Anne MacVicar Grant Poems >>
The Highlanders: Part III

NOW hark! what loud, tumultuous joys resound,
From all the echoing rocks and valleys round;
And hear! the sage oraculous declare,
Tis time the summer-flitting to prepare:
The summer-flitting! youths delighted cry,
The summer-flitting! lisping babes reply.
Now all is haste, and cheerful bustle round,
To reach the wilds, with plenteous herbage crown'd.
Thus when assembled storks prepare to fly,
When NILUS leaves his slimy borders dry,
The prudent leaders first consult with care,
Then all the younger followers mount the air:
Their figur'd flight with due precision steer,
While hope exulting heads the gay career.
When dappl'd grey first streaks the eastern sky,
With quick dispatch the cottage-matrons vie,
Who first shall load the steeds that lead the way,
And wheels and vessels in due order lay.
Then in collected numbers duly rang'd
With lighten'd hearts, to care and fear estrang'd,
The train proceed,--and first the motley herd,
For greater strength, or agile force preferr'd,
Lead on,--the milky mothers following near,
Their sportive young behold with matron fear:
Then come the bleating kind with plaintive cry,
And children overjoy'd, they know not why;
And mothers, smiling on the guiltless race,
Or clasping infants in their fond embrace.
High on the mountain's side, or in the wood,
Where Nature reigns in savage solitude;
Or deep embosom'd in some narrow glen,
Where coy Retirement shuns the haunts of men,
The shelter'd bothys rise to shield the train,
Who joy to view their summer-haunts again;
For here again the Sylvan Age returns,
Nor man the curse of ceaseless labour mourns:
Fair Freedom walks abroad, unties her zone,
And joys to see the landscape all her own.
Thrown careless on the slope--see vacant Ease
Bask in the sun, or court the cooling breeze;
And musing Fancy , by some brook reclin'd,
In language clothe the murmurs of the wind;
Or frame to vocal reeds the native lay,
Or form of mountain flowers the chaplet gay.
See Sport , with Exercise and Health combin'd,
In happy union, fleeter than the wind,
Thro' pathless wastes the sprightly game pursue,
"Oft out of reach, but never out of view:"
While eager Hope impetuous grasps the prize,
And Ardour lightens in the hunter's eyes.
At length, exulting o'er their trembling spoil,
They see the dun deer fall to crown their toil.
And when calm evening bathes the flow'rs in dew,
And bids the thrush his mellow note renew,
With answering music maidens pour the lay,
And drain the listening kine at close of day:
Delighted Echoes spread the cheerful strains,
And rapt Attention holds the silent swains:
But holds not long--from every thicket round
Young voices mix'd in cheerful chorus sound.
Each lone recess the wand'ring tribes explore,
And now return exulting with their store
Of berries, that in rich luxuriance spread,
O'er the dark heath their crimson lustre shed;
Or trailing o'er the rocky fragments side,
The glossy foliage spreads its verdant pride;
While raspberries richly flavour'd, climb on high,
And bask in all the radiance of the sky;
Or brambles , on the brook's wild margin spread,
With jetty lustre deck their pebbly bed:
Where with coy wing the Ptarmigan retires,
And high beyond the rolling mist aspires,
In safest solitude and purest air,
To rear her young with fond maternal care:
And mountain Hares , white as the drifted snow,
Ascend, while fear and danger pant below;
Or, where the Eagle darts his vigorous flight
From cliffs sublime, to trace the realms of light;
A fruit there grows, to fertile plains unknown,
Whose beauties deck the sterile rock alone;
The creeping plant, low on the stony ground,
Spreads like some lonely gem its radiance round:
The topaz and the ruby here display
Their blended lustre to the eye of day:
'Twas thus Hesperian gardens bloom'd of old,
Where Dragons watch'd the vegetable gold.
All these, and more beside, of names unknown,
Has Nature o'er the wilds profusely strown:
And vent'rous children wide the waste explore,
And to the Arrie bring the various store.
While bolder youth pursue the feather'd game,
Of various plumage, and as various name:
And adding what the finny tribes afford,
With unbought viands load the simple board;
Where milky draughts refresh the happy train,
And each lives o'er th' excursive day again:
While mirth's loud carol every care beguiles,
And guiltless loves, that play in artless smiles;
And aged swains, that talk of battles old,
And wonders new by ancient seers foretold;
And matrons, who the busy spindle ply,
Till evening's warning star is mounted high;
Thus comes with speed unmark'd the hour of rest,
That hour to peace and innocence so blest;
How sweet to slumber on the bed of heath,
Whose purple blossoms health and vigour breathe!
How sweet to dream of heavenly melody,
And wake to hear it warbling thro' the sky!
While larks ascending tune their matin lays,
And scatter darkness with the notes of praise.
Thus while successive days new pleasures bring,
Gay Summer hastes away on blithsome wing:
But now, when equal days and nights draw near,
And pensive Autumn mild, of sober cheer;
When clustering nuts are changing into brown,
When from the nest the plover's young is flown,
When nimble moor-powts scatter o'er the heath,
And hear in every blast the licenc'd death:
When round the lonely hamlet's green domain,
The grass in fresh luxuriance springs again;
When flowery herbage richly clothes the mead,
And corn shot up, supplies the past'ral reed;
Then from the Summer-sheals their course they bend,
And with reluctant leisure slow descend.
