Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
Poems.
I. Ode on the Centenary of Burns
By Isa (Craig) Knox (1831–1903)
 
    WE hail, this morn,
A century’s noblest birth;
    A Poet peasant-born,
Who more of Fame’s immortal dower
      Unto his country brings,        5
      Than all her kings!
 
    As lamps high set
Upon some earthly eminence,—
And to the gazer brighter thence
Than the sphere-lights they flout,—        10
    Dwindle in distance and die out,
    While no star waneth yet;
So through the past’s far-reaching night,
Only the star-souls keep their light.
 
    A gentle boy,—        15
With moods of sadness and of mirth,
    Quick tears and sudden joy,—
Grew up beside the peasant’s hearth.
    His father’s toil he shares!
    But half his mother’s cares        20
    From his dark searching eyes,
Too swift to sympathise,
    Hid in her heart she bears.
 
    At early morn,
His father calls him to the field;        25
    Through the stiff soil that clogs his feet,
    Chill rain, and harvest heat,
He plods all day; returns at eve outworn,
    To the rude fare a peasant’s lot doth yield;—
To what else was he born?        30
 
    The God-made King
    Of every living thing;
(For his great heart in love could hold them all;)
The dumb eyes meeting his by hearth and stall,—
    Gifted to understand!—        35
    Knew it and sought his hand;—
And the most timorous creature had not fled
Could she his heart have read,
Which fain all feeble things had blessed and shelterèd.
 
    To Nature’s feast,—        40
Who knew her noblest guest
And entertained him best,—
Kingly he came. Her chambers of the east
She draped with crimson and with gold,
  And poured her pure joy-wines        45
    For him the poet-souled.
    For him her anthem rolled,
From the storm-wind among the winter pines,
    Down to the slenderest note
Of a love-warble from the linnet’s throat.        50
 
    But when begins
The array for battle, and the trumpet blows,
A king must leave the feast, and lead the fight.
    And with its mortal foes,—
Grim gathering hosts of sorrows and of sins,—        55
    Each human soul must close.
    And Fame her trumpet blew
Before him; wrapped him in her purple state;
And made him mark for all the shafts of Fate,
    That henceforth round him flew.        60
 
    Though he may yield
Hard-pressed, and wounded fall
    Forsaken on the field;
His regal vestments soiled;
His crown of half its jewels spoiled;        65
    He is a king for all,
Had he but stood aloof!
Had he arrayed himself in armour proof
    Against temptation’s darts!
So yearn the good;—so those the world calls wise,        70
    With vain presumptuous hearts,
    Triumphant moralise.
 
    Of martyr-woe
A sacred shadow on his memory rests;
    Tears have not ceased to flow;        75
Indignant grief yet stirs impetuous breasts,
    To think,—above that noble soul brought low,
That wise and soaring spirit fooled, enslaved,—
    Thus, thus he had been saved!
 
    It might not be!        80
  That heart of harmony
  Had been too rudely rent:
Its silver chords, which any hand could wound,
    By no hand could be tuned,
Save by the Maker of the instrument,        85
    Its every string who knew,
And from profaning touch His heavenly gift withdrew.
 
    Regretful love
  His country fain would prove,
By grateful honours lavished on his grave;        90
  Would fain redeem her blame
That He so little at her hands can claim,
    Who unrewarded gave
To her his life-bought gift of song and fame.
 
    The land he trod        95
Hath now become a place of pilgrimage;
  Where dearer are the daisies of the sod
That could his song engage.
    The hoary hawthorn, wreathed
Above the bank on which his limbs he flung        100
  While some sweet plaint he breathed;
  The streams he wandered near;
The maidens whom he loved; the songs he sung;—
    All, all are dear!
 
    The arch blue eyes,—        105
  Arch but for love’s disguise,—
Of Scotland’s daughters, soften at his strain;
Her hardy sons, sent forth across the main
To drive the ploughshare through earth’s virgin soils,
  Lighten with it their toils;        110
And sister-lands have learn’d to love the tongue
    In which such songs are sung.
 
    For doth not Song
    To the whole world belong:
Is it not given wherever tears can fall,        115
Wherever hearts can melt, or blushes glow,
Or mirth and sadness mingle as they flow
    A heritage to all?
 
 
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