Poems and Prose Remains, Vol II

The Bothie of Tober-Na-Vuolich

A Long-Vacation Pastoral

Arthur Hugh Clough


Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnin.

BRIGHT October was come, the misty-bright October,
Bright October was come to burn and glen and cottage;
But the cottage was empty, the matutine deserted.
    Who are these that walk by the shore of the salt sea water?
Here in the dusky eve, on the road by the salt sea water?
Who are these? and where? it is no sweet seclusion;
Blank hill-sides slope down to a salt sea loch at their bases,
Scored by runnels, that fringe ere they end with rowan and alder;
Cottages here and there outstanding bare on the mountain,
Peat-roofed, windowless, white; the road underneath by the water.
    There on the blank hill-side, looking down through the loch to the ocean,
There with a runnel beside, and pine-trees twain before it,
There with the road underneath, and in sight of coaches and steamers,
Dwelling of David Mackaye and his daughters Elspie and Bella,
Sends up a column of smoke the Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich.
    And of the older twain, the elder was telling the younger,
How on his pittance of soil he lived, and raised potatoes,
Barley, and oats, in the bothie where lived his father before him;
Yet was smith by trade, and had travelled making horseshoes
Far; in the army had seen some service with brave Sir Hector,
Wounded soon, and discharged, disabled as smith and soldier;
He had been many things since that,—drover, school-master,
Whitesmith,—but when his brother died childless came up hither;
And although he could get fine work that would pay in the city,
Still was fain to abide where his father abode before him.
And the lasses are bonnie,—I’m father and mother to them,—
Bonnie and young; they’re healthier here, I judge, and safer
I myself find time for their reading, writing, and learning.
So on the road they walk by the shore of the salt sea water,
Silent a youth and maid, and elders twain conversing.

    This was the letter that came when Adam was leaving the cottage.
If you can manage to see me before going off to Dartmoor,
Come by Tuesday’s coach through Glencoe (you have not seen it),
Stop at the ferry below, and ask your way (you will wonder,
There however I am) to the Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich.
    And on another scrap, of next day’s date, was written:—
It was by accident purely I lit on the place; I was returning,
Quietly, travelling homeward by one of these wretched coaches;
One of the horses cast a shoe; and a farmer passing
Said, Old David’s your man; a clever fellow at shoeing
Once; just here by the firs; they call it Tober-na-vuolich.
So I saw and spoke with David Mackaye, our acquaintance.
When we came to the journey’s end, some five miles farther,
In my unoccupied evening I walked back again to the bothie.
    But on a final crossing, still later in date, was added
Come as soon as you can; be sure and do not refuse me.
Who would have guessed I should find my haven and end of my travel,
Here, by accident too, in the bothie we laughed about so?
Who would have guessed that here would be she whose glance at Rannoch
Turned me in that mysterious way; yes, angels conspiring,
Slowly drew me, conducted me, home, to herself; the needle
Which in the shaken compass flew hither and thither, at last, long
Quivering, poises to north. I think so. But I am cautious;
More, at least, than I was in the old silly days when I left you.
    Not at the bothie now; at the changehouse in the clachan;1
Why I delay my letter is more than I can tell you.

    There was another scrap, without or date or comment,
Dotted over with various observations, as follows
Only think, I had danced with her twice, and did not remember.
I was as one that sleeps on the railway; one, who dreaming
Hears thro’ his dream the name of his home shouted out; hears and hears not,—
Faint, and louder again, and less loud, dying in distance;
Dimly conscious, with something of inward debate and choice,—and
Sense of claim and reality present, anon relapses
Nevertheless, and continues the dream and fancy, while forward
Swiftly, remorseless, the car presses on, lie knows not whither.
    Handsome who handsome is, who handsome does is more so;
Pretty is all very pretty, it’s prettier far to be useful.
No, fair Lady Maria, I say not that; but I will say,
Stately is service accepted, but lovelier service rendered,
Interchange of service the law and condition of Beauty
Any way beautiful only to be the thing one is meant for.
I, I am sure, for the sphere of mere ornament am not intended
No, nor she, I think, thy sister at Tober-na-vuolich.
This was the letter of Philip, and this had brought the Tutor
This is why Tutor and pupil are walking with David and Elspie,—
    When for the night they part, and these, once more together,
Went by the lochside along to the changehouse near in the clachan,
Thus to his pupil anon commenced the grave man, Adam.
    Yes, she is beautiful, Philip, beautiful even as morning
Yes, it is that which I said, the Good and not the Attractive!
Happy is he that finds, and finding does not leave it!
    Ten more days did Adam with Philip abide at the changehouse,
Ten more nights they met, they walked with father and daughter.
Ten more nights, and night by night more distant away were
Philip and she; every night less heedful, by habit, the father.
Happy ten days, most happy; and, otherwise than intended,
Fortunate visit of Adam, companion and friend to David.
Happy ten days, be ye fruitful of happiness! Pass o’er them slowly,
Slowly; like cruse of the prophet be multiplied, even to ages!
Pass slowly o’er them, ye days of October; ye soft misty mornings,
Long dusky eves; pass slowly; and thou, great Term-time of Oxford,
Awful with lectures and books, and Little-goes and Great-goes,
Till but the sweet bud be perfect, recede and retire for the lovers,
Yea, for the sweet love of lovers, postpone thyself even to doomsday!
    Pass o’er them slowly, ye hours! Be with them, ye Loves and Graces!
    Indirect and evasive no longer, a cowardly bather,
Clinging to bough and to rock, and sidling along by the edges,
In your faith, ye Muses and Graces, who love the plain present,
Scorning historic abridgement and artifice anti-poetic,
In your faith, ye Muses and Loves, ye Loves and Graces,
I will confront the great peril, and speak with the mouth of the lovers,
As they spoke by the alders, at evening, the runnel below them,
Elspie a diligent knitter, and Philip her fingers watching.

1. Public-house in the hamlet.    [back]

The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich - VII

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