Lyra Celtica




       The Splendid Spur.

Not on the neck of prince or hound,
    Nor on a woman's finger twin'd,
May gold from the deriding ground
    Keep sacred that we sacred bind:
                Only the heel
                Of splendid steel
Shall stand secure on sliding fate,
When golden navies weep their freight.

The scarlet hat, the laureled stave
    Are measures, not the springs of worth;
In a wife's lap, as in a grave,
    Man's airy notions mix with earth.
                Seek other spur
                Bravely to stir
The dust in this loud world, and tread
Alp-high among the whispering dead.

Trust in thyself,--then spur amain:
    So shall Charybdis wear a grace,
Grim Ętna laugh, the Libyan plain
Take roses to her shrivelled face.
                This orb-this round
                Of sight and sound
Count it the lists that God hath built
For haughty hearts to ride a-tilt.

            The White Moth.

If a leaf rustled, she would start:
    And yet she died, a year ago
How had so frail a thing the heart
    To journey where she trembled so?
And do they turn and turn in fright,
    Those little feet, in so much night?

The light above the poet's head
    Streamed on the page and on the cloth,
And twice and thrice there buffeted
    On the black pane a white-wingd moth:

'Twas Annie's soul that beat outside,
    And "Open, open, open!" cried:
I could not find the way to God;
    There were too many flaming suns

For signposts, and the fearful road
    Led over wastes where millions
Of tangled comets hissed and burned--
    I was bewilder'd and I turned.

"O, it was easy then! I knew
    Your window and no star beside.
Look up and take me back to you!"
    He rose and thrust the window wide.

'Twas but because his brain was hot
    With rhyming; for he heard her not.
But poets polishing a phrase
    Show anger over trivial things:

And as she blundered in the blaze
    Towards him, on ecstatic wings,
He raised a hand and smote her dead;
    Then wrote, "That I had died instead."


        Featherstone's Doom.*


Twist thou and twine! in light and gloom
    A spell is on thine hand;
The wind shall be thy changeful loom,
    Thy web, the shifting sand.


Twine from this hour, in ceaseless toil,
    On Blackrock's sullen shore;
Till cordage of the hand shall coil
    Where crested surges roar.


'Tis for that hour, when, from the wave,
    Near voices wildly cried;
When thy stern hand no succour gave,
    The cable at thy side.


Twist thou and twine! in light and gloom
    The spell is on thine hand;
The wind shall be thy changeful loom,
    Thy web, the shifting sand.
*The Blackrock is a bold, dark, pillared mass of schist, which rises midway on the shore of Widemouth Bay, near Bude, and is held to be the lair of the troubled spirit of Featherstone the wrecker, imprisoned therein until he shall have accomplished his doom.                                                                                                                                   



Did the wild blast of battle sound,
Of old, from yonder lonely mound?
Race of Pendragon! did ye pour,
On this dear earth, your votive gore?


Did stern swords cleave along this plain
The loose rank of the roving Dane?
Or Norman chargers' sounding tread
Smite the meek daisy's Saxon head?


The wayward winds no answer breathe
No legend cometh from beneath,
Of chief, with good sword at his side,
Or Druid in his tomb of pride.


One quiet bird that comes to make
Her lone nest in the scanty brake;
A nameless flower, a silent fern--
Lo! the dim stranger's storied urn.


Hark! on the cold wings of the blast
The future answereth to the past;
The bird, the flower, may gather still,
Thy voice shall cease upon the hill!


            Witch Margaret.

Who hath not met Witch Margaret?
    Red gold her rippling hair,
Eyes like sweet summer seas are set
    Beneath her brow so fair;

And cream and damask rose have met
    Her lips and cheek to share.
Come up! and you shall see her yet,
    Before she groweth still;

Before her cloak of Rame and smoke
    The winter air shall fill;
For they must burn Witch Margaret
    Upon the Castle Hill.

                * * * *

They found on her the devil's mark,
    Wherein naught maketh pain,--
"Bind her and dip her! stiff and stark
    She floateth aye again;
Her body changeth after dark,
When powers of darkness reign."

They drave the boot on Margaret
    And crushed her dainty feet;
The hissing searing-irons set
    To kiss her lips so sweet:
She hath not asked for mercy yet,
    Nor mercy shall she meet.

