Robert Williams Buchanan ( )


Liz


The crimson light of sunset falls
     Through the gray glamour of the murmuring rain,
And creeping oer the housetops crawls
     Through the black smoke upon the broken pane,
Steals to the straw on which she lies,
     And tints her thin black hair and hollow cheeks,
Her sun-tannd neck, her glistening eyes,
     While faintly, sadly, fitfully she speaks.
But when it is no longer light,
     The pale girl smiles, with only One to mark,
And dies upon the breast of Night,
     Like trodden snowdrift melting in the dark.

I.

HEY, rain, rain, rain!
     It patters down the glass, and on the sill,
And splashes in the pools along the lane
     Then gives a kind of shiver, and is still:
     One likes to hear it, though, when one is ill.
Rain, rain, rain, rain!
     Hey, how it pours and pours!
Rain, rain, rain, rain!
     A dismal day for poor girls out-o-doors!

II.

Ah, dont! That sort of comfort makes me cry.
And, Parson, since Im bad, I want to die.
         The roaring of the street,
         The tramp of feet,
         The sobbing of the rain,
         Bring nought but pain;
Theyre gone into the aching of my brain;
         And whether it be light,
         Or dark dead night,
Wherever I may be, I hear them plain!
Im lost and weak, and can no longer bear
To wander, like a shadow, here and there
     As useless as a stonetired outand sick!
     So that they put me down to slumber quick,
It does not matter where.
No one will miss me; all will hurry by,
     And never cast a thought on one so low;
     Fine gentlemen miss ladies when they go,
But folk care nought for such a thing as I.

III.

Tis bad, I know, to talk like thattoo bad!
     Joe, though hes often hard, is strong and true
     [Ah, Joe meant well]And theres the baby, too!
But Im so tired and sad.
Im glad it was a boy, sir, very glad.
A man can fight along, can say his say,
     Is not lookd down upon, holds up his head,
     And, at a push, can always earn his bread:
Men have the best of it, in many a way.
But ah! tis hard indeed for girls to keep
     Decent and honest, tramping in the town,
     Their best but badmade light ofbeaten down
Wearying ever, wearying for sleep.
If they grow hard, go wrong, from bad to badder,
     Why, Parson dear, theyre happier being blind:
     They get no thanks for being good and kind
The better that they are, they feel the sadder!

IV.

Nineteen! nineteen!
     Only nineteen, and yet so old, so old;
I feel like fifty, ParsonI have been
     So wicked, I suppose, and lifes so cold!
Ah, cruel are the wind, and rain, and snow,
     And Ive been out for years among them all:
     I scarce remember being weak and small
Like baby thereit was so long ago.
It does not seem that I was born. I woke,
     One day, long, long ago, in a dark room,
And saw the housetops round me in the smoke,
     And, leaning out, lookd down into the gloom,
Saw deep black pits, blank walls, and broken panes,
     And eyes, behind the panes, that flashd at me,
And heard an awful roaring, from the lanes,
     Of folk I could not see;
Then, while I lookd and listend in a dream,
     I turnd my eyes upon the housetops gray,
And saw, between the smoky roofs, a gleam
     Of silver water, winding far away.
That was the River. Cool and smooth and deep,
     It glided to the sound o folk below,
     Dazzling my eyes, till they began to grow
Dusty and dim with sleep.
Oh, sleepily I stood, and gazed, and hearkend!
     And saw a strange, bright light, that slowly fled,
     Shine through the smoky mist, and stain it red,
And suddenly the water flashd,then darkend;
And for a little time, though I gazed on,
The river and the sleepy light were gone;
But suddenly, over the roofs there lightend
     A pale, strange brightness out of heaven shed,
And, with a sweep that made me sick and frightend,
     The yellow Moon rolld up above my head;
And down below me roard the noise o trade,
And ah! I felt alive, and was afraid,
     And cold, and hungry, crying out for bread.

V.

