Poems and Prose Remains, Vol II

The Bothie of Tober-Na-Vuolich

A Long-Vacation Pastoral

Arthur Hugh Clough


Ut vidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error

SO in the golden weather they waited. But Philip returned not.
Sunday six days thence a letter arrived in his writing.—
But, O Muse, that encompassest Earth like the ambient ether,
Swifter than steamer or railway or magical missive electric,
Belting like Ariel the sphere with the star-like trail of thy travel,
Thou with thy Poet, to mortals mere post-office second-hand knowledge
Leaving, wilt seek in the moorland of Rannoch the wandering hero.
There is it, there, or in lofty Lochaber, where, silent up-heaving,
Heaving from ocean to sky, and under snow-winds of September,
Visibly whitening at morn to darken by noon in the shining,
Rise on their mighty foundations the brethren huge of Bennevis?
There, or westward away, where roads are unknown to Loch Nevish,
And the great peaks look abroad over Skye to the western-most islands?
There is it? there? or there? we shall find our wandering hero?
    Here, in Badenoch, here, in Lochaber anon, in Lochiel, in
Knoydart, Moydart, Morrer, Ardgower, and Ardnamurchan,
Here I see him and here: I see him; anon I lose him!
Even as cloud passing subtly unseen from mountain to mountain,
Leaving the crest of Ben-more to be palpable next on Ben-vohrlich,
Or like to hawk of the hill which ranges and soars in its hunting,
Seen and unseen by turns, now here, now in ether eludent.
    Wherefore as cloud of Ben-more or hawk over-ranging the mountains,
Wherefore in Badenoch drear, in lofty Lochaber, Lochiel, and
Knoydart, Moydart, Morrer, Ardgower, and Ardnamurchan,
Wandereth he who should either with Adam be studying logic,
Or by the lochside of Rannoch on Katie his rhetoric using;
He who, his three weeks past, past now long ago, to the cottage
Punctual promised return to cares of classes and classics,
He who, smit to the heart by that youngest comeliest daughter,
Bent, unregardful of spies, at her feet, spreading clothes from her wash-tub?
Can it be with him through Badenoch, Morrer, and Ardna-murchan,
Can it be with him he beareth the golden-haired lassie of Rannoch?
This fierce, furious walking—o’er mountain-top and moorland,
Sleeping in shieling and bothie, with drover on hill-side sleeping,
Folded in plaid, where sheep are strewn thicker than rocks by Loch Awen,
This fierce, furious travel unwearying—cannot in truth be
Merely the wedding tour succeeding the week of wooing!
    No, wherever be Katie, with Philip she is not; I see him,
Lo, and he sitteth alone, and these are his words in the mountain.
    Spirits escaped from the body can enter and be with the living;
Entering unseen, and retiring unquestioned, they bring,—do they feel too?—
Joy, pure joy, as they mingle and mix inner essence with essence;
Would I were dead, I keep saying, that so I could go and uphold her!
Joy, pure joy, bringing with them, and, when they retire, leaving after
No cruel shame, no prostration, despondency; memories rather,
Sweet happy hopes bequeathing. Ah! wherefore not thus with the living?
Would I were dead, I keep saying, that so I could go and uphold her
    Is it impossible, say you, these passionate, fervent impulsions,
These projections of spirit to spirit, these inward embraces,
Should in strange ways, in her dreams, should visit her, strengthen her, shield her?
Is it possible, rather, that these great floods of feeling
Setting-in daily from me towards her should, impotent wholly,
Bring neither sound nor motion to that sweet shore they heave to?
Efflux here, and there no stir nor pulse of influx!
Would I were dead, I keep saying, that so I could go and uphold her!
Surely, surely, when sleepless I lie in the mountain lamenting,
Surely, surely, she hears in her dreams a voice, ‘I am with thee’
Saying, ‘although not with thee; behold, for we mated our spirits
Then, when we stood in the chamber, and knew not the words we were saying;’
Yea, if she felt me within her, when not with one finger I touched her,
Surely she knows it, and feels it while sorrowing here in the moorland.
Would I were dead, I keep saying, that so I could go and uphold her!
    Spirits with spirits commingle and separate; lightly as winds do,
Spice-laden South with the ocean-born zephyr! they mingle and sunder;
No sad remorses for them, no visions of horror and vileness.
Would I were dead, I keep saying, that so I could go and uphold her!
    Surely the force that here sweeps me along in its violent impulse,
Surely my strength shall be in her, my help and protection about her,
Surely in inner-sweet gladness and vigour of joy shall sustain her,
Till, the brief winter o’er-past, her own true sap in the springtide
Rise, and the tree I have bared be verdurous e’en as aforetime!
Surely it may be, it should be, it must be. Yet ever and ever,
Would I were dead, I keep saying, that so I could go and uphold her!
    No, wherever be Katie, with Philip she is not: behold, for
Here he is sitting alone, and these are his words in the mountain.
    And, at the farm on the lochside of Rannoch, in parlour and kitchen,
Hark! there is music—the flowing of music, of milk, and of whisky;
Lo, I see piping and dancing! and whom in the midst of the battle
Cantering loudly along there, or, look you, with arms up-lifted,
Whistling, and snapping his fingers, and seizing his gay-smiling Janet,
Whom?—whom else but the Piper? the wary precognisant Piper,
