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English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

James Hogg

447. Kilmeny

BONNIE KILMENY gaed up the glen;

But it wasna to met Duneira’s men,

Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see,

For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.

It was only to hear the yorlin sing,

And pu’ the cress-flower round the spring;

The scarlet hypp and the hindberrye,

And the nut that hung frae the hazel tree;

For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.

But lang may her minny look o’er the wa’,

And lang may she seek i’ the green-wood shaw;

Lang the laird o’ Duneira blame,

And lang, lang greet or Kilmeny come hame!

When many a day had come and fled,

When grief grew calm, and hope was dead,

When mess for Kilmeny’s soul had been sung,

When the bedesman had pray’d and the dead bell rung,

Late, late in gloamin’ when all was still,

When the fringe was red on the westlin hill,

The wood was sere, the moon i’ the wane,

The reek o’ the cot hung over the plain,

Like a little wee cloud in the world its lane;

When the ingle low’d wi’ an eiry leme,

Late, late in the gloamin’ Kilmeny came hame!

‘Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been?

Lang hae we sought baith holt and den;

By linn, by ford, and green-wood tree,

Yet you are halesome and fair to see.

Where gat you that joup o’ the lily scheen?

That bonnie snood of the birk sae green?

And these roses, the fairest that ever were seen?

Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been?’

Kilmeny look’d up with a lovely grace,

But nae smile was seen on Kilmeny’s face;

As still was her look, and as still was her e’e,

As the stillness that lay on the emerant lea,

Or the mist that sleeps on a waveless sea.

For Kilmeny had been, she knew not where,

And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare;

Kilmeny had been where the cock never crew,

Where the rain never fell, and the wind never blew.

But it seem’d as the harp of the sky had rung,

And the airs of heaven play’d round her tongue,

When she spake of the lovely forms she had seen,

And a land where sin had never been;

A land of love and a land of light,

Withouten sun, or moon, or night;

Where the river swa’d a living stream,

And the light a pure celestial beam;

The land of vision, it would seem,

A still, an everlasting dream.

In yon green-wood there is a waik,

And in that waik there is a wene,

And in that wene there is a maike,

That neither has flesh, blood, nor bane;

And down in yon green-wood he walks his lane.

In that green wene Kilmeny lay,

Her bosom happ’d wi’ flowerets gay;

But the air was soft and the silence deep,

And bonnie Kilmeny fell sound asleep.

She kenn’d nae mair, nor open’d her e’e,

Till waked by the hymns of a far countrye.

She ’waken’d on a couch of the silk sae slim,

All striped wi’ the bars of the rainbow’s rim;

And lovely beings round were rife,

Who erst had travell’d mortal life;

And aye they smiled and ’gan to speer,

‘What spirit has brought this mortal here?’—

‘Lang have I journey’d, the world wide,’

A meek and reverend fere replied;

‘Baith night and day I have watch’d the fair,

Eident a thousand years and mair.

Yes, I have watch’d o’er ilk degree,

Wherever blooms femenitye;

But sinless virgin, free of stain

In mind and body, fand I nane.

Never, since the banquet of time,

Found I a virgin in her prime,

Till late this bonnie maiden I saw

As spotless as the morning snaw:

Full twenty years she has lived as free

As the spirits that sojourn in this countrye:

I have brought her away frae the snares of men,

That sin or death she never may ken.’—

They clasp’d her wrist and her hands sae fair,

They kiss’d her cheek and they kemed her hair,

And round came many a blooming fere,

Saying, ‘Bonnie Kilmeny, ye’re welcome here!

Women are freed of the littand scorn:

O blest be the day Kilmeny was born!

Now shall the land of the spirits see,

Now shall it ken what a woman may be!

Many a lang year, in sorrow and pain,

Many a lang year through the world we’ve gane,

Commission’d to watch fair womankind,

For it’s they who nurice the immortal mind.

We have watch’d their steps as the dawning shone,

And deep in the green-wood walks alone;

By lily bower and silken bed,

The viewless tears have o’er them shed;

Have soothed their ardent minds to sleep,

Or left the couch of love to weep.

We have seen! we have seen! but the time must come,

And the angels will weep at the day of doom!

‘O would the fairest of mortal kind

Aye keep the holy truths in mind,

That kindred spirits their motions see,

Who watch their ways with anxious e’e,

And grieve for the guilt of humanitye!