All that is like a dream. It dont seem true!
     Father was gone, and mother left, you see,
     To work for little brother Ned and me;
And up among the gloomy roofs we grew,
Lockd in full oft, lest we should wander out,
     With nothing but a crust o bread to eat,
While mother chard for poor folk round about,
     Or sold cheap odds and ends from street to street.
Yet, Parson, there were pleasures fresh and fair,
To make the time pass happily up there:
A steamboat going past upon the tide,
     A pigeon lighting on the roof close by,
     The sparrows teaching little ones to fly,
The small white moving clouds, that we espied,
     And thought were living, in the bit of sky
     With sights like these right glad were Ned and I;
And then, we loved to hear the soft rain calling,
     Pattering, pattering, upon the tiles,
And it was fine to see the still snow falling,
     Making the housetops white for miles on miles,
And catch it in our little hands in play,
And laugh to feel it melt and slip away!
But I was six, and Ned was only three,
And thinner, weaker, wearier than me;
     And one cold day, in winter time, when mother
Had gone away into the snow, and we
     Sat close for warmth and cuddled one another,
He put his little head upon my knee,
And went to sleep, and would not stir a limb,
     But lookd quite strange and old;
And when I shook him, kissd him, spoke to him,
     He smiled, and grew so cold.
Then I was frightend, and cried out, and none
     Could hear me; while I sat and nursed his head,
Watching the whitend window, while the Sun
     Peepd in upon his face, and made it red.
And I began to sob;till mother came,
Knelt down, and screamd, and named the good Gods name,
     And told me he was dead.
And when she put his night-gown on, and, weeping,
     Placed him among the rags upon his bed,
I thought that brother Ned was only sleeping,
     And took his little hand, and felt no fear.
     But when the place grew gray and cold and drear,
And the round Moon over the roofs came creeping,
     And put a silver shade
     All round the chilly bed where he was laid,
     I cried, and was afraid.

VI.

Ah, yes, its like a dream; for time passd by,
     And I went out into the smoky air,
Fruit-selling, Parsontrudging, wet or dry
     Winter and summerweary, cold, and bare.
And when old mother laid her down to die,
And parish buried her, I did not cry,
     And hardly seemd to care;
I was too hungry, and too dull; beside,
     The roar o streets had made me dry as dust
It took me all my time, howeer I tried,
     To keep my limbs alive and earn a crust;
I had no time for weeping.
     And when I was not out amid the roar,
     Or standing frozen at the playhouse door,
Why, I was coild upon my straw, and sleeping.
Ah, pence were hard to gain!
Some girls were pretty, too, but I was plain:
Fine ladies never stoppd and lookd and smiled,
     And gave me money for my faces sake.
That made me hard and angry when a child;
     But now it thrills my heart, and makes it ache!
The pretty ones, poor things, what could they do,
     Fighting and starving in the wicked town,
     But go from bad to badderdown, down, down
Being so poor, and yet so pretty, too?
Never could bear the like of thatah, no!
Better have starved outright than gone so low!

VII.

But Ive no call to boast. I might have been
     As wicked, Parson dear, in my distress,
But for your friendyou know the one I mean?
     The tall, pale lady, in the mourning dress.
Though we were cold at first, that wore away
         She was so mild and young,
         And had so soft a tongue,
And eyes to sweeten what she loved to say.
She never seemd to scorn meno, not she;
And (what was best) she seemd as sad as me!
Not one of those that make a girl feel base,
And call her names, and talk of her disgrace,
And frighten one with thoughts of flaming hell,
     And fierce Lord God, with black and angry brow;
But soft and mild, and sensible as well;
     And oh, I loved her, and I love her now.
She did me good for many and many a day
     More good than pence could ever do, I swear,
     For she was poor, with little pence to spare
Learnd me to read, and quit low words, and pray.
And, Parson, though I never understood
How such a life as mine was meant for good,
And could not guess what one so poor and low
     Would do in that sweet place of which she spoke,
And could not feel that God would let me go
     Into so bright a land with gentlefolk,
I liked to hear her talk of such a place,
     And thought of all the angels she was best,
Because her soft voice soothed me, and her face
     Made my words gentle, put my heart at rest.

VIII.

Ah, sir! twas very lonesome. Night and day,
     Save when the sweet miss came, I was alone,
     Moved on and hunted through the streets of stone,
And even in dreams afraid to rest or stay.
Then, other girls had lads to work and strive for;
     I envied them, and did not know twas wrong,
     And often, very often, used to long
For some one I could like and keep alive for.
Marry? Not they!
     They cant afford to be so good, you know;
But many of them, though they step astray,
     Indeed dont mean to sin so much, or go
Against whats decent. Onlytis their way.
And many might do worse than that, may be,
     If they had neer a one to fill a thought
It sounds half wicked, but poor girls like me
     Must sin a little, to be good in aught.

IX.

