BETA

A Greek Pastoral.

Where proud Olympus rears his head,1
As white as the pall of the sheeted dead,2
And mingling with the clouds that sail3
On heaven’s pure bosom, softly pale,4
Till men believe that the hoary cloud5
Is part of the mountain’s mighty shroud,6
While far below, in lovely guise,7
The enchanted vale of Tempe lies,8
There sat a virgin of peerless fame,—9
Thessalia, sweetest, comeliest dame !—10
Gazing upon the silver stream,11
As if in a rapt Elysian dream.12
Far far below her glowing eye,13
Standing on an inverted sky,14
Where clouds and mountains seem’d to swingle,15
And Ossa with Olympus mingle,16
She saw a youth of manly hue,17
In robes of green and azure blue,18
Of grape, of orange, and of rose,19
And every dye the rainbow knows ; 20
The nodding plumes his temples graced,21
His sword was girded to his waist :22
And much that maiden’s wonder grew,23
At a vision so comely and so new ;24
And, in her simplicity of heart,25
She ween’d it all the enchanter’s art.26
As straining her eyes adown the steep,27
At this loved phantom of the deep,28
She conjured him to ascend, and bless29
With look of love his shepherdess.30
And when she beheld him mount the tide,31
With eagle eye and stately stride,32
She spread her arms and her bavaroy,33
And scream’d with terror and with joy.34
The comely shade, approaching still35
To the surface of the silent rill,36
Beckon’d the maid with courteous grace,37
And look’d her fondly in the face38
Till even that look she could not bear,39
It was so witching and so dear.40
She turn’d her eyes back from the flood,41
And there a Scottish warrior stood,42
Of noble rank and noble mien,43
And glittering in his tartans sheen.44
She neither fainted, scream’d, nor fled,45
But there she sat astonished ;46
Her eyes o’er his form and features ran,—47
She turn’d to the shadow, then the man,48
Till at last she fix’d a look serene49
Upon the stranger’s manly mien ;50
Her ruby lips fell wide apart,51
High beat her young and guileless heart,52
Which of itself reveal’d the tale,53
By the quiverings of its snowy veil ;54
A living statue feminine,55
A model cast in mould divine ;56
There she reclined, enchanted so,57
She moved not finger, eye, nor toe,58
For fear one motion might dispel59
The great enchanter’s thrilling spell :60
“’Tis all enchantment !  Such a grace61
Ne’er ray’d a human virgin’s face !62
Tis all enchantment, rock and river,—63
May the illusion last for ever !”64
Exclaim’d the youth— “ O, maiden dear,65
Are such enchantments frequent here ?”66
Yes, very !” said this mould of love,67
But hand or eye she did not move,68
But whispering said,69
As if afraid70
Her breath would melt the comely shade,71
Yes, very ! This enchanted stream72
Has visions raised in maiden’s dream,73
Of lovers’ joys, and bowers of bliss,74
But never aught so sweet as this.75
O pass not like fleeting cloud away,76
Last, dear illusion !— last for aye !77
And tell me, if on earth there dwell78
Men suiting woman’s love so well.”79

YOUTH.

I came from the isle of the evening sun,80
Where the solans roost, and the wild deers run,81
Where the giant oaks have a gnarled form,82
And the hills are coped with the cloud and the storm,83
Where the hoar frost gleams on the valleys and brakes,84
And a ceiling of crystal roofs the lakes ;85
And there are warriors in that land,86
With helm on head and sword in hand,87
And tens of thousands roving free,88
All robed and fair as him you see.89
I took the field to lead my own90
Forward to glory and renown ;91
I learn’d to give the warrior word,92
I learn’d to sway the warrior’s sword,93
Till a strange enchantment on me fell,—94
How I came here I cannot tell.95
There came to the field an old grey man,96
With a silver beard and a visage wan,97
And out of the lists he beckon’d me,98
And began with a tale of mystery,99
Which soon, despite of all control,100
Took captive my surrender’d soul.101
With a powerful sway,102
It roll’d away,103
Till evening dropp’d her curtain grey,104
And the bittern’s cry105
Was heard on high,106
And the lamps of glory begemm’d the sky ;107
Yet still the amazing tale proceeded,108
And still I follow’d, and still I heeded,—109
For darkness or light,110
The day, or the night,111
The last or the first,112
Or hunger or thirst, 113
To me no motive could impart,—114
It was only the tale that charm’d my heart.115
We posted on till the morning sun,116
And still the tale was never done117
Faster and faster the old man went,118
Faster and faster I ran, intent119
That tale of mystery out to hear,120
Till the ocean’s roll-call met my ear121
For the forest was past, and the shore was won,122
And still the tale was never done.123
He took to a boat, but said no word,124
I follow’d him in of my own accord,125
And spread the canvass to the wind,126
For I had no power to stay behind :127
We sail’d away, and we sail’d away,128
I cannot tell how many a day,—129
But the winsome moon did wax and wane,130
And the stars dropp’d blood on the azure main,131
And still my soul with burning zeal132
Lived on the magic of that tale,133
Till we came to this enchanted river,134
When the old grey man was gone for ever.135
He faded like vapour before the sun,136
And in a moment the tale was done.137
And here am I left,138
Of all bereft,139
Except this zone of heavenly weft,140
With the flowers of Paradise inwove,141
The soft and silken bands of love.142
Art thou the angel of this glade,143
A peri, or a mortal maid ?144

