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Title: Underwoods

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Release date: February 1, 1996 [eBook #438]
Most recently updated: January 27, 2013

Language: English


Transcribed from the 1989 Chatto & Windus edition by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf



Decorative graphic





p. ivOf all my verse, like not a single line;
But like my title, for it is not mine.
That title from a better man I stole:
Ah, how much better, had I stol’n the whole!


There are men and classes of men that stand above the common herd: the soldier, the sailor and the shepherd not unfrequently; the artist rarely; rarely still, the clergyman; the physician almost as a rule.  He is the flower (such as it is) of our civilisation; and when that stage of man is done with, and only remembered to be marvelled at in history, he will be thought to have shared as little as any in the defects of the period, and most notably exhibited the virtues of the race.  Generosity he has, such as is possible to those who practise an art, never to those who drive a trade; discretion, tested by a hundred secrets; tact, tried in a thousand embarrassments; and what are more important, Heraclean cheerfulness and courage.  So it is that he brings air and cheer into the sickroom, and often enough, though not so often as he wishes, brings healing.

p. viGratitude is but a lame sentiment; thanks, when they are expressed, are often more embarrassing than welcome; and yet I must set forth mine to a few out of many doctors who have brought me comfort and help: to Dr. Willey of San Francisco, whose kindness to a stranger it must be as grateful to him, as it is touching to me, to remember; to Dr. Karl Ruedi of Davos, the good genius of the English in his frosty mountains; to Dr. Herbert of Paris, whom I knew only for a week, and to Dr. Caissot of Montpellier, whom I knew only for ten days, and who have yet written their names deeply in my memory; to Dr. Brandt of Royat; to Dr. Wakefield of Nice; to Dr. Chepmell, whose visits make it a pleasure to be ill; to Dr. Horace Dobell, so wise in counsel; to Sir Andrew Clark, so unwearied in kindness and to that wise youth, my uncle, Dr. Balfour.

I forget as many as I remember; and I ask both to pardon me, these for silence, those for inadequate speech.  But one name I have kept on purpose to the last, because it is a household word with me, and because if I had not received favours from so many hands and in so many p. viiquarters of the world, it should have stood upon this page alone: that of my friend Thomas Bodley Scott of Bournemouth.  Will he accept this, although shared among so many, for a dedication to himself? and when next my ill-fortune (which has thus its pleasant side) brings him hurrying to me when he would fain sit down to meat or lie down to rest, will he care to remember that he takes this trouble for one who is not fool enough to be ungrateful?

R. L. S.


p. ixNOTE

The human conscience has fled of late the troublesome domain of conduct for what I should have supposed to be the less congenial field of art: there she may now be said to rage, and with special severity in all that touches dialect; so that in every novel the letters of the alphabet are tortured, and the reader wearied, to commemorate shades of mis-pronunciation.  Now spelling is an art of great difficulty in my eyes, and I am inclined to lean upon the printer, even in common practice, rather than to venture abroad upon new quests.  And the Scots tongue has an orthography of its own, lacking neither “authority nor author.”  Yet the temptation is great to lend a little guidance to the bewildered Englishman.  Some simple phonetic artifice might defend your verses from barbarous mishandling, and yet not injure any vested interest.  So it seems at first; but there are p. xrocks ahead.  Thus, if I wish the diphthong ou to have its proper value, I may write oor instead of our; many have done so and lived, and the pillars of the universe remained unshaken.  But if I did so, and came presently to doun, which is the classical Scots spelling of the English down, I should begin to feel uneasy; and if I went on a little farther, and came to a classical Scots word, like stour or dour or clour, I should know precisely where I was—that is to say, that I was out of sight of land on those high seas of spelling reform in which so many strong swimmers have toiled vainly.  To some the situation is exhilarating; as for me, I give one bubbling cry and sink.  The compromise at which I have arrived is indefensible, and I have no thought of trying to defend it.  As I have stuck for the most part to the proper spelling, I append a table of some common vowel sounds which no one need consult; and just to prove that I belong to my age and have in me the stuff of a reformer, I have used modification marks throughout.  Thus I can tell myself, not without pride, that I have added a fresh stumbling-block for English readers, and p. xito a page of print in my native tongue, have lent a new uncouthness.  Sed non nobis.

I note again, that among our new dialecticians, the local habitat of every dialect is given to the square mile.  I could not emulate this nicety if I desired; for I simply wrote my Scots as well as I was able, not caring if it hailed from Lauderdale or Angus, from the Mearns or Galloway; if I had ever heard a good word, I used it without shame; and when Scots was lacking, or the rhyme jibbed, I was glad (like my betters) to fall back on English.  For all that, I own to a friendly feeling for the tongue of Fergusson and of Sir Walter, both Edinburgh men; and I confess that Burns has always sounded in my ear like something partly foreign.  And indeed I am from the Lothians myself; it is there I heard the language spoken about my childhood; and it is in the drawling Lothian voice that I repeat it to myself.  Let the precisians call my speech that of the Lothians.  And if it be not pure, alas! what matters it?  The day draws near when this illustrious and malleable tongue shall be quite forgotten; and Burn’s Ayrshire, and Dr. Macdonald’s Aberdeen-awa’, p. xiiand Scott’s brave, metropolitan utterance will be all equally the ghosts of speech.  Till then I would love to have my hour as a native Maker, and be read by my own countryfolk in our own dying language: an ambition surely rather of the heart than of the head, so restricted as it is in prospect of endurance, so parochial in bounds of space.


BOOK I.—In English




Envoy—Go, little book



A Song of the Road—The gauger walked



The Canoe Speaks—On the great streams



It is the season



The House Beautiful—A naked house, a naked moor



A Visit from the Sea—Far from the loud sea beaches



To a Gardener—Friend, in my mountain-side demesne



To Minnie—A picture frame for you to fill



To K. de M.—A lover of the moorland bare



To N. V. de G. S.—The unfathomable sea



To Will. H. Low—Youth now flees



To Mrs. Will. H. Low—Even in the bluest noonday of July



To H. F. Brown—I sit and wait



To Andrew Lang—Dear Andrew



Et tu in Arcadia vixisti—In ancient tales, O friend


p. xivXVI.

To W. E. Henley—The year runs through her phases



Henry James—Who comes to-night



The Mirror Speaks—Where the bells



Katharine—We see you as we see a face



To F. J. S.—I read, dear friend



Requiem—Under the wide and starry sky



The Celestial Surgeon—If I have faltered



Our Lady of the Snows—Out of the sun



Not yet, my soul



It is not yours, O mother, to complain



The Sick Child—O mother, lay your hand on my brow



In Memoriam F. A. S.—Yet, O stricken heart



To my Father—Peace and her huge invasion



In the States—With half a heart



A Portrait—I am a kind of farthing dip



Sing clearlier, Muse



A Camp—The bed was made



The Country of the Camisards—We travelled in the print of olden wars



Skerryvore—For love of lovely words



Skerryvore: The Parallel—Here all is sunny



My house, I say



My body which my dungeon is



Say not of me that weakly I declined


BOOK II.—In Scots


The Maker to Posterity—Far ’yont amang the years to be



Ille Terrarum—Frae nirly, nippin’, Eas’lan’ breeze



When aince Aprile has fairly come



A Mile an’ a Bittock



A Lowden Sabbath Morn—The clinkum-clank o’ Sabbath bells



The Spaewife—O, I wad like to ken



The Blast—1875—It’s rainin’.  Weet’s the gairden sod



The Counterblast—1886—My bonny man, the warld, it’s true



The Counterblast Ironical—It’s strange that God should fash to frame



Their Laureate to an Academy Class Dinner Club—Dear Thamson class, whaure’er I gang



Embro Hie Kirk—The Lord Himsel’ in former days



The Scotsman’s Return from Abroad—In mony a foreign pairt I’ve been



Late in the nicht



My Conscience!—Of a’ the ills that flesh can fear



To Doctor John Brown—By Lyne and Tyne, by Thames and Tees



It’s an owercome sooth for age an’ youth


p. xviiBOOK I.—In English


Go, little book, and wish to all
Flowers in the garden, meat in the hall,
A bin of wine, a spice of wit,
A house with lawns enclosing it,
A living river by the door,
A nightingale in the sycamore!


The gauger walked with willing foot,
And aye the gauger played the flute;
And what should Master Gauger play
But Over the hills and far away?

Whene’er I buckle on my pack
And foot it gaily in the track,
O pleasant gauger, long since dead,
I hear you fluting on ahead.

You go with me the self-same way—
The self-same air for me you play;
For I do think and so do you
It is the tune to travel to.

p. 3For who would gravely set his face
To go to this or t’other place?
There’s nothing under Heav’n so blue
That’s fairly worth the travelling to.

On every hand the roads begin,
And people walk with zeal therein;
But wheresoe’er the highways tend,
Be sure there’s nothing at the end.

Then follow you, wherever hie
The travelling mountains of the sky.
Or let the streams in civil mode
Direct your choice upon a road;

For one and all, or high or low,
Will lead you where you wish to go;
And one and all go night and day
Over the hills and far away!

Forest of Montargis, 1878.


