1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Burns

Alexander Balfour, "Elegy. To the Memory of Robert Burns" Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Miscellany NS 8 (December 1796) 465-67.



The ling'ring sun's last parting beam
On mountain tops had died away,
And Night, the friend of Fancy's dream,
Stole o'er the fields in dusky grey.

Tir'd of the busy bustling throng,
I wander'd forth along the vale,
To list the widow'd blackbird's song,
And breathe the balmy ev'ning gale.

Stretch'd on a bank of verdant hue,
Beneath a sweetly sylvan shade,
Where waving willows seem'd to bow,
And weep above their wat'ry bed.

'Twas here my muse without controul
Essay'd on flutt'ring wing to rise;
When listless langour seiz'd my soul,
And drowsy slumbers seal'd my eyes.

In Morpheus's arms supinely laid,
My vagrant fancy rov'd astray;
When, lo! in radiant robes array'd,
A spirit wing'd its airy way!

With dumb surprise and solemn awe,
I wond'ring gazed, 'till by my side
A maid of matchless grace I saw,
Array'd in more than mortal pride.

Her eye was like the lightning's gleam,
That can thro' boundless space pervade,
But sorrow seem'd to shade its beam,
And pallid grief her cheek o'erspread.

A flow'ry wreathe with bays entwin'd,
Fresh blooming from her girdle hung;
Then on the daisied bank reclin'd,
She touch'd a harp for sadness strung:

The trembling strings — the murm'ring rill—
The hollow breeze that breath'd between—
Responsive echo from the hill—
All join'd to swell the solemn scene.

The maid in accents sadly sweet
To sorrow gave unbounded sway;
My throbbing heart forgot to beat
While thus she pour'd the plaintive lay"

"I am the muse of Caledon',
From earliest ages aye admir'd;
Thro' her most distant corners known,
Oft has my voice her sons inspir'd.

"My charms once fir'd a royal breast,
A King who Scotia's sceptre bore;
I sooth'd his soul, with trouble prest,
When captive on a foreign shore:

"My bays have on a Soldier's brow,
Amidst his well-known laurels twin'd,
Inspir'd his soul with martial glow,
And call'd his country's wrongs to mind.

"The warblings of my harp have won
A mitred son from Holy See;
Who oft from morn to setting sun,
Would hold a carnival with me.

"But chief of all the tuneful train,
Was BURNS, my last — my latest care;
I nurs'd him on his native plain,
But now his absence is despair!

"I hail'd his happy natal hour,
And o'er his infant cradle hung;
Ere Fancy's wild unbounded pow'r,
Or Reason's earliest bud was sprung.

"I saw the young ideas rise
Successive, in his youthful mind;
Nor could the peasant's garb disguise
The kindling flame that lay confin'd.

"Oft have I met him on the dale,
Companion of the thoughtless throng;
And led him down the dewy vale,
To carrol forth some artless song.

"Unseen by all but him alone,
I chear'd his labours through the day;
And when the rural task was done,
We sought some wild sequester'd way.

"On Coila's hills, or woodlands wild,
By Stinchar's banks, or Luggar's stream,
There would I place my darling child,
And soothe him with some pleasing dream.

"These haunts to him were blissful bow'rs,
Where all the soul was unconfin'd;
And Fancy cull'd her choicest flow'rs,
To warm her youthful Poet's mind.

"Nurs'd on the healthful happy plains,
Where Love's first blush from Virtue springs,
'Twas Nature taught the heart-felt strains,
That o'er the vassal'd cot he sings.

"Keen Poverty with wither'd arms,
Compress'd him in her cold embrace;
And mental Grief's ungracious harms
Had furrow'd o'er his youthful face.

"Yet there, the dear delightful flame
Which rules the breast with boundless sway;
Resistless fir'd his melting frame,
And taught the love-lamenting lay.

"A friend to mirth and foe to care,
Yet form'd to feel for worth opprest;
His sympathetic soul could share
The woes that wrung a brother's breast.

