INTRODUCTION TO CANTO FOURTH.
TO JAMES SKENE, ESQ.
Ashestiel, Ettrick Forest.
An ancient Minstrel sagely said,
‘Where is the life which late we led?’
That motley clown in Arden wood,
Whom humorous Jacques with envy view’d,
Not even that clown could amplify, 5
On this trite text, so long as I.
Eleven years we now may tell,
Since we have known each other well;
Since, riding side by side, our hand
First drew the voluntary brand; 10
And sure, through many a varied scene,,
Unkindness never came between.
Away these winged years have flown,
To join the mass of ages gone;
And though deep mark’d, like all below, 15
With chequer’d shades of joy and woe;
Though thou o’er realms and seas hast ranged,
Mark’d cities lost, and empires changed,
While here, at home, my narrower ken
Somewhat of manners saw, and men; 20
Though varying wishes, hopes, and fears,
Fever’d the progress of these years,
Vet now, days, weeks, and months, but seem
The recollection of a dream,
So still we glide down to the sea 25
Of fathomless eternity.
Even now it scarcely seems a day,
Since first I tuned this idle lay;
A task so often’ thrown aside,
When leisure graver cares denied, 30
That now, November’s dreary gale,
Whose voice inspired my opening tale,
That same November gale once more
Whirls the dry leaves on Yarrow shore.
Their vex’d boughs streaming to the sky, 35
Once more our naked birches sigh,
And Blackhouse heights, and Ettrick Pen,
Have donn’d their wintry shrouds again:
And mountain dark, and flooded mead,
Bid us forsake the banks of Tweed. 40
Earlier than wont along the sky,
Mix’d with the rack, the snow mists fly;
The shepherd who, in summer sun,
Had something of our envy won,
As thou with pencil, I with pen, 45
The features traced of hill and glen;-
He who, outstretch’d the livelong day,
At ease among the heath-flowers lay,
View’d the light clouds with vacant look,
Or slumber’d o’er his tatter’d book, 50
Or idly busied him to guide
His angle o’er the lessen’d tide;-
At midnight now, the snowy plain
Finds sterner labour for the swain.
When red hath set the beamless sun, 55
Through heavy vapours dark and dun;
When the tired ploughman, dry and warm,
Hears, half asleep, the rising storm
Hurling the hail, and sleeted rain,
Against the casement’s tinkling pane; 60
The sounds that drive wild deer, and fox,
To shelter in the brake and rocks,
Are warnings which the shepherd ask
To dismal and to dangerous task.
Oft he looks forth, and hopes, in vain, 65
The blast may sink in mellowing rain;
Till, dark above, and white below,
Decided drives the flaky snow,
And forth the hardy swain must go.
Long, with dejected look and whine, 70
To leave the hearth his dogs repine;
Whistling and cheering them to aid,
Around his back he wreathes the plaid:
His flock he gathers, and he guides,
To open downs, and mountain-sides, 75
Where fiercest though the tempest blow,
Least deeply lies the drift below.
The blast, that whistles o’er the fells,
Stiffens his locks to icicles;
Oft he looks back, while streaming far, 80
His cottage window seems a star,-
Loses its feeble gleam,-and then
Turns patient to the blast again,
And, facing to the tempest’s sweep,
Drives through the gloom his lagging sheep. 85
If fails his heart, if his limbs fail,
Benumbing death is in the gale;
His paths, his landmarks, all unknown,
Close to the hut, no more his own,
Close to the aid he sought in vain, 90
The morn may find the stiffen’d swain:
The widow sees, at dawning pale,
His orphans raise their feeble wail;
And, close beside him, in the snow,
Poor Yarrow, partner of their woe, 95
Couches upon his master’s breast,
And licks his cheek to break his rest.
Who envies now the shepherd’s lot,
His healthy fare, his rural cot,
His summer couch by greenwood tree, 100
His rustic kirn’s loud revelry,
His native hill-notes, tuned on high,
To Marion of the blithesome eye;
His crook, his scrip, his oaten reed,
And all Arcadia’s golden creed? 105
Changes not so with us, my Skene,
Of human life the varying scene?
