Adventure of a Poet
R. F. Murray, The Scarlet Gown: Being Verses by a St. Andrews Man, 2nd edn., intro. by Andrew Lang (Glasgow: James MacLehose, 1909): 19-27. LE M9837sc Robarts Library
1As I was walking down the street
2 A week ago,
4 A man I know.
5His name is Alexander Bell,
6 His home, Dundee;
7I do not know him quite so well
8 As he knows me.
9He gave my hand a hearty shake,
10 Discussed the weather,
11And then proposed that we should take
12 A stroll together.
13Down College Street we took our way,
14 And there we met
15The beautiful Miss Mary Gray,
16 That arch coquette,
17Who stole last spring my heart away
18 And has it yet.
19That smile with which my bow she greets,
20 Would it were fonder!
21Or else less fond-since she its sweets
22 On all must squander.
23Thus, when I meet her in the streets,
24 I sadly ponder,
25And after her, as she retreats,
26 My thoughts will wander.
27And so I listened with an air
28 Of inattention,
29While Bell described a folding-chair
30 Of his invention.
32 'It looks like rain,'
33Said I, 'and we had better turn.'
34 'Twas all in vain,
35For Bell was weather-wise, and knew
36 The signs aerial;
37He bade me note the strip of blue
39Also another patch of sky,
40 South-west by south,
41Which meant that we might journey dry
43He was a man with information
44 On many topics:
45He talked about the exploration
46 Of Poles and Tropics,
47The scene in Parliament last night,
48 Sir William's letter;
49'And do you like the electric light,
50 Or gas-lamps better?'
52 He said was over;
53And had I read about the liquors
55Or the unhappy printer lad
57Or the Italian ironclad
58 That ran aground ?
59He told me stories (lately come)
60 Of town society,
61Some slightly tinged with truth, and some
62 With impropriety.
63He spoke of duelling in France,
64 Then lightly glanced at
65Mrs. Mackenzie's monster dance,
66 Which he had danced at.
67So he ran on, till by-and-by
68 A silence came,
69For which I greatly fear that I
70 Was most to blame.
71Then neither of us spoke a word
72 For quite a minute
73When presently a thought occurred
74 With promise in it.
75'How did you like the Shakespeare play
76 The students read
77By this, the Eden like a bay
78 Before us spread.
79Near Eden many softer plots
80 Of sand there be;
81Our feet, like Pharaoh's chariots,
82 Drave heavily.
83And ere an answer I could frame,
85Of his extraordinary fame
86 Was undeserving,
87And for his part he thought more highly
89Although he knew a girl named Riley
91Who might be, if she only chose,
92 As great a star,
93She had a part in the tableaux
94 At the bazaar.
95If I had said but little yet,
96 I now said less,
97And smoked a home-made cigarette
98 In mute distress.
99The smoke into his face was blown
100 By the wind's action,
101And this afforded me, I own,
102 Some satisfaction ;
103But still his tongue received no check
104 Till, coming home,
106 And watched the foam
107Wash in among the timbers, now
108 Sunk deep in sand,
109Though I can well remember how
110 I used to stand
111On windy days and hold my hat,
112 And idly turn
114 Upon her stern.
115Her stern long since was buried quite,
116 And soon no trace
117The absorbing sand will leave in sight
118 To mark her place.
119This reverie was not permitted
120 To last too long.
121Bell's mind had left the stage, and flitted
122 To fields of song.
125The former he at school had done,
126 Along with Horace.
127His maiden aunts, no longer young,
128 But learned ladies,
129Had lately sent him Songs Unsung,
130 Epic of Hades,
131Gycia, and Gwen. He thought them fine ;
133Of whom he would not read a line,
134 He told me, frowning.
135Talking of Horace -- very clever
136 Beyond a doubt,
137But what the Satires meant, he never
138 Yet could make out.
139I said I relished Satire Nine
140 Of the First Book;
141But he had skipped to the divine
142 Eliza Cook.
143He took occasion to declare,
144 In tones devoted,
146 Which now he quoted.
147And other poets he reviewed,
148 Some two or three,
150 He turned to me.
151'Have you been stringing any rhymes
152 Of late?' he said.
153I could not lie, but several times
154 I shook my head.
155The last straw to the earth will bow
156 The overloaded camel,
157And surely I resembled now
158 That ill-used mammal.
159See how a thankless world regards
160 The gifted choir
161Of minstrels, singers, poets, bards,
162 Who sweep the lyre.
163This is the recompense we meet
164 In our vocation.
165We bear the burden and the heat
166 Of inspiration;
167The beauties of the earth we sing
168 In glowing numbers,
169And to the 'reading public' bring
170 Post-prandial slumbers ;
171We save from Mammon's gross dominion
172 These sordid times ....
173And all this, in the world's opinion,
174 Is 'stringing rhymes.'
175It is as if a man should say,
176 In accents mild,
177'Have you been stringing beads to-day,
178 My gentle child?'
179(Yet even children fond of singing
180 Will pay off scores,
181And I to-day at least am stringing
182 Not beads but bores.)
183And now the sands were left behind,
184 The Club-house past.
185I wondered, Can I hope to find
186 Escape at last,
187Or must I take him home to tea,
188 And bear his chatter
189Until the last train to Dundee
190 Shall solve the matter?
191But while I shuddered at the thought
192 And planned resistance,
193My conquering Alexander caught
194 Sight in the distance
195Of two young ladies, one of whom
196 Is his ambition;
197And so, with somewhat heightened bloom,
198 He asked permission
199To say good-bye to me and follow.
200 I freely gave it,
201And wished him all success.
3] Henderson's: unidentified. Back to Line
31] Swilcan Burn: a stream that runs across the 1st and 18th fairways of the Old (golf) Course and flows into the North Sea. Back to Line
38] the Imperial: local hotel (The Red Guide: The Complete Scotland, ed. Reginald J. W. Hammond, 9th edn. [London: Ward, Lock, 1966): 275. Back to Line
42] Eden's mouth: the river Eden. Back to Line
51] dust-heap pickers: garbage collectors. Back to Line
54] Dover: one of the cinque ports on the Kent coast of the English Channel. Back to Line
56] Rothesay: town on the Island of Bute, a resort on the Clyde. Back to Line
84] Irving: Henry Irving (1838-1905), famed as a Victorian actor from his first appearance in Leopold Lewis' The Bells in 1871, and to be knighted in 1895. Back to Line
88] Ellen Terry: world-famous Shakespearean actor (1848-1928), a favourite of G. B. Shaw. Back to Line
90] Broughty Ferry: "a popular resort taking its name from the ferry formerly plying across the Tay to Tayport", now part of Dundee (The Red Guide, p. 356). Back to Line
105] the ancient wreck: for her name, see line 114. Back to Line
113] `Lovise, Frederikstad': presumably a Norwegian vessel, named "Lovise" (after a woman) out of Frederikstad, Norway. Back to Line
124] Lewis Morris: Sir Lewis Morris (1833-1907), author of the four collections of poems whose titles follow at lines 130-32. Back to Line
202] Apollo sic me servavit: the Greek god of poetry and music, "even so has he watched over me." Back to Line
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