I went to the Henry Moore exhibition in Leeds the other day. It occurred to me how ironical it is that people complain about ‘modern art’ not realising that Moore was influenced by ancient Mexican art. It was an intense experience and the intensity was underlined for me when I emerged and saw in front of me a 12 foot by 10 foot painting ‘Moret’s Sleeping Place Forest of Fontainebleau’ by Leon Richet. Even though it was a scene in the middle of a forest, I heaved a sigh of relief to be free of all that clenched stone.
This poem is one of the first I ever heard. I was eight and Miss Forster, sharp, middle-aged, Robin Hood hat, read it to us in her magnificent Scottish accent:
LORD ULLIN’S DAUGHTER
A chieftain to the highlands bound,
Cries ‘Boatman, do not tarry!
And I’ll give thee a silver pound,
To row us o’er the ferry’.
‘Now who be ye would cross Lochgyle
This dark and stormy water?’
‘O, I’m the Chief of Ulva’s Isle,
And this, Lord Ullin’s daughter.
And fast before her father’s men
Three days we’ve fled together,
For, should he find us in the glen,
My blood would stain the heather.
His horsemen hard behind us ride;
Should they our steps discover,
Then who will cheer my bonny bride
When they have slain her lover?’
Out spoke the hardy Highland wight,
‘I’ll go, my chief, I’m ready.
It is not for your silver bright,
But for your winsome lady.
And, by my word, the bonny bird
In danger shall not tarry.
For, though the waves are raging white,
I’ll row you o’er the ferry’.
By this the storm grew loud apace,
The water-wraith was shrieking,
And in the scowl of heaven each face
Grew dark as they were speaking.
But still wilder grew the wind,
And, as the night drew drearer,
Adown the glen rode armed men,
Their trampling sounded nearer.
‘O, haste thee, haste!’ the lady cries,
‘Though tempests round us gather,
I’ll meet the raging of the skies,
But not an angry father’.
The boat had left a stormy land,
A stormy sea before her,
When, O! Too strong for human hand,
The waters gathered o’er her.
And still they rowed amidst the roar
Of waters fast prevailing.
Lord Ullin reached that fatal shore,
His wrath was changed to wailing.
For sore dismayed, through storm and shade,
His child he did discover,
One lovely hand stretched out for aid,
And one was round her lover.
‘Come back! Come back!’ he cried in grief,
‘Across this stormy water,
And I’ll forgive your Highland chief,
My daughter! O, my daughter’.
‘Twas vain: the loud waves lashed the shore,
Return or aid preventing,
The waves went wild o’er his child,
And he was left lamenting.
Thomas Campbell (1777-1844)
Still gets to me.