Hector MacNeill Poems >>
The Pastoral, Or Lyric Muse Of Scotland. Canto First

When shall the woes of War and Discord cease!
When shall the morn of Harmony arise!
When shall the dawn of Concord, Love, and Peace,
Break through the gloom, and light dark Europe's skies!--
Vain dream! -- for see! to grasp the blood-stain'd prize,
Ambition, maddening, wades through seas of gore,
Lists, careless, to the groans and dying sighs
Of myriads overwhelm'd, to rise no more;
And none but Britons smile, around their parent shore!

Oh, deaf to nature! and to bliss unknown!
How long shall carnage brutify mankind?
Whirl'd in tempestuous storms, by pride upblown,
How long shall phantoms fascinate and blind?
Health -- comfort -- hope; a gay contented mind,
Are all we here can want, or need to crave;
And may not these delight, if friendship twined
The bonds of love, life's social sweets to save,
And gild the traveller's path with sunshine to the grave?

One sportive summer's day is all that's given
To cheer the transient gleam of insect bliss,
Warm'd by the genial influence of Heaven,
They burst to life, and love, and happiness:
Roving on raptured wing, no ills oppress;
Fruition bounds the circuit of their joy;--
Shall Man alone no kindred charms possess?
Must storm and gloom his summer's day destroy,
Nor peace nor social sweets his fleeting hours employ?--

Ah me! encompass'd with afflictions drear!
Pain -- sickness -- sorrow, and disastrous fate;
The want of friendship's aid, to sooth and cheer,
And softening still the murmurs of regret;
The loss of all we loved, and prized so late,
Torn from the breast, where hope and transport smiled!--
Are these not ills enow? -- must rage, and hate,
And strife, and uproar join in discord wild,
Steel the relentless heart, and spurn affections mild?

Can nought compose these tumults that repel
The gentler throbs of nature, and prevent
The playful current of our joys to swell
In fond delight, or glide in calm content?--
Yes! -- Heaven, with all her bounties, kindly sent
To mitigate the pangs of human pain,
Has given the Muse, with tones mellifluent,
To cheer, inspire, and charm in varied strain,
With fancy, virtue, peace, and all her smiling train!

Lapt in her lays, that cherish and reform,
And lure the mind to all that's guiltless fair,
Lull'd are the tempests that upheave, and storm
The labouring breast of avarice and care;
Retirement's calm is all he longs to share
Who thrills at nature's glow, and woos her charms;
Hails her excitements; paints her beauties rare;
Thoughtless of want; unruffled with alarms;
And such the bard, I ween! whose breast true passion warms.

A time there was :-- alas! how changed! -- how gone!
When worth and friendship link'd each social heart,
Awaked by nature's call, in powerful tone
The numbers flow'd; free, negligent of art;
Warm was the strain! impetuous to impart
Whate'er for love or virtue could inspire
Affections strong; each Minstrel felt the dart
Of passion, kindling with poetic fire,
While Pity struck the chords, and tuned the Ossianic lyre.

But scared by feud, that gen'rates war and crime,
And sweeps the loves and virtues soon away,
The Muses, trembling, fled their hostile clime,
And wandering, skulk'd, where power, with ruffian sway
O'erawed the minstrel band. -- Quick changed the lay;
Servile and mean, arose a mongrel crew;
And, as they sung of spoil and midnight fray,
Waked the discordant tones, untuned, untrue,
Which Nature never own'd, nor Pity ever drew!

Stung with the sounds, oppress'd with grief and pain,
Sad, o'er the wild, a sister mourner fled;
Her robe, neglected, swept the desert plain,
The bleak wind whistling round her laurell'd head;
Fast down her faded cheek, late rosy red,
The tide of silent sorrow trickling fell!--
Ask you the mourner's name? -- 'twas Music, led
By wilder'd grief, her plaintive notes to swell
Safe where the Muses sung, within their shelter'd dell.

