Hector MacNeill Poems >>
The Waes O' War : Or The Upshot Of The History O' Will And Jean. In Four Parts


Oh! that folk wad weel consider
  What it is to tyne a--name,
What this warld is a' thegither,
  If bereft o' honest fame!

Poortith ne'er can bring dishonour;
  Hardship's ne'er breed sorrow's smart,
If bright conscience taks upon her
  To shed sunshine round the heart:

But wi' a' that walth can borrow,
  Guilty shame will ay look down;
What maun then shame, want, and sorrow
  Wandering sad frae town to town!

Jeanie Miller, ance sae cheerie!
  Ance sae happy, good and fair,
Left by Will, neist morning drearie
  Taks the road o' black despair!

Cauld the blast! -- the day was sleeting;
  Pouch and purse without a plack!
In ilk hand a bairnie greeting,
  And the third tied on her back.

Wan her face! and lean and haggard!
  Ance sae sonsy! ance sae sweet!
What a change! -- unhous'd and beggar'd,
  Starving without claise or meat!

Far frae ilk kent spot she wander'd,
  Skulking like a guilty thief;
Here and there, uncertain, daunder'd,
  Stupified wi' shame and grief:

But soon shame for bygane errors
  Fled owre fast for ee to trace,
Whan grim death, wi' a' his terrors
  Cam owre ilk sweet bairnie's face!

Spent wi' toil, and cauld and hunger,
  Baith down drapt! and down Jean sat!
Dais'd and doited' now nae langer;
  Thought -- and felt -- and bursting grat.

Gloaming, fast wi' mirky shadow
  Crap owre distant hill and plain;
Darken'd wood, and glen, and meadow,
  Adding fearfu' thoughts to pain!

Round and round, in wild distraction,
  Jeanie turn'd her tearfu' ee!
Round and round for some protection!--
  Face nor house she could na see!

Dark, and darker grew the night aye;
  Loud and sair the cauld winds thud!--
Jean now spied a sma bit lightie
  Blinking through a distant wood:

Up wi' frantic haste she started;
  Cauld, nor fear, she felt nae mair;
Hope, for ae bright moment, darted
  Through the gloom o' dark despair!

Fast owre fallow'd lea she brattled;
  Deep she wade through bog and burn;
Sair wi' steep and craig she battled,
  Till she reach'd the hop'd sojourn.

Proud, 'mang scenes o' simple nature,
  Stately auld, a mansion stood
On a bank, wha's sylvan feature
  Smil'd out-owre the roaring flood:

Simmer here, in varied beauty
  Late her flowery mantle spread
Whar auld chestnut, ake and yew-tree,
  Mingling, lent their friendly shade:

Blasted now wi' winter's ravage;
  A' their gaudy livery cast;
Wood and glen, in wailings savage,
  Sugh and howl to ilka blast!

Darkness stalk'd wi' fancy's terror ;--
  Mountains mov'd, and castle rock'd!
Jean, half dead wi' toil and horror,
  Reach'd the door, and loudly knock'd.

'Wha this rudely wakes the sleeping?'
  Cried a voice wi' angry grane;
'Help! oh help! quo' Jeanie, weeping,
  'Help my infants, or they're gane!

Nipt wi' cauld! -- wi' hunger fainting!
  Baith lie speechless on the lea!
'Help!' quo' Jeanie, loud lamenting,
  'Help my lammies! or they'll die!'

'Wha's this travels cauld and hungry,
  Wi' young bairns sae late at e'en?
Beggars!' cried the voice, mair angry,
  'Beggars! wi' their brats, I ween.'

'Beggars now, alas! wha lately
  Helpt the beggar and the poor!'
'Fye! gudeman!' cried ane discreetly,
  'Taunt nae poortith at our door.'

Sic a night, and tale thegither,
  Plead for mair than anger's din:--
'Rise, Jock!' cried the pitying mither,
  'Rise! and let the wretched in.'

'Beggars now, alas! wha lately
  Helpt the beggar and the poor!'
'Enter!' quo' the youth fu' sweetly,
  While up flew the open door.

'Beggar, or what else, sad mourner!
  Enter without fear or dread;
Here, thank God! there's aye a corner
  To defend the houseless head!

For your bairnies cease repining;
  If in life, ye'll see them soon.'--
Aff he flew; and brightly shining
  Through the dark clouds brak the moon.


Here for ae night's kind protection,
  Leave we Jean and weans a while;
Tracing Will in ilk direction,
  Far frae Britain's fostering isle!

Far frae scenes of saftening pleasure,
  Love's delights and beauty's charms!
Far frae friendship's social leisure,--
  Plung'd in murdering war's alarms!

Is it nature, vice, or folly,
  Or ambition's feverish brain,
That sae aft wi' melancholy
  Turns, sweet Peace! thy joys to pain?

Strips thee o' thy robes o' ermin,
  (Emblems o' thy spotless life)
And in war's grim look alarmin
  Arms thee wi' the murd'rers knife!

A' thy gentle mind upharrows!
  Hate, revenge, and rage uprears!
And for hope and joy -- twin marrows,
  Leaves the mourner drown'd in tears!

