Rough Scan

JEAN BAXTER'S poems are in their essence a remarkable tribute to the hold the Vernacular has on all those who have been brought up under it, not least when they have wandered into an atmosphere far removed from it.  When, as Jean Logan Rose Smythe, Mrs. Baxter was born at Aboyne, she can have had very little idea of ever taking to writing verse in the Vernacular, if only because the educational authorities of that day had set their face against the auld tongue, and were intent on teaching little Scots what they considered standard English.
Although she never lost the accent of the North in spite of, or because of, fifteen years of married life in London and its environs, it was only in the calm of the day, after bringing two boys into the world and looking after their childhood, that she began to write, partly inspired by the same set of tendencies which had brought into being the Vernacular Circle of the Burns Club of London.
There was, however, no idea of anything like "synthetic Scots" in her head, except in so far as the Vernacular she speaks is a living synthesis of different intonations from several quarters of Aberdeenshire, inherited from various ancestors.  This is always a very interesting point in many writers of Scots, and it came out very prominently in the case of Burns himself, who used words or pronunciations belonging to his father's east coast origin, a fact that explains some of his rhymes which are certainly not Ayrshire.
The parents of her father, George Henderson Smythe (1855-1928), were reared on the Haddo Estate in Tarves, and her great-grandfather's forebears were farmers in Turriff.  Her grandmother, whose name was Ross, came of farming stock, and claimed descent from the Roses of Kilravock.  Her mother, Martha Lawrence Macdonald, belonged to Stonehaven, where her family were shipwrights and interested in shipping, and they had some connection with Fife.
As a child she was taken from Aboyne—after which she has named her house at Wokingham—lived four years in Huntly, and then struck Echt, where she spent her life until she married Mr. Harold Hozier Baxter in 1913.  Her father could turn a rhyme in his day, although he never practised the art to any extent.  It is probably, however, from him that Mrs. Baxter owes her articulateness, for he was a fluent public speaker, besides having a great many interests, including ardent Volunteering, many sports, and several handicrafts.
Mrs. Baxter began writing "bitties" for her own amusement three years ago, but, like nearly all writers, she was very shy about them.  Then she was induced to show some of her work to Mr. Alexander Inkson McConnochie, who, in turn, brought it to my notice, and through that she got into touch with the whole Vernacular movement as cultivated by the Burns Club of London.  Having conquered her first shyness and some of the initial difficulties of metrical composition, she has written a good deal of verse ever since, and has published some of it in magazines and newspapers.
Nobody can read those verses without feeling at once that Mrs. Baxter lives in a Vernacular world and expresses herself quite naturally in the Doric.  The Vernacular is, for her, the readiest passport to writing.  She has never allowed her writing to precipitate into "literary" formality.  Her verses demand to be read aloud, and if they are so read they will always be found to say something that matters.  While she is able to describe the objective world of her childhood, with its highly _sui generis_ ways, she is also able to see the idea underlying facts.  She has, in fact, a philosophy, though I feel certain she has never thought it out in a doctrinaire way.
It is remarkable how, with a little encouragement, her work has improved technically.  She has developed rapidly a sense of selection, giving an artistic expression to facts and fancies familiar to many who have never thought of fashioning them in the guise of verse.  For my own part, I prefer above all others the verses entitled "Spring," a hackneyed subject in all conscience, but re-born again in her fresh way of investing it.  But different readers will form their own choice, for in this little wallet there is something for everybody who can feel the fine qualities of our virile Vernacular.



THE littlins clim' ahin' her cheir—
"Mither, mither!  Div ye hear,
=Or are ye deef?"
Nae mair she heeds them, nor a stream
That rins an' rummies throwe a dream—
=But like a thief
She loups tae hark their faither say,
"Ye needna chap; she's oot the day!"


OH Tibbie's singin' on the stair
=Afore the nicht's weel bye,
For lat a Tyseday mornin' dawn
=She's nae the lass tae lie;
She lachs an' says, "Wark seen begun
=Is aye the seener through!"
An' "Girnals that'll full themsels
=Wid be a fairlie new!"
Sae grey daylicht, the rollin' peen
=An' caup an' Tibbie meet,
An' a' the kitchie's steerin'
=Wi' the stew o' meal an' peat.

