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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

II. Scottish: In Hebrid Seas

By Celtic Literature

  • The third selection is an example of later Gaelic. This stirring Hebridean poem is sometimes spoken of as from the ancient Gaelic. Probably by this is meant merely old Gaelic, mediæval or even later. The translation is by Mr. Thomas Pattison, and is included in his ‘Gaelic Bards.’ He has the following note upon it:—
  • “This effusion, although in its original form it is only a kind of wild chant,—almost indeed half prose,—yet is the germ of the ballad. It occurs in many of the tales contained in that collection,—the repository of old Gaelic lore,—the ‘Popular Tales of the West Highlands,’ sometimes more and sometimes less perfect. The original will be found in the second volume of the Tales…. The vigorous and elastic spirit that pervades these verses must have strung the heart of many a hardy mariner, who loved to feel the fresh and briny breeze drive his snoring birlinn bounding like a living creature over the tumbling billows of the inland loch, or the huge swell of the majestic main.”

  • 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 gray,

    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.

    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.