Of This edition of The Prophet’s Man, by Geoffrey B. Riddehough, two hundred and fifty copies have been printed. This Chap-book is a production of the Ryerson Press, Toronto, Canada.
Acknowledgements are made to the Vancouver Province in whose pages the following poems first appeared: “Conceit,” “Silence,” “Abiding,” “Acknowledgement,” “Duty,” “A Puritan to a Pagan Friend,” “From Thule.”
Copies of this Chap-book may be secured from The Ryerson Press, Toronto, and from Macrae Smith Company, Philadelphia, U.S.A.
The Ryerson Press
[inside front cover]
The Prophet’s Man
By Geoffrey B. Riddehough]
He has those vision. That is why we stay Among these rocks, and knots of withered grass, And brittle thorns that pierce before they break Deep in our shoeless feet. He does not care— I do not think he feels it—when I pull The spines of poisoned pain on the tenth day, But then he is a holy man, who speaks To his bleak God when I am in the cave, Wrapped in the coats of sheepskin. Then he comes, Just when the morning mists are striking cold And I wake stiff and numb; he stands beside me, And cries, “O Shalca, I have heard His voice, While the stars swept about us as we stood High on the crag above thee. He has said We must endure but for a little while Until our folk shall know His ways, and we Shall ride with all His horsemen to the plain— We twain before the host, because we starved And shivered here in lonely righteousness. “I seemed to hear the ring of clanking steel As many scabbards beat against the mail, And bit and silver bridle jingled clear. [page 1] I saw them ride, that keen-eyed host of ours, Past the brook Karan, past the olive grove, Thundering on among the cedar trees, On to the shrines of the Accursed Ones— Nay, rather, those of Jahveh, once again Purified. By His altar I could hear The stifled priests that howled in vain for aid To Ashtoreth and Baal, while our men Beat those foul foreheads backwards on the stone, Whence yet arose fumes of their sacrifice. Blood hissed upon the embers, and the slab Beneath their throats was strewn with dagger-tips. I heard the clang of hammers, and the crash As each abominable idol fell Impotent, now the appointed hour was come. There in the shadows cowered the priestesses, And troops of dancing-maidens with their brows Bound with the gleaming silver of the Moon. I saw the flash of bracelets, tinkling down From wrist to elbow, down the lifted arms, And dark-lashed eyes that closed before the stab Of steel that knew no weak unfaithfulness. “Onward we swept, and drove the mighty beams, Shearing the hinges, and the great doors fell. So sped the wolves of Jahveh up the stair In a dark winding passage that was lit By gleam of sword blades only—swords of ours, For no man dared withstand us. So we burst Out on the level roof. And there they stood, The woman-vested horde of Ashtoreth, In soft white robes, and gauzy veils of Tyre, With diadems, with bands of amethyst About their plump white throats, and from their ears The pale lights glittered as they shook with dread. We let them wait a little, that our God Might glory in their terror. Two of them, Unweaponed, sprang upon us, and they died. The others saw them. Some of them seemed to laugh, And babbled to the watching Evening Star, The Star they worship. Suddenly I cried, ‘Thou hast beheld the victims we offer; Accept them, Lord!’ And thus we cleared the roof. Three of them leaped the parapet. Their robes Streamed backward past them in their downward rush [page 2] We saw them crumple on the courtyard flags, Lie limp and silent there before the Lord. Tell me, O Shalca, for a sight like that, Wouldst thou not suffer many years of toil And pain and thirst and hunger? Wilt thou not Endure a little longer in the wild?” So will he rave, as if I did not know How Baal sits for evermore enthroned In every hamlet from the middle sea To these dead hills, where we are only safe Because men think we perished. Here we lie, Yellow and filthy, lacking everything Save the rank gobbets that our rotting teeth Must force themselves to mumble: bitter fruits, And things I dare not name. The old man says, “Lo, Shalca, Jahveh will not let us die!” And offers thanks when the dark oozing drops Sweat from the cliffside—drink of Jahveh’s cup. But when the greybeard slumbers, in the hush Of noon, I softly leave him and the cave, And cry to Baal, saying, “Gracious one, Spare the poor sinner and his blasphemies, For he is old and crazed. Let us not die. Take us once more into the world of men, Where there are fruits and water, meat and wine, And houses of thy worship. There will I— Perchance my master too, but surely I— Will give thee thanks and incense. Look on him Kindly, and heal his mind, and drive away His crazy visions. I, thy servant, call On thee, O Baal, Lord of Faithfulness. I am his man.” I call on Dagon too, And when the silver Lamp of Ashtoreth