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ODE ON THE POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS OF
THE HIGHLANDS OF SCOTLAND;
AS THE SUBJECT OF POETRY ;
TO MR. JOHN HOME.
Home, thou return'st from Thames, whose Naiads
long Have seen thee lingering with a fond delay, 'Mid those soft friends, whose hearts, some fu
ture day, Shall melt, perhaps, to hear thy tragic song.. Go, not unmindful of that cordial youth e
Whom, long endear'd, thou leavest by Levant's
Together let us wish him lasting truth,
And joy untainted with his destined bride. Go! nor regardless, while these numbers boast
My short-lived bliss, forget my social name; 10 But think, far off, how, on the southern coast,
I met thy friendship with an equal flame!
d How truly did Collins predict Home's tragic powers!
e A gentleman of the name of Barrow, who introduced Home to Collins.
Fresh to that soil thou turn’st, where every vale
Shall prompt the poet, and his song demand : To thee thy copious subjects ne'er shall fail ;
Thou need'st but take thy pencil to thy hand, And paint what all believe, who own thy genial
There, must thou wake perforce thy Doric quill;
'Tis Fancy's land to which thou sett'st thy feet;
Where still, 'tis said, the fairy people meet, 20 Beneath each birken shade, on mead or hill. There, each trim lass, that skims the milky store,
To the swart tribes their creamy bowls allots ; By night they sip it round the cottage door,
While airy minstrels warble jocund notes. There, every herd, by sad experience, knows
How, wing’d with fate, their elf-shot arrows fly, When the sick ewe her summer food foregoes, Or, stretch'd on earth, the heart-smit heifers
lie. Such airy beings awe the untutor'd swain : Nor thou, though learn'd, his homelier thoughts
neglect; Let thy sweet muse the rural faith sustain ;
These are the themes of simple, sure effect, That add new conquests to her boundless reign, And fill, with double force, her heart-command
E'en yet preserved, how often mayst thou hear,
Where to the pole the Boreal mountains run,
Taught by the father, to his listening son, Strange lays, whose power had charm'd a Spen
ser's ear. At every pause, before thy mind possest,
Old Runic bards shall seem to rise around, With uncouth lyres, in many-colour'd vest,
Their matted hair with boughs fantastic crown'd: Whether thou bidst the well taught hind repeat The choral dirge, that mourns some chieftain
brave, When every shrieking maid her bosom beat, And strew'd with choicest herbs his scented
grave! Or whether, sitting in the shepherd's shiel,
Thou hear'st some sounding tale of war's alarms; When at the bugle's call, with fire and steel, 50 The sturdy clans pour’d forth their brawny
swarms, And hostile brothers met, to prove each other's
Ver. 44. Whether thou bidst the well taught hind relate
51. The sturdy clans pour’d forth their bony swarms, f A summer hut, built in the high part of the mountains, to tend their flocks in the warm season, when the pasture is fine.
'Tis thine to sing, how, framing hideous spells,
In Sky's lone isle, the gifted wizard seer,
Lodged in the wintry cave with Fate's fell spear, Or in the depth of Uist's dark forest dwells : How they, whose sight such dreary dreams en
gross, With their own visions oft astonish'd droop,
When, o'er the watery strath, or quaggy moss, They see the gliding ghosts unbodied troop.
Or, if in sports, or on the festive green, Their destined glance some fated youth descry,
Who now, perhaps, in lusty vigour seen, And rosy
health, shall soon lamented die. For them the viewless forms of air obey ; Their bidding heed, and at their beck repair :
They know what spirit brews the stormful day, And heartless, oft like moody madness, stare To see the phantom train their secret work prepare.
To monarchs dear, some hundred miles astray, 70 Oft have they seen Fate give the fatal blow!
in Sky, shriek'd as the blood did flow, When headless Charles warm on the scaffold lay!
Ver. 56. Or in the gloom of Uist's dark forest dwells :
58. With their own visions oft afflicted droop,
As Boreas threw his young Aurora s forth,
In the first year of the first George's reign, 75 And battles raged in welkin of the North,
They mourn'd in air, fell, fell Rebellion slain! And as, of late, they joy'd in Preston's fight,
Saw, at sad Falkirk, all their hopes near crown'd! They raved ! divining, through their second sight, Pale, red Culloden, where these hopes were
drown'd! Illustrious William !· Britain's guardian name!
One William saved us from a tyrant's stroke; He, for a sceptre, gain's heroic fame, But thou, more glorious, Slavery's chain hast
broke, To reign a private man, and bow to Freedom's yoke !
These, too, thoul't sing! for well thy magic muse
Can to the topmost heaven of grandeur soar;
Or stoop to wail the swain that is no more! Ah, homely swains! your homeward steps ne'er
& By young Aurora, Collins undoubtedly meant the first appearance of the northern lights, which happened about the year 1715; at least it is most highly probable, from this peculiar circumstance, that no ancient writer whatever has taken any notice of them, nor even any modern one, previous to the above period.
h Second sight is the term that is used for the divination of the highlanders.
i The late Duke of Cumberland, who defeated the Pretender at the battle of Culloden.