(Poem #931) Proud Maisie
Proud Maisie is in the wood, Walking so early; Sweet Robin sits on the bush, Singing so rarely. "Tell me, thou bonny bird, When shall I marry me?" "When six braw gentlemen Kirkward shall carry ye." "Who makes the bridal bed, Birdie, say truly?" "The grey-headed sexton That delves the grave duly. "The glow-worm o'er grave and stone Shall light thee steady. The owl from the steeple sing, 'Welcome, proud lady'."
Notes: Sung by the madwoman Madge Wildfire on her deathbed in chapter XL of The Heart of Midlothian (1818). -- http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/scott7.html Maisie: Mary. -- Palgrave Here's what Palgrave has to say about today's poem: Scott has given us nothing more complete and lovely than this little song, which unites simplicity and dramatic power to a wildwood music of the rarest quality. No moral is drawn, far less any conscious analysis of feeling attempted; the pathetic meaning is left to be suggested by the mere presentment of the situation. Inexperienced critics have often named this, which may be called the Homeric manner, superficial, from its apparent simple facility; but first-rate excellence in it (as shown here, and in cxcvi., clvi., and cxxix.) is in truth one of the least common triumphs of poetry. This style should be compared with what is not less perfect in its way, the searching out of inner feeling, the expression of hidden meanings, the revelation of the heart of Nature and of the soul within the soul-the analytical method, in short, most completely represented by Wordsworth and Shelley. -- Francis T. Palgrave, "The Golden Treasury" I agree with him as to the poem's rare beauty, but I cannot help but feel that a moral is implicit in the adjective 'proud'. The poem is strongly reminiscent of cautionary ballads like "Barbara Allen", where, at least for a woman, the wages of pride were death. However, 'Proud Maisie' does, as Palgrave points out, differ from the pattern by being simply tragic, rather than cautionary. The very understatedness of the exchange helps underscore its sombre tone - compared to lines like As she was walkin o'er the fields She heard the dead-bell knellin', And every jow that the dead-bell geid, Cried, "Woe to Barbara Allen!" Scott's verse has a quiet dignity that resonates well with the 'magical' aspects of the poem - the lonely woodland setting, and the bird dealing out prophecies of death (compare Poe's "Raven"). Formwise, today's poem, while a little short, fits well into the ballad pattern. To quote Arthur Quiller-Couch, in "The Oxford Book of Ballads": If any man ever steeped himself in balladry, that man was Scott, and once or twice, as in Proud Maisie and Brignall Banks, he came near to distil the essence. To be precise, "Proud Maisie" is a literary ballad, a narrative poem written in deliberate imitation of the ballad form, and intended to be read rather than sung. (See the links for an excellent guide to literary terms, covering ballads, ballad stanza and the literary ballad.) Links: Biography: http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Biographies/Literary/Scott.htm Musical settings: [broken link] http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/s/scott/maisie.html Here's a wonderful essay on Scott: http://www.bartleby.com/223/0706.html The complete "Heard of Midlothian" online: http://www2.arts.gla.ac.uk/SESLL/STELLA/STARN/prose/WSCOTT/HEARTMID/contents.htm A definition of ballads, ballad stanza and literary ballads http://icdweb.cc.purdue.edu/~felluga/guide241.html#ballad And an essay on the ballad in its various manifestations: http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/ballad.html Perhaps the classic example of the literary ballad is Keats's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" poem #182 Other poems by Scott on Minstrels: Poem #125, "Lochinvar" Poem #415, "The Truth of Woman" Poem #495, "Marmion" -martin