The Penitent

James Orr

Inscribed to the Rev J Bankhead, Ballycarry — Written in the year 1800

The Penitent

EARTH feels the triple scourge wile warfare spreads,

Emaciate famine gnaws the husks and pines,

And ev’ry friend, forsaking, inly dreads

The fated wretch, whom pestilence confines:—

Say, will BANKFIELD, who piously declines

Man’s ev’ry vice, and mournes his woes severe;

Will he, the guide, who feels what he enjoins,

The fervent love of ev’ry faith and sphere,

The Penitent’s memoirs, tho’ mean, be pleas’d to hear?

His name, if I min’ right, was Christy Blair.

Fu’ aft I’ve pass’d the wa’-stead whare he leev’d;

An’ auld ash tree stan’s branchless now an’ bare,

Aboon the spring, unnotic’d an’ unpreev’d:

The side wa’ co’ers the causey that he pav’d,

The beasts rub doon the cheeks o’ ilka door;

Rank nettles the hearth on which he shav’d

The nybers ance a week in years o’ yore —

I learn’d his life frae Brice, the auld herd on the moor.

He weav’d himsel’, an’ keepet twathree gaun,

Wha prais’d him ay for hale weel-handled yarn;

His thrifty wife an’ wise wee lasses span,

While warps and queels employ’d anither bairn;

Some stript ilk morn an’ thresh’d, the time to earn

To scamper wi’ the houn’s frae hill to hill;

Some learn’d the question-beuk in nyb’ring barn —

Christy wrought unco close, whyles took a gill,

But when his wab was out had ay a hearty fill.

An’ nae mean spunge was he; but wad hae lent

Sums to poor sots, wha basely brak their word;

Rich rakes admir’d his sprie, sae weel he kent

The way to heel, an’ han’, a guid game bird:

An’ in the pit he wadna twice he dar’d,

The odds were shamefu’ when he cried “fair play”;

His nieve, that nail’d the messons to the sward,

Wad stapt to lift their weanies frae his way:

He harm’d himsel’ at times was a’ that folk cud say.

But och! if vice the least indulgence claim

’Twill wax, an’ strengthen, like a wean at nurse;

Belyve he staid hale days an’ nights frae hame,

Tho’ ae nights absence, ance he deem’d a curse;

An’ aft brought hame nought but an empty purse,

O’ a’ the hale wabs price he took to sell;

Then, sick niest day, poor Mary boost disburse

Her pence, to get a glass his qualms to quell:

She grudg’d — he storm’d — the weans grat — hame grew hell.

At length he turn’d a doonright ne’er-do-weel,

For ilka draught, he swore, but made him dryer;

The kye gaed baith for debt. A sorry chiel’

Was he to cleave their stakes to men’ the fire:

Mary ne’er min’t the house — mair like a byre,

But clash’d wi’ nyber wives. Unkent to him

For tea, an’ snuff, the troubled dame’s desire,

She’d smuggled meal an’ seeds; tho’ hunger grim

Devour’d the duddy weans, now in a wretched trim.

Gif ye had pass’d his door, ye’d either heard

Him we his comrades madly makin’ noise,

Or squabblin’ wi’ the wife. He seldom car’d

To wake the looms mair profitable voice:

The weans were wicked mair thro’ chance than choice

How marvellus wad been their mense an’ grace!

He learn’d the lasses smut, an’ gart the boys

Drink dreadfu’ toasts an’ box for pence or praise;

They’d ca’ their mother le’er, an’ cursed her till her face.

Whyles wi’ his auld colleagues he blam’d his wife;

He kent that she was slack, an’ they were fause:

She sometimes took a drap, an’ by the life

A drinkin’ wife’s ay deem’d for greater flaws:

Ance when they differ’d, like a thoughtless ass,

He listed wi’ the sogers on the street,

Yet when he ru’d, wrang’d Mary pledg’d her braws

To raise the smart money. To see her greet

Wad thow’d the hardest heart in army or in fleet.

Yet shame owrecam’ him whyles, an’ when advice

Was properly applied it rous’d his pride,

He’d kiss the beuk, an’ swear by a’ the skies,

He’d in nae change house drink till hallon-tide;

Then, then he thrave; but och! he cudna bide

Frae worthless spen’ thrifts, nor cud they frae him;

At first he’d drink his glass in some backside,

But at the table when his brains ’gain swim;

When tald o’ a’ niest morn he’d tremble ev’ry limb.

At lang an’ last, when to the frightfu’ edge

O’ dreary ruin, by his courses brought,

(For a’ was gaen he had to sell or pledge

The times were hard and nane would trust him ought)

To pass a painfu’ hour, the barn be sought

Whare Smyth, the methodie, harangu’d the folk:

They mourn’d, an’ cried amen — he fleech’d and fought,

Christy grew grave, an’ thought he’d join the flock,

An’ imitate their lives wham ance he us’d to mock.