Willie Gairlace, without siller,
  Credit, claise, or ought beside,
Leaves his ance loo'd Jeanie Miller,
  And sweet bairns to warld wide!

Leaves his native cozy dwellin,
  Shelter'd haughs, and briken braes;
Greenswaird hows, and dainty mealin,
  Ance his profit, pride and praise!

Deckt wi' scarlet, sword, and musket
  Drunk wi' dreams as fause as vain;
Fleetch'd and flatter'd, roos'd and buskit,
  Wow! but Will was wondrous fain!

Rattling, roaring, swearing, drinking;
  How could thought her station keep?
Drams and drumming (faes to thinking)
  Doz'd reflection fast asleep.

But whan midst o' toils and dangers,
  Wi' the cauld ground for his bed,
Compass'd round wi' faes and strangers,
  Soon Will's dreams o' fancy fled,

Led to battle's blood-dy'd-banners,
  Waving to the widow's moan!
Will saw glory's boasted honours
  End in life's expiring groan!

Round Valenciennes' strong waa'd city
  Thick owre Dunkirk's fatal plain,
Will (tho' dauntless) saw wi' pity
  Britain's valiant sons lie slain!

Fir'd by freedom's burning fever,
  Gallia strack death's slaughtering knell;
Frae the Scheld to Rhine's deep river,
  Britons fought -- but Britons fell!

Fell unaided! though cemented
  By the faith o' friendship's laws;--
Fell unpity'd -- unlamented!
  Bluiding in a thankless cause!

In the thrang o' comrades deeing,
  Fighting foremost o' them a';
Swith! fate's winged ball cam fleeing,
  And took Willie's leg awa':--

Thrice frae aff the ground he started,
  Thrice, to stand, he strave in vain;
Thrice, as fainting strength departed,
  Sigh'd -- and sank 'mang heaps o' slain.

On a cart wi' comrades bluiding,
  Stiff wi' gore, and cauld as clay;
Without cover, bed or bedding,
  Five lang nights Will Gairlace lay!

In a sick-house, damp and narrow,
  (Left behint wi' hundreds mair)
See Will neist, in pain and sorrow,
  Wasting on a bed o' care.

Wounds, and pain, and burning fever,
  Doctors cur'd wi' healing art;--
Cur'd! alas! but never! never!
  Cool'd the fever at his heart!

For whan a' ware sound and sleeping,
  Still and on, baith ear' and late,
Will in briny grief lay steeping,
  Mourning owre his hapless fate!

A' his gowden prospects vanish'd!--
  A' his dreams o' warlike fame!--
A' his glittering phantoms banish'd!
  Will could think o' nought but -- hame!

Think o' nought but rural quiet,
  Rural labour! rural ploys!
Far frae carnage, bluid, and riot,
  War, and a' its murd'ring joys.


Back to Britain's fertile garden
  Will's return'd (exchang'd for faes),
Wi' ae leg, and no ae farden,
  Friend or credit, meat or claise.

Lang through county, burgh, and city,
  Crippling on a wooden leg,
Gathering alms frae melting pity;
  See! poor Gairlace forc'd to beg!

Plac'd at length on Chelsea's bounty,
  Now to langer beg thinks shame,
Dreams ance mair o' smiling plenty;--
  Dreams o' former joys, and hame!

Hame! and a' its fond attractions
  Fast to Will's warm bosom flee;
While the thoughts o' dear connexions
  Swell his heart and blind his ee--

'Monster! wha could leave neglected
  Three sma' infants, and a wife,
Naked -- starving -- unprotected!
  Them, too, dearer ance than life!

Villain! wha wi' graceless folly
  Ruin'd her he ought to save!--
Chang'd her joys to melancholy,
  Beggary, and -- perhaps, a grave!'

Starting!-- wi' remorse distracted,--
  Crush'd wi' grief's increasing load,
Up he bang'd; and sair afflicted,
  Sad and silent took the road!

Sometimes briskly, sometimes flaggin,
  Sometimes helpit, Will gat forth;
On a cart, or in a waggon,
  Hirpling ay towards the north.

Tir'd ae e'ening, stepping hooly,
  Pondering on his thraward fate,
In the bonny month o' July,
  Willie, heedless, tint his gate.

Saft, the southlan breeze was blawing,
  Sweetly sugh'd the green ake wood!
Loud the din o' streams fast fa'ing,
  Strak the ear wi' thunderin thud!

Ewes and lambs on braes ran bleeting;
  Linties sang on ilka tree;
Frae the wast, the sun, near setting,
  Flam'd on Roslin's towers sae hie!

Roslin's towers! and braes sae bonny!
  Craigs and water, woods and glen!
Roslin's banks! unpeer'd by ony
  Save the muses' Hawthornden!

Ilka sound and charm delighting;
  Will (tho' hardly fit to gang)
Wander'd on through scenes inviting,
  List'ning to the mavis' sang.

Faint at length, the day fast closing,
  On a fragrant straeberry steep,
Esk's sweet stream to rest composing,
  Wearied nature drapt asleep.