Glows in the evening sky, I make my prayer Unto my lady, who beholds us here. Nathless, I join my master when he prays To Jahveh, for the powers are darkly joined That rule our ways, and no man seeks a foe Here in the desert when he lacks a guide. True, He is exiled also, but His power May yet avail a little in the waste Until the others grant our journey home. [page 3] O for our homeland, in these autumn days! The days of harvest-feasting, when the folk Go singing forth along the dusty ways With grapes and figs and ribboned sheaves of grain, Pomegranates, and the bowls where the new wine Glows with the moted light of afternoon. And the sun flames around her as she rides, Kind Ashtoreth, who gave us all these things. Veiled is her face, as token that the earth Remains a secret, and its fruitfulness. She is apparelled gloriously in white, With the great purple mantle. Then there come Her priests, her holy ones, who minister In the cool shrine where she, who seems to us Naught but a carven image, slowly moves And draws the veil aside and blesses them, Her mystic handmaids who are one with her. But all is merry in the other courts, Where cymbals clang, and many harps are loud, Where the slim maidens weave their dizzy steps Faster and ever faster till they reel Sobbing for breath before the worshippers, And the stars tremble, and the crowd is mad. But Jahveh loves not these, for He is old, Even as my master, who torments himself With talk of sin and judgement, and the pain Of righteousness. And this alone I know: If I depart his God will let him die. So, for he is my master, I remain.
O WIZARD Night, when you at last behold her, Far from me, Bear to my love the dreams I never told her, And in their shadowy draperies enfold her Quietly. Dove-grey and blue of evening have I given; Gossamer Spun where the feather Northern snows are driven, Wilde interwoven gleams to make her even Lovelier [page 4] Gold of the stars, and silver of the leaping Waterfall Are here, and frosty jewels for her keeping, Nor shall the maid remember in her sleeping These are all. Clothe her in these, the misty robes I send her, Fantasies That I, even I, am rich enough to tender. Take, for a token how I would befriend her, Even these.
I have no part In these gay Southern terraces around me; The poppy with its golden flame has found me Listless of heart. Nor would the flowers Of my own North have any power to cheer me More than the reckless roses that are near me In these sad hours. Cruel and clear, On every hand the foreign birds are telling I may be ever as an alien dwelling, Not only here.
What news bring ye from my lady’s bower? What news of my love shall I hear to-day?— The wood was dim at the midnight hour, And the witches’ moon was gloaming-grey. What message of love did my mistress tell? What blushing word did she murmur low?— The wood was dim, but we heard the yell When they crossed our track on the crusted snow. How doth she fare, being left alone, How does she fare, my mistress kind?— We heard the fangs as they crunched the bone, And we knew our fate, if we fell behind! [page 5] Are ye raving, or hath some infernal spell Bewitched my love, or yourselves, or me?— Thou wilt find thy lady-love safe and well, But woe to the lover that cannot see! The foul fiend’s hand is upon you all! What need to say that a madman lies?— We told our tale in the Lady’s Hall, And we saw the glint in the Lady’s eyes. I will dray my sword for my lady’s sake!— Then clutch it firm, in a ruthless hand, Ere the holy dew on her forehead make The sign that a witch may not withstand!
Even at noon the mist would rise between The twisted sodden willows that were green Only with moss. They knew why she had come: The festering pool that choked with sickly scum, The crawling water-things, the sedge that lined The hollow—these and watched her while she signed, And witnessed all her pledges. Now she turned Back to the village. Fierce within her burned The pride of awful knowledge: with the power “That he had granted in this noontide hour, Oh, she would make the village folk repay To the last pang! For many a bitter day She had accepted insult patiently, Biding her time, but now the fools would see That she had not forgotten. She had prayed Enough to those pale Saints who never aid. Here was a true avenger. And the price—? But was it not worth any sacrifice To know the spell by which from day to day The life of Max should slowly ebb away, Slowly atoning for his heartless wrong? Bertha should not have pleasure in him long. And then she heard it rustle. Stepping back, She saw it lying in her very track, Flat-headed, mottled. Yet it did not stir, But lay uncoiled, slit-eyes regarding her. [page 6] Half-bold she stood, then gave a sudden cry, Knowing the yet more fearful reason why It would not strike: remembering her vow, Slowly she whispered, “We are comrades now.”
