Adventure of a Poet

Original Text: 
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
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
123] Marmion: Sir Walter Scott's poem. 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
132] Browning: Robert Browning (1812-89). Back to Line
142] Eliza Cook (1818-88), a very popular Victorian poet. Back to Line
145] her old Arm-chair: Cook's signature poem, "The Old Arm-Chair." Back to Line
149] Thomas Hood (1799-1845). 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
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire