1823 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Mr. John Laidlaw. (On his Marriage.)

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

James Hyslop


A posthumously-published Horatian ode in nine Spenserians in which James Hyslop reflects on adopting a sea-faring life in a letter to an early patron on the occasion of his marriage: "Had I a happy pastoral home like you, | With one I dare not name my own sweet bride, | I'd bid the sons of mirth and wine adieu, | And seldom would I leave my lady's side." John Laidlaw of Sanquhar had employed Hyslop as a shepherd from 1816 to 1816, encouraging him to pursue his self-education; the poet was afterwards able to find employment as a schoolmaster in Greenock. This poem, part of the manuscript volume Hyslop compiled while at sea from 1822 to 1824, was first published in 1887.

Peter Mearns: "This poetical letter was sent from South America to his early friend, Mr. Laidlaw. It appears in the MS. book without date (page 126). The same idea which is thus expressed by Lord Byron, 'Tis sweet to know there is an eye will mark | Our coming, and look brighter when we come,' is adapted in the second stanza to Mr. Laidlaw's moorland home, with a due regard to circumstances which Mr. Hyslop was so well able to describe. The original letter is here slightly abridged. This piece is followed in the MS. book by a burlesque letter to William Barker, Esq., containing personal allusions which would not be understood by the general reader" in Poems (1887) 118.



Friend of the early morning of my life,
Partner of many a pleasure when a boy,
Now that you've wed a young and lovely wife,
From far, far distant climes, I send you joy!
Blest be your coming years! may love ne'er cloy!
Deep may its green branch in the heart take root,
Never may storm nor canker-worm destroy,
Till its young blossoms ripen into fruit,
And from the parent stem full many a young tree shoot.

It surely must be very, very sweet
To have a smiling partner such as yours
To welcome you at night, when storm and sleet
And winter's drift is darkening on the moors;
Hang up the frozen plaid, and shut the doors,
Draw in the old oak-chair, and stir the fire,
Arrange the tea-cups, and ransack the stores
Of ham, white cakes, and ewe-cheese, to inspire
Contentment, mirth, and peace, and gladness, and desire.

How far superior happiness like this
To all that false and hollow-hearted mirth,
That gay companions round the circling glass,
In hours of drunken levity, call forth!
Tho' sparkling in the moment of their birth,
Those gleams of gladness never long remain:
When the bright morning dawns upon the earth,
The heart is sick with weariness and pain,
Remorse, and ruin'd health, and rash vows made in vain.

Had I a happy pastoral home like you,
With one I dare not name my own sweet bride,
I'd bid the sons of mirth and wine adieu,
And seldom would I leave my lady's side:
'Twould be my sweetest pleasure, and my pride,
With her to wile the idle hours away,
Where Spango's waters thro' the moorland glide;
To walk where flocks upon the green hills stray,
And many a mountain flower in summer decks the brae.

O there is beauty on thy hills, Crossbank,
When little lambs on braes and breckan feed;
When the wild mountain honey breathes on Spangk,
From holms with flowering thy me and heath-bells red,
When the thick hay-swaithes rise upon the mead,
And mowers whet the scythe at breaking morn,
And miners, full of mirth, from Wanlockhead
Cheer the young maidens 'midst the yellow corn;
And rows of rustling sheaves the new-shorn fields adorn.

Those pastoral scenes are sweet, but doubly dear
With a young lady's heart their charms to share;
A pretty, playful prattler always near
To chase away life's weariness and care.
Maidens and youths, like doves, were made to pair;
Manhood's warm breast loves not to sigh alone;
And womanhood has feelings that she dare,
Tho' fond and passionate, disclose to none
But him whose spirit blends in fondness with her own.

Sweet dreams of happiness! It makes me sigh
To think no pastoral dwelling waits for me.
Yours is a home blest by a lady's eye,
Mine the arm'd frigate on the roaring sea:
Your footing is on green hills firm and free;
Mine quakes and trembles with the tempest's breath;
Yours is soft friendship's calm society;
Mine the wild spirits of the watery path,
Whose souls are pride and fire, whose words are blood and death.

But yet I love awakening with the drum,
The fife, the bugle, and the din of war,
To hear light-hearted seamen's busy hum
Mix in confusion with the ocean's jar,
From land to land, from clime to clime afar;
To bound with England's thunder o'er the tide,
To walk the quarter-deck 'neath evening's star,
Look round upon a world of waters wide,
O'er which our red-cross flag is floating in its pride.

I love to listen when the storm grows loud,
Against us when the elements combine,
When the red-spirit of the thunder cloud
Breaks forth upon the waters of the Line,
Thro' midnight's gloom when sheeted lightnings shine,
When o'er the frigate whelming seas are cast,
To see her bound away thro' clouds of brine;
While the wild sea boys, singing at the mast,
Look down and smile at Death on pale horse riding past.

O 'tis sublime, and beautiful, and grand;
It makes the thrilling soul exult with pride,
But you who live with ladies upon land
Know nothing of the grandeur of the tide.
Long years of love to you, and to your bride;
Daughters and sons, and an old age of ease!
My kind remembrances to all beside;
Freedom to court and wed whene'er they please;
This is the wish I send to young friends o'er the seas.

[pp. 206-08]