Underwoods

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To some the situation is exhilarating; as for me, I give one bubbling cry and sink. The compromise at which I have arrived is indefensible, and I have no thought of trying to defend it. As I have stuck for the most part to the proper spelling, I append a table of some common vowel sounds which no one need consult; and just to prove that I belong to my age and have in me the stuff of a reformer, I have used modification marks throughout. Thus I can tell myself, not without pride, that I have added a fresh stumbling-block for English readers, and to a page of print in my native tongue, have lent a new uncouthness. SED NON NOBIS.

I note again, that among our new dialecticians, the local habitat of every dialect is given to the square mile. I could not emulate this nicety if I desired; for I simply wrote my Scots as well as I was able, not caring if it hailed from Lauderdale or Angus, from the Mearns or Galloway; if I had ever heard a good word, I used it without shame; and when Scots was lacking, or the rhyme jibbed, I was glad (like my betters) to fall back on English. For all that, I own to a friendly feeling for the tongue of Fergusson and of Sir Walter, both Edinburgh men; and I confess that Burns has always sounded in my ear like something partly foreign. And indeed I am from the Lothians myself; it is there I heard the language spoken about my childhood; and it is in the drawling Lothian voice that I repeat it to myself. Let the precisians call my speech that of the Lothians. And if it be not pure, alas! what matters it? The day draws near when this illustrious and malleable tongue shall be quite forgotten; and Burn's Ayrshire, and Dr. Macdonald's Aberdeen-awa', and Scott's brave, metropolitan utterance will be all equally the ghosts of speech. Till then I would love to have my hour as a native Maker, and be read by my own countryfolk in our own dying language: an ambition surely rather of the heart than of the head, so restricted as it is in prospect of endurance, so parochial in bounds of space.

BOOK I. In English

I - ENVOY

Go, little book, and wish to all Flowers in the garden, meat in the hall, A bin of wine, a spice of wit, A house with lawns enclosing it, A living river by the door, A nightingale in the sycamore!

II - A SONG OF THE ROAD

The gauger walked with willing foot, And aye the gauger played the flute; And what should Master Gauger play But OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY?

Whene'er I buckle on my pack And foot it gaily in the track, O pleasant gauger, long since dead, I hear you fluting on ahead.

You go with me the self-same way - The self-same air for me you play; For I do think and so do you It is the tune to travel to.

For who would gravely set his face To go to this or t'other place? There's nothing under Heav'n so blue That's fairly worth the travelling to.

On every hand the roads begin, And people walk with zeal therein; But wheresoe'er the highways tend, Be sure there's nothing at the end.

Then follow you, wherever hie The travelling mountains of the sky. Or let the streams in civil mode Direct your choice upon a road;

For one and all, or high or low, Will lead you where you wish to go; And one and all go night and day OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY!

Forest of Montargis, 1878

III - THE CANOE SPEAKS

On the great streams the ships may go About men's business to and fro. But I, the egg-shell pinnace, sleep On crystal waters ankle-deep: I, whose diminutive design, Of sweeter cedar, pithier pine, Is fashioned on so frail a mould, A hand may launch, a hand withhold: I, rather, with the leaping trout Wind, among lilies, in and out; I, the unnamed, inviolate, Green, rustic rivers, navigate; My dipping paddle scarcely shakes The berry in the bramble-brakes; Still forth on my green way I wend Beside the cottage garden-end; And by the nested angler fare, And take the lovers unaware. By willow wood and water-wheel Speedily fleets my touching keel; By all retired and shady spots Where prosper dim forget-me-nots; By meadows where at afternoon The growing maidens troop in June To loose their girdles on the grass. Ah! speedier than before the glass The backward toilet goes; and swift As swallows quiver, robe and shift And the rough country stockings lie Around each young divinity. When, following the recondite brook, Sudden upon this scene I look, And light with unfamiliar face On chaste Diana's bathing-place, Loud ring the hills about and all The shallows are abandoned.

Underwoods Page 03

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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