Near to the choral band, embower'd and hid
From rapine, hate, and feud's relentless ire;
Low in a grassy vale, where, tame, the kid
And lambkin dancing play'd, a ruin'd sire
Secluded lived. Escaped from whelming fire
At midnight's murdering hour, swift, through the roar
Of wintry storms, he fled from horrors dire,
And with an infant -- saved of all his store!
To Yarrow's sylvan banks the blooming treasure bore.

Here, lonely screen'd, affection urged to save
The helpless life dependent on his aid;
His sheltering roof, the banks deep echoing cave;
His food, the wild fruits glean'd around the glade!--
Heaven, favouring, smiled. A lamb, that wilder'd stray'd
Within the grot, th' experienced sire retain'd,
Lured by its bleating cries, fond, undismay'd,
The dam swift follow'd, answering as it plain'd,
And with her milky store two helpless lives sustain'd.

Thus nightly lur'd, the wintry season past;
Returning spring increased the fleecy fold;
Contentment sooth'd, and deaden'd woes at last,
While years untroubled came, and passing roll'd:
The stripling grew; the sire, though frail and old,
Beheld, with cheering hope, his shepherd boy
Secured from want. Each eve the warrior told
The tales of former happiness and joy,
And all the woes of feud, that ruin and destroy!

And oft, to cheat and cheer the lingering hour,
The hoary sage would wake the legend strain;
Recount the marvellous deeds of martial power,
And paint the tumult of th' embattled plain;
Yet, while he sung the carnage of the slain,
In sorrow's tone, soft pity's sighs he drew;
And checking rising fervour, shew'd how vain
The pride of conquest, slaughtering to subdue!
Compared with virtue's charms, unchanging -- ever new.

And oft, I ween! to warm impassion'd youth
With all that's courteous, generous, just, and brave,
Instructive age would blend with moral truth
Romantic feats, when dauntless Knighthood gave
Its bright example to reform; and save
Unshelter'd virtue from oppression's power;
Chastised dishonour; freed the injured slave
Of tyrant thrall; attack'd the dragon-bower;
Broke beauty's captive spell, and storm'd the enchanted tower.

Touch'd with the subject of the evening's lay,
The stripling caught the sorrows that were sung,
And wandering, lonely, with his flock by day,
Conn'd the sad tales, o'er which he nightly hung,
And much he wish'd (unpractised yet and young)
In suited strains, emotions, to unfold,
When from the neighb'ring dell, sweet warbling rung
The Muses' varied notes -- now soft, now bold,
And to his ravish'd car th' important secret told.

'Twas then arose, united, and refined,
The witching strains of Melody and Song!
True to each note the charms of verse combined
The power of thought, impassion'd -- moral -- strong;
Through wood and vale, re-echoed sweet among
The haunts of quiet, soft the warbling rose:--
Flocks listening gaze; arrested oft, and long,
The bounding roe-buck and his woodland does
Turn captived by the sound harmonies as it flows!

Thrill'd with the charm! -- enchanted with the art!
The fond enthusiast, listening to the choir,
Felt the warm flash of genius shoot athwart
His ardent brain, and caught th' electric fire;
And as he listening heard the changing lyre,
Sweet as the Muses sung the Pastoral lay,
Now melting soft to passion's warm desire;
Now lightly brisk to rural joys and play,
Whole nights and summer days past unperceived away!

They sung of love, and lover's pains,
  Their joys, and softened sorrow;
They sung contentment's rural strains
  Around the "Braes o' Yarrow;"
On "Etterick banks" was heard the reed
  That piped to pastoral leisure,
And echoing sweet round winding Tweed
  Was heard the varying measure;

And Teviotdale returned the sound
  With all its groves embowering,
And "Galla water's" green hills crown'd
  With whins and wild thyme flowering;
Blithe were the strains by "Cowden knows"
  And "Leader's haughs" and river!
But sad! where Jed's stream murm'ring flows
  The blythe notes echoed never!
For war with blood stained Jed's sweet shore
  When love oft wail'd her marrow,
And wafted mid the tempest's roar
  The sound was heard at Yarrow.