On the great streams the ships may go
About men’s business to and fro.
But I, the egg-shell pinnace, sleep
On crystal waters ankle-deep:
I, whose diminutive design,
Of sweeter cedar, pithier pine,
Is fashioned on so frail a mould,
A hand may launch, a hand withhold:
I, rather, with the leaping trout
Wind, among lilies, in and out;
I, the unnamed, inviolate,
Green, rustic rivers, navigate;
My dipping paddle scarcely shakes
p. 5The berry in the bramble-brakes;
Still forth on my green way I wend
Beside the cottage garden-end;
And by the nested angler fare,
And take the lovers unaware.
By willow wood and water-wheel
Speedily fleets my touching keel;
By all retired and shady spots
Where prosper dim forget-me-nots;
By meadows where at afternoon
The growing maidens troop in June
To loose their girdles on the grass.
Ah! speedier than before the glass
The backward toilet goes; and swift
As swallows quiver, robe and shift
And the rough country stockings lie
Around each young divinity.
When, following the recondite brook,
Sudden upon this scene I look,
p. 6And light with unfamiliar face
On chaste Diana’s bathing-place,
Loud ring the hills about and all
The shallows are abandoned. . . .

p. 7IV

It is the season now to go
About the country high and low,
Among the lilacs hand in hand,
And two by two in fairy land.

The brooding boy, the sighing maid,
Wholly fain and half afraid,
Now meet along the hazel’d brook
To pass and linger, pause and look.

A year ago, and blithely paired,
Their rough-and-tumble play they shared;
They kissed and quarrelled, laughed and cried,
A year ago at Eastertide.

p. 8With bursting heart, with fiery face,
She strove against him in the race;
He unabashed her garter saw,
That now would touch her skirts with awe.

Now by the stile ablaze she stops,
And his demurer eyes he drops;
Now they exchange averted sighs
Or stand and marry silent eyes.

And he to her a hero is
And sweeter she than primroses;
Their common silence dearer far
Than nightingale and mavis are.

Now when they sever wedded hands,
Joy trembles in their bosom-strands
And lovely laughter leaps and falls
Upon their lips in madrigals.


A naked house, a naked moor,
A shivering pool before the door,
A garden bare of flowers and fruit
And poplars at the garden foot:
Such is the place that I live in,
Bleak without and bare within.

Yet shall your ragged moor receive
The incomparable pomp of eve,
And the cold glories of the dawn
Behind your shivering trees be drawn;
And when the wind from place to place
p. 10Doth the unmoored cloud-galleons chase,
Your garden gloom and gleam again,
With leaping sun, with glancing rain.
Here shall the wizard moon ascend
The heavens, in the crimson end
Of day’s declining splendour; here
The army of the stars appear.
The neighbour hollows dry or wet,
Spring shall with tender flowers beset;
And oft the morning muser see
Larks rising from the broomy lea,
And every fairy wheel and thread
Of cobweb dew-bediamonded.
When daisies go, shall winter time
Silver the simple grass with rime;
Autumnal frosts enchant the pool
And make the cart-ruts beautiful;
And when snow-bright the moor expands,
How shall your children clap their hands!
p. 11To make this earth our hermitage,
A cheerful and a changeful page,
God’s bright and intricate device
Of days and seasons doth suffice.


Far from the loud sea beaches
   Where he goes fishing and crying,
Here in the inland garden
   Why is the sea-gull flying?

Here are no fish to dive for;
   Here is the corn and lea;
Here are the green trees rustling.
   Hie away home to sea!

Fresh is the river water
   And quiet among the rushes;
p. 13This is no home for the sea-gull
   But for the rooks and thrushes.

Pity the bird that has wandered!
   Pity the sailor ashore!
Hurry him home to the ocean,
   Let him come here no more!

High on the sea-cliff ledges
   The white gulls are trooping and crying,
Here among the rooks and roses,
   Why is the sea-gull flying?


Friend, in my mountain-side demesne
My plain-beholding, rosy, green
And linnet-haunted garden-ground,
Let still the esculents abound.
Let first the onion flourish there,
Rose among roots, the maiden-fair,
Wine-scented and poetic soul
Of the capacious salad bowl.
Let thyme the mountaineer (to dress
The tinier birds) and wading cress,
The lover of the shallow brook,
From all my plots and borders look.

p. 15Nor crisp and ruddy radish, nor
Pease-cods for the child’s pinafore
Be lacking; nor of salad clan
The last and least that ever ran
About great nature’s garden-beds.
Nor thence be missed the speary heads
Of artichoke; nor thence the bean
That gathered innocent and green
Outsavours the belauded pea.

These tend, I prithee; and for me,
Thy most long-suffering master, bring
In April, when the linnets sing
And the days lengthen more and more
At sundown to the garden door.
And I, being provided thus.
Shall, with superb asparagus,
A book, a taper, and a cup
Of country wine, divinely sup.

La Solitude, Hyères.


(With a hand-glass)

A picture-frame for you to fill,
   A paltry setting for your face,
A thing that has no worth until
   You lend it something of your grace

I send (unhappy I that sing
   Laid by awhile upon the shelf)
Because I would not send a thing
   Less charming than you are yourself.

And happier than I, alas!
   (Dumb thing, I envy its delight)
’Twill wish you well, the looking-glass,
   And look you in the face to-night.


p. 17IX—TO K. DE M.

A lover of the moorland bare
And honest country winds, you were;
The silver-skimming rain you took;
And loved the floodings of the brook,
Dew, frost and mountains, fire and seas,
Tumultuary silences,
Winds that in darkness fifed a tune,
And the high-riding, virgin moon.

And as the berry, pale and sharp,
Springs on some ditch’s counterscarp
In our ungenial, native north—
You put your frosted wildings forth,
p. 18And on the heath, afar from man,
A strong and bitter virgin ran.

The berry ripened keeps the rude
And racy flavour of the wood.
And you that loved the empty plain
All redolent of wind and rain,
Around you still the curlew sings—
The freshness of the weather clings—
The maiden jewels of the rain
Sit in your dabbled locks again.

p. 19X—TO N. V. DE G. S.

The unfathomable sea, and time, and tears,
The deeds of heroes and the crimes of kings
Dispart us; and the river of events
Has, for an age of years, to east and west
More widely borne our cradles.  Thou to me
Art foreign, as when seamen at the dawn
Descry a land far off and know not which.
So I approach uncertain; so I cruise
Round thy mysterious islet, and behold
Surf and great mountains and loud river-bars,
And from the shore hear inland voices call.

p. 20Strange is the seaman’s heart; he hopes, he fears;
Draws closer and sweeps wider from that coast;
Last, his rent sail refits, and to the deep
His shattered prow uncomforted puts back.
Yet as he goes he ponders at the helm
Of that bright island; where he feared to touch,
His spirit readventures; and for years,
Where by his wife he slumbers safe at home,
Thoughts of that land revisit him; he sees
The eternal mountains beckon, and awakes
Yearning for that far home that might have been.


Youth now flees on feathered foot
Faint and fainter sounds the flute,
Rarer songs of gods; and still
Somewhere on the sunny hill,
Or along the winding stream,
Through the willows, flits a dream;
Flits but shows a smiling face,
Flees but with so quaint a grace,
None can choose to stay at home,
All must follow, all must roam.

p. 22This is unborn beauty: she
Now in air floats high and free,
Takes the sun and breaks the blue;—
Late with stooping pinion flew
Raking hedgerow trees, and wet
Her wing in silver streams, and set
Shining foot on temple roof:
Now again she flies aloof,
Coasting mountain clouds and kiss’t
By the evening’s amethyst.

In wet wood and miry lane,
Still we pant and pound in vain;
Still with leaden foot we chase
Waning pinion, fainting face;
Still with gray hair we stumble on,
Till, behold, the vision gone!

p. 23Where hath fleeting beauty led?
To the doorway of the dead.
Life is over, life was gay:
We have come the primrose way.


Even in the bluest noonday of July,
There could not run the smallest breath of wind
But all the quarter sounded like a wood;
And in the chequered silence and above
The hum of city cabs that sought the Bois,
Suburban ashes shivered into song.
A patter and a chatter and a chirp
And a long dying hiss—it was as though
Starched old brocaded dames through all the house
Had trailed a strident skirt, or the whole sky
Even in a wink had over-brimmed in rain.

p. 25Hark, in these shady parlours, how it talks
Of the near Autumn, how the smitten ash
Trembles and augurs floods!  O not too long
In these inconstant latitudes delay,
O not too late from the unbeloved north
Trim your escape!  For soon shall this low roof
Resound indeed with rain, soon shall your eyes
Search the foul garden, search the darkened rooms,
Nor find one jewel but the blazing log.

12 Rue Vernier, Paris.


(Written during a dangerous sickness.)

I sit and wait a pair of oars
On cis-Elysian river-shores.
Where the immortal dead have sate,
’Tis mine to sit and meditate;
To re-ascend life’s rivulet,
Without remorse, without regret;
And sing my Alma Genetrix
Among the willows of the Styx.

And lo, as my serener soul
Did these unhappy shores patrol,
p. 27And wait with an attentive ear
The coming of the gondolier,
Your fire-surviving roll I took,
Your spirited and happy book; [27]
Whereon, despite my frowning fate,
It did my soul so recreate
That all my fancies fled away
On a Venetian holiday.

Now, thanks to your triumphant care,
Your pages clear as April air,
The sails, the bells, the birds, I know,
And the far-off Friulan snow;
The land and sea, the sun and shade,
And the blue even lamp-inlaid.
For this, for these, for all, O friend,
For your whole book from end to end—
p. 28For Paron Piero’s muttonham—
I your defaulting debtor am.

