The Night is dark, the waters deep,
Yet soft the billows roll;
Alas! at every breeze I weep –
The storm is in my soul.
Helen Maria Williams
Sonnet On Reading Burns’ To A Mountain Daisy
By Helen Maria Williams (1759 – 1827)
While soon the “garden’s flaunting flowers” decay,
And, scatter’d on the earth, neglected lie,
The “Mountain Daisy,” cherish’d by the ray
A poet drew from heav’n, shall never die.
Ah! like that lovely flower the poet rose!
‘Mid penury’s bare soil and bitter gale;
He felt each storm that on the mountain blows,
Nor ever knew the shelter of the vale.
By Genius in her native vigour nurst,
On Nature with impassion’d look he gazed,
Then through the cloud of adverse fortune burst
Indignant, and in light unborrow’d blaz’d.
Shield from rude sorrow, SCOTIA! shield thy bard:–
His heav’n-taught numbers Fame herself will guard.
Described during her lifetime by her detractors as politically radical and sexually wanton, Helen Maria Williams sounds like my kind of woman, a poet with a mind of her own and the will (and means) to do what she wanted. I find it a bit humorous that part of her sentence during a brief stay in prison in France included the ominous warning that she was only allowed to write sonnets and do translation work while behind bars. The judge apparently feeling that penning sonnets was sufficient punishment for a writer.
Helen’s sonnets were not so magical as to launch a thousand ships, but she has a certain flair and the chops to have lived a bona fide poetic life, such that her writing has managed to avoid the dust bin of history. I find her defense and admiration of Burns’ poem charming.
I read Burns’ poetry aloud much more convincingly if I drink a bit of whiskey before hand. I recommend you try a single malt aged for 10 years or more of anything that costs at least $35/bottle USD and whose brand is difficult to pronounce on the bottle, it will be good practice for Burns. My pro tip, is like all good fake speakers of a foreign language, when you get to a sticky wicket of a word and don’t know how it’s pronounced, don’t slow down, do your best and say it loudly with confidence and with your own version of a fake Scottish accent and you’ll fool most everyone but a real Scot.
To A Mountain Daisy
by Robert Burns (1759 – 1796)
On Turning One Down with the Plow, in April, 1786
Wee, modest, crimson-tippèd flow’r,
Thou’s met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure
.Thy slender stem:
To spare thee now is past my pow’r,
.Thou bonie gem.
Alas! it’s no thy neibor sweet,
The bonie lark, companion meet,
Bending thee ‘mang the dewy weet
.Wi’ spreck’d breast,
When upward-springing, blythe, to greet
.The purpling east.
Cauld blew the bitter-biting north
Upon thy early, humble birth;
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
. Amid the storm,
Scarce rear’d above the parent-earth
. Thy tender form.
The flaunting flowers our gardens yield
High shelt’ring woods an’ wa’s maun shield:
But thou, beneath the random bield
. O’ clod or stane,
Adorns the histie stibble-field
. Unseen, alane.
There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
Thy snawie-bosom sun-ward spread,
Thou lifts thy unassuming head
. In humble guise;
But now the share uptears thy bed,
. And low thou lies!
Such is the fate of artless maid,
Sweet flow’ret of the rural shade!
By love’s simplicity betray’d
. And guileless trust;
Till she, like thee, all soil’d, is laid
. Low i’ the dust.
Such is the fate of simple bard,
On life’s rough ocean luckless starr’d!
Unskilful he to note the card
. Of prudent lore,
Till billows rage and gales blow hard,
. And whelm him o’er!
Such fate to suffering Worth is giv’n,
Who long with wants and woes has striv’n,
By human pride or cunning driv’n
. To mis’ry’s brink;
Till, wrench’d of ev’ry stay but Heav’n,
. He ruin’d sink!
Ev’n thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate,
That fate is thine—no distant date;
Stern Ruin’s ploughshare drives elate,
. Full on thy bloom,
Till crush’d beneath the furrow’s weight
. Shall be thy doom.