Lyra Celtica


SCOTO-CELTIC (Middle Period)


From the "Sean Dana." (187)

        Prologue to Gaul.

How mournful is the silence of Night
When she pours her dark clouds over the valleys!
Sleep has overcome the youth of the chase:
He slumbers on the heath, and his dog at his knee.
The children of the mountain he pursues
In his dream, while sleep forsakes him.

    Slumber, ye children of fatigue;
Star after star is now ascending the height.
Slumber! thou swift dog and nimble,--
Ossian will arouse thee not from thy repose.
Lonely I keep watch,--
And dear to me is the gloom of night
When I travel from glen to glen,
With no hope to behold a morning or brightness.

    Spare thy light, O Sun!
Waste not thy lamps so fast.
Generous is thy soul, as the King of Morven's:
But thy renown shall yet fade;--
Spare thy lamps of a thousand flames
In thy blue hall, when thou retirest
Under thy dark-blue gates to sleep,
Beneath the dark embraces of the storm.
Spare them, ere thou art forsaken for ever,
As I am, without one whom I may love!
Spare them,--for there is not a hero now
To behold the blue flame of the beautiful lamps!

    Ah, Cona of the precious lights,
Thy lamps burn dimly now,
Thou art like a blasted oak
Thy dwellings and thy people are gone
East or west, on the face of thy mountain,
There shall no more be found of them but the trace
In Selma, Tara, or Temora
There is not a song, a shell, or a harp;
They have all become green mounds;
Their stones have fallen into their own meadows;
The stranger from the deep or the desert
Will never behold them rise above the clouds.

    And, O Selma! home of my delight,
Is this heap my ruin,
Where grows the thistle, the heather, and the wild grass?

In Hebrid Seas. (189)

We turned her prow into the sea,
    Her stern into the shore,
And first we raised the tall tough masts,
    And then the canvas hoar;

Fast filled our towering cloud-like sails,
    For the wind came from the land,
And such a wind as we might choose
    Were the winds at our command:

A breeze that rushing down the hill
    Would strip the blooming heather,
Or, rustling through the green-clad grove,
    Would whirl its leaves together.

But when it seized the aged saugh,
    With the light locks of grey,
It tore away its ancient root,
    And there the old trunk lay!

It raised the thatch too from the roof,
    And scattered it along;
Then tossed and whirled it through the air,
    Singing a pleasant song.

It heaped the ruins on the land
    Though sire and son stood by
They could no help afford, but gaze
    With wan and troubled eye!

A flap, a flash, the green roll dashed,
    And laughed against the red;
Upon our boards, now here, now there,
    It knocked its foamy head.

The dun bowed whelk in the abyss,
    As on the galley bore,
Gave a tap upon her gunwale
    And a slap upon her floor.

She could have split a slender straw--
    So clean and well she went--
As still obedient to the helm
    Her stately course she bent.

We watched the big beast eat the small
    The small beast nimbly fly,
And listened to the plunging eels--
    The sea-gull's clang on high.

We had no other music
    To cheer us on our way
Till round those sheltering hills we passed
    And anchored in this bay.

Cumha Ghriogair Mhic Griogair. (193)

(The Lament of Gregor MacGregor.)

Early on a Lammas morning,
    With my husband was I gay;
But my heart got sorely wounded
    Ere the middle of the day.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri
    Though I cry, my child, with thee--
Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri,
    Now he hears not thee nor me!

Malison on judge and kindred,
    They have wrought me mickle woe;
With deceit they came about us,--
    Through deceit they laid him low.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

Had they met but twelve MacGregors,
    With my Gregor at their head;
Now my child had not been orphaned,
    Nor these bitter tears been shed.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

On an oaken block they laid him,
    And they spilt his blood around;
I'd have drunk it in a goblet
    Largely, ere it reached the ground.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

Would my father then had sickened--
    Colin, with the plague been ill;
Though Rory's daughter, in her anguish,
    Smote her palms, and cried her fill.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

I could Colin shut in prison,
    And black Duncan put in ward,--
Every Campbell now in Bealach,
    Bind with handcuffs, close and hard

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

When I reached the plain of Bealach,
    I got there no rest, nor calm
But my hair I tore in pieces,--
    Wore the skin from off each palm!

