Ian Stewart Black

Modern master of classical poetry

Ballads Of The Free

Oh proud and noble soul,
How wretched thou art now:
For all thy labours’ toll,
The sweat upon thy brow;
Thy blood adorned the field
Where saints and tyrants fought,
When others sought to yield
To those who honoured naught;
When courage fell to woe,
And sorrows drowned in wine,
The ember still aglow
With righteous wrath was thine;
Thy battle-wearied might
Upheld the lashing sword,
That enemies of right
May reap a just reward;
Unflinching in the hail
Of clashing steel and cries,
For honour to prevail
And order to arise.

And such would be thy fame
If death had claimed thee then,
The last to bear thy name –
To see thy like again;
Oh, were it not that age
Or apathy had worn
The legend from the page
Thy legacy had borne;
Had circumstance instead
Conspired to make of thee
A martyr, ever wed
With ballads of the free;
For death is not so cruel
As living in decay,
A disimpassioned fool
Who bled for yesterday;
Enduring, cold and grim,
To see beyond return
Thy noble spirit dim,
And all thou fought for burn.

An Open Letter

To whom it may concern,

Unwarranted assaults on common sense and decency do not endear your vitriolic slurs to anyone, nor fault a liberal perspective citing more than fear; and while at times I revel in profanity as anyone is wont to do, it seems a strange foundation for a treatise on humanity, while coupled with a verve that borders on deranged. It’s not for me to question your intelligence, but arguing that I have ‘over-thought’ provokes a singular disdain: the basest arrogance decrees that reason is the foe of truth.

Invoke your prejudiced decrees, and seek to denigrate my character; aghast, I wonder what provokes the kindness in the heart of man to dissipate. Compassion, were it ever there, was cast aside for rank entitlement; entitled to be heard, entitled to be unopposed and to deride, entitled to be chief among the baying herd.

Regretfully, and yet with satisfaction, I have little more to say but this: as you dismissed the sum of my consideration, qualified to overrule by spite alone, and still persist without a counterpoint to any case I’ve made; so certain of your own superiority that reasoned arguments could never stay your blade:
Go fuck yourself.

Regards, the calm majority.

The Wailing Sea

[This poem, undiscovered for generations, was found inside a weathered chest containing the personal effects of one Tristan Ciar. Also present was a pocket watch enclosing a photograph of a young woman, and several hand-written letters from a Miss Selena Fairbank. Date unknown.]

Upon the marble stairway of a tomb,
A vault arisen from the wailing sea,
Four spirits carved in alabaster loom
As omens of the life awaiting me.

Astride the lashing waters, ushering
The tempest to beset his youthful glee,
The Sailor’s stony smile unwavering
Amid his endless battle with the sea.
The world laid out before him to unfold,
The timid manner of the shore-folk lost;
In time to feel his freedom growing old,
And only then to realise the cost.

The Maiden weeps into her hands, the drops
Of rain upon her palms and fingers fall
Into the sea; and when the torrent stops,
Her pallid lips proclaim no sound at all.
The loneliest of souls on this green earth
Are those who know the torment hope can be;
Awaiting evermore her lover’s berth,
The Maiden weeps, as you have wept for me.

Atop the marble stairs with pride awaits
The Champion, whose body lies in rest;
A figure fit to stand at heaven’s gate,
The worth of man in lifeless stone expressed.
The torrent weathered and the gale endured,
A noble soul entitled to acclaim;
His deeds, the vanquished tide has yet obscured,
For history does not recall his name.

And she who loved him stares into the waves,
The Widow keeping watch while others sleep;
Her solemn shadow cast upon his grave,
No longer does she bow her head and weep.
Her flawless eyes are mournfully serene,
And ever fixed upon the wailing sea;
Alive with dreams of all that might have been,
Of all that now will never come to be.

