Literature Monday: Alexander Smith, Barbara

While I was on a quest earlier today to find a warm place to study for my exams (sorry, Robarts, but you’re terribly chilly), I passed by a book sale at Trinity College! I figured that it was the perfect break between four to five hour stretches of intense reading, and at the very least I would have a new book to peruse. I found a little blue hardcover that I just had to get: the Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry. More than anything, I was charmed by this little scribble I found on the inside cover:


The book was published in 1948. I love getting old books that have names and dates written in them. A quick Google search didn’t turn up a John Reid, Canadian Novelist, but maybe I just can’t find him?

On the Sabbath-day,
Through the churchyard old and gray,
Over the crisp and yellow leaves I held my rustling way;
And amid the words of mercy, falling on my soul like balms,
‘Mid the gorgeous storms of music – in the mellow organ-calms,
‘Mid the upward-streaming prayers, and the rich and solemn psalms,
I stood careless, Barbara.

My heart was otherwhere,
While the organ shook the air,
And the priest, with outspread hands, bless’d the people with a prayer;
But when rising to go homeward, with a mild and saint-like shine
Gleam’d a face of airy beauty with its heavenly eyes on mine – –
Gleam’d and vanish’d in a moment — O that face was surely thine
Out of heaven, Barbara!

O pallid, pallid face!
O earnest eyes of grace!
When I last saw thee, dearest, it was in another place.
You came running forth to meet me with my love-gift on your wrist:
The flutter of a long white dress, then all was lost in mist —
A purple stain of agony was on the mouth I kiss’d,
That wild morning, Barbara.

I search’d, in my despair,
Sunny noon and midnight air;
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 splashing on your stone,
You were sleeping, Barbara.

‘Mong angels, do you think
Of the precious golden link
I clasp’d round 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,
Til 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 oprest,
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 had 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 forever moans the hurt and wounded sea;
There is no rest upon the earth, peace is with Death and thee —

(Poem: “Barbara,” written by Alexander Smith, taken from the Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry.)


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