O, sweet to Heaven the maiden’s prayer,

And the sigh that heaves a bosom sae fair!

And dear to Heaven the words of truth,

And the praise of virtue frae beauty’s mouth!

And dear to the viewless forms of air,

The minds that kyth as the body fair!

‘O bonnie Kilmeny! free frae stain,

If ever you seek the world again,

That world of sin, of sorrow and fear,

O tell of the joys that are waiting here;

And tell of the signs you shall shortly see;

Of the times that are now, and the times that shall be.’—

They lifted Kilmeny, they led her away,

And she walk’d in the light of a sunless day;

The sky was a dome of crystal bright,

The fountain of vision, and fountain of light:

The emerald fields were of dazzling glow,

And the flowers of everlasting blow.

Then deep in the stream her body they laid,

That her youth and beauty never might fade;

And they smiled on heaven, when they saw her lie

In the stream of life that wander’d bye.

And she heard a song, she heard it sung,

She kenn’d not where; but sae sweetly it rung,

It fell on the ear like a dream of the morn:

‘O, blest be the day Kilmeny was born!

Now shall the land of the spirits see,

Now shall it ken what a woman may be!

The sun that shines on the world sae bright,

A borrow’d gleid frae the fountain of light;

And the moon that sleeks the sky sae dun,

Like a gouden bow, or a beamless sun,

Shall wear away, and be seen nae mair,

And the angels shall miss them travelling the air.

But lang, lang after baith night and day,

When the sun and the world have elyed away;

When the sinner has gane to his waesome doom,

Kilmeny shall smile in eternal bloom!’—

They bore her away, she wist not how,

For she felt not arm nor rest below;

But so swift they wain’d her through the light,

’Twas like the motion of sound or sight;

They seem’d to split the gales of air,

And yet nor gale nor breeze was there.

Unnumber’d groves below them grew,

They came, they pass’d, and backward flew,

Like floods of blossoms gliding on,

In moment seen, in moment gone.

O, never vales to mortal view

Appear’d like those o’er which they flew!

That land to human spirits given,

The lowermost vales of the storied heaven;

From thence they can view the world below,

And heaven’s blue gates with sapphires glow,

More glory yet unmeet to know.

They bore her far to a mountain green,

To see what mortal never had seen;

And they seated her high on a purple sward,

And bade her heed what she saw and heard,

And note the changes the spirits wrought,

For now she lived in the land of thought.

She look’d, and she saw nor sun nor skies,

But a crystal dome of a thousand dyes:

She look’d, and she saw nae land aright,

But an endless whirl of glory and light:

And radiant beings went and came,

Far swifter than wind, or the linkéd flame.

She hid her e’en frae the dazzling view;

She look’d again, and the scene was new.

She saw a sun on a summer sky,

And clouds of amber sailing bye;

A lovely land beneath her lay,

And that land had glens and mountains gray;

And that land had valleys and hoary piles,

And marléd seas, and a thousand isles.

Its fields were speckled, its forests green,

And its lakes were all of the dazzling sheen,

Like magic mirrors, where slumbering lay

The sun and the sky and the cloudlet gray;

Which heaved and trembled, and gently swung,

On every shore they seem’d to be hung;

For there they were seen on their downward plain

A thousand times and a thousand again;

In winding lake and placid firth,

Little peaceful heavens in the bosom of earth.

Kilmeny sigh’d and seem’d to grieve,

For she found her heart to that land did cleave;

She saw the corn wave on the vale,

She saw the deer run down the dale,

She saw the plaid and the broad claymore,

And the brows that the badge of freedom bore;

And she thought she had seen the land before.

She saw a lady sit on a throne,

The fairest that ever the sun shone on!

A lion lick’d her hand of milk,

And she held him in a leish of silk;

And a leifu’ maiden stood at her knee,

With a silver wand and melting e’e;

Her sovereign shield till love stole in,

And poison’d all the fount within.

Then a gruff untoward bedesman came,

And hundit the lion on his dame;

And the guardian maid wi’ the dauntless e’e,

She dropp’d a tear, and left her knee;

And she saw till the queen frae the lion fled,

Till the bonniest flower of the world lay dead;

A coffin was set on a distant plain,

And she saw the red blood fall like rain;

Then bonnie Kilmeny’s heart grew sair,

And she turn’d away, and could look nae mair.

