Diamond Speaks

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 480th birthday.

Mary, Queen of Scots
Scots
1542 – 1587

 

‘Tis not because my strength outranks both flame and brand,
Nor because my facets display a cunning hand,
Nor because, set in fine-wrought gold, I shine so bright,
Nor even that I’m pure, whiter than Phoebus’ light,
But rather because my form is a heart, like unto
My Mistress’ heart (but for hardness), that I’m sent to you.
For all things must yield to unfettered purity
And she is my true equal in each quality.
For who would fail to grant that once I had been sent,
My Mistress should thus, in turn, find favour and content?
May it please, from these omens I shall gather strength
And thus from Queen to equal Queen I’ll pass at length.
O would I could join them with an iron band alone
(Though all prefer gold) and unite their hearts as one
That neither envy, greed nor gossip’s evil play,
Nor mistrust, nor ravaging time could wear away.
Then they’d say among treasures I was most renowned,
For I’d have two great jewels in one setting bound.
Then with my glitt’ring rays I should confound the sight
Of all who saw me, dazzling enemies with my light.
Then, by my worth and by her art, I should be known
As the diamond, the greatest jewel, the mighty stone.

The Damned

Roddy Lumsden
Scots
1966 – 2020

 

Kitten curious, or roaring down drinks
in Soho sumps, small hours tour buses,
satellite station green rooms, or conked

out in the bathtubs of motorway hotels,
there you were, with muck-about kisses,
sharking for the snappers, before hell

opened up for you and weeping sores
of after fame appeared, the haphazardry
and dwindling after three limelit years,

recognized with catcalls, wads of spit,
a nightclub fist, the scant camaraderie
melts fast, like your flat on Air Street,

the Lhasa Apso pups, the wraps and lines
of chang, the poster pull-outs, fake tan
smiles. It’s paunch and palimony time

on Lucifer’s leash. But for a madcap few
who cling, thin soup, one pillow Britain
is simmering with hatred, just for you.

The Tay Bridge Disaster

We present this work in honor of the 120th anniversary of the poet’s death.

William Topaz McGonagall
Scots
1825 – 1902

 

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

‘Twas about seven o’clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seemed to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say—
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say—
“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”

But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers’ hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov’d most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.

So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o’er the town,
Good heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill’d all the people’s hearts with sorrow,
And made them all for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav’d to tell the tale
How the disaster happen’d on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay.
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

Lines to a Parrot

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 260th birthday.

Joanna Baillie
Scots
1762 – 1851

 

