Anne MacVicar Grant Poems >>
The Highlanders: Part II

COME , then, explore with me each winding glen,
Far from the noisy haunts of busy men;
Let us with stedfast eye attentive trace
The local habits of the CELTIC race;
Renown'd even in those old heroic times,
That live in OSSIAN'S songs, and RUNIC rhymes;
When ardent Valour call'd his children forth,
And glory lighten'd through the beaming North:
Whose hardy sons that twilight age adorn,
Like the quick splendours of the Boreal morn,
Fill'd with amaze and awe the world's dread kings,
And bade their eagles stoop with flagging wings.
Come, trace with curious search what secret cause
Each native's heart with strong attraction draws,
Though wealth in happier lands her stores unlock,
To cling with fervour to his native rock:
Why lonely mountains, dark with russet heath
And rushing streams, and narrow vales beneath;
With more delight his wand'ring eye detain,
Than FORTH'S rich banks, or LOTHIAN'S fertile plain:
The many-colour'd herd, his wealth and pride,
Like deer, through wastes extended, wand'ring wide;
And sportive goats, a bold aspiring flock,
High on the ridge of yon aerial rock;
More self-importance to his mind impart,
And fill with warmer joys his simple heart,
Than all the flocks the southern shepherd pens,
Or the fat herds that graze the LINCOLN fens.
Dear to his heart, those rocks that oft have rung
With legends which the CELTIC muse has sung;
While all the attentive hamlets round admire
The deeds gigantic of their common sire:
The honest pride those noble deeds impart,
With kind contagion flies from heart to heart.
And while they hang delighted on the sound,
The ties of kindred love are doubly bound;
And lisping children, youths, and grandsires grey,
Enamour'd dwell on the exalting lay:
The long-descended strains their sons inspire,
To wake new raptures from the melting lyre,
Bid every sympathetic bosom glow
With modest triumph, or with virtuous woe:
With fine emotions rudest spirits move,
And teach at once to wonder and to love:
While glowing tenderness and thought refin'd,
Exalt the spirit of the lowly hind.
In other lands, where abject peasants toil,
To gain rich products from the cultur'd soil;
Where grovelling interest draws each sordid plan,
And all things feel improvement's aid but man:
To plod in dull mechanic sort their lot,
And vegetate upon the self-same spot:
Through the dull year's unvarying circle round,
The self-same fields their cares and projects bound.
No common toils have they, nor liberal views,
Alternate ease, nor "rapture for the muse;"
No leisure intervals to soothe their care,
Save the gross pastimes of a village-fair:
Extinct in these the spirit fierce and bold
That blaz'd through all the Scottish ranks of old;
Extinct the vital spark of energy,
That bids the soul claim kindred with the sky.
Far to the North, where Scotia's Alps arise,
And shroud their white heads in the misty skies;
In peopled straths, where winding streams prolong
Their course familiar in the CELTIC song:
Or where the narrow wooded glens display
Their verdant bosoms opening to the day,
And each his tributary torrent pours,
To swell the midland river's copious stores:
While near their confluence stand the mouldering seats
Where ancient Chieftains rul'd those green retreats,
And faithful Clans delighted to obey
The kind behests of patriarchal sway;
The social tribes branch'd out on every side,
The pleasures and the toils of life divide;
And long experienc'd in the ages gone,
Peculiar toils and pleasures all their own.
Here all is open as the ambient sky,
Nor fence, nor wall, obstructs the wandering eye:
Each hamlet's flocks and herds, a mutual charge,
That wander up the mountain's side at large;
Alternate claim the rustic's daily care;
And thus each various rural toil they share.
The lesser Children guide the bleating lambs,
When wean'd and forc'd to quit their tim'rous dams;
The more advanc'd the sportive kidlings guide,
Where rocks o'erhang the torrent's dashing pride.
The little Maiden , whose unsteady hand
Can scarce the distaff's yielding weight command,
Is by her careful mother taught to cull
From whitest curling fleeces, silky wool;
Her flowing tresses decks with garlands gay,
Then spins beside her playful calves the day.
The Youth , whose cheek the manly down o'erspreads
Wide o'er the hills the stronger cattle leads:
While milky mothers lowing o'er the land,
With plaintive cries their absent young demand.
The careful Father forms the hamlet's fold,
Or else with patient labour turns the mould;
And watchful leaning o'er the faithful share,
The small domain divides with frugal care;
And free from cautious doubts and selfish fears,
They reap their portion of the ripen'd ears.
Thus, while they sow and reap the mutual field,
And each to each by turns is wont to yield;
With one consent they trace the general plan,
And blended interests form the social man:
Hence gradual ties of kind endearment flow,
Hence bland address and courteous actions grow;
And hence th' unstudied manners of the swain,
The graces of a gentler mind explain.
