Robert Louis Stevenson
A LOWDEN SABBATH MORN
I am not certain of the particular parish Stevenson had in his mind when he wrote this poem, but I am certain that the description is typical of almost any Scottish rural parish, Lowden (that is, Lothian) or other. In illustrating the verses it has seemed to me, therefore, unnecessary to make portraits from any one locality. I fancy the writer looked back to the period of his boyhood and to the people he knew in more than one part of his native country, so I have tried to depict that period and that class of people as I remember them in various counties of his land and mine.
A. S. B.
The clinkum-clank o Sabbath bells
Noo to the hoastin rookery swells,
Noo faintin laich in shady dells,
Soonds far an near,
An throu the simmer kintra tells
Its tale o cheer.
An noo, to that melodious play,
A' deidly awns the quiet sway--
A' kens their solemn holiday,
Bestial an human,
The singin lintie on the brae,
The restin plooman.
He, mair than a' the lave o men,
His week completit joys to ken;
Hauf-dressed, he daunders oot an in,
Perplexed wi leisure;
An his raxed limbs he'll rax again
Wi painfü plaesur.
The steerin mither strang afit
Noo shoos the bairnies but a bit
Noo cries them ben, their Sinday shüit
To scart upon them,
Or sweeties in their pootch to pit,
Wi blessin's on them.
The lasses, clean frae tap to taes,
Are busked in crunklin underclaes;
The gairtened hose, the weel-filled steys,
The nakit shift,
A' bleached on bonny greens for days,
An white's the drift.
An noo to face the kirkward mile:
The guidman's hat o dacent style,
The blackit shuin, we noo maun fyle
As white's the miller.
A waefü peety tae, to spile
The warth o siller.
Oor Marget, aye sae keen to crack,
Douce-stappin in the stoury track,
Her emeralt goun a' kiltit back
Frae snawy coats,
White-ankled, leads the kirkward pack
Wi Dauvit Groats.
A thocht ahint, in runkled breeks,
A' spiled wi lyin by for weeks,
The guidman follows closs, an cleeks
The sonsie missis;
His saerious face at aince bespeaks
The day that this is.
An aye an while we nearer draw
To whaur the kirkton lies alaw,
Mair neebors, comin saft an slaw
Frae here an there,
The thicker thrang the gate an caw
The stour in air.
But hark! the bells frae nearer clangs;
To rowst the slaw, their sides they bang;
An see! black coats a'ready thrang
The green kirkyaird;
An at the yett, the chestnuts spangs
That brocht the laird.
The solemn elders at the plate
Stand drinkin deep the pride o state:
The practised hands as gash an great
As Lords o Session;
The later named, a wee thing blate
In their expression.
The prentit stanes that marks the deid
Wi lengthened lip, the saerious reads;
Syne wags a moraleesin heid,
An then an there
Their hirplin practice an their creed
Tries hard to square.
It's here oor Merren lang haes lain,
A wee bewast the table-stane;
An yon's the grave o Sandy Blane;
An further ower,
The mither's brithers, dacent men!
Lies a' the fower.
Here the guidman sall bide awee
To dwall amang the deid; to see
Auld faces clear in fancy's ee;
Belike to hear
Auld voices fa'in saft an slee
On fancy's ear.
Thus, on the day o solemn things,
The bell that in the steeple swings
To fauld a scaitered faimly rings
Its walcome screed;
An juist a wee thing nearer brings
The quick an deid.
But noo the bell is ringin in;
To tak their places, folk begin;
The minister himsel will shüne
Be up the gate,
Filled fou wi claivers aboot sin
An man's estate.
The tünes are up--French, to be shüre,
The faithfü French, an twa-three mair;
The auld prezentor, hoastin sair,
Wales oot the portions,
An yirks the tüne into the air
Wi queer contortions.
Follows the prayer, the readin next,
An than the fisslin for the text--
The twa-three last to finnd it, vexed
But kind o prood;
An than the peppermints are raxed,
For noo's the time whan pows are seen
Nid-noddin like a mandareen;
When tenty mithers staps a preen
In sleepin weans;
An nearly hauf the parochine
Forgets their pains.
There's juist a waukrif twa or three:
Thrawn commentautors sweer to 'gree,
Weans glowerin at the bumblin bee
Or lads that taks a keek a-glee
At sonsie lasses.
Hirnsel', meanwhile, frae whaur he cocks
An bobs belaw the soundin-box,
The treisures o his wirds unlocks
An deals some unco dingin knocks
Wi sappy unction, hoo he burkes
The hopes o men that trusts in works,
Expoonds the fauts o ither kirks,
An shaws the best o them
No muckle better than mere Turks,
When a's confessed o them.
Bethankit! what a bonny creed!
What mair wad ony Christian need?--
The braw wirds rummles ower his heid,
Nor steers the sleeper;
An in their restin graves, the deid
Sleeps aye the deeper.
Note.--It may be guessed by some that I had a certain parish in my eye, and this makes it proper I should add a word of disclamation. In my time there have been two ministers in that parish. Of the first I have a special reason to speak well, even had there been any to think ill. The second I have often met in private and long (in the due phrase) "sat under" in his church, and neither here nor there have I heard an unkind or ugly word upon his lips. The preacher of the text had thus no original in that particular parish; but when I was a boy, he might have been observed in many others; he was then (like the schoolmaster) abroad; and by recent advices, it would seem he has not yet entirely disappeared.