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ODE ON THE POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS OF THE HIGHLANDS OF SCOTLAND

CONSIDERED AS THE SUBJECT OF POETRY

I

H

thou return'st from Thames, whose naiads long Have seen thee lingering, with a fond delay,

'Mid those soft friends, whose hearts, some future day, Shall melt, perhaps, to hear thy tragic song. Go, not unmindful of that cordial youth

Whom, long-endeared, thou leav'st by Levant's side; Together let us wish him lasting truth,

And joy untainted, with his destined bride. Go! nor regardless, while these numbers boast

My short-lived bliss, forget my social name; But think, far off, how on the Southern coast

I met thy friendship with an equal flame! Fresh to that soil thou turn'st, whose every vale Shall prompt the poet, and his song demand: To thee thy copious subjects ne'er shall fail;

Thou need'st but take the pencil to thy hand,
And paint what all believe who own thy genial land.

II

There must thou wake perforce thy Doric quill;
'Tis Fancy's land to which thou sett'st thy feet,
Where still, 'tis said, the fairy people meet
Beneath each birken shade on mead or hill.
There each trim lass that skims the milky store

To the swart tribes their creamy bowl allots;
By night they sip it round the cottage door,

While airy minstrels warble jocund notes. There every herd, by sad experience, knows

How, winged with fate, their elf-shot arrows fly; When the sick ewe her summer food foregoes,

Or, stretched on earth, the heart-smit heifers lie. Such airy beings awe th' untutored swain:

Nor thou, though learn'd, his homelier thoughts neglect; Let thy sweet Muse the rural faith sustain:

These are the themes of simple, sure effect,

That add new conquests to her boundless reign,
And fill, with double force, her heart-commanding strain.

III

Even yet preserved, how often may'st thou hear,
Where to the pole the boreal mountains run,
Taught by the father to his listening son,
Strange lays, whose power had charmed a Spenser's ear.
At every pause, before thy mind possessed,

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Old Runic bards shall seem to rise around, With uncouth lyres, in many-coloured vest,

Their matted hair with boughs fantastic crowned: Whether thou bid'st the well-taught hind repeat

The choral dirge that mourns some chieftain brave, When every shrieking maid her bosom beat,

And strewed with choicest herbs his scented grave; Or whether, sitting in the shepherd's shiel,

Thou hear'st some sounding tale of war's alarms, When, at the bugle's call, with fire and steel,

The sturdy clans poured forth their bony swarms, And hostile brothers met to prove each other's arms.

IV

'Tis thine to sing, how, framing hideous spells,
In Skye's lone isle the gifted wizard seer,

Lodged in the wintry cave with [Fate's fell spear;]
Or in the depth of Uist's dark forests dwells:
How they whose sight such dreary dreams engross,
With their own visions oft astonished droop,
When o'er the watery strath or quaggy moss

They see the gliding ghosts unbodied troop;
Or if in sports, or on the festive green,

Their [destined] glance some fated youth descry, Who, now perhaps in lusty vigour seen

And rosy health, shall soon lamented die. For them the viewless forms of air obey,

Their bidding heed, and at their beck repair. They know what spirit brews the stormful day,

And, heartless, oft like moody madness stare
To see the phantom train their secret work prepare,

V

[To monarchs dear, some hundred miles astray,
Oft have they seen Fate give the fatal blow!
The seer, in Skye, shrieked as the blood did flow,
When headless Charles warm on the scaffold lay!
As Boreas threw his young Aurora forth,

In the first year of the first George's reign,
And battles raged in welkin of the North,

They mourned in air, fell, fell Rebellion slain! And as, of late, they joyed in Preston's fight,

Saw at sad Falkirk all their hopes near crowned, They raved, divining, through their second sight,

Pale, red Culloden, where these hopes were drowned! Illustrious William! Britain's guardian name!

One William saved us from a tyrant's stroke; He, for a sceptre, gained heroic fame;

But thou, more glorious, Slavery's chain hast broke, To reign a private man, and bow to Freedom's yoke!