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

Oh! could I fly up with the skylark--
    Had I Gregor's strength in hand;
The highest stone that's in yon castle
    Should lie lowest on the land.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

Would I saw Finlarig blazing,
    And the smoke of Bealach smelled,
So that fair, soft-handed Gregor
    In these arms once more I held.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

While the rest have all got lovers
    Now a lover have I none;
My fair blossom, fresh and fragrant,
    Withers on the ground alone.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

While all other wives the night-time
    Pass in slumber's balmy bands
I upon my bedside weary,
    Never cease to wring my hands.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

For, far better be with Gregor
    Where the heather's in its prime,
Than with mean and Lowland barons
    In a house of stone and lime.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

Greatly better be with Gregor
    In a mantle rude and torn,
Than with little Lowland barons
    Where fine silk and lace are worn.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

Though it rained and roared together,
    All throughout the stormy day,
Gregor, in a crag, could find me
    A kind shelter where to stay.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri, etc.

Bahu, bahu, little nursling--
    Oh! so tender now and weak
I fear the day will never brighten
    When revenge for him you'll seek.

Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri,
    Though I cry, my child, with thee
Ochan, ochan, ochan uiri,
    Yet he hears not thee nor me!

            Drowned (194)

No wonder my heart it is sore,
    No wonder the tears that I weep
My true love I'll see him no more,
    He lies fathoms down in the deep.

He lies fathoms down in the deep,
    Where the cold clammy seaweeds abound.
How cruel thy wild waves to me,
    O sea that my true love hast drowned!

O sea that my true love hast drowned,
    Thou hast reft me of joy evermore;
Thy waves make me shudder with fear
    As I listen and hear their wild roar.

My true love and I, hand in hand,
    Often wandered the uplands among,
Where the wild flowers are freshest to see,
    And the wild birds axe freest of song;

But alas for the days that are gone,
    Alas for my sorrow and me!
Alas that my true love is drowned
    Fathoms down in the depths of the sea!


    The Manning of the Birlinn.

                The Sailing.

The sun had opened golden yellow,
        From his case,
Though still the sky wore dark and drumly
        A scarr'd and frowning face:
Then troubled, tawny, dense, dun-bellied,
        Scowling and sea-blue,
Every dye that's in the tartan
        O'er it grew.
Far away to the wild westward
        Grim it lowered,
Where rain-charged clouds on thick squalls wandering
        Loomed and towered.
Up they raised the speckled sails through
        Cloud-like light,
And stretched them on the mighty halyards,
        Tense and tight.
High on the mast so tall and stately
        Dark-red in hue
They set them firmly, set them surely,
        Set them true.
Round the iron pegs the ropes ran,
        Each its right ring through;
Thus having ranged the tackle rarely,
        Well and carefully,
Every man sat waiting bravely,
        Where he ought to be.
For now the airy windows opened,
        And from spots of bluish grey
Let loose the keen and crabbed wild winds
        A fierce band were they
'Twas then his dark cloak the ocean
        Round him drew.
Dusky, livid, ruffling, whirling,
        Round at first it flew,
Till up he swell'd to mountains, or to glens,
        Dishevelled, rough, sank down--
While the kicking, tossing waters
        All in hills had grown.
Its blue depth opened in huge maws,
        Wild and devouring,
Down which, clasped in deadly struggles,
        Fierce strong waves were pouring.
It took a man to look the storm-winds
        Right in the face--
As they lit up the sparkling spray on every surge-hill,
        In their fiery race.
The waves before us, shrilly yelling,
        Raised their high heads hoar,
While those behind, with moaning trumpets,
        Gave a bellowing roar.
When we rose up aloft, majestic,
        On the heaving swell,
Need was to pull in our canvas
        Smart and well:
When she sank down with one huge swallow
        In the hollow glen,
Every sail she bore aloft
        Was given to her then.
The drizzling surges high and roaring
        Rush'd on us louting,
Long ere they were near us come,
        We heard their shouting:
They roll'd sweeping up the little waves
        Scourging them bare,
Till all became one threatening swell,
        Our steersman's care.
When down we fell from off the billows'
        Towering shaggy edge,
Our keel was well-nigh hurled against
        The shells and sedge;
The whole sea was lashing, dashing,
        All through other:
It kept the seals and mightiest monsters
        In a pother!
The fury and the surging of the water,
And our good ship's swift way       
Spatter'd their white brains on each billow,
        Livid and grey.
With piteous wailing and complaining
        All the storm-tossed horde,
Shouted out "We're now your subjects;
        Drag us on board."
And the small fish of the ocean
        Turn'd over their white breast
Dead, innumerable, with the raging
        Of the furious sea's unrest.
The stones and shells of the deep channel
        Were in motion;
Swept from out their lowly bed
        By the tumult of the ocean
Till the sea, like a great mess of pottage,
        Troubled, muddy grew
With the blood of many mangled creatures,
        Dirty red in hue--
When the horn'd and clawy wild beasts,
        Short-footed, splay,
With great wailing gumless mouths
        Huge and wide open lay.
But the whole deep was full of spectres,
        Loose and sprawling
With the claws and with the tails of monsters,
        Pawing, squalling.
It was frightful even to hear them
        Screech so loudly;
The sound might move full fifty heroes
        Stepping proudly.
Our whole crew grew dull of hearing
        In the tempest's scowl,
So sharp the quavering cries of demons
        And the wild beasts' howl.
With the oaken planks the weltering waves were wrestling
        In their noisy splashing;
While the sharp beak of our swift ship
        On the sea-pigs came dashing.
The wind kept still renewing all its wildness
        In the far West,
Till with every kind of strain and trouble
        We were sore distressed.
We were blinded with the water
        Showering o'er us ever;
And the awful night like thunder,
        And the lightning ceasing never.
The bright fireballs in our tackling
        Flamed and smoked;
With the smell of burning brimstone
        We were well-nigh choked.
All the elements above, below,
        Against us wrought;
Earth and wind and fire and water,
        With us fought.
But when the evil one defied the sea
        To make us yield,
At last, with one bright smile of pity,
        Peace with as she seal'd
Yet not before our yards were injured,
        And our sails were rent,
Our poops were strained, our oars were weaken'd,
        All our masts were bent.
Not a stay but we had started,
        Our tackling all was wet and splashy,
Nails and couplings, twisted, broken.
        Feeshie, fashie,
All the thwarts and all the gunwale
        Everywhere confess'd,
And all above and all below,
        How sore they had been press'd.
Not a bracket, not a rib,
        But the storm had loosed;
Fore and aft from stem to stern,
        All had got confused.
Not a tiller but was split,
        And the helm was wounded;
Every board its own complaint
        Sadly sounded.
Every trennel, every fastening
        Had been giving way;
Not a board remain'd as firm
        As at the break of day.
Not a bolt in her but started,
        Not a rope the wind that bore,
Not a part of the whole vessel
        But was weaker than before.
The sea spoke to us its peace prattle
        At the cross of Islay's Kyle,
And the rough wind, bitter boaster!
        Was restrained for one good while.
The tempest rose from off us into places
        Lofty in the upper air,
And after all its noisy barking
        Ruffled round us fair.
Then we gave thanks to the High King,
        Who rein'd the wind's rude breath,
And saved our good Clan Ranald
        From a bad and brutal death.
Then we furl'd up the fine and speckled sails
        Of linen wide,
And we took down the smooth red dainty masts,
        And laid them by the side--
On our long and slender polish'd oars
        Together leaning--
They were all made of the fir cut by Mac Barais
        In Eilean Fionain--
We went with our smooth, dashing rowing,
        And steady shock,
Till we reach'd the good port round the point
        Of Fergas' Rock.
There casting anchor peacefully
        We calmly rode;
We got meat and drink in plenty,
        And there we abode.