Fallen From The Sun

Lamenting in the dark of your vignette
Was closer to a life than I could bear,
Expecting that in time you would forget
My promises and I were ever there.
The seasons change in other people’s lives,
Discarded leaves and fallen snows entwine;
But every earnest word we said survives
As winter reigns eternally in mine.
And if you think of us, perhaps you feel
A sorrow for the death of something pure;
Though I may walk in shadow to conceal
The light inside, my dreams of you endure.
I long to know if I still have your heart,
But either answer tears my soul apart.

The Silence Thereafter


Endless as the ocean,
Present moments sprawl
Into eternity:
Still and silent, all.

And these will never be
As days of long ago;
Life has passed me by,
But it was always so.


Dark is the night
In commune with the soul:
Sorrow, loss, the self
In fragments; never whole.

Some are found amid
The sound of laughter;
Others perish in
The silence thereafter.


In every life,
There is a promise made;
And though these words remain,
All else may fade.

Never sweeter,
More sincerely spoken;
Everything ends
When the vow is broken.


Must all ambition wither to dismay
When once it wrought a purpose ever clear,
Or is the fault my own that bygone days
Have perished with the hopes I held so dear?
What ends are lost into the fetid mire
Of history reside in only dreams
Of broken men, whose torturous desires
Are bright and tangible as stars and beams
Of moonlight. Greater bards than I have fought
Their whole lives through for less, and seldom won;
The wages for a life of meaning sought
Are thus: to covet all, possessing none.

But who has never felt the sting of bold
Intention run aground, nor known the chill
Of an indifferent heart; the blood runs cold
For all we yearn to be, and never will.
And then do minds to lesser matters turn,
Forsaking passions that awoke our souls,
Or else allow our guiding lights to burn
Beyond the measure of our self-control.
Perdition comes to both the man who sought
The summit of his dreams, and met despair,
And also he whose fearful heart has wrought
Another’s destiny, to find it bare.

How swiftly we succumb to solace when
Reciting fairytales inside our heads,
And how diminished are our spirits then
To wake and find ourselves alone instead.
We court delusion to impede the flow
Of sorrow to our hearts, but time will take
Its toll, and truthfully we always know
The dream is bound to end; the dam will break,
And cleansing waters carry forth our hopes
Into the void. Once more we set about
A life bereft of fantasy, to cope
Until we cannot bear to live without.

A rare and subtle tragedy besets
A lucky few who yearn within their reach:
A lesson learned in sadness and regret
As only bitter memory can teach.
Lament for those whose prayers are answered, they
May be the most unfortunate of all;
Who dares imagine what a heart must weigh
Whose innermost desires cannot recall
Their want. But such is the unspoken truth
Inherent to us all: the human soul
Is covetous, and yet we waste our youth
In hopes that we could ever make it whole.

We do not wish to know how many lives
Are sacrificed in the pursuit of joy
Forbidden by the whims of fate; what drives
Us on if not a sacred hope destroyed
So easily by star-crossed circumstance.
Our greatest aspirations soon succumb
To the indifference of a cold expanse
That neither knows nor cares what dreams may come.
Perhaps the best of us could stand to see
Our efforts fall to ruin, in serene
Acceptance yielding their impassioned plea,
And never live to ask what might have been.

And if such rich ambitions are to reap
A sorry life of poverty, unsung
For all our pains, and thought no cause to weep
Outside of those we lived and died among –
What then were all our labours worth? If pride
Were such a feeble thing as to be quelled
By mere necessity, we might abide
A lesser life and come to live it well.
But even as we contemplate our failed
Ambition, suffering what others deem
Sublime, a common life cannot avail
Our spirits, for it falls to us to dream.

A narrative is born amid our greed,
Our gluttony and lust, our pure desire;
The framework of identity concedes
To that insatiable, pervasive fire.
We see ourselves with wretched clarity,
And to the outer world, we don a veil:
Presenting joy to hide the parity
Of bitterness and sorrow when we fail.
The story of a life cannot be free
Of anguish, nor sincere fulfilment bought,
So long as appetite can yet conceive
A pleasure in the mind the flesh has not.

