Alexander Smith Poems,Alexander Smith was one of a group of Scottish poets who wrote during the mid-1850s under the name the “Spasmodics”. This was a school of poetry that was very popular for around two decades but then suddenly fell out of fashion even though it included the odd poem from such luminaries as Alfred Lord Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
It is believed though that modern critics of literature tend to distance those two from this particular genre. Smith’s poetry, like his contemporaries, was sometimes described as bombastic and egotistical, a view based on the presence of long and introspective soliloquies in many of his pieces.
Alexander Smith Bio
Smith was born in Kilmarnock on the 31st December 1829 into a large family of six children. His father was an artisan, producing printing blocks that could be used in the textile industry, particularly using muslin and calico. The family moved twice during Smith’s early years, eventually settling in Glasgow. Perhaps there was little money for a formal education and the young Alexander Smith found himself working in his father’s trade at the tender age of eleven. His time spent at a small parish school at least gave him rudimentary skills in literacy and he was a particularly keen student of English poets.
In November 1866 he fell ill with diphtheria which was rapidly followed by typhus. He died on the 5th January 1867 aged just 37.
Alexander Smith Poems
I could not drive away the thought that you were lingering there.
O many and many a winter night I sat when you were gone,
My worn face buried in my hands, beside the fire alone–
Within the dripping churchyard, the rain plashing on your stone,
You were sleeping, Barbara.’Mong angels, do you think
Of the precious golden link
I clasp’d around your happy arm while sitting by yon brink?
Or when that night of gliding dance, of laughter and guitars,
Was emptied of its music, and we watch’d, through lattice-bars,
The silent midnight heaven creeping o’er us with its stars,
Till the day broke, Barbara?In the years I’ve changed;
Wild and far my heart has ranged,
And many sins and errors now have been on me avenged;
But to you I have been faithful whatsoever good I lack’d:
I loved you, and above my life still hangs that love intact–
Your love the trembling rainbow, I the reckless cataract.
Still I love you. Barbara.
Yet, Love, I am unblest;
With many doubts opprest,
I wander like the desert wind without a place of rest.
Could I but win you for an hour from off that starry shore,
The hunger of my soul were still’d; for Death hath told you more
Than the melancholy world doth know–things deeper than all lore
You could teach me, Barbara.
In vain, in vain, in vain!
You will never come again.
There droops upon the dreary hills a mournful fringe of rain;
The gloaming closes slowly round, loud winds are in the tree,
Round selfish shores for ever moans the hurt and wounded sea;
There is no rest upon the earth, peace is with Death and thee–
BEAUTY still walketh on the earth and air,
Our present sunsets are as rich in gold
As ere the Iliad’s music was out-roll’d;
The roses of the Spring are ever fair,
’Mong branches green still ring-doves coo and pair,
And the deep sea still foams its music old.
So, if we are at all divinely soul’d,
This beauty will unloose our bonds of care.
’T is pleasant, when blue skies are o’er us bending
Within old starry-gated Poesy,
To meet a soul set to no worldly tune,
Like thine, sweet Friend! Oh, dearer this to me
Than are the dewy trees, the sun, the moon,
Or noble music with a golden ending.
From: A Life-Drama
Walter. I HAVE a strain of a departed bard;
One who was born too late into this world.
A mighty day was past, and he saw nought
But ebbing sunset and the rising stars,—
Still o’er him rose those melancholy stars!
Unknown his childhood, save that he was born
’Mong woodland waters full of silver breaks;
I was to him but Labrador to Ind;
His pearls were plentier than my pebblestones.
He was the sun, I was that squab—the earth,
And bask’d me in his light until he drew
Flowers from my barren sides. Oh! he was rich,
And I rejoiced upon his shore of pearls,
A weak enamor’d sea. Once he did say,
“My Friend! a Poet must ere long arise,
And with a regal song sun-crown this age,
As a saint’s head is with a halo crown’d;—
One, who shall hallow Poetry to God
And to its own high use, for Poetry is
The grandest chariot wherein king-thoughts ride;—
One, who shall fervent grasp the sword of song,
As a stern swordsman grasps his keenest blade,
To find the quickest passage to the heart.
A mighty Poet, whom this age shall choose
To be its spokesman to all coming times.
In the ripe full-blown season of his soul,
He shall go forward in his spirit’s strength,
And grapple with the questions of all time,
And wring from them their meanings. As King Saul
Call’d up the buried prophet from his grave
To speak his doom, so shall this Poet-king
Call up the dead Past from its awful grave
To tell him of our future. As the air
Doth sphere the world, so shall his heart of love—
Loving mankind, not peoples. As the lake
Reflects the flower, tree, rock, and bending heaven,
Shall he reflect our great humanity;
And as the young Spring breathes with living breath
On a dead branch, till it sprouts fragrantly
Green leaves and sunny flowers, shall he breathe life
Through every theme he touch, making all Beauty
And Poetry for ever like the stars.”
