1721
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Keitha: a Pastoral, lamenting the Death of the right honourable Mary Countess of Wigtoun.

Poems by Allan Ramsay.

Allan Ramsay


A pastoral elegy in Scots "Doric." Dialect pastoral, initiated by Spenser in September in the Shepheardes Calender, had aroused considerable discussion in the previous decade, most of it hostile. It was Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd (1726), a pastoral drama, that would naturalize it for later readers.

Ramsay's preface: "The Scotticisms, which perhaps may offend some over-nice Ear, give new Life and Grace to the Poetry, and become their Place as well as the Doric Dialect of Theocritus, so much admired by the best Judges. When I mention that Tongue, I bewail my own little Knowledge of it, since I meet with so many words and Phrases so expressive of the Ideas they are intended to represent. A small Acquaintance with that Language, and our old English Poets, will convince any Man, that we spend too much Time in looking abroad for trifling Delicacies, when we may be treated at home with a more substantial, as well as a more elegant Entertainment" Poems, ed. Martin and Oliver (1951) 1:xix.

John Wilson: "There are few touches in the Shepherd's Calendar that shew the sudden smile or frown on that face [of nature], as are frequent in the pastoral poetry of Ramsay, Burns, Hogg, and Cunninghame. All that can be said is, that he feels, like a true poet, the greater and more manifest changes, and often happily describes them: but we question if there be a single passage that might be quoted as an exquisite or perfect picture of any given portion of space or time as colored by the Air of the Season, the Day, or the Hour" in Blackwood's Magazine 34 (1833) 810.

Myra Reynolds: "It is worthy of note that the service rendered by Gay to English poetry is in many respects paralleled by Allan Ramsay's contributions to Scottish song. There are in Ramsay's pastorals similar closely studied scenes from peasant life, wherein are minutely described the superstitions, the household customs, the out-door occupations, the trials, and the pleasures of the homely folk among the hills of Scotland. But there are important differences. What Gay did lightly and without serious intent was with Ramsay a service of love. He was not laughing in his sleeve at the very truth he so capitally portrayed. Throughout his work there is, in general, an air of sincerity. It is as if Gay wrote from the point of view of an outsider with an unfailingly keen eye, and a quick sense of humor. But Ramsay wrote from a life that he had known and loved, and that he thoroughly respected" The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry (1909) 73.



RINGAN.
O'er ilka Thing a gen'ral Sadness hings!
The Burds wi' Melancholy droop their Wings;
My Sheep and Kye neglect to moup their Food,
And seem to think as in a dumpish Mood.
Hark how the Winds souch mournfu' throu' the Broom,
The very Lift puts on a heavy Gloom:
My Neibour Colin too, he bears a Part,
His Face speaks out the Sairness of his Heart;
Tell, tell me Colin, for my bodding Thought,
A Bang of Fears into my Breast has brought.

COLIN.
Where hast thou been thou Simpleton, wha speers
The Cause of a' our Sorrow and ours Tears?
Wha unconcern'd can hear the common Skaith
The Warld receives by lovely Keitha's Death?
The bonniest Sample of what's good and kind;
Fair was her Make, and heav'nly was her Mind.
But now this sweetest Flower of a' our Plain,
Leaves us to sigh, tho a' our Sighs are vain;
For never mair she'll grace the heartsome Green,
Ay heartsome when she deign'd there to be seen.
Speak Flowry Meadows where she us'd to wauk,
Speak Flocks and Burds wha've heard her sing or tauk.
Did ever you sae meikle Beauty bear,
Or ye sae mony heav'nly Accents hear:
Ye painted Haughs, ye Minstrels of the Air
Lament, for lovely Keitha is nae mair.

RINGAN.
Ye westlin Winds that gently us'd to play
On her white Breast, and steal some Sweets away,
Whilst her delicious Breath perfum'd your Breeze,
Which gratefu' Flora took to feed her Bees.
Bear on your Wings, round Earth, her Spoteless Fame,
Worthy that noble Race from whence she came;
Resounding Braes where e'er she us'd to lean,
And view the Crystal Burn glide o'er the Green,
Return your Echoe's to our mournfu' Sang,
And let the Streams in Murmures bear't alang.
Ye unkend Powers, wha Water haunt or Air,
Lament, for lovely Keitha is nae mair.

COLIN.
Ah! wha cou'd tell the Beauties of her Face,
Her Mouth that never op'd but wi' a Grace;
Her Een which did with heav'nly Sparkles low,
Her modest Cheek flush'd with a rosie Glow,
Her fair brent Brow, smooth as the unrunkled Deep,
When a' the Winds are in their Caves asleep:
Her Presence like a Simmer's Morning Ray,
Lighten'd our Hearts, and gart ilk Place look gay.
Now twin'd of Life, these Charms look cauld and blae,
And what before gave Joy, now makes us wae.
Her Goodness shin'd in ilka pious Deed,—
A Subject, Ringan, for a lofty Reed!
A Shepherd's Sang maun sic high Thoughts decline,
Lest rustick Notes should darken what's divine.
Youth, Beauty, Graces, a' that's good and fair
Lament, for lovely Keitha is nae mair.

RINGAN.
How tenderly she smooth'd our Master's Mind,
When round his manly Waist her Arms she twin'd,
And look'd a Thousand saft Things to his Heart,
While native Sweetness sought nae Help frae Art.
To him her Merit still appear'd mair bright,
As yielding she own'd his superior Right.
Baith saft and sound he slept within her Arms,
Gay were his Dreams, the Influence of her Charms.
Soon as the Morning dawn'd he'd draw the Screen,
And watch the op'ning of her fairer Een;
Whence sweetest Rays gusht out in sic a Thrang,
Beyond Expression in my rural Sang.

COLIN.
O Clementina! sprouting fair Remains
Of her, wha was the Glory of our Plains.
Dear Innocence with Infant Darkness blest,
Which hides the Happiness that thou hast mist.
May a' thy Mither's Sweets thy Portion be,
And a' thy Mither's Graces shine in thee.

RINGAN.
She loot us ne'er gae hungry to the Hill,
And a' she gae, she geed it wi' good Will;
Fow mony, mony a ane will mind that Day
On which frae us she's tane sae soon away,
Baith Hynds and Herds, wha's Cheeks bespake nae Scant,
And throu' the Howms could whistle, sing and rant,
Will miss her sair, till happily they find
Anither in her Place sae good and kind.
The Lasses wha did at her Graces mint,
Ha'e by her Death their bonniest Pattern tint.
O ilka ane who did her Bounty skair,
Lament, for gen'rous Keitha is nae mair.

COLIN.
O Ringan, Ringan! Things gang sae uneven,
I canna well take up the Will of Heav'n.
Our Crosses teughly last us mony a Year,
But unco soon our Blessings disappear.

RINGAN.
I'll tell thee Colin my last Sunday's Note,
I tented well Mess Thamas ilka Jot.
The Powers aboon are cautious as they're just,
And dinna like to gi'e o'er meikle Trust
To this unconstant Earth, with what's divine,
Lest in laigh Damps they should their Lustre tine.
Sae let's leave aff our Murmuring and Tears,
And never value Life by Length of Years.
But as we can in Goodness it employ,
Syne wha dies first, first gains eternal Joy.
Come, Colin, dight your Cheeks and banish Care,
Our Lady's happy, tho with us nae mair.

[pp. 317-23]