Then the gruff grim carle girn’d amain,

And they trampled him down, but he rose again;

And he baited the lion to deeds of weir,

Till he lapp’d the blood to the kingdom dear;

And weening his head was danger-preef,

When crown’d with the rose and clover leaf,

He gowl’d at the carle, and chased him away

To feed wi’ the deer on the mountain gray.

He gowl’d at the carle and geck’d at Heaven,

But his mark was set, and his arles given.

Kilmeny a while her e’en withdrew;

She look’d again, and the scene was new.

She saw before her fair unfurl’d

One half of all the glowing world,

Where oceans roll’d, and rivers ran,

To bound the aims of sinful man.

She saw a people, fierce and fell,

Burst frae their bounds like fiends of hell;

There lilies grew, and the eagle flew;

And she herkéd on her ravening crew,

Till the cities and towers were wrapp’d in a blaze,

And the thunder it roar’d o’er the lands and the seas.

The widows they wail’d, and the red blood ran,

And she threaten’d an end to the race of man;

She never lened, nor stood in awe,

Till caught by the lion’s deadly paw.

O, then the eagle swink’d for life,

And brainzell’d up a mortal strife;

But flew she north, or flew she south,

She met wi’ the gowl o’ the lion’s mouth.

With a mooted wing and waefu’ maen,

The eagle sought her eiry again;

But lang may she cower in her bloody nest,

And lang, lang sleek her wounded breast,

Before she sey another flight,

To play wi’ the norland lion’s might.

But to sing the sights Kilmeny saw,

So far surpassing nature’s law,

The singer’s voice wad sink away,

And the string of his harp wad cease to play.

But she saw till the sorrows of man were bye,

And all was love and harmony;

Till the stars of heaven fell calmly away,

Like flakes of snaw on a winter day.

Then Kilmeny begg’d again to see

The friends she had left in her own countrye;

To tell of the place where she had been,

And the glories that lay in the land unseen;

To warn the living maidens fair,

The loved of Heaven, the spirits’ care,

That all whose minds unmeled remain

Shall bloom in beauty when time is gane.

With distant music, soft and deep,

They lull’d Kilmeny sound asleep;

And when she awaken’d, she lay her lane,

All happ’d with flowers, in the green-wood wene.

When seven lang years had come and fled,

When grief was calm, and hope was dead;

When scarce was remember’d Kilmeny’s name.

Late, late in a gloamin’ Kilmeny came hame!

And O, her beauty was fair to see,

But still and steadfast was her e’e!

Such beauty bard may never declare,

For there was no pride nor passion there;

And the soft desire of maiden’s e’en

In that mild face could never be seen.

Her seymar was the lily flower,

And her cheek the moss-rose in the shower;

And her voice like the distant melodye,

That floats along the twilight sea.

But she loved to raike the lanely glen,

And keepèd afar frae the haunts of men;

Her holy hymns unheard to sing,

To suck the flowers, and drink the spring.

But wherever her peaceful form appear’d,

The wild beasts of the hill were cheer’d;

The wolf play’d blythly round the field,

The lordly byson low’d and kneel’d;

The dun deer woo’d with manner bland,

And cower’d aneath her lily hand.

And when at even the woodlands rung,

When hymns of other worlds she sung

In ecstasy of sweet devotion,

O, then the glen was all in motion!

The wild beasts of the forest came,

Broke from their bughts and faulds the tame,

And goved around, charm’d and amazed;

Even the dull cattle croon’d and gazed,

And murmur’d and look’d with anxious pain

For something the mystery to explain.

The buzzard came with the throstle-cock;

The corby left her houf in the rock;

The blackbird alang wi’ the eagle flew;

The hind came tripping o’er the dew;

The wolf and the kid their raike began,

And the tod, and the lamb, and the leveret ran;

The hawk and the hern attour them hung,

And the merle and the mavis forhooy’d their young;

And all in a peaceful ring were hurl’d;

It was like an Eve in a sinless world!

When a month and a day had come and gane,

Kilmeny sought the green-wood wene;

There laid her down on the leaves sae green,

And Kilmeny on earth was never mair seen.

But O, the words that fell from her mouth

Were words of wonder, and words of truth!

But all the land were in fear and dread,

For they kendna whether she was living or dead.

It wasna her hame, and she couldna remain;

She left this world of sorrow and pain,

And return’d to the land of thought again.