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


The Old Seaport

By David Macbeth Moir (1798–1851)

WHEN winds were wailing round me,

And Day, with closing eye,

Scowled from beneath the sullen clouds

Of pale November’s sky,

In downcast meditation

All silently I stood,

Gazing the wintry ocean’s

Rough, bleak, and barren flood.

A place more wild and lonely

Was nowhere to be seen;

The caverned sea-rocks beetled o’er

The billows rushing green;

There was no sound from aught around,

Save, mid the echoing caves,

The plashing and the dashing

Of the melancholy waves.

High, mid the lowering waste of sky,

The gray gulls flew in swarms;

And far beneath the surf upheaved

The sea-weed’s tangly arms;

The face of Nature in a pall

Death-shrouded seemed to be,

As by St. Serf’s lone tomb arose

The dirges of the sea.

In twilight’s shadowy scowling,

Not far remote there lay

Thine old dim harbor, Culross,

Smoky and worn and gray;

Through far-back generations

Thy blackened piles had stood,

And, though the abodes of living men,

All looked like solitude.

Of hoar decrepitude all spake,

And ruin and decay;

Of fierce, wild times departed;

Of races passed away;

Of quaint, grim vessels beating up

Against the whelming breeze;

Of tempest-stricken mariners,

Far on the foamy seas.

It spake of swart gray-headed men,

Now dust within their graves,

Who sailed with Barton or with Spens,

To breast the trampling waves;

And how, in shallops picturesque,

Unawed they drifted forth,

Directed by the one bright star

That points the stormy North.

And how, when windows rattled,

And strong pines bowed to earth,

Pale wives, with trembling children mute,

Would cower beside the hearth,—

All sadly musing on the ships

That, buffeting the breeze,

Held but a fragile plank betwixt

The sailor and the seas.

How welcome their return to home!

What wondrous tales they told,

Of birds with rainbow plumage,

And trees with fruits of gold;

Of perils in the wilderness,

Beside the lion’s den;

And huts beneath the giant palms,

Where dwelt the painted men!

Mid melancholy fancies

My spirit loved to stray,

Back through the mists of hooded Eld,

Lone wandering, far away;

When dim-eyed Superstition

Upraised her eldritch croon,

And witches held their orgies

Beneath the waning moon.

Yes! through Tradition’s twilight,

To days had Fancy flown

When Canmore or when Kenneth dree’d

The Celt’s uneasy crown;

When men were bearded savages,

An unenlightened horde,

Mid which gleamed Cunning’s scapulaire,

And War’s unshrinking sword.

And, in their rusty hauberks,

Thronged past the plaided bands;—

And slanting lay the Norsemen’s keels

On ocean’s dreary sands;—

And on the long flat moorlands,

The cairn, with lichens gray,

Marked where their souls shrieked forth in blood,

On Battle’s iron day.

Between me and the sea loomed out

The ivied Abbey old,

In whose grim vaults the Bruces kneel

In marble quaint and cold;

And where, inurned, lies hid the heart

Of young Kinloss deplored,

Whose blood, by Belgium’s Oster-Scheldt,

Stained Sackville’s ruthless sword.

Waned all these trancèd visions;—

But, on my eerie sight,

Remained the old dim seaport

Beneath the scowl of night;

The sea-mews for their island cliffs

Had left the homeless sky,

And only to the dirgeful blast

The wild seas made reply.