Her wristbans kiss her shouder-heid,
=Her cheeks lowe like the fire,
Her skeel o' han' an' speed o' fit
=Are marvels til admire;
She kirns the bannocks roon' the caup,
=Syne shee;s them doon the brod:
Fest as the reekin' girdle teems
=The toaster taks the load!
Fan the bakin' haps the dresser
=Tib's nae til haud nor bin'—
An' noo's the time the littlins ken
=Tae bung their bonnets in!

Tho' Tibbie threipit jist the streen
=That loons she couldna bide,
An' daur't the royit nicks tae set
=A singel fit inside,
Sae weel the wee bit bonneties
=Mak' mane for bairns' tig-tire,
She cries on them tae come awa',
=An' bellows up the fire!
An' noo the loonies, quate as lambs,
=But niver lattin' on,
Can see a canny vict'ry won—
=As weel's a traikle scone!


THERE'S some sae keen tae spy fat's wrang
=They'll bide up day an' nicht,
But nae ae single meenit spen'
=Tae try an' see fat's richt.

It's queer that siccan zealous fowk
=Can aye fin' fat they seek—
Yet miss fat maist micht gar them blush
=Gin i' their herts they'd keek!


=O WER hill an' brae
=He comes tae play,
The rantin' roarin' Win';
=As on he flees
=He cowps the trees
An' lachs tae hear the din.

=He sweels the spate
=The de'il's ain gate
Oot ower the feckless banks,
=An' Tilly's stooks
=Furl roon' like deuks
Wi' panic i' the ranks!

=Wi' jaggit shears
=The duds he tears
Aff lines she fulled sae croose,
=An' reek an' flaws
=Doon lums he ca's
A' steerin' throwe the hoose.

=Ower yaird and closs,
=A sair-like loss
He spreads o' hey an' strae;
=The hens he blaws
=Like feather ba's
Tae gie his humour play.

=An' neist he's aff
=Tae tig an' daff
Wi' quinies fae the skweel;
=Like sails o' ships
=He fulls their slips—
Syne dooks them i' the peel!

=Ower hill an' brae
=He comes tae play,
The rantin' roarin' Win';
=An' grannies tell
=His pooers sae fell,
An' dra' their airmcheirs in.


TAK' some aul' hirplin' weeda wife
=An' hing inside her mou'
A tongue that cost her man his life,
=An' ye'll hae, plumb an' true,
The foons o' yon aul'-farrant lass,
=My Lady o' the Lamp—
Gin doots ye hae, turn up Chavasse
=On "Mistress Sairey Gamp."

I see her tritelin' up the brae,
=Her tails amo' the glaur;
Gweed peety some peer sowl the day—
=Death couldna weel be waur.
I see her nose licht up the dark,
=An' shame the hairsters' meen;
Her pechs, an' seichs, an' hoast I hark,
=An' pair o' scushlin' sheen.

Her pultices, baith meal an' neep,
=I smell as wauch the day;
I fin the preen she eese't tae keep
=Tae job a bealin' tae;
Her sauts an' jalap fyle my mou';
=I cowk ower sinny tea
In jorams that wid kill a coo,
=Aside a bairn like me!

Weel, weel, she's deid.  Fan Science saw
=The sick in sic a fix,
She wile't the skeely wife awa'
=An' rowt her ower the Styx:
An' Death, that took her til himsel'
=Tint thus his greatest freen—
That's fat ye ca' a ... Far 's my Bell ?—
=Ye ken fine fat I mean!


WI' drappit broo the fermer glowers
=Throwe rain, that, like a shawl,
For days an' weeks has happit hill
=An' howe withoot devall.

An antrin April scuff or twa
=Misguides nor man nor beast,
"But fegs!" thinks he, wi' ruefu' face,
="Eneuch's as gweed's a feast.

Gin neeps were deen, an' cake sae dear,
=Aul' Job himsel' wid greet,
Wi' stirkies aye criv't i' the byre,
=An' girse in Spring sae sweet."