Perchance, reviving, yet may I
To your sea-paven city hie,
And in a felze, some day yet
Light at your pipe my cigarette.


Dear Andrew, with the brindled hair,
Who glory to have thrown in air,
High over arm, the trembling reed,
By Ale and Kail, by Till and Tweed:
An equal craft of hand you show
The pen to guide, the fly to throw:
I count you happy starred; for God,
When He with inkpot and with rod
Endowed you, bade your fortune lead
Forever by the crooks of Tweed,
Forever by the woods of song
And lands that to the Muse belong;
Or if in peopled streets, or in
The abhorred pedantic sanhedrim,
p. 30It should be yours to wander, still
Airs of the morn, airs of the hill,
The plovery Forest and the seas
That break about the Hebrides,
Should follow over field and plain
And find you at the window pane;
And you again see hill and peel,
And the bright springs gush at your heel.
So went the fiat forth, and so
Garrulous like a brook you go,
With sound of happy mirth and sheen
Of daylight—whether by the green
You fare that moment, or the gray;
Whether you dwell in March or May;
Or whether treat of reels and rods
Or of the old unhappy gods:
Still like a brook your page has shone,
And your ink sings of Helicon.


(TO R. A. M. S.)

In ancient tales, O friend, thy spirit dwelt;
There, from of old, thy childhood passed; and there
High expectation, high delights and deeds,
Thy fluttering heart with hope and terror moved.
And thou hast heard of yore the Blatant Beast,
And Roland’s horn, and that war-scattering shout
Of all-unarmed Achilles, ægis-crowned
And perilous lands thou sawest, sounding shores
And seas and forests drear, island and dale
And mountain dark.  For thou with Tristram rod’st
Or Bedevere, in farthest Lyonesse.

p. 32Thou hadst a booth in Samarcand, whereat
Side-looking Magians trafficked; thence, by night,
An Afreet snatched thee, and with wings upbore
Beyond the Aral mount; or, hoping gain,
Thou, with a jar of money, didst embark,
For Balsorah, by sea.  But chiefly thou
In that clear air took’st life; in Arcady
The haunted, land of song; and by the wells
Where most the gods frequent.  There Chiron old,
In the Pelethronian antre, taught thee lore:
The plants, he taught, and by the shining stars
In forests dim to steer.  There hast thou seen
Immortal Pan dance secret in a glade,
And, dancing, roll his eyes; these, where they fell,
Shed glee, and through the congregated oaks
A flying horror winged; while all the earth
To the god’s pregnant footing thrilled within.
Or whiles, beside the sobbing stream, he breathed,
In his clutched pipe unformed and wizard strains
p. 33Divine yet brutal; which the forest heard,
And thou, with awe; and far upon the plain
The unthinking ploughman started and gave ear.

Now things there are that, upon him who sees,
A strong vocation lay; and strains there are
That whoso hears shall hear for evermore.
For evermore thou hear’st immortal Pan
And those melodious godheads, ever young
And ever quiring, on the mountains old.

What was this earth, child of the gods, to thee?
Forth from thy dreamland thou, a dreamer, cam’st
And in thine ears the olden music rang,
And in thy mind the doings of the dead,
And those heroic ages long forgot.
To a so fallen earth, alas! too late,
Alas! in evil days, thy steps return,
To list at noon for nightingales, to grow
p. 34A dweller on the beach till Argo come
That came long since, a lingerer by the pool
Where that desirèd angel bathes no more.

As when the Indian to Dakota comes,
Or farthest Idaho, and where he dwelt,
He with his clan, a humming city finds;
Thereon awhile, amazed, he stares, and then
To right and leftward, like a questing dog,
Seeks first the ancestral altars, then the hearth
Long cold with rains, and where old terror lodged,
And where the dead.  So thee undying Hope,
With all her pack, hunts screaming through the years:
Here, there, thou fleeëst; but nor here nor there
The pleasant gods abide, the glory dwells.

That, that was not Apollo, not the god.
This was not Venus, though she Venus seemed
A moment.  And though fair yon river move,
p. 35She, all the way, from disenchanted fount
To seas unhallowed runs; the gods forsook
Long since her trembling rushes; from her plains
Disconsolate, long since adventure fled;
And now although the inviting river flows,
And every poplared cape, and every bend
Or willowy islet, win upon thy soul
And to thy hopeful shallop whisper speed;
Yet hope not thou at all; hope is no more;
And O, long since the golden groves are dead
The faery cities vanished from the land!


The year runs through her phases; rain and sun,
Springtime and summer pass; winter succeeds;
But one pale season rules the house of death.
Cold falls the imprisoned daylight; fell disease
By each lean pallet squats, and pain and sleep
Toss gaping on the pillows.
            But O thou!
Uprise and take thy pipe.  Bid music flow,
Strains by good thoughts attended, like the spring
The swallows follow over land and sea.
Pain sleeps at once; at once, with open eyes,
Dozing despair awakes.  The shepherd sees
p. 37His flock come bleating home; the seaman hears
Once more the cordage rattle.  Airs of home!
Youth, love and roses blossom; the gaunt ward
Dislimns and disappears, and, opening out,
Shows brooks and forests, and the blue beyond
Of mountains.
            Small the pipe; but oh! do thou,
Peak-faced and suffering piper, blow therein
The dirge of heroes dead; and to these sick,
These dying, sound the triumph over death.
Behold! each greatly breathes; each tastes a joy
Unknown before, in dying; for each knows
A hero dies with him—though unfulfilled,
Yet conquering truly—and not dies in vain

So is pain cheered, death comforted; the house
Of sorrow smiles to listen.  Once again—
O thou, Orpheus and Heracles, the bard
And the deliverer, touch the stops again!


Who comes to-night?  We ope the doors in vain.
Who comes?  My bursting walls, can you contain
The presences that now together throng
Your narrow entry, as with flowers and song,
As with the air of life, the breath of talk?
Lo, how these fair immaculate women walk
Behind their jocund maker; and we see
Slighted De Mauves, and that far different she,
Gressie, the trivial sphynx; and to our feast
Daisy and Barb and Chancellor (she not least!)
With all their silken, all their airy kin,
Do like unbidden angels enter in.
But he, attended by these shining names,
Comes (best of all) himself—our welcome James.


Where the bells peal far at sea
Cunning fingers fashioned me.
There on palace walls I hung
While that Consuelo sung;
But I heard, though I listened well,
Never a note, never a trill,
Never a beat of the chiming bell.
There I hung and looked, and there
In my gray face, faces fair
Shone from under shining hair.
Well I saw the poising head,
But the lips moved and nothing said;
p. 40And when lights were in the hall,
Silent moved the dancers all.

So awhile I glowed, and then
Fell on dusty days and men;
Long I slumbered packed in straw,
Long I none but dealers saw;
Till before my silent eye
One that sees came passing by.

Now with an outlandish grace,
To the sparkling fire I face
In the blue room at Skerryvore;
Where I wait until the door
Open, and the Prince of Men,
Henry James, shall come again.


We see you as we see a face
That trembles in a forest place
Upon the mirror of a pool
Forever quiet, clear and cool;
And in the wayward glass, appears
To hover between smiles and tears,
Elfin and human, airy and true,
And backed by the reflected blue.

p. 42XX—TO F. J. S.

I read, dear friend, in your dear face
Your life’s tale told with perfect grace;
The river of your life, I trace
Up the sun-chequered, devious bed
To the far-distant fountain-head.

Not one quick beat of your warm heart,
Nor thought that came to you apart,
Pleasure nor pity, love nor pain
Nor sorrow, has gone by in vain;

But as some lone, wood-wandering child
Brings home with him at evening mild
The thorns and flowers of all the wild,
From your whole life, O fair and true
Your flowers and thorns you bring with you!


Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
   And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
   And the hunter home from the hill.


If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain
Knocked on my sullen heart in vain:—
Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take
And stab my spirit broad awake;
Or, Lord, if too obdurate I,
Choose thou, before that spirit die,
A piercing pain, a killing sin,
And to my dead heart run them in!


Out of the sun, out of the blast,
Out of the world, alone I passed
Across the moor and through the wood
To where the monastery stood.
There neither lute nor breathing fife,
Nor rumour of the world of life,
Nor confidences low and dear,
Shall strike the meditative ear.
Aloof, unhelpful, and unkind,
The prisoners of the iron mind,
Where nothing speaks except the hell
The unfraternal brothers dwell.

p. 46Poor passionate men, still clothed afresh
With agonising folds of flesh;
Whom the clear eyes solicit still
To some bold output of the will,
While fairy Fancy far before
And musing Memory-Hold-the-door
Now to heroic death invite
And now uncurtain fresh delight:
O, little boots it thus to dwell
On the remote unneighboured hill!

O to be up and doing, O
Unfearing and unshamed to go
In all the uproar and the press
About my human business!
My undissuaded heart I hear
Whisper courage in my ear.
With voiceless calls, the ancient earth
Summons me to a daily birth.

p. 47Thou, O my love, ye, O my friends—
The gist of life, the end of ends—
To laugh, to love, to live, to die,
Ye call me by the ear and eye!

