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The Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay
The Magic of the Heather


"I'll warrant that Aaron's rod bore no bonnier blossoms than these little stiff bushes—and none more magical. For every time I take up a handful of them they transport me to the Highlands, and send me tramping over the braes and down the burns."—Van Dyke.

WHAT potent charm have the gods bequeathed this mountain blossom, that the heart of a Scotsman, be his home amid the Lowland peacefulness of his native land or on its stormy Highland hills, clings to this moorland flower with a pathos of tender, reverent emotion which the foreign world gazes upon in pleased wonder and cannot interpret?

Is it only that the ragged spray of deep greenery and purple bells calls forth, to the exiled Scotsman, those sacred memories of early home ties the fond dinging love for which forms so strangely a refining element in the sturdy, harshly sterling Caledonian nature? Is it that within his heart the bonnie native bloom brightens anew, like a soft moonlight glow creeping over some lonely barren midnight solitude, the deserted waste of these fading recollections—lures from out the lurking shadows of his loneliness those cherished scenes and friendships and severed ties of "auld lang syne"—and brings back, like quivering echo-strains from a far-away distance, the music of those sweet hame-fireside hours that will "never come again?"

Or is it a power more mystic than this artless sympathy of brotherhood, which is the universal heritage of the human heart? Is it, rather, some spell of deep human feeling that, like a wailing ghost, haunts those bleak Scottish hills—the historic plaintiveness of Covenanter flight and persecution that wraps their crags in fascinating gloom and still leaves upon them spirit-prints of martyr bloodshed? Is it those unforgotten scenes of fraternal strife when the restless clansmen of early Caledonia, with the seething vigor of their untutored mountain life in their veins, stormy fire in their eyes and in their hearts stormy hatred, hunted each other through those Highland glens and over their rocky peaks, while the slogan rudely woke the low nature-music of the Highland calm and thrilled the succeeding silence with voiceless portents of evil fate? And is it that, to the sympathetic soul, come the dream-voices of those restless stem departed, who from out the shadows of the beyond lonesomely wander back to their loved Highland home, bringing again that grim ghostly message to the shrinking Hamlet, "I could a tale unfold?" Is it the patron spirit of poetic genius which has immortalized their rugged solitude—the atmosphere of romance and wild story that so entrancingly wanders amidst it? Or is it, perchance, the spiritual interflowing of all these crude human and poetic emotions, drifting throughout the quiet nature-enchantment like a fleecy scattering, eternally unfading silver mist?

Hogg tells us that when Lieut. Patrick Campbell took a voyage to North America with the view of ascertaining upon the spot what was the actual situation of those who had emigrated to that quarter, upon taking leave of a woman whom he had known in the Highlands, he asked her what he could do to oblige her.

"Nothing," she said, that she could at present think of, unless he could send her a few stalks of Heather, which she longed exceedingly for; it would do her heart so much good to see it once more. There was a bit of poor ground behind her house where she had always thought the Heather would grow if properly taken care of.

Not long ago a Scottish gardener died at Inwoodon-the-Hudson, N. Y. Around the bier were scattered many beautiful floral designs, made of the choicest of conservatory blossoms. A brother gardener, also a Scot, who attended the funeral, took with him a little spray of Heather which, by permission of the widow, he pinned on the lapel of the dead man's coat. The mourners, mostly Scotch folk, immediately forgot the costly flowers, and the tears that welled up in the eyes of the onlookers echoed more eloquently than spoken words the remark of a leaf-hearted Scottish gardener's wife who stood on the opposite side of the casket: "That's just what he would have liked!" Sorrow for the dead was temporarily assuaged by the magic power of that token of fraternal and native friendship, "a wee sprig o' Highland Heather."

