The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

“On a Flight of Birds” by Alexander Robertson

On a Flight of Birds
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

Like a shield
Once they wheeled,
Now they rise,
Or, as a horn,
Or, as a fan,
Now as a ring
Of a Titan king,
Then, like a net,
Higher yet.
Like a coat of mail
On high they sail,
Or, half-hid,
Like a pyramid.
Do they know
What shapes they show
And desire
That we admire?
Or have they wrought
Without thought,
Swift to change
These marvels strange.


“In Praise of a Garden” by Alexander Robertson

In Praise of a Garden
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

(On Receiving Gifts from Home)

Welcome gift which brings to mind
An old tree whose shadows kind
Often on a summer’s day
Eased my labours as I lay
Lazy on a canvas chair
With a strange and pensive stare
Seeing all yet seeing nought
Save the entities of thought,
Poets’ visions: griefs extreme
Ne’er existent in the scheme
Of things real, but which show
Purport in our actual woe
(Poets by imagined grief
Purify and bring relief)
Scenes for laughter such as there
Are in plays of Molière.
Or of Shakespeare, wit that stings
And unmasks fair seeming things,
Tales of Swift or of Voltaire
Mocking all with virtue’s air,
Or while many a smoke-wreath curled
All the fortunes of the world,
And the strivings of mankind
Towards a future undefined
But which faith considers worth
The deep anguish of its birth—
Or abstractions such as “I,”
“Space” and “Time” and “Entity”
And “Ideas”—patterns they
Of the things of every day.
Yet the mind on thought intent
Was most strangely impotent,
For that garden ivy-walled
Was as green as emerald,
All the apple bloom of May
Fallen on some tempestuous day.
From the cars the passers-by
Cast on it an envious eye,
Though but briefly they can see
This theme for a rhapsody:—
Aired it is by breezes which
Many a garden doth enrich
With flash of gold and gleam of red
In its sheltered flower-bed,
With broken shade and sunshine on
The shorn verdure of its lawn,
And their shadowed traceries
On the path beneath the trees,
And glimpses amid leaves that sway
Of a hillside and the gray
Of mansions near; but of the hour
For the full-evolved flower
Of its beauty nought they know:
It is the time when small clouds go
Lazily along the sky,
Cross the moonlight radiantly:—
Then it wears its fairest dress:—
Its June midnight loveliness.

“To the kindly Ladies of Ripon” by Alexander Robertson

To the kindly Ladies of Ripon
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

They say that the martial spirit of long dead men
Who feared not but loved the crossing of dangerous seas,
The grapple with tribes despised, with the cheerless fen,
And with sunless forests, lives potently still in these:—

The men of the east and the west, the north and the south
Of this our England; the men of the hill and the plain,
Of inland valley, city, and rivermouth,
Or the coast, red, white or of gold that faces the main.

Perchance it is truth. But this at the least we can know
That the old gray church, lichen-crusted and cruciform,
Is the witness unfallen to Wilfrid who lived long ago.
Beneficent, wise, reconciling, amid the storm

And havoc of combat and death. So you to the sons
Of these far-off fighters gave cheer amid frequent gloom,
Within sound of the stream that ran in his day and runs
Still, by the restful calm of your lightsome room.

We are far enough from it now, away in the wolds
Where the air is sweet with the scent of clover and bay,
And broad are the upland pastures and many the fields
And gray and still and sad is the close of the day.

Farther, still we may be. We may fare whence they came,
Our fathers of old. But whether in deep-dug trench
Within sound of the cannons that boom, within sight of their flame,
Amid frosts that benumb, or under the ceaseless drench

From dull monotonous skies: or on the advance,
Hazardous, deadly and dread, through a land to be free
Towards the cities and fields of our foes, of a truth, we shall glance
Backwards often in thought rejoicingly.

We shall see the bright brown of urns and cups that gleam,
Remember the flowers and the quiet that was rest for the mind
And gave to it power and the happy chance of a dream,
—The grace that is only created by womankind.

These ladies kept a Soldiers’ Rest and Tea-house in Ripon.

“On Hearing of a Life of brilliant promise ruined by Sunstroke” by Alexander Robertson

On Hearing of a Life of brilliant promise ruined by Sunstroke
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

One moment of forgetting,
One fierce stroke of the sun:
And purposeless regretting
A life undone!

In vain the long preparing,
The labours of the night,
The spirit apt and daring
In search of light.

Had but the stroke brought ending
That did but wholly mar
Beyond all hope of mending,
How better far,

Than living without knowing
With a glance of soulless eyes,
As something only showing
Earth’s tragedies!

“‘Fame is the Spur,’ etc.” by Alexander Robertson

“Fame is the Spur,” etc.
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

But not the sole spur, truly, even if
Sometimes it goads the spirit. As from a cliff
Outjutting boldly, challenging the waste
Of rolling waters, scornful of their haste,
Immovable, the vision of immense
Distance and power, brings to the soul a sense
Of uplift; so the beautiful to creáte
Or truth discover doth the soul elate:
Strange that compelling gladness, yet unsought
By great creators, rather have they wrought
To some compulsion high obedient
As Socrates for the voice divine intent,
Or even as Spirit, self-compelled, doth bring
Into the world of being everything.