The silent sky was cold and grey,
    The earth was cold and white,
They brought her out that Christmas Day
    To burn her in our sight;
The snow that fell and fell alway
    Would cover her ere night.

All feebly as a child would go
    Her bleeding feet dragged by,
Blood-red upon the white, white snow
    I saw her footprints lie;
And some one shrieked to see her so--
    God knows if it was I!

Upon her body, all in black,
    Fell down her red-gold hair;
All bruised and bleeding from the rack
    Her writhen arms hung bare;
Red blood dripped all along her track,
    Red blood seemed in the air.

The while they told her deeds of shame,
    She, resting in the snow,
Stretched out weak hands toward the flame,
    Watched the sparks upward go,
Till on the pale pinched face there came
    Some of the red fire's glow.

                * * * *

Oh, is it blood that blinds mine eyes,
    Or is it driving snow?
And are these but the wild wind's cries
    That drive me to and fro,
That beat about mine ears and rise
    Wherever I may go?

It's red and black on Castle Hill!
    The people go to pray,
A little wind sighs on, until
    The ashes float away;
And then God's earth is very still,
    For this is Christmas Day.

                    A Ballad.

The Autumn leaves went whispering by,
    Like ghosts that never slept.
Up through the dusk a carlew's cry
    From glen to hill-top crept.
The Dead Man heard the burn moan by
    And thought for him it wept.

Lapped in his grave, a night and day,
    The Dead Man marked the sound:
He knew the moon rose far away,
    Grey shadows gathered round,
Then down the glen, he heard the bay
    Raised by his great grey hound.

A stag crashed out, and thundered back
    --She never turned aside.
The swollen stream ran cold and black,
    --She leapt the waters wide,
Nor paused, nor left the shadowy track
    Till at the dark grave side.

"What brings you here, my great grey hound,
    What brings you here, alone?
True I am dead, but is there found
    Beneath my board no bone?
No rushy bed for your grey head
    Now I am dead and gone?"

"Your brother reads your title-deeds,
    Your wife counts out red gold,
And laughs in rich black widow's-weeds,
    Red-lipped and smooth and bold.
I want no bone, to gnaw alone,
    Now that your hand is cold.

The Dead Man laughed in scornful hate
    While the great hound growled low,
"Last night I rose to Heaven's gate,"
    He said, "for I would know
The best or worst dealt out by Fate,
    And whither I must go.

He paused--"My grave is damp and cold;
    I feel the slow worms glide
Smoothly and softly through the mould,
    And nestle by my side.
What lives and moves, in wood and wold,
    Where love and laughter bide?"

"The wild fowl fly across, and call
    In from the grey salt sea;
I scent the red stag by the Fall,
    He fears no more from me.
The moon comes up, and over all
    She glimmers eerily."

The corpse replied, "At Heaven's gates
    They stand to let me through,
And there, years hence, a welcome waits
    False Wife and Brother too.
Do what you will, my hound, and still
    Heaven holds no place for you.

"With tooth and claw tear down to me,
    And Death shall be no tether.
The swift red deer once more shall flee,
    Panting through burn and heather:
And you and I once more shall be
    Hunting my hills together!"

That night the deer across the wold
    From dark to dawning fled;
The lady dreamt that, shroud-enrobed,
    A corpse had shared her bed;
But by the grave wind-swept and cold,
    The great grey hound lay dead!

                Hell's Piper.

O have ye heard of Angus Blair,
Who lived long since in black Auchmair?
And have ye heard old pipers tell
His story-how he piped in Hell?
When Angus piped the old grew young,
Crutches across the floor were flung;
Nay more, 'twas said his witching breath
Had robbed the grave, and cheated death.

Above all else, a march of war
Was what men praised and feared him for;
When that he played, like fire it ran
In blood and brain of every man;
Then stiffened hair began to rise,
Bent brows scowled over staring eyes;
Then, at his will, men spilt their blood
Like water of a winter flood,
Swearing, with Angus, ill or well,
They'd charge light-hearted into Hell.

Long years, through many a feast and fray,
Did Piper Angus pipe his way;
Till, swept upon the swirling tide
Of a night-charge, he sank and died.

