages the Professor's lecture
22 Through the Ages.
All the while a soft and pleasant
Rustle of dresses, an incessant
Buzz of smothered frolic rises underneath his
And one pretty plague has during
All the class been caricaturing
Her short-sighted good old Master with a world
of wicked zest ;
And the madcaps blush and titter
As they see the unconscious sitter
Sketched as Allophylian Savage spectacled but
But the old man turns the pages
Of the rock-illumined ages,
Tracing from earth's mystic missal the antiquity of
Not six thousand years but eras.
Ages, eons disappear as
Groping back we touch the system where the Human
Through the Ages. 23
Centuries, as we retrogress, are
Dwarfed to days, says the Professor,
And our lineage was hoary ere Eve's apple-tree grew
For the Bee, whose drowsy humming
Was prophetic of Man's coming,
Lies in gem - like tomb of amber, buried in the
At what point Man came, I know not,
Logic proves not, fossils show not,
But his dim remote existence is a fact beyond
Look! And from among some thirty
Arrow barbs of quartz and chert he
Takes the flint head of a hatchet, and the girls
grow hushed and mute.
Old, he says, art thou strange stone ! Nor
Less antique thy primal owner !
When the Fens were drained this axe was found
below two forests sunk.
24 Through the Ages.
Underneath a bed of sea day
And two forests this relique lay
Where some Allophylian Savage left it in a half-
Does the old Professor notice
Large eyes, blue as myosotis,
Raised to him in startled wonder as those fateful
words are said ?
But for Phemie, through the trees in
Her dream forest, fact and reason
Blend with fancy, and her vision grows complete
and clear and dread :
By the swamp in the forest
The sylvan girl sings
As his flint-headed hatchet
The wild Woodman swings,
But the hatchet cleaves fast in the trunk he has
The Man stands unarmed as the Sabre -tooth
THE DEATH OF ANAXAGORAS.
"Lampsacum postea profectus, illic diem suum obiit; ubi
rogantibus eum principibus civitatis, Numquid fieri mandaret,
jussisse ferunt ut pueri quotannis quo mense defecisset ludere
permitterentur, servarique et hodie consuetudinem. " DlOG.
LAERT., De Vita Philosoph. ; Anaxagoras.
CLEON of Lampsacus to Pericles :
Of him she banished now let Athens
Let now th' Athenians raise to him they stoned
A statue; Anaxagoras is dead!
To you who mourn the Master, called him friend,
Beat back th' Athenian wolves who fanged his
And risked your own to save him, Pericles
I now unfold the manner of his end.
26 The Death of Anaxagoras.
The aged man, who found in sixty years
Scant cause for laughter, laughed before he died
And died still smiling : Athens vexed him not !
Not he, but your Athenians, he would say,
Were banished in his exile !
When the dawn
First glimmers white o'er Lesser Asia,
And little birds are twittering in the grass,
And all the sea lies hollow and grey with mist,
And in the streets the ancient watchmen doze,
The Master woke with cold. His feet were chill
And reft of sense ; and we who watched him knew
The fever had not wholly left his brain,
For he was wandering, seeking nests of birds
An urchin from the green Ionian town
Where he was born. We chafed his clay-cold limbs :
And so he dozed, nor dreamed, until the sun
Laughed out broad day and flushed the garden
Who bless our fruits and vines in Lampsacus.
Feeble, but sane and cheerful, he awoke
And took our hands and asked to feel the sun;
And where the ilex spreads a gracious shade
We placed him, wrapped and pillowed ; and he
The Death of Anaxagoras. 27
The charm of birds, the social whisper of vines,
The ripple of the blue Propontic sea.
Placid and pleased he lay ; but we were sad
To see the snowy hair and silver beard
Like withering mosses on a fallen oak,
And feel that he, whose vast philosophy
Had cast such sacred branches o'er the fields
Where Athens pastures her dull sheep, lay fallen
And never more should know the spring !