Anne MacVicar Grant Poems >>
The Highlanders: Part IV

NOW Winter pours his terrors o'er the plain,
And icy barriers close the wild domain,
From the fierce North the sweeping blast descends,
And drifted snow in wild confusion blends;
The Mountain-Cataract, whose thundering sound
Made echoes tremble in their caves around,
Now dashing with diminish'd majesty,
In frozen state suspended seems on high;
While in the midst a small contracted stream
Tinkles like rills that lull the shepherd's dream.
The River crusted o'er, and hid in snow,
Unfaithful tempts the traveller below;
While pools and boiling springs, unsafe beneath,
Betray th' unwary to the snares of death.
How awful now appears Night's silent reign!
Where lofty mountains bound the solemn scene.
While Nature, wrapt in chilly bright disguise,
And sunk in deep repose, unconscious lies;
And through the pure cerulean vault above,
In lucid order constellations move:
The milky-way, conspicuous glows on high.
Redoubled lustre sparkles through the sky;
And rapid splendours, from the dark-blue North,
In streams of brightness pour incessant forth;
While crusted mountain-snows reflect the light,
And radiance decks the sable brows of night.
Now, though their herds excite their anxious care,
Tir'd Labour slumbers with the shining share:
Short while they ply the flail, the scanty corn,
Dealt out with frugal care, employs the morn:
But social glee, around the cheerful hearth,
Lets loose the careless soul of rural mirth:
Bright burns the hearth, th' enlivening torches blaze,
The pipes awake the notes of former days:
Again they feel their ancient spirit rise,
And courage fires, or pity melts their eyes,
As love or war alternate swells the sound,
And hearts dilate, and bosoms glow around:
Yet even while frost comes bitter on the breeze,
Not all their nights are spent in social ease.
Some bolder spirits of the hardy race,
O'er snow-clad mountains wake the dangerous chase;
And some advent'rous youths, with fearless mind,
All thoughts of ease and safety leave behind,
The pathless wilds for wandering steers explore,
Climb the steep rock where nestling Falcons soar,
And heights by human feet untrod before.
There, danger threats in every hideous form,
There groans the Genius of the gathering storm;
And solitude forlorn, and frantic fear,
And howling blasts, and echoing caves are there.
Yet adamantine souls, and iron forms,
Hard brac'd by toil, and nurst among the storms,
Whom pleasure ne'er could melt, or terror freeze,
Can trace undaunted even such scenes as these;
Amidst the rattling hail erect their head,
And view serene the dwelling of the dead.
Where chiefs, who bore of old a mighty name,
In four grey stones concentre all their fame;
Where sleeps the hunter on the hill of heath,
By fancy pictur'd in the misty wreath,
Dim hovering o'er the narrow bed of death.
Yet when the wearied storm has spent its wrath,
Patient he still explores th' adjacent Strath :
By the pale moon he tracks the famish'd hare,
Who seeks among the cots her scanty fare:
At length, a distant light his steps invites,
To share the wonted hospitable rites;
Where plenteous cheer, and welcome's genial smiles,
In simple guise the wanderer's care beguiles;
The timely aid, the long-remember'd feast,
Are deep upon the stranger's mind impress'd,
And hope and gratitude distend his breast.
Deep in a narrow vale, unknown to song,
Where Maeshy leads her lucid stream along,
Then turns, as if unwilling to forsake
The peaceful bosom of her parent lake,
While her pure streams the polish'd pebbles show,
That through the native crystal shine below;
Upon her flow'ry banks there dwelt a Swain,
Who liv'd a stranger to the cultur'd plain:
He mov'd with active ease, and artless grace,
And manly spirit brighten'd in his face.
Fair on his cheek appear'd youth's mantling glow,
While lines of stedfast thought had mark'd his brow;
Alone, superior in the sylvan reign,
'Twas his to lead the life that poets feign,
Amidst luxuriant fruits, and crystal springs,
"Where the free soul looks down to pity kings."
Yet while through woods and mountains wont to rove,
The pious youth excell'd in filial love;
For his lov'd parents, and their duteous race,
He search'd the flood, or urg'd the vent'rous chase:
And while o'er distant moors he lov'd to roam,
The fruit of all his toils enrich'd their home:
For them the deer resign'd his ample hide,
For them th' enamell'd roes their beauteous pride,
The otter's costly fur, the dappled fawn,
The leveret wounded in the dewy dawn:
No sylvan game their FARQUHAR'S pow'r withstood,
Who reign'd despotic o'er the pathless wood.
