Selected Writings of Wm Sharp, Vol. 1, Poems

from

ROMANTIC BALLADS

1888

 

THE WEIRD OF MICHAEL SCOTT

The wild wind moaned: fast waned the light:
Dense cloud-wrack gloorned the front of night:
    The moorland cries were cries of pain
Green, red, or broad and glaring white
    The lightnings flashed athwart the main.

The sound and fury of the waves,
Upon the rocks, among the caves,
    Boomed inland from the thunderous strand:
Mayhap the dead heard in their graves
    The tumult fill the hollow land.

With savage pebbly rush and roar
The billows swept the echoing shore
    In clouds of spume and swirling spray:
The wild wings of the tempest bore
    The salt rheum to the Haunted Brae,

Upon the Haunted Brae (where none
Would linger in the noontide sun)
    Michael the Wizard rode apace:
Wildly he rode where all men shun,
    With madness gleaming on his face.

Loud, loud he laugh'd whene'er he saw
The lightnings split on Lammer-Law,
   "Blood, bride, and bier the auld rune saith
Hell's wind tae me ae nicht sall blaw,
    The nicht I ride unto my death!"

Across the Haunted Brae he fled,
And mock'd and jeer'd the shuddering pead;
    Wan white the horse that he bestrode,
The fire-flaughts stricken as it sped
     Flashed thro' the black mirk of the road.

And even as his race he ran,
A shade pursued the fleeing man,
    A white and ghastly shade it was;
"Like saut sea-spray across wet san'
    Or wind abune the moonlit grass!---

"Like saut sea-spray it follows me,
Or wind o'er grass---so fast's I flee:
    In vain I shout, and laugh, and call
The thing betwixt me and the sea
    God kens it is my ain lost saul!"

Down, down the Haunted Brae, and past
The verge of precipices vast
    And eyries where the eagles screech
By great pines swaying in the blast,
    Through woods of moaning larch and beech

On, on by moorland glen and stream,
Past lonely lochs where ospreys scream,
    Past marsh-lands where no sound is heard,
The rider and his white horse gleam,
    And, aye behind, that dreadful third.

Wild and more wild the wild wind blew,
But Michael Scott the rein ne'er drew
    Loud and more loud his laughter shrill,
His wild and mocking laughter, grew,
    In dreadful cries 'twixt hill and hill.

At last the great high road he gained,
And now with whip and voice he strained
    To swifter flight the gleaming mare;
Afar ahead the fierce sleet rained
    Upon the ruin'd House of Stair.

Then Michael Scott laughed long and loud:
"Whan shone the mune ahint yon cloud
    I kent the Towers that saw my birth---
Lang, lang, sall wait my cauld grey shroud,
    Lang cauld and weet my bed o' earth!"

But as by Stair he rode full speed
His horse began to pant and bleed:
    "Win hame, win hame, my bonnie mare,
Win hame if thou would'st rest and feed,
    Win hame, we're nigh the House of Stair!"

But with a shrill heart-bursten yell
The white horse stumbled, plunged, and fell,
    And loud a summoning voice arose,,
"Is't White-Horse Death that rides frae Hell,
    Or Michael Scott that hereby goes?"

"Ah, Lord of Stair, I ken ye weel!
Avaunt, or I your saul sall steal,
    An' send ye howling through the wood
A wild man-wolf-aye, ye maun reel
    An' cry upon your Holy Rood!"

Swift swept the sword within the shade,
Swift was the flash the blue steel made,
    Swift was the downward stroke and rash---
But, as though leven-struck, the blade
    Fell splintered earthward with a crash.

With frantic eyes Lord Stair out-peered
When Michael Scott laughed loud and jeered:---
    "Forth fare ye now, ye've gat lang room
Ah, by my saul thou'lt dree thy weird!
    Begone, were-wolf, till the day o' doom!"