He coonts the cairts wi' reestit shafts,
=An' ploos hod i' the shed,
Three pair o' horse an' cowts tae brak
=That, faith, maun a' be fed,

An' horsemen at the bothy gale
=Wi' nae mair jots tae dee
Nor tig wi' Kirsty at the wall,
=An' pooch their easy fee;

He sees the agent, drookit craw,
=Come draiglin' up the brae—
"Fa but a feel wid cadge manures
=An' seeds on sic a day?

O, he may tak' his weet skin hame,
=His sample pyocks an' a'—
An' fan his wit can dry the grun'
=Jist gies anither ca'!"

The roadie o' the fermer's thochts
=Had teen the darkest turn
Fan Sol's reid pow keeked ower the hill,
=An' he forgot tae murn!

Noo Robin sings ahint the ploo,
=Coos caper i' the sun,
In ilka fur the agent's wares
=Lach i' the fermer's grun'.

The hill is cled in goon o' gowd,
=The howe in emerald green—
Did clypin' bow nae deck the lift,
=The rain micht ne'er hae been!


"WE'll ride through Oxford."  I didna say,
Tho' it wis nineteen years that day
=Sin' he wis droon'd there,
=Wi' bay-leaves croon'd there,
I couldna thole til—but I was wae.

We rade through Oxford.  I seemed rae hear
And see him greet us.  There fell a tear
=O' blindin' sorrow
=For that brave morrow
That Fate ne'er gied him—giedna here.

Ahin lies Oxford.  He sleepsna there,
Altho' his soul breathes i' the air.
=I'm gled I've been there,
=An' Christchurch seen there—
But doon through Oxford I'll ride nae mair.


NOO, bridal briest-knots, fyte an' pink,
=Adorn the aipple tree,
An' "gowden-chain," wi' sun-forged link,
=Entices bairn an' bee.

Sweet hawthorn blushes ower her croon,
=The firstlin' rose is gay,
An' my hert dances tae the tune
=A lav'rock sings in May!


ALTHO' I'm loupin' I've won hame,
The Howe o' Echt's nae jist the same—
=Or else it's me
It's nae on biggins roon the place
Nor yet on ony weel-kent face
=The odds I see.

Beld Barmekyn an' Hill o' Fare,
The millert's dam an' Gormack's there
=An' Postie's tree;
It's nae the clash nor yet the claes—
But faith ! the lenth o' a' the braes
=Dumfooners me!

Tae fowks that hae been lang awa'
The roadies fyles look shrunk an' sma'-
=But nae yon braes!
By some black airt o' deevlick vile,
Tae twa they've raxed their ilka mile
=Sin' my young days!

Or hae I i' the Sooth groun sweer
An' jinkin' wark has cost me dear
=In barfit breath?
The morn's mornin' I'll arise
(Gin Tibbie chaps!) an' men' my wyes-
=As sure as Death!


ILL fashions led me by the han'
=For sorra tak's!  It wisna mowse
Tae hear yon rum'lin' soon' that ran
=Like thun'er grun't amon' the howes!

At Barns, begeck o' a' my life,
=I fathom't the ondeemous soon'!
It wis the fermer an' his wife
=Gaun grumphin' roon' aboot the toon!

Sair trachelt war they wi' the heat;
=Nae spirk o' weet kent foo tae fa',
An' a' the wark wis oot o' theit,
=For drooth's the chiel tae ding the law.

The wife took up her wrapper neuk
=An' gied her flamin' face a dicht;
She min't the story i' The Buik
=An' prayed laich in for rain gin nicht.

"Fowk's sair, sair pitten til't," she girn't,
="Fan hens that shud be layin' 's clockin',
An' butter iles that's jist new kirn't—
=An' ilka pun rowt in a dockin;

An' yaval broth is nae for suppin'—
=A' soor as roddins in a nicht—
An' ream's a' cruddelt, set for fuppin'—
=Wis ever hoose in sic a plicht?"

"G'wa, gweedwife, an' haud your blether!
=Licht is the birn ye bear byes mine.
A fermer's life hings on the weather—
=Gin craps be tint he canna dine.

The neeps are cryin' oot for hyowin',
=Tho', weel-a-wat, they're crin't an' sma';
But nyod! they maun hae room for growein'
=Or loase the chance gin rain shud fa'.

The hey tee 's won an' fit for colein'—
=I dinna ken fat road tae turn,
Wi' Bess o' Barns jist at the foalin',
=An' stirkies thristin' i' the burn."