Our youthful summer oft we see
Dance by on wings of game and glee,
While the dark storm reserves its rage, 110
Against the winter of our age:
As he, the ancient Chief of Troy,
His manhood spent in peace and joy;
But Grecian fires, and loud alarms,
Call’d ancient Priam forth to arms. 115
Then happy those, since each must drain
His share of pleasure, share of pain,-
Then happy those, beloved of Heaven,
To whom the mingled cup is given;
Whose lenient sorrows find relief, 120
Whose joys are chasten’d by their grief.
And such a lot, my Skene, was thine,
When thou, of late, wert doom’d to twine,--
Just when thy bridal hour was by,-
The cypress with the myrtle tie. 125
Just on thy bride her Sire had smiled,
And bless’d the union of his child,
When love must change its joyous cheer,
And wipe affection’s filial tear.
Nor did the actions next his end, 130
Speak more the father than the friend:
Scarce had lamented Forbes paid
The tribute to his Minstrel’s shade;
The tale of friendship scarce was told,
Ere the narrator’s heart was cold- 135
Far may we search before we find
A heart so manly and so kind!
But not around his honour’d urn,
Shall friends alone and kindred mourn;
The thousand eyes his care had dried, 140
Pour at his name a bitter tide;
And frequent falls the grateful dew,
For benefits the world ne’er knew.
If mortal charity dare claim
The Almighty’s attributed name, 145
Inscribe above his mouldering clay,
‘The widow’s shield, the orphan’s stay.’
Nor, though it wake thy sorrow, deem
My verse intrudes on this sad theme;
for sacred was the pen that wrote, 150
‘Thy father’s friend forget thou not:’
And grateful title may I plead,
For many a kindly word and deed,
To bring my tribute to his grave:-
‘Tis little-but ‘tis all I have. 155
To thee, perchance, this rambling strain
Recalls our summer walks again;
When, doing nought,-and, to speak true,
Not anxious to find aught to do,-
The wild unbounded hills we ranged, 160
While oft our talk its topic changed,
And, desultory as our way,
Ranged, unconfined, from grave to gay.
Even when it flagged, as oft will chance,
No effort made to break its trance, 165
We could right pleasantly pursue
Our sports in social silence too;
Thou gravely labouring to pourtray
The blighted oak’s fantastic spray;
I spelling o’er, with much delight, 170
The legend of that antique knight,
Tirante by name, yclep’d the White.
At either’s feet a trusty squire,
Pandour and Camp, with eyes of fire,
Jealous, each other’s motions view’d, 175
And scarce suppress’d their ancient feud.
The laverock whistled from the cloud;
The stream was lively, but not loud;
From the white thorn the May-flower shed
Its dewy fragrance round our head: 180
Not Ariel lived more merrily
Under the blossom’d bough, than we.
And blithesome nights, too, have been ours,
When Winter stript the summer’s bowers.
Careless we heard, what now I hear, 185
The wild blast sighing deep and drear,
When fires were bright, and lamps beam’d gay,
And ladies tuned the lovely lay;
And he was held a laggard soul,
Who shunn’d to quaff the sparkling bowl. 190
Then he, whose absence we deplore,
Who breathes the gales of Devon’s shore,
The longer miss’d, bewail’d the more;
And thou, and I, and dear-loved R-,
And one whose name I may not say,- 195
For not Mimosa’s tender tree
Shrinks sooner from the touch than he,-
In merry chorus well combined,
With laughter drown’d the whistling wind.
Mirth was within; and care without 200
Might gnaw her nails to hear our shout.
Not but amid the buxom scene
Some grave discourse might intervene-
Of the good horse that bore him best,
His shoulder, hoof, and arching crest: 205
For, like mad Tom’s, our chiefest care,
Was horse to ride, and weapon wear.
Such nights we’ve had; and, though the game
Of manhood be more sober tame,
And though the field-day, or the drill, 210
Seem less important now-yet still
Such may we hope to share again.
The sprightly thought inspires my strain!
And mark, how, like a horseman true,
Lord Marmion’s march I thus renew. 215