Ode on the Centenary of Burns
WE hail, this morn, A century’s noblest birth; A Poet peasant-born, Who more of Fame’s immortal dower Unto his country brings, Than all her kings! As lamps high set Upon some earthly eminence,— And to the gazer brighter thence Than the sphere-lights they flout,— Dwindle in distance and die out, While no star waneth yet; So through the past’s far-reaching night, Only the star-souls keep their light. A gentle boy,— With moods of sadness and of mirth, Quick tears and sudden joy,— Grew up beside the peasant’s hearth. His father’s toil he shares! But half his mother’s cares From his dark searching eyes, Too swift to sympathise, Hid in her heart she bears. At early morn, His father calls him to the field; Through the stiff soil that clogs his feet, Chill rain, and harvest heat, He plods all day; returns at eve outworn, To the rude fare a peasant’s lot doth yield;— To what else was he born? The God-made King Of every living thing; (For his great heart in love could hold them all;) The dumb eyes meeting his by hearth and stall,— Gifted to understand!— Knew it and sought his hand;— And the most timorous creature had not fled Could she his heart have read, Which fain all feeble things had blessed and shelterèd. To Nature’s feast,— Who knew her noblest guest And entertained him best,— Kingly he came. Her chambers of the east She draped with crimson and with gold, And poured her pure joy-wines For him the poet-souled. For him her anthem rolled, From the storm-wind among the winter pines, Down to the slenderest note Of a love-warble from the linnet’s throat. But when begins The array for battle, and the trumpet blows, A king must leave the feast, and lead the fight. And with its mortal foes,— Grim gathering hosts of sorrows and of sins,— Each human soul must close. And Fame her trumpet blew Before him; wrapped him in her purple state; And made him mark for all the shafts of Fate, That henceforth round him flew. Though he may yield Hard-pressed, and wounded fall Forsaken on the field; His regal vestments soiled; His crown of half its jewels spoiled; He is a king for all, Had he but stood aloof! Had he arrayed himself in armour proof Against temptation’s darts! So yearn the good;—so those the world calls wise, With vain presumptuous hearts, Triumphant moralise. Of martyr-woe A sacred shadow on his memory rests; Tears have not ceased to flow; Indignant grief yet stirs impetuous breasts, To think,—above that noble soul brought low, That wise and soaring spirit fooled, enslaved,— Thus, thus he had been saved! It might not be! That heart of harmony Had been too rudely rent: Its silver chords, which any hand could wound, By no hand could be tuned, Save by the Maker of the instrument, Its every string who knew, And from profaning touch His heavenly gift withdrew. Regretful love His country fain would prove, By grateful honours lavished on his grave; Would fain redeem her blame That He so little at her hands can claim, Who unrewarded gave To her his life-bought gift of song and fame. The land he trod Hath now become a place of pilgrimage; Where dearer are the daisies of the sod That could his song engage. The hoary hawthorn, wreathed Above the bank on which his limbs he flung While some sweet plaint he breathed; The streams he wandered near; The maidens whom he loved; the songs he sung;— All, all are dear! The arch blue eyes,— Arch but for love’s disguise,— Of Scotland’s daughters, soften at his strain; Her hardy sons, sent forth across the main To drive the ploughshare through earth’s virgin soils, Lighten with it their toils; And sister-lands have learn’d to love the tongue In which such songs are sung. For doth not Song To the whole world belong: Is it not given wherever tears can fall, Wherever hearts can melt, or blushes glow, Or mirth and sadness mingle as they flow A heritage to all?
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