Forth from the casemate, on the plain
Where honour has the world to gain,
Pour forth and bravely do your part,
O knights of the unshielded heart!
Forth and forever forward!—out
From prudent turret and redoubt,
And in the mellay charge amain,
To fall but yet to rise again!
Captive? ah, still, to honour bright,
A captive soldier of the right!
Or free and fighting, good with ill?
Unconquering but unconquered still!

And ye, O brethren, what if God,
When from Heav’n’s top he spies abroad,
p. 48And sees on this tormented stage
The noble war of mankind rage:
What if his vivifying eye,
O monks, should pass your corner by?
For still the Lord is Lord of might;
In deeds, in deeds, he takes delight;
The plough, the spear, the laden barks,
The field, the founded city, marks;
He marks the smiler of the streets,
The singer upon garden seats;
He sees the climber in the rocks:
To him, the shepherd folds his flocks.
For those he loves that underprop
With daily virtues Heaven’s top,
And bear the falling sky with ease,
Unfrowning caryatides.
Those he approves that ply the trade,
That rock the child, that wed the maid,
That with weak virtues, weaker hands,
p. 49Sow gladness on the peopled lands,
And still with laughter, song and shout,
Spin the great wheel of earth about.

But ye?—O ye who linger still
Here in your fortress on the hill,
With placid face, with tranquil breath,
The unsought volunteers of death,
Our cheerful General on high
With careless looks may pass you by.

p. 50XXIV

Not yet, my soul, these friendly fields desert,
Where thou with grass, and rivers, and the breeze,
And the bright face of day, thy dalliance hadst;
Where to thine ear first sang the enraptured birds;
Where love and thou that lasting bargain made.
The ship rides trimmed, and from the eternal shore
Thou hearest airy voices; but not yet
Depart, my soul, not yet awhile depart.

Freedom is far, rest far.  Thou art with life
Too closely woven, nerve with nerve intwined;
Service still craving service, love for love,
Love for dear love, still suppliant with tears.
p. 51Alas, not yet thy human task is done!
A bond at birth is forged; a debt doth lie
Immortal on mortality.  It grows—
By vast rebound it grows, unceasing growth;
Gift upon gift, alms upon alms, upreared,
From man, from God, from nature, till the soul
At that so huge indulgence stands amazed.

Leave not, my soul, the unfoughten field, nor leave
Thy debts dishonoured, nor thy place desert
Without due service rendered.  For thy life,
Up, spirit, and defend that fort of clay,
Thy body, now beleaguered; whether soon
Or late she fall; whether to-day thy friends
Bewail thee dead, or, after years, a man
Grown old in honour and the friend of peace.
Contend, my soul, for moments and for hours;
Each is with service pregnant; each reclaimed
Is as a kingdom conquered, where to reign.

p. 52As when a captain rallies to the fight
His scattered legions, and beats ruin back,
He, on the field, encamps, well pleased in mind.
Yet surely him shall fortune overtake,
Him smite in turn, headlong his ensigns drive;
And that dear land, now safe, to-morrow fall.
But he, unthinking, in the present good
Solely delights, and all the camps rejoice.

p. 53XXV

It is not yours, O mother, to complain,
Not, mother, yours to weep,
Though nevermore your son again
Shall to your bosom creep,
Though nevermore again you watch your baby sleep.

Though in the greener paths of earth,
Mother and child, no more
We wander; and no more the birth
Of me whom once you bore,
Seems still the brave reward that once it seemed of yore;

Though as all passes, day and night,
The seasons and the years,
From you, O mother, this delight,
p. 54This also disappears—
Some profit yet survives of all your pangs and tears.

The child, the seed, the grain of corn,
The acorn on the hill,
Each for some separate end is born
In season fit, and still
Each must in strength arise to work the almighty will.

So from the hearth the children flee,
By that almighty hand
Austerely led; so one by sea
Goes forth, and one by land;
Nor aught of all man’s sons escapes from that command

So from the sally each obeys
The unseen almighty nod;
So till the ending all their ways
Blindfolded loth have trod:
Nor knew their task at all, but were the tools of God.

p. 55And as the fervent smith of yore
Beat out the glowing blade,
Nor wielded in the front of war
The weapons that he made,
But in the tower at home still plied his ringing trade;

So like a sword the son shall roam
On nobler missions sent;
And as the smith remained at home
In peaceful turret pent,
So sits the while at home the mother well content.


Child.  O mother, lay your hand on my brow!
O mother, mother, where am I now?
Why is the room so gaunt and great?
Why am I lying awake so late?

Mother.  Fear not at all: the night is still.
Nothing is here that means you ill—
Nothing but lamps the whole town through,
And never a child awake but you.

Child.  Mother, mother, speak low in my ear,
Some of the things are so great and near,
p. 57Some are so small and far away,
I have a fear that I cannot say,
What have I done, and what do I fear,
And why are you crying, mother dear?

Mother.  Out in the city, sounds begin
Thank the kind God, the carts come in!
An hour or two more, and God is so kind,
The day shall be blue in the window-blind,
Then shall my child go sweetly asleep,
And dream of the birds and the hills of sheep.


Yet, O stricken heart, remember, O remember
   How of human days he lived the better part.
April came to bloom and never dim December
   Breathed its killing chills upon the head or heart.

Doomed to know not Winter, only Spring, a being
   Trod the flowery April blithely for a while,
Took his fill of music, joy of thought and seeing,
   Came and stayed and went, nor ever ceased to smile.

Came and stayed and went, and now when all is finished,
   You alone have crossed the melancholy stream,
Yours the pang, but his, O his, the undiminished
   Undecaying gladness, undeparted dream.

p. 59All that life contains of torture, toil, and treason,
   Shame, dishonour, death, to him were but a name.
Here, a boy, he dwelt through all the singing season
   And ere the day of sorrow departed as he came.

Davos, 1881.


Peace and her huge invasion to these shores
Puts daily home; innumerable sails
Dawn on the far horizon and draw near;
Innumerable loves, uncounted hopes
To our wild coasts, not darkling now, approach:
Not now obscure, since thou and thine are there,
And bright on the lone isle, the foundered reef,
The long, resounding foreland, Pharos stands.

These are thy works, O father, these thy crown;
Whether on high the air be pure, they shine
Along the yellowing sunset, and all night
Among the unnumbered stars of God they shine;
p. 61Or whether fogs arise and far and wide
The low sea-level drown—each finds a tongue
And all night long the tolling bell resounds:
So shine, so toll, till night be overpast,
Till the stars vanish, till the sun return,
And in the haven rides the fleet secure.

In the first hour, the seaman in his skiff
Moves through the unmoving bay, to where the town
Its earliest smoke into the air upbreathes
And the rough hazels climb along the beach.
To the tugg’d oar the distant echo speaks.
The ship lies resting, where by reef and roost
Thou and thy lights have led her like a child.

This hast thou done, and I—can I be base?
I must arise, O father, and to port
Some lost, complaining seaman pilot home.


With half a heart I wander here
   As from an age gone by
A brother—yet though young in years.
   An elder brother, I.

You speak another tongue than mine,
   Though both were English born.
I towards the night of time decline,
   You mount into the morn.

Youth shall grow great and strong and free,
   But age must still decay:
To-morrow for the States—for me,
   England and Yesterday.

San Francisco.


I am a kind of farthing dip,
   Unfriendly to the nose and eyes;
A blue-behinded ape, I skip
   Upon the trees of Paradise.

At mankind’s feast, I take my place
   In solemn, sanctimonious state,
And have the air of saying grace
   While I defile the dinner plate.

I am “the smiler with the knife,”
   The battener upon garbage, I—
p. 64Dear Heaven, with such a rancid life,
   Were it not better far to die?

Yet still, about the human pale,
   I love to scamper, love to race,
To swing by my irreverent tail
   All over the most holy place;

And when at length, some golden day,
   The unfailing sportsman, aiming at,
Shall bag, me—all the world shall say:
   Thank God, and there’s an end of that!

p. 65XXXI

Sing clearlier, Muse, or evermore be still,
Sing truer or no longer sing!
No more the voice of melancholy Jacques
To wake a weeping echo in the hill;
But as the boy, the pirate of the spring,
From the green elm a living linnet takes,
One natural verse recapture—then be still.

p. 66XXXII—A CAMP [66]

The bed was made, the room was fit,
By punctual eve the stars were lit;
The air was still, the water ran,
No need was there for maid or man,
When we put up, my ass and I,
At God’s green caravanserai.


We travelled in the print of olden wars,
   Yet all the land was green,
   And love we found, and peace,
   Where fire and war had been.

They pass and smile, the children of the sword—
   No more the sword they wield;
   And O, how deep the corn
   Along the battlefield!


For love of lovely words, and for the sake
Of those, my kinsmen and my countrymen,
Who early and late in the windy ocean toiled
To plant a star for seamen, where was then
The surfy haunt of seals and cormorants:
I, on the lintel of this cot, inscribe
The name of a strong tower.

p. 69XXXV—SKERRYVORE: The Parallel

Here all is sunny, and when the truant gull
Skims the green level of the lawn, his wing
Dispetals roses; here the house is framed
Of kneaded brick and the plumed mountain pine,
Such clay as artists fashion and such wood
As the tree-climbing urchin breaks.  But there
Eternal granite hewn from the living isle
And dowelled with brute iron, rears a tower
That from its wet foundation to its crown
Of glittering glass, stands, in the sweep of winds,
Immovable, immortal, eminent.

p. 70XXXVI

My house, I say.  But hark to the sunny doves
That make my roof the arena of their loves,
That gyre about the gable all day long
And fill the chimneys with their murmurous song:
Our house, they say; and mine, the cat declares
And spreads his golden fleece upon the chairs;
And mine the dog, and rises stiff with wrath
If any alien foot profane the path.
So too the buck that trimmed my terraces,
Our whilome gardener, called the garden his;
Who now, deposed, surveys my plain abode
And his late kingdom, only from the road.


