The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, by Walter Scott

Appendix, No. vi.

Supplemental Stanzas to Collins’s Ode on the Superstitions of the Highlands.



The editor embraces this opportunity of presenting the reader with the following stanzas, intended to commemorate some striking Scottish superstitions, omitted by Collins in his ode upon that subject; and which, if the editor can judge with impartiality of the production of a valued friend, will be found worthy of the sublime original. The reader must observe, that these verses form a continuation of the address, by Collins, to the author of Douglas, exhorting him to celebrate the traditions of Scotland. They were first published in the Edinburgh Magazine, for April, 1788.

Thy muse may tell, how, when at evening’s close,

To meet her love beneath the twilight shade,

O’er many a broom-clad brae and heathy glade,

In merry mood the village maiden goes;

There, on a streamlet’s margin as she lies,

Chaunting some carol till her swain appears,

With visage deadly pale, in pensive guise,

Beneath a wither’d fir his form he rears!73

Shrieking and sad, she bends her irie flight,

When, mid dire heaths, where flits the taper blue,

The whilst the moon sheds dim a sickly light,

The airy funeral meets her blasted view!

When, trembling, weak, she gains her cottage low,

Where magpies scatter notes of presage wide,

Some one shall tell, while tears in torrents flow,

That, just when twilight dimm’d the green hill’s side,

Far in his lonely sheil her hapless shepherd died.

73 The wraith, or spectral appearance, of a person shortly to die, is a firm article in the creed of Scottish superstition. Nor is it unknown in our sister kingdom. See the story of the beautiful lady Diana Rich. —Aubrey’s Miscellanies, p, 89.]

Let these sad strains to lighter sounds give place!

Bid thy brisk viol warble measures gay!

For see! recall’d by thy resistless lay,

Once more the Brownie shews his honest face.

Hail, from thy wanderings long, my much lov’d sprite!

Thou friend, thou lover of the lowly, hail!

Tell, in what realms thou sport’st thy merry night,

Trail’st the long mop, or whirl’st the mimic flail.

Where dost thou deck the much-disordered hall,

While the tired damsel in Elysium sleeps,

With early voice to drowsy workman call,

Or lull the dame, while mirth his vigils keeps?

’Twas thus in Caledonia’s domes, ’tis said,

Thou ply’dst the kindly task in years of yore:

At last, in luckless hour, some erring maid

Spread in thy nightly cell of viands store:

Ne’er was thy form beheld among their mountains more.74

74 See Introduction, p. ci.]

Then wake (for well thou can’st) that wond’rous lay,

How, while around the thoughtless matrons sleep,

Soft o’er the floor the treacherous fairies creep,

And bear the smiling infant far away:

How starts the nurse, when, for her lovely child,

She sees at dawn a gaping idiot stare!

O snatch the innocent from demons vilde,

And save the parents fond from fell despair!

In a deep cave the trusty menials wait,

When from their hilly dens, at midnight’s hour,

Forth rush the airy elves in mimic state,

And o’er the moon-light heath with swiftness scour:

In glittering arms the little horsemen shine;

Last, on a milk-white steed, with targe of gold,

A fay of might appears, whose arms entwine

The lost, lamented child! the shepherds bold75

The unconscious infant tear from his unhallowed hold.

75 For an account of the Fairy superstition, see Introduction to the Tale of Tamlane.]

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