Week 486: From ‘Kilmeny’ by James Hogg

This is part of a longer poem by the Scots poet James Hogg (1770-1835). I give only the beginning plus one quatrain from near the end and omit a lot of allegorical stuff about sinless virgins and radiant beings that to my mind lacks the verve of the evocative opening stanzas. The whole poem is easily accessible online, but I do feel it would have been wiser of Hogg to let the mystery be and leave us to our own imaginings as to where Kilmeny had been: fairylands work better if not made too explicit, a music of horns dimly blowing at the edge of the world. This is something that J.R.R.Tolkien was well aware of when in a letter to a correspondent he expressed his fears, justifiably in my view, that ‘The Silmarillion’ would not have the same appeal as ‘Lord of the Rings’. He says ‘Part of the attraction of the L.R. is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist.’

From ‘Kilmeny’

Bonnie Kilmeny gaed up the glen;
But it wasna to meet Duneira’s men,
Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see,
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
It was only to hear the yorlin sing,
And pu’ the cress-flower round the spring;
The scarlet hypp and the hindberrye,
And the nut that hung frae the hazel tree;
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
But lang may her minny look o’er the wa’,
But lang may she seek i’ the green-wood shaw;
Lang the laird o’ Duneira blame,
And lang, lang greet or Kilmeny come hame!

When many a day had come and fled,
When grief grew calm, and hope was dead,
When mess for Kilmeny’s soul had been sung,
When the bedesman had pray’d and the dead bell rung,
Late, late in gloamin’ when all was still,
When the fringe was red on the westlin hill,
The wood was sere, the moon i’ the wane,
The reek o’ the cot hung over the plain,
Like a little wee cloud in the world its lane;
When the ingle low’d wi’ an eiry leme,
Late, late in the gloamin’ Kilmeny came hame!

‘Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been?
Lang hae we sought baith holt and den;
By linn, by ford, and green-wood tree,
Yet you are halesome and fair to see.
Where gat you that joup o’ the lily scheen?
That bonnie snood of the birk sae green?
And these roses, the fairest that ever were seen?
Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been?’

Kilmeny look’d up with a lovely grace,
But nae smile was seen on Kilmeny’s face;
As still was her look, and as still was her e’e,
As the stillness that lay on the emerant lea,
Or the mist that sleeps on a waveless sea.
For Kilmeny had been, she knew not where,
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare;
Kilmeny had been where the cock never crew,
Where the rain never fell, and the wind never blew…..


When seven lang years had come and fled,
When grief was calm, and hope was dead;
When scarce was remember’d Kilmeny’s name,
Late, late in a gloamin’ Kilmeny came hame!

James Hogg

its lane=alone, by itself
scheen=sheen, in the obsolete sense of rich or shining attire


3 thoughts on “Week 486: From ‘Kilmeny’ by James Hogg

    • The fact that the big Scots-English online dictionary does not think it needs including, though it does have an entry for that very line to explain ‘joup’, suggest to me that this is just a Scots variant spelling of ‘sheen’, used in the now obsolete sense of ‘gorgeous or bright attire’, which the OED illustrates with a quote from Milton: ‘With thee there clad in radiant sheen, No Marchioness, but now a Queen’. So, ‘that mantle of the finest lily-white attire’, the lily of course being a symbol of virginal purity.

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