Monday, January 9, 2012

"The wide world for a kingdom, and the saddle for a throne" *

Leading on from the previous post on The Golden Treasury, I started thinking about other narrative poets whose work is now unfashionable.
Much of Rudyard Kipling's poetry is timeless, but there is no getting away from the fact some of it is jingoistic or otherwise seen as controversial by modern eyes. 
The English-born Robert Service is still celebrated in Canada and Alaska but he may be no longer as familiar elsewhere as he once was. 
In Australia, A. B. (Banjo) Paterson and Henry Lawson are still recognisable names but apart from "Waltzing Matilda" and perhaps "Clancy of the Overflow" in the case of the former, it's unlikely younger generations would know much about them or their poems.
Another Australian writer who gained fame for something quite removed from his poetry and who was also born in England was Harry "Breaker" Morant, who was executed by the British during the Boer War. He only remains in the public consciousness due to the successful film of 1980 and a vigorous campaign to have him pardoned.  

And then there is Will H. Ogilvie (William Henry Ogilvie).

From Ogilvie's memoir, "My Life in the Open", 1908

He is often claimed as one of Australia's greatest poets, but spent most of his life in Scotland. He was born in Kelso in 1869 and died in 1963. He actually lived in Australia for only 12 years (where he was coincidentally a great chum of "Breaker" Morant) but swiftly established himself there as a wonderful interpreter of the bush and the drover's life.

A summary of his life and work can be read in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and collections of his poetry are to be found in various sites online and via the Internet Archive

While he is probably more famous for his Australian bush verse, for me personally with family heritage in the region, there is nothing more goose-bump-inducing than his lyrical poems about the historical Border region of Scotland and England included in the collection, "The Land we Love". 

Having recently experienced the sacred beauty of Dryburgh Abbey and paid homage at the tomb of Sir Walter Scott, I was pleased to discover an Ogilvie poem that so accurately touches on the atmosphere of the place:

... Here in the stillness sleeps the Bard,
Where the shadows are flung from the Eildons three,
Hush! Step light, lest the peace be marred
Of the sweet spot's silent witchery

With footfall soft as the wind in the tree,
And light as the dew on the bluebell's breast,
Come, come to the rail of his tomb and see
Where the Wizard of Old Romance takes rest ...

And I know of no other poem that conveys that "old romance" of the legendary Border Reivers as fittingly as Ogilvie's highly evocative, "The Raiders".


Last night a wind from Lammermoor came roaring up the glen
With the tramp of trooping horses and the laugh of reckless men
And struck a mailed hand on the gate and cried in rebel glee:
"Come forth. Come forth, my Borderer, and ride the March with me!"

I said, "Oh!  Wind of Lammermoor, the night's too dark to ride,
And all the men that fill the glen are ghosts of men that died!
The floods are down in Bowmont Burn, the moss is fetlock-deep;
Go back, wild Wind of Lammermoor, to Lauderdale - and sleep!"

Out spoke the Wind of Lammermoor, "We know the road right well,
The road that runs by Kale and Jed across the Carter Fell.
There is no man of all the men in this grey troop of mine
But blind might ride the Borderside from Teviothead to Tyne! 

The horses fretted on their bits and pawed the flints to fire,
The riders swung them to the South full-faced to their desire;
"Come!" said the Wind from Lammermoor, and spoke full scornfully,
"Have ye no pride to mount and ride your father's road with me?"

A roan horse to the gate they led, foam-flecked and travelled far,
A snorting roan that tossed his head and flashed his forehead star;
There came the sound of clashing steel and hoof-tramp up the glen
... And two by two we cantered through, a troop of ghostly men!

I know not if the farms we fired are burned to ashes yet!
I know not if the stirks grew tired before the stars were set!
I only know that late last night when Northern winds blew free,
A troop of men rode up the glen and brought a horse for me!

Memorial cairn to Will H. Ogilvie in the Scottish Borders

Another view of the cairn and its location can be found here.

While researching this topic, I came across a couple of most encouraging news stories regarding the inaugural Will Ogilvie Night held very recently in Eckford, Scottish Borders. It is great to know that he hasn't been forgotten and that there is in existence a Will Ogilvie Memorial Society that has plans to bring Ogilvie back to the A-list of both Scots and Australian poets where he belongs.

The Cheviots
* From the poem inscribed on Ogilvie's memorial.