Sad o'er the lone vales as it swept,
  And thrill'd the heart with anguish,
The Muses changed the lyre, and wept;
  Love's notes were heard to languish;
The rural pipe neglected lay!
No sound was heard by night or day
  But melting "dule or sorrow!"
Beside some bank or willow'd stream
Soft Pity tuned the mournful theme,
And starting, saw in frightful dream
  Some lover drown'd in Yarrow!

But had you seen the Shepherd boy
When Song and Music fired his breast,
Tune the loved instruments with joy
  That by the Muses' skill express'd
  The varied Passions that confess'd
The power of Nature's artless sway;
  You would have sworn the ruin'd mind
  To reason lost -- wild -- unconfined
Had wing'd its maniac way!

Oh! had you seen him as he stray'd,
Rapt, through the greenwood's lonely shade,
  When silence reign'd at even,
And heard him pour his varied song
Descriptive -- moral -- melting -- strong!
  Inspired by favouring Heaven,
You would have hail'd him as he stood
Entranced in fond poetic mood,
  The genius of the grove;
And thought you heard by bank and spring
Responsive sweet! the wood-nymphs sing
  Of rural peace and love!--

The Muses markt, and raptured smiled,
And as they claspt loved Nature's child
  Delighted to their breast,
In tears of joy they blest the morn
On which a Shepherd bard was born
  To charm rude minds to rest.
"And take," they cried, "the pastoral reed
  That pipes to peace and pleasure,
And sing while flocks round Yarrow feed
  The sweets of rural leisure;
Yet midst the charms that song bestows
  Think of the child of sorrow,
Who whelm'd to-night with warfare's woes,
  Weeps o'er her lot to-morrow!

Attune the lyre! but let it sound
To every answering dale around
  The melody of woe!
For melody and song assail
The frozen heart, when miseries fail
  To melt th' infuriate foe:
Sad let it ring! to Nature free!
Unmarr'd by art-trick'd minstrelsy;
For art and nature ill agree
  When passion bursting speaks;
While left alone to play her part,
Deep-melting sorrow wrings the heart,
  And oft the heart too, breaks!

But when Pleasure's warm sensation
  Prompts the mirth-inspiring strain,
Snatch fond Youth! the blest occasion
  To light transport up again!
Pleasure's joys may flie to-morrow,
  Hail them while they kindling move!
Life was ne'er foredoom'd to sorrow
  Cheer'd with melody and love!
Ever changing -- ever fleeting,
  Life is but an April day,
Smiling -- frowning -- tempting -- cheating!
  Hail its sun-beams while they play.

Song and melody can lighten
  Loads that bend the drooping soul,
Gild the gloom of fate, and brighten
  Regions darkling round the pole;
Cheering with their warm intrusion
  Iceland shivering feels the glow,
Lapland, yielding to illusion
  Smiles amid eternal snow :

Nor freezing blasts from Alpine height
  Can chill the fervant pleasure;
Nor climes where softer charms invite,
  Obliterate the measure:
Where'er her roams, hold, calm, or gay,
Re-wake the strain which youth's blithe day
  Heard round Helvetia's steeps,
Tho' nursed in war -- to valour bred,
The soldier gone! -- fame -- glory fled,
  Thinks of his home, and weeps!

O patriot passion! close intwin'd
With friendship warm, and love refined,
  Resistless is thy power!
Let wealth with grandeur gild his lot,
The wanderer still sighs for his cot,
  His hill and native bower!
And while he sighs, and frequent turns
With ardent mind, and breast that burns,
  To scenes no longer near!
Each simple air his mother sung,
Placed on her knee when helpless young,
  Still vibrates on his ear!

Strike then the lyre, and raise the song
  Attuned to joy or sorrow;
Oh! pour it melting sweet along
  The answering banks of Yarrow!
Till shepherds listening, catch the strain
  As flocks are careless roaming,
And milk-maids lilt it soft again
  At ewe-bughts in the gloaming;
Till love and friendship on the wing
  Waft concord to disorder,
And teach e'en Rapine's hordes to sing
  "Peace To The Troubled Border!"