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

Letter to Anna.

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

James Hyslop


Twelve posthumously-published Spenserians: a love-letter from abroad composed by one of Scotland's better-known autodidact poets: "In Chilian groves I picture freshly now | Thy milky skin, the sunny freckles stain. | The looose brown tresses floating round thy brow, | The lingering glance that spoke thy bosom's ardent glow." Originally a shepherd, James Hyslop met Susan Barker ("Anna') about 1819-20 when he was teaching school at Greenock. They became engaged, though the poet, unable to make a satisfactory living teaching school, was compelled to take a position as an ocean-going tutor aboard the "Doris," bound for South America. Upon his return after a cruise of three years the poet presented his manuscript volume to Miss Barker, who long preserved it.

Peter Mearns: "It was believed that their affection was mutual, and she remained unmarried while he lived; but after his early death she became the wife of another" Poems, ed. Mearns (1887) 37.

A. B. Todd: "The future poet was brought up in the humble abode of his maternal grandfather, George Lambie, whose little cottage stood in the green pastoral glen of the limpid Crawick, about two miles from the ancient royal burgh of Sanquhar, so renowned and important in Covenanting story; where in all the hill country round, the Covenanters, sought shelter in the dark and evil days of persecution, rendering it just such a 'meet nurse for the poetic child' as it became to James Hyslop. Adopting the calling of a shepherd, he went forth to the world with but a scanty education; but so ardent was thirst for it that before he was twenty, he by attending evening schools and self-tuition, had become not only an excellent English scholar, but had likewise acquired a good knowledge of Latin, French, mathematics, and algebra" in David McAllister, Poets and Poetry of the Covenant (1894) 18.



Dearest to me of Nithsdale's lovely daughters,
Whose breast the woes of severed love must feel;
To seek its lovely hazel-shaded waters,
Away from thy companion, wilt thou steal,
With trembling hand to break the well-known seal,
And share thy lover's spirit all alone—
To feast thy heart on all his will reveal,
And waken thoughts of days for ever gone,
When first you link'd that heart so dearly to your own?

Not now as in those happy summer days,
When thy dark smiling eyes to me were near,
Conceal'd I linger 'midst the broomy braes,
Thy casement fring'd with ivy in my view,
Anxious to wait th' expected hour when you
Would seek the summer moonlight's yellow gleam,
To drink the freshness of the evening dew,
Besprinkling gowans by the moorland stream,
Haply to realise some fondly-cherish'd dream.

But though we're parted by the broad blue sea,
The snowy Andes and the burning Line,
Still, still my faithful spirit dwells with thee
In Scotland's woods where calmer summers shine.
Now round my walks, although the circling vine
Spreads forth its darkening clusters to the sun,
Dearer the crags where woodbine tendrils twine;
The rowan tree lives where moorland waters run,
Where winds thy evening path, my dear beloved one.

Th' impressions first-love prints upon the heart
Through after-life it ever will retain;
With many an early feeling it may part,
But those that Beauty waked will aye remain;
Distance and time sweep over them in vain.
In Chilian groves I picture freshly now
Thy milky skin, the sunny freckles stain.
The looose brown tresses floating round thy brow,
The lingering glance that spoke thy bosom's ardent glow.

But ah! 'tis not thy ringlets brown and sleek
In foreign lands that makes thee dearest still;
Although at midnight sometimes on my cheek
Methinks I feel the softness of their thrill;
It is not that mine eyes have had their fill,
Drinking thy beauty in the silent wood;
Nor that my lips on thine have had their will
Of poetry and love's delicious food,
That makes upon my heart thy image still intrude.

When little Love was in his infancy,
How luscious was the banquet where he fed!
The wine he drank was sweetened by thy sigh,
Amidst thy ringlets brown he made his bed;
But ah! the little boy had long been dead,
Or been at least a pale and sickly child,
Had you not taught him how to live on bread
Less sweet, but healthier, when he was exiled—
Banqueting every day his bloom would soon have spoiled.

Dear is the kiss of Beauty's scarlet lip,
When first she breathes her love upon thy breast;
But he who would prolong such sweets must sip—
A drunkard never long enjoys a feast.
The richest wine from Beauty's vineyard prest
May raise intoxication that will grieve her,
Unless her virtuous friendship add its zest
To calm the ardours of youth's burning fever.
With friendship such as thine, love will endure for ever.

Of a young playful maiden's heart like thine
How sweet it is to be the confidant!
To have those prattling lips come aye to mine,
With every little wish and little want;
To know my breast has in its power to grant
To thine its sweetest dream of happiness,
By loving thee with fondness — aye to print
On thy caressing lips a lingering kiss—
Oh! never can I tire of such a task as this.

How sweet to be thy favourite! to be singled
Out from the world, thy lov'd, thy chosen one;
Amidst thy dreaming fancies to be mingled;
To share thy thoughts at rising, setting sun;
To be the favourite youth you think upon
When you unbind your bosom's silken vest;
Thy cherish'd dream in crowds, and, when alone,
You raise to Heaven the pious, pure request,
On whom of future life thy hopes and wishes rest.

How sweet to have one little lock of hair
To look at from a maid so fond as thee,
To hang nearest my heart, and wear it there
For thy remembrance far beyond the sea!
Woman gives many proofs of love, but she
Gives naught that half her fondness can impart
Like one of those soft locks, that gracefully
Circle her brow with such alluring art—
When she gives one of these she always gives her heart.

My fair young moralist, oh! do not blame,
Altho' thy minstrel's song be somewhat warm;
Well dost thou know 'tis difficult to tame
A heart that feels like mine love's maddening charm.
Oh! were I now beside thy circling arm,
To read sweet moral lectures from thine eyes,
My songs might cease to waken thy alarm;
And you would teach your poet to be wise—
One of thy frowns is worth a thousand homilies.

Think not thy early lover has forgot
The morals learn'd from lips like thine;
How you would quarrel, criticise, and blot
Out of his pretty songs each glowing line;
What care you took to fetter and confine
His ardent feelings with religious chain;
With what anxiety you did resign
Him to the lawless children of the main—
Fearful his heart might soon be dark with many a stain.

Fear not, my Anna! All its blackest crimes
It has recorded in thy book of love;
Dreaming of thy brown ringlets, and at times
Caressing thee as fondly as a dove.
If 'tis a crime to have thy memory wove
Thus warmly with each feeling of my heart,
O ask for my forgiveness from above,
But never think my fondness can depart—
'Twill follow thee thro' life, thro' death, where'er thou art.

[pp. 202-04]