Boadicea: An Ode

WHEN the British warrior queen,
Bleeding from the Roman rods,
Sought, with an indignant mien,
Counsel of her country’s gods,

Sage beneath a spreading oak
Sat the Druid, hoary chief;
Every burning word he spoke
Full of rage, and full of grief.

‘Princess! if our aged eyes
Weep upon thy matchless wrongs,
’Tis because resentment ties
All the terrors of our tongues.

‘Rome shall perish—write that word
In the blood that she has spilt;
Perish, hopeless and abhorred,
Deep in ruin as in guilt.

‘Rome, for empire far renowned,
Tramples on a thousand states;
Soon her pride shall kiss the ground—
Hark! the Gaul is at her gates!

‘Other Romans shall arise,
Heedless of a soldier’s name;
Sounds, not arms, shall win the prize—
Harmony the path to fame.

‘Then the progeny that springs
From the forests of our land,
Armed with thunder, clad with wings,
Shall a wider world command.

‘Regions Cæsar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway,
Where his eagles never flew,
None invincible as they.’

Such the bard’s prophetic words,
Pregnant with celestial fire,
Bending, as he swept the chords
Of his sweet but awful lyre.

She, with all a monarch’s pride,
Felt them in her bosom glow;
Rushed to battle, fought, and died;
Dying, hurled them at the foe.

‘Ruffians, pitiless as proud,
Heaven awards the vengeance due:
Empire is on us bestowed,
Shame and ruin wait for you.’

— William Cowper.

Gu Bràth, Am Byth

Bruti posteritas cum Scotis associata
Anglica regna premet, Marte, labore, nece.
Flumina manabunt hostili tincta cruore
Perfida gens omni lite subacta ruet,
Quem Britonum fundet Albanis juncta juventus:
Sanguine Saxonico tincta rubebit humus:
Regnabunt Britones Scotorum gentis amici
Antiquum nomen insula tota feret;
Ut profert aquila veteri de turre locuta,
Cum Scotis Britones regna paterna regent.
Regnabunt pariter in prosperitate quieta
Hostibus expulsis, judicis usque diem.

John of Fordun, Chronica Gentis Scotorum, lib. III., cap. xxii., quoting a poem of Gildas.

[The posterity of Brutus in league with the Scots shall harrass England with war, toil, and death; the rivers shall flow discoloured with blood, and the perfidious nation shall sink subdued by every contest. The British and Albanian youth united shall overwhelm them, and the soil be crimsoned with Saxon blood. The Britons shall reign in friendship with the Scots; the whole island shall bear its ancient name, as the eagle which spoke from the old tower declares; the Britons and Scots shall rule over the kingdoms of their ancestors, and reign alike in profound peace, after the expulsion of their enemies, until the day of judgment.]

That Annihilated Place

τὸ δ᾽ ἔργον τοῦτο μὴ μόνον εἶναι κατὰ τὸ μέγεθος ἀποδοχῆς ἄξιον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῇ τέχνῃ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τῇ τοῦ λίθου φύσει διαφέρον, ὡς ἂν ἐν τηλικούτῳ μεγέθει μήτε διαφυάδος μήτε κηλῖδος μηδεμιᾶς θεωρουμένης. ἐπιγεγράφθαι δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ αὐτοῦ ‘βασιλεὺς βασιλέων Ὀσυμανδύας εἰμί. εἰ δέ τις εἰδέναι βούλεται πηλίκος εἰμὶ καὶ ποῦ κεῖμαι, νικάτω τι τῶν ἐμῶν ἔργων.’

Diod. 1.47.4.

[M]ox visit veterum Thebarum magna vestigia. Et manebant structis molibus litterae Aegyptiae, priorem opulentiam complexae: iussusque e senioribus sacerdotum patrium sermonem interpretari, referebat habitasse quondam septingenta milia aetate militari atque eo cum exercitu regem Rhamsen Libya, Aethiopia Medisque et Persis et Bactriano ac Scytha potitum quasque terras Suri Armeniique et contigui Cappadoces colunt, inde Bithynum, hinc Lycium ad mare imperio tenuisse. Legebantur et indicta gentibus tributa, pondus argenti et auri, numerus armorum equorumque et dona templis, ebur atque odores, quasque copias frumenti et omnium utensilium quaeque natio penderet, haud minus magnifica quam nunc vi Parthorum aut potentia Romana iubentur.

