Thomas Aird

Fitte The Third

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Take, sportive Health, your tasselled horn and blow,
What time the breezes of the Autumnal hill
Lift your light locks of youth, and scatter them
In tangled beauty round your glowing face;
Call up old Sylvan to the mountain-side.

Pleasant to Sylvan when with Summer come
The twittering swallow and the shrilling swift;
Yet pleasanter, in Autumn's bracing air,
The hills of gorcocks and the hills of deer.
But oh the exhilaration when the furze,
Beneath the high hoar wood, is all astir
With fox-hound tails, just seen above the whins,
Cocked, curled, and crowding in one ferment thick.
Before one tongue, prelusive of the scent,
Has broken out, the experienced hunter knows,
By a fine sense instinctive, all's right now;
And scarce restraining his impatient steed,
Fire-quick in consciousness of every move,
Pulls down his cap, and buttons up his coat.
One sure old beagle gives a deep-mouthed note,
A second—third—the pack: Away, away
Bursts through the echoing woods the storm of chase!
Old Frank is there; with natural, healthy heart,
A daring huntress, Molly too is there.

When the last apple, yellowing into white,
Gleams in the leaves, Frank through the coloured woods
Saunters; an amateur in rustic staves,
His vigilant shaping eye detects at once,
Though rough, half sunk in moss, the well-curved head
To the tall upward stalk, smooth-skinned and straight,
Or gnared with knots and knobs, with twists and crooks
Grotesque, and full of quaint, queer character;
Forth then he draws his vigorous pruning-knife,
And adds another to the cudgel-sheaf
Which garnishes the lobby of his Lodge.

The air begins to nip: The plane-tree, first
With soft crimped leaf to burst the honey-glue
Of Spring's brown swelling bud—as well the boy
Knows, bent on whistles, when the sap is up,
And the moist bark comes peeling cleanly off—
Is first to shed her leaves; down drop they now,
Dullest of sere, embossed with spots of black,
And foul feet tread them in the miry paths.
Cheer by his evening fire! How Frank enjoys
The Sanctum of his books! Byronic glooms
Have no place there, nor felons of romance,
Heroes of hemp, the glories of the gallows;
But all the Saxon old simplicities.
And chief the Fathers of the English Church,
Of holy majesty and sweet composure,
Engage him, lifting up his heart's desire
To the good land of order, peace, and rest.

Clear-minded hence, up with the morn is Frank.
Gambol his dogs around him; deep he wades
The rustling leaves of the October woods,
On through the crushed brown ferns of the high slope,
To look through the clear air: he loves to see
The varied faces of our Scottish hills.
Here grassiest green is one, with darker stripes
Where waters ooze away; one mottled there
With black-brown heather and with verdant spots;
A third, where lies the thin soil on the rock,
Swells smooth and round, but dun its juiceless grass;
A herbless fourth's gray o'er with rocky stones,
Where thorn-trees old, and doddered ashes grow,
And rowans anchored in fantastic rifts:
High o'er its head the circling raven sails.

At penny-weddings, christenings, fairs, and kirns,
Our humorist prompts the rustic holiday.
The passing bell for village patriarch,
For simple maiden, or for thoughtful boy,
Smites on his ready heart; and forth he helps
To bear them to the dust. But ofttimes, too,
Age-callous men, in coats of rustiest black,
With big horn buttons, generations old,
Trembling and fumbling in their eager greed,
All through the plate of service-bread, to find
The largest bits, and smacking their thin jaws
O'er the red solemn wine; then, deaf and loud,
Clattering their gossip through the measured tread
On to the churchyard slow, has made old Frank
Snuff hard, repressing scarce his angry snort,
And lag behind the irreverent company.

Scotland, with all thy worth, irreverent thou,
In solemn things irreverent; reverent less
Of Beauty, loving not the Beautiful?
Yes, tell it to her shame, no statue fair,
For admiration placed in open view,
No monumental work, but her rude sons
Deface it forthwith: France or Italy
Knows no such savagery, nor any land.
What can it mean? Is it our soul of sect,
Which looks on all such beauties of man's Art
As vanities, not unallied to sin?
Did not God make the Rainbow, coarse-grained soul?
His hands did they not bending fashion it?
Is that a vanity, is that a sin?
I, Beauty, dwell with Him who made green earth,
The pictured seasons, and the hosts of heaven.

Mellow the frosty noon: The yellow sun
Eats out the fire in filmy ashes white;
Who cares a doit?—not Frank: the old chap, be sure,
With all his dogs is cheerily abroad.
Yon sliding boys, how blithe! O happier day
Than wet home-prisoned days, when, sick of slates,
And books, and toys, they take their listless stand
At the dull window, and their noses squeeze,
Flattened till they be white, against the pane
Washed by the streaming, weltering drench without!
If hen, high lifting her unwilling feet,
Run dripping by; or random waddling duck,
Half swimming, slabber, with her bill engulfed,
Through the green pool; or snouted sow upturn
The reeking dunghill,—better sight than this
Their vacant eye may hope not, as they stand
And idly look into the dim drear day.

