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

Blest by the song! (a bard, though humble, cries),
That moves by Pity's power th' infuriate breast;
Lures Mercy beaming from her native skies
To soften rage, and shelter the oppress'd;
And guide to Peace, where Concord, warm caress'd
By friendship, tunes in harmony the string
To love and pastime, innocence and rest,
As shepherds pipe, and rural poets sing
Till cliffs reverberate round, and answering vallies ring!

"Smit with the love of song," by bank and stream
The Stripling framed the subject of the lay,
And while the loves and virtues warm'd his theme,
Nor care nor sorrow cross'd his flowery way;
But, when the clang of carnage and affray
Assail'd his ear, his throbbing heart would swell;
For, reft of all by rapine's savage sway,
The houseless wanderer fled from murder's yell,
And shivering roam'd the wild, or weeping skulk'd the dwell!

Ah! what could he, who burn'd to yield relief
Without the power to succour, or to save?
But tune the lyre to sympathy and grief,
And sing the virtues of the fall'n and brave!
But weave the partial theme, where pity gave
Unblemish'd valour to the warrior slain;
Or, strew with flowers of praise the lover's grave,
Unbless'd with hallow'd dust, or funeral train,
And chant each mournful dirge in sorrow's doleful strain!

Lured by the sounds, sad floating on the gale,
Accordant to the breast of plaintive woe,
The neighb'ring shepherds sought the tuneful vale,
And melting heard compassion's numbers flow;
And as they felt the charm, and wept the blow
Of adverse fate, they loved the lay that shed
Th' embalming dew of praise on those laid low;
For sorrow loves to hear the favourite dead
Receive the look'd for meed that cheers death's gloomy bed!

Listening they caught the melody of song,
While mem'ry held the moral of the lay;
And circling wide the pastoral haunts among,
Love nightly heard what passion framed by day:
For as each songster, save from war's dismay
By secret bank and streamlet mused alone,
Flowing the numbers came;-- now sad -- now gay,
As warm emotions burst in varied tone
To love's enchanting joys, or grief's lamenting moan.

Spreading, at length they reach'd the banner'd hall
Of plundering chief, and haughty baron bold,
Dead'ning the pangs of guilt in festive brawl
As round in savage mirth intemperance roll'd;
More savage still, the minstrel strains extoll'd
The crimes of midnight deeds and horrors fell!
When thrilling warm through breasts insensate cold,
The moral Muse transfused her magic spell,
Waked the lost mind to thought, and struck the Pastoral shell!

Sweet is the charm! when round the social board
Pure friendship weaves the myrtle with the vine;
But sweeter still, when o'er each trembling chord
Soft Sympathy awaked by strains divine
Steals kindling warm; created to refine,
And light th' expanding soul, released and free
From sordid lusts, and selfish cares that twine
Around th' unfeeling heart, shut out -- ah me!
From ev'ry sound of woe, love, mirth, or melody!

Deep rung the lyre! for dismal was the tale
That chronicled the ills of feudal waste!
Wild rose the strain! but soft as summer's gale
Came Pity wafted to the conscious breast;
And while the theme with artless truth impress'd
The wants and woes that spring from warfare's spoil,
It pointed cheering to the path, where blest
With annual plenty, Industry and Toil
Smile round their cultured lawns, and rich rewarding soil.

It sung of joys -- unknown to carnage dread!
Of charms, that soothing, gild life's frequent gloom;
Content, mild beaming round the peasant's shed,
Comforts that cheer, and prospects that illume;
Labour unfretful, yielding to the doom
That mingles worldly ill with heavenly good;
Till resignation, smiling to the tomb,
Sheds mellow'd lustre o'er vicissitude
Soft as mild Cynthia's rays o'er upland, lake, and wood!

It sung of war ;-- but war unstain'd with crime!
It sung of strife ;-- but strife with glory crown'd;
Of spoils -- but spoils obtained by feats sublime,
Slavery o'erwhelm'd -- her captured leaders bound;
Banners, high waved to victory's gladd'ning sound
Triumphant swell'd to liberty and pride,
As from th' insanguined field, and corse-strew'd ground
(Changing to blood famed Bannockburn! thy tide)
Strode Scotia's patriot sons ;-- with freedom by their side.