A shrill scream pierced the lonely place;
A dreadful change came o'er the face;
    The head, with bristled hair, swung low;
Michael the Wizard turned and fled
    And laughed a mocking laugh of woe.

And through the wood there stole and crept,
And through the wood there raced and leapt,
    A thing in semblance of a man;
An awful look its wild eyes kept
    As howling through the night it ran.

PART II

Athwart the wan bleak moonlit waste,
With staring eyes, in frantic haste,
With thin locks back-blown by the wind,
A grey gaunt haggard figure raced
And moaned the thing that sped behind.

It followed him, afar or near:
In wrath he curs'd; he shrieked in fear
But ever more it followed him:
Eftsoons he'd stop, and turn, and peer
To front the following phantom grim.

Naught would he see; in vain would list
For wing-like sound or feet that hissed
Like wind-blown snow upon the ice;
The grey thing vanished like a mist,
Or like the smoke of sacrifice:

"Come forth frae out the mirk," his cry,
"For I maun live or I maun die,
But na, nae mair I'll suffer baith!"
Then, with a shriek, would onward fly
And, swift behind, his following wraith.

Michael the Wizard sped across
The peat and bracken o' the moss:
He heard the muir-wind rise and fall,
And laughed to see the birk-boughs toss
An' the stealthy shadows leap or crawl.

When white St. Monan's Water streamed
For leagues athwart the muir, and gleamed
With phosphorescent marish-fires,
With wild and sudden joy he screamed,
For scarce a mile was Kevan-Byres---

Sweet Kevan-Byres, dear Kevan-Byres,
That oft of old was thronged with squires
And joyous damsels blithe and gay:
Alas, alas for Kevan-Byres
That now is cold and grey.

There in bed on linen sheet
With white soft limbs and love-dreams sweet
Fair Margaret o' the Byres would be:
(Ah, when he'd lain and kissed her feet
Had she not laughed in mockery!)

Aye she had laughed, for what reck'd she
O' a' the powers of Wizardie!
"Win up, win up, guid Michael Scott,
For ye sall ne'er win boon o' me,
By plea, or sword, or spell, God wot!"

Aye, these the words that she had said.
These were the words that as he fled
Michael the Wizard muttered o'er---
"My Margaret, bow your bonnie head,
For ye sall never flout me more!"

Swiftly he raced, with gleaming eyes,
And wild, strange, sobbing, panting cries,
Dire, dire, and fell his frantic mood
Until he gained St. Monan's Rise
Whereon the House of Kevan stood.

There looked he long and fixed his gaze
Upon a room where in past days
His very soul had pled love's boon:
Lit was it now with the wan rays
Flick-flickering from the cloud-girt moon.

"Come forth, May Margaret, come, my heart!
For thou and I nae mair sall part---
Come forth, I bid, though Christ himsel'
My bitter love should strive to thwart,
For I, have a' the powers o' hell!"

What was the white wan thing that came
And lean'd from out the window-frame,
And waved wild arms against the sky?
What was the hollow echoing name,
What was the thin despairing cry?

Adown the long and dusky stair,
And through the courtyard bleak and bare,
And past the gate, and out upon
The whistling, moaning, midnight air---
What is't that Michael Scott has won!

Across the moat it seems to flee,
It speeds across the windy lea,
And through the ruin'd abbey-arch
Now like a mist all waveringly
It stands beneath a lonely larch.

"Come Margaret, my Margaret,
Thou see'st my vows I ne'er forget:
Come win wi'me across the waste---
Lang lang I've wandered cauld and wet,
An' now thy sweet warm lips would taste!"

But as a whirling drift of snow,
Or flying foam the sea-winds blow,
Or smoke swept thin before a gale
It flew across the waste---and oh
'Twas Margaret's voice in that long wail!

Swift as the hound upon the deer,
Swift as the stag when nigh the mere,
Michael the Wizard followed fast---
What though May Margaret fled in fear,
She should be his, be his, at last!---

O'er broom and whin and bracken high,
Where the peat bog lay gloomily,
Where sullenly the bittern boomed
And startled curlews swept the sky,
Until St. Monan's Water loomed!