In these our days of sentiment
When youthful poets all lament
Some dear lost joy, some cruel maid;
Old friendship changed and faith betrayed;
The world’s cold frown and every ill
That tender hearts with anguish fill;
Loathing this world and all its folly,
In lays most musical and melancholy,–
Touching a low and homely string,
May poet of a Parrot sing
With dignity uninjured? say!–
No; but a simple rhymester may.
Well then, I see thee calm and sage,
Perched on the summit of thy cage,
With broad, hooked beak and plumage green,
Changing to azure in the light,
Gay pinions tipped with scarlet bright,
And, strong for mischief, use or play,
Thick talons, crisped with silver grey,–
A gallant bird, I ween!
What courtly dame, for ball-room drest–
What gartered lord in silken vest–
On wedding morn what country bride
With groom bedizened by her side–
What youngsters in their fair-day geer,
Did ever half so fine appear?
Alas! at ball, or, church, or fair,
Were ne’er assembled visions rare
Of moving creatures all so gay
As in thy native woods, where day
In blazing torrid brightness played
Through checkered boughs and gently made
A ceaseless morris-dance of sheen and shade!
In those blest woods, removed from man,
Thy early being first began,
‘Mid gay compeers, who, blest as thou,
Hopped busily from bough to bough,
Robbing each loaded branch at pleasure
Of berries, buds and kerneled treasure;
Then rose aloft with outspread wing,
Then stooped on flexile twig to swing,
Then coursed and circled through the air,
Mate chasing mate, full many a pair.
It would have set one’s heart a dancing
To ‘ve seen their varied feathers glancing,
And thought how many happy things
Creative Goodness into being brings.
But now how changed! it is thy doom
Within a walled and windowed room
To hold thy home, and (all forgot
The traces of thy former lot),
Clutching the wires with progress slow,
Still round and round thy cage to go.
Or cross the carpet:–altered case!
This now is all thy daily travel’s space.
Yet here thou art a cherished droll,
Known by the name of Pretty Poll;
Oft fed by lady’s gentle hand
With sops and sugar at command,
And sometimes too a nut or cherry,
Which in thy claws to beak and eye
Thou seemest to raise right daintily,
Turning it oft, as if thou still
Wert scanning it with cautious skill,
Provoking urchins near to laughter loud and merry.
See, gathered round, a rosy band,
With eager upcast eyes they stand,
Marking thy motions and withal
Delighting on thy name to call;
And hear, like human speech, reply
Come from thy beak most curiously.
They shout, they mowe, they grin, they giggle,
Clap hands, hoist arms, and shoulders wriggle;
O here, well may we say or sing,
That learning is a charming thing!
For thou, beneath thy wire-wove dome,
A learned creature hast become;
And hast, by dint of oft repeating,
Got words by rote, the vulgar cheating
Which, once in ten times well applied,
Are to the skies with praises cried.
So lettered dunces oft impose
On simple fools their studied prose.
Aye; o’er thy round though unwigged head,
Full many a circling year has sped,
Since thou kept terms within thy college,
From many tutors, short and tall,
In braid or bonnet, cap or caul,
Imbibing wonderous stores of seeming knowledge.
And rarely Bachelor of Arts
Or Master (dare we say it?) imparts
To others such undoubted pleasure
From all his stores of classic treasure:
And ladies sage, whose learned saws
To cognoscenti friends give laws,
Rarely, I trow, can so excite
A listening circle with delight.
And rarely their acquirements shine
Through such a lengthened course as thine.
The grannums of this group so gay,
Who round thee now their homage pay,
Belike have in such youthful glee,
With admiration gazed on thee;
And yet no wrinkled line betrays
The long course of thy lengthened days,
Thy bark of life has kept afloat
As on a shoreless sea, where not
Or change or progress may be traced;
Time hath with thee been leaden-paced.
But ah! proud beauty, on whose head
Some three-score years no blight hath shed,
Untoward days will come at length,
When thou, of spirit reft and strength,
Wilt mope and pine, year after year,
Which all one moulting-time appear,
And this bright plumage, dull and rusty,
Will seem neglected shrunk and dusty,
And scarce a feather’s rugged stump
Be left to grace thy fretted rump.
Mewed in a corner of thy home,
Having but little heart to roam,
Thou’lt wink and peer–a wayward elf,
And croon and clutter to thyself,
Screaming at visitors with spite,
And opening wide thy beak to bite.
Yet in old age still wilt thou find
Some constant friend thy wants to mind,
Whose voice thou’lt know, whose hand thou’lt seek,
Turning to it thy feathered cheek;
Grateful to her though cross and froward
To all beside, and it will go hard
But she will love thee, even when life’s last goal
Thou’st reached, and call thee still her Pretty Poll.
Now from these lines, young friends, I know
A lesson might be drawn to shew
How, like our bird, on life’s vain stage,
Pass human childhood, prime and age:
But conned comparisons, I doubt,
Might put your patience to the rout,
And all my pains small thanks receive,
So this to wiser folks leave.

Culloden Moor (Seen in Autumn Rain)

Alice MacDonell
Scots
1854 – 1938

 

Full of grief, the low winds sweep
O’er the sorrow-haunted ground;
Dark the woods where night rains weep,
Dark the hills that watch around.

Tell me, can the joys of spring
Ever make this sadness flee,
Make the woods with music ring,
And the streamlet laugh for glee?

When the summer moor is lit
With the pale fire of the broom,
And through green the shadows flit,
Still shall mirth give place to gloom?

Sad shall it be, though sun be shed
Golden bright on field and flood;
E’en the heather’s crimson red
Holds the memory of blood.

Here that broken, weary band
Met the ruthless foe’s array,
Where those moss-grown boulders stand,
On that dark and fatal day.

Like a phantom hope had fled,
Love to death was all in vain,
Vain, though heroes’ blood was shed,
And though hearts were broke in twain.

Many a voice has cursed the name
Time has into darkness thrust,
Cruelty his only fame
In forgetfulness and dust.

Noble dead that sleep below,
We your valour ne’er forget;
Soft the heroes’ rest who know
Hearts like theirs are beating yet.

To the Rainbow

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 245th birthday.

Thomas Campbell
Scots
1777 – 1844

 

Triumphal arch, that fill’st the sky
When storms prepare to part,
I ask not proud Philosophy
To teach me what thou art; –

Still seem; as to my childhood’s sight,
A midway station given
For happy spirits to alight
Betwixt the earth and heaven.

Can all that Optics teach unfold
Thy form to please me so,
As when I dreamt of gems and gold
Hid in thy radiant bow?