     The Lament of the Deer.
        (Cumha nam Fiadh.)

O for my strength! once more to see the hills!
The wilds of Strath-Farar of stags,
The blue streams, and winding vales,
Where the flowering tree sends forth its sweet perfume.

My thoughts are sad and dark!--
I lament the forest where I loved to roam,
The secret corries, the haunt of hinds,
Where often I watched them on the hill!

Corrie-Garave! O that I was within thy bosom
Scuir-na-Ląpaich of steeps, with thy shelter,
Where feed the herds which never seek for stalls,
But whose skin gleams red in the sunshine of the hills.

Great was my love in youth, and strong my desire,
Towards the bounding herds;
But now, broken, and weak, and hopeless,
Their remembrance wounds my heart.

To linger in the laich* I mourn,
My thoughts are ever in the hills
For there my childhood and my youth was nursed
The moss and the craig in the morning breeze was my delight.

Then was I happy in my life,
When the voices of the hill sung sweetly;
More sweet to me, than any string,
It soothed my sorrow or rejoiced my heart

My thoughts wandered to no other land
Beyond the hill of the forest, the shealings of the deer,
Where the nimble herds ascended the hill,--
As I lay in my plaid on the dewy bed.

The sheltering hollows, where I crept towards the hart,
On the pastures of the glen, or in the forest wilds--
And if once more I may see them as of old,
How will my heart bound to watch again the pass!

Great was my joy to ascend the hills
In the cause of the noble chief,
Mac Shimé of the piercing eye--never to fail at need,
With all his brave Frasers, gathered beneath his banner.

When they told of his approach, with all his ready arms,
My heart bounded for the chase--
On the rugged steep, on the broken hill,
By hollow, and ridge, many were the red stags which he laid low.