"The cauld wet water sall na be
The bride-bed for my love and me---
For now upon St. Monan's shore
May Margaret her love sall gie
To him she mocked and jeered of yore!"

Was that a heron in its flight?
Was that a mere-mist wan and white?
What thing from lonely kirkyard grave?
Forlorn it trails athwart the night
With arms that writhe and wring and wave!

Deep down within the mere it sank,
Among the slimy reeds and rank,
And all the leagues-long loch was bare---
One vast, grey, moonlit, lifeless blank
Beneath a silent waste of air.

"O God, O God! her soul it is!
Christ's saved her frae my blasting kiss!
Her soul frae out her body drawn,
The body I maun have for bliss!
O
body dead and spirit gaun!"

Hours long o'er Monan's wave he stared;
The fire-flaughts flashed and gleamed and glared,
The death-lights o' the lonely place:
And aye, dead still, he watch'd, till flared
The sunrise on his haggard face.

Full well he knew that with its fires
Loud was the tumult 'mong the squires,
And fierce the bitter pain of all
Where stark and stiff in Kevan-Byres
May Margaret lay beneath her pall.

Then once he laughed, and twice, and thrice,
Though deep within his hollow eyes
Dull-gleamed a light of fell despair.
Around, Earth grew a Paradise
In the sweet golden morning air.

Slowly he rose at last, and swift
One gaunt and frantic arm did lift
And curs'd God in his heav'n o'erhead:
Then, like a lonely cloud adrift,
Far from St. Monan's wave he fled.

PART III

All day the curlew wailed and screamed,
All day the cushat crooned and dreamed,
All day the sweet muir-wind blew free:
Beyond the grassy knowes far gleamed
The splendour of the singing sea.

Above the myriad gorse and broom
And miles of golden kingcup-bloom
The larks and yellowhammers sang:
Where the scaur cast an hour-long gloom
The lintie's liquid notes out-rang.

Oft as he wandered to and fro---
As idly as the foam-bells flow
Hither and thither on the deep---
Michael the Wizard's face would grow
From death to life, and he would weep---

Weep, weep wild tears of bitter pain
For what might never be again:
Yet even as he wept his face
Would gleam with mockery insane
And with fierce laughter on he'd race.

At times he watched the white clouds sail
Across the wastes of azure pale;
Or oft would haunt some moorland pool
Fringed round with thyme and fragrant gale
And canna-tufts of snow-white wool.

Long in it's depths would Michael stare,
As though some secret thing lay there:
Mayhap the moving water made
A gloom where crouched a Kelpie fair
With death-eyes gleaming through the shade.

Then on with weary listless feet
He fared afar, until the sweet
Cool sound of mountain brooks drew nigh,
And loud he heard the strayed lambs bleat
And the white ewes responsive cry.

High up among the hills full clear
He heard the belting of the deer
Amid the corries where they browsed,
And, where the peaks rose gaunt and sheer,
Fierce swirling echoes eagle-roused.

He watched the kestrel wheel and sweep,
He watched the dun fox glide and creep,
He heard the whaup's long-echoing call,
Watched in the stream the brown trout leap
And the grilse spring the waterfall.

Along the slopes the grouse-cock whirred
The grey-blue heron scarcely stirred
Amid the mossed grey tarn-side stones
The burns gurg-gurgled through the yird
Their sweet clear bubbling undertones.

Above the tarn the dragonfly
Shot like a flashing arrow by
And in a moving shifting haze
The gnat-clouds sank or soared on high
And danced their wild aerial maze.

As the day waned he heard afar
The hawking fern-owl's dissonant jar
Disturb the silence of the hill:
The gloaming came: star after star
He watched the skiey spaces fill.