VI

These, too, thou'lt sing! for well thy magic Muse
Can to the topmost heaven of grandeur soar!
Or stoop to wail the swain that is no more!
Ah, homely swains! your homeward steps ne'er lose;
Let not dank Will mislead you to the heath:

Dancing in mirky night, o'er fen and lake,
He glows, to draw you downward to your death,

In his bewitched, low, marshy willow brake!] What though far off, from some dark dell espied, His glimmering mazes cheer th' excursive sight, Yet turn, ye wanderers, turn your steps aside,

Nor trust the guidance of that faithless light; For, watchful, lurking 'mid th' unrustling reed, At those mirk hours the wily monster lies, And listens oft to hear the passing steed,

And frequent round him rolls his sullen eyes, If chance his savage wrath may some weak wretch surprise.

VII

'Ah, luckless swain, o'er all unblest indeed!

Whom, late bewildered in the dank, dark fen, Far from his flocks and smoking hamlet then, To that sad spot [where hums the sedgy weed:]

On him, enraged, the fiend, in angry mood, Shall never look with Pity's kind concern, But instant, furious, raise the whelming flood O'er its drowned bank, forbidding all return. Or, if he meditate his wished escape

To some dim hill that seems uprising near, To his faint eye the grim and grisly shape,

In all its terrors clad, shall wild appear. Meantime, the watery surge shall round him rise,

Poured sudden forth from every swelling source. What now remains but tears and hopeless sighs?

His fear-shook limbs have lost their youthly force, And down the waves he floats, a pale and breathless corse.

VIII

For him, in vain, his anxious wife shall wait,
Or wander forth to meet him on his way;
For him, in vain, at to-fall of the day,
His babes shall linger at th' unclosing gate.
Ah, ne'er shall he return! Alone, if night

Her travelled limbs in broken slumbers steep,
With dropping willows dressed, his mournful sprite
Shall visit sad, perchance, her silent sleep:
Then he, perhaps, with moist and watery hand,

Shall fondly seem to press her shuddering cheek,
And with his blue-swoln face before her stand,

And, shivering cold, these piteous accents speak: 'Pursue, dear wife, thy daily toils pursue

At dawn or dusk, industrious as before; Nor e'er of me one hapless thought renew,

While I lie weltering on the oziered shore, Drowned by the kelpie's wrath, nor e'er shall aid thee more!'

IX

Unbounded is thy range; with varied style

Thy Muse may, like those feathery tribes which spring From their rude rocks, extend her skirting wing Round the moist marge of each cold Hebrid isle To that hoar pile which still its ruin shows:

In whose small vaults a pigmy-folk is found, Whose bones the delver with his spade upthrows,

And culls them, wondering, from the hallowed ground!

Or thither, where, beneath the showery West,
The mighty kings of three fair realms are laid:
Once foes, perhaps, together now they rest;

No slaves revere them, and no wars invade:
Yet frequent now, at midnight's solemn hour,

The rifted mounds their yawning cells unfold, And forth the monarchs stalk with sovereign power,

In pageant robes, and wreathed with sheeny gold, And on their twilight tombs aërial council hold.

X

But oh, o'er all, forget not Kilda's race,

On whose bleak rocks, which brave the wasting tides, Fair Nature's daughter, Virtue, yet abides. Go, just as they, their blameless manners trace! Then to my ear transmit some gentle song

Of those whose lives are yet sincere and plain, Their bounded walks the rugged cliffs along,

And all their prospect but the wintry main. With sparing temperance, at the needful time,

They drain the sainted spring, or, hunger-pressed, Along th' Atlantic rock undreading climb,

And of its eggs despoil the solan's nest. Thus blest in primal innocence they live,

Sufficed and happy with that frugal fare Which tasteful toil and hourly danger give.

Hard is their shallow soil, and bleak and bare; Nor ever vernal bee was heard to murmur there!

XI

Nor need'st thou blush, that such false themes engage
Thy gentle mind, of fairer stores possessed;
For not alone they touch the village breast,
But filled in elder time th' historic page.

There Shakespeare's self, with every garland crowned,-
[Flew to those fairy climes his fancy sheen!]—
In musing hour, his wayward Sisters found,

And with their terrors dressed the magic scene.
From them he sung, when, 'mid his bold design,
Before the Scot afflicted and aghast,
The shadowy kings of Banquo's fated line

Through the dark cave in gleamy pageant passed.

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