At one of the annual suppers of the St. Andrew's Society, held in Delmonico's, New York, and presided over by the eminent Scotsman, Dr. Andrew Carnegie, the favors were orchids (Cattleyas). A member of the Society, Dr. A. M. Stewart, editor of the Scottish American, of Manhattan, had brought with him to the banquet a plentiful supply of Heather, for boutonnières for those present. At sight of the enchanting little blossom, fingers began to itch, and elbows to crook, one hand reaching out for a sprig of blossoming Heather, the other gradually nearing the costly "button-hole," and the request to "throw away that weed," required no repetition, for as by magic there was a general dethronement of the "aristocrat of the vegetable kingdom," and the blossom that aye shall stand to every Scot as king of flowers supreme, adorned the manly breasts of the manly men to whom auld Scotland is ever dear, who never turn a deaf ear to the cry for help that stern misfortune wrings from Scotia's sons in the land of their adoption.

To satisfy the longing of the Scot abroad for a plant of his familiar and beloved Heather, a firm in Edinburgh, Scotland, has taken a great interest in the exportation of Heather roots to far-off countries. Consignments have been sent to Canada and to Australia, packed in Wardian cases. In each case is a plant of White Heather, symbol of "good luck."

Ah, how true it is that "Memory is a capricious and arbitrary creature. You can never tell what pebble she will pick up from the shore of life to keep among her treasures, or what inconspicuous flower of the field she will preserve as the symbol of 'Thoughts that often lie too deep for tears.'"

The Wee Sprig o' Heather

Oh, wae on the gowd wi' its glamour beguilin'
The bravest frae Scotia across the saut sea,
An' wae on Dame Fortune, sae fause wi' her smilin',
For cauld is the pleasure at best she can gie.
But aye tae the heart that is leal mair endearin'

A message o' love frae the land far awa,
When aften it comes like a sun-blink sac cheerin',
A wee sprig o' heather sac withered and sma'.

The emigrant dreams o' his hame in the gloamin'
An' wanders in fancy some wild glen sac green;
His thochts are the purest, xvi' memory, when roamin'
The land where the bluebell and thistle are seen.
An' aften the gloom that enshrouds him brings beamin';
Affection's sweet token dispellin' it a' -
As brichtly in darkness the starnie is gleamin';
A sprig o' his ain native heather sac sma'.

The burnie that's glidin' sac sweetly an' sinin'
Awa' frae its hame in the mountain sac hie.
Ne'er kens in its mirth that the future is bringin'
The tempest an' roar o' the dark-tossin' sea;
An' sac wi' the lad owre the ocean careerin'

Like strains frae the harp are the win's when they blaw;
Till wearit—the bricht sun o' hope disappearin'
He langs for a tuft o' heather sac sma'.
—john MacFarlane, in "Heather and Harebell."

Heather Musings

Wee sprigs o' mountain heather,
What message bring ye me?
I know kind freends did gather

To send you owre the sea;
Their thoughts wi' love did wander,
Where mighty pine trees sway,
To one who oft meandered

'Mang heather on the brae.

This message it is written
Upon your petals rare;
Kind hearts are ever waitin'-

Kind hearts that miss ye sair;
They've sent ye as a token

Across Atlantic's sea,
0' friendship that's forever
0' love that ne'er will dee.

Again I climb the mountain
When simmer skies are blue,
Where heather bells are glintin'

Wi' gems o' morning dew;
I hear the unties singing,

Oot owre the broomy knowes,
While larks on high are soaring
Frae oot the grassy howes.

I see the straw thatch't shieling
Wi' garden 'fore the door,
An' folks wi' hearts aye kindly
Flit thro' it as of yore;
Wee sprigs o' hillside heather,
Wee ruby-tinted flower,
You've bound me wi' a tether—
A lasting unseen power.

I'll keep thee as a token
Frae loved ones owre the sea,
Whose message, tho' unspoken,

Engraved is on thee;
I'll prize thee as a treasure
Frae Scotia's bonnie braes—
Wee sprigs frae freenship's measure,
I'll keep thee a' my days.
James Broomfield, in "Murmurings from Rugged Waters."

Scotch Heather
(Written on receiving a bunch of heather from a lady friend.)

This bunch of heather from my ain dear land,
In fragrant purple bloom held in my hand,
Recalls sic memories o' the hills sae grand,

Whereon it grew.
Again, as in the days o' yore, I stand
Wi' them in view.

