PROFESSOR VEITCH'S POEMS.*
Paolisasoa VErrca has essayed a perilous task, and one which would most probably have proved beyond his strength, had he not united in large measure what seem almost incompatible qualities. Peaceful, pastoral Tweed, wrapt in atmosphere as of sylvan dream, with its glens and "hopes," its silver tributaries sliding down, carrying their burden of glad or plaintive suggestion, has also its mouldering castles, its keeps, its grey peel towers,—re- lies of the olden times, when the fierce Border life throbbed at the full, and often found tragic outlet. The association of human life too often throws a dash as of sudden fire athwart the gentle, dreamy atmosphere, that seems to rest on the scenel and it needs nothing less than the fusing power of genius so to reconcile them, as to gain unity of impression. Even Scott himself was not sel- dom inclined to sacrifice nature to man. Professor Veitch has drank in the spirit of the Tweed,—he has wandered by " cliff and scaur," by hangh and holm, till the great presences of nature have become familiar. The misty mountain winds have been free to blow-about him, and he has gained some of their secrets. At the same time, he hat; dwelt much amid the memories of great human enterprise, and has 'reached to the profound emotions that stirred in the men of those rough-and-ready days ; and he has written a poem containingpassages which would have delighted Wordsworth and Scott alike. He has something of the meditative pensiveness of the one, something of the dash and fire of the other, in setting to words of his own the rough records of " high emprise." As an instance of the first, take the passage which follows the description of Broad Law,— " Sevran of Tweed'e hills! great-browed, remote, Familiar with all winds and wreathing mists ;" and it will in part justify what we have said,— " 'Twat here, 0 spirit of the mountain lone !
That lives and feels, yet knows no narrow bound
Of rounding space or local consciousness,—
Thou first spake to my heart, and first became To me a new, divine, creative power I I felt how from thine inmost heart there spring The forms that people all the living realm Of Poesy impassioned,—how we need A soul in things, and how we're drawn to pierce
Sense,symbols of the earth, and see revealed
To human eye forms on highways of God, That girdle round and consecrate the world !
For in this vast, unpeopled wild, alone
With solitude of hills and infinite Of void unfeeling sky, I could not brook The saddening thought of silent, selfless things! I felt the craving deep within the heart For fellowship of spirit ; whereupon Shapes sudden rose amid the loneliness To life like mine ; above, the clouds sped on, The sun's fleet messengers, in garb of noon Arrayed ; the sounds of palpitating streams Grew voices; gentle winds of sympathy Bent low, and shadows that soft swept the hills Were ministrants of numerous dim-lit joys.
There was new glory in the sun-cleft mist,
New splendour in the sombre wading moon • The threat of storm bad strange and thrilling thoughts,— I fell a power within the veil of sense."
Seldom, save in the pages of Wordsworth, have the growth of nature-love, and the gradual unfolding of a personal relationship —dim, yet real—with the mystic potencies of earth and air, been better or more musically indicated, and had it not been for one unfortunate line, which jars upon us somewhat, we should have pronounced the passage almost perfect. Professor Veitch, like all who have dwelt much in the lone solitudes of nature, has a note of low melancholy, —a pensive chord which, as it were, catches itself up suddenly now and then, as some scene of brave deed or Border tragedy bursts upon him, while he wanders; and it is in the art which he uses to reconcile the two sides of his theme that, as we have said, his real power lies. The following, which is part of a very striking passage, may be taken as a specimen of imagi- native interpretation of human memories and hopes :—
"There, where the mounds rise green o'er ancient home,
And all is silence save the ceaseless dash
Of passing waters o'er the whitened stones,—
There was `0. hived wife's clinging parting sad, When husband bodin in the feir of war,'
Bonne -for dire Flodden's reckless chivalry,
Rode forth a gleaming wonder to young eyes,
• Weleeed, and other 'Pamir. By John Witch, LL.D., Professor of Logic and Rhetoric in the University of Glasgow. Glasgow: Msclehoss.
That eager peered from height of bartisan. Long dread suspense there was, long-hoped return, And then dim sough of that disastrous day, That passed, thro' the shuddering land But him his vassals' love bore faithful back From hated Southern field, from stranger's earth, That he might lie beside his kindred dead; O'er moss and moor, and o'er brown mountain-ways They wended with their burden, shoulder-borne."
Were we inclined to advance a criticism on the poem, it would be that the merely logical structure of it shows rather too clearly through the body of rhythm and image with which it is clothed, and that now and then an abstract term is used where another had been at once more direct and more suggestive ; and this it is mainly which gives rise to the few peccant lines scattered through- out the poem, and which could be very easily remedied in a new edition. Of Professor Veitch's power to spiritualise a common object, and in the process to stamp it indelibly with imaginative significance, take this, from the fine poem, "On the Scrape, looking Southward," one out of many instances of true observation and chastened insight scattered through the volume :—
" Around me cluster quaint cloud-berry flowers, That love the moist slopes of the highest hills,— Pale, white, and delicate, and beautiful, Yet lowly growing 'mid the black peat moss,— No life with darker root and fairer bloom ; As if the hand of God had secret wrought Amid the peaty chaos and decay Of long deep-buried years, or from the moss Entombed, unshaped, unsunned, and colourless, Set free a form of beauty rare and bright, To typify the glory and the grace, Which from the dust of death He will awake, In course of time on Resurrection morn."
Of the various ballads in this volume, we have not space to speak in detail ; they are informed by that suggestive universality without which the ballad, in modern hands, is apt to degenerate into mere rhymed rhetoric, producing no effect which could not as well have been produced by simple, nervous prose. "Hay of Tails," in the former volume of Hillside Rhymes published anonymously, was really admirable in this respect. " The Hart of Mossfennan," especially, has that mystical touch inwoven with its realism which, without disturbing the story, sets below it, as it were, a wavering image of itself, spiritualised, and giving universal import,—eternal truth created out of what at first sight seem the mal-dispensations of life, in crucifying the finer instincts. For spirited execution, perhaps " Lord Maxwell" is the best, but "The Herd's Wife" has a simplicity all its own ; while "Lady Fleming's Dream," in rendering superstitious forecast and its sad realisation, should not be excepted, with its powerful closing stanzas :— " All night on the moor Lord Fleming lay,
Face to the moonshine clear ; Next morn to Boghall they brought him slow From the bill on a sauchen bier!
His lady deemed him fair that morn, When they brought him frcm the heath, Soft pallor on his upturned face.- 'Twas hard to think it death !
Pale and fair as the strawberry-flower, New-snatched with drooping head; For aye cut off from its quickening root, Yet a grace is on it dead."