The boy can swim! By day he thinks, by night
He dreams of swimming. Prone upon the sward,
Or snuglier lying in the clover field,
Sucking the honeyed flowers, even there the pride
Of conscious power comes o'er him, out he strikes
With hands and feet, unmindful how the grass
Or clover leaves green-stain his corduroys.
Each summer day, three times at least he takes
The gravelly pool, and wriggles to make way,
Till short and feeble grow his plunging strokes,
Quick, quicker sinks his head, his panting breath
Scarce puffs the lipping water from his mouth,
And his teeth chatter and his nails be blue.
Behold him now! Bent forward on his hams
Beside the burn, his hands he pushes out,
In swimming fashion, from below his nose,
And seems to meditate the unfrozen depth.
Oh no, he'll not jump in; but pleased he sees
How he could stem it, and with eager heart
Longs for the coming of the summer sun.

But lo! the old mill: Down to it hies our imp,
Following the dam. The outer wheel still black,
Though sleeked with gleety green, and candied o'er
With ice, is doing duty. In he goes
By the wide two-leaved door; all round he looks
Throughout the dusty atmosphere, but sees
No miller there. The mealy cobwebs shake
Along the wall, a squeaking rat comes out,
And sits and looks at him with steadfast eye.
He hears the grinding's smothered sound, a sound
Lonelier than silence: Memory summons up
The “Thirlstane Pedlar” murdered in a mill,
And buried there: The “Meal-cap Miller,” too,
In “God's Revenge on Murther” bloody famed,
Comes o'er his spirit. Add to this the fear
Of human seizure, for he meditates
A boyish multure: Stepping stealthily
On tiptoe, looking round, he ventures on;
Thrusts both his hands into the oatmeal heap,
Warm from the millstones; and, in double dread
Of living millers and of murdered pedlars,
Flies with his booty, licking all the way.

Homeward returning by the upland path,
Old Sylvan stands and listens: Through the meek
Still day, from far-off places comes the long,
Smooth, level booming of the channel-stones.
Roar goes a stone adown some nearer rink;
Right, left it strikes: triumphant shouts proclaim
A last great shot has revolutionised
The crowded tee. Down in the valley, lo!
The broom-armed knights upon their gleaming board.
Such rural sports beguile the winter day.

But good old Christmas comes, and holds its state
In Sylvan Lodge, as in the antique time.
And Captain Mavor's there from Eastern lands,
And all is merry cheer and holy joy.
Frank was his father's friend, and, ere he died,
Was named by him the guardian of the boy;
And through long conflicts of disputed rights
He bore his ward triumphantly, and sent
Young George to India, an accomplished youth,
To be a soldier there: But, ere he went,
With Molly Sylvan he had vows exchanged;
And she, and none but she, shall be his wife.
Prudent, and valiant in the field, he rose;
And Aliwal and bloody Sobraon
Fulfilled the promise of his earlier years.
“Come to your window, Lilla Zal, and see
Those blue-eyed islanders, lords of the earth,”

Thus said a dark-eyed damsel of Lahore
To her young sister. And they stood and saw
That little company ride glorious in,
Sublime in their considerate modesty,
And empires stricken by a band so small.
And much they wondered at the fair-haired men,
As they rode by; but Mavor's beauteous youth
Drew forth the murmurs of their glad surprise.
Proud day was that to all those British men;
But Mavor now is happier where he is,
With old Frank Sylvan and his nut-brown maid.

Labour, Art, Worship, Love, these make man's life:
How sweet to spend it here! Beautiful dale,
What time the virgin favour of the Spring
Bursts in young lilies, they are first in thee;
Thine lavish Summer lush of luminous green,
And Autumn glad upon thy golden crofts.
Let Winter come: on January morn,
Down your long reach, how soul-inspiriting,
Far in the frosty yellow of the East,
To see the flaming horses of the Sun
Come galloping up on the untrodden year!
If storm-flaws more prevail, hail, crusted snows,
And blue-white thaws upon the spotty hills,
With dun swollen floods, they pass and hurt thee not;
They but enlarge, with sympathetic change,
The thoughtful issues of thy dwellers' hearts.
Here, happy thus, far from the scarlet sins,
From bribes, from violent ways, the anxious mart
Of money-changers, and the strife of tongues,
Fearing no harm of plague, no evil star
Bearded with wrath, his spirit finely touched
To life's true harmonies, old Sylvan dwells,
Deep in the bosom of his native dale.

Muse, thou'rt a Prophetess as well as Muse;
Lift up the corner of Time's veil:—Behold!
Light fairy forms, the Genii of the wood,
The dappled mountain, and the running stream,
Are strewing favours on the old man's grave,
While many a little bird his requiem sings.
George Mavor Sylvan dwells, in thoughtful peace,
With Mary Sylvan in old Sylvan Lodge.

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Thomas Aird