Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Free of the Chumley Nook: John Galt's poem on Spring

I am invariably impressed by the prolific John Galt for he was not just a writer of many novels, plays, biographies, travel, and occasional verse, but he was a business man to boot. It brings to mind the prolific career of Alexander McCall Smith, an accomplished academic in medical law and ethics with many academic texts and papers to his name, and the author of a great many truly wonderful works of fiction. I am humbled by his output, which quite outstrips Galt's in quantity and quality. And I don't think Galt ever picked up a sousaphone or a countrabassoon either. Anyway, I couldn't resist posting this poem by John Galt because he uses the word, chumley in such a cheery context. I am not sure if Spring has arrived in Scotland as yet this year, having heard of heavy snow only recently, but it is certainly spring in Southern Ontario. I even hear that Thunder Bay has finally experienced this rare season.

This poem would do well to be read aloud. There are many good Scottish actors whose voices would be fine for this poem, David Tennant, Robert Carlyle, or Ewan McGregor perhaps, but I think the older actor, Bill Paterson would be ideal. I try to hear his voice as I read this poem to Spring. Come to think of it, he would be the perfect actor to portray John Galt himself.

suggested by the fourth ode of the first book of Horace

Wha's yon braw lass, wi' gowan snood,
That's walking o''er the broomy knowe;
She dings the cranreuch fae the wood,
And plaits a garland round the bough?
Her e'en, twa dew-drops, sparkling clear,
Shed love and daffin' as they glance;
The birds wi' canty liltings cheer,
And a' the flow'rs rise frae their trance?
It's bride-maid Spring, whose leilsome art
Gars lightly loup the youthful heart.


Thrang frae the misty highland isles,
Whar ghaists in flocks glowr as they flee,
And Brownie for the Lathron toils,
Wi' barkened sails the kowters see--
By heaps o' timber caps, and plates,
The wark that wile't the winter's drear,
Right snod the kintra carlin waits,
And wearies wha the price will speer.
For a' the lads are on the rig,
And she maun thole the snash and prig.


The clachan lucky spreads fu' proud
Her webs and spyniels on the green;
And signs and window cheeks renew'd,
Like the young leaves shine fresh and clean.
But lo! best proof that winter's done,
Auld grannie frae the chumley nook
Late toddling in the afternoon
To kirk, wi' napkin round her book.
In love, or life, or growth, or sense,
All feel the genial influence.


Come then, dear Jamie, while we may
The vernal hours of youth enjoy:
The hope that blooms so fair and gay,
A worm may gnaw, a blast destroy.
But o'er the past, as Horace sings,
Not e'en almignty Jove has power,
And mem'ry still delighted brings
The vision of the happy hour;
That man in joyless age may bear
The wumbling pain, and snuling care.

-Poems by John Galt (London: Cochrane & M'Crone, 1833) p. 41-42.

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