[From Mona's Isle, 1844]



STERN Winter spreads his mantle o’er the sky,
And Sol no more appears to tow’r on high,
The earth ascends the bright ecliptic road,
Rejoicing ‘neath her animated load,
While northern climes are chill’d in Cancer’s claws,1
The solar heat th’ antarctic regions thawš,
And Capricornus shuns th’ optic gaze,
And shrinks behind the clear refulgent blaze,
And darkness shrouds the arctic circle o’er,
Save when reflected by the moon the shore,
Ice-bound and drear, in that most frigid zone,
Where si~ months’ night reigns cheerlessly alone.
Thus strides the god of seasons o’er each clime
Throughout all space, in majesty sublime;
The earth advances in her slanting2 orb,
That all her surface may by turns absorb
Its annual share of the refreshing ray
That ever issues from the king of day,
To keep in being all that ‘s here below,
For nature’s essence from his fountains flow.

I’ll leave the earth thus trundling on her course,
Maintaining still the grand primeval force
Which she received from the great Maker’s hand,
And turn my thoughts towards my native land,
Where wintry storms sweep o’er the cheerless plain,
And swelling billows foam along the main,
Spending their fury ‘gainst the rocky shore,
Amongst the caverns with a hollow roar,
Forcing the sea-gull from its rocky cell
To seek a shelter in the woodland dell;
While frozen flakes come floating from the north
On the keen blast mix’d with the ocean’s froth,
Dark’ning the air, and shedding gloom around,
As wrapt in snow becomes the cheerless ground.