So I was glad when I began to see
That Joe the costermonger fancied me;
And when, one night, he took me to the play,
     Over on Surrey side, and offerd fair
     That we should take a little room and share
Our earnings, why, I could not answer Nay!
And thats a year ago; and though Im bad,
     Ive been as true to Joe as girl could be.
I dont complain a bit of Joe, dear lad,
     Joe never, never meant but well to me;
And we have had as fair a time, I think,
     As one could hope, since we are both so low.
     Joe likes menever gave me push or blow,
When sober: only, he was wild in drink.
But then we dont mind beating when a man
     Is angry, if he likes us and keeps straight,
Works for his bread, and does the best he can;
     Tis being left and slighted that we hate.

X.

And so the babys come, and I shall die!
     And though tis hard to leave poor baby here,
     Where folk will think him bad, and alls so drear,
The great LORD GOD knows better far than I.
Ah, dont!tis kindly, but it pains me so!
You say Im wicked, and I want to go!
GODS kingdom, Parson dear? Ah nay, ah nay!
     That must be like the countrywhich I fear:
I saw the country once, one summer day,
     And I would rather die in London here!

XI.

For I was sick of hunger, cold, and strife,
     And took a sudden fancy in my head
     To try the country, and to earn my bread
Out among fields, where I had heard ones life
Was easier and brighter. So, that day,
I took my basket up and stole away,
Just after sunrise. As I went along,
     Trembling and loath to leave the busy place,
I felt that I was doing something wrong,
     And feard to look policemen in the face.
And all was dim: the streets were gray and wet
     After a rainy night: and all was still;
     I held my shawl around me with a chill,
And dropt my eyes from every face I met;
Until the streets began to fade, the road
     Grew fresh and clean and wide,
Fine houses where the gentlefolk abode,
     And gardens full of flowers, on every side.
That made me walk the quickeron, on, on
     As if I were asleep with half-shut eyes,
     And all at once I saw, to my surprise,
The houses of the gentlefolk were gone,
And I was standing still,
Shading my face, upon a high green hill,
     And the bright sun was blazing,
And all the blue above me seemd to melt
     To burning, flashing gold, while I was gazing
On the great smoky cloud where I had dwelt.

XII.

Ill neer forget that day. All was so bright
     And strange. Upon the grass around my feet
The rain had hung a million drops of light;
     The air, too, was so clear and warm and sweet,
It seemd a sin to breathe it. All around
     Were hills and fields and trees that trembled through
     A burning, blazing fire of gold and blue;
And there was not a sound,
     Save a bird singing, singing, in the skies,
And the soft wind, that ran along the ground,
     And blew so sweetly on my lips and eyes.
Then, with my heavy hand upon my chest,
     Because the bright air paind me, trembling, sighing,
I stole into a dewy field to rest,
     And oh, the green, green grass where I was lying
Was fresh and livingand the bird sang loud,
Out of a golden cloud
     And I was looking up at him and crying!

XIII.

How swift the hours slipt on!and by and by
The sun grew red, big shadows filld the sky,
     The air grew damp with dew,
     And the dark night was coming down, I knew.
Well, I was more afraid than ever, then,
     And felt that I should die in such a place,
     So back to London town I turnd my face,
And crept into the great black streets again;
And when I breathed the smoke and heard the roar,
     Why, I was better, for in London here
     My heart was busy, and I felt no fear.
I never saw the country any more.
And I have stayd in London, well or ill
     I would not stay out yonder if I could,
     For one feels dead, and all looks pure and good
I could not bear a life so bright and still.
All that I want is sleep,
Under the flags and stones, so deep, so deep!
God wont be hard on one so mean, but He,
     Perhaps, will let a tired girl slumber sound
     There in the deep cold darkness under ground;
And I shall waken up in time, may be,
Better and stronger, not afraid to see
     The great, still Light that folds Him round and round!

XIV.

See! theres the sunset creeping through the pane
How cool and moist it looks amid the rain!
I like to hear the splashing of the drops
On the house-tops,
And the loud humming of the folk that go
Along the streets below!
I like the smoke and roarI am so bad
     They make a low one hard, and still her cares...
     Theres Joe! I hear his foot upon the stairs!
He must be wet, poor lad!
He will be angry, like enough, to find
     Another little life to clothe and keep.
But show him baby, Parsonspeak him kind
     And tell him Doctor thinks Im going to sleep.
A hard, hard life is his! He need be strong
And rough, to earn his bread and get along.
I think he will be sorry when I go,
     And leave the little one and him behind.
     I hope hell see another to his mind,
To keep him straight and tidy. Poor old Joe!



Robert Williams Buchanan's other poems:
  1. Nell
  2. The Glamour
  3. The Starling
  4. Barbara Gray
  5. The Ballad of Judas Iscariot


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