James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

July 21

On the Death of Burns

By William Roscoe (1753–1831)

(Died July 21, 1796)

REAR high thy bleak majestic hills,

Thy sheltered valleys proudly spread,—

And, Scotia, pour thy thousand rills,

And wave thy heaths with blossoms red;

But, ah! what poet now shall tread

Thy airy heights, thy woodland reign,

Since he, the sweetest bard is dead,

That ever breathed the soothing strain?

As green thy towering pines may grow,

As clear thy streams may speed along,

As bright thy summer suns may glow,

As gayly charm thy feathery throng;

But now unheeded is the song,

And dull and lifeless all around—

For his wild harp lies all unstrung,

And cold the hand that waked its sound.

What though thy vigorous offspring rise—

In arts, in arms, thy sons excel;

Though beauty in thy daughters’ eyes,

And health in every feature dwell;

Yet who shall now their praises tell

In strains impassioned, found, and free,

Since he no more the song shall swell

To love, and liberty, and thee!

With step-dame eye and frown severe

His hapless youth why didst thou view?

For all thy joys to him were dear,

And all his vows to thee were due;

Nor greater bliss his bosom knew,

In opening youth’s delightful prime,

Than when thy favoring ear he drew

To listen to his chanted rhyme.

Thy lonely wastes and frowning skies

To him were all with rapture fraught;

He heard with joy the tempest rise

That waked him to sublimer thought;

And oft thy winding dells he sought,

Where wild flowers poured their rathe perfume,

And with sincere devotion brought

To thee the summer’s earliest bloom.

But ah! no fond maternal smile

His unprotected youth enjoyed—

His limbs inured to early toil,

His days with early hardships tried!

And more to mark the gloomy void,

And bid him feel his misery,

Before his infant eyes would glide

Day-dreams of immortality.

Yet, not by cold neglect depressed,

With sinewy arm he turned the soil,

Sunk with the evening sun to rest,

And met at morn his earliest smile.

Waked by his rustic pipe meanwhile,

The powers of fancy came along,

And soothed his lengthened hours of toil

With native wit and sprightly song.

—Ah! days of bliss too swiftly fled,

When vigorous health from labor springs,

And bland contentment soothes the bed,

And sleep his ready opiate brings;

And hovering round on airy wings

Float the light forms of young desire,

That of unutterable things

The soft and shadowy hope inspire.

Now spells of mightier power prepare—

Bid brighter phantoms round him dance;

Let flattery spread her viewless snare,

And fame attract his vagrant glance;

Let sprightly pleasure too advance,

Unveiled her eyes, unclasped her zone—

Till, lost in love’s delirious trance,

He scorns the joys his youth has known.

Let friendship pour her brightest blaze,

Expanding all the bloom of soul;

And mirth concentre all her rays,

And point them from the sparkling bowl;

And let the careless moments roll

In social pleasures unconfined,

And confidence that spurns control,

Unlock the inmost springs of mind:

And lead his steps those bowers among,

Where elegance with splendor vies,

Or science bids her favored throng

To more refined sensations rise;

Beyond the peasant’s humbler joys,

And freed from each laborious strife,

There let him learn the bliss to prize

That waits the sons of polished life.

Then, whilst his throbbing veins beat high

With every impulse of delight,

Dash from his lips the cup of joy,

And shroud the scene in shades of night;

And let despair with wizard light

Disclose the yawning gulf below,

And pour incessant on his sight

Her spectred ills and shapes of woe;

And show beneath a cheerless shed,

With sorrowing heart and streaming eyes,

In silent grief where droops her head

The partner of his early joys;

And let his infants’ tender cries

His fond parental succour claim,

And bid him hear in agonies

A husband’s and a father’s name.

’Tis done—the powerful charm succeeds;

His high reluctant spirit bends;

In bitterness of soul he bleeds,

Nor longer with his fate contends.

An idiot laugh the welkin rends

As genius thus degraded lies;

Till pitying Heaven the veil extends

That shrouds the poet’s ardent eyes.

—Rear high thy bleak majestic hills,

Thy sheltered valleys proudly spread,

And, Scotia, pour thy thousand rills,

And wave thy heaths with blossoms red;

But never more shall poet tread

Thy airy heights, thy woodland reign—

Since he, the sweetest bard, is dead

That ever breathed the soothing strain.