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Peer Reviewed

A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Herald, 19 September 1903, p. 5.
Calmest of lochs! no tempests rise
Where thy bright waves reflect the skies,
No wreck beneath thy surface lies.
No merchant ships sail over thee
With cargoes of anxiety.
No emigrants e’er leave thy strand
As exiles from their native land.
No ships of war go forth from thee
To work destruction. Thou art free
From all the “sorrow on the sea.”
Thy white-sailed yachts glide to and fro,
I love to see them as they go;
Because I know their human freight,
Not bowed by Care’s oppressing weight,
Travel in peace, for pure delight
In all things beautiful and bright.
On and around thee they can find
A beauty of serenest kind,
Smooth lawns, green trees, among whose boughs
Many a song bird builds its house.
I hear their voices all day long
Charming the hours with happy song,
I see the children, free and gay,
Upon the green grass at their play,
Beside the smooth and shining waves
That roll not over hidden graves,
Like greater lochs, whose dark depths hold
Many a tragedy untold.
How well I love this peaceful scene,
Where all is evermore serene,
As changing seasons come and go,
’Neath summer sun, or winter snow,
For ever sweet, for ever bright,
This tranquil pleasance charms my sight,
And wakens thoughts of calm delight.
“St Vincent Loch” is Marion Bernstein’s last published poem. The site she describes was originally platted in 1849 as “Stobcross Estate” and was developed by the architect Alexander Kirkland (1824-92) as a middle-class residential property. Fronting the buildings were gardens, a bowling green, and a large pond where children sailed toy boats in the summer and ice skated in the winter. Eventually, the neighborhood came to be called “St Vincent Crescent.” The poem recalls a number of the themes Bernstein explored in her later work: shipwreck, emigration, warfare, and other “sorrow on the sea.” In many poems, moreover, she dwells on the deaths of friends, on the acceleration of the passing years, and on human frailty and weariness. There are occasional light moments—celebrations of the earth and of heaven—but they are rare. Implicit here is the tension between the physical confinement imposed by age and the imaginative freedom inspired by an ordinary city park. In “Mirren’s Autobiography” she had compared herself to “withered flowers” that “crumble to dust” and had expected that her readers’ memories of her would “pass away.” It is pleasant, therefore, to think that a woman who had spent most of her years struggling against so many forms of oppression should close her poetic life by painting a “peaceful scene” and enjoying “thoughts of calm delight.”

In her early poems Marion Bernstein wrote critically, even scornfully, of her northern environs. But as the years passed, she took pains to represent her Scottish connections. In 1898, in her application for a pension from the Indigent Gentlewomen’s Fund, she acknowledged that she was not a “Scotchwoman” but asserted that she had “lived in Scotland for over twenty-four years.”@ And in her application for a grant from the Royal Literary Fund, submitted in 1904, she directed the committee’s attention to her having “had the honour of a biographical notice in Mr D. H. Edwards’ Modern Scottish Poets.”@ Although her name and her verse were excluded from other collections of Scottish poetry published during her lifetime, she addressed the issues that confronted Scots at the end of the nineteenth century, and she earned a place in the Scottish literary canon.