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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By North Country Folk (1883). A Cry from the Merse

Walter Chalmers Smith (1824–1908)

  • “They have heard evil tidings; there is sorrow on the sea.”
  • —Jer. xlix. 23.

  • HALF o’ us drooned in the Firth!

    Hearses at ilk ither door!

    No a hale heart in the toon,

    No a dry e’e on the shore!

    No a hooss but has its dead,

    Father, or cousin, or brither!

    For nane o’ us stands by himsel’,

    We are a’ sib to ilk ither.

    My Janet was wedded to Jake,

    George was my brither-in-law,

    Elsie was promised to Will—

    An’ noo they’re a’ dead an’ awa’;

    Drooned within sight o’ their hames,

    Throttled richt doon to their graves,

    Wi’ the screams o’ their wives an’ the weans

    Mixed up wi’ the crash o’ the waves.

    Lord God, what does it mean?

    They were a’ brave lads an’ true,

    And what can this misery bring

    O’ profit tae us or you?

    My head gangs roon when I think

    Hoo the sea lay calm in the bay,

    Till it had them a’ weel in its grip,

    An’ took the brave lads for a prey.

    Lord, keep me frae sin if ye can:

    I canna be sure what I do;

    There’s Elsie sits dazed-like an’ dumb,

    And Janet moans a’ the day through;

    I try tae keep hauds o’ Thee, Lord,

    But a’ that I get for my pains

    Is tae drift farther into the dark

    ’Mid the wail o’ the women an’ weans.

    Oh, the folk are a’ kind in their way,

    Baith gentle an’ simple, nae doot;

    An’ ready wi’ pity an’ prayers,

    An’ siller if siller wu’d do’t!

    But prayers winna bring the lads back,

    An’ pity feels almost like mockin’,

    An’ a’ the fine gowd i’ the lan’

    Winna sowder the heart that is broken.

    The bairnies are greetin’ a’ day,

    An’ the women are moanin’ a’ nicht,

    An’ the bread winna gang doon oor throats,

    An’ the Book doesna bring ony licht;

    An’ though there’s nae hope in oor hearts,

    We gang an’ glower lang at the sea,

    An’ scan weel the rig o’ ilk boat,

    An’ then we come hame like tae dee.

    Half o’ us drooned i’ the Firth!

    A’ o’ us drooned in despair!

    Bairns cryin’, “Daddie, come hame,”

    As their mithers are rivin’ their hair!

    An’ where there’s a corpse they are glad,

    For the sea has the maist in her maw;

    An’ I watna weel what’s tae come neist—

    But, Lord, if ye’d just tak’ us a’.