"Ah, gentle bard! thy tend'rest tear
Was o'er a hapless orphan shed!
But who shall thy sweet prattlers chear,
Now that a green-turf wraps thy head?

"He that can still the raven's voice,
And deck the lily's breast like snow;
Can make thy orphan train rejoice,
And soothe thy widow's song of woe.

"Ye souls, of sympathetic mind,
Whom smiling Plenty deigns to crown;
Yours be the task — their wounds to bind,
And make their sorrows all your own.

"To banish Want and pale-faced Care,
To wipe the tear from Mis'ry's eye,
Is such a bliss as Angels share,
And tell with joy above the sky!

"Where are the strains of heart-felt woe,
That echoed o'er Glencairn's sad urn?
And where is now Oppression's foe,
Who taught, that 'Man was made to mourn?'

"Why, when his morning calmly smil'd,
Did Hope forebode a lengthen'd day?
My promis'd joys are now beguil'd,
Since darkness hides my darling's clay.

"Yet rest in peace, thou gentle shade,
Although the narrow-house be thine;
No pious rite shall pass unpaid,
No hands unhallow'd stain thy shrine!

"The torrent dashing down the steep,
The wild-wave foaming far below;
In Nature's notes for thee shall weep,
With all the majesty of Woe:

"When Winter howls across the plain,
And spreads a thick obscuring gloom;
His winds on Coila shall complain,
And hoarsely murmur o'er thy tomb.

"There virgin Spring shall first be seen,
To deck with flow'rs thy dewy bed;
And Summer, rob'd in richest green,
Shall hang her roses o'er thy head:

"When Autumn calls thy fellow swains,
(Companions now, alas! no more,)
To reap "the plenty of their plains,"
Their mingling sighs shall thee deplore.

"The artless maid, who never knew
To feign the joy her heart deny'd,
Resolv'd to bless her shepherd true,
And vanquish all her virgin pride;

"Beneath the silent star of night,
With him shall bend above thy shrine;
There, mutual love the pair shall plight,
And heav'n approve the deed divine.

"O pour a tear of tend'rest woe,
Ye breasts who boast congenial fire;
Let sympathetic wailings flow,
And Sorrow's song attune the lyre.

"Ye warblers flitting on the wind,
Chaunt forth your saddest plaintive strain;
And weep, for ye have lost a friend,
Ye little wand'rers of the plain!

"This garland for my bard entwin'd,
No brow but his shall ever wear;
Around his turf these flow'rs I'll bind,
And wet them nightly with my tear.

"While dews descend upon his tomb,
So long the Muse shall love his name;
Nor shall this wreath forget to bloom,
Till latest ages sing thy fame.

"Ye wand'rers in the wilds of song,
On whom I have not smil'd in vain,
Would ye the blissful hours prolong,
Oh shun seductive Pleasure's train!

"The bays that flourish round her bow'rs,
Are venom'd o'er with noxious dews;
The thorns that lurk amidst her flow'rs,
A rankling poison oft infuse.

"Tho' Lux'ry's lap seem softly spread,
The couch of joy, and blest repose;
Yet hissing furies haunt her bed,
And rack the mind with poignant woes!

"The hedge-row'd plain, the flow'ry vale,
Where rosy Health delighted roves,
Where Labour tells his jocund tale,
And village maidens sing their loves,

"'Tis there the Muse unfolds her charms,
From thence her sons should never stray—
Ye souls whom boundless Fancy warms,
Still keep this calm sequester'd way.

"So may that wide-spread well-won praise,
Which echoes o'er my darling's tomb;
Congenial bloom amidst your bays,
And heav'n bestow a happier doom!"

She ceas'd her song of sorrow deep,
Her warbling harp was heard no more:
I waked — and wish'd again to sleep,
But ah! the pleasing dream was o'er.

My infant muse, untaught to sing,
Has marr'd the vision's solemn strain;
Too harshly touch'd the pensive string,
To soothe thy shade, lamented swain!

Unskill'd to frame the venal lay,
That flows not from a heart sincere;
'Tis mine, this artless meed to pay—
The heart-felt sigh — and silent tear!
Arbroath.