But mournful was the strain, and wailing wild
The sound of Scotia's loss, and Scotia's woe!
When lifeless strew'd, unhonour'd and defiled,
On Flowden's field she saw her warriors low.
Her "forest flowers" no more in vernal blow!
Dazzling the raptured eye as bright they shed
Their radiance round, to warm with martial glow
Each patriot breast; while waving o'er their head
High tower'd the monarch oak in regal grandeur spread.

Yet, while in sorrow's tone the numbers roll'd,
Plaining and wild to faithless Fortune's frown,
Prophetic struck, the Scottish Muse foretold
Succeeding days of glory and renown,
When link'd in Union, laurell'd wreaths should crown
Her valiant sons, and minstrels of the dale,
And future bards in powerful accents drown
Desponding murmurs, and lamenting wail,
And weave on Flodden-Field a Marmion's pictured tale.

Rapt in successive visions as they rose,
She sung of deeds conceal'd from mortal eye,
Of heroes, doom'd oppression to oppose,
Rounding o'er waves, to conquer or to die!
"On Egypt's shore," she cried, "shall valour, high
Upborne by freedom, guard what freemen prize,
With phalanx firm, and dauntless look defy
Outnumber'd legions, and inclement skies,
Till awed on Maida's plain proud Gallia shrinks and -- flies.

"A time will come, when roused by treachery's guile,
An injured land, determined to be free,
Shall turn for aid to Britain's guardian isle,
The foster home of long-nursed Liberty!
Swift at the call, Iberia arm'd, shall see
Congenial bauds, by valour waved o'er,
Rush onward as the shout of victory
Rings from Vimeira's heights to Tagus' shore,
While distant vales repeat -- Braganza reigns once more!

"Fame to the brave! (she sung in ardent tone!)
Who for their country's safety nobly fall;
Revered tho' lost; 'graved on no mouldering stone,
Their names still live! adored and loved by all:
Unwarp'd by interest, deaf to party brawl,
Aroused by danger, warm'd by valour's flame,
Pure honour glowing, lists but to the call
Of duty's sacred, never-ceasing claim,
Till virtue rears the tomb, and 'graves -- a Patriot's name!

"And fame," she cried, "shall sound her clarion long
For those, who warm'd by truth, the lyre shall string
To peace and concord, wove in deathless song,
As love and friendship sail on downy wing :--
And such shall come! -- I see by bank and spring
Deckt in their rosy wreaths, the tuneful train!
My Ednam bard, by Nature woo'd to sing
Her unmark'd beauties in unrivall'd strain;
My moral minstrel bold; my heav'n-taught rustic swain!

"And thee! my pastoral warbler, in whose lays
My airs, revived, shall ring round burn and knowe,
Blithe as the "Gentle Shepherd" piping strays
O'er Pentland's height, or sings in "Habbie's How;"
But chief my songstress! on whose modest brow
I see the tragic muse the chaplet bind,
Fresh as when cull'd from Avon's mulberry bough
And meads bright varied as her Shakespeare's mind,
Th' unfading wreath she wove, and round his temples twined!"

More had she sung ;-- but mindful of the lot
Of measur'd life, she droopt, and heaved a sigh,
Condemn'd her pride, and turning to each spot
Where mute one day each tuneful bard would lie
Her sorrows flow'd! -- yet while they dimm'd her eye,
Re-cheer'd she saw, bright thro' the gathering gloom,
A favourite's blossom'd grave in vernal dye,
Where new-blown roses, fresh in annual bloom,
Bedeck'd the wintry turf that wrapt her aged Home.

Touch'd with her praise, and emulous of fame,
(Dear to the heart that owns poetic charms!)
The Shepherds listening, felt ambition's flame,
Guiltless of aught that fires to slaughtering arms:
Peace lent the glow ;-- oppress'd with wild alarms,
And stung with crimes that rent the mourner's breast,
Each strove to light the genial flame that warms
To social joy, when love smiles war to rest,
Unbinds the scaring helm, and hides the blood-dyed crest.

And first, to wake Compassion, dead
  In breasts long torn asunder
With ranc'rous hate, and carnage dread
  Mid uproar, rage, and plunder,
They tuned the chord to misery's moan,
A wild, disorder'd, melting tone!
  Which grief alone can swell,
And joining numbers, sadly true,
In artless strains described, what few
  Skill'd bards can paint so well.