And now the days of our feud are done, A time that was neither peace nor war; Neither a season of fair contesting, Nor safe for trust and untroubled resting In the darkling hours before the sun; For we acknowledge that you have won, That the strife is over for evermore. We were the foes you could not subdue, Though rank on rank of your hosts assailed. But now we bear as a friendly token A splintered dart and a spearshaft broken. Once with these we had stabbed you through. Be the venomless points for a sign to you That the kindly might of your grace prevailed. And you may ride without fear of harm Where the poplar shadows the mountain glade; Safe, where the walls of the passes narrow, Safe from the flight of the poisoned arrow. You may sleep with the buckler off your arm, Nor strain your ear for the night alarm, Nor peer in the dusk for the glinting blade. We shall come to the plain where your castles are, Nor look at our hills ere we pass within, Nor stand, as do men who fear surprises, Back to back as the drawbridge rises, Nor start at the clang of the grated bar That shuts us in from our homes afar As the guarded hours of the night begin. From the lonely glens, from the tarns of fear, From the silent Valley of Sacred Trees, Long have we journeyed that we might tender These our tokens of full surrender, And gifts barbaric we offer you here, Shamed by yours . . . for it costs him dear Who would vie with you in his courtesies. [page 7]
The Roman bondsman, so the old writers tell, Would leave a portion of his daily food Untasted in his hunger; he would sell Strength of his life for every coin that could Be added to the tiny hidden store Which after many years the weary slave Finally drew from underground, and gave Unto his lord, to be a slave no more. Master, O masters whom I may not see! Lo, in this earthen vessel here I bring The price of freedom—all that was denied To me when through the days of scarcity The treasures of my heart lay tarnishing In the earth, sourly . . . Are you satisfied?
“But after all, my friend, these little things Are sent to try us”—thus the stout divine Becomes the wise, unbearably benign Angel of fortitude whose counsel brings Comfort to others in their sufferings; He maunders on: “How grand it is to know The strength that comes of weakness, and to go Unscathed, although our Adversary flings His burning darts against us!” Was the same Poor doubtful comfort glibly proffered him Whom Satan sifted, when the embers dim Told of the Light the Darkness had denied? O tempted one, what consolation came From knowledge that thy faith was being tried?
THE BROKEN SPEAR
“The spear? We only gave it that the sport Might be prolonged,” they said. I looked askance Upon the broken thing—not such a lance Their soldiers carry forward to support The charging line before them, but the sort They give the baited captive for a chance Of some spectacular deliverance From daggered claws that cut their pastime short. [page 8] Blunt head on mended rottenness! And yet Not all in vain in other days our spears Were raised to savage gods, before we met A host that fled. They loose the panther now. Lord of all useless weapons, hear the vow Made in the vast Arena of the Years!
BALLADE OF MY LOST HEURODIS
(Heurodis, according to mediæval story, was the wife of King Orfeo, and went to sleep beneath the grafted tree, over which the Elfin King had power. He stole her away from beneath all the spears of King Orfeo, and held her in Fairyland till Orfeo softened his heart with his plaintive music.)
They took my Heurodis away To where the fairy riders dwell; They grudged us every happy day Unruined by a baleful spell — How should she know what magic fell Lay in the tree whose grafted bough Shadows the fatal Dreamland Well? Give Heurodis unto me now! The thousand spearmen who obey My battle-word stood sentinel Around my Heurodis who lay In slumber’s inmost citadel — How should a mortal king repel Oberon’s noontide horsemen? how Against his gramarye rebel? Give Heurodis unto me now! Oft in the forest while I play My lonely harp, its chords compel Pity from beasts: the wild wolf grey Heareth the mournful heart-notes sell, And strange shy things of copse and dell Are sorrowful—remainest thou, Great Oberon, implacable? Give Heurodis unto me now!
O Fairy Prince, we mortals sell Dear the few joys the stars allow. Have pity on the tale I tell— Give Heurodis unto me now! [page 9]
Some day—for all things precious leave the earth— Some day will bring inevitable end To this our friendship, and another friend Leave me forever, knowing well the wroth Of all the fair professions that precede Final revealing of the broken vow — While faith remains unshattered, leave me now: I cannot follow where your footsteps lead. Some fatal test will come, and I shall be Know in your sight, and when I should obey The God you serve, some lesser deity Will breathe my incense-offering, and through Each mumbled rite, my heart will know that you Outside the temple door have turned away.
