Burns by Charles Harpur

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My own wild Burns! these rude-wrought Rhymes of thine
In golden worth are like the unshapely coin
Of some new Realm, yet pure as from the mine; 
And art may well be spared with such alloy 
As dims the bullion to improve the die.

I love the truths of Art, but more indeed
The simplest truths of Nature; -- and I read, 
To find her visibly enthroned on all
His Muse hath builded like a fiery wall
Round national Faith, and patriotic Pride,
And Love and Valor, both at Beauty's side.
Yea, more his outward rudeness doth impress 
Upon me still, his innate strengthiness: 
Even as imperfect features oft enhance
The intrinsic power of some fine Countenance. 

How various too, the spirit of his Lyre -- 
How many-hued his soul's poetic fire!
Oft in one Song such quantities we find
Mingled, as most are several in their kind;
Humour, and Scorn, and Pathos, with a reach 
Above all effort -- each exalting each!
Yea, Terror wedding its own sense of evil, 
To mother Pity -- even for the Devil.

But best he moves to tears, or wakes such sighs 
As fan the vital fire in Beauty's lustrous eyes!
Hark! where the " winding Nith" -- the Axton -- Clyde -- 
Rave downward, or in gleaming quiet glide, 
How Passion's very soul keeps burning by 
In his wild Verse, from every dingle nigh!
Or by the "Connie Doon," or "gurgling Air,"
What heart-sweet memories, like perfumes, there 
Re-breathe of bloomy Joys untimely shed,
And Love that followed the beloved Dead
To Heaven! -- and then, while Pity weepeth, O, 
Who would exchange the luxury of her woe,
For all the pleasures that the heartless know? 

Then, should we need relief, -- another page 
Shall blow the trumpet of his warlike rage! 
And vilest of the villain Herd is he,
Who to his battle-dirge can listener be, 
Nor feel that he could die for Liberty!
Or who, whilst volleys forth the charging lay, 
Re-voicing Bannockburne's all-glorious day, 
From his exalted Manhood then not spurns
Whate'er is traitorous -- with a shout for Burns! 

And now, in thought, I track with steps of fear 
The noble Peasant in his wild career.
The haven of his Youth is left, -- the sea
Of Life is loudening all around, -- and She,
Who 'mid its perilous breakers might have stood 
Twixt him and Evil, influencing for Good, --
His first sweet Love -- She is not! -- Heaven looks bright 
Still, and the Hills laugh round him for delight; 
But ah! beneath the Sun he finds no more 
The Eden where his Genius dwelt before! 
And does he wander by his native Air?
A spirit of gladness hath gone up, even there! 
The more he mixes with his Kind in mirth,
The more he feels the homelessness of Earth;
Till Life's lost charm seems beckoning him afar 
In the white beauty of each lovely star. 
She is not; -- only sweeter is the tone
Of his wild Lyre for the wild loss thus known.

But storying thus with love his native Streams 
Thus, by the charm of his poetic dreams,
Breathing suggestions that exalt and thrill 
Into the spirit of each warrior Hill -- 
Yea, beaming Scotia's universal face
With mental beauty and affectionate grace. 
Yet, did he die the victim of Excess?
Alas! even Poesie, by her mute distress,
Admits the blot -- nor could she save her Son! 
Her star-bright Rob, her love-anointed One! 

Whilst yet the Bard, by Fortune unsubdued, 
Had only, like a wild bird of the Wood,
Sung his own simple joys -- then happy, being good; --
Ere he had sounded the World's heart, and spurned 
The soulless tone its hollowness returned,-- 
His habitude how temperate then we find, 
From a self-pleasing tunefulness of mind. 

But afterwards, that such a Being, so 
Alive to joy and sensitive to woe;  
With all in sympathy of rich and rare 
Flushing his soul, as in the evening air
A western cloud grows gifted to the sense
With all the Sun's unspeakable affluence; --
Endowed by Genius as with wings of flame,  
To mount against the burning eye of Fame,
Yet "bounded in a nutshell" -- or but wooed 
By Fortune from his barren solitude,
Just to be stared at by her minions vain-- 
A sort of mental monster, newly ta'en!
That such a Being should resort at length 
To whatsoever might repair the strength 
Of ruined Joy, a moment; or inspire  
The heart of dying Hope, though with fallacious fire! 
Was, I believe, howe'er the truth appal, 
Almost inevitably natural.

Ah, Scotia! it behoved thee then, to guard 
The worldly welfare of thy Peasant Bard!
But no, thou wouldst not -- and thy gifted Son 
So placed, again the like career should run! 
Again be naked left to Fortune's slurs,
A hound-like Spirit in a Land of curs. 

But ah! if such may always be the fate 
Of Genius native to a low estate,
For Mercy's sake-nay, for the sake of Burns,
Whose spirit, methinks, tow'rds each poor Brother yearns. 
Away the mask of kindred let us fling,
At once, and brand it as an outcast thing; 
Above communion with the rude by Mind 
Exalted, and yet shunned by the refined.
Yea, let this warning in its face be hurled, 
As the collective verdict of the World:
   Enrich the Age with beauty if you will, 
   But you must do so at your peril still;
   The sole reward's a life-long lack of bread. 
   And lastly, a most desolate death-bed.
   And then, some century after, when the loss 
   And agony of Genius, on the cross
   Of Passion, shall have sunk into a tale
   Wherewith to spice the tavern-lounger's ale;
   Then shall your lowly Grave, long grass o'ergrown 
   Become a national Sentiment -- in Stone.
   Yes, then, a costly Monument shall grace
   And guard it in the Land -- a sacred Place.

O, must not Scorn have reeled with laughter -- yes, 
Even until shocked at her own bitterness, 
To see by Scotland such a work up piled 
In honor of its so neglected Child?
But there it stands -- a Type (at least to me) 
Of intellectual hypocrisy.
Sad Memory, beholding, from it turns,
And murmurs -- What! a Monument to Burns. 
No: 'tis a sordid scoff perpetual made; 
A final insult to his injured Shade.
The thankless Country that denied him bread,
Now gives this Stone -- for he is safely dead!

First published in The Weekly Register of Politics, Facts and General Literature, 13 December 1845;
and later in
The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 30 September 1846;
The Bushrangers, a Play in Five Acts, and Other Poems by Charles Harpur, 1853; and
The Poetical Works of Charles Harpur edited by Elizabeth Perkins, 1984.

Author reference sites: AustlitAustralian Dictionary of BiographyAustralian Poetry Library

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on December 13, 2012 8:12 AM.

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