My body which my dungeon is,
And yet my parks and palaces:—
   Which is so great that there I go
All the day long to and fro,
And when the night begins to fall
Throw down my bed and sleep, while all
The building hums with wakefulness—
Even as a child of savages
When evening takes her on her way,
(She having roamed a summer’s day
Along the mountain-sides and scalp)
Sleeps in an antre of that alp:—
   Which is so broad and high that there,
As in the topless fields of air,
My fancy soars like to a kite
p. 72And faints in the blue infinite:—
   Which is so strong, my strongest throes
And the rough world’s besieging blows
Not break it, and so weak withal,
Death ebbs and flows in its loose wall
As the green sea in fishers’ nets,
And tops its topmost parapets:—
   Which is so wholly mine that I
Can wield its whole artillery,
And mine so little, that my soul
Dwells in perpetual control,
And I but think and speak and do
As my dead fathers move me to:—
   If this born body of my bones
The beggared soul so barely owns,
What money passed from hand to hand,
What creeping custom of the land,
What deed of author or assign,
Can make a house a thing of mine?


Say not of me that weakly I declined
The labours of my sires, and fled the sea,
The towers we founded and the lamps we lit,
To play at home with paper like a child.
But rather say: In the afternoon of time
A strenuous family dusted from its hands
The sand of granite, and beholding far
Along the sounding coast its pyramids
And tall memorials catch the dying sun,
Smiled well content, and to this childish task
Around the fire addressed its evening hours.

p. 75BOOK II.—In Scots


ae, ai

open A as in rare.

a’, au, aw

AW as in law.


open E as in mere, but this with exceptions, as heather = heather, wean = wain, lear = lair.

ee, ei, ie

open E as in mere.


open O as in more.


doubled O as in poor.


OW as in bower.


doubled O as in poor.

ui or ü before R

(say roughly) open A as in rare.

ui or ü before any other consonant

(say roughly) close I as in grin.


open I as in kite.


pretty nearly what you please, much as in English, Heaven guide the reader through that labyrinth!  But in Scots it dodges usually from the short I, as in grin, to the open E, as in mere.  Find the blind, I may remark, are pronounced to rhyme with the preterite of grin.



Far ’yont amang the years to be
When a’ we think, an’ a’ we see,
An’ a’ we luve, ’s been dung ajee
      By time’s rouch shouther,
An’ what was richt and wrang for me
      Lies mangled throu’ther,

It’s possible—it’s hardly mair—
That some ane, ripin’ after lear—
Some auld professor or young heir,
      If still there’s either—
May find an’ read me, an’ be sair
      Perplexed, puir brither!

p. 78What tongue does your auld bookie speak?”
He’ll spier; an’ I, his mou to steik:
No bein’ fit to write in Greek,
      I write in Lallan,
Dear to my heart as the peat reek,
      Auld as Tantallon.

Few spak it then, an’ noo there’s nane.
My puir auld sangs lie a’ their lane,
Their sense, that aince was braw an’ plain,
      Tint a’thegether,
Like runes upon a standin’ stane
      Amang the heather.

But think not you the brae to speel;
You, tae, maun chow the bitter peel;
For a’ your lear, for a’ your skeel,
      Ye’re nane sae lucky;
An’ things are mebbe waur than weel
      For you, my buckie.

p. 79The hale concern (baith hens an’ eggs,
Baith books an’ writers, stars an’ clegs)
Noo stachers upon lowsent legs
      An’ wears awa’;
The tack o’ mankind, near the dregs,
      Rins unco law.

Your book, that in some braw new tongue,
Ye wrote or prentit, preached or sung,
Will still be just a bairn, an’ young
      In fame an’ years,
Whan the hale planet’s guts are dung
      About your ears;

An’ you, sair gruppin’ to a spar
Or whammled wi’ some bleezin’ star,
Cryin’ to ken whaur deil ye are,
      Hame, France, or Flanders
Whang sindry like a railway car
      An’ flie in danders.”


Frae nirly, nippin’, Eas’lan’ breeze,
Frae Norlan’ snaw, an’ haar o’ seas,
Weel happit in your gairden trees,
      A bonny bit,
Atween the muckle Pentland’s knees,
      Secure ye sit.

Beeches an’ aiks entwine their theek,
An’ firs, a stench, auld-farrant clique.
A’ simmer day, your chimleys reek,
      Couthy and bien;
An’ here an’ there your windies keek
      Amang the green.

p. 81A pickle plats an’ paths an’ posies,
A wheen auld gillyflowers an’ roses:
A ring o’ wa’s the hale encloses
      Frae sheep or men;
An’ there the auld housie beeks an’ dozes,
      A’ by her lane.

The gairdner crooks his weary back
A’ day in the pitaty-track,
Or mebbe stops awhile to crack
      Wi’ Jane the cook,
Or at some buss, worm-eaten-black,
      To gie a look.

Frae the high hills the curlew ca’s;
The sheep gang baaing by the wa’s;
Or whiles a clan o’ roosty craws
      Cangle thegether;
The wild bees seek the gairden raws,
      Weariet wi’ heather.

p. 82Or in the gloamin’ douce an’ gray
The sweet-throat mavis tunes her lay;
The herd comes linkin’ doun the brae;
      An’ by degrees
The muckle siller müne maks way
      Amang the trees.

Here aft hae I, wi’ sober heart,
For meditation sat apairt,
When orra loves or kittle art
      Perplexed my mind;
Here socht a balm for ilka smart
      O’ humankind.

Here aft, weel neukit by my lane,
Wi’ Horace, or perhaps Montaigne,
The mornin’ hours hae come an’ gane
      Abüne my heid—
I wadnae gi’en a chucky-stane
      For a’ I’d read.

p. 83But noo the auld city, street by street,
An’ winter fu’ o’ snaw an’ sleet,
Awhile shut in my gangrel feet
      An’ goavin’ mettle;
Noo is the soopit ingle sweet,
      An’ liltin’ kettle.

An’ noo the winter winds complain;
Cauld lies the glaur in ilka lane;
On draigled hizzie, tautit wean
      An’ drucken lads,
In the mirk nicht, the winter rain
      Dribbles an’ blads.

Whan bugles frae the Castle rock,
An’ beaten drums wi’ dowie shock,
Wauken, at cauld-rife sax o’clock,
      My chitterin’ frame,
I mind me on the kintry cock,
      The kintry hame.

p. 84I mind me on yon bonny bield;
An’ Fancy traivels far afield
To gaither a’ that gairdens yield
      O’ sun an’ Simmer:
To hearten up a dowie chield,
      Fancy’s the limmer!

p. 85III

When aince Aprile has fairly come,
An’ birds may bigg in winter’s lum,
An’ pleisure’s spreid for a’ and some
      O’ whatna state,
Love, wi’ her auld recruitin’ drum,
      Than taks the gate.

The heart plays dunt wi’ main an’ micht;
The lasses’ een are a’ sae bricht,
Their dresses are sae braw an’ ticht,
      The bonny birdies!—
Puir winter virtue at the sicht
      Gangs heels ower hurdies.

p. 86An’ aye as love frae land to land
Tirls the drum wi’ eident hand,
A’ men collect at her command,
      Toun-bred or land’art,
An’ follow in a denty band
      Her gaucy standart.

An’ I, wha sang o’ rain an’ snaw,
An’ weary winter weel awa’,
Noo busk me in a jacket braw,
      An’ tak my place
I’ the ram-stam, harum-scarum raw,
      Wi’ smilin’ face.


A mile an’ a bittock, a mile or twa,
Abüthe burn, ayont the law,
Davie an’ Donal’ an’ Cherlie an’ a’,
   An’ the müne was shinin’ clearly!

Ane went hame wi’ the ither, an’ then
The ither went hame wi’ the ither twa men,
An’ baith wad return him the service again,
   An’ the müne was shinin’ clearly!

The clocks were chappin’ in house an’ ha’,
Eleeven, twal an’ ane an’ twa;
p. 88An’ the guidman’s face was turnt to the wa’,
   An’ the müne was shinin’ clearly!

A wind got up frae affa the sea,
It blew the stars as clear’s could be,
It blew in the een of a’ o’ the three,
   An’ the müne was shinin’ clearly!

Noo, Davie was first to get sleep in his head,
“The best o’ frien’s maun twine,” he said;
“I’m weariet, an’ here I’m awa’ to my bed.”
   An’ the müne was shinin’ clearly!

Twa o’ them walkin’ an’ crackin’ their lane,
The mornin’ licht cam gray an’ plain,
An’ the birds they yammert on stick an’ stane,
   An’ the müne was shinin’ clearly!

O years ayont, O years awa’,
My lads, ye’ll mind whate’er befa’—
My lads, ye’ll mind on the bield o’ the law,
   When the müne was shinin’ clearly.


The clinkum-clank o’ Sabbath bells
Noo to the hoastin’ rookery swells,
Noo faintin’ laigh in shady dells,
      Sounds far an’ near,
An’ through the simmer kintry tells
      Its tale o’ cheer.

