Thursday, October 21, 2010

''Lachin y Gair''

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Lord Byron

"Lachin y Gair, or, as it is pronounced in the Erse, Loch na Garr, towers proudly pre-eminent in the northern highlands, near Invercauld. One of our modern tourists mentions it as the highest mountain, perhaps, in Great Britain. Be this as it may, it is certainly one of the most sublime and picturesque amongst our ‘Caledonian Alps.’ Its appearance is of a dusky hue, but the summit is the seat of eternal snows. Near Lachin y Gair I spent some of the early part of my life, the recollection of which has given birth to these stanzas." [Byron's note]

- - - -

Away, ye gay landscapes, ye garden of roses!
In you let the minions of luxury rove;
Restore me the rocks, where the snow-flake reposes,
Though still they are sacred to freedom and love:
Yet, Caledonia, beloved are thy mountains,
Round their white summits though elements war;
Though cataracts foam ’stead of smooth-flowing fountains,
I sigh for the valley of dark Loch na Garr.

Ah! there my young footsteps in infancy wander’d;
My cap was the bonnet, my cloak was the plaid;
On chieftains long perish’d my memory pondered,
As daily I strode through the pine-cover’d glade;
I sought not my home till the day’s dying glory
Gave place to the rays of the bright polar star;
For fancy was cheered by traditional story,
Disclosed by the natives of dark Loch na Garr.

“Shades of the dead! have I not heard your voices
Rise on the night-rolling breath of the gale?”
Surely the soul of the hero rejoices,
And rides on the wind, o’er his own Highland vale.
Round Loch na Garr while the stormy mist gathers,
Winter presides in his cold icy car:
Clouds there encircle the forms of my fathers;
They dwell in the tempests of dark Loch na Garr.

“Ill-starred, though brave, did no visions foreboding
Tell you that fate had forsaken your cause?”
Ah! were you destined to die at Culloden,
Victory crown’d not your fall with applause:
Still were you happy in death’s earthy slumber,
You rest with your clan in the caves of Braemar;
The pibroch resounds, to the piper’s loud number,
Your deeds on the echoes of dark Loch na Garr.

Years have roll’d on, Loch na Garr, since I left you,
Years must elapse ere I tread you again:
Nature of verdure and flow’rs has bereft you,
Yet still are you dearer than Albion’s plain.
England! thy beauties are tame and domestic
To one who has roved o’er the mountains afar:
Oh for the crags that are wild and majestic!
The steep frowning glories of dark Loch na Garr!


(Illustration is Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, 1868.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

''Elver's Hoh''

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"The original is to be found in the Kiampe-Viiser, Copenhagen, 1739. My version of this ballad (as also of most of the Danish ballads in this collection) was made from a German translation to be found in Herder’s Volkslieder." [Lewis's note]

- - - -

The knight laid his head upon Elver’s Hoh,
    Soft slumbers his senses beguiling;
Fatigue press’d its seal on his eyelids, when lo!
    Two maidens drew near to him, smiling;
The one she kiss’d softly Sir Algamore’s eyes;
    The other she whisper’d him sweetly,
“Arise! thou gallant young warrior, arise,
    For the dance it goes gaily and featly!

“Arise, thou gallant young warrior, arise,
    And dance with us now and for ever!
My damsels with music thine ear shall surprise,
    And sweeter a mortal heard never—”
Then straight of young maidens appear’d a fair throng,
    Who their voices in harmony raising,
The winds they were still as the sounds flew along,
    By silence their melody praising.

The winds they were still as the sounds flew along,
    The wolf howl’d no more from the mountains;
The rivers were mute upon hearing the song,
    And calm’d the loud rush of their fountains:
The fish, as they swam in the waters so clear,
    To the soft sounds delighted attended,
And nightingales, charm’d the sweet accents to hear,
    Their notes with the melody blended.

“Now hear me, thou gallant young warrior, now hear!
    If thou wilt partake of our pleasure,
We’ll teach thee to draw the pale moon from her sphere,
    We’ll show thee the sorcerer’s treasure!
We’ll teach thee the Runic rhyme, teach thee to hold
    The wild bear in magical fetters,
To charm the red dragon, who broods over gold,
    And tame him by mystical letters.”

Now hither, now thither, then danced the gay band,
    By witchcraft the hero surprising,
Who ever sat silent, his sword in his hand,
    Their sports and their pleasures despising.
“Now hear me, thou gallant young warrior, now hear!
    If still thou disdain’st what we proffer,
With dagger and knife from thy breast will we tear
    Thine heart, which refuses our offer!”

Oh! glad was the knight when he heard the cock crow!
    His enemies trembled, and left him:
Else must he have stayed upon Elver’s Hoh,
    And the witches of life had bereft him.
Beware then, ye warriors, returning by night
    From court, dress’d in gold and in silver;
Beware how you slumber on Elver’s rough height,
    Beware of the witches of Elver!


-from M.G. Lewis, Tales of Wonder (1801).
-originally published as Elvers Hoh in J.G. Herder, Volkslieder (1778).

(Illustration is Lawrence Koe, Venus and Tannhäuser, 1896)