He is the pride of hunters; my trust was in his gun,
When the sound of its shot rung in my ear,
The grey ball launched in flashing fire,
And the dun stag fell in the rushing speed of his course.

When evening came down on the hill,
The time for return to the star of the glen,
The kindly lodge where the noble gathered,
The sons of the tartan and the plaid,

With joy and triumph they returned
To the dwelling of plenty and repose;
The bright blazing hearth--the circling wine--
The welcome of the noble chief!
*Low Country.


        Ben Dorain.

The honour o'er each hill
    Hath Ben Dorain;
Scene, to me, the sweetest still
    That day dawns upon:
Its long moor's level way,
    And its nooks whence wild deer stray,
To the lustre on the brae
    Oft I've lauded them.

Dear to me its dusky boughs,
    In the wood where green grass grows,
And the stately herd repose,
    Or there wander slow;
But the troops with bellies white,
    When the chase comes into sight,
Then I love to watch their flight,
    Going nosily.

The stag is airy, brisk, and light,
    And no pomp has he;
Though his garb's the fashion quite,
    Never haughty he:
Yet a mantle's round him spread,
    Not soon threadbare, then shed,
And its hue as wax is red--
    Fairly clothing him.

The delight I felt to rise
    At the morning's call!
And to see the troops I prize
    The hills thronging all:
Ten score with stately tread,
    And with light uplifted head,
Quite unpampered there that fed,
    Fond and fawning all.

Lightsomely there came
    From each clean and shapely frame,
Through their murmuring lips, a tame
    Chant, with drawling fall.
In the pool one rolled a low--
    With the hind one played the beau,
As she trotted to and fro,
    Looking saucily.

I would rather have the deer
    Gasping moaningly,
Than all Erin's songs to hear
    Sung melodiously;
For above the finest bass
    Hath the stag's sweet voice a grace,
As he bellows on the face
    Of Ben Dorain.

Loud and long he gives a roar
    From his very inmost core,
Which is heard behind, before,
    Far and failingly;
But the hind of softer notes,
    With her calf that near her trots,
Match each other's tuneful throats,
    Crying longingly.

Her eye's soft and tender ray
    With no flaw in it,
O'er whose lid the brow is gray,
    Guides her wandering feet:
Very well she walks, and bold,
    Lively o'er the russet wold,
Tripping from her desert hold
    Most undauntingly.

Faultless is her pace,
    And her leap is full of grace--
Ha! the last when in the race
    Never saw I her:
When she takes yon startled stride,
    Nor once turns her head aside,
Aught to match her hasty pride
    Is not known to me.

But now she's on the heath,
    As she ought to be,
Where the tender grass she seeth,
    Growing dawtily;
The dry bent, the moor grass bare,
    With the sappy herbs are there,
That make fat, and full, and fair,
    Her plump quarters all.

And those little wells are nigh,
    Where the water-cresses lie,
Above wine she likes to try
    Their waves' solacing;
Of the rye-grass, twisted rows,
    On the rude hill side it grows,
Than of rarest festal shows,
    Is she fonder far.

The choice increase of the earth
    Forms her joyous treat;
The primrose, St. John's wort,
    Tops of gowans sweet,
The new buds of the groves,
    The soft heath o'er which she roves,
Are the tit-bits that she loves,
    With good cause too.

For speckled, spotted, rare,
    Tall, and fine, and fair,
From such food before her there
    She grows sonsily;
And it is still the surest mean
    To cure the weak ones and the lean,
Who for any time have been
    Wasted, wan, and low.

Soon it would clothe their back
    With the garb which most they lack--
That rich fat, which they can pack
    Most commodiously.

She's a flighty young hind
    When leaves ward her,
Nearer her haunts where they bind
    The brae border:
Lightsome and urbane
    Is her gay heart, free of stain,
Tho' rash head and somewhat vain--
    Somewhat thoughtless.

Yet her form, so full of grace,
    She keeps hiding in a place,
Where the green glen shows no trace
    Of a falling off;
But she's so healthy, and so clean--
    So chaste where'er she's seen--
Should you kiss her lips, I ween
    'Twould not cause you shame.

Greatly prized is she, I know,
    By the stag with crested brow,
Whose thundering hoofs around him throw
    Such a saucy sound ;
When with him she meets the view
    Red and yellow in her hue,
And of virtues not a few
    That belong to her,
Then too is she free of fear,
    And in speed without a peer,
And the primest ear to hear
    In all Europe's hers.

Oh! how sweetly they embrace,
    Young and fawning,
When they gather to their place
    In the gloaming;
There, till silent night is by,
    Never terror comes them nigh,
While beneath the bush they lie--
    Their known haunt of old.

