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Poem by David Macbeth Moir

The Old Seaport

WHEN winds were wailing round me,
  And Day, with closing eye,
Scowled from beneath the sullen clouds
  Of pale Novembers sky,
In downcast meditation
  All silently I stood,
Gazing the wintry oceans
  Rough, bleak, and barren flood.

A place more wild and lonely
  Was nowhere to be seen;
The caverned sea-rocks beetled oer
  The billows rushing green;
There was no sound from aught around,
  Save, mid the echoing caves,
The plashing and the dashing
  Of the melancholy waves.

High, mid the lowering waste of sky,
  The gray gulls flew in swarms;
And far beneath the surf upheaved
  The sea-weeds tangly arms;
The face of Nature in a pall
  Death-shrouded seemed to be,
As by St. Serfs lone tomb arose
  The dirges of the sea.

In twilights shadowy scowling,
  Not far remote there lay
Thine old dim harbor, Culross,
  Smoky and worn and gray;
Through far-back generations
  Thy blackened piles had stood,
And, though the abodes of living men,
  All looked like solitude.

Of hoar decrepitude all spake,
  And ruin and decay;
Of fierce, wild times departed;
  Of races passed away;
Of quaint, grim vessels beating up
  Against the whelming breeze;
Of tempest-stricken mariners,
  Far on the foamy seas.

It spake of swart gray-headed men,
  Now dust within their graves,
Who sailed with Barton or with Spens,
  To breast the trampling waves;
And how, in shallops picturesque,
  Unawed they drifted forth,
Directed by the one bright star
  That points the stormy North.

And how, when windows rattled,
  And strong pines bowed to earth,
Pale wives, with trembling children mute,
  Would cower beside the hearth,
All sadly musing on the ships
  That, buffeting the breeze,
Held but a fragile plank betwixt
  The sailor and the seas.

How welcome their return to home!
  What wondrous tales they told,
Of birds with rainbow plumage,
  And trees with fruits of gold;
Of perils in the wilderness,
  Beside the lions den;
And huts beneath the giant palms,
  Where dwelt the painted men!

Mid melancholy fancies
  My spirit loved to stray,
Back through the mists of hooded Eld,
  Lone wandering, far away;
When dim-eyed Superstition
  Upraised her eldritch croon,
And witches held their orgies
  Beneath the waning moon.

Yes! through Traditions twilight,
  To days had Fancy flown
When Canmore or when Kenneth dreed
  The Celts uneasy crown;
When men were bearded savages,
  An unenlightened horde,
Mid which gleamed Cunnings scapulaire,
  And Wars unshrinking sword.

And, in their rusty hauberks,
  Thronged past the plaided bands;
And slanting lay the Norsemens keels
  On oceans dreary sands;
And on the long flat moorlands,
  The cairn, with lichens gray,
Marked where their souls shrieked forth in blood,
  On Battles iron day.

Between me and the sea loomed out
  The ivied Abbey old,
In whose grim vaults the Bruces kneel
  In marble quaint and cold;
And where, inurned, lies hid the heart
  Of young Kinloss deplored,
Whose blood, by Belgiums Oster-Scheldt,
  Stained Sackvilles ruthless sword.

Waned all these trancèd visions;
  But, on my eerie sight,
Remained the old dim seaport
  Beneath the scowl of night;
The sea-mews for their island cliffs
  Had left the homeless sky,
And only to the dirgeful blast
  The wild seas made reply.

David Macbeth Moir

David Macbeth Moir's other poems:
  1. An Evening Sketch
  2. Kelburn Castle
  3. Thomsons Birthplace
  4. Langside
  5. Lines Written in the Isle of Bute

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