That night the Piper rose to tread
The ways that lie before the dead.
He saw God's battlements afar
Blazing behind the utmost star,
And turning in the chill night air,
Thought he might find a shelter there.

But as he turned to leave the earth,
With all its music, maids, and mirth,
The battered pipes beneath his feet
Screamed out a wailing, last retreat;

Then Piper Angus paused, and thought
Of the wild work those pipes had wrought;
"But there," quoth he, "in peace and rest,
Up there, the holy ones, the blest,
Praise aye the Lord, and aye they sing,
While golden harps and cymbals ring,
To my wild march or mad strathspey
The heavenly host would say me nay,
And none would hear my chanter more
Unless the Lord went out to war.
But often have I heard men tell
How they would follow pipes to Hell:
That way I'll try: in Hell maybe
Some corner's kept for them and me."

So said, so done--for well content
Down the dark way to Hell he went.
The Chanter felt his finger-tips,
The Blow-pipe thrilled between his lips,
The Drones across his shoulder flung,
Moaned till the Earth's foundations rung,
The streamers flaunted on the blast
As, striding smoke and shadow past,
With bonnet cocked, and careless air,
Piping his march, went Piper Blair.

Down where the shackled earthquakes dwell
Are piled the reeking halls of Hell.
Their walls are steel, their gates are brass;
Round them four flaming rivers pass;
And sleepless sentinels are set
On every point and parapet,
To hedge the souls whose far-off cries
Up to the world may never rise.

That night, so still the whole place seemed,
You'd think all Hell had peace, and dreamed
For the dark Master, brooding aye
Over lost hope and ancient fray,
Had, from his vantage, pale and grim,
Perchance to please a passing whim,
Hissed down a word which quelled and cowed
And silenced all that shuddering crowd.
So now aloft upon his throne
He sat indifferent, alone,
While poor damned souls who dared not cry
In writhing droves went whirling by.
These, dumb, before he noted aught,
Some strange and wandering sound now caught.

And first a little note they heard
Far off--and like a lonely bird
And then it grew, and grew, and grew,
As near and nearer still it drew,
Until Hell's Lord in slow surprise
Turned on the gates his weary eyes.

Then they that bent beneath a load
Stood up, nor felt the fiery goad.
Then they that trod on forks of flame
Tramped to the wild notes as they came.
Then, look, old foes of long ago
Feel old revenge revive and glow.
Then, heedless of the flaming whip,
They roll in one another's grip
With shout and shriek and throttled jeer,
--And over all the pipes rang clear.

But from the march those pipes turned soon,
And sank, to sing another tune;
A low lament, whose sobbing wail
Filled aching hearts and made them fail.
And they that fought a breath ago
Now wept at one another's woe.

A second change--a lilting air
Made Hell look bright, made Hell look fair,
And wretches gasping new from death
Followed the tune beneath their breath--
Then, piping yet, erect, alone,
The Piper stood before the throne.

Up rose the Master in his place,
Eyeing the Piper's careless face,
"No room, no room in Hell can be
For Piper Angus Blair," cried he;
"Would to such sounds my host had trod
Ere I was hurled down here by God
Mine hadst thou been, before I fell,
I'd rule in Heav'n now--not in Hell.
Then every night and every day
On Heav'n's high ramparts shouldst thou play,
But here--here's neither war nor mirth,
Nor more in Heav'n; so back to Earth."

Thus now, as over glen and brae
The wild wind wanders on its way,
Dead Piper Angus Blair goes too,
And pipes and pipes the whole world through.
Unseen, unknown he goes. To-day
He'll pipe perchance for bairns at play
To set them dancing: maybe steal
To-night to watch a roaring reel.
There, when the panting pipers tire,
He joins, and sets all hearts afire;
And ere the dawn his pipes have pealed
Fiercely across some stricken field.
But when each year is at its close
Right down the road to Hell he goes.
There the gaunt porters all a-grin
Fling back the gates to let him in,
Then damned and devil, one and all,
Make mirth and hold high carnival,
The while the Master sits apart
Plotting rebellion in his heart.
Till, when above the dawn is grey,
The Piper turns and tramps away.

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