When the declining sun withdraws his fires,
And slowly from the mountain-top retires;
When echoes whisper to the evening gale,
And shadows dim the visionary vale:
When cattle slumber in the peaceful fold,
And clouds in wild fantastic shapes are roll'd;
The scatter'd family delighted meet,
And with complacent smile each other greet.
All day, from deep recesses of the woods,
From shelving rocks, or secret winding floods,
Each individual strives to bring a share
To aid their household wants, or help their frugal fare.
The boastful Boy , caught by his feeble hook,
Displays the scaly tenants of the brook:
The Goat-herds in their osier baskets bring
The wholesome herbs on airy cliffs that spring;
The alder bark that gives the sable dye,
Or buds of heath that with the saffron vie;
While moss, that wont on aged rocks to grow,
Shall make the various woof with purple glow:
The housewife pleas'd the varied gifts beholds,
While hope anticipates the checker'd folds;
And colours of the home-made drapery,
Pride of her heart, and pleasure of her eye.
The cumbrous burden see the Father bear,
Of pliant birch, or smooth-grain'd juniper;
To form the roof that shields the humble dome,
"Where every wand'ring stranger finds a home;"
Or frame the seemly vessels that contain
The milky store which from their flocks they drain;
For here scarce known the sordid arts of trade,
They seek no gross mechanic's frigid aid:
Tho' mean the dwelling thus uncouthly rear'd,
'Tis still by kindly gratitude endear'd:
While each his neighbour aids with cordial smile,
To build, like lab'ring ants, the rustic pile.
The household stuff their simple wants demand,
Is fashion'd by th' ingenious owner's hand:
The knife, the axe, the auger, and the fire,
The only tools that aid th' inventive sire.
From courtly domes on marble columns borne,
Let not the artist view their works with scorn;
Till he another cot produce to view,
By means as simple, and with tools as few.
The wish'd Repast the weary inmates cheers,
And kindness now on every face appears;
Well pleas'd to meet in comfort, and display
The mix'd adventures of the various day.
What bounding deer and fluttering game they trac'd,
What hunter met them on the moory waste;
What straying cattle from th' adjacent strath,
They careful turn'd into the homeward path:
Or tell what rude and new-invented lay,
With soothing cadence lull'd their tedious day;
Th' unearthly voice, deep sounding thro' the wood,
Or vision wild of mournful solitude,
That brings the long-lost brother back again
From QUEBEC'S gates, or sad CULLODEN'S plain:
By turns in wonder wrapt, or chill'd with fear,
Or sunk in woe, th' attentive audience hear;
And each impression which their words impart,
Sinks with deep interest on the artless heart:
Not all the magic cunning of the scene,
Though SIDDONS self in sorrow's pomp be seen,
Can wake emotions in the callous mind,
Vers'd in the crooked science of mankind,
So soft, so strong, so warm, as here are known,
Where modest NATURE works, and works alone.
The vivid portion of celestial fire
Which bids the energetic soul aspire,
Like the clear flames that light the frozen zone,
Blown by the fav'ring breath of heaven alone,
More brightly blazes, more intensely glows,
Than where slow art her languid aid bestows.
Now all the household with due reverence kneel,
While in emphatic phrase with fervent zeal,
The Parent Swain pours out his ardent pray'r,
For the dear objects of his tend'rest care;
Or else, by humble gratitude inspir'd,
His swelling heart with holy transport fir'd,
Presents his praise--an Evening Sacrifice ,
Sincere and welcome to the approving skies.
Thus blessing heaven, and by each other blest,
They drown their toils in sweet oblivious rest.
When, on his eastern throne the Sun appears,
From Nature's mantle green to dry the tears,
With cheerful haste to meet his beams they rise,
And pay again their homage to the skies ;
Then greet the hamlet Sage with due esteem,
Whose wise behest an oracle they deem:
Ev'n Nature's artless children thus we find,
A rude unconscious homage pay to mind.
Then, why at Fortune's vain distinctions low'r?
Since Wisdom still in every state is Pow'r .
When Probity and Wisdom both combine,
'Tis indefeasible and right divine:
While all beneath the secret influence bow,
And wait suspended the decision slow.
Thus Grecian chiefs with mute attention heard,
When hoary NESTOR spoke, by all rever'd.
In every hamlet some experienc'd Sire ,
Whose worth and wisdom all the rest admire,
Known to each track where deer are wont to range,
And vers'd in every planetary change;
Why meteors glare, or wand'ring comets blaze,
And which propitious, which unlucky days;
Directs what time to yoke the mutual plough,
And when to feed the weakly flocks below;
Or when the larger cattle forth to guide,
Where fresher herbage decks the mountain's side;
What dreadful judgments wait on broken vows,
How conscious guilt low'rs on the murderer's brows;
How voices whispering thro' the gloomy wood,
Or groaning caves, make known the man of blood:
How fields are blighted, or how cattle die,
To punish secret fraud, or perjury:
Or how red lightning scath'd the vassal's head,
Who shew'd the way his outlaw'd chieftain fled;
He tells at large,--while every hearer's sense
Is ravish'd by his copious eloquence:
In each debate he gives the casting vote,
And his wise sayings all repeat by rote.