As Night advances, deck’d in sable shroud,
And whistling winds proclaim the storm aloud,
The wind-bound barques bear up for Ramsey bay
To cast their anchors in its holding clay;
Clenching the cable to the windlass fast,
To make more sure they bend it round the mast,
Ready to cut should she attempt to drive
T’wards rocks and shoals ; and their best skill contrive
To trim the sails and to the harbour steer
Around the sturdy ever-friendly pier.
This last attempt to save their useful lives
Unto their children and their loving wives,
Has been achieved by Manxmen when the storm
Blew most vehemently,—that to perform
Such deeds of skill to gain the harbour’s bounds
Might well become the Deal-men in the Downs:
But when once gain’d the north side of the pier,
They have no longer any cause to fear,
If they are quick the smack to wear or stay,
And shorten sail in time to stop her way,
And keep her head on to the angry swell
Which scarcely now the ramparts can repel;
But while the hardy Manxman holds the helm,
He dares the sea his barque to overwhelm,
And round the corner he with caution steers
Where all the fleet lie snugly moor’d in tiers;
Making the hawser to the bollard fast,
And then the searching lot is quickly cast
To seek for one from ‘mongst the circle round
Who has to stop to watch her take the ground,
While all the rest go up to mother Quayle’s,
To drown their hardships in her homebrew’d ales,
And sing their songs,—regardless of the blast
That blows outside, so long as stands the mast
In the old smack ;—and when recedes the tide
They in the shelter of the town confide:
And thus the mariners pass the winter’s night
In jovial songs with hearts most blythe and light,
Passing around the nut-brown barley broth
In brimful quarts o’ertopp’d with hoary froth.
Now, from the aspect of the rocky shore,
Return we to the inland scenes once more.
The country folk from labour hard retire
And form a circle round their kitchen fire,
The lads bring in the reedy hemp to peel,
While lasses pass the band around the wheel,
And well adjust the peg of crooked kern,3
Within the fly that spins around the pearn,
To lead the thread along in reg’lar lays
The bobbin on that round the spindle plays;
And perhaps the neighbouring swains would gather in
To card the wool, each for his lass to spin,
And tell their tales of innocence with glee,
How one did pass the oldihorn haunted tree,
One stormy night, up to his knees in mire,
And saw the ghost with eyes like blazing fire,
In shape and form just like the shaggy stot
That haunts poor Alice Curdal’s lonely cot ;—
And when another, passing Ballaglass,
Returning home from courting his young lass,
Saw a deep shadow, ghastly and immense,
Standing between him and the thorny fence,
Which made the blood recoil within each vein,
And for a moment almost turn’d his brain,
Ere he had time to trust unto his heels,
And take the bye-road leading ‘cross the fields;
But ere he reach’d his cot, bold chanticleer
Began to crow and banish’d all his fear,
For when his clarion ushers in the day
The ghost no longer on the earth can stay.
And so the stories went around the house,
While sat the youngster, mute as any mouse,
Believing all that he had heard them tell,
For he himself e’en then could see as well
Such ghostly shapes as were that night described,
And thus he their credulity imbibed
Ere reason dawn’d upon his tender age,
Or ere he yet had learnt vast Nature’s page
Of sacred truth, traced by the Maker’s hand,
Which still extant eternally shall stand
To raise the grovelling mind of man on high
Above this earth, and teach him how to die ;—
For truth alone sheds light throughout the whole
Of His vast empire, long as the ages roll
Along the awful nothingness of space,
Which baffles all the art of man to trace
And such the impression made upon his mind,
That e’en in manhood he is oft inclined,
Through what in youth he was obliged to hear
Of ghosts and witches, to give way to fear;
So apt is memory fondly to retrace
Those early scenes which time cannot efface;
E’en philosophic reasonings of truth
Cannot obliterate the scenes of youth,
For such the case, the first impression made
Upon the mind will through man’s life pervade
In guiding all his actions here below,
It is the fount from whence those actions flow.
Then, oh ! how careful parents ought to he
To keep their offspring from such trammels free,
For superstition down from Adam’s time
Has been the source of ignorance and crime.
How strange that man with "a reflective mind"
Should be to such "delusive" ways inclined;
But man, alas ! is prone to set aside
All, save the love that ministers to pride;
Rejects the humbling doctrines of his creed—
Neglects to pray, or holy book to read—
Shuns the appointed place of public prayer—
Scorns the mild preacher’s warning voice to hear,
Seeking, in self-imposed~ rites, that peace
Which only grace can furnish or increase :—
Grace ! gift of God ! it keeps tis low and meek,
Points to obedience, learns us how to seek
~j1he faith that is in Jesus, and creates
New views oflife and doctrine :—now, he hates
That which he once admired, and feels how poor
All efforts of mere knowledge t’ unlock the door
Where Wisdom sits—true source of all sound lore,
Stamping with value what was vain before.
It clears the mental vision too, and scares
Whole troops offairies, ghosts, and glamour fears;
And lifts the soul on Faith’s immortal wings
To contemplate on more exalted things.
But to my theme and song of boyhood’s days,
Which memory retrospective yet surveys.
When dark December crowns the wintry scene,
And stormy winds, most bitterly and keen,
Rush o’er the lofty heights and plains below,
And fill the nooks with heaps of drifting snow,
Where highland sheep in vain some shelter seek
From the fierce storm that sweeps the mountain bleak;
The threatening aspect, opening on the sight,
Proclaims the coming of a dismal night;
The lowland beasts forsake the cheerless field,
Which neither food nor shelter now doth yield,
By instinct and by frequent custom led
To seek their fodder ‘neath the shelt’ring shed;
More favour’d they than sheep within the deli,
Which to find shelter have been led as well,
For they no cov’ring have ‘tween earth and sky,
But doorn’d by fate beneath the snow to die ;
Though long ere morn dispell’d the nightly shade,
The husbandmen towards the mountain wade
Thro’ heaps ofsnow, with their longprobing poles,4
Whilst Fly directs them to their breathing holes,
With many a bark along the wasteful plain,
Where desolation now appears to reign;
But oft in vain he traces every track
Along the snow, and then returning back
Towards his master, with a mournful look,
As if to say they ‘ye perish’d in the nook,

No holes I’ve found ere since the sun did rise,
Thus could be traced his meaning in his eyes.
Both swains and dog now from the search retire,
And bear the dismal tidings to the sire,
Who would with manly resignation say,
"The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away;
He rules the fate of flocks on hill and plain,
And all that this round earth and sea contain,
Eternal space his empire and his throne,
His wisdom based on sacred truth alone;
‘Tis but a loss to us in wordly sense,
Which the good Lord will kindly recompense,
If we to do his will our best essay,
And strictly venerate the Sabbath-day,
Our loss to us will surely be repaid,
For once the holy bard of Israel said,
I have been young—now hoary is my head,
Yet have not seen the righteous beg their bread;’
Then let us trust, when this our trouble’s past,
Like patient Job, to be more blest at last."
Such was the lore the Manxrnen taught their sons,
And such the vein that thro’ their manners runs,
Where’er they roam throughout this world of care
They still are first in other’s woe to share.
O, pure Religion ! much we owe to thee,
When thus we thy perfection early see
Display’d in truth, without a tinge of guile,
For what like thee life’s cares can reconcile?


1 The earth is in Cancer when the sun appears in Capricorn.

2 The obliquity of the ecliptic.

3 The Rowen tree.

4 The poles are used for two purposes, first to aid the peasants to wade through the snow, and secondly to probe for the sheep when the drifting snow lsas covered the holes made by their breath.


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HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2000