Scottish Poetry Selection
- Lines on Revisiting a Scottish River

In the late 20th century, the demise of the great shipbuilding tradition on the river Clyde was viewed with dismay. But we tend to forget that when heavy industry began to be established there, many at that time regretted the loss of the natural beauty of the riverbank. Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) puts that into words in the poem below, as he spurns the "improvement" brought about by the "clanking engines gleam."

Campbell was the son of a Glasgow tobacco trader and later in his life he helped to found University College, London. He was elected as Rector of Glasgow University from 1827 to 1829.


Lines on Revisiting a Scottish River

And call they this Improvement? to have changed,
My native Clyde, thy once romantic shore,
Where Nature's face is banish'd and estranged,
And Heaven reflected in thy wave no more;
Whose banks, that sweeten'd May-day's breath before,
Lie sere and leafless now in summer's beam,
With sooty exhalations cover'd o'er;
And for the daisied green-sward, down thy stream
Unsightly brick-lanes smoke, and clanking engines gleam.

Speak not to me of swarms the scene sustains;
One heart free tasting Nature's breath and bloom
Is worth a thousand slaves to Mammon's gains.
But whither goes that wealth, and gladdening whom?
See, left but life enough and breathing-room
The hunger and the hope of life to feel,
Yon pale Mechanic bending o'er his loom,
And Childhood's self as at Ixion's wheel,
From morn till midnight task'd to earns its little meal.

Is this Improvement? where the human breed
Degenerates as they swarm and overflow,
Till toil grows cheaper than the trodden weed,
And man competes with man, like foe with foe,
Till Death, that thins them scarce seems public woe?
Improvement! smiles it in the poor man's eyes,
Or blooms it on the cheek of Labour? - No
To gorge a few with Trade's precarious prize,
We banish rural life, and breathe unwholesome skies.

Nor call that evil slight; God has not given
This passion to the heart of man in vain,
For Earth's green face, th'untainted air of Heaven,
And all the bliss of Nature's rustic reign.
For not alone our frame imbibes a stain
From fetid skies; the spirit's healthy pride
Fades in their gloom And therefore I complain,
That thou no more through pastoral scenes shouldst glide,
My Wallace's own stream, and once romantic Clyde!

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