But see! where Winter fierce, array'd in storms,
With early fury Nature's face deforms;
And pours his snows with wild unwonted haste,
Ere scatter'd herds are brought from ev'ry waste,
Where they through summer months unheeded rang'd,
Or left the district to their home estrang'd.
Now FARQUHAR ceas'd thro' gloomy woods to roam,
And hastening downwards, sought his peaceful home,
The kindred smile, the dear paternal cot:
But while through new-fall'n snows he hail'd the spot,
His father with unwonted sternness cried,--
"While heedless you traverse the forest wide,
"Our little all, those heifers and those steers,
"Rear'd as a stock for our declining years,
"Your unregarded charge, have wander'd far,
"Where ridgy rocks the dangerous access bar;
"Or in the western Corry's depth profound,
"Where blasts in fatal eddies circle round:
"While sylvan sports your vigorous youth engage,
"Must penury and sorrow cloud our age."
The generous youth heart-chill'd with anguish stood,
The "light forsook his eyes, his cheeks the blood,"
Cold through his breast the new sensation came,
A stranger yet to censure or to shame;
Turning, he cried, "I go, where to the west
"Declining suns in Ocean's bosom rest:
"I go, your wand'ring heifers to explore,
"To find them, or, alas! return no more."
In sorrow thus he spoke, then turning round,
His variegated vest succinctly bound:
Array'd for speed, he westward bends his way,
While low the wintry sun forsakes the day:
His dog, the fleetest of the hunter kind,
Oft with reluctant wonder looks behind:
Then patient mounts the rock, and urges on,
Till the last glimpse of lingering day was gone.
Now wide and wild the dreary prospect shows
Where stars with glimmering light illume the snows,
Through fleecy clouds a dubious lustre spread,
Where Corryaric rears his lofty head:
Deep at his feet the dismal Corry lies,
Where dwells a spirit, hid from human eyes,
Whose magic art the fatal blast unties:
The fatal blast, incessant whirling round,
With horror fills the cavity profound:
The Demon, in the whirling drift disguis'd,
Has oft th' unweeting stranger here surpris'd;
And many a grave is seen with fox-glove crown'd,
When spring appears, with dewy locks unbound;
And many a plaintive ghost sad fancy forms,
And hears their hollow shriek amidst the storms.
Here FARQUHAR paus'd, look'd back, and shuddering saw
His faithful dog first shrink in silent awe,
Then, howling, trembling, fly with quicken'd pace,
To warn his master from the fatal place.
"Shall I too fly, (he cried) or trust the Pow'r
"Who guards us in the dark and silent hour?
"From whom commission'd blasts have leave to fly,
"Or sleep within the curtains of the sky.
"Strong in his strength these horrors I explore,
"By him protected, FARQUHAR fears no more."
His plaid in ample folds around him cast,
The vent'rous youth ascends the steep in haste;
Loud from the Corry's depth arose the wind,
Unmov'd he heard the yelling blast behind,
And flying from the grim pursuit of death,
No backward look retrac'd the dangerous path.
Now high above the rolling clouds he goes,
Where clearer starlight brightens whiter snows;
Sublime on Corryaric's height he stood,
And all the wide horizon wond'ring view'd;
Through the pure air, where vision unconfin'd
Still ranges like the quick creative mind;
Saw where the sun, from ocean's fluid breast,
Begins his radiant progress in the East;
And where with milder majesty he shines,
When in the western wave his light declines:
Saw the long vista, where midst candy'd snows
The mighty depths of Ness appear unfroze.
Majestic lake! which rocky mountains bound,
Or steepy heights, with yew and holly crown'd;
Fed by thy tepid breath, each bordering tree
Still with reflected verdure shines in thee;
While wide the wintry blast in fury roves,
And strips the graceful foliage from the groves.
And when each neighbouring lake is chill'd to stone,
Warmth, health, and beauty, dwell with thee alone:
There birds disport, bedeck'd with plumage gay,
And snowy swans their stately pride display.
The ruthless tyrant of the frozen year,
Repell'd, retiring, shuns thy bosom clear;
Where downward skies are seen in azure dress'd,
Like heav'n's own image, in the guiltless breast.
