At the Grave of Burns, 1803. Seven Years after his Death
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At the Grave of Burns, 1803
Seven Years after his Death
I shiver, Spirit fierce and bold,|
At thought of what I now behold:
As vapours breathed from dungeons cold
Strike pleasure dead,
So sadness comes from out the mould
Where Burns is laid.
And have I then thy bones so near,
And thou forbidden to appear?
As if it were thyself that’s here
I shrink with pain;
And both my wishes and my fear
Alike are vain.
Off weight—nor press on weight!—away
Dark thoughts!—they came, but not to stay;
With chastened feelings would I pay
The tribute due
To him, and aught that hides his clay
From mortal view.
Fresh as the flower, whose modest worth
He sang, his genius “glinted” forth,
Rose like a star that touching earth,
For so it seems,
Doth glorify its humble birth
With matchless beams.
The piercing eye, the thoughtful brow,
The struggling heart, where be they now?—
Full soon the Aspirant of the plough,
The prompt, the brave,
Slept, with the obscurest, in the low
And silent grave.
I mourned with thousands, but as one
More deeply grieved, for He was gone
Whose light I hailed when first it shone,
And showed my youth
How Verse may build a princely throne
On humble truth.
Alas! where’er the current tends,
Regret pursues and with it blends,—
Huge Criffel’s hoary top ascends
By Skiddaw seen,—
Neighbours we were, and loving friends
We might have been;
True friends though diversely inclined;
But heart with heart and mind with mind,
Where the main fibres are entwined,
Through Nature’s skill,
May even by contraries be joined
More closely still.
The tear will start, and let it flow;
Thou “poor Inhabitant below,”
At this dread moment—even so—
Might we together
Have sate and talked where gowans blow,
Or on wild heather.
What treasures would have then been placed
Within my reach; of knowledge graced
By fancy what a rich repast!
But why go on?—
Oh! spare to sweep, thou mournful blast,
His grave grass-grown.
There, too, a Son, his joy and pride,
(Not three weeks past the Stripling died,)
Lies gathered to his Father’s side,
Yet one to which is not denied
Some sad delight.
For he is safe, a quiet bed
Hath early found among the dead,
Harboured where none can be misled,
Wronged, or distrest;
And surely here it may be said
That such are blest.
And oh for Thee, by pitying grace
Checked oft-times in a devious race,
May He who halloweth the place
Where Man is laid
Receive thy Spirit in the embrace
For which it prayed!
Sighing I turned away; but ere
Night fell I heard, or seemed to hear,
Music that sorrow comes not near,
A ritual hymn,
Chanted in love that casts out fear
Thoughts suggested the Day following, on the
Banks of Nith, near the Poet’s Residence
Too frail to keep the lofty vow|
That must have followed when his brow
Was wreathed—“The Vision” tells us how—
With holly spray,
He faultered, drifted to and fro,
And passed away.
Well might such thoughts, dear Sister, throng
Our minds when, lingering all too long,
Over the grave of Burns we hung
In social grief—
Indulged as if it were a wrong
To seek relief.
But, leaving each unquiet theme
Where gentlest judgments may misdeem,
And prompt to welcome every gleam
Of good and fair,
Let us beside this limpid Stream
Breathe hopeful air.
Enough of sorrow, wreck, and blight;
Think rather of those moments bright
When to the consciousness of right
His course was true,
When Wisdom prospered in his sight
And virtue grew.
Yes, freely let our hearts expand,
Freely as in youth’s season bland,
When side by side, his Book in hand,
We wont to stray,
Our pleasure varying at command
Of each sweet Lay.
How oft inspired must he have trod
These pathways, yon far-stretching road!
There lurks his home; in that Abode,
With mirth elate,
Or in his nobly-pensive mood,
The Rustic sate.
Proud thoughts that Image overawes,
Before it humbly let us pause,
And ask of Nature, from what cause
And by what rules
She trained her Burns to win applause
That shames the Schools.
Through busiest street and loneliest glen
Are felt the flashes of his pen;
He rules mid winter snows, and when
Bees fill their hives;
Deep in the general heart of men
His power survives.
What need of fields in some far clime
Where Heroes, Sages, Bards sublime,
And all that fetched the flowing rhyme
From genuine springs,
Shall dwell together till old Time
Folds up his wings?
Sweet Mercy! to the gates of Heaven
This Minstrel lead, his sins forgiven;
The rueful conflict, the heart riven
With vain endeavour,
And memory of Earth’s bitter leaven,
Effaced for ever.
But why to Him confine the prayer,
When kindred thoughts and yearnings bear
On the frail heart the purest share
With all that live?—
The best of what we do and are,
Just God, forgive!
To the Sons of Burns, after Visiting
the Grave of their Father
’Mid crowded obelisks and urns|
I sought the untimely grave of Burns;
Sons of the Bard, my heart still mourns
With sorrow true;
And more would grieve, but that it turns
Trembling to you!
Through twilight shades of good and ill
Ye now are panting up life’s hill,
And more than common strength and skill
Must ye display;
If ye would give the better will
Its lawful sway.
Hath Nature strung your nerves to bear
Intemperance with less harm, beware!
But if the Poet’s wit ye share,
Like him can speed
The social hour—of tenfold care
There will be need;
For honest men delight will take
To spare your failings for his sake,
Will flatter you,—and fool and rake
Your steps pursue;
And of your Father’s name will make
A snare for you.
Far from their noisy haunts retire,
And add your voices to the quire
That sanctify the cottage fire
With service meet;
There seek the genius of your Sire,
His spirit greet;
Or where, ’mid “lonely heights and hows,”
He paid to Nature tuneful vows;
Or wiped his honourable brows
Bedewed with toil,
While reapers strove, or busy ploughs
Upturned the soil;
His judgment with benignant ray
Shall guide, his fancy cheer, your way;
But ne’er to a seductive lay
Let faith be given;
Nor deem that “light which leads astray,
Is light from Heaven.”
Let no mean hope your souls enslave;
Be independent, generous, brave;
Your Father such example gave,
And such revere;
But be admonished by his grave,
And think, and fear!
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