Much does each hamlet boast its sage's skill,
To draw the severing bounds 'twixt good and ill:
And much indeed his knowledge is extoll'd,
In local history, and tradition old.
Thus, though he holds pre-eminence, as fit,
The circle also boasts its Bard or Wit .
Some Genius , who by Nature taught to sing,
Responsive warbles to the trembling string:
Each theme, by turns, th' attentive audience warms,
The smile of beauty, or the clash of arms;
Or grottos, woods, and shaded vales are shown,
Description, such as THOMPSON'S self might own:
Like him, the bard, without the aid of art,
Awakes the fine emotions of the heart:
Like him, can every "tenderness infuse,"
And teach to love the "humanizing muse:"
Or else some Youth, who smiles and wounds by turns,
With all the poignant humour of a BURNS ,
Bids sportive mirth and pleasantry abound,
And scatters Ridicule's light darts around;
With the shrewd glance of quick inspection keen,
Detects the vain, the selfish, and the mean;
Drags vice and folly to the public eye,
And points them out to grinning obloquy:
Not even the worthy are from fear exempt,
Such is the general horror of contempt.
Besides th' ingenious Youth and sapient Sire;
One darling object all the rest admire:
Some blushing Maid , whose sweet, tho' simple charms,
In many an artless bosom wake alarms;
Whom all the young with secret joy behold,
With looks of kind complacence all the old:
See, with dishevell'd locks she moves along,
The theme of many a wildly-warbl'd song:
And many a quaint similitude is sought,
Through all the boundless wilderness of thought,
To paint the graces of th' excelling fair:
The glossy burnish of her shining hair,
Is like the soft harp's many-sounding strings
To which the bard the deeds of heroes sings;
Like stars that shed sweet influence from the skies,
The beamy lustre of her downcast eyes;
The downy cannach  of the wat'ry moors,
Whose shining tufts the shepherd-boy allures;
Which, when the Summer's sultry heats prevail,
Sheds its light plumage on th' inconstant gale:
Even such, so silky soft, so dazzling white,
Her modest bosom seems, retir'd from sight.
The tufted berries rich in crimson glow,
That on the mountain-ash conspicuous grow,
Seem a fit image of the deepening red,
With which the conscious fair-one's cheek is spread:
While emulous her neighbour-swains declare
No other virgin can with her compare;
And challenge all the neighbouring hamlets round,
To show a maid with such perfections crown'd.
Where yonder ridgy mountains bound the scene,
The narrow op'ning glens that intervene
Still shelter in some lowly nook obscure,
One poorer than the rest--where all are poor;
Some widow'd Matron , hopeless of relief,
Who to her secret breast confines her grief;
Dejected sighs the wint'ry night away,
And lonely muses all the summer day:
Her gallant sons, who smit with honour's charms,
Pursued the phantom Fame thro' war's alarms,
Return no more;--stretch'd on Hindostan's plain,
Or sunk beneath th' unfathomable main;
In vain her eyes the wat'ry waste explore,
For heroes--fated to return no more!
Let others bless the morning's red'ning beam,
Foe to her peace--it breaks th' illusive dream
That, in their prime of manly bloom confest,
Restor'd the long-lost warriors to her breast;
And as they strove, with smiles of filial love,
Their widow'd parent's anguish to remove,
Through her small casement broke th' intrusive day,
And chac'd the pleasing images away!
No time can e'er her banish'd joys restore,
For ah! a heart once broken, heals no more.
The dewy beams that gleam from pity's eye,
The "still small voice" of sacred sympathy,
In vain the mourner's sorrows would beguile,
Or steal from weary woe one languid smile;
Yet what they can they do,--the scanty store,
So often open'd for the wandering poor,
To her each cottager complacent deals,
While the kind glance the melting heart reveals;
And still, when evening streaks the west with gold,
The milky tribute from the lowing fold
With cheerful haste officious children bring,
And every smiling flow'r that decks the Spring:
Ah! little know the fond attentive train,
That spring and flow'rets smile for her in vain:
Yet hence they learn to reverence modest woe,
And of their little all a part bestow.
Let those, to wealth and proud distinction born,
With the cold glance of insolence and scorn
Regard the suppliant wretch,--and harshly grieve
The bleeding heart their bounty would relieve,
Far different these;--while from a bounteous heart
With the poor sufferer they divide a part:
Humbly they own, that all they have is given
A boon precarious from indulgent heaven;
And the next blighted crop, or frosty spring,
Themselves to equal indigence may bring.