Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland
By William Collins (1721–1759)
 
Inscribed to Mr. Home, Author of Douglas.

I.
HOME, 1 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 2        5
Whom, long endeared, thou leav’st by Lavant’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;        10
  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;        15
Thou need’st but take thy 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 set’st thy feet;
  Where still, ’tis said, the fairy people meet,        20
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.        25
There every herd, by sad experience, knows
  How, winged with fate, their elf-shot arrows fly,
When the sick ewe her summer food forgoes,
  Or, stretched on earth, the heart-smit heifers lie.
Such airy beings awe the untutored swain:        30
  Nor thou, though learned, 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.        35
 
III.
Ev’n 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 possest,        40
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,        45
  When every shrieking maid her bosom beat,
And strewed with choicest herbs his scented grave;
  Or whether, sitting in the shepherd’s shiel, 3
Thou hear’st some sounding tale of war’s alarms;
  When at the bugle’s call, with fire and steel,        50
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 Sky’s lone isle, the gifted wizard seer,
  Lodged in the wintry cave with [fate’s fell spear,] 4        55
Or in the depth of Uist’s dark forest dwells:
  How they, whose sight such dreary dreams engross,
With their own vision oft astonished droop,
  When, o’er the watery strath, or quaggy moss,
They see the gliding ghosts unbodied troop.        60
  Or, if in sports, or on the festive green,
Their [piercing] 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;        65
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.
 
[Stanza V, and half of stanza VI, are missing in the MS.]

  What though far off, from some dark dell espied,
        70
His glimmering mazes cheer the excursive sight,
  Yet turn, ye wanderers, turn your steps aside,
Nor trust the guidance of that faithless light;
  For watchful, lurking, ’mid the unrustling reed,
At those mirk hours the wily monster lies,        75
  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,        80
  Far from his flocks and smoking hamlet then!
To that sad spot [his wayward fate shall lead:]
  On him, enraged, the fiend in angry mood,
Shall never look with pity’s kind concern,
  But instant, furious, raise the whelming flood        85
O’er its drowned banks, 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.        90
  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.        95
 
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 the unclosing gate.
  Ah, ne’er shall he return! Alone, if night        100
Her travelled limbs in broken slumbers steep,
  With drooping willows drest, 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,        105
  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 helpless thought renew,        110
While I lie weltering on the osiered shore,
Drown’d 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        115
Round the moist marge of each cold Hebrid isle,
  To that hoar pile, 5 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!        120
  Or thither, 6 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,        125
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 aerial council hold.
 
X.
But, O! o’er all, forget not Kilda’s race,
        130
  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,        135
  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-prest,
  Along the Atlantic rock undreading climb,        140
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;        145
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 possest;
  For not alone they touch the village breast,
But filled in elder time the historic page.        150
  There Shakespeare’s self, with every garland crowned,
[Flew to those fairy climes his fancy sheen,] 7
  In musing hour, his wayward sisters found,
And with their terrors drest the magic scene.
  From them he sung, when ’mid his bold design,        155
Before the Scot afflicted and aghast,
  The shadowy kings of Banquo’s fated line
Through the dark cave in gleamy pageant passed.
  Proceed, nor quit the tales which, simply told,
Could once so well my answering bosom pierce;        160
  Proceed, in forceful sounds, and colours bold,
The native legends of thy land rehearse;
To such adapt thy lyre and suit thy powerful verse.
 
XII.
In scenes like these, which, daring to depart
  From sober truth, are still to nature true,        165
  And call forth fresh delight to fancy’s view,
The heroic muse employed her Tasso’s art!
  How have I trembled, when, at Tancred’s stroke,
Its gushing blood the gaping cypress poured;
  When each live plant with mortal accents spoke,        170
And the wild blast upheaved the vanished sword!
  How have I sat, when piped the pensive wind,
To hear his harp by British Fairfax strung;
  Prevailing poet! whose undoubting mind
Believed the magic wonders which he sung!        175
  Hence, at each sound, imagination glows;
[Hence, at each picture, vivid life starts here!] 8
  Hence his warm lay with softest sweetness flows;
Melting it flows, pure, numerous, strong, and clear,
And fills the impassioned heart, and wins the harmonious ear!        180
 
XIII.
All hail, ye scenes that o’er my soul prevail!
  Ye [spacious] friths and lakes, which, far away,
  Are by smooth Annan filled or pastoral Tay,
Or Don’s romantic springs, at distance hail!
  The time shall come when I, perhaps, may tread        185
Your lowly glens, o’erhung with spreading broom;
  Or, o’er your stretching heaths, by fancy led;
[Or o’er your mountains creep, in awful gloom!] 9
  Then will I dress once more the faded bower,
Where Jonson sat in Drummond’s [classic] shade;        190
  Or crop, from Tiviotdale, each [lyric flower,]
And mourn, on Yarrow’s banks, [where Willy’s laid!] 10
  Meantime, ye powers that on the plains which bore
The cordial youth, on Lothian’s plains, attend!—
  Where’er he dwell, on hill, or lowly moor,        195
To him I lose, your kind protection lend,
And, touched with love like mine, preserve my absent friend!
 
Note 1. The text here given is that in which this ode was first printed, in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1780. Of the passages within brackets some were supplied in that version, to fill up lacunæ, by Dr. Carlyle, and some are from the later editions. [back]
Note 2. Mr. John Barrow, who introduced Home to Collins. [back]
Note 3. A hut among the mountains. [back]
Note 4. Inserted from the later editions. [back]
Note 5. The chapel of St. Flannan. [back]
Note 6. Iona. [back]
Note 7. Inserted from the later editions. [back]
Note 8. Inserted from the later editions. [back]
Note 9. Inserted from the later editions. [back]
Note 10. Inserted from the later editions. [back]
 
 
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