Torquil and Oona.

The bright brief summer of the western isles1
Burst on grey rocks, yet wet with winter’s wrath,2
When Torquil, the brown fisher of the Kyles,3
Courted the blue-eyed Oona of the Strath.4
Lovers they were ; and, when the beauteous world5
Was sweetening onward to the wedding-day,6
Great clouds of sea-birds dipped, and wheeled, and skirled,7
O’er finny droves in every creek and bay.8
And every fisher started to his feet :9
All day they laboured with a hearty will,10
And wives and children watched the tawny fleet11
Stand out to sea beyond the crimson hill.12
Save Torquil’s only, with the morning light13
The boats came laden homewards. One by one14
Dragged the long hours, and Oona strained her sight15
To pluck a sail from out the sinking sun.16
The conflagration of the dawn arose17
Upon a woman wringing piteous hands,18
With long hair streaming in a wind that blows19
White wraiths of foam that beckon o’er the sands ;20
And, ever as she went from place to place21
Along the shore, or up the purple fells,22
She saw the glimmer of a drownèd face,23
And brown hair trailing in a wave that swells.24
And aye she sang of boats upset in squalls,25
Of sailors that will never buried be26
Tossed on the grey wave as it leaps and falls,27
And torn by the wild fishes of the sea :—28
Thy mother fondly hung above thy bed,29
And clothed thy shoulders with her careful hand ;30
But now the billow heaves thy naked head,31
And haps thee with the blanket of the sand.32
The shirt I made for thee is wet, my dear ;33
Blue is the mouth I kissed, and blue the nails ;34
Yet, sleeping by thy side, I would not fear35
The coiling sea-snakes, and the shadowing whales.”36
And, conscious she was dying, oft she prayed37
The sole request for which her heart had room38
That God would pity her, and have her laid39
Beside her Torquil in his moving tomb.40
A little while, and she was laid at rest,41
With white hands crossed upon the snowy lawn ;42
A cruize of salt upon her frozen breast,43
And candles burning round her till the dawn.44
Her fathers slept within a desert isle,45
The dreariest mustering place of sullen waves,46
In midst whereof a grey religious pile47
Looks through the misty wind that shrills and raves.48
A broken wall surrounds the field of dead ;49
The gate stands open for no man to pass ;50
And carven crosses with their runes unread51
Lie sunken in a sea of withered grass.52
And thither will they bear her ; for the Celt,53
Although his track comes reddening down with feud54
From out the sunrise, evermore has felt,55
Like a religion, ties and dues of blood.56
The simple people stood around the doors,57
And, in the splendour of the morn, a line58
Of drying nets flapped round the idle shores ;59
Brown dulse-beds glistened in the heaving brine.60
The kinsmen bore the body to the strand ;61
Within the boat full tenderly ’twas laid,62
And, lying there, some reverential hand63
Around the coffin wrapt her lover’s plaid.64
And onward sailed the bark, the while the crowd,65
Ranged on the shore, a decent silence kept ;66
And, while it hung a speck ’twixt wave and cloud,67
A mother, lingering, sea-ward looked and wept.68
And, when the day along the splintered line69
Of purple Coolin sank divinely fair,70
And homeward lowed the mighty-uddered kine,71
And the long rookery creaked through coloured air,72
The men returned. As at a witch’s call73
A tempest rose, they told, and, as it came74
Blackening, it broke, and through the solid squall75
Fluttered the linked and many-sheeted flame ;76
And some one cried, “’Tis Torquil claims the dead ;”77
And how, when in the wave the corse they threw,78
The darkness cracked in sunshine over head,79
And ocean glittered ’neath the sudden blue.80
And one stood listening to the simple folk81
Old Ronald, by a century of woe82
Made hoary as a lichen-bearded rock,83
Bent like a branch beneath a load of snow.84
He once beheld along the making tide85
Pale death-fires burning for a boat, which then86
Waited, safe-moored, for bridegroom and for bride,87
Grave priest, and troops of dancing maids and men.88
Oft sitting by the fire on winter nights,89
When round the huts the wind a descant sung90
Of wrecks and drowning men, disastrous sights91
And ancient battles lived upon his tongue.92
So, when the boatmen ceased, and watery slips,93
Red-glazed with sunset, faded in the sands,94
Grey Ronald stood apart with murmuring lips ;95
Then, smit with passion, raised his voice and hands:—96
Within the awful midnight of the sea,97
Where nothing moves, these twain have found a grave :98
Was it for this on windless nights to me99
The fatal glow-worms glimmered on the wave ?100
Though not for us that tender cure of grief,101
When the red naked grave that jars and stings102
Falls from its shape, and, greening leaf by leaf,103
Melts in the mass of long-familiar things,104
Until, upon a sunny Sabbath day,105
Within the grassy churchyard friends will stand,106
With no sharp pang that the low-mounded clay107
Once laughed aloud and gave a friendly hand108
Though from our hearts Time never thus will lure109
Remembrance, yet we know the twain that fled,110
Happier than we, inherit the secure111
And measureless contentment of the dead ;112
That they, knit up by death from strokes of ill,113
Are with us, fairer, nobler than before114
Sweet Oona in the sunrise on the hill,115
Brown Torquil in the murmur of the shore.116
When the innumerous snow-flake blinds the vale,117
And wreaths are spinning o’er the huddled sheep,118
When the long reef of breakers in the gale119
Roars for men’s lives, they dwell in happy sleep.120
Think of them when the summer sunset flares121
Down through the world of waters in the west,122
And when from shore to shore the ocean wears123
A mesh of glittering moonlight on its breast.”124