Hod mon' the peats, an' like tae smore,
=I harken't as the pair loot fung;
As aye the grumphs flew back an' fore
=I wished the drooth wid dry their tongue!

Yet still an' on, I wat it's teuch,
=Fan at the hert the rent's aye knockin',
Tae lach an' haud a sober sooch,
=An' watch the weather teem the stockin'.


FAN Winter steers the bleezin' peats,
An' treeshes wives til chumley seats
=Wi' en'less knittin',
I wish my weers, like theirs, content,
Wid eident wive their nichtly stent,
=Fyles here I'm sittin'!

But aye the clew sleeps i' my han';
The weers bide idle as my wan'
=Or April fishin';
My thochts, like reek, drift up the lum,
An' on the hearth lies ase—the sum
=O' a' my wishin'.


"FOO mony miles tae Babylon?"
="Three score an' ten."
"Shall we get there by candle-licht?"
="Aye—an' back again!"
The playgreens ring fae Dee to Don—
=Spring is teetin' ben!

"Foo mony miles tae Babylon?"
="Three score an' ten."
The halflin fussles til his mear,
=An' turns her heid again;
He sees himsel' a foreman yet—
=Spring is teetin' ben!

"Foo mony miles tae Babylon?"
="Three score an' ten."
Tibbie, wivein' at her shank,
=Tines her coont again;
Tibbie's thochts are ower the hills—
=Spring is teetin' ben!

"Foo mony miles tae Babylon?"
="Three score an' ten."
The aul' pair harkens tae the sang . . .
="Aye—an' back again!"
An' throwe his airm she slips her han'-
=Spring is teetin' ben!


WINTER!  A' the bairnies' feeties
Perishin' inside their beeties—
Fine tae rank oot cloods an' moggans,
An' flee the braes wi' thrang toboggans.

Winter!  A' the scholars ca'in'
Fushion intil thooms wi' blawin'—
Fine, fan "meenits" dings the skylie,
Tae birstle, like the Dom, a fylie.

Winter!  A' the gweedwives fashin'
Tae free the lines o' streekit washin'—
Fine, inbye the chumley lug,
Tae needle at the clooty rug.

Winter!  A' the ferm horse idle,
Reestit hems, an' chines, an' bridle—
Fine tae mummle taits o' strae,
Wi' nae a fur tae ploo a' day.

Winter!  A' the chiels ootbye,
Waugin' graips tae meat the kye—
Fine tae leave the fooshtie pit,
An' back tae bothy, whist, an' wit.

Winter!  A' the steadin' catties,
Sick o' hameart mice an' ratties—
Fine tae hear, wi' herties dirlin',
The strippin's i' the cogies pirlin.

Winter!  A' the spurgies stervin';
Wint an' caul' the thiefies nervin'—
Fine upo' the fermhoose sill
Tae taste forgi'eness and gweedwill.

Winter!  A' the kirkers pliterin'
Throwe snaw-bree, or on slipper stiterin'—
Fine tae hear "Aul' Jeemie" say,
"The sermon I'll leave oot the day!"

Winter!  A' the bardies eill,
Frostbun' han's an' heids as weel—
Gran', close-steekit i' the study,
Tae brooze ower buiks, an' chaw the cuddy!


DOON the dam an' watch the curlin';
See the rinkers' grey globes hurlin';
Hark the skip, "Soop up!  Soop up!
Birl, ye beauty! nail the cup!"

Croods o' lads an' rosy lasses,
Swift the oor o' feerich passes;
Lusty lungs roar oot the winner,
"Tam's teen the tassie, skeely sinner!"

Ower the ice an' up the bankie,
Ettlin' heels like pownies pranky—
Here in Luckie Lowrie's Inn
We'll cowp the rim o' Tammie's win!


THE Dom sat back in his laich-backit cheir,
=An' glow'rt ower the tap o' his specs:
"Siccan loons I never did see nor yet hear;
=Aye sweir tae dee a'thing but vex.

Stan' oot tae the fleer, Jock, Sanny, an' Tam,
=An' fair oot wi't—foo did ye troo?
Fine ken ye the time's wearin' near oor exam,
=Fan ae meenit tint is tae rue.