Tac. Ann. 2.60.

The New Zealander (1872) by Gustave Doré.

OZYMANDIAS;
or, On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below.

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Horace Smith,
The Examiner, 1 February 1818.

Horace Smith by unknown artist, watercolour, c. 1840; NPG 2200.

Is it not odd that the only truly generous person I ever knew who had money enough to be generous with should be a stockbroker? He writes poetry and pastoral dramas and yet knows how to make money, and does make it, and is still generous.

Shelley on Smith.

Flame of God

St. Bride by John McKirdy Duncan; 1913; National Galleries of Scotland (Scotland); tempera on canvas.

ST. BRIGET OF THE SHORES

I have heard many names of St. Briget, most beloved of Gaelic saints, with whom the month of February is identified . . . the month of “Bride min, gentle St. Bride” . . . Brighid boidheach Muime Chriosd, Bride the Beautiful, Christ’s Foster Mother . . . but there are three so less common that many even of my readers familiar with the Highland West may not know them. These are “the Fair Woman of February,” “St. Bride of the Kindly Fire,” and “St. Bride (or Briget) of the Shores.” They are of the Isles, and may be heard in some of the sgeulachdan gàidhealach, or Gaelic tales, still told among seafaring and hill folk, where the curse of cheap ignoble periodicals is unknown and books are rare. True, in several of the isles . . . Colonsay, Tiree, the Outer Hebrides . . . “St. Bride of the Shores” is not infrequent in songs and seasonal hymns, for when her signals are seen along the grey beaches, on the sandy machars, by the meadow path, the glen-track, the white shore-road, the islanders know that the new year is disclosed at last, that food, warmth, and gladness are coming out of the south. As “the Fair Woman of February,” though whatever other designation St. Bride goes by, she is often revealed. Her humble yellow fires are lit among the grasses, on the shore-ways, during this month. Everywhere in the Gaelic lands “Candlemas-Queen ” is honoured at this time. Am Fheill Bhride, the Festival of St. Briget, was till recently a festival of joy throughout the west, from the Highland Line to the last weedy shores of Barra or the Lews: in the isles and in the remote Highlands, still is.

It is an old tale, this association of St. Briget with February. It goes further back than the days of the monkish chroniclers who first attempted to put the disguise of verbal Christian raiment on the most widely-loved and revered beings of the ancient Gaelic pantheon. Long before the maiden Brigida (whether of Ireland or Scotland matters little) made her fame as a “daughter of God”; long before to Colum in Iona or to Patrick “the great Cleric” in Ireland “Holy St. Bride” revealed in a vision the service she had done to Mary and the Child in far-away Bethlehem in the East; before ever the first bell of Christ was heard by startled Druids coming across the hills and forest lands of Gaul, the Gaels worshipped a Brighde or Bride, goddess of women, of fire, of poetry. When, to-day, a Gaelic islesman alludes to Briget of the Songs, or when a woman of South Uist prays to Good St. Bride to bless the empty cradle that is soon to be filled, or when a shennachie or teller of tales speaks of an oath taken by Briget of the Flame, they refer, though probably unconsciously, to a far older Brighid than do they who speak with loving familiarity of Muime Chriosd, Christ’s Foster Mother, or Brighid – nam – Bratta, St. Bride of the Mantle. They refer to one who in the dim, far-off days of the forgotten pagan world of our ancestors was a noble and great goddess. They refer to one to whom the women of the Gael went with offerings and prayers, as went the women of ancient Hellas to the temples of Aphrodite, as went the Syrian women to the altars of Astarte, as went the women of Egypt to the milk-fed shrines of Isis. They refer to one whom the Druids held in honour as a torch bearer of the eternal light, a Daughter of the Morning, who held sunrise in one hand as a little yellow flame, and in the other held the red flower of fire without which men would be as the beasts who live in caves and holes, or as the dark Fomor who have their habitations in cloud and wind and the wilderness. They refer to one whom the bards and singers revered as mistress of their craft, she whose breath was a flame, and that flame song: she whose secret name was fire and whose inmost soul was radiant air, she therefore who was the divine impersonation of the divine thing she stood for. Poetry.