But as the darkness grew and made
Forest and mountain one vast shade,
Michael the Wizard moaned in dread---
A long white moonbeam like a blade
Swept after him where'er he fled.

Swiftly he leapt o'er rock and root,
Swift o'er the fern his flying foot,
But swifter still the white moonbeam:
Wild was the grey-owl's dismal hoot,
But wilder still his maniac scream.

Once in his flight he paused to hear
A hollow shriek that echoed near:---
The louder were his dreadful cries,
The louder rang adown the sheer
Gaunt cliffs the echoing replies.

As though a hunted wolf, he raced
To the lone woods across the waste
Steep granite slopes of Crammond-Low---
The haunted forest where none faced
The terror that no man might know.

Betwixt the mountains and the sea
Dark leagues of pine stood solemnly,
Voiceful with grim and hollow song,
Save when each tempest-stricken tree
A savage tumult would prolong.

Beneath the dark funereal plumes,
Slow waving to and fro-death-blooms
Within the void dim wood of death---
Oft shuddering at the fearful glooms
Sped Michael Scott with failing breath.

Once, as he passed a dreary place,
Between two trees he saw a face---
A white face staring at his own:
A weird strange cry he gave for grace,
And heard an echoing moan.

"Whate'er ye be, O thing that bides
Among the trees---O thing that hides
In yonder moving mass o' shade
Come forth tae me!"---wan Michael glides
Swift, as he speaks, athrough the glade:

"Whate'er ye be, I fear ye nought
Michael the Wizard has na fought
Wi' men and demons year by year
To shirk ae thing he has na sought
Or blanch wi' any mortal fear!"

But not a sound thrilled thro' the air---
Not even a she-fox in her lair
Or brooding bird made any stir---
All was as still and blank and bare
As is a vaulted sepulchre.

Then awe, and fear, and wild dismay
O'ercame mad Michael, ashy grey,
With eyes as of one newly dead:
"If wi' my sword I canna slay,
Ye'll dree my weird when it is said!"

"Whate'er ye be, man, beast, or sprite,
I wind ye round wi' a sheet o' light---
Aye, round and round your burning frame
I cast by spell o' wizard might
A fierce undying sheet of flame!"

Swift as he spoke a thing sprang out,
A man-like thing, all hemmed about
With blazing blasting burning fire!
The wind swoop'd wi' a demon-shout
And whirled the red flame higher and higher!

And as, appalled, wan Michael stood
The flying flaughts swift fired the wood,
And even as he shook and stared
The gaunt pines turned the hue of blood
And all the waving branches flared.

Then with wild leaps the accurséd thing
Drew nigh and nigher: with a spring
Michael escaped its fiery clasp,
Although he felt the fierce flame sting
And all the horror of its grasp.

Swift as an arrow far he fled,
But swifter still the flames o'erhead
Rushed o'er the waving sea of pines,
And hollow noises crashed and sped
Like splitting blasts in ruin'd mines.

A burning league---leagues, leagues of fire
Arose behind, and ever higher
The flying semi-circle came:
And aye beyond this dreadful pyre
There leapt a man-like thing in flame.

With awful scream doom'd Michael saw
The flying furnace reach Black-Law:
"Blood, bride, and bier, the auld rune saith
Hell's wind tae me ae nicht sall blaw,
The nicht I ride unto my death!
"

"The blood of Stair is round me now:
My bride can laugh to scorn my vow:
My bier, my bier, ah sall it be
Wi' a crown o' fire around my brow
Or deep within the cauld saut sea!"

Like lightning, over Black-Law's slope
Michael fled swift with sudden hope:
What though the forest roared behind---
He yet might gain the cliff and grope
For where the sheep-paths twist and wind.

The air was like a furnace-blast
And all the dome of heaven one vast
Expanse of flame and fiery wings:
To the cliff's edge, ere all be past,
With shriek on shriek lost Michael springs.

