The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 1/When I Roved a Young Highlander



When I rov'd a young Highlander o'er the dark heath,
And climb'd thy steep summit, oh Morven of snow![2]
To gaze on the torrent that thunder'd beneath,
Or the mist of the tempest that gather'd below;[3]
Untutor'd by science, a stranger to fear,
And rude as the rocks, where my infancy grew,
No feeling, save one, to my bosom was dear;
Need I say, my sweet Mary,[4] 'twas centred in you?


Yet it could not be Love, for I knew not the name,—
What passion can dwell in the heart of a child?
But, still, I perceive an emotion the same
As I felt, when a boy, on the crag-cover'd wild:
One image, alone, on my bosom impress'd,
I lov'd my bleak regions, nor panted for new;
And few were my wants, for my wishes were bless'd,
And pure were my thoughts, for my soul was with you.


I arose with the dawn, with my dog as my guide,
From mountain to mountain I bounded along;
I breasted[5] the billows of Dee's[6] rushing tide,
And heard at a distance the Highlander's song:
At eve, on my heath-cover'd couch of repose,
No dreams, save of Mary, were spread to my view;
And warm to the skies my devotions arose,
For the first of my prayers was a blessing on you.


I left my bleak home, and my visions are gone;
The mountains are vanish'd, my youth is no more;
As the last of my race, I must wither alone,
And delight but in days, I have witness'd before:
Ah! splendour has rais'd, but embitter'd my lot;
More dear were the scenes which my infancy knew:
Though my hopes may have fail'd, yet they are not forgot,
Though cold is my heart, still it lingers with you.


When I see some dark hill point its crest to the sky,
I think of the rocks that o'ershadow Colbleen;[7]
When I see the soft blue of a love-speaking eye,
I think of those eyes that endear'd the rude scene;
When, haply, some light-waving locks I behold,
That faintly resemble my Mary's in hue,
I think on the long flowing ringlets of gold,
The locks that were sacred to beauty, and you.


Yet the day may arrive, when the mountains once more
Shall rise to my sight, in their mantles of snow;
But while these soar above me, unchang'd as before,
Will Mary be there to receive me?—ah, no!
Adieu, then, ye hills, where my childhood was bred!
Thou sweet flowing Dee, to thy waters adieu!
No home in the forest shall shelter my head,—
Ah! Mary, what home could be mine, but with you?

  1. Song.—[Poems O. and T.]
  2. Morven, a lofty mountain in Aberdeenshire. "Gormal of snow" is an expression frequently to be found in Ossian.
  3. This will not appear extraordinary to those who have been accustomed to the mountains. It is by no means uncommon, on attaining the top of Ben-e-vis, Ben-y-bourd, etc., to perceive, between the summit and the valley, clouds pouring down rain, and occasionally accompanied by lightning, while the spectator literally looks down upon the storm, perfectly secure from its effects.
  4. [Byron, in early youth, was "unco' wastefu'" of Marys. There was his distant cousin, Mary Duff (afterwards Mrs. Robert Cockburn), who lived not far from the "Plain-Stanes" at Aberdeen. Her "brown, dark hair, and hazel eyes—her very dress," were long years after "a perfect image" in his memory (Life, p. 9). Secondly, there was the Mary of these stanzas, "with long-flowing ringlets of gold," the "Highland Mary" of local tradition. She was (writes the Rev. J. Michie, of The Manse, Dinnet) the daughter of James Robertson, of the farmhouse of Ballatrich on Deeside, where Byron used to spend his summer holidays (1796-98). She was of gentle birth, and through her mother, the daughter of Captain Macdonald of Rineton, traced her descent to the Lord of the Isles. "She died at Aberdeen, March 2, 1867, aged eighty-five years." A third Mary (see "Lines to Mary," etc., p. 32) flits through the early poems, evanescent but unspiritual. Last of all, there was Mary Anne Chaworth, of Annesley (see "A Fragment," etc., p. 210; "The Adieu," st. 6, p. 239, etc.), whose marriage, in 1805, "threw him out again—alone on a wide, wide sea" (Life, p. 85).]
  5. "Breasting the lofty surge" (Shakespeare).
  6. The Dee is a beautiful river, which rises near Mar Lodge, and falls into the sea at New Aberdeen.
  7. Colbleen is a mountain near the verge of the Highlands, not far from the ruins of Dee Castle.