Ye didna inten' nae tae be i' your place?
='T wis chance took ye roon' by the burn?
Ye saw the troot loup back an' fore in a race-
=Tae see fa wid win gar't ye turn?

Ye sichtit the sluice far the water pooers oot
=Wi' a jilp and a jeuk ower the steens,
Syne ye thocht siccan gran' tae paidle aboot—
=In a crack ye were facin' the Mains!

The ploomen were lowsin', 't wis on twal o'clock,
=Fat eese tearin' aff tae the skweel
Wi' meenities bye an' you missed fae the flock?
=Ach!  Come on! haud on tae the peel!

There, widin' an' guddlin', time seen slippit by
=Till the mist o' the gloamin' cam' doon,
An' the birds were a' quate, an' Tam said wi' a sigh:
='Wis the Dominic iver a loon?'

Aye, laddies, I eence wis a loon like yoursel's,
=Naither better nor waur, I daursay;
Gae back tae yer seats—ye've telt siccan tales
=That an aul' feel has tears for the day."


PEER Isie's mither weel I kent, a fine aul'-farrant body;
Her heid she clear't wi' shag at nicht ; her hert she warm't wi' toddy.
At auchty-three she ran aboot on swippert lassie feet,
An' cairriet cogies i' the frame, an' gied the kye their meat;
She ca'd the churn, an' sweel't the fleer, an' teem't the heavy bine,
An' tchauv't wi' a' the orra wark, an' widna fee a quine.
Peer Isie picher't i' the room wi' buiks fae dawn till late
(She'd aye a hirshle in her breist, an' durstna dicht a plate).
But Isie's mither took a dwam; the doctor said her tack
Wis geyleys oot—the lave o' life noo widna muckle mak'.
She dreel't the mannie doon the road an' swore she widna dee,
Syne bung't awa' his drogs, and ate a deuk's egg til her tea.
"Preser's fae siccan stite!" she cried, "It fairly cowes the cuddy!
I'll lat him see gin my tack's oot, the haiv'rin' eeseless body!
Haud ben, peer Isie, tae the room, an' I'll redd up the ase;
I canna see my dooie pech, an' blecknin' i' the face."
She jinkit Death wi' hardier hert nor fowks mair young an' swack,
An' Life took tent an' years gied Isie's mither til her tack.

(December 1900)

AHINT, the market and the toon,
=Oor hap a tartan plaidie,
The sharpit sheen mak' ringin' soon'—
=Jock Frost's nae mim-mou't lady!

The win' ootside is like a knife,
=The birlin' bus is cosy,
In beddit strae, the fermer's wife
=Aneth her bonnet's dozy.

Blaw oot the glim afore we smore,
=The wick we maun hae sortit;
Aye shoudin' back and shoudin' fore,
=Wi' ase an' ile it's clortit.

The reek's sae wauch, here's dilse tae cha'
=As sweet as new-kirn't butter,
An' gin ye're wise ye'll no' say "Na,"
=Fan Doo han's roon the cutter.

Up braes, roon neuks, thro' drift we flee,
=The milesteen heids a' happit,
An' ilka post an' ilka tree
=Wi' futhery mutch is tappit.

At lenth we strik' the twa-mile stracht,
=The beasties tear on fester,
Their herts, wi' houp o' het mash fracht,
=Roar "Rug!" as load's their mester.

O welcome, lichts a' Cleekin Inn!
=The thochts o' ilka body
Afore the wheels on het feet rin
=Tae pree the reekin' toddy!


THE streen I h'ard the bagpipes skirl;
=A Gordon lad I saw
Wi' fleein' plaid an' kilt awhirl
=An medals, raw on raw.

O, bonnie wis the soon' he made-
=An' yet I could but greet
Tae hear my native music played
=A' doon yon orra street.


A Tinkler wife,
Blae wi' caul',
Beets like seys,
A mock her shawl,
Hungry howes
In pickit neck,
Her warldly gear
Within a seck,
Aroon her een
The rings o' tire
Rinnin', seekin'
Meat an' fire,
A drucken hat
Tae tap her croon—
O hertsair sicht
Tae cadge a toun!

