Poem of the Week: Lines Written In The Highlands After A Visit To Burns’s Country
There is a charm in footing slow across a silent plain,
Where patriot battle has been fought, where glory had the gain;
There is a pleasure on the heath where Druids old have been,
Where mantles grey have rustled by and swept the nettles green;
There is a joy in every spot made known by times of old,
New to the feet, although each tale a hundred times be told;
There is a deeper joy than all, more solemn in the heart,
More parching to the tongue than all, of more divine a smart,
When weary steps forget themselves upon a pleasant turf,
Upon hot sand, or flinty road, or sea-shore iron scurf,
Toward the castle or the cot, where long ago was born
One who was great through mortal days, and died of fame unshorn.
Light heather-bells may tremble then, but they are far away;
Wood-lark may sing from sandy fern, — the Sun may hear this lay;
Runnels may kiss the grass on shelves and shallows clear,
But their low voices are not heard, though come on travels drear;
Blood-red the Sun may set behind the black mountain peaks;
Blue tides may sluice and drench their time in caves and weedy creeks;
Eagles may seem to sleep wing-side upon the air;
Ring-dove may fly convuls’d across to some high-cedar’d lair;
But the forgotten eye is still fast lidded to the ground,
As Palmer’s, that with weariness, mid-desert shrine hath found.
At such a time the soul’s a child, in childhood is the brain;
Forgotten is the worldly heart — alone, it beats in vain.–
Aye, if a madman could have leave to pass a healthful day
To tell his forehead’s swoon and faint when first began decay,
He might make tremble many a one whose spirit had gone forth
To find a Bard’s low cradle-place about the silent North!
Scanty the hour and few the steps, because a longer stay
Would bar return, and make a man forget his mortal way:
O horrible! to lose the sight of well remember’d face,
Of Brother’s eyes, of Sister’s brow — constant to every place;
Filling the air, as on we move, with portraiture intense;
More warm than those heroic tints that pain a painter’s sense,
When shapes of old come striding by, and visages of old,
Locks shining black, hair scanty grey, and passions manifold.
No, no, that horror cannot be, for at the cable’s length
Man feels the gentle anchor pull and gladdens in its strength:–
One hour, half-idiot, he stands by mossy waterfall,
But in the very next he reads his soul’s memorial:–
He reads it on the mountain’s height, where chance he may sit down
Upon rough marble diadem — that hill’s eternal crown.
Yet be his anchor e’er so fast, room is there for a prayer
That man may never lose his mind on mountains black and bare;
That he may stray league after league some great birth-place to find
And keep his vision clear from speck, his inward sight unblind.