[From Mona's Isle, 1844]
SWEET rural Isle ! may I, thy rustic son,
Sing of the charms that through thy customs run,
While pictured memories my soul inspire
My youthful scenes at forty to admire.
Tho doomd by fate these twenty years to roam
Through many climes, from thee my native home,
Yet still fond memory, by its pleasing art,
Paints all the scenes of childhood on my heart;
And now since I have travelld far and wide,
My thoughts and home I cannot yet divide;
Theres not a spot on earth that I can find
Like thee, my Mona, suited to my mind.
Then let me now from Israels holy coast,*
Of which the sages never cease to boast,
Direct my thoughts to thee, my native isle,
And shut my eyes on all but thee the while.
Theres nothing here but savage warlike strife;
Man only lives to take his brothers life,
To satisfy the tyrants of his race,
Whose thirst for blood would all the world deface.
Now will my fancy take its airy flight
To view my scenes of childhood with delight,
And form my rustic verses, thus untaught
By school or art, for such I never sought :
And, sweet Simplicity ! be thou my guide,
While Nature all thats wanting shall provide
To wake the lyre and touch each trembling string,
For unto Natures sons I try to sing.
Hail, Monas Sons ! I come with humble lay
To strike my harp, your customs to pourtray
To such as now would deign to read the page
In this refined and artificial age:
Tho what avail their boasted schools of art
That only teach the head and not the heart?
To me more sweet one stroke of Natures pen
Than all the labourd skill of college-men.
My dear loved isle, that gave my being birth,
Thou art to me the sweetest spot on earth,
Thou who my cares in innocence beguiled,
Though far from thee, Im still thy simple child.
Ere yet the summer clothes thy fields in bloom,
Or ere thy heather sheds its rich perfume,
The early primrose hastens to appear
From neath the snow to lead the vernal year,
Nurtured by Nature in thy rocky soil,
It buds and blooms without mans care or toil.
Sweet flower ! how oft, when but a wayward boy,
Ive found thee first, and pluckd thee up with joy,
Running in haste unto my mother kind,
( Whose smiles bespoke the feelings of her mind,)
Shed say, " My son, the spring is coming fast
To shield us from the winters piercing blast;
May He, my child, who rules the universe,
Prepare our hearts His mercies to rehearse;
For He is bountiful and kind to all
His creatures here below, both great and small;
Making his covenant with Noah sure,
That seed and harvest-time should still endure
While earth remains, to measure day and night,
To show His goodness, mercy and His might:
And een this flower, which thou hast found to-day,
I:lis goodness and His mercy doth display.
It gives thee pleasure, child,so it doth me
This simple harbinger of spring to see,
For here it seems it has fulfilld the end
Of Wisdoms plan, that first the flower did send.
Give me the ancient jug of chinaware,
That I may place the virgin flower there,
That while it blooms it may our hearts incline
To own the kindness of the hand divine;
He clothes the fields with verdure and with corn,
Proclaiming that another spring is born
With sunny aspect from the womb of time,
To chase the gloom of winter from our clime.
Sweet simple vale ! how oft at eves soft close,
When night to man and beast gives sweet repose,
Ive seen thy happy family gather round
The good old man, with reverence profound,
To hear his wisdom and his pious lore,
While bending neath the pressure of fourscore:
Leaning upon his staff he thus would say,
" Lets worship God :" and then kneel down to pray
So far advanced in numberd years was he,
His eyes were dim, the book he could not see;
But his loved daughter, ever prompt and kind
To study all the feelings of his mind,
Performd the pious duty oft in tears
For poor grandfather in his helpless years:
Next her good man, his only son and heir,
Became the subject of her humble prayer,
And all her children dear she would implore
The Lord to spare, His mercies to adore,
And shield them from the evils of this life ;
Thus prayd the daughter, mother, and the wife.
Now spring is past, and idle lies the plough,
Ill turn my thoughts towards the mountains brow,
Where many a group of peasants at the dawn
Are seen to move along the upland lawn,
Towards the north of Corna-Chesgias side,
Their winters stock of fuel to provide
With labring hand from Natures ample store
Of turfy mould beneath the grassy moor.
This yearly pic-nic, mixd with useful toil,
Calls forth the dame the three-leggd pot to boil
Of good hung beef that graced the chimney-cheek
The winter through amongst the turfy reek;
And cowry,1 juice of oatmeals husky seed,
That in this mountain banquet takes the lead:
The oaten bannock, staff of Monas food,
She next prepares in segments thick and good
Of new laid eggs are packd full many a score,
And good fresh butter churnd the day before.
With joyful glee each lusty neighhring swain
Comes flocking round to join the mountain-train;
The females too are summond to attend
This festive day, their pleasing aid to lend;
For whilst the men the best of turf select
The women do their duty not neglect,
But cheerfully each Manx young buxom lass
Displays the crocks and platters on the grass.
When now prepared the homely welcome fare,
They sit them down the well-spread feast to share,
And while each rustic plays an eager part,
The Sire repeats " Theres plenty in the cart
To satisfy us all Im sure this day,
So lads eat on, and spare it not I pray."
Each bashful maid, so modest and reserved,
Takes care her own intended best is served;
While many looks of artless love pass round,
Pure joyful mirth and innocence abound;
The staid in years no longer can refrain
From joining chorus with the youthful train,
Calling to mind those happy days gone by,
Ere cares of life drew forth the heartfelt sigh.