'Soldier, rise! -- the dews o' e'ening
  Gathering fa', wi' deadly scaith!
Wounded soldier! if complaining,
  Sleep nae here and catch your death.

Traveller, waken! -- night advancing
  Cleads wi' grey the neeboring hill!--
Lambs nae mair on knows are dancing --
  A' the woods are mute and still!'

'What hae I,' cried Willie, waking,
  'What hae I frae night to dree'?--
Morn, thro' clouds in splendour breaking,
  Lights nae bright'ning hope to me!

House, nor hame, nor farm, nor stedding!
  Wife nor bairns hae I to see!
House, nor hame, nor bed, nor bedding--
  What hae I frae night to dree?'

'Sair, alas! and sad and many
  Are the ills poor mortals share!--
Yet, tho' hame nor bed ye hae nae,
  Yield nae, soldier, to despair!

What's this life, sae wae and wearie,
  If Hope's bright'ning beams should fail!
See! -- tho' night comes dark and eerie,
  Yon sma' cot-light cheers the dale!

There, tho' walth and waste ne'er riot
  Humbler joys their comforts shed,
Labour -- health -- content and quiet!
  Mourner! there ye'll find a bed.

Wife! 'tis true, wi' bairnies smiling,
  There, alas! ye needna seek--
Yet their bairns, ilk wae beguiling,
  Paint wi' smiles a mither's cheek!

A' her earthly pride and pleasure
  Left to cheer her widow'd lot!
A' her warldly walth and treasure
  To adorn her lanely cot!

Cheer, then, soldier! 'midst affliction
  Bright'ning joys will aften shine;
Virtue aye claims Heavn's protection--
  Trust to Providence divine!'


Sweet as Rosebank's woods and river
  Cool whan simmer's sunbeams dart,
Cam ilk word, and cool'd the fever
  That lang brunt at Willie's heart.

Silent stept he on, poor fallow!
  Listening to his guide before,
Owre green know, and flowery hallow,
  Till they reach'd the cot-house door.

Laigh it was; yet sweet, tho' humble!
  Deckt wi' hinnysuckle round;
Clear below, Esk's water's rumble,
  Deep glens murmuring back the sound.

Melville's towers, sae white and stately,
  Dim by gloamin glint to view;
Thro' Lasswade's dark woods keek sweetly
  Skies sae red, and lift sae blue!

Entering now, in transport mingle
  Mither fond, and happy wean,
Smiling round a canty ingle,
  Bleising on a clean hearth-stane.

'Soldier, welcome!-- come, be cheery!
  Here ye'se rest, and tak your bed--
Faint,--waes me! ye seem, and weary,
  Pale's your cheek, sae lately red!'

'Chang'd I am,' sigh'd Willie till her;
  'Chang'd, nae doubt, as chang'd can be!
Yet, alas! does Jeanie Miller
  Nought o' Willie Gairlace see!'

Hae ye markt the dews o' morning
  Glittering in the sunny ray,
Quickly fa', when without warning
  Rough blasts cam, and shook the spray?

Hae ye seen the bird fast fleeing
  Drap, whan pierc'd by death mair fleet?
Then, see Jean, wi' colour dieing
  Senseless drap at Willie's feet!

After three lang years affliction
  (A' their waes now hush'd to rest,)
Jean ance mair, in fond affection,
  Clasps her Willie to her breast.

Tells him a' her sad--sad sufferings!
  How she wander'd, starving poor
Gleaning pity's scanty offerings
  Wi' three bairns frae door to door!

How she serv'd -- and toil'd -- and fever'd,
  Lost her health, and syne her bread;
How that grief, whan scarce recover'd,
  Took her brain, and turn'd her head!

How she wander'd round the county
  Mony a live-lang night her lane!
Till at last an angel's bounty
  Brought her senses back again:

Gae her meat -- and claise -- and siller;
  Gae her bairnies wark and lear;
Lastly, gae this cot-house till her,
  Wi' four sterling pounds a year.'

Willie, harkening, wip'd his ein aye;
  'Oh! what sins hae I to rue!
But say, what's this angel, Jeanie?'
  'Wha,' quo' Jeanie, 'but -- Buccleugh!

Here, supported, cheer'd, and cherish'd,
  Nine blest months, I've liv'd, and mair;
Seen these infants clad and nourish'd;
  Dried my tears; and tint despair;

Sometimes serving, sometimes spinning,
  Light the lanesome hours gae round;
Lightly, too, ilk quarter rinning
  Brings yon angel's helping pound!'

'Eight pounds mair,' cried Willie, fondly,
  'Eight pounds mair will do nae harm!
And, O Jean! gin friends ware kindly,
  Eight pounds soon might stock a farm.

There, ance mair, to thrive by plewin,
  Freed frae a' that peace destroys,
Idle waste and drunken ruin!
  War and a' its murdering joys!'

Thrice he kiss'd his lang lost treasure!
  Thrice ilk bairn; but cou'dna speak;
Tears o' luve, and hope, and pleasure
  Stream'd in silence down his cheek!