MAIDEN.

It is all enchantment ! Once on a time145
I dwelt in a distant eastern clime,—146
O many a thousand miles away,147
Where our day is night, and our night is day,148
Where beauty of woman is no bliss,149
And the Tigris flows a stream like this.150
I was a poor and fatherless child,151
And my dwelling was in the woodland wild,152
Where the elves waylaid me out and in ;153
And my mother knew them by their din,154
And charm’d them away from our little cot,155
For her eyes could see them, but mine could not.156
One summer night, which I never can rue,157
I dream’d a dream that turn’d out true.158
I thought I stray’d on enchanted ground,159
Where all was beauty round and round ;160
The copse and the flowers were full in bloom,161
And the breeze was loaden with rich perfume.162
There I saw two golden butterflies,163
That shone like the sun in a thousand dyes ;164
And the eyes on their wings that glow’d amain,165
Were like the eyes on the peacock’s train.166
I did my best167
To steal on their rest,168
As they ae on the cowslip’s damask breast ;169
But my aim they knew,170
And shyer they grew,171
And away from flower to flower they flew.172
Iran, I bounded as on wings,173
For my heart was set on the lovely things,174
And I call’d, and conjured them to stay,175
But they led me on, away, away !176
Till they brought me to enchanted ground,177
When a drowsiness my senses bound ;178
And when I sat me down to rest,179
They came and they flutter’d round my breast ;180
And when I laid me down to sleep,181
They lull’d me into a slumber deep,182
And I heard them singing, my breast above,183
A strain that seem’d a strain of love ;—184
It was sung in a shrill and soothing tone,185
By many voices join’d in one.186

Cradle Song of the Elves.

I.

Hush thee, rest thee, harmless dove !187
Child of pathos, and child of love !188
Thy father is laid189
In his cold deathbed,190
Where waters encircle the lowly dead ;191
But his rest is sweet192
In his winding-sheet,193
And his spirit lies at his Saviour’s feet.194
Then hush thee, rest thee, child of bliss !195
Thou flower of the Eastern wilderness !196

II.

Thy mother has waked in her cot of the wild,197
And has wail’d for the loss of her only child ;198
But the prayer is said,199
And the tear is shed;200
And her trust in her God unaltered ;201
But O, if she knew202
Of thy guardians true,203
And the scenes of bliss that await for you,204
She would hymn her joys to the throne above.—205
Hush thee, rest thee, child of love206

III.