When dinner oer, and th accustomd grace,
Each at his labour now retakes his place,
Whilst I, the youngest of the hardy band,
Was taskd the turf to spread with aching hand,
Marking each moment, as they slowly passd,
Wishing each barrow-load to be the last,
Until the sun sunk far into the west
Behind the sunimit of vast Snaaflelds3 crest,
Throwing its shadow oer the lowland plain,
The well-known gnomon4 of the labring swain.
When past this day of useful toil and mirth,
Where many assignations had their birth,
They homeward wend their course along the moor,
Their wives and children wait them at the door,
And many a neighbring cottage-lass was there,
To meet the swain the courting-kiss to share.
As careless they to hide their artless love
As the woodpigeons billing in the grove,
For there no etiquette or worldly pride
Had taught the heart to stray from virtues side.
Their harmless love the matron would survey,
And the pure dictates of her mind display
In giving counsel to each youthful pair,
Ending the subject in her evening prayr,
Imploring of the Lord that they might stand
As polishd pillars from the Makers hand
Round Zions gates, where He delights to dwell,
And of His mercies to their offspring tell.
How sweet my pleasing dreams, in lifes young morn,
When peace and plenty did my cot adorn,
And summer clothed the meadows in their pride
With all the hues that Nature doth provide:
Een now, methinks, I feel the balmy gale
That winnowd softly through my native vale,
With gentle zephyrs oer my youthful brow,
When spring calld forth my efforts at the plough;
Or as a herd-boy with my crooked horn
When cows were wont to trespass on the corn;
Or when the geese I drove towards the plain
To pick the grass when scanty was the grain;
Or when I sat beneath the hawthorns shade,
While flushd with life appeard the rural glade,
To view the Sabbath-mornings blissful scene,
When earth and sky seemd equally serene;
The soaring lark, the corn-crake,4 or the quail,
First the mild blush of bashful morn to hail;
The dove, the cuckoo in the neighbring trees,
The thrush, the linnet, and the humming bees,
Joind in sweet concert to their Makers praise,
In natures temple neath the morning rays:
The th~ed horse would to the fields resort
To feed, and roll upon the grass in sport,
With thankful instinct that no draught or load
Would on this day his back or shoulders goad;
The tame domestic cows, with udders full,
Welcomd the maid, while roard the Lammas-bull;
The fleecy sheep, feeding in flocks together
Upon the heights, among the blooming heather,
While solemnly re-echod through the deli
The distant murmurs of Kirk-Maugholds bell,.
Would warn me homeward to my cleanly cot
To get my crowdie reeking from the pot.
What rows of pewter-platters, bright and clean,
Upon the Sabbath-day, all shelved were seen?
Whilst over all was placed, with cautious care,
The heirloom ancient-figured earthenware,
That had from sire to son withstood the shock
Of time and chance and many a careless knock;
The wooden trenchers, scoured well with sand
The eve before, in ready order stand
Upon the bink ;5for careful still the wife
To save the edge of the old carving-knife
From being damaged by the glossy clay
That graced her table on this festive day.
When breakfast done and cleanly swept the floor,
The spades and mattocks placed behind the door,
And nicely trimmd with turf the kitchen-fire,
The family to the oaken press retire
To change their garments for the Sabbath-day,
And mother s handy work with pride display.
To make their shirts she spun the fibred flax,
And een the coats they wore upon their backs
Passd through her hands in maiiy a twisty thread
While at her wheel, regardless of her bed.
Each shirt and hose were placed with matron care
Upon the horse around the fire to air,
While she herself appeard so clean and prim
In her mob-cap of double-borderd rim,
In graceful folds made up by starch and quill
In small round loops by Peggys home-taught skill
Its strings were made of muslin fine and thin,
To form a bow beneath her dimpled chin.
Her quilted silk, of many a diamond shape,
And her short body-dress, with scollopd cape,
She would in homely-modesty display,
She wore the same upon her wedding-day
It graced her mother too Ive heard her say.
The elder branches now in laughtan-hose,6
And all the rest of their best Sunday-clothes,
Passd oer the bridge towards the house of prayr,
While mother stoppd the dinner to prepare,
And read her Bible to her youngest son,
When all her work of cookery was done.
I think I see her now, with pious air,
Sit down in the old oaken elbowd-chair,
With spectacles and Testament in hand,
And solemnly my silence would command,
While she selected from the sacred page
The words best suited to my tender age;
Perhaps twas righteous Josephs pleasing tale,
How he did oer the ills of life prevail,
By strict adherence to the cause of truth
Taught him by holy Jacob in his youth;
Thus cautiously, with kind maternal care,
She would my heart for happiness prepare,
For well she knew the nature of mankind,
That what is stampd upon the youthful mind
Is the sure fountain, when temptations press,
That flows to happiness, or deep distress.
Such are thy customs, Mona, ever fair!
How blest are they who in those customs share,
And to thy simple manners still conform,
While I am tossd on lifes tempestuous storm.
* Marmorice Bay, in the province of Kerarnania, in Asia Minor, distant 463 miles N.W. of Jerusalem.1840-41.
1 The Manx name for a jelly made from the seeds sifted from oatmeal
2 The highest mountain in the island.
3 The shadow of this mountain is the time-keeper of the inhabitants of the mountainous parts of the Island.
4 The quail is called by this name in the Island
5 The Manx name for a stone slab.
6 Made from wool of the natural colour of a sheep peculiar to the island.