A wee bit barefit boy again I rin,
Speilin' the braes, their heathery taps to win,
Far past the bonnie broom, the thorny whin,
Bluebells and gowans,
Blaeberries, hips and haws, and a' their kin,

E'en bluid-red rowans.

On moors whaur aft the "Fiery Cross" hath sped,
Whaur kilted chiefs their clans to battle led,

Whaur Roman, Dane and Southern foes lie dead,
In bluidy graves,

Whaur Scotia's martyrs prayed, and fought and bled,
The heather waves.

Up whaur the mountain-tap is wreathed in cloud,
Up whaur the eagle soars, serene and proud,

Up whaur the storm-king hauds his revels loud
'Mid winter's snows,
Far frae the busy, bustlin', babblin' crowd,
The heather grows.

Sweet heather bells! your message and command,
I read it thus—sae loving, strong and grand—
"Uphold the honor o' the hardy band

Frae whom ye sprung,
And love for aye the dear auld 'Fatherland,'
And Mither tongue."

—William Anderson, in "The Scottish American."

My Wee Bit Heather

(On receiving a sprig of heather from the late William Mime,
of New York, with the remark:

"Will ye to the Hielan's gang,
Wi' a rantin', rovin' Hielan' man?")

Oh! Willie mine, my heart is licht
Since I hae read the words ye wrote;

As sunny day will be the nicht,
Noo that I ken I'm nae forgot!

Fu' glad I am, this blessed day,
We're a' in a' to ane anither;

But oh! it filled my heart wi' wae
When first I saw yer wee bit heather.

As clouds will shade a simmer sky,

An' ower the day a shadow cast,
Sae auld lang syne cam' flittin' by,

An' lichtly touched me as it passed.
 I mn' me o' the blithe, blithe time,

Or ere I saw life's changefu' weather;
When a' I did was sit an' rhyme,

An' idly pu' a wee bit heather.

Beside a burnie, pure and cool,
Sac bonnie broon frae heathy screen:
Wi' here and there a deep, dark pool,

An' noo an' then a patch o' green.
And then it rushed adoon the glen,

As if to leave us a' thegither;
But soon we fan' the witch again,
And on her breast the wee bit heather.

I min' me o' my mountain hame,
Whaur mony a happy day I've seen;
In memory's hail it's aye the same,

Tho' trackless ocean lies between.
Yet tho' life's flowery morn is gane,

Its joys are nae fled a'thegither;
Past wi' the moment was the pain

I fan', to see yer wee bit heather.

My beatin' heart was filled wi' joy
And happy lovin' thochts o' you.
I bless the hoor, my Hielan' boy

Has got my heart, an' been sae true.
An' when upon life's changefu' road

We, han' in han', will gae thegither;
When joys may cheer, or sorrows load,

I'll cherish aye, yer wee bit heather.

Aye, Willie, I am yours fu' fain;
An 'gledly I will be yer wife;
For my puir heart is a' yer am,
An' every wish is yours, for life.
An' I will wear my silken snood,

An' trim it wi' nae royal feather;
But, laddie, I will aye be prood

To trig it xvi' yer wee bit heather.

But, laddie, I maun say fareweel;
But haste ye, Willie, sen' anither;
For a' my thochts ye slyly steal,
Whene'er I see yer wee bit heather.
—Louise F. McDonald, in "The Scotsman," Edinburgh, 1881.

On a Spray of Heather

Far from its native moorland,
Or crest of "wine-red" hill,
At sight or scent of heather

The hearts of Scotsmen thrill.

Though crushed its purple blossoms,
Its tender stems turned brown,
It brings romantic Highlands

Into prosaic town.

The clans are on the border,
The chiefs are in the fray;
We're keen upon their footsteps
With Walter Scott to-day.

Peat smoke from Lowland cottage
Floats curling up, and turns
Our dreams towards quiet hearthstones,
And melodies of Burns.

And last our fancy lingers
With fond regret and vain,
Where sleeps our Tusitala

Beneath the tropic rain—

Far from the purple heather
Or gleaming rowan bough,
Alone on mountain summit,

"Our hearts remember how."

St. Andrew's Day.
—From "Bramble Brae," by Robert Bridges.—Copyright, 1902, Charles Scribner's Sons.


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