The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

“The North Pirate and His Mistress” by Sir Oscar Oliphant


The Damsel and Orlando by Benjamin West

The North Pirate and His Mistress
Sir Oscar Oliphant
From Collected Poems by Sir Oscar Oliphant

Our galley, how madly she darts on her way!
Her bows and her bulwarks are streaming with spray;
Her lofty yards buckle, and bends the tall mast;
O save me, my love, from the strength of the blast!

O save me, my dearest! not such is the breeze,
That scarcely awakens a curl on the seas,
When rich with the perfumes of Araby’s sky,
The noon’s fiery pinions float languidly by.

I love the light breezes that blow from that strand,
They tell of the sweets of my own native land;
But my heart sinks within me, I shrink when comes forth
The keen bitter voice of the boisterous north.

Nay, tremble not, loved one, for steady, though strong,
Is the breeze that I hail, as it bears us along,
Its voice, as it sweeps o’er the moonlight-lit sea,
Is more dear than the gales of Arabia to me.

The air that hangs heavy and landing at noon,
In passionate gusts may awaken too soon;
And the sail that scarce swells to its breathing at morn,
May at eve, by its fury, be shattered and torn.

I love the proud tones of the shadowy north
When it takes o’er the billows its mighty march forth;
I bow to its presence, fit veil for the forms
Of the spirits that dwell in my island of storms.

“Spencer loquitur: Moi, J’ecoute en riant” by Alexander Robertson

This concludes Last Poems of Alexander Robertson. Please refer to my tag, “Alexander Robertson (War Poet)” in the drop-down menu found at the bottom of this page if you are interested in reading more of his work.

Spencer loquitur: Moi, J’ecoute en riant
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

“Ah, Robertson, my hour is drawing nigh:
At this, as at all partings, let us sigh,
(As soldiers we can hardly drop a tear,
Unless assured that no one else is near!)
Whither go I? I know not nor can feel
Much interest in the question: ’tis your weal
I ponder o’er. Now listen—did they call?
No! my mistake: I thought I heard the bawl
Of rude commandment—hark to me, old boy:
My powers of reasoning I shall employ
To do you kindness. Regard me; I have been
For ten long years a soldier and between
Yourself and me (the French say, entre nous:
And, by the way for hairs they say cheveux,
Chevaux for horses, so you must beware
When you are thronéd in the barber’s chair)—
What was I saying? Ah, I was about
To tell a story that must not come out:
Long since I wearied of the life of camps
Though true, of course, to him who on our stamps
Proclaims his kingship. And I am most fain
Before I go—perchance to join the slain,
Alas!—to bid you when this war hath end
Break with a life which, as I must contend,
Is, as the Bard of Avon would have said,
‘Unprofitable, flat,’ and where the bread
Of life is spread not with the jam of—well,
I scarce know how to finish; can you tell,
Suggest a fitting finish to my ‘trope’?”
“What of ‘the Bard of Avon’? he, I hope
Might haply help us.” “Ah, but bless you, lad,
I spoke of Shakespeare! even in Petrograd
The guttersnipes can quote him;—the peasants too
Upon the farms that labour:—Surely you
Have not received,—but I must sure return
To my ‘large utterance,’ for still I burn
To aid:—ah, there’s indeed the shout
Imperious that we may never flout.
Farewell, adieu, adieu, farewell, and ah!
Be heedful of my—how they shout! Ta-ta!!”

In reference to the farewell advice of an uneducated but kind-hearted Sergeant who left the hospital before the author.

“To Margaret” by Alexander Robertson

To Margaret
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

(On Receiving Her Photograph)

This photograph vignette
You send, to fend off harm
As might an amulet,
As might a potent charm,
Such as in days of old
To Knights by dames were given,—
As wood, in case of gold,
In which the nails were driven,
Which fixéd to the rood
The Son of Mary Queen,
The while, in thousands, stood
His foes to mock His tears;
Or blood of him, alas,
Whose head on charger laid
Rejoiced Herodias
Of slaughter unafraid;
Or bone of martyred saint
From his sword-piercéd side,
Or relics still more quaint
Faith thought not to deride.
Though some would fain believe,
Yet ages more mature
No more in charms perceive
A power to secure—
Yet love may fend off hate,
There may be might in prayer
And so you may create
A refuge for me—there.

“To Maisie” by Alexander Robertson

To Maisie
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

(On Receiving Sketches of a Garden)

Fays of old could bring to view
By the magic of a wand
Visions longed for; even as you,
Keen of eye and skilled of hand,
Make my exile’s eyes to see,
Garden paths and branches bare,
Green of lawns where snowdrops be
And crowns of crocus brave the air.
Joy to see the pointed spire!
Like a great high-raised sword
Cleft it not the skies of fire
When the sunset hour was toward!
Ah, to see the buds that burst
In the spring, the blossom foam
From green bowls and slake the thirst
Of the eyes; beneath a dome,
Cool and green, for hours to lie
While, like maids, the daffodils
To the fleet winds courtesy;
See the ivy o’er the sills
Clamber, curious, as a child,
Eager for adventure, may
Enter some old ruin wild
To revel all a summer’s day—
Up and up the crumbling stairs
To the battlements on high.
Scathless, sure of foot he fares,—
Woods and fields below him lie,
Peasants labour on the farms,
Tiny men so far below.
Loud he shouts and waves his arms
So that they his feat may know;
Then in airy roofless halls
Walks and dungeon depths explores,
Wonders at the massive walls
And closed and iron-studded doors.
Ah, to watch the birds that hop
O’er the grass, to feel the breeze,
Or behold the blossoms drop
From the yet unladen trees,—
As a baron long ago
(So say chronicles) would gaze
At the slowly-falling snow
To beguile the winter days,
Not with haste these petals fall,
Wind-borne for awhile they float
Slow, as dies an echoed call
Or a dirge’s final note—
While the wind would thus bedeck
All the lawn with fallen flowers,
Time would pass but one would reck
Little of the passing hours.

“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.