And now the moon in cloudless splendour rose,
Where lofty Alps their snowy tops disclose:
And the wild Garrie , midst his ridgy zone,
To her pale beams an icy mirror shone:
There Moidart's hills in clustering groups appear,
And Aonich's slow ascent and piny summit here;
Knoidart's wild rocks in shapeless forms were seen,
And Oich with softer beauties deck'd the scene:
A while entranc'd, in solemn awe he gaz'd,
Then to the skies his raptur'd eyes he rais'd:
"And why (said he) should coward fears control,
"Or doubts desponding, sink the guiltless soul?
"The hand which bade those lofty summits rise,
"And with those living splendours deck'd the skies,
"Which move obedient to his dread command,--
"I dwell beneath the shadow of that hand."
Then downwards to the sheltering glen he hies,
And close beneath the tangling thicket lies,
Which o'er the rocky cavity was spread,
Where wither'd leaves collected form'd his bed:
Exhausted nature sunk in sleep profound,
And peaceful visions lightly hover'd round.
Now bleak and dim the chilly morn arose,
And keen the North wind swept the glossy snows,
The blast loud rushing through the wither'd oak,
Arous'd his dog, and FARQUHAR starting woke:
Forlorn and sad, he cast his eyes around,
But in his view no living object found;
Nor track, save to a gloomy cavern near,
Where the false fox's bloody steps appear:
Resolv'd, he turns, intent to trace the way
From whence the nightly robber bore his prey;
For well he knew, at this inclement hour
No wand'ring flocks were subject to his pow'r;
But from some cot perhaps not far away,
He slunk insidious with his helpless prey.
Forward with eager speed again he goes,
And traces up th' ascent th' ensanguin'd snows;
Eastward he bends, till weak, and spent with toil,
He sees the new-fall'n snow his steps beguile;
The buried track no longer leads him on,
And strength, and fortitude, and hope, are gone.
The flaky torrent now conceals the sun,
And hunger faint to dim his sight begun;
Cheerless he turns, to seek the friendly shade
Where verdant hollies rose, amidst a glade;
But wond'ring starts, to see a lovely form
Who in the self-same shelter shunn'd the storm;
In youth's first bloom, and deck'd with matchless grace,
The morning's orient hues adorn'd her face:
He gaz'd, nor thought the maid of mortal race.
The snow-clad stranger gentle MORAIG saw,
And blushing turn'd, and shrunk with timid awe.
The beauteous vision FARQUHAR still survey'd,
And softly thus in suppliant accents said:
"Fair wanderer of the wood, if deck'd in light
"An airy spirit only cheats my sight;
"Or if a sister of the earth you come,
"No longer let me here bewilder'd roam;
"But to some peaceful harbour guide my path,
"Weary and faint, beneath the tempest's wrath
"I sink unpitied in the grasp of death."
'Stranger! in evil hour you come,' she cries,
And lifts with soft concern her modest eyes:
'A helpless maid, unaided and alone,
'Perplex'd I wander here through paths unknown:
'An ewe last evening from our sheep-cot stray'd,
'In search of her I trace the lonely glade.'
"Vain search! (cries FARQUHAR ) for along the wood
"I track'd the guileful fox by marks of blood;
"But what are they, who leave those toils severe
"To female softness, and to maiden fear?
"Daughter of Beauty, say, what heart of stone
"Could bid thee trace those frozen wilds alone?"
'Hast thou not heard,' she faintly said, through sighs,
The big tears trembling in her lovely eyes,
'How, to assert the STUART'S ancient claim,
'To Moidart's wilds a youthful HERO came?
'To join his cause, in arms my kindred rose,
'And while they pour fierce vengeance on his foes,
'Forlorn and sad we tend their wonted care,
'And manly toils and dangers learn to bear:
'With me our mother anxious tends the flocks,
'My grandsire pensive shakes his silvery locks;
'While gloomy presages his mind engage,
'The trance of foresight, or the dream of age:
'But come, however fate decides our lot,
'And banish cold and hunger in our cot.'
The pitying maid, impatient, hastes before,
Again with wonder FARQUHAR views her o'er;
Her auburn locks with azure fillet bound,
Her snowy neck luxuriant shaded round;
Like some fair huntress of the times of old,
Whom, rapt in vision, gifted seers behold:
So FARQUHAR wond'ring sees the lovely form
Smooth gliding, light him through the thickening storm.
Glendoe , in high Schicuman's breast repos'd,
With streaming birch and hazel shades inclos'd,
Receiv'd the pair; where pendent o'er the lake
The aspin trembles, and the osiers shake.