An’ noo, to that melodious play,
A’ deidly awn the quiet sway—
A’ ken their solemn holiday,
      Bestial an’ human,
The singin’ lintie on the brae,
      The restin’ plou’man,

p. 90He, mair than a’ the lave o’ men,
His week completit joys to ken;
Half-dressed, he daunders out an’ in,
      Perplext wi’ leisure;
An’ his raxt limbs he’ll rax again
      Wi’ painfü’ pleesure.

The steerin’ mither strang afit
Noo shoos the bairnies but a bit;
Noo cries them ben, their Sinday shüit
      To scart upon them,
Or sweeties in their pouch to pit,
      Wi’ blessin’s on them.

The lasses, clean frae tap to taes,
Are busked in crunklin’ underclaes;
The gartened hose, the weel-filled stays,
      The nakit shift,
A’ bleached on bonny greens for days,
      An’ white’s the drift.

p. 91An’ noo to face the kirkward mile:
The guidman’s hat o’ dacent style,
The blackit shoon, we noo maun fyle
      As white’s the miller:
A waefü’ peety tae, to spile
      The warth o’ siller.

Our Marg’et, aye sae keen to crack,
Douce-stappin’ in the stoury track,
Her emeralt goun a’ kiltit back
      Frae snawy coats,
White-ankled, leads the kirkward pack
      Wi’ Dauvit Groats.

A thocht ahint, in runkled breeks,
A’ spiled wi’ lyin’ by for weeks,
The guidman follows closs, an’ cleiks
      The sonsie missis;
His sarious face at aince bespeaks
      The day that this is.

p. 92And aye an’ while we nearer draw
To whaur the kirkton lies alaw,
Mair neebours, comin’ saft an’ slaw
      Frae here an’ there,
The thicker thrang the gate an’ caw
      The stour in air.

But hark! the bells frae nearer clang;
To rowst the slaw, their sides they bang;
An’ see! black coats a’ready thrang
      The green kirkyaird;
And at the yett, the chestnuts spang
      That brocht the laird.

The solemn elders at the plate
Stand drinkin’ deep the pride o’ state:
The practised hands as gash an’ great
      As Lords o’ Session;
The later named, a wee thing blate
      In their expression.

p. 93The prentit stanes that mark the deid,
Wi’ lengthened lip, the sarious read;
Syne wag a moraleesin’ heid,
      An’ then an’ there
Their hirplin’ practice an’ their creed
      Try hard to square.

It’s here our Merren lang has lain,
A wee bewast the table-stane;
An’ yon’s the grave o’ Sandy Blane;
      An’ further ower,
The mither’s brithers, dacent men!
      Lie a’ the fower.

Here the guidman sall bide awee
To dwall amang the deid; to see
Auld faces clear in fancy’s e’e;
      Belike to hear
Auld voices fa’in saft an’ slee
      On fancy’s ear.

p. 94Thus, on the day o’ solemn things,
The bell that in the steeple swings
To fauld a scaittered faim’ly rings
      Its walcome screed;
An’ just a wee thing nearer brings
      The quick an’ deid.

But noo the bell is ringin’ in;
To tak their places, folk begin;
The minister himsel’ will shüne
      Be up the gate,
Filled fu’ wi’ clavers about sin
      An’ man’s estate.

The tünes are up—French, to be shüre,
The faithfü’ French, an’ twa-three mair;
The auld prezentor, hoastin’ sair,
      Wales out the portions,
An’ yirks the tüne into the air
      Wi’ queer contortions.

p. 95Follows the prayer, the readin’ next,
An’ than the fisslin’ for the text—
The twa-three last to find it, vext
      But kind o’ proud;
An’ than the peppermints are raxed,
      An’ southernwood.

For noo’s the time whan pews are seen
Nid-noddin’ like a mandareen;
When tenty mithers stap a preen
      In sleepin’ weans;
An’ nearly half the parochine
      Forget their pains.

There’s just a waukrif’ twa or three:
Thrawn commentautors sweer to ’gree,
Weans glowrin’ at the bumlin’ bee
      On windie-glasses,
Or lads that tak a keek a-glee
      At sonsie lasses.

p. 96Himsel’, meanwhile, frae whaur he cocks
An’ bobs belaw the soundin’-box,
The treesures of his words unlocks
      Wi’ prodigality,
An’ deals some unco dingin’ knocks
      To infidality.

Wi’ sappy unction, hoo he burkes
The hopes o’ men that trust in works,
Expounds the fau’ts o’ ither kirks,
      An’ shaws the best o’ them
No muckle better than mere Turks,
      When a’s confessed o’ them.

Bethankit! what a bonny creed!
What mair would ony Christian need?—
The braw words rumm’le ower his heid,
      Nor steer the sleeper;
And in their restin’ graves, the deid
      Sleep aye the deeper.

p. 97Note.—It may be guessed by some that I had a certain parish in my eye, and this makes it proper I should add a word of disclamation.  In my time there have been two ministers in that parish.  Of the first I have a special reason to speak well, even had there been any to think ill.  The second I have often met in private and long (in the due phrase) “sat under” in his church, and neither here nor there have I heard an unkind or ugly word upon his lips.  The preacher of the text had thus no original in that particular parish; but when I was a boy, he might have been observed in many others; he was then (like the schoolmaster) abroad; and by recent advices, it would seem he has not yet entirely disappeared.


O, I wad like to ken—to the beggar-wife says I—
Why chops are guid to brander and nane sae guid to fry.
An’ siller, that’s sae braw to keep, is brawer still to gi’e.
It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

O, I wad like to ken—to the beggar-wife says I—
Hoo a’ things come to be whaur we find them when we try,
The lasses in their claes an’ the fishes in the sea.
It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

O, I wad like to ken—to the beggar-wife says I—
Why lads are a’ to sell an’ lasses a’ to buy;
An’ naebody for dacency but barely twa or three
It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

p. 99O, I wad like to ken—to the beggar-wife says I—
Gin death’s as shüre to men as killin’ is to kye,
Why God has filled the yearth sae fu’ o’ tasty things to pree.
It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

O, I wad like to ken—to the beggar wife says I—
The reason o’ the cause an’ the wherefore o’ the why,
Wi’ mony anither riddle brings the tear into my e’e.
It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

p. 100VII—THE BLAST—1875

It’s rainin’.  Weet’s the gairden sod,
Weet the lang roads whaur gangrels plod—
A maist unceevil thing o’ God
      In mid July—
If ye’ll just curse the sneckdraw, dod!
      An’ sae wull I!

He’s a braw place in Heev’n, ye ken,
An’ lea’s us puir, forjaskit men
Clamjamfried in the but and ben
      He ca’s the earth—
A wee bit inconvenient den
      No muckle worth;

p. 101An’ whiles, at orra times, keeks out,
Sees what puir mankind are about;
An’ if He can, I’ve little doubt,
      Upsets their plans;
He hates a’ mankind, brainch and root,
      An’ a’ that’s man’s.

An’ whiles, whan they tak heart again,
An’ life i’ the sun looks braw an’ plain,
Doun comes a jaw o’ droukin’ rain
      Upon their honours—
God sends a spate outower the plain,
      Or mebbe thun’ers.

Lord safe us, life’s an unco thing!
Simmer an’ Winter, Yule an’ Spring,
The damned, dour-heartit seasons bring
      A feck o’ trouble.
I wadnae try’t to be a king—
      No, nor for double.

p. 102But since we’re in it, willy-nilly,
We maun be watchfü’, wise an’ skilly,
An’ no mind ony ither billy,
      Lassie nor God.
But drink—that’s my best counsel till ’e:
      Sae tak the nod.


My bonny man, the warld, it’s true,
Was made for neither me nor you;
It’s just a place to warstle through,
      As job confessed o’t;
And aye the best that we’ll can do
      Is mak the best o’t.

There’s rowth o’ wrang, I’m free to say:
The simmer brunt, the winter blae,
The face of earth a’ fyled wi’ clay
      An’ dour wi’ chuckies,
An’ life a rough an’ land’art play
      For country buckies.

p. 104An’ food’s anither name for clart;
An’ beasts an’ brambles bite an’ scart;
An’ what would WE be like, my heart!
      If bared o’ claethin’?
—Aweel, I cannae mend your cart:
      It’s that or naethin’.

A feck o’ folk frae first to last
Have through this queer experience passed;
Twa-three, I ken, just damn an’ blast
      The hale transaction;
But twa-three ithers, east an’ wast,
      Fand satisfaction,

Whaur braid the briery muirs expand,
A waefü’ an’ a weary land,
The bumblebees, a gowden band,
      Are blithely hingin’;
An’ there the canty wanderer fand
      The laverock singin’.

p. 105Trout in the burn grow great as herr’n,
The simple sheep can find their fair’n’;
The wind blaws clean about the cairn
      Wi’ caller air;
The muircock an’ the barefit bairn
      Are happy there.

Sic-like the howes o’ life to some:
Green loans whaur they ne’er fash their thumb.
But mark the muckle winds that come
      Soopin’ an’ cool,
Or hear the powrin’ burnie drum
      In the shilfa’s pool.

