BETA

THE SONG OF AN AGED BARD.

FROM THE GAELIC.

[ Tradition does not inform us who was the author of the following poem
nor is it known in what age it was composed. It is obviously to be in-
ferred, however, from internal evidence, that it is of great antiquity. It is
the only Gaelic lyric extant which professes to have been composed previ-
ous to the fifteenth century ; for the reputed works of Ossian and other
contemporary bards, and the imperfect poem entitled Mordu, all belong
to the class of heroic poetry. Two translations have already appeared, one
in measured prose, by John Clark, author of The Caledonian Bards, the
other in rhyme, by Mrs Grant of Laggan. Both these were made from in-
correct copies ; and this, with the translators’ ignorance of old Gaelic, led
them to misunderstand the whole tenor of the poem, besides committing many
minor mistakes. Clark further imitated Macpherson’s Ossian, though the
style of that celebrated work is very different from that of our Bard. The
following version is literal—almost verbal—except in a few instances where
the true Gaelic idiom is so different, that a very close rendering would not convey
the true sense of the original. The Gaelic consists throughout of quatrains
in iambic dimeters, the third line rhyming with the first, and the forth with
the second.]
Oh ! set me down beside the brook1
Which travels slow with tranquil steps ;2
Beneath the foliage lay my head.3
Be thou, O Sun ! to me benign.4
Lay softly on the grass my side,5
On bank of flowers and gentle winds ;6
And lave my foot in the peaceful bourn,7
As, still, it curves along the plain.8
Now fair primroses of beauteous hue9
Surround my verdant height, be-
dew’d
10
With little daisies, and my hand11
Rests on a green of fragrant violets.12
Around my valley’s lofty banks13
Are bending boughs with blossoms
clad,
14
While the warblers of the bushes
chant.
15
On aged rocks, their songs of love.16
There bursts from thickly-ivied
rocks,
17
With murmurs sweet, a fountain
fresh,
18
While Echo, that returns each sound,19
Replies to the flood of noisy waves.20
I hear on the wing of the gale21
The gentle lowing of the folds ;22
Soon will the flocks reply when they
hear
23
Their young, and hither run.24
Every mount and hill reply25
To the frisky heifers’ lowing shrill.26
Now I hear a thousand sounds27
Rebounding around, on every side.28
Around me are gamboling calves,29
Beside the stream and on the plain ;30
The little kid, of sporting tired,31
Beside me fearless lies to sleep.32
Oh, now I hear a hunter’s steps,33
With hissing darts, and nimble dogs !34
Then does youth beam upon my cheek35
When rises the clamour of a deer-
chase.
36
The marrow in my bones revives,37
When I hear the sounds of horns, and
hounds, and bows.
38
When they cry, “ The hart has fall-
en !
” my soles
39
Spring lively up the steeps of hills !40
Now do I see, methinks, the hound41
That used to follow me at morn and
eve,
42
And the mountains I delighted to
frequent,
43
And the rocks that echo’d to my horn.44
I see the grot that hospitably and oft45
Received our steps from the gloom of
night,
46
Our gladness waked before its fire ;47
In the solace of bowls there was great joy.48
From venison rose the smoke of our
repast ;
49
Our drink from Treig ; * our music[was the wave.50
Though spirits shriek’d, and moun-
tains roar’d,
51
Stretch’d in the grot how sweet was[our repose.52
I see Benard, of fairest hue,53
The chief of a thousand mountains ;54
Among its locks dream the harts ;55
Its head is the bed of clouds.56
I see above thy vale, Scureilt,57
Where first is heard the cuckoo’s
sweet ;
58
And blue Melall of thousand firs,59
Of many herbs, and roes, and elks.60
The wild-ducks swift and merry swim61
Yon lake of water-lilies smooth,62
That show their green leaves on its
face,
63
Its sides adorn’d with mountain ash.64
The beauteous snowy-breasted swan65
Swims graceful on the rising wave.66
When she wings her flight aloft,67
Among the clouds, she never tires.68
Oft she flies across the main69
To the cold haunt of many seals,70
Where rises not to a mast a sail,71
Nor oaken prow divides a wave.72
Approach the place of my repose,73
Thou who singest thy beloved’s
dirge :
74
Lone swan, from the sea-bound land,75
Let me hear thy music in thy flight.76
What is the land whence blows the
wind
77
Which hither bears the plaintive words78
Of the youth who roved afar,79
And helpless left my hoary locks ?80
Dost thou still shed tears for the fair
nymph
81
Of softest grace and whitest hand ? ‡82
Endless joy to the tender cheek’d,83
Who will never leave the narrow
bed !
84
Do thou arise with thy mournful lays85
To tell me all the tales of woe.86
Echo will listen to the music,87
And send aloft the soothing strains.88
Spread thy sails upon the deep,89
And hither speed with all the
might ;
90
With pleasure shall my ear receive91
The broken-hearted’s song’s of love.92
Tell him, for my eyes have fail’d,93
Tell where the feeble reed abides,94
With mournful voice, beside the speck-
led fish
95
Reclining on his useless shield.96
Now lift me, ye whose arms are strong,97
And lay me under fragrant boughs,98
That when the sun has risen high,99
Their virent leaves may shade afford.100
Then come thou, O sweet memory !101
That movest quick’midst distant years ;102
Display the actions of my youth,103
Recall to mind my times of joy.104
O see, my soul ! the damsel fair,105
Beneath the oak, the king of trees ;106
Her showy hand among her golden
locks,
107
Her soft eye on the youth of her love.108
He singing at her side ; she mute,109
With panting heart that in his music
joys—
110
To which stop to listen the deer—111
Love wafted alternate from their eyes.112