We are as Icarus, our wings unbound
Amid the heat of a celestial fire:
Our storied lives are never so profound
As in the reckless seeking of desire.
As Tantalus, temptation tortures us:
Aloft without our grasp – within our view:
The harder fought our victories, and thus
The sweeter are the fruits to be our due.
And as Prometheus himself rebelled
Against the judgement of the crueller gods,
So too are we relentlessly compelled
To flee the path unfeeling souls have trod.

What modicum of failure can befall
A spirit so inclined to overreach;
Too few are truly unafraid to fall,
And solemn is the honour owed to each.
For trophies and acclaim are often held
The measure of a man, and by his name
The glory of his labour is upheld –
How many nameless souls deserve the same?
Is there nobility in failure, when
The sum of our regard is thought so small?
If your integrity is doubtless, then
Consider: you have never failed at all.

Ambition so profound that sanity
Abides in doubt is something to admire,
For nothing more becomes humanity
Than courting that untempered flame – desire.
A tale is told of laughter and despair,
And soon becomes the story of our lives;
How comedy and tragedy compare
Is little but how long the dream survives.
For if we have the courage to preserve
That gentle hope, what kingdoms we might earn;
And then, with a contented smile, observe:
How human, how divine it is to yearn.

A devil’s burden though it often seems,
Perhaps we are the nobler for our dreams.

Embers In A Darkened World

The flame is borne tonight: a candle burns
In solitude for all that’s sacred, all
That’s beautiful. As dreams to ashes turn,
My words from want and recollection fall,
While yours still linger in our darkened world;
The embers now are few, aglow within
My grasp as fireflies whose wings are furled
In resignation. Weary bones begin
To petrify, so long have I withstood
The ache of love’s enduring martyrdom,
If only to attend the flame that would
Await you should the end of sorrow come.
And if I yearned in vain, at least you knew
That someone burned in solitude for you.

Nameless Here For Evermore

Perhaps I loved you then.
But time is seldom kind
To anything so true,
And I may never find
Sincerity again.

It pains me to confess
The dying of the flame:
Four years I yearned, to learn
That yours is just the name
I give to loneliness.

Last Of Winter Snow

‘Summers fade to frost
As falling snows diminish
Ever unto Spring.’

Gleaming waves of moonlight broke upon the
Blizzard, bursting into shards that rippled
With a crystal sheen and danced amid the
Silent fury of the storm. The snowflakes
Settled in the freshly trodden tracks of
Animals and men, as if devout in
Smothering the vestiges of evil.

Almost imperceptibly, a candle
Flickering in isolation vainly
Strove against the tempest, its muted flame
Like starlight twinkling through the snow-veiled glass.
Solitary beams alighted with a
Gentle glow upon a figure lying
Helpless on the steps, alone amid an
Infinite expanse of snow. Weary eyes
Surveyed the marbling moonlight made obscure
By plumes of laboured breath, evoking wraiths
Arisen from the ashen earth to fade
In wisps of shadow. The helpless figure
Peered into the night, its eyes transfixed by
Some anomaly; the wraiths of shadow
Rose and fell in legions, all distortions
Of the dusk – except for one. A darkness
Grew amid the silver night, acquiring
Form in empty space among the snowflakes,
Wrought of blackness in the white eternity.

Motionless, the helpless figure watched in
Trepidation as the shade drew closer,
Shimmering in unifying discord
With a world beset by winter. ‘Do I
Before me see an apparition of
The blizzard’s wrath; is this The Haunted One,
The Ghost Who Roams The Night betrothed to some
Unhappy pilgrimage; or does the storm
Conspire to make a spectre of a man,
And thus apply its sorceries to one
Unwitting ronin lost amid the dusk’.

Thus engrossed in contemplation, peering
Vainly in the vast unknown, the figure
Clutched its wounded flank and slumped inertly
On a bed of bloodstained snow; stillness reigned
Where candlelight assailed the frozen wild.

‘Carnations blossom
In the void of the tundra;
Spring has kissed the earth.
Parting ways, the sun will rise
And harvest flowers of blood.’