“St. Bride of the Kindly Fire,” of whom one may hear to-day as “oh, just Bhrighde mìn Muim (gentle St. Bride the Foster Mother), she herself an’ no other,” is she, that ancient goddess, whom our ancestors saw lighting the torches of sunrise on the brows of hills, or thrusting the quenchless flame above the horizons of the sea: whom the Druids hailed with hymns at the turn of the year, when, in the season we call February, the firstcomers of the advancing Spring are to be seen on the grey land or on the grey wave or by the grey shores: whom every poet, from the humblest wandering singer to Oisin of the Songs, from Oisin of the Songs to Angus Og on the rainbow or to Midir of the Underworld, blessed, because of the flame she put in the heart of poets as well as the red life she put in the flame that springs from wood and peat. None forgot that she was the daughter of the ancient God of the Earth, but greater than he, because in him there was but earth and water, whereas in her veins ran the elements of air and fire. Was she not born at sunrise? On the day she reached womanhood did not the house wherein she dwelled become wrapped in a flame which consumed it not, though the crown of that flame licked the high unburning roof of Heaven? In that hour when, her ancient divinity relinquished and she reborn a Christian saint, she took the white veil, did not a column of golden light rise from her head till no eyes could follow it? In that moment when she died from earth, having taken mortality upon her so as to know a divine resurrection to a new and still more enduring Country of the Immortal, were there not wings of fire seen flashing along all the shores of the west and upon the summits of all Gaelic hills? And how could one forget that at any time she had but to bend above the dead, and her breath would quicken, and a pulse would come back into the still heart, and what was dust would arise and be once more glad.

The Fair Woman of February is still loved, still revered. Few remember the last fading traditions of her ancient greatness: few, even, know that she lived before the coming of the Cross: but all love her, because of her service to Mary in Her travail and to the newborn Child, and because she looks with eyes of love into every cradle and puts the hand of peace on the troubled hearts of women: and all delight in her return to the world after the ninety days of the winter-sleep, when her heralds are manifest.

Poem by Winifred Mary Letts.

What, then, are the insignia of St. Briget of the Shores? They are simple. They are the dandelion, the lamb, and the sea-bird, popularly called the oyster-opener. From time immemorial, this humble, familiar yellow plant of the wayside has been identified with St. Bride. To this day shepherds, on Am Fheill Bhrighde, are wont to hear among the mists the crying of innumerable young lambs, and this without the bleating of ewes, and so by that token know that Holy St. Bride has passed by, coming earthward with her flock of the countless lambs soon to be born on all the hillsides and pastures of the world. Fisherfolk on the shores of the west and on the far isles have gladdened at the first prolonged repetitive whistle of the oyster-opener, for its advent means that the hosts of the good fish are moving towards the welcoming coasts once more, that the wind of the south is unloosened, that greenness will creep to the grass, that birds will seek the bushes, that song will come to them, and that everywhere a new gladness will be abroad. By these signs is St. Briget of the Shores known. One, perhaps, must live in the remote places, and where wind and cloud, rain and tempest, great tides and uprising floods are the common companions of day and night, in order to realise the joy with which things so simple are welcomed. To see the bright sunsweet face of the dandelion once more— an dealan Dhé, the little flame of God, am bearnan Bhrighde, St. Bride’s forerunner— what a joy this is. It comes into the grass like a sunray. Often before the new green is in the blade it flaunts its bright laughter in the sere bent. It will lie in ditches and stare at the sun. It will climb broken walls, and lean from nooks and corners. It will come close to the sands and rocks, sometimes will even join company with the sea-pink, though it cannot find footing where later the bind-weed and the horned poppy, those children of the seawind who love to be near and yet shrink from the spray of the salt wave, defy wind and rain. It is worthier the name “Traveller’s Joy” than the wild clematis of the autumnal hedgerows: for its bright yellow leaps at one from the roadside like a smile, and its homeliness is pleasant as the gladness of playing children.