* There are a small lake and stream in Lochaber which still bear this name.
† Gaelic, lon. This word is generally understood to mean an elk. It is now quite
obsolete, and is found nowhere but in old poems.
‡ The bard here addresses his son. The next three or four stanzas are obscure.
Mr Clark translated from a different version. As the traditional account which he
gives of this part may render it more intelligible, it is here subjoined.
The bard, who was himself a chief, had an only son, who fell deeply in love with
Lavinia, (Lavin ?) the beautiful daughter of Thalbar. Lavinia was drowned as she
was bathing in the lake of Triga, (Treig ?) Morlav, the bard’s son, becoming despe-
rate, sailed for the Orkney Isles, hoping to fall in the wars of that prince, who was then
at variance with the King of Norway. His valour and good conduct, however, gained him
great fame ; and after the Norwegians were defeated and expelled the Isles, the Prince,
in consideration of his services and personal merit, offered Morlav his daughter in mar-
riage, which he refused, and retired to a cave in a lonely isle, where his father heard
that he still continued to mourn his lost Lavinia.”
Now hush’d the lay ; her soft, white,
breast
113
Is press’d unto her lover’s heart,114
And he with ardour oft salutes115
Her blooming cheeks like roses
red.
116
May happiness attend that age117
Whose joys return in dreams alone ;118
And blest, my dear one, be thy soul,119
O gentle dame of tresses fair !120
Hast thou forsaken me, charming
vision ?
121
Return, a little while return.122
Alas ! thou hearest not unhappy me !123
Beloved mountains, now farewell !124
Farewell, ye sprightly sons of youth,125
Ye beauteous maids, farewell !126
I see you not ; yours is the gladness127
Of summer ; eternal winter now is
mine.
128
Oh ! bear me near the sounding fall,129
That pours with murmurs from the
rock ;
130
Beside me lay my harp and shell,131
And the shield which shelter’d my
sires in war.
132
Come thou mildly over the deep,133
O friendly gale ! that movest slow ;134
And bear my shade upon thy wings,135
With speed unto the Nobles’ Isle.*136
Where are the heroes that lived of
old,
137
Who, sleepless, listen to their songs ?138
Open your hall, Ossian and Dâlo ;139
By night the bard is no more !140
But oh ! before my shade depart141
To the final abode of bards on high,142
Give me once more my harp and
shell,
143
Then, loved harp and shell, adieu !144

* Gaelic—Flad-innis. The heaven of the old Scots. None of the Highland bards
who lived subsequent to the universal prevalence of Christianity talk in this strain ; and
therefore it is to be inferred that the author of this poem flourished previous to that
period.