Written in 1856, but timely perhaps?
This poem is the first of 44 pieces in the book Poems & Lyric by John Collie.
It was written by my great-great-grandfather in Scotland. 164 years later, living in 21st century coronavirus lockdown NZ, we’ve all had to bring back solitude. Creating music’s become a solitary pursuit again (or else a virtual one). Adapting this poem gave the chance for a 12-minute acoustic epic whose time had come (again).
OH give me near some swelling stream to stray, 0r tread the windings of some pathless wood, For I am wearied of the bustling day, And long to meet thee, gloomy Solitude: That I with thee may climb those shelfy steeps, Which frown majestic o’er the boiling deeps.
What are the joys and pleasures of the world? Nought save a pleasing but deluding show ; From off its stage how soon are mortals hurled, To taste the slumbers of the grave below; While others, in succession, rise to claim Each boasted title of departing fame.
They in their turn can ﬂourish but a day, And as a rainbow in an evening clear, Their power and splendour for a time display; At last they feel a solemn change is near ; The dear-loved treasure which they hugg’d before, Loses its charms, and can be hugg’d no more. I envy not the pamper’d slave of State, Who wrongs his country to uphold a king; I envy not the luxuries of the great, To me such triﬂes can no pleasures bring ; But nature’s grandeurs in their wildest forms, Can yield me joys and never-dying charms. And thou, oh Solitude, my dearest friend, With thee I ever feel a chief delight, Thy solemn stillness captivates my mind, And shows me mankind in a clearer light ; And points me out their many hidden snares, To catch my human frailties unawares. In this sequester’d spot, no jarring sound Disturbs the listening and attentive ear, The wind is hushed, and silence so profound Tells me that solemn solitude is near; Each tree and bush seem having as their aim, To add a something to the general calm.
Oh how unlike the busy, bustling street Of some proud city, with its airy crowd, Is this secluded yet adored retreat ; Though vulgar eyes may deem its wildness rude, Yet I can draw from it a source of pleasure, ‘ A feast of happiness, and a golden treasure. These cliffs which long have stood the wintry shock Of Time’s all ruthless and destroying hand; These yew trees, grappling with the rugged rock, Our admiration and respect command ; Each little ﬂoweret with its honey bell, Has something great and wonderful to tell. How many changes have o’er-swept the earth Since ﬁrst those crags stood up to guard the glen ; Where are the faces which once beam‘d with mirth? Where are the warriors of a Bruce’s reign? Alas, to where we go they all have ﬂed; Tradition only tells us what they did. Still, there is something pleasing to the mind To ponder on the things which once have been ; To muse on some much loved and honoured friend, On whose lone grave the grass may now wave green. For when the mind on early joys may rest, There’s something pleasing though the joys be past.
Perhaps in this deep melancholy shade, Some youthful “ Ossian” may have tuned his lyre, And sung the praises of some artless maid, Whose winning smiles had set his heart on ﬁre ; Or it may be he loved to sing of war, The ﬂying squadron and the charioteer. Or who can tell but in this dreary glen, When Superstition held her mystic sway,— Like tyrant ruling o’er the minds of men, A dreadful ﬁend, too dreadful to pourtraye— ‘ Some one possessed of a transcendent mind, May here have wept to see his brothers blind. Or it may be some Cov’nanting band Fixed for a time their lone abode, To shun the scourge of Persecution’s wand, To love their fellows and adore their GOD ; Out from the world with all its ties alluring, They sought a something better worth procuring. But those dark days, those days of feuds and broils, Are now all number’d ’mongst the things that were; A calmer dawn o’er Scotia’s mountains smiles, Her sons less savage, though not less severe; The thirst for wealth seems now the ruling passion Of Peasant, Prince, and in a word, the nation.
And why for gold make all this great confusion? , Why thus embrace our greatest earthly foe ‘Why nurse and cherish such a vain delusion, , Which seems to threaten with eternal war? Dispel the thoughts of gold, and bid Ambition cease, This world would then become a world of peace. How happy might we be, e’en pilgrims as we are, On this thrice grand and glorious earthly sphere, Would man but feel for those oppressed with care, _ And love his neighbour as his brother dear ; The wheels of life would then move smoothly round, The harsh word DEATH would have a sweeter sound. 0h why is man by his own passions crush’d, Why murmur o’er each little fancied wrong; How soon are all those anxious passions hush’d, “ Man wants but little, nor that little long.” Just as the cloud that sweeps athwart the sky, Man lives to know that he but lives to die. The grove, the meadow, and the lonely glen, Where warblers warble, and where wild ﬂowers bloom, Which man exultingly believes his own, Must soon be bartered for the gloomy tomb; His wealth, his acres, and his mansions fair, Appear as nothing when Death’s arm is near.
.Yet but a few short years, and I must pass away, And leave each hoary crag and quiet pellucid rill ; And yet, methinks, I hear bright fancy say, “ Oh, though departed, thou canst love them still ; o If aught can claim a Spirit’s admiration, Sure it must be this beautiful Creation.” Oh Scotia dear, thrice dear thou art to me, I love thy mountains and thy caverns hoar; Oh, were thy sons heroic only free From vain Ambition’s undermining power; Were luxury banish’d, and were pride laid low, I My heart would leap with gladness at the blow. But why need I thus mourn my country’s woes, Why thus bewail the evils which I see ; I Can I not here indulge in sweet repose, Beneath the shadow of this aged tree, Safe from the glare of avaricious Pride, My Muse my comforter, my GOD my guide?
from Poems & Lyrics by John Collie (1856), releases June 22, 2020
John Collie (1834-1893) – lyrics
Dave Edwards – acoustic guitar, harmonica, vocal