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Primroses and Daisies in early March—"The Posie"-Burns—"The Ancient Mariner"-
William Tennant, Author of Anster Fair-Hebridean Epithalamium-A Bard's Blessing-A Translation-Macleod of Berneray.
The weather [March 1868] with us here still continues wonderfully genial and mild : taken all in all, the season may be noted as in this respect perhaps without precedent in our meteorological annals. The sun, with nearly eight degrees of southern declination, is not yet halfway through Pisces, we are still three weeks from the vernal equinox, and yet on our table before us, as we write these lines, there is as pretty a posy of wild-flowers as you could wish to see, consisting of daisies, primroses, and other modest beauties, the “firstlings of the year," culled from bank and brae at a date when in ordinary seasons the country, snow-covered or ice-bound, is but a bleak and barren waste. Older and wiser people than ourselves confidently predict "a winter in mid-spring" as yet in store for us; but meliora speramus, we had rather believe that to one of the mildest winters on record will succeed a genial spring, a splendid summer, and an abundant harvest. In any case, as somebody said of Scaliger and Clavius, Mallem cum Scaligero errare quam cum Clavio rectè supere : I had rather, that is, be a partaker in the
errors of Scaliger, than a sharer in all the wisdom of Clavius. Even so, we had rather err with the optimists than be ranked with the pessimists, even when their predictions turn out the truest. In our forenoon ramble on Friday last did we not find a merle's nest in the close and well-guarded embrace of an old thorn root, with its pretty treasure of four brown-spotted, greyishgreen eggs? and with our wild-flower bouquet before us, are we not better employed in crooning one of Burns' sweetest lyrics than in predicting evil, even if we were certain that our prediction should become true ?—said lyric being that entitled The Posie, which, dear reader, if you do not know it already, you should incontinently get by heart. Here is a verse or two :
Oh, luve will venture in where it daurna weel be seen ;
And a' to pu’a posie to my ain dear May.
“ The primrose I will pu', the firstling o' the year,
And I will pu' the pink, the emblem o' my dear;
And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May.
“ The lily it is pure, and the lily it is fair,
And in her lovely bosom I'll place the lily there ;
And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May.
“ The bawthorn I will pu', wi' its locks o'siller grey,
Where, like an aged man, it stands at break o' day ;
And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May."
Mark that line in italics, and ponder its exquisite tenderness. How it must have irradiated, like a sudden flood of sunshine over a mountain landscape, the poet's heart as he penned it! Here you have the germ of the doctrine afterwards more broadly taught by Coleridge in the well-known lines of the Ancient Mariner :
PRIMROSES AND DAISIES.
“ Farewell, farewell, but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding Guest,
Both man, and bird, and beast.
All things, both great and small ;
He made and loveth all."
We love The Posie of Burns for its own sake, but we love it all the more, perhaps, because our attention was first directed to its sweet simplicity and tender beauty by one of our earliest and kindest friends, himself a poet of no mean order, the late Professor William Tennant, author of Anster Fair, in all its fantastical gaiety and homely mirth the most original poem, perhaps, to be found in the literature of our country.
A gentleman who resides at present in Cheltenham, a cadet of one of the oldest and most respectable families on the West Coast, and himself the head of a house not unknown in Highland story, has been so good as to send us a short Gaelic poem in manuscript, with a request that we should give an English version of it. With this request we very readily comply, such a task being to us a labour of love; the poem itself, besides, being very beautiful, and the history of its composition extremely interesting, as throwing some light on the manners and customs of the olden times. The following prefatory note from the MS. itself sufficiently explains the origin of this quaint and curious Hebridean Epithalamium :-“It was tho custom in the West Highlands of Scotland in the olden time to meet the bride coming forth from her chamber with her maidens on the morning after her marriage, and to salute her with a poetical blessing called Beannachadh Bàird. On the occasion of the marriage of the Rev. Donald Macleod of Durinish, in the Isle of Skye, this practice having then got very much into desuetude, and none being found prepared to salute his bride agreeably to it, he himself came forward and received her with the following beautiful address. We present our readers with the original lines verbatim et literation, precisely as they stand in the MS., only omitting two lines that are partly illegible from their falling into the sharp foldings of the sheet. The sense and tenor of these lines, however, we have ventured to guess at and to incorporate with our English version :
Mlle fàilte dhuit le'd bhrèid,
Whether with the sense of the above we have succeeded in catching anything of its quaint beauty and tenderness in the following lines, is for the reader to judge :
A BARD'S BLESSING.
A Bard's BLESSING.
All hail and welcome ! joy and peace be thine ;
Be shower'd upon thee from the hand divine.
O seek His guidance who can guide aright.
May still be trod with pleasure and delight;
Guard thy good name and mine from smallest stain ;
In manner still be kindly, frank, and free;
In hour of trial calm and patient be;
All at thy bridal chamber-door we greet thee;
Through all thy life-long journey crowd to meet thee;
A blessing on thy kerchief-cinctured head !
The word breid in the original, which we have rendered kerchief and coif, was in the olden times the peculiar head-dress of married females, while virgins wore their braided locks uncovered, a simple ribbon to bind the hair, and occasionally a sprig of heather or modest flower by way of ornament, being the only head-dress that could