The evil wi’ the guid they tak;
They ca’ a gray thing gray, no black;
To a steigh brae, a stubborn back
      Addressin’ daily;
An’ up the rude, unbieldy track
      O’ life, gang gaily.

p. 106What you would like’s a palace ha’,
Or Sinday parlour dink an’ braw
Wi’ a’ things ordered in a raw
      By denty leddies.
Weel, than, ye cannae hae’t: that’s a’
      That to be said is.

An’ since at life ye’ve taen the grue,
An’ winnae blithely hirsle through,
Ye’ve fund the very thing to do—
      That’s to drink speerit;
An’ shüne we’ll hear the last o’ you—
      An’ blithe to hear it!

The shoon ye coft, the life ye lead,
Ithers will heir when aince ye’re deid;
They’ll heir your tasteless bite o’ breid,
      An’ find it sappy;
They’ll to your dulefü’ house succeed,
      An’ there be happy.

p. 107As whan a glum an’ fractious wean
Has sat an’ sullened by his lane
Till, wi’ a rowstin’ skelp, he’s taen
      An’ shoo’d to bed—
The ither bairns a’ fa’ to play’n’,
      As gleg’s a gled.


It’s strange that God should fash to frame
   The yearth and lift sae hie,
An’ clean forget to explain the same
   To a gentleman like me.

They gutsy, donnered ither folk,
   Their weird they weel may dree;
But why present a pig in a poke
   To a gentleman like me?

They ither folk their parritch eat
   An’ sup their sugared tea;
But the mind is no to be wyled wi’ meat
   Wi’ a gentleman like me.

p. 109They ither folk, they court their joes
   At gloamin’ on the lea;
But they’re made of a commoner clay, I suppose,
   Than a gentleman like me.

They ither folk, for richt or wrang,
   They suffer, bleed, or dee;
But a’ thir things are an emp’y sang
   To a gentleman like me.

It’s a different thing that I demand,
   Tho’ humble as can be—
A statement fair in my Maker’s hand
   To a gentleman like me:

A clear account writ fair an’ broad,
   An’ a plain apologie;
Or the deevil a ceevil word to God
   From a gentleman like me.


Dear Thamson class, whaure’er I gang
It aye comes ower me wi’ a spang:
Lordsake! they Thamson lads—(deil hang
      Or else Lord mend them!)—
An’ that wanchancy annual sang
      I ne’er can send them!”

Straucht, at the name, a trusty tyke,
My conscience girrs ahint the dyke;
Straucht on my hinderlands I fyke
      To find a rhyme t’ ye;
Pleased—although mebbe no pleased-like—
      To gie my time t’ye.

p. 111Weel,” an’ says you, wi’ heavin’ breist,
Sae far, sae guid, but what’s the neist?
Yearly we gaither to the feast,
      A’ hopefü’ men
Yearly we skellochHang the beast
      Nae sang again!’”

My lads, an’ what am I to say?
Ye shürely ken the Muse’s way:
Yestreen, as gleg’s a tyke—the day,
      Thrawn like a cuddy:
Her conduc’, that to her’s a play,
      Deith to a body.

Aft whan I sat an’ made my mane,
Aft whan I laboured burd-alane
Fishin’ for rhymes an’ findin’ nane,
      Or nane were fit for ye—
Ye judged me cauld’s a chucky stane—
      No car’n’ a bit for ye!

p. 112But saw ye ne’er some pingein’ bairn
As weak as a pitaty-par’n’—
Less üsed wi’ guidin’ horse-shoe airn
      Than steerin’ crowdie—
Packed aff his lane, by moss an’ cairn,
      To ca’ the howdie.

Wae’s me, for the puir callant than!
He wambles like a poke o’ bran,
An’ the lowse rein, as hard’s he can,
      Pu’s, trem’lin’ handit;
Till, blaff! upon his hinderlan’
      Behauld him landit.

Sic-like—I awn the weary fac’—
Whan on my muse the gate I tak,
An’ see her gleed e’e raxin’ back
      To keek ahint her;—
To me, the brig o’ Heev’n gangs black
      As blackest winter.

p. 113Lordsake! we’re aff,” thinks I, “but whaur?
On what abhorred an’ whinny scaur,
Or whammled in what sea o’ glaur,
      Will she desert me?
An’ will she just disgrace? or waur
      Will she no hurt me?”

Kittle the quaere!  But at least
The day I’ve backed the fashious beast,
While she, wi’ mony a spang an’ reist,
      Flang heels ower bonnet;
An’ a’ triumphant—for your feast,
      Hae! there’s your sonnet!


The Lord Himsel’ in former days
Waled out the proper tünes for praise
An’ named the proper kind o’ claes
      For folk to preach in:
Preceese and in the chief o’ ways
      Important teachin’.

He ordered a’ things late and air’;
He ordered folk to stand at prayer,
(Although I cannae just mind where
      He gave the warnin’,)
An’ pit pomatum on their hair
      On Sabbath mornin’.

p. 115The hale o’ life by His commands
Was ordered to a body’s hands;
But see! this corpus juris stands
      By a’ forgotten;
An’ God’s religion in a’ lands
      Is deid an’ rotten.

While thus the lave o’ mankind’s lost,
O’ Scotland still God maks His boast—
Puir Scotland, on whase barren coast
      A score or twa
Auld wives wi’ mutches an’ a hoast
      Still keep His law.

In Scotland, a wheen canty, plain,
Douce, kintry-leevin’ folk retain
The Truth—or did so aince—alane
      Of a’ men leevin’;
An’ noo just twa o’ them remain—
      Just Begg an’ Niven.

p. 116For noo, unfaithfü’, to the Lord
Auld Scotland joins the rebel horde;
Her human hymn-books on the board
      She noo displays:
An’ Embro Hie Kirk’s been restored
      In popish ways.

O punctum temporis for action
To a’ o’ the reformin’ faction,
If yet, by ony act or paction,
      Thocht, word, or sermon,
This dark an’ damnable transaction
      Micht yet determine!

For see—as Doctor Begg explains—
Hoo easy ’t’s düne! a pickle weans,
Wha in the Hie Street gaither stanes
      By his instruction,
The uncovenantit, pentit panes
      Ding to destruction.

p. 117Up, Niven, or ower late—an’ dash
Laigh in the glaur that carnal hash;
Let spires and pews wi’ gran’ stramash
      Thegether fa’;
The rumlin’ kist o’ whustles smash
      In pieces sma’.

Noo choose ye out a walie hammer;
About the knottit buttress clam’er;
Alang the steep roof stoyt an’ stammer,
      A gate mis-chancy;
On the aul’ spire, the bells’ hie cha’mer,
      Dance your bit dancie.

Ding, devel, dunt, destroy, an’ ruin,
Wi’ carnal stanes the square bestrewin’,
Till your loud chaps frae Kyle to Fruin,
      Frae Hell to Heeven,
Tell the guid wark that baith are doin’—
      Baith Begg an’ Niven.


In a letter from Mr. Thomson to Mr. Johnstone.

In mony a foreign pairt I’ve been,
An’ mony an unco ferlie seen,
Since, Mr. Johnstone, you and I
Last walkit upon Cocklerye.
Wi’ gleg, observant een, I pass’t
By sea an’ land, through East an’ Wast,
And still in ilka age an’ station
Saw naething but abomination.
In thir uncovenantit lands
The gangrel Scot uplifts his hands

p. 119At lack of a’ sectarian füsh’n,
An’ cauld religious destitütion.
He rins, puir man, frae place to place,
Tries a’ their graceless means o’ grace,
Preacher on preacher, kirk on kirk—
This yin a stot an’ thon a stirk—
A bletherin’ clan, no warth a preen,
As bad as Smith of Aiberdeen!

At last, across the weary faem,
Frae far, outlandish pairts I came.
On ilka side o’ me I fand
Fresh tokens o’ my native land.
Wi’ whatna joy I hailed them a’—
The hilltaps standin’ raw by raw,
The public house, the Hielan’ birks,
And a’ the bonny U.P. kirks!
But maistly thee, the bluid o’ Scots,
Frae Maidenkirk to John o’ Grots,
p. 120The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it,
Talisker, Isla, or Glenlivet!

For after years wi’ a pockmantie
Frae Zanzibar to Alicante,
In mony a fash and sair affliction
I gie’t as my sincere conviction—
Of a’ their foreign tricks an’ pliskies,
I maist abominate their whiskies.
Nae doot, themsel’s, they ken it weel,
An’ wi’ a hash o’ leemon peel,
And ice an’ siccan filth, they ettle
The stawsome kind o’ goo to settle;
Sic wersh apothecary’s broos wi’
As Scotsmen scorn to fyle their moo’s wi’.

An’, man, I was a blithe hame-comer
Whan first I syndit out my rummer.
Ye should hae seen me then, wi’ care
The less important pairts prepare;
p. 121Syne, weel contentit wi’ it a’,
Pour in the sperrits wi’ a jaw!
I didnae drink, I didnae speak,—
I only snowkit up the reek.
I was sae pleased therein to paidle,
I sat an’ plowtered wi’ my ladle.

