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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Scotland: Vols. VI–VIII. 1876–79.

Islands of Scotland

Islands of Scotland

By Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)

(From The Lord of the Isles)

MERRILY, merrily bounds the bark,

She bounds before the gale,

The mountain breeze from Ben-nadarch

Is joyous in her sail!

With fluttering sound like laughter hoarse,

The cords and canvas strain,

The waves, divided by her force,

In rippling eddies chase her course,

As if they laughed again.

Not down the breeze more blithely flew,

Skimming the wave, the light sea-mew,

Than the gay galley bore

Her course upon that favoring wind,

And Coolin’s crest has sunk behind,

And Slapin’s caverned shore.

’T was then that warlike signals wake

Dunscaith’s dark towers and Eisord’s lake,

And soon, from Cavilgarrigh’s head

Thick wreaths of eddying smoke were spread;

A summons these of war and wrath

To the brave clans of Sleat and Strath,

And, ready at the sight,

Each warrior to his weapon sprung,

And targe upon his shoulder flung,

Impatient for the fight.

Mac-Kinnon’s chief, in warfare gray,

Had charge to muster their array,

And guide their barks to Brodick Bay.


Merrily, merrily goes the bark,

On a breeze from the northward free,

So shoots through the morning sky the lark,

Or the swan through the summer sea.

The shores of Mull on the eastward lay,

And Ulva dark, and Colonsay,

And all the group of islets gay

That guard famed Staffa round.

Then all unknown its columns rose,

Where dark and undisturbed repose

The cormorant had found,

And the shy seal had quiet home,

And weltered in that wondrous dome

Where, as to shame the temples decked

By skill of earthly architect,

Nature herself, it seemed, would raise

A Minster to her Maker’s praise!

Not for a meaner use ascend

Her columns, or her arches bend;

Nor of a theme less solemn tells

That mighty surge that ebbs and swells,

And still, between each awful pause,

From the high vault an answer draws,

In varied tone prolonged and high,

That mocks the organ’s melody.

Nor doth its entrance front in vain

To old Iona’s holy fane,

That Nature’s voice might seem to say,

“Well hast thou done, frail child of clay!

Thy humble powers that stately shrine

Tasked high and hard,—but witness mine!”

Merrily, merrily goes the bark,—

Before the gale she bounds;

So darts the dolphin from the shark,

Or the deer before the hounds.

They left Loch-Tua on their lee,

And they wakened the men of the wild Tiree,

And the chief of the sandy Coll;

They paused not at Columba’s isle,

Though pealed the bells from the holy pile

With long and measured toll;

No time for matin or for mass,

And the sounds of the holy summons pass

Away in the billows’ roll.

Lochbuie’s fierce and warlike Lord

Their signal saw, and grasped his sword,

And verdant Ilay called her host,

And the clans of Jura’s rugged coast

Lord Ronald’s call obey,

And Scarba’s isle, whose tortured shore

Still rings to Corrievreken’s roar,

And lonely Colonsay;—

Scenes sung by him who sings no more!

His bright and brief career is o’er,

And mute his tuneful strains;

Quenched is his lamp of varied lore,

That loved the light of song to pour;

A distant and a deadly shore

Has Leyden’s cold remains!