Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
 
Rab the Ranter’s Bag-pipe Playing (from Anster Fair)
By William Tennant (1784–1848)
 
NODDED his liege assent, and straightway bade
  Him stand a-top o’ th’ hillock at his side;
A-top he stood; and first a bow he made
  To all the crowd that shouted far and wide;
Then like a piper dexterous at his trade,        5
  His pipes to play adjusted and applied;
Each finger rested on its proper bore,
His arm appeared half-raised to wake the bag’s uproar.
 
A space he silent stood, and cast his eye
  In meditation upwards to the pole,        10
As if he prayed some fairy power in sky
  To guide his fingers right o’er bore and hole;
Then pressing down his arm, he gracefully
  Awaked the merry bag-pipes’ slumbering soul,
And piped and blew, and played so sweet a tune        15
As well might have unsphered the reeling midnight moon.
 
His every finger, to its place assigned,
  Moved quivering like the leaf of aspen tree,
Now shutting up the skittish squeaking wind,
  Now opening to the music passage free;        20
His cheeks, with windy puffs therein confined,
  Were swol’n into a red rotundity
As from his lungs into the bag was blown
Supply of needful air to feed the growling drone.
 
And such a potent tune did never greet        25
  The drum of human ear with lively strain,
So merry, that from dancing on his feet
  No man, undeaf, could stockishly refrain;
So loud, ’t was heard a dozen miles complete,
  Making old Echo pipe and hum again;        30
So sweet, that all the birds in air that fly
Charmed into new delight came sailing through the sky.
*        *        *        *        *
Nor was its influence less on human ear:
  First from their gilded chairs upstart at once,
The royal James and Maggie, seated near,        35
  Enthusiastic both and mad to dance:
Her hand he snatched and looked a merry leer,
  Then capered high in wild extravagance,
And on the grassy summit of the knoll,
Wagged each monarchial leg in galliard strange and droll.        40
 
As when a sunbeam from the waving face
  Of well-filled water-pail reflected bright
Varies upon the chamber walls its place,
  And quivering tries to cheat and foil the sight;
So quick did Maggie with a nimble grace,        45
  Skip pattering to and fro, alert and light,
And with her noble colleague in the reel
Haughtily tossed her arms, and shook her glancing heel.
 
The Lords and Ladies next, who sat or stood
  Near to the Piper and the King around,        50
Smitten with that contagious dancing mood
  ’Gan hand in hand in high lavolt to bound,
And jigged it on as featly as they could,
  Circling in sheeny rows the rising ground,
Each sworded Lord a Lady’s soft palm griping,        55
And to his mettle roused at such unwonted piping.
 
Then did the infectious hopping mania seize
  The circles of the crowd that stood more near,
Till round and round, far spreading by degrees,
  It maddened all the Loan to kick and rear:        60
Men, women, children, lilt and ramp and squeeze,
  Such fascination takes the general ear,
Even babes that at their mothers’ bosoms hung
Their little willing limbs fantastically flung.
 
And hoar-haired men and wives, whose marrow age        65
  Hath from their hollow bones sucked out and drunk,
Canary in unconscionable rage,
  Nor feel their sinews withered now and shrunk;
Pell-mell, in random couples they engage,
  And boisterously wag feet, arms, and trunk,        70
As if they strove, in capering so brisk,
To heave their aged knees up to the solar disk.
 
And cripples from beneath their shoulders fling
  Their despicable crutches far away,
Then, yoked with those of stouter limbs, upspring        75
  In hobbling merriment, uncouthly gay;
And some on one leg stand y-gambolling;
  For why? the other short and frail had they;
Some, both whose legs distorted were and weak,
Dance on their poor knee-pans in mad preposterous freak.        80
 
So on they trip, King, Maggie, Knight and Earl,
  Green-coated courtier, satin-snooded dame,
Old men and maidens, man, wife, boy, and girl,
  The stiff, the supple, bandy-legged, and lame,—
All suckt and wrapt into the dance’s whirl,        85
  Inevitably witched within the same;
Whilst Rab far-seen, o’erlooks the huddling Loan,
Rejoices in his pipes and squeals serenely on.
 
 
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