It is a herald of Spring that precedes even the first loud flute-like calls of the missel-thrush. When snow is still on the track of the three winds of the north it is, by the wayside, a glad companion. Soon it will be everywhere. Before long the milk-white sheen of the daisy and the moon-daisy, the green-gold of the tansy, the pale gold of the gorse and the broom, the yellow of the primrose and wild colchicum, of the cowslip and buttercup, of the copse-loving celandine and meadow-rejoicing crowsfoot, all these yellows of first spring will soon be abroad: but the dandelion comes first. I have known days when, after midwinter, one could go a mile and catch never a glimpse of this bright comrade of the ways, and then suddenly see one or two or three, and rejoice forthwith as though at the first blossom on the blackthorn, at the first wild-roses, at the first swallow, at the first thrilling bells of the cuckoo. We are so apt to lose the old delight in familiar humble things. So apt to ignore what is by the way, just because it is by the way. I recall a dour old lowland gardener in a loch-and-hill-set region of Argyll, who, having listened to exclamations of delight at a rainbow, muttered, “Weel, I juist think naethin ava’ o’ thon rainbows . . . ye can see one whenever ye tak the trouble to look for them hereaboots.” He saw them daily, or so frequently that for him all beauty and strangeness had faded from these sudden evanescent Children of Beauty. Beauty has only to be perceptible to give an immediate joy, and it is no paradoxical extravagance to say that one may receive the thrilling communication from “the little flame of God” by the homely roadside as well as from these leaning towers built of air and water which a mysterious alchemy reveals to us on the cloudy deserts of heaven. “Man is surprised,” Emerson says, “to find that things near and familiar are not less beautiful and wondrous than things remote.” Certainly no Gaelic lover of St. Bride’s Flower, of the Flower of February, but rejoices to see its welcome face after the snow and sleet of winter have first sullenly receded, if only for a time, and to know that St. Bride of the Shores wears it at her breast, and that when she throws it broadcast the world is become a green place again and the quickening sunlight a gladsome reality.

In these desolate far isles where life is so hard, where the grey winds from the north and east prevail for weeks at a time on the grey tempestuous seas, and where so much depends on such small things— a little drift- wood, a few heaps of peat, a few shoal of fish now of one kind now of another, a few cartloads of seaweed, a rejoicing sound is that in truth when the Gille-Bhride is heard crying along the shores. Who that has heard its rapid whirling cry as it darts from haunt to haunt but will recognise its own testimony to being “Servant of Breed” (the common pronunciation of the Gaelic Brighid or Bride)— for does it not cry over and over again with swift incessant iterance, Gilly-breed, gilly-breed, gilly-breed, gilly-breed, gilly-breed.

White may my milking be,
White as thee;
Thy face is white, thy neck is white,
Thy hands are white, thy feet are white.
For thy sweet soul is shining bright—
O dear to me,
O dear to see,
St. Briget White!

Yellow may my butter be,
Firm, and round:
Thy breasts are sweet.
Firm, round, and sweet,
So may my butter be:
So may my butter be, O
Briget Sweet!
Safe thy way is, safe, O
Safe, St. Bride:
May my kye come home at even,
None be fallin’, none be leavin’,
Dusky even, breath-sweet even,
Here, as there, where O
St. Bride thou
Keepest tryst with God in heav’n,
Seest the angels bow
And souls be shriven—
Here, as there, ’tis breath-sweet even
Far and wide—
Singeth thy little maid
Safe in thy shade
Briget, Bride!

When the first lambs appear, many are the invocations among the Irish and Hebridean Gaels to good St. Bride. At the hearth-side, too, the women, carding wool, knitting, telling tales, singing songs, dreaming— these know her whether they name her in thought, or have forgotten what was dear wisdom to their mothers of old. She leans over cradles, and when babies smile they have seen her face. When the cra’thull swings in the twilight, the slow rhythm, which is music in the mother’s ear, is the quiet clapping of her hushing hands. St. Bride, too, loves the byres or the pastures when the kye are milked, though now she is no longer ” the Woman of February,” but simply “good St. Bride of the yellow hair.”

