Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
The Prophet’s Man
29th Jun 2016Posted in: Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets 0

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
Canada
1926
[inside front cover]

[illustration:
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.

WEAVINGS

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.

UNRECONCILED

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.

THE WOLF-WITCH

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!

AFTER NOONTIDE

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.”

PEACE-OFFERING

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]

PECULIUM

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?

TESTED

“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!

L’Envoi

   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]  

APOSTATE

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.

CONCEIT

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.

SILENCES

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.

ABIDING

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.

THE PATRIOTS

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]

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

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.

DUTY

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

Lorne Pierce-Editor

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.
SHEEP-FOLD. Leo Cox.

Fifty cents

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.

Sixty cents.

SELECTED POEMS. By Canon Frederick George Scott.

Seventy-five cents

[inside back cover]

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