His words set me on fire; I cried aloud,
“God! what a portion to forerun this Soul!”
He grasp’d my hand,—I look’d upon his face,—
A thought struck all the blood into his cheeks,
Like a strong buffet. His great flashing eyes
Burn’d on mine own. He said, “A grim old king,
Whose blood leap’d madly when the trumpets bray’d
To joyous battle ’mid a storm of steeds,
Won a rich kingdom on a battle-day;
But in the sunset he was ebbing fast,
Ring’d by his weeping lords. His left hand held
His white steed, to the belly splash’d with blood,
That seem’d to mourn him with its drooping head;
His right, his broken brand; and in his ear
His old victorious banners flap the winds.
He called his faithful herald to his side,—
‘Go! tell the dead I come!’ With a proud smile,
The warrior with a stab let out his soul,
Which fled and shriek’d through all the other world,
‘Ye dead! My master comes!’ And there was pause
Till the great shade should enter. Like that herald,
Walter, I ’d rush across this waiting world
And cry, ‘He comes!”’ Lady, wilt hear the song? [Sings.
A MINOR POET
He sat one winter ’neath a linden tree
In my bare orchard; “See, my friend,” he said,
“The stars among the branches hang like fruit,
So, hopes were thick within me. When I ’m gone
The world will like a valuator sit
Upon my soul, and say, ‘I was a cloud
That caught its glory from a sunken sun,
And gradual burn’d into its native gray.”’
On an October eve, ’t was his last wish
To see again the mists and golden woods;
Upon his death-bed he was lifted up,
The slumb’rous sun within the lazy west
With their last gladness fill’d his dying eyes.
No sooner was he hence than critic-worms
Were swarming on the body of his fame,
And thus they judged the dead: “This Poet was
An April tree whose vermeil-loaded boughs
Promis’d to Autumn apples juiced and red,
But never came to fruit.” “He is to us
But a rich odor,—a faint music-swell.”
“Poet he was not in the larger sense;
He could write pearls, but he could never write
A Poem round and perfect as a star.”
“Politic, i’ faith. His most judicious act
Was dying when he did; the next five years
Had finger’d all the fine dust from his wings,
And left him poor as we. He died—’t was shrewd!
And came with all his youth and unblown hopes
On the world’s heart, and touch’d it into tears.”
The lark is singing in the blinding sky,
Hedges are white with May. The bridegroom sea
Is toying with the shore, his wedded bride,
And, in the fulness of his marriage joy,
He decorates her tawny brow with shells,
Retires a space, to see how fair she looks,
Then proud, runs up to kiss her. All is fair—
All glad, from grass to sun! Yet more I love
Than this, the shrinking day that sometimes comes
In Winter’s front, so fair ’mong its dark peers,
It seems a straggler from the files of June,
Which in its wanderings had lost its wits,
And half its beauty; and, when it return’d,
Finding its old companions gone away,
It join’d November’s troop, then marching past;
And so the frail thing comes, and greets the world
With a thin crazy smile, then bursts in tears,
And all the while it holds within its hand
A few half-wither’d flowers. I love and pity it!
SING, poet, ’tis a merry world;
That cottage smoke is rolled and curled
In sport, that every moss
Is happy, every inch of soil: —
Before me runs a road of toil
With my grave cut across.
Sing, trailing showers and breezy downs —
I know the tragic hearts of towns.
City! I am true son of thine;
Ne’er dwelt I where great mornings shine
Around the bleating pens;
Ne’er by the rivulets I strayed,
And ne’er upon my childhood weighed
The silence of the glens.
Instead of shores where ocean beats
I hear the ebb and flow of streets.
Black Labor draws his weary waves
Into their secret moaning caves;
But, with the morning light,
That sea again will overflow
With a long, weary sound of woe,
Again to faint in night.
Wave am I in that sea of woes,
Which, night and morning, ebbs and flows.
I dwelt within a gloomy court,
Wherein did never sunbeam sport;
Yet there my heart was stirred —
My very blood did dance and thrill,
When on my narrow window-sill
Spring lighted like a bird.
Poor flowers! I watched them pine for weeks,
With leaves as pale as human cheeks.
Afar, one summer, I was borne;
Through golden vapors of the morn
I heard the hills of sheep:
I trod with a wild ecstasy
The bright fringe of the living sea:
And on a ruined keep
I sat, and watched an endless plain
Blacken beneath the gloom of rain.
Oh, fair the lightly-sprinkled waste,
O’er which a laughing shower has raced!
Oh, fair the April shoots!
Oh, fair the woods on summer days,
While a blue hyacinthine haze
Is dreaming round the roots!
In thee, O city! I discern
Another beaity, sad and strern.
Draw thy fierce streams of blinding ore,
Smite on a thousand anvils, roar
Down the harbor-bars;
Smoulder in smoky sunsets, flare
On rainy nights; with street and square
Lie empty to the stars.
