1801
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

May-Day; or, The Discovery. A Pastoral.

The Poetical Works of Hector Macneill, Esq.

Hector Macneill


Seven double-quatrain stanzas "In the Manner of Cunningham." More specifically, the model is John Cunningham's "Content, a Pastoral" (1763), as a note informs the reader. Miranda, wandering among the hills, expresses her desire for a country life: "How happy! she cried, in some shelter'd retreat | With lambkins and flocks beating nigh; | In my straw-cover'd cottage, though humble, yet neat, | I could live — and contented would die!" Edwin offers his services as "guard to the fold" and is accepted.

In the preface to his volume Hector Macneill explains that many of the poems were the production of his youth, and May-Day seems likely to fit that description. If the name "Edwin" is taken from Beattie's The Minstrel (it is not a typical name in pastoral ballad) it seems not unlikely that this poem would date from the peak years of the pastoral ballad phenomenon in the 1770s and 80s. It was omitted from later editions of Macneill's verse, most of which was composed in Scots. Though Macneill's reputation as a poet dates from the 1790s, he was in fact Burns's senior by some years.

W. Davenport Adams: "Hector Macneill, poet and miscellaneous writer (b. 1746, d. 1818), wrote The Harp (1789); Scotland's Skaith: or, the History o' Will and Jean (1795); The Links of Forth (1796); The Waes o' War (1796); Memoirs of Charles Macpherson; The Pastoral and Lyric Muse of Scotland; Town Fashions; By-gone Times; and The Scottish Adventurer" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 369.



See! rob'd in new beauties, young May cheers the lawn!
Ye virgins! how charming her air!
Haste! cull her fresh flow'rets dew-dropping at dawn,
And chaplets entwine for your hair!
Yes! weave the gay garland! each moment improve!
Youth's pleasures like Spring fleet away!—
Life has its soft season — that season is LOVE.
—Ah! taste its fond joys while 'tis May.

But lately I winded yon mountain's green side;—
How bless'd! for MIRANDA was by;
I mark'd as she welcom'd the Spring's opening pride
The rapture that beam'd in her eye:
Her fav'rite young lambkins ran bleating around,
(Their fleeces were whiter than snow!)
The cliffs crown'd with oakwood, return'd the soft sound;
The still lake gleam'd placid below.

"How happy!" she cried, "in some shelter'd retreat
With lambkins and flocks beating nigh;
In my straw-cover'd cottage, though humble, yet neat,
I could live — and contented would die!
This oak-waving mountain would ward winter's blast;
Yon lake teach complaint to be still;
Health, mirth, peace, and temperance, crown the repast,
And freedom bound light o'er the hill!"

A glance that escap'd the dear maid at the time
Half whisper'd a wish was untold;—
"And would my fair shepherdess deem it a crime
If EDWIN were guard to the fold?"
"I told my soft wishes," she sweetly replied,
(Ye virgins! her voice was divine!)
"I've rich ones rejected, and great ones denied,
But take me, fond shepherd! — I'm thine."

Her look was so artless! her accent so mild!
He candour so sweetly express'd!
I gaz'd on her beauties as blushing she smil'd,
And clasp'd the lov'd maid to my breast!—
The primrose in clusters breath'd fragrance around,
And witness'd the vows that were given;—
The lark, that sat listening, soar'd swift from the ground
And warbled the contract in — heaven!

Yon cottage where woodbines so fondly entwine,
We've chose for our humble retreat,
Where TEATH'S soften'd murmurs raise musing divine,
'Tis there my love's lambkins shall bleat!
There friendship shall lure modest worth to our door,
And shelter from care's wintry blast;
Content, deck'd in smiles, spread her pastoral store,
And Miranda prepare the repast!—

Thus fix'd, what imports it, ye great ones and vain,
Though splendour withholds her false gleam,
If pleas'd with our little, and strangers to pain,
Life glides placid by like yon stream?
While health, heav'nly goddess! smiles buxom and gay,
Shall we murmur that wealth comes not nigh?
When thy charms, INDEPENDENCE! thus prompts the free lay,
And the muse, lark-like, soars to the sky!

[2:113-17]