Yet hark!  Sic magic'
Graced her mou';
O' eager youth
Her tones were fu',
A sang in her lach
Rang clear an' sweet,
An' joy o' the road
Danced in her feet,
Like a star i' the lift,
Her kendlin' e'e—
O fa can spae
Life's mystery?


THE sneck gied a clash.  He strade bauldly inbye,
=An' his pack o' the deas drappit he;
Seen his brookie aul' pail he gar't showd o' the swye,
Wi' nae glint o' a speir gin it wis i' my wye—
=But O! bricht wis the broon o' his e'e!

Mistress Puss bade her kitlinie pirl the grey clew,
=An' throom-throom't as she clookit his knee;
She never wis kent for fowks' favours tae sue
Gin jaloosins had she that they didna ring true—
=Sae her Tinkler I jist loot abe!

O!  He reezed oot the deil-ma-care life that he led,
=Until, faith, I could har'ly but gree,
Tho' the lift wis his reef an' the bare grun' his bed,
An' his hap the peer duddies in which he wis cled—
=It wis fine fae a' fash tae be free!

For the lilt in his tones an' his lichtsomelike air,
=For sic sma'-bookit cause I could see,
I made gift til him—fegs, an' I wished it wis mair—
A bit kebbuck an' bannocks, an' eggs, the best pair,
=An' a hirin' o' ream til his tea.

Ere he roadit there flew like a dert fae my heid,
=A thocht wi' a stang like a bee—
"Gin a freenless peer stock o' the road drappit deid . . . ?"
The blyth soon' o' his lach I hear yet as he gied
=Me a blink o' his philosophy:

"O, I've shoggle't my sheen ower the hale countraside,
=Fae the Mou' tae the Lynn o' the Dee,
An' my kennin' o' ferlies o' a' kin' is wide,
But I've yet tae hear corp seek a hole far tae hide—
=Och! I'se waurn there'll be een for me tee!"


I CLOSE my een an' at my will
The yairdie nestlin' tae the hill
=Blooms fresh for me—
The box-wid hedge, the clover't green,
The rockery fa's ilka steen
=Eence stemm't the Dee.

Eence mair, aneth the lilac bush
I spread my buik—but Bauldie Thrush
=May read, for me!
Half-dozent wi' the scent o' grass,
I watch the cloods a' pass an' pass
=Ower Arcady!

An' fan I tire, I close my een
As noo—but nae the joy that's been,
=But yet tae be,
I will tae see—for I'm nae grey—
An' a' the glamour o' the day
=Still cries on me.


SAE aul' Watt's deid.  The bairns nae mair
On dubby days, or days that's fair,
=Rin up the closs;
=They murn his loss,
For Willie as a host wis rare!

The harness-room wis his horn-en';
The sanshich ca'd it "Aul' Watt's den,"
=For beasties a',
=Baith big an' sma',
Forgether't there their hurts tae men'.

Watt's cat, fa's tail wis tint in youth,
(Nae Manx by birth or wish, gin truth
=Be telt) took stock
=O' Jock the cock,
Fyles eident paw gaed roon her mooth.

Jock could craw, in numbers, up
Tae three, an' deave the mongrel pup,
=Peer, hauf-droon't Meg,
=Wi' scobbit leg,
Fa nott a tit or she could sup!

An' Watt had birds and mappies, fyles
The scholars brocht for mony miles;
=Sae weel kent Watt
=Fat he wis at,
His skeel aye sent them hame wi' smiles.

Watt wisna bonnie, be it said;
Willie's birse ne'er bluntit blade,
=But beasts an' men
=Saw farrer ben,
An' lo'ed the best hert God e'er made.

We'll daun'er roon the aul' kirkyaird,
The Inn that beds baith man an' laird,
=An' see the steen
=The bairns hae gi'en
Tae Watt, the freen sae ill they spared.


O MARY lass, fling on your shawl;
=The shank can surely bide!
This nicht was gi'en for wivein' dreams

The meen has on her siller goon;
=Abeen the e'emost hill
She hings, like Hope amon' the cloods,
=A' still.

Thro' a' the vale nae soon' disturbs,
=Tho', rarely sweet, the air
A starnie's singin' laich til's sel'
=I hear.

An' 'neth their plaids, like lads in love,
=The willows fauld the burn—
O come! this nicht sae sweet will ne'er