Elegiac, On Visiting the Banks of the Esk, After an Absence of Some Years

Fair native river! Long in distant lands,
Haunting my dreams–and do I once again
Hear the sweet music of your pebbly sands?
Thro’ all my change, dost thou unchang’d remain?

Ocean has been between us, and the throngs
Of other shores–and some, alas! How dear!
Yet still to thee one crowning spell belongs–
Life’s morning records were collected here.

Yes! Fresh again the sunny scenes of youth–
The sights, the sounds, the vernal fancy fed,
Appear before me in their native truth,
But Hope, that promis’d more–th’ enchanter’s fled.

As on this grassy bank, reclin’d at ease,
I trace life’s vernal blooms that spring no more!–
What long-lost vices mingle with the breeze!
What shades of childhood tenant ev’ry shore!

Where yonder thicket spreads its tangled shade,
Weaving wild garlands as we rov’d along,
Forgotten Henry! Hast thou often stray’d,
And cheer’d our toilless labours with thy song:–

Forgotten! No! Need not these whispering bow’rs,
Mem’ry of thee–my earliest! to disclose–
The friend–first called of childhood’s guileless hours
Who ev’r forgot–or life’s first gather’d rose?

Ah! featly tripping o’er yon daisied green,
What troops of youthful life were wont to play,
Who there, alas! shall never more be seen–
Swept by the two-edged scythe of fate away!

Conven’d within the village school, no more
Their well-remember’d faces shall I see,
Murm’ring and bending o’er the arduous love,
Exchanged for whisper’d hopes and looks of glee.

When welcome I, who never shall see again!
Among them enter’d , chart’ring merriment,
To ask the birth-day holiday, and gain
With speech well conn’d, “the master’s” slow consent.

Then, what gay transport fir’d the urchin throng!
Then what proud triumph thrill’d my childish breast,
When rushing forth, Esk’s winding marge along–
I joined the race, as frolic as the rest!

The master, too, was mine–a foe to sport,
Austerely honest –hardly, when at home
He dealt his horn book to the gentler sort,
Would he abate the pedant’s stately tone.

We lov’d, but fear’d him more–but happy years!
To which through life affection fondly leans,
Your faery charm the rudest hind endears,
Whose image mingles in those sunny scenes–

And warm’d by mem’ry, for acquaintance old
I sought his home–his home! It was not there–
The hour-glass and the scythe his story told;
His rule was o’er–the rul’d, where were they? Where?

Some, in the church-yard green beside him lay,
A sterner despot had abridged their date;
And some adventurous hopes led far away,
And none could tell me of their after fate:–

One fav’rite peasant girl–a rosy child,
Whose heart and hand my slightest beck could bring,
Still prompt to mischief, thoughtless still and wild,
But gay and guileless as the bird on wing–

I found her now, a matron stern and rude,
Whose sullen glance by greeting coldly paid;–
Time, time, and thronging ills had chang’d her mood,
And saddness sat, where dimpled mirth once play’d.

On that pale cheek and brow no trace remain’d
Of fair-hair’d Mary–but the hand of care
Had written bitterness; and worse! proclaim’d
That many a with’ring passion had been there.

Yet tho’ thus chang’d, tho’ ev’n my form forgot,
Mem’ry for her had still some kindly rays;
Within her chill, half-lighted, dreary cot ,
I heard and felt a voice of other days;

A poor convulsive baby dying lay,
Round which all fondly did her arms entwine,
Still murm’ring forth its name–and need I say,
A thrill crept o’er my heart–that name was mine!

Oh faithful mem’ry! Thy guardian pow’r
Fosters for all some flowers that will not fade!
Oft thou’rt the friend, in sorrow’s darkest hour,
To soothe the heart all others have betray’d.

Talk not of mem’ry’s pain–she’s sad bu sweet–
A holy kindness mingles with her tears;
Within her spar-lit grot th’ long-parted meet,
And banquet on the best of former years;–

Ev’n the lost wretch whom hope no more may bless ,
Whom vice has plunder’d of each mark divine ,
Turns to some days of youthful happiness ,
That yield him pride to think, “These once were mine.”

Source: Poems.  Edinburgh: Cadell & Co. in Edinburgh, 1828.  Web.  Available through Google Books.

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