Anne MacVicar Grant Poems >>
The Highlanders: Part I

OR SKETCHES OF HIGHLAND SCENERY AND MANNERS:
WITH SOME REFLECTIONS ON EMIGRATION.
WRITTEN DURING THE AUTHOR'S RECOVERY FROM A LONG ILLNESS, IN SPRING 1795.

FAR to the North the howling tempest drove,
Light od'rous buds perfum'd the birchen grove,
The primrose, iris, and the daisy pied,
With bashful sweets bedeck'd the mountain's side;
And even from bogs with chilly moisture drown'd,
Our hardy myrtle scatter'd fragrance round:
Nature in happier climes look'd fresh and gay,
And sternly smil'd even on the banks of Spey.
Hid from the solar beam and living breeze,
Stretch'd on the languid couch of dire disease,
By turns in listless torpor stretch'd I lay,
Or pin'd the agonizing hours away:
"How long must I in storms and sickness mourn?
"Oh when will health on zephyrs wings return?
"When shall I sit upon yon green hill's brow,
"To view fresh verdure deck the vales below?
"When shall my heart its grateful raptures bring,
"To join the general symphony of spring?
"No more shall selfish cares my soul employ,
"But the kind throb reverb'rate kindred joy:
"Youth's generous fervours kindle in my mind,
"And the wide wish that grasps the human kind.
"How long must I in storms and sickness mourn?
"Oh when will health, and light, and spring return?"
Again, with balmy breath the western gale
Wakes the mild verdure of the shelter'd vale,
While health, and light, and spring, return once more:
But who, alas! can Spring's delights restore?
Since social joys and cheerful toils are dead,
And all the train of mountain virtues fled;
Which, like our native firs, aspiring, bold,
Love the bleak heights, and scorn the fertile mould.
DAUGHTER of TOSCAR ! who by Lutha's streams
Oft met thy warlike spouse in mournful dreams:
MALVlNA ! come in all thy pensive charms,
Stretch from thy robe of mist thy snowy arms;
Lift thy slow-rolling eyes, whose azure beams
So oft of old were quench'd in sorrow's streams;
When sons of little men, an abject race,
Appear'd in thy departed hero's place:
Tell in what secret cave, or whispering shade,
Thy harp of sadly-pleasing sound is laid,
(Whose plaintive tones, so sweet to OSSIAN'S ear,
The child of sorrow still delights to hear,)
That my bold hand may wake its strings again,
And teach the mountain echoes to complain:
While to each dusky heath, and woody dell,
The Genius of the mountains bids farewell.
Now, where the dappl'd fawns and bounding roes
Were wont their sprightly gambols to disclose,
Slow wand'ring sheep gaze round with vacant eye,
While sullen rocks return their plaintive cry:
Pensive and slow I climb the mountain brow,
To view each social hamlet's mutual plough;
To see the cluster'd cottages around,
Where tranquil peace and rural joy were found;
Where gentle manners, piety sincere,
"The sympathies of love and friendship dear;"
Fancy and music bless'd each humble cot,
Each heart endearing to the native spot;
While at the frugal meal the blue smokes rise
Like grateful incense to the fav'ring skies;
For, here the beauties of one smiling day,
Whole months of low'ring gloom and storms repay.
While Spring with soft hand scatters fragrance round,
Devotion, gratitude, and joy abound;
And more delight expands th' untutor'd heart,
Than pomp or luxury could e'er impart.
In vain my eyes the length'ning vale explore,
From hillocks green the blue smokes rise no more:
"No more at evening hour the hamlets round,"
The voice of joy and melody resound;
No more the maids with plaintive ditties old,
And warbl'd love-tales soothe the musky fold;
Or guardian-spirits hovering round in air
Attend the village-patriarch's simple pray'r,
Where breathes the native soul devoid of art,
The genuine language of the grateful heart:
No more the pibroch wakes the martial strain,
No more the clan's proud standard waves amain,
No more in pensive mood the gifted seer
Beholds the joyous nuptial train appear;
Or sees the funeral pomp approaching slow,
Or hears through the still air the shrieks of future woe:
No more the bard, whom native genius fires,
(Celestial flame, that heaven-ward still aspires,)
Bids patriot valour in full glory blaze,
Or consecrates departed worth with praise.
Thus brave MONTROSE was sung, and great ARGYLE :
The gentle Chieftain of the mysty isle,
Snatch'd in the bloom of opening worth away,
Thus lives--the theme of many a plaintive lay;
Which still his honour'd memory shall prolong;
So young MARCELLUS lives in VIRGIL'S song.
