Poems and Prose Remains, Vol II

The Bothie of Tober-Na-Vuolich

A Long-Vacation Pastoral

Arthur Hugh Clough


Vesper adest, juvenes, consurgite: Vesper Olympo
Expectata diu vix tandem lumina tollit.

FOR SHE confessed, as they sat in the dusk, and he saw not her blushes,
Elspie confessed at the sports long ago with her father she saw him,
When at the door the old man had told him the name of the bothie;
Then after that at the dance; yet again at a dance in Rannoch—
And she was silent, confused. Confused much rather Philip
Buried his face in his hands, his face that with blood was bursting.
Silent, confused, yet by pity she conquered her fear, and continued.
Katie is good and not silly; be comforted, Sir, about her;
Katie is good and not silly; tender, but not, like many,
Carrying off, and at once, for fear of being seen, in the bosom
Locking-up as in a cupboard the pleasure that any man gives them,
Keeping it out of sight as a prize they need be ashamed of;
That is the way, I think, Sir, in England more than in Scotland;
No, she lives and takes pleasure in all, as in beautiful weather,
Sorry to lose it, but just as we would be to lose fine weather.
And she is strong to return to herself and feel undeserted,
Oh, she is strong, and not silly; she thinks no further about you;
She has had kerchiefs before from gentle, I know, as from simple.
Yes, she is good and not silly; yet were you wrong, Mr. Philip,
Wrong, for yourself perhaps more than for her.
                                                        But Philip replied not,
Raised not his eyes from the hands on his knees.
                                                        And Elspie continued.
That was what gave me much pain, when I met you that dance at Rannoch,
Dancing myself too with you, while Katie danced with Donald;
That was what gave me such pain; I thought it all a mistaking,
All a mere chance, you know, and accident,—not proper choosing,—
There were at least five or six—not there, no, that I don’t say,
But in the country about—you might just as well have been courting.
That was what gave me much pain, and (you won’t remember that, though),
Three days after, I met you, beside my uncle’s, walking,
And I was wondering much, and hoped you wouldn’t notice,
So as I passed I couldn’t help looking. You didn’t know me.
But I was glad, when I heard next day you were gone to the teacher.
    And uplifting his face at last, with eyes dilated,
Large as great stars in mist, and dim, with dabbled lashes,
Philip, with new tears starting,
                                              You think I do not remember,
Said,—suppose that I did not observe! Ah me, shall I tell you?
Elspie, it was your look that sent me away from Rannoch.
It was your glance, that, descending, an instant revelation,
Showed me where I was, and whitherward going; recalled me,
Sent me, not to my books, but to wrestlings of thought in the mountains.
Yes, I have carried your glance within me undimmed, unaltered,
As a lost boat the compass some passing ship has lent her, .
Many a weary mile on road, and hill, and moorland
And you suppose that I do not remember, I had not observed it!
O, did the sailor bewildered observe when they told him his bearings?
O, did he cast overboard, when they parted, the compass they gave him?
    And he continued more firmly, although with stronger emotion
    Elspie, why should I speak it? you cannot believe it, and should not
Why should I say that I love, which I all but said to another?
Yet should I dare, should I say, O Elspie, you only I love; you,
First and sole in my life that has been and surely that shall be;
Could— O, could you believe it, O Elspie, believe it and spurn not?
Is it—possible,—possible, Elspie?
                                                        Well,—she answered,
And she was silent some time, and blushed all over, and answered
Quietly, after her fashion, still knitting, Maybe, I think of it,
Though I don’t know that I did: and she paused again; but it may be,
Yes,—I don’t know, Mr. Philip,—but only it feels to me strangely,
Like to the high new bridge, they used to build at, below there,
Over the burn and glen on, the road. You won’t understand me.
But I keep saying in my mind—this long time slowly with trouble
I have been building myself, up, up, and toilfully raising,
Just like as if the bridge were to do it itself without masons,
Painfully getting myself upraised one stone on another,
All one side I mean; and now I see on the other
Just such another fabric uprising, better and stronger.
Close to me, coming to join me: and then I sometimes fancy,—
Sometimes I find myself dreaming at nights about arches and bridges,—
Sometimes I dream of a great invisible hand coming down, and
Dropping the great key-stone in the middle: there in my dreaming,
There I felt the great key-stone coming in, and through it
Feel the other part—all the other stones of the archway,
Joined into mine with a strange happy sense of completeness. But, dear me,
This is confusion and nonsense. I mix all the things I can think of.
And you won’t understand, Mr. Philip.
                                                But while she was speaking,
So it happened, a moment she paused from her work, and pondering,
Laid her hand on her lap: Philip took it: she did not resist
So he retained her fingers, the knitting being stopped. But emotion
Came all over her more and yet more from his hand, from her heart, and
Most from the sweet idea and image her brain was renewing.
So he retained her hand, and, his tears down-dropping on it,
Trembling a long time, kissed it at last. And she ended.
And as she ended, uprose he: saying, What have I heard? Oh,
What have I done, that such words should be said to me? Oh, I see it,
See the great key-stone coming down from the heaven of heavens;
And he fell at her feet, and buried his face in her apron.
    But as under the moon and stars they went to the cottage,
Elspie sighed and said, Be patient, dear Mr. Philip,
Do not do anything hasty. It is all so soon, so sudden.
Do not say anything yet to any one.
                                                        Elspie, he answered,
Does not my friend go on Friday? I then shall see nothing of you
Do not I go myself on Monday?
                                        But oh, he said, Elspie!
Do as I bid you, my child; do not go on calling me Mr.;
Might I not just as well be calling you Miss Elspie?
Call me, this heavenly night, for once, for the first time, Philip.
    Philip, she said, and laughed, and said she could not say it;
Philip, she said; he turned, and kissed the sweet lips as they said it.