Urged by the Muse, who never speaks
  To feeling breasts in vain,
The shepherds touch'd the string that wakes
  To Penitence and Pain;
And as the Ballad lay they sung,
And o'er the lyre impressive hung
  With sighs responsive deep;
Each mournful tale resistless drew
The drops of Pity's heavenly dew
  From eyes unused to weep!--

Wild rose the Passions free
  Bursting in sorrow!
Sad was each melody
  Wafted round Yarrow!
Deep, deep! the tragic lay
Fram'd to feud's deadly fray,
Pouring Love's welladay!
  O'er murder'd marrow!

Changed are the notes of cheerless woe,
  The strains of sorrow cease;
A softer theme is heard to flow,
  The heav'n-tuned song of Peace!
When Pity moves the ruthless breast,
Like Love's star glittering in the west
  Peace gilds the lurid gloom,
A rosy dawn succeeds the night,
A cheering sun beams radiant bright,
  All nature breathes perfume!

O Thou! with olive garland crown'd,
  Meek shelt'rer of despair!
Sweet Sympathy! with robe unbound
  And throbbing bosom bare!
How oft, when fury lights the eye,
And dark revenge broods threat'ning nigh,
  Thy angel form appears
Gliding amid the dismal gloom,
To lull the storm, and soft illume
  With sun-beams glanced thro' tears!
Then springs the soul to raptures new,
Unfelt by murder's slaught'ring crew,
  Till touch'd with pity's smart,
Mild Mercy then resumes her tone,
And Friendship smiling on his throne,
  Clasps Concord to his heart!

For touch the soul with soft delight
  That flows from guiltless pleasure,
Swift, kindred charms with smiles invite
  To Love and social leisure;
Compared with strife, new pictures rise
To strike, astonish, and entice
  From crimes, that blackening scare!
Till shudd'ring at each horror past,
The ruffian turns to Heaven at last
  With penitence and pray'r.

Nor ceas'd the band, till sprightly sweet
  The Pastoral strains arose
In cadence brisk, and numbers meet,
  Care's murmurs to compose;
Each songster warbling, trill'd the wires
That rung to Pleasure's chaste desires
  By streamlet, bank, and grove,
And echoing round the cheerless dome
Of gloomy Discord's hostile home
  Breath'd Harmony and Love!

From southern Cheviot's war-stain'd hills
To broom-flower'd Pentland's heights and rills,
  No other tales were told
But milk-maids lilting at their pail,
And shepherds piping in the dale,
  Or wooing at the fold:
Sweet were the sounds by stream and glade
As pastimes echoed in the shade
  While flocks and herds were roaming!
But sweeter still, the trysted hour
When lovers met in secret bower
  Or ewe-bughts in the gloaming!

But when they sung how love beguiled
  Each dark, ungentle passion;
How Nature woo'd, and sigh'd, and smil'd,
  And jeer'd in am'rous fashion;
A warmer strain was heard to ring
From every sweet accordant string
  To harmonize disorder,
Till far and near the swelling sound
Was heard the answering hills around,
  "Peace To The Troubled Border!"

Moved with the shepherds' artless lays,
  War smooth'd his rugged feature;
A softening mumur whisper'd praise,
  Waked by the strains of nature;
The youthful warrior felt love's flame,
The plund'rer, blushing deep with shame,
  Forgot his purpose dire;
And deeper still, the Minstrel crew
Blush'd, conscience struck! -- in haste withdrew,
  And dropt the Border Lyre.

The songsters smiling, raptured saw
The power of nature's sovereign law,
  And blest the pastoral strain;
And as they swept with willing hand
The sounding chords, around the land
  The Virtues bloom'd again;
And as they bloom'd, they odours shed
Rich o'er the wild, where Mercy led
  Her train to social rest,
And Peace, long doom'd by strife to roam,
Call'd love and friendship to her home,
  And nursed them at her breast.

Among the band that softened rage,
Was one, whose skill and reverend age
  Attracted notice due;
For as he struck his Doric lyre,
His sparkling eye shot youthful fire,
  As rapt, his numbers flew;
Prepared to sound a warning call
At once to soften and appal
  The turbulence of feud,
He tuned his voice to sorrow's wail,
And bending to his mournful tale,
  Thus sung in pensive mood.