How cheap the pleasures of the simple mind!
Unknown to joys that Fashion calls refin'd:
What fine, what slender and unconscious ties,
To hold the kind ingenuous heart, suffice.
The wide, wild haunts, where nature lonely reigns,
Unwilling they forsake, to seek the plains;
Yet when they see the dear familiar spot,
Where each descries his lov'd, his native cot,
Well pleas'd they hail the Genius of the plain,
And joy to meet their household-gods again:
Though penury and ceaseless toil await,
They resolutely brave the storms of fate,
And see fair Hope's eternal lamp display
The gloomy path that leads to endless day.
Now Autumn lifts her head, with plenty crown'd,
The breezes wave her yellow locks around,
The purest azure decks her sky serene,
And mild Dejection marks her pensive mien:
Now lonely Meditation walks abroad,
Through all his bounteous works to trace her GOD :
Now Labour plies his task, with smiling cheer,
To reap the produce of the ripen'd year;
And sportive glee, and talk, and social toil,
The patient reaper's weary task beguile,
And songs, according to the reaper's stroke,
Brisk emulation o'er the field provoke:
The ancient swains attentive wait behind,
With patient care the yellow sheaves to bind;
Or else, with long-liv'd prudence, chide the while,
Where, lur'd by Beauty's soft attractive smile,
Some Youth who plies his task beside the fair,
Whose artless charms his simple heart ensnare,
With stroke unequal reaps; while on the ground
The broken ears are careless scatter'd round:
In vain the fond Enthusiast ye reprove,
For when did Prudence ever dwell with Love?
Triumphant Love, who scorning Wisdom's rules,
Exalting sees the wise become his fools.
Now dark October comes, obscur'd with rain,
And low'ring threats the plenty of the plain;
For Winter here, too oft with boisterous form,
Comes early riding on the howling storm;
And oft with rude and chilly hand is found,
To scatter Autumn's heavy locks around.
High on these mountains BOREAS dwells alone,
While icy terrors gird his frozen throne:
When Sister-Seasons dance the graceful round,
Where Harmony appears with order crown'd;
In fury oft he mounts his airy car,
His blustering heralds sound the notes of war;
And while those changing seasons fair advance,
Spreads wild confusion through the mazy dance.
Hence Winter here oft breaks the mystic ring,
And chills the blooms that deck the breast of Spring!
Or rages among unwither'd leaves,
And shakes from Autumn's bounteous lap the sheaves.
Hence aged swains, by slow experience taught,
When heavy clouds appear with moisture fraught,
And bending willows hang their dripping heads,
And turbid rivers rise beyond their beds,
And mountain-cataracts, of dingy brown,
With brawling rage o'er broken rocks come down;
And plenteous fruit, with early ripeness red,
In crimson tufts bedeck the witch-elm's head;
And numerous hips, with ripen'd scarlet glow,
And frosty gales, in ruddy evenings blow;--
Direct, in haste, to lead the new shorn grain,
From the dank moisture of the wat'ry plain
To rocky heights, where frequent breezes blow,
And sun-beams with redoubled ardour glow.
Now young and old from every quarter come,
To share the cheerful task of leading home:
Here, studious of the clime, they form with care
The wattled barn that courts th' enlivening air,
Lest the fresh sap their labour render vain,
Fermenting through the scarcely-ripen'd grain:
The sons of Art , who art alone esteem,
These, marks of savage indolence may deem;
But sage Experience, Wisdom's eldest child,
When nurs'd by Nature 'midst th' untutor'd wild,
Though small her bounds appear, and short her view,
Yet in these narrow bounds her steps are true:
Nor let rash Speculation's letter'd pride,
O'erturn her modest works with daring stride.
Now comes the day to Superstition dear,
When frosty mists foretel the closing year,
Hallow'd and reverenc'd in the elder time,
Sacred to every saint, of every clime;
When aerial tribes in joyful freedom stray,
Or hover round the church-yard's lonely way;
Or o'er the annual mystic rites preside,
And form of air the visionary bride:
In joyful groups the rustics then appear,
To crown the finish'd labours of the year,
And bid the rural genius come along,
With dance, and sport, and revelry and song:
Then native Music wakes in sprightly strains,
Which gay according motion best explains:
Fastidious Elegance, in scornful guise,
Perhaps th' unpolish'd measure may despise;
But here, where infants lisp in tuneful lays,
And Melody her untaught charms displays;
The dancers bound with wild peculiar grace,
And sound thro' all its raptur'd mazes trace;
Nor awkward step, nor rude ungainly mien,
Through all the glad assemblage can be seen:
But with decorous air, and sprightly ease,
Even critic taste the agile dancers please.
Cameleon Fashion's self, whose varying hue,
Assumes the likeness of each object new,
Returns, to copy motion's artless grace,
Even from the wildest of the mountain race,
And with decisive voice her votaries calls,
To ape with air constrain'd the rural balls!
The nymph that wont to trace the source of Tay ,
Or lead the sprightly dance by rapid Spey ,
With conscious triumph smiles aside to see,
This "faint reflection of the rural glee;"
Short pleasure languid imitation feels,
While polish'd courtiers pant in active reels.