While evening wraps the hills in shadows pale,
The careful matron spreads her frugal meal;
The younger children crowding round the fire,
Sadly their absent father's fate inquire:
The grandsire, narrative, recounts the wars,
Talks o'er the fatal pass, and shews his scars,
When sudden, like two wandering beams of light,
The youthful pair came full upon their sight.
The fire burns clear, the kindling torches blaze,
All eyes with new delight impatient gaze;
"Sweet MORAlG , sister dear!" with fondness wild,
The children cry, through tears the mother smil'd;
"Why lonely wandering through the drifted snow,
"Where gloomy Tarfe's enchanted waters flow?
"She cries, does MORAIG tempt the haunted path,
"Where lurking witchcraft spreads the snares of death?
"And who is this young wanderer of the chace,
"Whose looks bespeak some high-descended race;
"Who o'er these pathless wilds, unus'd to roam,
"With kindly care thus deigns to guide thee home?"
With downcast eyes the modest youth replied,
"An humble swain, to no high race allied,
"In hopeless search of wandering steers I come,
"By pity thus conducted to your home,--
"In my dim view imperfect objects swim,
"An icy torpor chills each weary limb:
"Too late, alas! my rashness I deplore,
"Doom'd to behold my pleasant home no more!"
Unfinish'd accents falter'd on his tongue,
And through his ears delusive murmurs rung;
The aged peasant saw youth's roses fade,
And propt the fainting swain with kindly aid:
With patient care the matron chafes him o'er,
While gradual warmth she labours to restore,
To bring the needful cordials MORAIG flies,
With soft compassion melting in her eyes.
By due attention now the youth restor'd,
Sees plenty deck and welcome cheer the board:
The hoary sire retraces former times,
Or valiant deeds recounts in rustic rhymes:
The matron, willing to amuse her guest,
Tells in what distant glen the cheese she press'd,
And how the monarch salmon's sportive young,
Snar'd in the brook, within the roof she hung:
How frugal care had made the viands last,
And how they still remain to finish the repast:
Fair MORAIG softly moves with silent care,
And pours the draught that crowns their simple fare.
Now social talk and song deceive their woes,
Till wearied Nature lulls them in repose.
The Genius of the storm his wrath forbore,
And rav'd among the leafless woods no more:
Calm silence brooded o'er the long dark night,
Till from the East arose the wish'd for light;
Now FARQUHAR , starting from his downy trance,
Beheld with joy the new-born day advance;
And bless'd with ardent gratitude the Pow'r
Who led him through that dark and dreadful hour;
And pray'd unnumber'd blessings on the fair
Who sav'd him from the wanderings of despair.
Wrapt in his manly garb of various hue,
He sallies forth the novel scene to view.
Thy waters, Ness! all hush'd to tranquil rest,
Reflected graces deck'd thy halcyon breast;
There URQUHART'S ruin'd castle gleam'd afar,
Disastrous relic of unhallow'd war!
The last sad shelter of unconquer'd worth,
When EDWARD'S iron sceptre bruis'd the North.
The shaded Inver , haunt of social peace,
Here bids his streams thy wat'ry stores increase,
And proudly boasts of his excelling Fair,
Their simple manners, and ingenuous air:
There Fyers with plaintive murmurs soothes his dells,
Where wild romantic Melancholy dwells;
And Tarfe , long wandering, hid in copses green,
To pour his tributary wave is seen.
Now strict inquiring from the swains around,
His wandering cattle's haunt young FARQUHAR found,
Deep in the shelter of a gloomy grove,
By rocks defended from the storm above,
They shunn'd, sequester'd in the narrow vale,
The blast tempestuous, and the rattling hail.
Clear was the freezing air, and bright the sky,
Short was the day, and now the sun grew high;
The cattle found,--no lingering can avail,
Yet still he feels his wonted spirits fail.
'Tis wrong to stay, but doubly hard to go,
A while he pauses--lost in tender woe:
"And shall I, helpless, friendless, leave the maid
"Whose pitying care my feeble steps convey'd?
"Whose gentle aid my fainting heart restor'd,
"Oh, were I of this lake's fair borders lord;
"Had I the joys of wealth, without its care,
"Those joys, that wealth, my lovely maid should share."
The new sensation swelling in his heart,
Inspir'd the untaught swain with sudden art;
And thus in cautious Wisdom's solemn guise,
To veil his latent purpose FARQUHAR tries:
First to the courteous matron bending low,--
"You, to whose care my rescu'd life I owe,
"Whose tender fears your absent friends deplore,
"May heaven triumphant soon those friends restore!
