Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
 
Descriptive Poems: I. Personal: Great Writers
Burns
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)
 
On Receiving a Sprig of Heather in Blossom

NO more these simple flowers belong
  To Scottish maid and lover;
Sown in the common soil of song,
  They bloom the wide world over.
 
In smiles and tears, in sun and showers,        5
  The minstrel and the heather,
The deathless singer and the flowers
  He sang of live together.
 
Wild heather-bells and Robert Burns!
  The moorland flower and peasant!        10
How, at their mention, memory turns
  Her pages old and pleasant!
 
The gray sky wears again its gold
  And purple of adorning,
And manhood’s noonday shadows hold        15
  The dews of boyhood’s morning:
 
The dews that washed the dust and soil
  From off the wings of pleasure,
The sky, that flecked the ground of toil
  With golden threads of leisure.        20
 
I call to mind the summer day,
  The early harvest mowing,
The sky with sun and clouds at play,
  And flowers with breezes blowing.
 
I hear the blackbird in the corn,        25
  The locust in the haying;
And, like the fabled hunter’s horn,
  Old tunes my heart is playing.
 
How oft that day, with fond delay,
  I sought the maple’s shadow,        30
And sang with Burns the hours away,
  Forgetful of the meadow!
 
Bees hummed, birds twittered, overhead
  I heard the squirrels leaping;
The good dog listened while I read,        35
  And wagged his tail in keeping.
 
I watched him while in sportive mood
  I read “The Twa Dogs’” story,
And half believed he understood
  The poet’s allegory.        40
 
Sweet day, sweet songs!—The golden hours
  Grew brighter for that singing,
From brook and bird and meadow flowers
  A dearer welcome bringing.
 
New light on home-seen Nature beamed,        45
  New glory over Woman;
And daily life and duty seemed
  No longer poor and common.
 
I woke to find the simple truth
  Of fact and feeling better        50
Than all the dreams that held my youth
  A still repining debtor:
 
That Nature gives her handmaid, Art,
  The themes of sweet discoursing;
The tender idyls of the heart        55
  In every tongue rehearsing.
 
Why dream of lands of gold and pearl,
  Of loving knight and lady,
When farmer boy and barefoot girl
  Were wandering there already?        60
 
I saw through all familiar things
  The romance underlying;
The joys and griefs that plume the wings
  Of Fancy skyward flying.
 
I saw the same blithe day return,        65
  The same sweet fall of even,
That rose on wooded Craigie-burn,
  And sank on crystal Devon.
 
I matched with Scotland’s heathery hills
  The sweet-brier and the clover;        70
With Ayr and Doon, my native rills,
  Their wood-hymns chanting over.
 
O’er rank and pomp, as he had seen,
  I saw the Man uprising;
No longer common or unclean,        75
  The child of God’s baptizing.
 
With clearer eyes I saw the worth
  Of life among the lowly;
The Bible at his Cotter’s hearth
  Had made my own more holy.        80
 
And if at times an evil strain,
  To lawless love appealing,
Broke in upon the sweet refrain
  Of pure and healthful feeling,
 
It died upon the eye and ear,        85
  No inward answer gaining;
No heart had I to see or hear
  The discord and the staining.
 
Let those who never erred forget
  His worth, in vain bewailings;        90
Sweet Soul of Song!—I own my debt
  Uncancelled by his failings!
 
Lament who will the ribald line
  Which tells his lapse from duty,
How kissed the maddening lips of wine,        95
  Or wanton ones of beauty;
 
But think, while falls that shade between
  The erring one and Heaven,
That he who loved like Magdalen,
  Like her may be forgiven.        100
 
Not his the song whose thunderous chime
  Eternal echoes render,—
The mournful Tuscan’s haunted rhyme,
  And Milton’s starry splendor.
 
But who his human heart has laid        105
  To Nature’s bosom nearer?
Who sweetened toil like him, or paid
  To love a tribute dearer?
 
Through all his tuneful art, how strong
  The human feeling gushes!        110
The very moonlight of his song
  Is warm with smiles and blushes!
 
Give lettered pomp to teeth of Time,
  So “Bonny Doon” but tarry;
Blot out the Epic’s stately rhyme,        115
  But spare his “Highland Mary!”
 
 
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