An’ change his life he did; the bull-beat came,

He wadna gang; but ca’d it savage vice:

A serious nyber ’cause he stay’d at hame

Gi’ed him a wab to weave, an’ lent the price:

Late, late did he sit up, an’ early rise,

An’ eat the bread o’ care to get it weav’d;

Syne took it hame, gat meal, an’ monie nice

Auld claes, to thack the weans, we thanks receiv’d;

Somebody ay will help the poor an’ weel-behav’d.

Nature a while, tho’ thought forbearance hard,

An’ Habit, like a bough by force held straight,

Sprang till its ain auld thraw. When aff his guard,

Twarthree rash gills wad set him till’t a’ night;

An’ much he’d said an’ done that was na right:—

Ilk short relapse the clashes met to track o’;

But practice soon made irksome trials light;

As ane, at first, wha trys the pipe for lack o’

His health, halts, coughs, an’ greus, yet learns to like tobacco.

While perseverin’ in his heav’n-ward way,

He lea’s pale want behin’, his can’t an’ zeal,

Sae quite remarkable, mak’ grave an’ gay

Laugh hearty at him, tho’ they like him weel;

Has he a band to fill? he soon fin’s bail,

Nae pross ere plagues him now, sloth leas his hame;

He has baith kye an’ corn, an’ sells some meal,

His frien’s outbye add mister till his name;

An’ alter’d Mary’s now a douse an’ dainty dame.

(Hail! good old WESLEY — this they owe to thee,

The wise of all professions bless thy birth;

Believing what you taught, without a fee,

“A poor way-faring man,” you ventur’d forth,

Striving where’er you went to free the earth

From sin, enslaver of the human mind:—

As godlike HOWARD, friend of woe an’ worth,

In many a realm consol’d the cells where pin’d

Poor persecuted slaves, kept there by kings unkind.)

Whase arm ance rash as Christy’s? now tho’ straong,

Nae bangster tholes his nieve or sla-thorn black;

Wha ance blasphem’d like Christy? now his tongue

Without minc’d oaths the lee-lang day can crack:

His nights ance spent with gamesters owre the pack

Are pass’t wi’ deein’ wights, or at his beuk;

The lyin’ cash he ance wad sent to wack,

Lent, int’rest-free, sets up new-married folk —

He’s far ower wise to jibe; but no owre grave to joke.

The weans and Mary kept the cottage neat;

She was affectionate, an’ fond were they;

They work’t an’ sang their hymns, and crack’t, an’ gree’t,

Fine was their speech, an’ affable their way.

They werena stupes, wha fient na word can say

For what they b’lieve; tho’ first to rail an’ rage

At a’ wha differ. ’Mang some bolefu’s mae,

Ane Fletcher’s warks, a bra unbias’d sage,

Gart’ em wi’ might an’ mense the Calvinists engage.

An’ searchin’ for the Truth improv’d their taste:

How nat’ral Joseph’s Life was weel they kent;

How Moses’ muse her notes sublimely rais’d,

An’ Jeremiah’s deeply did lament;

The spen’ thrift son’s fine scene they weel cud paint,

An guid Samaritan’s — an’ nearer han’,

How Young made night mair solemn wi’ his plaint;

How Milton’s Eve was fair, his Adam fand;

How Gray was sad an’ grave, an’ Shakespeare wildly grand.

They min’t baith warls. In warps boil’d by their han’

Did thrice ten shuttles lose their entrails sma’;

An’ on a scoup o’ cheap, but mountain lan’,

They graz’d yell kye, an’ drain’d, an’ lim’d the shaw.

Beasts, yarn, an’ claith, aft call’d the sons awa’;

The daughters wash’d, an’ sew’d, an’ span wi’ care:

Christy did little, but directed a’;

An’ cute was he when unco folk were there;

For at the very warst he had biath sense an’ lear.

“The e’e that saw them bless’d them.” Muck they shar’d

Wi’ frien’s, wi’ strangers’, an’ wi’ a’ in need;

Folk thought the fam’ly fey if e’er they err’d,

Bonnier an’ better ne’er brak warls bread;

Christy ne’er strave to cross their loves; but gied

Mailin’s, an’ gear, to ev’ry lad an’ lass,

He leev’d to train their weans, an’ when he died,

Was what they ca’ the leader o’ a class —

Brice gied me this account, an’ right weel pleas’d I was.

May my wild brethren turn to wisdom’s path

An’ grace poor Erin, plagu’d with want and dearth!

And banish from her shores religious wrath,

Desponding sloth, and dissipated mirth!

May sun-like Science from the poor man’s hearth

Chase Ignorance, the owl that haunts the stys!

So patriots brave, when we lie low in earth,

“Harmless as doves, and yet as serpents wise,”

Shall follow Truth and Right, and guard the land they prize.



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