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

Clyde, the River

Sailing up the Firth

By Robert Leighton (1822–1869)

UPROSE the sun through opening clouds of gray,

And at his touch the misty hills unveiled,

And all gave promise of a glorious day

As up the Firth we sailed.

At every step he took, the upper clouds

Thinned into gauze; the wakening morn looked through

And soon, withdrawing e’en her gauzy shrouds,

Came forth in radiant blue.

A rippling breeze was with us, just enough

To turn the waters into crisping curls;

You could not say the Firth was calm or rough,—

It danced in crested pearls.

Along the rocky ribs of Galloway

A margin of white foam crept to and fro;

And up the steep cliffs rose the snowy spray,

Silent to us as snow.

Then into view swung Ailsa Craig’s huge bulk,

And raised an old-world rapture in the blood;

Far off it loomed like some great stranded hulk,

Left there by Noah’s flood.

As we approached, our paltry tongues were stilled,

The bold sky-pictured craig stood more defined;

We sailed within a presence now that filled,

And e’en distressed, the mind.

Round its sun-burnished peak the seabirds flew

In idle numbers, never to be told;

They wheeled and slid across the skyey blue,

Like sunbeam-specks of gold.

And still we strove the mighty rock to clasp,

“As one big grandeur,” all unto the breast;

Its greatness only mocked our feeble grasp,

And on we sailed distressed.

Along our starboard lay the Carrick shore,

And Kyle, the classic, hid in warm white haze;

However hid, revealed forevermore

To the poetic gaze:

The bonnie Doon, and Cassilis Downan’s green,

The “Twa Brigs,” flyting almost side by side,

The ancient town of Ayr, and scene by scene

Of Tam O’Shanter’s ride.

And on our left lay Arran, sharp and clear,

Its Holy Isle and hidden loch behind,

Within whose reaches ships for shelter steer,

When storms are in the wind.

But Goatfell, with the tattered Arran peaks,

Took all our eyes, piled up so sheer and high:

’T was Nature’s easel,—this her freak of freaks,

Her canvas the blue sky.

A sudden cloud came o’er them, and anon

The Arran hills in dark-blue blackness lay;

Surely not all the Highlands can put on

So grim a scowl as they!

They were alive with passion; we beheld

Their knitting eyebrows and their gleaming eyes;

But soon their dark brows lifted, and they smiled

Grandly at our surprise.

Then, also on our left, the Isle of Bute;

So like to what a paradise should be,

That all declared the name would better suit

With an accented é.

There Kean, the tragic, built himself a cot

Beside its little lake, a sylvan scene,

And thought to cast in solitude his lot:

Alas for tragic Kean!

As well expect the lion to turn a hound,

The eagle to forget the soaring wing;

He came to Bute and solitude, but found

The play was still the thing.

Upon our right the Cumbraes, sister isles,

Were passed with small remark, though fairy splores,

And devil-builded dikes, and warlock wiles

Are rife about their shores.

Then landward Largs, with its old battle-field,

Where Alexander fought the invading Dane,

And made him the last hope of conquest yield,

Never to come again.

But all around us beauty infinite,

And history, and old tradition vied

Which should be minister of most delight,

And preached from side to side;

Till Greenock’s noisy piers lay on our beam,

And luggage dragged us back to common earth,

And finger-pointing porters broke our dream

Of sailing up the Firth.