1822 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Letter to your Sister.

Poems by James Hyslop ... with a Sketch of his Life, and Notes on his Poems, by the Rev. Peter Mearns.

James Hyslop


Eight Spenserians addressed to an unspecified correspondent. James Hyslop compares the scenes where he grew up to the exotic locals he is visiting on his sea cruise: "O might I leave this land, where fruits and flowers | Are ever green and ever in their prime, | Where mingle, in the dark Brazilian bowers, | The mango, tamarind, the orange, and the lime, | For one sweet walk beneath my native clime." Among Hyslop's acquaitances were James Hogg, whom he met shortly before his departure, and Allan Cunningham, whom he knew in London following his three-year voyage to South America. Hyslop described the places he had seen in a series of letters published in the Edinburgh Magazine. This poem was first published from manuscript in 1887.

Peter Mearns: "From the MS. book (p. 82). This letter is expressly said to have been written in South America, but the date is not given" Poems, ed. Mearns (1887) 118.

W. Davenport Adams: "James Hislop, Scottish poet (b. 1798, d. 1827), was author of The Cameronian's Dream, and other fugitive pieces" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 282.



Lady of laughing lips and dark sweet eyes,
Where youth and love enamouring softly shine,
O wilt thou list the song the minstrel tries
To sing thee far beyond the burning Line?
Oft as his bark is journeying on the brine,
And heaven is decked with many a dazzling star,
He calls to mind that woodland home of thine,
Hid in another hemisphere afar,
Where other planets shine, and other seasons are.

'Midst all his wanderings he has never seen
A woodland home he lov'd so much as yours:
'Tis not its blue streams bright, its banks of green,
Where waving broom is soft with yellow flowers;
But, oh! 'tis youth and beauty's magic powers,
The smiles of soft eyes ne'er to be forgot,
Writing upon the heart, in some sweet hours,
Impressions time and distance cannot blot—
Stamping love's flowery seal on all they ever wrote.

Youth has some hours it never can forget,
Awakening feelings never to decay;
And there are some, that we in youth have met,
Whose bright forms haunt us thro' life's future day:
Visions of loveliness that, far away,
Come to our spirits o'er the dark blue deep,
Like shadowy dreams of heaven that will not stay,
And with a wicked world communion keep:
And linger round our couch in darkness and in sleep.

Such are the forms of love, the beings fair
That come to me from Scotland's mountain streams;
One that I scarce need name, with auburn hair,
Still shares the sweetest of love's midnight dreams:
And one, too, whom my heart not less esteems—
Thou whom thy friendship makes so very dear:
When on Brazilian waves the moonlight gleams,
And stars are twinkling 'midst the ether clear,
You come, and with my soul hold sweet communion here.

Thou see'st, dear maid, thy wanderer yet recalls
Some hours of happiness he spent with thee—
The songs of love within thy father's halls
You and your sister often sung to me.
I sing them now alone upon the sea,
And think upon the days of other years,
Of home, and friends I never more may see,
Whom helpless age and hoary hair endears,
Whose furrowed cheeks were wet with parting, farewell tears.

Oh! these are the thoughts of sadness; why my heart
Delights in their indulgence I don't know:
Never to me could noisy mirth impart
Pleasures so dear as pensiveness and woe.
How sweet it is to walk where waters flow
'Midst Autumn's fading woods at midnight's noon;
When wintry gales are sighing, and below
The gravelly footpath strewed with foliage brown,
And all is still and sad beneath the silent moon.

This is the season when, on Spango's hills,
The heather-blooms and mountain flowers decay;
When Crawick's woods turn yellow; when the rills
Sparkle in hoary frost-work; when the day
Grows short, and chill, and showery; when the ray,
That lately gladdened many a little flower,
Now gleams on icicles, that from each spray
Hang pendant in the late green mirthful bower,
All hoary now and white in winter's snowy shower.

O might I leave this land, where fruits and flowers
Are ever green and ever in their prime,
Where mingle, in the dark Brazilian bowers,
The mango, tamarind, the orange, and the lime,
For one sweet walk beneath my native clime,
Far from this softening, sickening, burning sun,
To drink the breath of winter, and to climb
The snowy hill, and hear the hunter's gun,
And listen beauty's song when winter's day is done.

This is the land where bounteous Nature pours,
'Midst forests dark, fruits, flow'rs, and sunny stores;
This is the land where Afric's slave endures
His sun-burnt bondage, tugging at the oars;
This is the land where ignorance adores
Her monkish priests, with shaven crowns and cowls;
Where ladies dare not pass their fathers' doors,
For fear that love should stain their pure white souls—
Very unlike their bodies, dark and gray as owls.

[pp. 194-96]