    But on the morrow Elspie kept out of the way of Philip
And at the evening seat, when he took her hand by the alders,
Drew it back, saying, almost peevishly,
                                                            No, Mr. Philip,
I was quite right, last night; it is too soon, too sudden.
What I told you before was foolish perhaps, was hasty.
When I think it over, I am shocked and terrified at it.
Not that at all I unsay it; that is, I know I said it,
And when I said it, felt it. But oh, we must wait, Mr. Philip!
We mustn’t pull ourselves at the great key-stone of the centre
Some one else up above must hold it, fit it, and fix it;
If we try ourselves, we shall only damage the archway,
Damage all our own work that we wrought, our painful upbuilding.
When, you remember, you took my hand last evening, talking,
I was all over a tremble: and as you pressed the fingers
After, and afterwards kissed it, I could not speak. And then, too,
As we went home, you kissed me for saying your name. It was dreadful.
I have been kissed before, she added, blushing slightly,
I have been kissed more than once by Donald my cousin, and others;
It is the way of the lads, and I make up my mind not to mind it;
But, Mr. Philip, last night, and from you, it was different, quite, Sir.
When I think of all that, I am shocked and terrified at it.
Yes, it is dreadful to me.
                                    She paused, but quickly continued,
Smiling almost fiercely, continued, looking upward.
You are too strong, you see, Mr. Philip! just like the sea there,
Which will come, through the straits and all between the mountains,
Forcing its great strong tide into every nook and inlet,
Getting far in, up the quiet stream of sweet inland water,
Sucking it up, and stopping it, turning it, driving it backward,
Quite preventing its own quiet running: and then, soon after,
Back it goes off, leaving weeds on the shore, and wrack and uncleanness
And the poor burn in the glen tries again its peaceful running,
But it is brackish and tainted, and all its banks in disorder.
That was what I dreamt all last night. I was the burnie,
Trying to get along through the tyrannous brine, and could not;
I was confined and squeezed in the coils of the great salt tide, that
Would mix-in itself with me, and change me; I felt myself changing;
And I struggled, and screamed, I believe, in my dream. It was dreadful.
You are too strong, Mr. Philip! I am but a poor slender burnie,
Used to the glens and the rocks, the rowan and birch of the woodies,
Quite unused to the great salt sea; quite afraid and unwilling.
    Ere she had spoken two words, had Philip released her fingers
As she went on, he recoiled, fell back, and shook and shivered;
There he stood, looking pale and ghastly; when she had ended,
Answering in hollow voice,
                                        It is true; oh, quite true, Elspie;
Oh, you are always right; oh, what, what have I been doing?
I will depart to-morrow. But oh, forget me not wholly,
Wholly, Elspie, nor hate me; no, do not hate me, my Elspie.
    But a revulsion passed through the brain and bosom of Elspie;
And she got up from her seat on the rock, putting by her knitting;
Went to him, where he stood, and answered:
                                                                    No, Mr. Philip,
No, you are good, Mr. Philip, and gentle; and I am the foolish:
No, Mr. Philip, forgive me.
                                    She stepped right to him, and boldly
Took up his hand, and placed it in hers; he dared no movement;
Took up the cold hanging hand, up-forcing the heavy elbow.
I am afraid, she said, but I will; and kissed the fingers.
And he fell on his knees and kissed her own past counting.

    But a revulsion wrought in the brain and bosom of Elspie;
And the passion she just had compared to the vehement ocean,
Urging in high spring-tide its masterful way through the mountains,
Forcing and flooding the silvery stream, as it runs from the inland;
That great power withdrawn, receding here and passive,
Felt she in myriad springs, her sources far in the mountains,
Stirring, collecting, rising, upheaving, forth-outflowing,
Taking and joining, right welcome, that delicate rill in the valley,
Filling it, making it strong, and still descending, seeking,
With a blind forefeeling descending ever, and seeking,
With a delicious forefeeling, the great still sea before it;
There deep into it, far, to carry, and lose in its bosom,
Waters that still from their sources exhaustless are fain to be added.
    As he was kissing her fingers, and knelt on the ground before her,
Yielding backward she sank to her seat, and of what she was doing
Ignorant, bewildered, in sweet multitudinous vague emotion,
Stooping, knowing not what, put her lips to the hair on his forehead
And Philip, raising himself, gently, for the first time round her
Passing his arms, close, close, enfolded her, close to his bosom.
As they went home by the moon, Forgive me, Philip, she whispered;
I have so many things to think of, all of a sudden;
I who had never once thought a thing,—in my ignorant Highlands.

The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich - VIII

Poems and Prose Remains vol II - Contents

Back    |    Words Home    |    Arthur Hugh Clough Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback