Bute, the Isle

Lines Written in the Isle of Bute

David MacBeth Moir (1798-1851)

ERE yet dim twilight brightened into day,

Or waned the silver morning star away,

Shedding its last, lone, melancholy smile,

Above the mountain-tops of far Argyll;

Ere yet the solan’s wing had brushed the sea,         5

Or issued from its cell the mountain bee;

As dawn beyond the orient Cumbraes shone,

Thy northern slope, Byrone,

From Ascog’s rocks, o’erflung with woodland bowers,

With scarlet fuchsias, and faint myrtle flowers,         10

My steps essayed; brushing the diamond dew

From the soft moss, lithe grass, and harebell blue.

Up from the heath aslant the linnet flew

Startled, and rose the lark on twinkling wing,

And soared away, to sing         15

A farewell to the severing shades of night,

A welcome to the morning’s earliest light.

Thy summit gained, how tranquilly serene,

Beneath, outspread that panoramic scene

Of continent and isle, and lake and sea,         20

And tower and town, hill, vale, and spreading tree,

And rock and ruin tinged with amethyst,

Half seen, half hidden by the lazy mist,

Volume on volume, which had vaguely wound

The far-off hills around,         25

And now rolled downwards; till on high were seen,

Begirt with sombre larch, their foreheads green.

There, there, when all except the lark was mute,

O beauty-breathing Bute,

On thee entranced I gazed; each moment brought         30

A new creation to the eye of thought:

The orient clouds all Iris’ hues assumed,

From the pale lily to the rose that bloomed,

And hung above the pathway of the sun,

As if to harbinger his course begun;         35

When, lo! his disk burst forth,—his beams of gold

Seemed earth as with a garment to enfold,

And from his piercing eye the loose mists flew,

And heaven with arch of deep autumnal blue

Glowed overhead; while ocean, like a lake,         40

Seeming delight to take

In its own halcyon-calm, resplendent lay,

From Western Kames to far Kilchattan bay.

Old Largs looked out amid the orient light,

With its gray dwellings, and, in greenery bright,         45

Lay Coila’s classic shores revealed to sight;

And like a Vallombrosa, veiled in blue,

Arose Mount-Stuart’s woodlands on the view;

Kerry and Cowal their bold hill-tops showed,

And Arran, and Kintyre; like rubies glowed         50

The jagged clefts of Goatfell; and below,

As on a chart, delightful Rothesay lay,

Whence sprang of human life the awakening sound,

With all its happy dwellings, stretching round

The semicircle of its sunbright bay.         55

Byrone, a type of peace thou seemest now,

Yielding thy ridges to the rustic plough,

With cornfields at thy feet, and many a grove

Whose songs are but of love;

But different was the aspect of that hour         60

Which brought, of eld, the Norsemen o’er the deep,

To wrest yon castle’s walls from Scotland’s power,

And leave her brave to bleed, her fair to weep;

When Husbac fierce, and Olave, Mona’s king,

Confederate chiefs, with shout and triumphing,         65

Bade o’er its towers the Scaldic raven fly,

And mock each storm-tost sea-king toiling by!—

Far different were the days

When flew the fiery cross, with summoning blaze,

O’er Blane’s hill, and o’er Catan, and o’er Kames,         70

And round thy peak the phalanxed Butesmen stood,

As Bruce’s followers shed the Baliol’s blood,

Yea! gave each Saxon homestead to the flames!

Proud palace-home of kings! what art thou now?

Worn are the traceries of thy lofty brow!         75

Yet once in beauteous strength like thee were none,

When Rothesay’s Duke was heir to Scotland’s throne;

Ere Falkland rose, or Holyrood, in thee

The barons to their sovereign bowed the knee:

Now, as to mock thy pride,         80

The very waters of thy moat are dried;

Through fractured arch and doorway freely pass

The sunbeams, into halls o’ergrown with grass;

Thy floors, unroofed, are open to the sky,

And the snows lodge there when the storm sweeps by;         85

O’er thy grim battlements, where bent the bow

Thine archers keen, now hops the chattering crow;

And where the beauteous and the brave were guests,

Now breed the bats, the swallows build their nests!

Lost even the legend of the bloody stair,         90

Whose steps went downward to thy house of prayer;

Gone is the priest, and they who worshipped seem

Phantoms to us,—a dream within a dream;

Earth hath o’ermantled each memorial stone,

And from their tombs the very dust is gone;         95

All perished, all forgotten, like the ray

Which gilt yon orient hill-tops yesterday;

All nameless, save mayhap one stalwart knight,

Who fell with Græme in Falkirk’s bloody fight,—

Bonkill’s stout Stewart, whose heroic tale         100

Oft circles yet the peasant’s evening fire,

And how he scorned to fly, and how he bled,—

He, whose effigies in St. Mary’s choir,

With planted heel upon the lion’s head,

Now rests in marble mail.         105

Yet still remains the small dark narrow room

Where the third Robert, yielding to the gloom

Of his despair, heart-broken, laid him down,

Refusing food, to die; and to the wall

Turned his determined face, unheeding all,         110

And to his captive boy-prince left his crown.

Alas! thy solitary hawthorn-tree,

Four-centuried, and o’erthrown, is but of thee

A type, majestic ruin: there it lies,

And annually puts on its Mayflower bloom,         115

To fill thy lonely precincts with perfume,

Yet lifts no more its green head to the skies;

The last lone living thing around that knew

Thy glory, when the dizziness and din

Of thronging life o’erflowed thy halls within,         120

And o’er thy top St. Andrew’s banner flew.

Farewell! Elysian island of the west,

Still be thy gardens brightened by the rose

Of a perennial spring, and winter’s snows

Ne’er chill the warmth of thy maternal breast!         125

May calms forever sleep around thy coast,

And desolating storms roll far away,

While art with nature vies to form thy bay,

Fairer than that which Naples makes her boast!

Green link between the High lands and the Low,—         130

Thou gem, half claimed by earth and half by sea,—

May blessings, like a flood, thy homes o’erflow,

And health, though elsewhere lost, be found in thee!

May thy bland zephyrs to the pallid cheek

Of sickness ever roseate hues restore,         135

And they who shun the rabble and the roar

Of the wild world on thy delightful shore

Obtain that soft seclusion which they seek!

Be this a stranger’s farewell, green Byrone,

Who ne’er hath trod thy heathery heights before,         140

And ne’er may see thee more

After yon autumn sun hath westering gone;

Though oft, in pensive mood, when far away,

Mid city multitudes, his thoughts will stray

To Ascog’s lake, blue-sleeping in the morn,         145

And to the happy homesteads that adorn

Thy Rothesay’s lovely bay.