Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Scotland
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Scotland: Vols. VI–VIII.  1876–79.
 
Orkney Islands
Orcadia
Robert Leighton (1822–1869)
 
(From Records)

FOR one whole week I breathed Orcadian air,—
So far up in the north that, all the time,
I felt among cloud-islands of the skies.
And Autumn lay asleep among the isles;
The fiords all had stilled their roaring throats,        5
Afraid to wake her, and, into themselves,
Murmured a drowsy bass; the grim-browed cliffs
Bent forward, half relaxed their savage looks
At seeing them reflected in the pools.—
As oft I stood upon a tiptoe hill,        10
The lesser islands sailed out in the bays,
And promontories drifted into isles.
It was enchanted land—some other world—
That hung within the void; and rounding all,
Beneath it as above, was calm blue sky.        15
 
  High over all, the weather-beaten head
Of Hoy rises. On his scarréd brow
He wears a precious stone,—a carbuncle,—
Enough, ’t is thought, to buy Orcadia.
From certain points its fiery beams are seen;        20
And many an islander has marked the spot,
Then clomb the footless heights to snatch the prize,
And be forever rich. In vain his search!
The bright delusion’s never to be found.
But when he has retraced the perilous steep,        25
The thing he sought is in its place again,
And laughs at him. So are we ever fooled
On earth by things that glitter. Wealth and fame
When reached are never found. But, failing oft,
We learn at last our truest wealth is love,—        30
Best fame, approving conscience.
                            Up the cliffs
Of Hoy, there ’s another precious stone,
Suggesting richer wealth than diamond,
Ruby, or pearl,—yea, all the ruck of gems.
The breezy front of that high beetled rock        35
Presents, as if medallioned on the sky,
By Nature chiselled, the exact profile
Of Walter Scott. There has the wizard brow
Hung brooding o’er the isles from time unknown,
And seen enacted all the stirring lore        40
Of pirates, smugglers, jarls, and old sea-kings.
O storied Prince! from that high stand, on this,
Its northern bound, look southward and behold
Thy legendary empire.
*        *        *        *        *
                In Orcadia we find the rocks
That Miller read,—the very rocks that gave        45
To him their “testimony,” in a type
Already ancient when our Adam came,
To which his Eden ’s but a minute since,
The fabled flood the rain that fell e’en now:
Those marvellous stone scriptures that reveal        50
What monsters trod the earth and swam the seas,
Or crawled in slime of half-created earth,
Age after age, ere yet the eye of man
Was there to watch; and how the aged woods,
Year after year, put on their roofs of green,        55
And waited eras with their oaken aisles,
Without one Druid soul to dedicate
Their silences to prayer: whose only sounds
Were of the winds and rains, the beasts that made
Fierce loves and fiercer wars, heaven’s fiery bolts        60
That rent the groaning oaks, the old-world screams
Of birds to us unknown; but surely not
The linkéd music of our modern woods;
For in my heart I read that merle and thrush,
Yea, all the voices of our woodland quires        65
Were given to Eve in paradise, long, long
After the writing of those books of stone.
 
  Inland the explorer turns,—if inland be,
Where all is island, even the islands cleft
With reaches of the sea,—and he beholds        70
Stennis, the mystic Stonehenge of the north,
Upon a tongue of springy sward that parts
Two bleak, half-salted lochs. A stranger, he
Knows not what sight awaits him, passing down
The easy sloping road, when starts in view        75
A curve of visionary things, that shine
Like ghosts amid the sunlight, white or gray,
As pass the sailing shadows of the clouds.
With wondering gaze and speculative thought,
He nears and nears them, while by slow removes        80
They ’ve ranked themselves into a giant ring
Of hoary stones, and, in the centre, one
Of huger bulk than any of the rest.
 
  Speak! ye dumb priests of eld, and say what kind
Of men they were that set you thus on end,        85
And to what purpose? Not a single word!
The yellowhammer sits on your bald crowns,
And mocks my queries with its moorland pipe:
Methinks a whisper runs from each to each,
But ’t is the wind upon your flinty sides,        90
And not your inward voices. Ye have slept
The dream of many ages, and your own
Is hardened into stone. It will not yield
To us the reflex of its inner self,
Long crossed Time’s dusky gulf, though living still        95
In some far circle of eternal light.
Yet underneath the springy sward, and through
The solid hearts of these old stones, I feel
The beating thought that raised them; and within
This almost mythic temple I am bowed        100
With worship deeper than mere stones evoke.
A haunted place,—the ancient forms of men,
And their devotion gone, all long, long gone!
But these gray stones that heard their songs and prayers,
Ring with their spirits yet; this grass has lived        105
Perennially since then,—the same they trod:
Yon sun, so old and young, looked down on them,
And saw their rites: he looks the same on me.
O Druid! we are one; I feel thy thoughts
Now climbing up to God. The form of thought        110
Goes with the age,—the thought is for all time.
 
 
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