Who, for the love of gay Janet, and mindful of old invitation,
Putting it quite as a duty and urging grave claims to attention,
True to his night had crossed over: there goeth he, brimful of music,
Like to cork tossed by the eddies that foam under furious lasher,
Like to skiff lifted, uplifted, in lock, by the swift-swelling sluices,
So with the music possessing him, swaying him, goeth he, look you,
Swinging and flinging, and stamping and tramping, and grasping and clasping
Whom but gay Janet?—Him rivalling, Hobbes, briefest-kilted of heroes,
Enters, O stoutest, O rashest of creatures, mere fool of a Saxon,
Skill-less of philabeg, skill-less of reel too,—the whirl and the twirl o’t:
Him see I frisking, and whisking, and ever at swifter gyration
Under brief curtain revealing broad acres—not of broad cloth.
Him see I there and the Piper—the Piper what vision beholds not?
Him and His Honour with Arthur, with Janet our Piper, and is it,
Is it, O marvel of marvels! he too in the maze of the mazy,
Skipping, and tripping, though stately, though languid, with head on one shoulder,
Airlie, with sight of the waistcoat the golden-haired Katie consoling?
Katie, who simple and comely, and smiling and blushing as ever,
What though she wear on that neck a blue kerchief remembered as Philip’s,
Seems in her maidenly freedom to need small consolement of waistcoats!—
    Wherefore in Badenoch then, far-away, in Lochaber, Lochiel, in
Knoydart, Moydart, Morrer, Ardgower, or Ardnamurchan,
Wanders o’er mountain and moorland, in shieling or bothie is sleeping,
He, who,—and why should he not then? capricious? or is it rejected?
Might to the piping of Rannoch be pressing the thrilling fair fingers,
Might, as he clasped her, transmit to her bosom the throb of his own—yea,—
Might in the joy of the reel be wooing and winning his Katie?
    What is it Adam reads far off by himself in the cottage?
Reads yet again with emotion, again is preparing to answer?
What is it Adam is reading? What was it Philip had written?
    There was it writ, how Philip possessed undoubtedly had been,
Deeply, entirely possessed by the charm of the maiden of Rannoch;
Deeply as never before! how sweet and bewitching he felt her
Seen still before him at work, in the garden, the byre, the kitchen;
How it was beautiful to him to stoop at her side in the shearing,
Binding uncouthly the ears that fell from her dexterous sickle,
Building uncouthly the stooks1, which she laid by her sickle to straighten;
How at the dance he had broken through shyness; for four days after
Lived on her eyes, unspeaking what lacked not articulate speaking;
Felt too that she too was feeling what he did.—Howbeit they parted!
How by a kiss from her lips he had seemed made nobler and stronger,
Yea, for the first time in life a man complete and perfect,
So forth! much that before has been heard of.—Howbeit they parted.
    What had ended it all, he said, was singular, very.—
I was walking along some two miles off from the cottage
Full of my dreamings—a girl went by in a party with others;
She had a cloak on, was stepping on quickly, for rain was beginning;
But as she passed, from her hood I saw her eyes look at me.
So quick a glance, so regardless I, that although I had felt it,
You could’nt properly say our eyes met. She cast it, and left it
It was three minutes perhaps ere I knew what it was. I had seen her
Somewhere before I am sure, but that wasn’t it; not its import:
No, it had seemed to regard me with simple superior insight,
Quietly saying to itself—Yes, there he is still in his fancy,
Letting drop from him at random as things not worth his considering
All the benefits gathered and put in his hands by fortune,
Loosing a hold which others, contented and unambitious,
Trying down here to keep up, know the value of better than he does.
What is this? was it perhaps?—Yes, there he is still in his fancy,
Doesn’t yet see we have here just the things he is used to elsewhere;
People here too are people and not as fairy-land creatures;
He is in a trance, and possessed; I wonder how long to continue;
It is a shame and a pity—and no good likely to follow.—
Something like this, but indeed I cannot attempt to define it.
Only, three hours thence I was off and away in the moorland,
Hiding myself from myself if I could; the arrow within me.
Katie was not in the house, thank God: I saw her in passing,
Saw her, unseen myself, with the pang of a cruel desertion;
What she thinks about it, God knows; poor child; may she only
Think me a fool and a madman, and no more worth her remembering.
Meantime all through the mountains I hurry and know not whither,
Tramp along here, and think, and know not what I should think.
    Tell me then, why, as I sleep amid hill-tops high in the moorland,
Still in my dreams I am pacing the streets of the dissolute city,
Where dressy girls slithering by upon pavements give sign for accosting,
Paint on their beautiless cheeks, and hunger and shame in their bosoms;
Hunger by drink, and by that which they shudder yet burn for, appeasing,—
Hiding their shame—ah God!—in the glare of the public gas-lights?
Why, while I feel my ears catching through slumber the run of the streamlet,
Still am I pacing the pavement, and seeing the sign for accosting,
Still am I passing those figures, nor daring to look in their faces?
Why, when the chill, ere the light, of the daybreak uneasily wakes me,
Find I a cry in my heart crying up to the heaven of heavens,
