Scottish Poetry Selection
- Verses on the Destruction of the Woods near Drumlanrig

We think that the destruction of forests is a modern phenomenon, but of course man has been making his mark on nature for a long time. Here is Robert Burns making his comment on what was happening at Drumlanrig, in what is now Dumfries and Galloway, in the late 18th century. The reference at the end to the "ducal crown" is the local landowner, the Duke of Queensberry.

While there may be fewer trees than there were at one time, there are plenty of them these days on the banks of the river Nith at Dumlanrig, as can be seen in the photo taken in 2005.

   Verses on the Destruction
of the Woods near Drumlanrig

As on the banks o’ wandering Nith,
    Ae smiling simmer morn I stray’d,
And traced its bonie howes and haughs,
    Where linties sang and lammies play’d,
I sat me down upon a craig,
    And drank my fill o’ fancy’s dream,
When from the eddying deep below,
    Up rose the genius of the stream.

Dark, like the frowning rock, his brow,
    And troubled, like his wintry wave,
And deep, as sughs the boding wind
    Amang his caves, the sigh he gave -
"And come ye here, my son," he cried,
    "To wander in my birken shade?
To muse some favourite Scottish theme,
    Or sing some favourite Scottish maid?

"There was a time, it’s nae lang syne,
    Ye might hae seen me in my pride,
When a’ my banks sae bravely saw
    Their woody pictures in my tide;
When hanging beech and spreading elm
    Shaded my stream sae clear and cool:
And stately oaks their twisted arms
    Threw broad and dark across the pool;

"When, glinting thro’ the trees, appear’d
    The wee white cot aboon the mill,
And peacefu’ rose its ingle reek,
    That, slowly curling, clamb the hill.
But now the cot is bare and cauld,
    Its leafy bield for ever gane,
And scarce a stinted birk is left
    To shiver in the blast its lane."

"Alas!" quoth I, "what ruefu’ chance
    Has twin’d ye o’ your stately trees?
Has laid your rocky bosom bare -
    Has stripped the cleeding o’ your braes?
Was it the bitter eastern blast,
    That scatters blight in early spring?
Or was’t the wil’fire scorch’d their boughs,
    Or canker-worm wi’ secret sting?"

"Nae eastlin blast," the sprite replied;
    "It blaws na here sae fierce and fell,
And on my dry and halesome banks
    Nae canker-worms get leave to dwell:
Man! cruel man!" the genius sighed -
    As through the cliffs he sank him down -
"The worm that gnaw’d my bonie trees,
    That reptile wears a ducal crown."

Meaning of unusual words:
simmer = summer
bonie howes and haughs = lovely hollows and river meadow
linties = linnets
lammies = lambs
craig = rock, crag
sughs = sighs
boding = portentous
birken = beech covered
nae lang syne = not long ago
ingle reek = smoke from an open hearth
bield = refuge, shelter

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