Alexander Smith

(31 December 1830 - 5 January 1867 / Ilmarnock)

Glasgow - Poem by Alexander Smith

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.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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