Hush thee, rest thee, fatherless one !207
Joy is before thee, and joy alone ;208
There is not a fay that haunts the wild,209
That has power to hurt the orphan child :210
For the angels of light,211
In glory bedight,212
Are hovering around by day and by night,—213
A charge being given214
To spirits of heaven,215
That the elves of malice afar be driven.216
Then hush thee, rest thee, lovely creature !217
Till a change is wrought in thy mortal nature.218
When I awoke from this dreamless slumber,219
There were beings around me without number :220
They had human faces, of heaven beaming,221
And wings upon their shoulders streaming ;222
Their eyes had a soft unearthly flame,223
And their lovely locks were all the same ;224
Their voices like those of children young,225
And their language was not said, but sung:—226
I ween’d myself in the home above,227
Among beings of happiness and love.228
Then they laid me down so lightsome and boon,229
In a veil that was like a beam of the moon,230
Or a ray of the morning, passing fair,231
And wove in the loom of the gossamer ;232
And they bore me aloft, over tower and tree,233
And over the land, and over the sea :234
There were seven times seven on either side,235
And their dazzling robes stream’d far and wide.236
It was such a sight as man ne’er saw,237
Which pencil of heaven alone could draw,238
If dipp’d in the morning’s glorious dye,239
Or the gorgeous tints of the evening sky,240
Or in the bright celestial river,241
The fountain of light, that wells for ever.242
But whither they bore me, and what befell,243
For the soul that’s within me, I dare not tell ;244
No language could make you to conceive it,245
And if you did, you would not believe it :246
But after a thousand visions past,247
This is my resting-place at last.248
These flocks and fields they gave to me,249
And they crown’d me the Queen of Thessaly.250
And since that time, I must confess251
I’ve no experience had of less252
Than perfectest, purest happiness ;253
And now I tremble lest love’s soft spell254
Should break the peace I love so well.”255

YOUTH.

No, love is the source of all that’s sweet,256
And only for happy beings meet,—257
The bond of creation since time began,258
That brought the grace of heaven to man.259
Let us bathe in its bliss without control,260
And love with all the heart and soul ;261
For mine are with thee, and only thee,262
Thou Queen of the maidens of Thessaly.”263

MAIDEN.

If thou couldst love as a virgin can,264
And not as sordid, selfish man ;265
If thy love for me266
From taint were as free267
As the evening breeze from the Sulon sea,268
Or the odours hale269
Of the morning gale,270
Breathed over the flowers of Tempe’s vale ;271
And no endearment or embrace,272
That would raise a blush on a virgin’s face,273
Or a saint’s below, or a spirit’s above,274
Then I could love !— O as I could love !”275

YOUTH.

Thou art too gentle, pure, and good,276
For a lover of earthly flesh and blood ;277
But I will love thee and cherish thee so,278
As a maiden was never loved here below ;279
With a heavenly aim,280
And a holy flame,281
And an endearment that wants a name ;282
I will lead thee where the breeze is lightest,283
And where the fountain wells the brightest,284
Where the nightingale laments the oftest,285
And where the buds of flowers are softest.286
There in the glade,287
My lovely maid288
I will fold within this rainbow plaid ;289
I will press her to my faithful breast,290
And watch her calm and peaceful rest,291
And o’er each aspiration dear,292
I will breathe a prayer to Mercy’s ear,—293
And no embrace or kiss shall be,294
That a saint in heaven will blush to see.”295
Then the Maiden sunk on his manly breast,296
As the tabernacle of her rest ;297
And as there, with closed eyes she lay,298
She almost sigh’d her soul away,299
As she gave her hand to the stranger guest,300
The comely youth of the stormy west.—301
Thus ends my yearly offering bland,302
The Laureate’s Lay of the Fairy Land.*303

* “ We have to remind such of our readers as are well acquainted with the poetry
of the Ettrick Shepherd, that to feel the full power of his genius, we must go with
him
Beyond this visible diurnal sphere,’
and walk through the shadowy world of the imagination. It is here, where Burns
was weakest, that he is most strong. The airy beings, that to the impassioned soul
of Burns seemed cold—bloodless—and unattractive—rise up in irresistible loveliness
in their own silent domains, before the dreamy fancy of the gentle-hearted Shepherd.
The still green beauty of the pastoral hills and vales where he passed his youth, inspi-
red him with ever-brooding visions of fairy-land—till, as he lay musing in his lonely
sheiling the world of fantasy seemed, in the clear depths of his imagination, a love-
lier reflection of that of nature—like the hills and heavens more softly shining in the
water of his native lake. Whenever he treats of fairy-land, his language insensibly
becomes, as it were, soft, wild, and aerial—we could almost think that we heard the
voice of one of the fairy-folk. Still and serene images seem to rise up with the wild
music of the versification—and the poet deludes us, for the time, into an unquestioning
and satisfied belief in the existence of ‘ those green realms of bliss’ of which he him-
self seems to be a native minstrel.
In this department of pure poetry, the Ettrick Shepherd has, among his own
countrymen at least, no competitor. He is the poet laureate of the Court of Faëry—
and we have only to hope he will at least sing an annual song as the tenure by which
he holds his deserved honours.” Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. iv. pp. 528, 9.