No, Great Unjust judge! she is purity; I am the lost one.
    You will not think that I soberly look for such things for sweet Katie;
No, but the vision is on me; I now first see how it happens,
Feel how tender and soft is the heart of a girl; how passive
Fain would it be, how helpless; and helplessness leads to destruction.
Maiden reserve torn from off it, grows never again to re-clothe it,
Modesty broken through once to immodesty flies for protection.
Oh, who saws through the trunk, though he leave the tree up in the forest,
When the next wind casts it down,—is his not the hand that smote it?
    This is the answer, the second, which, pondering long with emotion,
There by himself in the cottage the Tutor addressed to Philip.
    I have perhaps been severe, dear Philip, and hasty; forgive me;
For I was fain to reply ere I wholly had read through your letter;
And it was written in scraps with crossings and counter-crossings
Hard to connect with each other correctly, and hard to decipher;
Paper was scarce, I suppose: forgive me; I write to console you.
    Grace is given of God, but knowledge is bought in the market;
Knowledge needful for all, yet cannot be had for the asking.
There are exceptional beings, one finds them distant and rarely,
Who, endowed with the vision alike and the interpretation,
See, by their neighbours’ eyes and their own still motions enlightened,
In the beginning the end, in the acorn the oak of the forest,
In the child of to-day its children to long generations,
In a thought or a wish a life, a drama, an epos.
There are inheritors, is it? by mystical generation
Heiring the wisdom and ripeness of spirits gone by; with-out labour
Owning what others by doing and suffering earn; what old men
After long years of mistake and erasure are proud to have come to,
Sick with mistake and erasure possess when possession is idle.
Yes, there is power upon earth, seen feebly in women and children,
Which can, laying one hand on the cover, read off, unfaltering,
Leaf after leaf unlifted, the words of the closed book under,
Words which we are poring at, hammering at, stumbling at, spelling.
Rare is this; wisdom mostly is bought for a price in the market;—
Rare is this; and happy, who buys so much for so little,
As I conceive have you, and as I will hope has Katie.
Knowledge is needful for man,—needful no less for woman,
Even in Highland glens, were they vacant of shooter and tourist.
Not that, of course, I mean to prefer your blindfold hurry
Unto a soul that abides most loving yet most withholding;
Least unfeeling though calm, self-contained yet most unselfish;
Renders help and accepts it, a man among men that are brothers,
Views, not plucks the beauty, adores, and demands no embracing,
So in its peaceful passage whatever is lovely and gracious
Still without seizing or spoiling, itself in itself reproducing.
No, I do not set Philip herein on the level of Arthur.
No, I do not compare still tarn with furious torrent,
Yet will the tarn overflow, assuaged in the lake be the torrent.
    Women are weak, as you say, and love of all things to be passive,
Passive, patient, receptive, yea, even of wrong and misdoing,
Even to force and misdoing with joy and victorious feeling
Patient, passive, receptive; for that is the strength of their being,
Like to the earth taking all things, and all to good converting.
Oh ’tis a snare indeed!—Moreover, remember it, Philip,
To the prestige of the richer the lowly are prone to be yielding,
Think that in dealing with them they are raised to a different region,
Where old laws and morals are modified, lost, exist not;
Ignorant they as they are, they have but to conform and be yielding.
    But I have spoken of this already, and need not repeat it.
You will not now run after what merely attracts and entices,
Every-day things highly-coloured, and common-place carved and gilded.
You will henceforth seek only the good: and seek it, Philip,
Where it is—not more abundant, perhaps, but—more easily met with;
Where you are surer to find it, less likely to run into error,
In your station, not thinking about it, but not disregarding.
So was the letter completed: a postscript afterward added,
Telling the tale that was told. by the dancers returning from Rannoch.
So was the letter completed: but query, whither to send it?
Not for the will of the wisp, the cloud, and the hawk of the moorland,
Ranging afar thro’ Lochaber, Lochiel, and Knoydart, and Moydart,
Have even latest extensions adjusted a postal arrangement.
Query resolved very shortly, when Hope, from his chamber descending,
Came with a note in his hand from the Lady, his aunt, at the Castle;
Came and revealed the contents of a missive that brought strange tidings;
Came and announced to the friends, in a voice that was husky with wonder,
Philip was staying at Balloch, was there in the room with the Countess,
Philip to Balloch had come and was dancing with Lady Maria.
    Philip at Balloch, he said, after all that stately refusal,
He there at last—O strange! O marvel, marvel of marvels!
Airlie, the Waistcoat, with Katie, we left him this morning at Rannoch;
Airlie with Katie, he said, and Philip with Lady Maria.
    And amid laughter Adam paced up and down, repeating
Over and over, unconscious, the phrase which Hope had lent him,
Dancing at Balloch, you say, in the Castle, with Lady Maria.

1. Shocks.    [back]

The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich - V

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