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

Bass Rock

The Bass Rock

By David Macbeth Moir (1798–1851)

A MIGHTY mass majestic, from the roots

Of the old sea thou risest to the sky,

In thy wild, bare sublimity alone.

All-glorious was the prospect from thy peak,

Thou thunder-cloven Island of the Forth!

Landward Tantallon lay, with ruined walls

Sepulchral,—like a giant in old age,

Smote by the blackening lightning-flash, and left

A prostrate corpse upon the sounding shore!

Behind arose your congregated woods,

Leuchie, Balgone, and Rockville,—fairer none.

Remoter, mingling with the arch of heaven,

Blue Cheviot told where, stretching by his feet,

Bloomed the fair valleys of Northumberland.

Seaward the Forth, a glowing green expanse,

Studded with many a white and gliding sail,

Winded its serpent form,—the Ochils rich

Down gazing in its mirror; while beyond

The Grampians reared their bare, untrodden scalps;

Fife showed her range of scattery coast-towns old—

Old as the days of Scotland’s early kings,

Malcolm and Alexander and the Bruce—

From western Dysart to the dwindling point

Of famed and far St. Andrews; all beyond

Was ocean’s billowy and unbounded waste,

Sole broken by the verdant islet May,

Whose fitful lights, amid surrounding gloom,

When midnight mantles earth and sea and sky,

From danger warns the home-bound mariner;

And one black speck—a distant sail—which told

Where mingled with its line the horizon blue.

Who were thy visitants, lone Rock, since man

Shrank from thy sea-flower solitudes, and left

His crumbling ruins mid thy barren shelves?

Up came the cormorant, with dusky wing,

From northern Orkney, an adventurous flight,

Floating far o’er us in the liquid blue,

While many a hundred fathom in the sheer

Abyss below, where foamed the surge unheard,

Dwindled by distance, flocks of mighty fowl

Floated like feathery specks upon the wave.

The rower with his boat-hook struck the mast,

And lo! the myriad wings that like a sheet

Of snow o’erspread the crannies,—all were up!

The gannet, guillemot, and kittiwake,

Marrot and plover, snipe and eider-duck,

The puffin and the falcon and the gull,—

Thousands on thousands, an innumerous throng,

Darkening the noontide with their winnowing plumes,

A cloud of animation! the wide air

Tempesting with their mingled cries uncouth!

Words cannot tell the sense of loneliness

Which then and there, cloud-like, across my soul

Fell, as our weary steps clomb that ascent.

Amid encompassing mountains I have paused,

At twilight, when alone the little stars,

Brightening amid the wilderness of blue,

Proclaimed a world not God-forsaken quite;

I ’ve walked, at midnight, on the hollow shore,

In darkness, when the trampling of the waves,

The demon-featured clouds, and howling gales,

Seemed like returning chaos,—all the fierce

Terrific elements in league with night,—

Earth crouching underneath their tyrannous sway,

And the lone sea-bird shrieking from its rock;

And I have mused in churchyards far remote,

And long forsaken even by the dead,

To blank oblivion utterly given o’er,

Beneath the waning moon, whose mournful ray

Showed but the dim hawk sleeping on his stone:

But never, in its moods of fantasy,

Had to itself my spirit shaped a scene

Of sequestration more profound than thine,

Grim throne of solitude, stupendous Bass!

Oft in the populous city, mid the stir

And strife of hurrying thousands, each intent

On his own earnest purpose, to thy cliffs

Sea-girt, precipitous,—the solan’s home,—

Wander my reveries; and thoughts of thee

(While scarcely stirs the ivy round the porch,

And all is silent as the sepulchre)

Oft make the hush of midnight more profound.