Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

than was known in the domains of peasant-life. The fondness for revelry had not yet begun to work its mischief upon him; and, while free from the sting of selfreproach and the misery of a dangerous indulgence, he was able to rouse the feeling of nationality on the subject of Scotch drink, and to give a poetic dignity to distilled liquors. The spirit of Pindar's first Olympic ode—the praise of water and the panegyric on the Sicilian ring— breathes in Burns's stanzas, giving as they do a dignity, a sublimity to strong drink, by a grand effort of imagination in associating it with the dying Highland soldier:

“Bring a Scotsman frae his hill,
Clap in his cheek a highland gill,
Say such is Royal George's will,
And there’s the foe!
He has nae thought but how to kill
Twa at a blow.

“Nae cauld, faint-hearted doubtings tease him.
Death comes; wit fearless eye he sees him,
Wi’ bluidy hand a welcome gies him;
- And, when he fa’s,
His latest draught o’ breathing lea’es him
In faint huzzas. -

“Sages their solemn e'en may steek,
An’ raise a philosophic reek,
An' physically causes seek,
In clime and season.
But tell me Whisky’s name in Greek,
I’ll tell the reason.”

It seems to have been reserved for Burns, in one of the genial moods of the better part of his life, to

[ocr errors]

give a picture, at once humorous and elevated, of tipsyIlêSS :

“The clachan yill had made me canty,
I was na fou, but just had plenty;
I stachered whyles, but yet took tent aye
To free the ditches;
An' hillocks, stanes, and bushes kenned aye
Frae ghaists and witches.

“The rising moon began to glower
The distant Cumnock hills out owre;
To count her horns wi' a' my pow'r,
I set mysel;
But whether she had three or four,
I could na tell.”

The most propitious era of the poet's life was that por. tion of it spent at the Mossgeil Farm. The cottage, with its few acres, had been taken by the two brothers, with the dutiful and affectionate purpose of providing a shelter for their parents and the determination of earning their subsistence by manly labour. It was there made manifest that Scotland was in possession of a great national poet. The early inspirations of the Scottish Muse had been given to the indwellers of a palace,—the ancient King James Stuart; and, after poetry had declined with the decline of the national spirit, in consequence of the union of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland, after the lapse of centuries it was reanimated in the humble clay cottage of Mossgeil Farm. The poet's life was the outdoor-life of a labourer in the fields; he was in perpetual and quickly-sensitive communion with nature; and here especially was gained the glory of the peasantpoet of Scotland. The poetry of Burns was as indigenous as the thistle; it was a pure native growth, as different as possible from the trim, unnatural exotics which had been cultivated with hothouse temperature and method. The freshness of old Chaucer's genius seemed to be breathing again upon British poetry. The longlost honours given by the chief of the early poets to the lowliest flower of the field, as I noticed in a former lecture, was now restored, when Burns suddenly checked his plough at the sight of the mountain-daisy looking up to him from the mid-furrows. It was a moment of genuine poetic inspiration; for, while actually holding the plough, his imagination fashioned itself into musical words:—

“Wee, modest, crimson-tippéd flower,
Thou’s met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure
Thy slender stem;
To spare thee now is past my power,
Thou bonnie gem.

“Alas! it's no’ thy meebor sweet,
The bonnie Lark, companion meet,
Bending thee 'mang the dewy weet,
Wi’ spreckled breast,
When upward-springing, blithe, to greet
The purpling East.

“Cauld blew the bitter-biting North
Upon thy early, humble birth;
Yet cheerfully thouglinted forth
Amid the storm,
Scarce reared above the parent-earth
Thy tender form.

Ol. II.

[ocr errors]

“The flaunting flowers our gardens yield,
High sheltering woods and wa's maun shield;
But thou, beneath the random bield .
O’ clod or stane,
Adorns the histie stibble-field,
Unseen, alane.

“There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
Thy snawie bosom Sunward spread,
Thou lifts thy unassuming head
In humble guise;
But now the share up-tears thy bed,
And low thou lies

“Such is the fate of artless maid,
Sweet floweret of the rural shade 1
By love's simplicity betrayed,
And guileless trust,
Till she, like thee, all soiled, is laid
Low i' the dust.

* Such is the fate of simple bard,
On life's rough ocean luckless starred:
Unskilful he to note the card
Of prudent lore,
Till billows rage, and gales blow hard,
And whelm him o'er.

“Such fate to suffering worth is given,

Who long with wants and woes has striven

By human pride or cunning driven
To misery's brink,

Till, wrenched of every stay but Heaven,
He, ruined, sink!

* Even thou who mourn'st the Daisy’s fate,
That fate is thine,—no distant date;
Stern Ruin's ploughshare drives elate,
Full on thy bloom,
Till crushed beneath the furrow’s weight
Shall be thy doom l’” -
3

Who can fail to feel that this was

“Indeed a genuine birth,
Of poetry:--a bursting forth
Of genius from the dust 7”

What a strain of truth and imagination, manly and tender-hearted | Compare Burns with Pope in descriptive poetry, comparison in other departments would be ill-judged, the grotto at Twickenham with the bleak Mossgeil mountain-side; and how redolent of nature is this little poem It has the freshness and grateful odour that arises from the new furrows of a ploughed field. In that singular collection, the “Medical Remains of the great Lord Bacon,” one of the fanciful prescriptions for the prolongation of life and the renewing of health was, in an early hour, after the sun is risen, to take an air from some high and open place with a ventilation of roses and fresh violets, and to stir the earth with infusion of wine and mint. Poetry in the eighteenth century seemed to need some such renovation; and, after her long confinement in the close air of an artificial system, the peasantpoet of Scotland ministered to her health. When Burns, in the rapt mood of inspiration, was standing with his hand on the plough, how little could he have dreamed that the music thus rising in his heart would wing its flight as far as the English language, the spirit of every true Scotsman, whether in the centre of British India or at the farthest west of the wilds of America, kindling at the recollection of that one mountain-daisy The criticism which more than any other delights me is that which may sometimes, though rarely, be discovered in the response made by the imagination of one poet to that

« AnteriorContinuar »