The candle flame gave way to morning glare,
A stream of warming light distilled by flakes
Of falling snow. The helpless figure woke
Enwrapped in bandages and blankets, with
A wrinkled hand pressed firmly on its wounds,
And weary eyes aglow with gratitude.
It summoned up the strength to find its feet,
And shuffled off in search of kindly souls.
On the steps, its saviour stood enrapt in
Some impenetrable contemplation,
Icy eyes attuned to bleak horizons.
“You must be the one! The wandering soul,
The Ghost Who Roams The Night – and now, it seems,
An old man’s champion…” And so it went
On uttering its praises, offering
Its countless hospitalities to the
Unmoving edifice until at last
They stood in silence… “You must leave this place”.

The sound of snowfall reigned unchallenged, hush
Presiding over all unspoken truths
Until the phrase rekindled in the cold
Air: “You must leave this place. In different times,
I would have bade you stay until the snows
Had melted and your way was clear, but such
Is not the age in which we live. My home
Is under siege, what little I have left
Will soon be lost to bargain for my blood.
And so I ask you, leave this place before
The fiends who stake their claim on land and life
Can settle their desirous eyes on you”.

Nothing seemed to stir within the solemn
Wanderer, whose gaze remained intently
Fixed amid the vast, unknown horizon.
Softly and serenely, it exhaled its
Answer with as little diligence as
One may draw a breath – as might a passive
Voice receptive to a greater conscious:
“The tears of heaven
Wash away the fallen leaves,
For such is The Way”.

Perplexed, the helpless figure waited for
An explanation that would never come;
The only answer to be found lay mute
Inside a wooden scabbard, firmly clutched
Within the tranquil drifter‘s waiting fist.
“It seems that you’re intent on staying, and
I can’t in all good faith refuse. But if
You must reside in this unruly place,
I’ll need a name to mark your grave.” Seeing
That the warrior remained as ever
Centred, it continued thus: “perhaps a
Title to reflect your qualities; if
You will not lay claim to one, then Yuki
Is a fitting name, or fit enough if
Nothing else to mark upon your tombstone.”

The nameless one imagined Spring in full
Regalia where the Winter snows prevailed;
Peace to sleep away the untold ages
Nestled in the shade of burgeoning life.
“There is no honour
In defeat, nor victory,
But in the struggle;
No eulogy is owed to
One who dies without regret.”

For a time, the helpless figure pondered
On the meaning of these words, before the
Blankness of its mind was etched upon its
Face. “I was never one for poetry…
My wife was taken with a verse she read
Among the temples east of Edo; there,
A stone lay level with the silken face
Of a reflecting pool in such a way
That its inscription vanished with a breeze.
When all was calm, it bore the epitaph,
‘It is not for us
To reap the coming harvest,
But to sow the seeds.’
It pains me never to have understood
The words my love had taken to her heart.”

For a moment’s breadth, a distant smile had
Played upon the lips of the insightful
Traveller, subsiding as another
Treasure of the ages found its vessel:
“To a landlocked eye,
The ship is so much kindling
Lost to no avail.
The promise of a distant
Shore is wrought in heresy.”

Dissatisfaction carved its ugliness
Upon the helpless figure, twisting its
Bewilderment into a hapless frown;
‘Nothing said thus far has served to teach me
Anything; not a name has met my ears
Despite my inquisition; nothing have
I heard but pretty words perplexing truth.
What purpose has this wanderer who roams
Amid the dusk to settle here? To step
Into the candlelight from the abyss,
And to deliver me the remnants of
My life with nothing sought in recompense?’

An inviolable stillness settled
On the frozen wasteland, and the winter
Snows diminished to a listless flutter;
Soon, the sun would purge the lingering clouds
From a newly wakened sky, and pave the
Way for spring to kiss the earth – but not yet.
For now, the all encompassing repose
Intensified, the peaceful silence grew
And grew until at last tranquillity
Begat anticipation. All the while,
The night surmounted the horizon, bent
On swallowing the barren landscape. Three
Distant specks of white emerged against
The coming darkness, growing bolder as
The daylight seeped into obscurity.