When Science from Creation’s face
Enchantment’s veil withdraws,
What lovely visions yield their place
To cold material laws!

And yet, fair bow, no fabling dreams,
But words of the Most High,
Have told why first thy robe of beams
Was woven in the sky.

When o’er the green, undeluged earth
Heaven’s covenant thou didst shine,
How came the world’s gray fathers forth
To watch thy sacred sign!

And when its yellow luster smiled
O’er mountains yet untrod,
Each mother held aloft her child
To bless the bow of God.

Methinks, thy jubilee to keep,
The first-made anthem rang
On earth, delivered from the deep,
And the first poet sang.

Nor ever shall the Muse’s eye
Unraptured greet thy beam;
Theme of primeval prophecy,
Be still the prophet’s theme!

The earth to thee her incense yields,
The lark thy welcome sings,
When, glittering in the freshened fields,
The snowy mushroom springs.

How glorious is thy girdle, cast
O’er mountain, tower, and town,
Or mirrored in the ocean vast,
A thousand fathoms down!

As fresh in yon horizon dark,
As young thy beauties seem,
As when the eagle from the ark
First sported in thy beam:

For, faithful to its sacred page,
Heaven still rebuilds thy span;
Nor lets the type grow pale with age,
That first spoke peace to man.

A Highly Valuable Chain of Thoughts

We present this work in honor of the 110th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Andrew Lang
Scots
1844 – 1912

 

Had cigarettes no ashes,
And roses ne’er a thorn,
No man would be a funker
Of whin, or burn, or bunker.
There were no need for mashies,
The turf would ne’er be torn,
Had cigarettes no ashes,
And roses ne’er a thorn.

Had cigarettes no ashes,
And roses ne’er a thorn,
The big trout would not ever
Escape into the river.
No gut the salmon smashes
Would leave us all forlorn,
Had cigarettes no ashes,
And roses ne’er a thorn.

But ‘tis an unideal
Sad world in which we’re born,
And things will ‘go contrairy’
With Martin and with Mary:
And every day the real
Comes bleakly in with morn,
And cigarettes have ashes,
And every rose a thorn.

To the Old Gods

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 135th birthday.

05-15 Muir
Edwin Muir
Scots
1887 – 1959

Old gods and goddesses who have lived so long
Through time and never found eternity,
Fettered by wasting wood and hollowing hill,
You should have fled our ever-dying song,
The mound, the well, and the green trysting tree.
They have forgotten, yet you linger still,
Goddess of caverned breast and channeled brow,
And cheeks slow hollowed by millennial tears,
Forests of autumns fading in your eyes,
Eternity marvels at your counted years
And kingdoms lost in time, and wonders how
There could be thoughts so bountiful and wise
As yours beneath the ever-breaking bough,
And vast compassion curving like the skies.

Winter Twilight in West Lothian

03-05 Hutchison
Isobel Wylie Hutchison
Scots
1889 – 1982

The sun’s going down behind the great shale-heap
Over against the village; shadows creep
Shifting from door to door, and all the bings
Of Broxburn stand like tombs of Theban kings
Black on the crimson, crowned by fierce blue stars.

From the fields mist is rising. Motor cars
Pass swiftly through the film of gathering grey,
Their drivers peering apprehensively
For furtive waggons, dazzled by the bits
Of sunset that still float above the pits
And fall into the puddles on the road.

Beyond the hedge the ploughman has bestrode
His horse, or seated edgewise lumbering rides
With feet that flap against the steaming sides
Of his tired beast, homeward beneath the moon,
Now and then whistling snatches of a tune
The harness echoes with its tinkling brass.

From time to time belated miners pass
With uncouth, blackened faces, taciturn;
Behind the bings the fires of sunset burn
To ashes very slowly. In the north
The Bear prowls softly up above the Forth
In a dark gulf the wind has sucked again
Out of the clouds. To-morrow we’ll have rain.

I Cannot Deem Why Men Toil So for Fame

We present this work in honor of the 155th anniversary of the poet’s death.

01-05 Smith
Alexander Smith
Scots
1829 – 1867

I cannot deem why men toil so for Fame.
A porter is a porter though his load
Be the oceaned world, and although his road
Be down the ages. What is in a name?
Ah! ‘t is our spirit’s curse to strive and seek.
Although its heart is rich in pearls and ores,
The Sea complains upon a thousand shores;
Sea-like we moan for ever. We are weak.
We ever hunger for diviner stores.
I cannot say I have a thirsting deep
For human fame, nor is my spirit bowed
To be a mummy above ground to keep
For stare and handling of the vulgar crowd,
Defrauded of my natural rest and sleep.