Let the wild herd seek their bed,
    Let them slumber, free of dread,
Where yon mighty moor is spread,
    Broad and brawly;
Where, with joy, I've often spied
    The sun colour their red hide,
As they wandered in their pride
    O'er Ben Dorain.

The Hill-Water.

From the rim it trickles down
Of the mountain's, granite crown
    Clear and cool;
Keen and eager though it go
Through your veins with lively flow,
Yet it knoweth not to reign
In the chambers of the brain
    With misrule;

Where dark water-cresses grow
You will trace its quiet flow,
With mossy border yellow,
So mild, and soft, and mellow,
    In its pouring.
With no shiny dregs to trouble
The brightness of its bubble
As it threads its silver way
From the granite shoulders grey
    Of Ben Dorain.

Then down the sloping side
It will slip with glassy slide
    Gently welling,
Till it gather strength to leap,
With a light and foamy sweep,
To the corrie broad and deep
    Proudly swelling;

Then bends amid the boulders,
'Neath the shadow of the shoulders
    Of the Ben,
Through a country rough and shaggy,
So jaggy and so knaggy,
Full of hummocks and of hunches,
Full of stumps and tufts and bunches,
Full of bushes and of rushes,
    In the glen,

Through rich green solitudes,
And wildly hanging woods
With blossom and with bell,
In rich redundant swell,
    And the pride
Of the mountain daisy there,
And the forest everywhere,
With the dress and with the air
    Of a bride.


Song for Macleod of Macleod.

Alone on the hill-top,
    Sadly and silently,
Downward on Islay
    And over the sea--
I look and I wonder
    How time hath deceived me:
A stranger in Muile*
    Who ne'er thought to be.

Ne'er thought it, my island!
    Where rests the deep dark shade
Thy grand mossy mountains
    For ages have made--
God bless thee, and prosper!
    Thy chief of the sharp blade,
All over these islands,
    His fame never fade!

Never fade it, Sir Norman!
    For well 'tis the right
Of thy name to win credit
    In council or fight;
By wisdom, by shrewdness,
    By spirit, by might,
By manliness, courage,
    By daring, by sleight.

In council or fight, thy kindred
    Know these should be thine--
Branch of Lochlin's wide-ruling
    And king-bearing line!
And in Erin they know it--
    Far over the brine:
No Earl would in Albin
    Thy friendship decline.

Yes! the nobles of Erin
    Thy titles well know,
To the honour and friendship
    Of high and of low.
Born the deed-marks to follow,
    Thy father did show,--
That friend of the noble--
    That manliest foe.

That friend of the noble--
    From him art thou heir
To virtues which Albin
    Was proud to declare:
Crown'd the best of her chieftains
    Long, long may'st thou wear
The blossoms paternal
    His broad branches bare!

O banner'd Clan Ruari!
    Whose loss is my woe,
Of this chief who survives
    May I ne'er hear he's low;
But, darling of mortals!
    From him though I go,
Long the shapeliest, comeliest
    Form may he show!

The shapeliest, comeliest,
    Faultless in bearing--
Cheerful, cordial, and kind,
    The red and white wearing,
Well looks the blue-eyed chief
    Blue, bright, and daring,
His eye o'er his red cheek shines,
    Blue, bright, calmly daring.

His red cheek shines,
    Like hip on the brier-tree,
'Neath the choicest of curly hair
    Waving and free.
A warm hearth, a drinking cup,
    Meet shall he see,
And a choice of good armour
    Whoe'er visits thee.

Drinking-horns, trenchers bright,
    And arms old and new;
Long, narrow-bladed swords,
    Cold, clear, and blue--
These are seen in thy mansion,
    With rifles and carbines, too;
And hempen-strung long-bows,
    Of hard, healthy yew.

Long-bows and cross-bows,
    With strings that well wear;
Arrows, with polish'd heads,
    In quivers full and fair,
From the eagle's wing feather'd,
    With silk fine and rare;
And guns dear to purchase--
    Long slender-are there.

My heart's with thee, hero!
    May Mary's son keep
My stripling who loves
    The lone forest to sweep;
Rejoicing to feel there
    The solitude deep
Of the long moor and valley,
    And rough mountain steep.

The mountain steep searching
    And rough rocky chains;
The old dogs he caresses,
    The young dogs he restrains:
Then, soon from my chieftain's spear
    The life-blood rains
Of the red-hided deer or doe
And the green heather stains.

Fall the red stag, the white-bellied doe;
    Then stand on the heather,
Thy gentle companions,
    Well arm'd altogether,
Well taught on the hunter's craft,
    Well skill'd in the weather;
They know the rough sea as well
    As the green heather!

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