An’ blithe was I, the morrow’s morn,
To daunder through the stookit corn,
And after a’ my strange mishanters,
Sit doun amang my ain dissenters.
An’, man, it was a joy to me
The pu’pit an’ the pews to see,
The pennies dirlin’ in the plate,
The elders lookin’ on in state;
An’ ’mang the first, as it befell,
Wha should I see, sir, but yoursel’

I was, and I will no deny it,
At the first gliff a hantle tryit
p. 122To see yoursel’ in sic a station—
It seemed a doubtfü’ dispensation.
The feelin’ was a mere digression;
For shüne I understood the session,
An’ mindin’ Aiken an’ M‘Neil,
I wondered they had düne sae weel.
I saw I had mysel’ to blame;
For had I but remained at hame,
Aiblins—though no ava’ deservin’ ’t—
They micht hae named your humble servant.

The kirk was filled, the door was steeked;
Up to the pu’pit ance I keeked;
I was mair pleased than I can tell—
It was the minister himsel’!
Proud, proud was I to see his face,
After sae lang awa’ frae grace.
Pleased as I was, I’m no denyin’
Some maitters were not edifyin’;
p. 123For first I fand—an’ here was news!—
Mere hymn-books cockin’ in the pews—
A humanised abomination,
Unfit for ony congregation.
Syne, while I still was on the tenter,
I scunnered at the new prezentor;
I thocht him gesterin’ an’ cauld—
A sair declension frae the auld.
Syne, as though a’ the faith was wreckit,
The prayer was not what I’d exspeckit.
Himsel’, as it appeared to me,
Was no the man he üsed to be.
But just as I was growin’ vext
He waled a maist judeecious text,
An’, launchin’ into his prelections,
Swoopt, wi’ a skirl, on a’ defections.

O what a gale was on my speerit
To hear the p’ints o’ doctrine clearit,
p. 124And a’ the horrors o’ damnation
Set furth wi’ faithfü’ ministration!
Nae shauchlin’ testimony here—
We were a’ damned, an’ that was clear,
I owned, wi’ gratitude an’ wonder,
He was a pleisure to sit under.

p. 125XIII

Late in the nicht in bed I lay,
The winds were at their weary play,
An’ tirlin’ wa’s an’ skirlin’ wae
      Through Heev’n they battered;—
On-ding o’ hail, on-blaff o’ spray,
      The tempest blattered.

The masoned house it dinled through;
It dung the ship, it cowped the coo’.
The rankit aiks it overthrew,
      Had braved a’ weathers;
The strang sea-gleds it took an’ blew
      Awa’ like feathers.

p. 126The thrawes o’ fear on a’ were shed,
An’ the hair rose, an’ slumber fled,
An’ lichts were lit an’ prayers were said
      Through a’ the kintry;
An’ the cauld terror clum in bed
      Wi’ a’ an’ sindry.

To hear in the pit-mirk on hie
The brangled collieshangie flie,
The warl’, they thocht, wi’ land an’ sea,
      Itsel’ wad cowpit;
An’ for auld airn, the smashed debris
      By God be rowpit.

Meanwhile frae far Aldeboran,
To folks wi’ talescopes in han’,
O’ ships that cowpit, winds that ran,
      Nae sign was seen,
But the wee warl’ in sunshine span
      As bricht’s a preen.

p. 127I, tae, by God’s especial grace,
Dwall denty in a bieldy place,
Wi’ hosened feet, wi’ shaven face,
      Wi’ dacent mainners:
A grand example to the race
      O’ tautit sinners!

The wind may blaw, the heathen rage,
The deil may start on the rampage;—
The sick in bed, the thief in cage—
      What’s a’ to me?
Cosh in my house, a sober sage,
      I sit an’ see.

An’ whiles the bluid spangs to my bree,
To lie sae saft, to live sae free,
While better men maun do an’ die
      In unco places.
Whaur’s God?” I cry, an’ “Whae is me
      To hae sic graces?”

p. 128I mind the fecht the sailors keep,
But fire or can’le, rest or sleep,
In darkness an’ the muckle deep;
      An’ mind beside
The herd that on the hills o’ sheep
      Has wandered wide.

I mind me on the hoastin’ weans—
The penny joes on causey stanes—
The auld folk wi’ the crazy banes,
      Baith auld an’ puir,
That aye maun thole the winds an’ rains
      An’ labour sair.

An’ whiles I’m kind o’ pleased a blink,
An’ kind o’ fleyed forby, to think,
For a’ my rowth o’ meat an’ drink
      An’ waste o’ crumb,
I’ll mebbe have to thole wi’ skink
      In Kingdom Come.

p. 129For God whan jowes the Judgment bell,
Wi’ His ain Hand, His Leevin’ Sel’,
Sall ryve the guid (as Prophets tell)
      Frae them that had it;
And in the reamin’ pat o’ Hell,
      The rich be scaddit.

O Lord, if this indeed be sae,
Let daw that sair an’ happy day!
Again’ the warl’, grawn auld an’ gray,
      Up wi’ your aixe!
An’ let the puir enjoy their play—
      I’ll thole my paiks.


Of a’ the ills that flesh can fear,
The loss o’ frien’s, the lack o’ gear,
A yowlin’ tyke, a glandered mear,
      A lassie’s nonsense—
There’s just ae thing I cannae bear,
      An’ that’s my conscience.

Whan day (an’ a’ excüse) has gane,
An’ wark is düne, and duty’s plain,
An’ to my chalmer a’ my lane
      I creep apairt,
My conscience! hoo the yammerin’ pain
      Stends to my heart!

p. 131A’ day wi’ various ends in view
The hairsts o’ time I had to pu’,
An’ made a hash wad staw a soo,
      Let be a man!—
My conscience! whan my han’s were fu’,
      Whaur were ye than?

An’ there were a’ the lures o’ life,
There pleesure skirlin’ on the fife,
There anger, wi’ the hotchin’ knife
      Ground shairp in Hell—
My conscience!—you that’s like a wife!—
      Whaur was yoursel’?

I ken it fine: just waitin’ here,
To gar the evil waur appear,
To clart the guid, confüse the clear,
      Mis-ca’ the great,
My conscience! an’ to raise a steer
      Whan a’s ower late.

p. 132Sic-like, some tyke grawn auld and blind,
Whan thieves brok’ through the gear to p’ind,
Has lain his dozened length an’ grinned
      At the disaster;
An’ the morn’s mornin’, wud’s the wind,
      Yokes on his master.


(Whan the dear doctor, dear to a’,
Was still amang us here belaw,
I set my pipes his praise to blaw
      Wi’ a’ my speerit;
But noo, Dear Doctor! he’s awa’,
      An’ ne’er can hear it.)

By Lyne and Tyne, by Thames and Tees,
By a’ the various river-Dee’s,
In Mars and Manors ’yont the seas
      Or here at hame,
Whaure’er there’s kindly folk to please,
      They ken your name.

p. 134They ken your name, they ken your tyke,
They ken the honey from your byke;
But mebbe after a’ your fyke,
      (The trüth to tell)
It’s just your honest Rab they like,
      An’ no yoursel’.

As at the gowff, some canny play’r
Should tee a common ba’ wi’ care—
Should flourish and deleever fair
      His souple shintie—
An’ the ba’ rise into the air,
      A leevin’ lintie:

Sae in the game we writers play,
There comes to some a bonny day,
When a dear ferlie shall repay
      Their years o’ strife,
An’ like your Rab, their things o’ clay,
      Spreid wings o’ life.

p. 135Ye scarce deserved it, I’m afraid—
You that had never learned the trade,
But just some idle mornin’ strayed
      Into the schüle,
An’ picked the fiddle up an’ played
      Like Neil himsel’.

Your e’e was gleg, your fingers dink;
Ye didnae fash yoursel’ to think,
But wove, as fast as puss can link,
      Your denty wab:—
Ye stapped your pen into the ink,
      An’ there was Rab!

Sinsyne, whaure’er your fortune lay
By dowie den, by canty brae,
Simmer an’ winter, nicht an’ day,
      Rab was aye wi’ ye;
An’ a’ the folk on a’ the way
      Were blithe to see ye.

p. 136O sir, the gods are kind indeed,
An’ hauld ye for an honoured heid,
That for a wee bit clarkit screed
      Sae weel reward ye,
An’ lend—puir Rabbie bein’ deid—
      His ghaist to guard ye.

For though, whaure’er yoursel’ may be,
We’ve just to turn an’ glisk a wee,
An’ Rab at heel we’re shüre to see
      Wi’ gladsome caper:—
The bogle of a bogle, he—
      A ghaist o’ paper!

And as the auld-farrand hero sees
In Hell a bogle Hercules,
Pit there the lesser deid to please,
      While he himsel’
Dwalls wi’ the muckle gods at ease
      Far raised frae hell:

p. 137Sae the true Rabbie far has gane
On kindlier business o’ his ain
Wi’ aulder frien’s; an’ his breist-bane
      An’ stumpie tailie,
He birstles at a new hearth stane
      By James and Ailie.

p. 138XVI

It’s an owercome sooth for age an’ youth
   And it brooks wi’ nae denial,
That the dearest friends are the auldest friends
   And the young are just on trial.

There’s a rival bauld wi’ young an’ auld
   And it’s him that has bereft me;
For the sürest friends are the auldest friends
   And the maist o’ mines hae left me.

There are kind hearts still, for friends to fill
   And fools to take and break them;
But the nearest friends are the auldest friends
   And the grave’s the place to seek them.


p. 139Printed by R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinburgh.


[27]  Life on the Lagoons, by H. F. Brown, originally burned in the fire at Messrs. Kegan Paul, Trench. and Co.’s.

[66]  From Travels with a Donkey.

[67]  From Travels with a Donkey.