"Yet while their standard flies on Southern plains,
"To till your fields no manly hand remains;
"The coming Spring will soon your cares engage,
"With toils unfit for childhood or for age:
"So short the freezing day, so deep the snow,
"No cattle o'er the mountain path can go.
"Warm shelter'd in yon busy glen behind,
"My steers repose, and food and safety find;
"But when relenting Spring shall smile a-new,
"Again your hospitable hearth I'll view;
"And faithful, like a brother or a son,
"Will till your fields till May's bright days come on;
"And while warm life her vital pow'r retains,
"And truth, and sense, and memory remains:
"Should penury, or sad mischance betide
"My friendly hostess, or my gentle guide,
"My kindred, mindful of the generous deed,
"Shall yield them shelter in the hour of need."
The matron, pleas'd, accepts the promis'd aid,
In silence meek assents the grateful maid.
Serene and peaceful smil'd the shortening day,
And FARQUHAR now unwilling hastes away:
Yet oft he turn'd, as inly loth to go,
And bless'd the gentle inmates of Glendoe .
Now doubly welcome to his native vale,
Of war's alarms he tells th' awakening tale,
And keen recounts what all his kindred owe
For hospitable rites in fair Glendoe .
Now all the North grew bright with hostile arms,
From every hill resound the loud alarms,
And rumour tells, in shrill discordant tones,
Of vanquish'd monarchs, and of tottering thrones.
But FARQUHAR reckless of the fatal strife,
Still pass'd in tranquil shades his blameless life;
And chid the hours, and thought the sun too slow
That rose to light him to his lov'd Glendoe .
Sweet April deck'd with primrose wreath appears,
And smiles, like harmless infancy, through tears;
When, through the pathless hills, th' advent'rous swain
His MORAIG'S peaceful dwelling sought again.
In vain he casts around his searching eyes,
From every side the smoky columns rise,
And savage shouts are heard, and doleful cries!
While from the mountain's top he views a-far
The barbarous traces of unsparing war,
Irresolute he stands, to turn, or go,
Urg'd by despair to meet the ruthless foe;
Resolv'd at last, he seeks the dark retreat
Where lovely MORAIG first he chanc'd to meet,
In hopes some victim of disastrous fate,
Hid in those shades, might aught of her relate.
Her grandsire there, deep sorrowing on the ground,
With haggard looks, in silent woe he found.
"Oh tell, good father, tell what wretched lot
"Befel the blameless inmates of thy cot;
"Have they obey'd the victor's stern command,
"Or fled for succour to some happier land?"
'Say where, my son, should helpless females go?
'A happier land than this they ne'er can know.
'They make their bed beneath th' inclement sky,
'And meet with sorrow wheresoe'er they fly:
'Deep in yon secret glen, within those shades,
'Whose privacy no hostile step invades,
'Where your lost steers avoid the wintry blast,
'They rest conceal'd, till this dread hour be past:
'My sons, with blood deform'd, and faint with wounds,
'Last night came from Culloden's fatal bounds,
'And shelter in a neighbouring cave, while I
'Th' approach of danger here attend to spy.'
Now FARQUHAR'S glowing cheek and heaving breast
The strong emotions of his soul confess'd:
"Come, father, haste to quit this scene of woe,
"First to the cave to seek the warriors go;
"Then let us fly to MORAIG'S secret glen,
"And shun the blood-stain'd haunts of impious men;
"Through dark Glenmarky's woods I know a way,
"Impervious to the searching eye of day:
"Through that lone path your secret steps I'll guide,
"Where plenty dwells on Maeshie's grassy side.
"Beneath my father's roof my only love
"Shall to the aged pair a daughter prove:
"Their ancient home, though destin'd thus to leave,
"Let not my gentle MORAIG'S kindred grieve:
"Endear'd by ties of sympathy divine,
"Henceforth be gentle MORAIG'S kindred mine."
The wounded warriors, and the sorrowing sage,
Now sought the darling comforts of their age:
Through tears the matron views her long-lost mate,
And all their various tales of woe relate.
To go is danger--but 'tis death to stay,
Beneath the moon's wan beams they take their way;
With Heaven their trust, and FARQUHAR for their guide,
They reach the winding Maeshie's peaceful side;
There cheer'd by welcome, sooth'd by grateful love,
They built their humble dwelling in the grove.