Say, banish'd masters of the tuneful art,
Who sway with latent pow'r the willing heart,
Where are you now? across th' Atlantic's roar
Do your sad eyes your native hills explore?
Or homeward do you strain your aching view,
Where restless waves each other still pursue?
Where angry billows meet with frowning skies,
Till fancy's self recoils, and vision dies:
Or, bending o'er the prow, your mournful strain
Mix with the murmurs of the boundless main,
Where sinking surges equal cadence keep,
While misty showers around you seem to weep;
Or wakes the harp the well-known notes of woe,
That wont along the funeral path to flow,
That, while our vanish'd comforts we deplore,
Repeats emphatic, "They return no more."
Go, hapless bards, and sing in other lands
Your country's praise to charm her exil'd bands;
And soothe each drooping mind with thoughts of home,
While hopeless through the pathless wilds they roam.
But wherefore exil'd? while afar they rove,
Still glow their filial breasts with patriot love:
The thoughts of home still aching at their heart,
While distance only aggravates the smart.
Did not their hard hands earn with patient toil
Their scanty pittance from the rugged soil?
And did not blameless morals add a grace
To simple manners, in the untaught race?
Uncouth and wild these manners may appear,
And even these virtues savage and austere,
To those vain tribes who, indolently gay,
Know but to dream and trifle life away;
Who on soft Luxury's velvet lap reclin'd,
Shrink from each bold exertion of the mind,
Whose unbrac'd languid frame, dissolv'd in ease,
Recoils and shivers at th' autumnal breeze.
When winter rides terrific on the blast,
They shrink to covert till the storm be past;
Nay, when soft April's wat'ry smile appears,
The gale that from the primrose shakes the tears,
Too rudely breathes for them--although its power
Wounds not the texture of the silken flower:
Born in the sun's enlivening beams to play,
Like sportive insects of a summer day,
Say, how should they fatigue and danger brave,
Or climb the rocky steep, or mount the wintry wave?
"These tasks befit the rugged sons of toil,"
Cries speculative Pride with scornful smile,
"While they in ignorance and darkness grope,
"And labour on, and talk of faith and hope;
"Far nobler labours aid us to extol
"The task of minds, the labour of the soul.
"To trace French novelists with steady gaze,
"Through sentiment's inexplicable maze;
"Whose evanescent meaning caught meanwhile,
"Shall add new graces to enrich our style;
"New systems of philosophy be shown,
"With happier art in language all our own;
"New modes, new governments, new laws, new light,
"Shall put all superstition's train to flight;
"And revelation's trembling, dubious ray,
"No more its faint, uncertain beams display;
"But knowledge flash with such resplendent blaze,
"That maddening crowds grow giddy while they gaze.
"Such are our triumphs, while at ease reclin'd,
"With active force the comprehensive mind
"Breaks custom's chains and prejudice's ties,
"And wide in sportive curves unbounded flies."
Thus have I seen, in some long shining day,
The Swallow kind their sportive gambols play;
They roam'd excursive through the boundless air,
Sporting with wanton wing, now here, now there;
And twittering on with inharmonious mirth,
Each surface skimm'd, yet scorn'd to touch the earth:
Nor heav'n-ward strove on wing sublime to rise,
But chas'd with eager haste the summer flies;
Till the chill blasts of the first wintry day
To darkness drove the flutterers and their prey.
Such be your fate--ye silken sons of ease,
Whom hardships terrify, and trifles please.
Be mine to watch the blush of early dawn,
And thoughtful muse along the dewy lawn,
Where the sweet Lark with cheerful ardour springs,
Shakes the cold night-drops from her russet wings;
With music's raptures cheers the vaulted sky,
And wakens all the feather'd minstrelsy;
Then stooping to her dewy nest again,
With grateful joy renews the charming strain.
Thus from his native glen, when forc'd to roam,
Some Alpine peasant joyous hails his home;
Delighted hovering o'er the spot obscure,
Where useful toils are mix'd with pleasures pure;
While his fond eyes explore the low retreat,
He feels his glowing heart tumultuous beat;
And views with more delight his humble shed,
Than all the scenes where pomp and pleasure tread.
Will you, ye proud and gay, attend a while,
To homely truths rehears'd in homely style;
And hear a rustic Muse those truths impart,
From the full sources of the swelling heart?
No strains of measur'd harmony shall here
With meretricious tinkle soothe your ear;
Nor art ambitious snatch exotic flow'rs
From eastern groves, or soft Italia's bow'rs;
Be mine to raise, without disguise or art,
The British song, and touch the British heart.
To scenes of heartfelt sorrow turn your eye,
Unlock the sacred source of sympathy;
Nor let to Afric's wilds Compassion roam,
While modest Anguish weeps unseen at home.