— Fiona MacLeod (William Sharp), The Works of “Fiona MacLeod” (Uniform Edition), Volume VI, arranged by Mrs. William Sharp, London, William Heinemann, 1910.

Altus Prosator “F”

Ceiling of the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople, with Seraphim mosaics on pendentives of the main dome.

CAPITULUM F

TITLE: De laude Dei ab angelis in quarta feria dicentes Sanctus
Sanctus Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

ARGUMENT: ‘Quando feci celum et terram collaudaverunt me
angeli’; ut in Sapientia Salomonis dicitur.

Factis simul sideribus
etheris luminaribus
collaudaverunt angeli
factura praemirabili
immensae molis dominum
opificem celestium
preconia laudabile
debito et immobile
concentuque egregio
grates egerunt domino
amore et arbitrio
non naturae donario.

STANZA F

When together, æther’s wonder,
Shine the Stars, the Angels sing;
To th’ Immensity’s Designer,
Host on host, their anthems ring:
Songs right meet for adoration,
Glorious harmonies they raise;
Since they move not from their courses
Never-ending is their praise.
Noble concert in the highest
Is their offering full and free:—
‘Tis of love’s sincerest rapture
Not of natural decree.

— The Hiberno-Latin abecedarian hymn, Altus prosator, a sequence attributed to St. Columba, from Lays of Iona and Other Poems; English paraphrase by Samuel John Stone.

Tae Oor Dear Native Scenes

Title page of Rev. Alexander M. MacGregor’s Gaelic Topography of Balquhidder Parish.
Loch Voil, near Balquhidder.

Poem Inspired by a Gaelic Topography of Balquhidder Parish: Rev. Alex MacGregor, EUP 1886
The Cloud Collector: Poems & Story in Scots & English (Maud, Aberdeenshire: Lochlands 2015) by Sheena Blackhall

Field of the land producing thatch
Shieling of grinding wheat
Burn beside the dun coloured dell
Burn of the mournful bleat

Burn of the black waterfall
Burn of the windy space
Burn of the rock where MacRenish lived
A robber of that place

Burn of the hawthorn tree
Trough of the grey hound’s peak
Burn of the house of the ravine
Knoll of the men of peace

Pass of the dell of arrows
The dell of hides and skins
The hamlet of the hollow
Hill of the moaning winds

The coffer of the hand mill
The stone of the slender grass
Pass of the little bramble bush
Brae where the corpses pass

The glen suited for cattle
The hollow of the bog
The clachan of the stepping stones
Of Linn and fallen log

The fairy knoll of battles
The mountains of the mine
The black peak of the badgers
The ben of the creeping pine

Altus Prosator “E”

Creation of Adam (Vr) from Liber Chronicarum (the Nuremberg Chronicle).

CAPITULUM E

TITLE: De creatione elementorum mundi et hominis regentis ea
postea more regis
.

ARGUMENT: ‘In principio fecit Deus celum et terram’ ut in
Genesi dicitur
.–(Gen. i. 1.)

Excelsus mundi machinam
previdens et armoniam
caelum et terram fecerat
mare et aquas condidit
herbarum quoque germina
virgultorum arbuscula
solem lunam ac sidera
ignem ac necessaria
aves pisces et peccora
bestias et animalia
hominum demum regere
protoplastum praesagmine.

STANZA E

God, the Lord Most High, foreseeing
Nature’s concord full and sweet.
Moulded Heaven and Earth and Ocean
To one harmony complete:
Sprang the grasses, fair unfolding.
Copses burgeoned in the sun:
Beamed the sunlight, starlight, moonlight,
Firelight: all of need was done–
Birds for brake, and fish for waters.
Wild or tame kine for the sward–
Last, the highest, first created,
Man, Creation’s crown and lord.

— The Hiberno-Latin abecedarian hymn, Altus prosator, a sequence attributed to St. Columba, from Lays of Iona and Other Poems; English paraphrase by Samuel John Stone.