But none can hear his bitter call,
None, none can see him sway and fall---
Yea, one there is that shrills his name!
"O God, it is my ain lost saul
That I hae girt wi' deathless flame!
"

With waving arms and dreadful cries
He cowers beneath those glaring eyes---
But all in vain---in vain---in vain!
His own soul clasps him as its prize
And scorches death upon his brain.

Body and soul together swing
Adown the night until they fling
The hissing sea-spray far and wide:
At morn the fresh sea-wind will bring
A black corpse tossing on the tide.

THE TWIN-SOUL

In the dead of the night a spirit came:
Her moon-white face and her eyes of flame
Were known to me:---I called her name---
    The name that shall not be spoken at all
    Till Death hath this body of mine in thrall

And she laughed to see me lying there,
Wrapped in the living-corpse bloody and fair,
And my soul 'mid its thin films shining bare---
    And I rose and followed her glance so sweet
    And passed from the house with noiseless feet.

I know not myself what I knew, what I saw!
I know that it filled me with trouble and awe,
With pain that still at my heart doth gnaw:
    That she with her wild eyes witched my soul
    And whispered the name of the Unknown Goal.

O, wild was her laugh, and wild was my cry
When with one long flash and a weary sigh
I awoke as from sleep bewilderingly:
    Her voice, her eyes, they are with me still,
    O Spirit-Enchantress, O Demon-Will!

THE ISLE OF LOST DREAMS

There is an isle beyond our ken,
Haunted by Dreams of weary men.
Grey Hopes enshadow it with wings
Weary with burdens of old things:
There the insatiate water-springs
Rise with the tears of all who weep:
And deep within it, deep, oh deep
The furtive voice of Sorrow sings.
        There evermore,
        Till Time be o'er,
Sad, oh so sad, the Dreams of men
Drift through the isle beyond our ken.

THE DEATH-CHILD

She sits beneath the elder-tree
    And sings her song so sweet,
And dreams o'er the burn that darksomely
    Runs by her moon-white feet.

Her hair is dark as starless night,
    Her flower-crown'd face is pale,
But oh, her eyes are lit with light
    Of dread ancestral bale.

She sings an eerie song, so wild
    With immemorial dule--
Though young and fair Death's mortal child
    That sits by that dark pool.

And oft she cries an eldritch scream
    When red with human blood
The burn becomes a crimson stream,
    A wild, red, surging flood:

Or shrinks, when some swift tide of tears
    The weeping of the world---
Dark eddying 'neath man's phantom-fears,
    Is o'er the red stream hurl'd.

For hours beneath the elder-tree
    She broods beside the stream
Her dark eyes filled with mystery,
    Her dark soul rapt in dream.

The lapsing flow she heedeth not
    Though deepest depths she scans
Life is the shade that clouds her thought,
    As Death's the eclipse of man's.

Time seems but as a bitter thing
    Remember'd from of yore:
Yet ah (she thinks) her song she'll sing
    When Time's long reign is o'er.

Erstwhiles she bends alow to hear
    What the swift water sings,
The torrent running darkly clear
    With secrets of all things.

And then she smiles a strange sad smile,
    And lets her harp lie long;
The death-waves oft may rise the while,
    She greets them with no song.

Few ever cross that dreary moor,
    Few see that flower-crown'd head;
But whoso knows that wild song's lure
    Knoweth that he is dead.

THE COVES OF CRAIL

The moon-white waters wash and leap,
    The dark tide floods the Coves of Crail;
Sound, sound he lies in dreamless sleep,
    Nor hears the sea-wind wail.

The pale gold of his oozy locks,
    Doth hither drift and thither wave;
His thin hands plash against the rocks,
    His white lips nothing crave.

Afar away she laughs and sings---
    A song he loved, a wild sea-strain
Of how the mermen weave their rings
    Upon the reef-set main.

Sound, sound he lies in dreamless sleep,
    Nor hears the sea-wind wail,
Tho' with the tide his white hands creep
    Amid the Coves of Crail.

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