The helpless figure trembled, mouthing words
That bore no sound in a frenetic bid
To reassure itself. Enclosed in dusk,
The three white horses galloped through the snow,
Their masters’ watchful eyes unwavering.
Twilight marbled into being as the
Helpless figure inched its way onto the
Frozen wasteland, clutching at its wounds with
Gritted teeth to counteract the pain, and
Still the motionless enigma waited.

The strangers from the east descended from
Their pallid horses, swiftly to beset
The helpless figure with their brandished blades
And boorish jeers. It wasn’t long before
Their taunting yielded to brutality,
Their leader cruelly casting down its prey
To writhe in anguish on the icy ground.
The hitherto unmoving sentinel
Arose to this injustice, launching forth
Into the tundra with a stoic gaze
Steadfastly trained upon the savages.
Its scabbard from the blade removed by just
An inch, a steel katana colder than
The winter field lay shimmering amid
The twilight; all was rendered deathly still.

Now, the bandits’ eyes aglow with bloodlust,
And their swords held ready with an eager
Malice of anticipation, nothing
Stirred except the helpless figure crawling
Painfully away to solace. Half-light
Gilded the primeval lands, a rosy
Tincture seeping from the setting sun to
Marr the scene with fateful auguries. And
As the very land they stood upon seemed
Poised for battle, the enlightened ronin
Sheathed its blade and bowed as low as any
Beggar in the presence of a monarch.

This supplicating gesture baffled the
Assailants, all of whom were stupefied
By the incongruous display of such
A warrior compelled to kneel – to all
But kiss the earth before its sword was drawn.
Their silence evanesced as one by one
They broke into a spiteful laughter; still
The lowly samurai lay spiritless,
Its brow obediently pressed against
The snow – petitioning the merciless.

Their leader smiled with menace in its eyes,
Approaching the unmoving edifice
With such an air as fit for conquerors
And kings. But the ready viper even
Now lay still, unflinching as the savage
Raised its sword above its head; a vicious
Lunge ensued, and all returned to silence.
Silence overcame the gloating brutes, and
Silence overcame the helpless figure;
Silence overcame the frozen lands, and
Ever silent stood the stoic soldier,
Whose unsheathed katana glinted red as
If the morning dew had formed upon its
Blade – a mirror to the rosy twilight.
As the first resplendent beads began to
Trickle to the ground, the hand of justice
Blankly stared into the ether, musing:
“It is not for us
To reap the coming harvest,
But to sow the seeds.”

With that, the enigmatic wanderer
Withdrew into the coming night, to roam
Once more amid the last of winter snow.


No safer refuge has a lonesome traveller than the night,
Nor nobler company than kindred sorrows of the moon.
For all my melancholy years, the dark has wept with me
In solitude; a thousand shadows with my heart commune
In wordless poetry, lamenting in our common plight.

From nebulous gloom, swirling vapours yield a silhouette
Akin to no familiar form; apostles of the dusk
Emerge from in their native shadow veiled in silken night,
Emancipated from the searing daylight’s gaudy husk
And cast in peerless truth as only darkness can beget.

To walk the world by moonlight is a sacrament; to breathe
The hallowed silver air is to immerse oneself in grace.
And seldom is a vision so sublime as that of dusk,
When countless vanities that constitute the commonplace
Subside beneath the mystic paths that stars and moonbeams weave.

When all chaotic voices still, a primal serenade
Of whispers emanates from shadowed regions of the world;
A dusky magic sinks into the earth, and floral bells
Of regal amethyst resplendent in the gloom unfurl,
Enticing from the heart of nightfall’s own celestial glade.

The forest floor is paved with moonlight: streams of spectral white
Converging in the heart of darkness bear a solemn bond
To all who wander aimless and alone throughout this life;
Nocturnal claims you as her own beneath these raven boughs,
Her love will bring you peace amid the purity of night.


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