From terrace proud to alley base
I know thee as my mother’s face.
When sunset bathes thee in his gold,
In wreaths of bronze thy sides are rolled,
They smoke is dusky fire;
And, from the glory round thee poured,
A sunbeam like an angel’s sword
Shivers upon a spire.
Thus have I watched thee, Terror! Dream!
While the blue night crept up the stream.
The wild train plunges in the hills,
He shrieks across the midnight rills;
Streams through the shifting glare,
The roar and flap of foundry fires,
That shake with light the sleeping shires;
And on the moorlands bare
He sees afar a crown of light
Hang o’er thee in the hollow night.
And through thy heart as through a dream,
Flows on that black disdainful stream;
All scornfully it flows,
Between the huddled gloom of masts,
Silent as pines unvexed by blasts —
‘Tween lamps in streaming rows,
O wondrous sight! O stream of dread!
O long, dark river of the dead!
Afar, the banner of the year
Unfurls: but dimly prisoned here,
Tis only when I greet
A dropt rose lying in my way,
A butterfly that flutters gay
Athwart the noisy street,
I know the happy Summer smiles
Around thy suburbs, miles on miles.
‘Twere neither pæan now, nor dirge,
The flash and thunder of the surge
On flat sands wide and bare;
No haunting joy or anguish dwells
In the green light of sunny dells,
Or in the starry air.
Alike to me the desert flower,
The rainbow laughing o’er the shower
While o’er thy walls the darkness sails,
I lean against the churchyard rails;
Up in the midnight towers
The belfried spire, the street is dead,
I hear in silence overhead
The clang of iron hours:
It moves me not — I know her tomb
Is yonder in the shapeless gloom.
All raptures of this mortal breath,
Solemnities of life and death,
Dwell in thy noise alone:
Of me thou hast become a part —
Some kindred with my human heart
Lives in thy streets of stone;
For we have been familiar more
Than galley-slave and weary oar.
The beech is dipped in wine; the shower
Is burnished; on the swinging flower
The latest bee doth sit.
The low sun stares through dust of gold.
And o’er the darkened heath and wold
The large ghost-moth doth flit.
In every orchard Autumn stands,
With apples in his golden hands.
But all these sights and sounds are strange;
Then wherefore from thee shoud I range?
Thou hast my kith and kin;
My childhood, youth, and manhood brave;
Thou hast that unforgotten grave
Within thy central din.
A sacredness of love and death
Dwells in thy noise and smoky breath.
THE fierce exulting worlds, the motes in rays,
The churlish thistles, scented briers,
The wind-swept bluebells on the sunny braes,
Down to the central fires,
Exist alike in Love. Love is a sea
Filling all the abysses dim
Of lornest space, in whose deeps regally
Suns and their bright broods swim.
This mighty sea of Love, with wondrous tides,
Is sternly just to sun and grain;
‘Tis laving at this moment Saturn’s sides,
‘Tis in my blood and brain.
All things have something more than barren use;
There is a scent upon the brier,
A tremulous splendour in the autumn dews,
Cold morns are fringed with fire.
The clodded earth goes up in sweet-breath’d flowers;
In music dies poor human speech,
And into beauty blow those hearts of ours
When Love is born in each.
Daisies are white upon the churchyard sod,
Sweet tears the clouds lean down and give.
The world is very lovely. O my God,
I thank Thee that I live!
THE BROKEN moon lay in the autumn sky,
And I lay at thy feet;
You bent above me; in the silence I
Could hear my wild heart beat.
I spoke; my soul was full of trembling fears
At what my words would bring:
You rais’d your face, your eyes were full of tears,
As the sweet eyes of Spring.
You kiss’d me then, I worshipp’d at thy feet
Upon the shadowy sod.
Oh, fool, I lov’d thee! lov’d thee, lovely cheat!
Better than Fame or God.
My soul leap’d up beneath thy timid kiss;
What then to me were groans,
Or pain, or death? Earth was a round of bliss,
I seem’d to walk on thrones.
And you were with me ’mong the rushing wheels,
’Mid Trade’s tumultuous jars;
And where to awe-struck wilds the Night reveals
Her hollow gulfs of stars.
Before your window, as before a shrine,
I ’ve knelt ’mong dew-soak’d flowers,
While distant music-bells, with voices fine,
Measur’d the midnight hours.
There came a fearful moment: I was pale,
You wept, and never spoke,
But clung around me as the woodbine frail
Clings, pleading, round an oak.
Upon my wrong I steadied up my soul,
And flung thee from myself;
I spurn’d thy love as ’t were a rich man’s dole,—
It was my only wealth.
I spurn’d thee! I, who lov’d thee, could have died,
That hop’d to call thee “wife,”
And bear thee, gently-smiling at my side,
Through all the shocks of life!
Too late, thy fatal beauty and thy tears,
Thy vows, thy passionate breath;
I ’ll meet thee not in Life, nor in the spheres
Made visible by Death.