A Spanish captain, many years ago, Thus in his crumbling castle held at bay The Moorish cannonaders: lest the foe Should see his broken walls, at close of day He hung a painted cloth, whereon were seen Lines of unbroken rampart, while his men Rebuilt their weak defence; the canvas screen Beguiled his foes till succor came again. O best of friends! if I should seem to you Vain and self-centred, if my lips have spoken Too flippant boasts and foolish mockeries, Know that in these same vanities I too Behind a screen am building ramparts broken By many a rush of fierce anxieties.
If I, WHO sought your friendship long ago, Were to renounce its comfort, so that I To your dear letter granted no reply In my dark time, because I fear to show Aught that would sadden you, and if, by so Letting the silent somber days go by, I chose to let unequal friendship die, This real reason would you ever know? [page 10] Not that I doubt you—O the sorrow is Rather the thought that I, who used to bring As a repayment jests of little worth And merry verse for your pleasuring, Have no more laughter—this thing drives me forth Away from you beyond the silences.
Much as I love you, much as I dare to dream, One thing I have not hidden from my heart, But owned it frankly: that the roaring stream Of circumstances may hold us twain apart For all this life, that we may go our ways Divided till we die; yet, knowing this, I fear not, for I know the years and days And ages die, but not the loyalties. For though this life be all too short to win you, I will not leave this quest I have begun As man and mortal: to my latest birth Changeless in mystic change I will continue To love you when the mountains of the earth Are dust along the roadways of the sun.
Sometimes we watch them arrogantly ride Among the conquered folk who hate them so, And hear the scornful foreign trumpet blow In our own marketplaces—even beside The statues of our ancestors who died To save our land and drive the ancient foe Back to the border. That was long ago, And we can only hate. And then I spied My neighbour there, with that slow smile of his And kindly warming. “Bitter memories Come to us all—but did you know there came Another ship with arms?” . . . O hero-dead, Pray for us now, for soon the embers red Shall burst into an all-consuming flame! [page 11]
I have had joy in manhood, joy and pride, Knowing the hearty fellowship of days In camp and cabin; and the mountainside Above the surge of cloud; and autumn haze In lonely mountain meadows; padded snow On bending spruces; mallards, and the skiff In the brown reeds; strong armholds on the cliff Where spattering shale beat on the rocks below. But since all life looks onward, and would rise To forms of higher, subtler frailty, This is my prayer: if I should come again To human life and knowledge, I would be A maiden such as you, more pure and wise, Further than I along the road of men.
Soon they will call me forth, so let me stand One instant here before you, quietly Because you know . . . while either gentle hand Rests on my shoulder. You have girded me With the great sword, and heavy on my breast Now hangs the chain whose interweavings guard The heart they burden sorely. I may rest And learn the lore of beauty, afterward. Nor in this present hour that I foresaw When silence made you wonder, dare I love Less than the highest, for the holy fire Is fed with precious things, and my desire Even for you dare raise no cry above The dominating trumpets of the Law. [page 12]
The Ryerson Poetry Chap-Books
Lovers of poetry care more for verse of high quality than for costly bindings. We believe that the cause of Canadian poetry can best be served by enabling our author more frequently to reach their audience. A chap-book necessitates careful discrimination by the poet, and hence the presentation of small and choice selections. The Ryerson Poetry Chap-books will present significant offerings by our older and younger poets.
|THE SWEET O’ THE YEAR.||By Charles G. D. Roberts.|
|COMPANIONSHIP AND THE CROWD.||By W. H. F. Tenny.|
|FORFEIT AND OTHER POEMS.||By Kathryn Munro.|
|THE EAR TRUMPET||By Annie C. Dalton.|
|A VALE IN LUXOR||By W. V. Newson|
|THE PROPHET’S MAN||Geoffrey B. Riddehough.|
|A POOL OF STARS.||By Lionel Stevenson.|
|SPRING IN SAVARY.||By Alice Brewer.|
|THE CAPTIVE GYPSY.||By Constance Davies-Woodrow.|
|THE LOST SHIPMATE.||By Theodore Goodridge Roberts.|
|A BREATH OF THE WOODS.||By Lilian Leveridge.|
|SELECTED POEMS.||By Canon Frederick George Scott.|
[inside back cover]