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A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Mail, 15 October 1881, p. 3.
They meet, they love, they wed;
   And now life’s cares begin.
He toils for daily bread,
   But bread he scarce can win.
Soon comes a little child
   Their poverty to share;
Her eyes, so sweet and mild,
   See love, but see not care.
Yet care is in the home,
   The wolf is at the door;
Thence must the husband roam,
   Such sorrows have the poor!
They part with many fears,
   Though hope shines bright above
And smiling on their tears,
   The baby coos of love.
Across the stormy sea,
   Ten thousand miles away,
The lonely man must be
   Prepared for toil or fray;
Watchful both day and night,
   For many a savage foe
Is lurking out of sight,
   To aim a treach’rous blow.
At last in savage hands
   He finds himself a prey,
And through their pathless lands
   They lead him far away.
He sees no white man’s face
   While days and weeks roll on,
He hears no white man’s voice—
   One long, dull year is gone;
And still the months roll by,
   And no one comes to save;
Then must he live and die
   ’Mong savages a slave?
No! Who would prize mere breath
   If he may not be free?
Better the risk of death
   Than long captivity.
He takes the chance of flight—
   Escaping from his foes.
But where are those he loved,
   For whom he crossed the waves?
Have they forgetful proved,
   Or are they in their graves?
There’s One who knoweth all,
   And time the truth will tell;
Whatever may befall,
   God doeth all things well.
Commit to Him your care,
   And trust the mighty Mind
That ruleth everywhere
   The lives of all mankind.
In the 1870s and 1880s, in every issue of the weekly newspapers, readers were courted by advertisements for opportunities to emigrate, and during these years more than 75,000 people left Scotland for New Zealand, Australia, North America, South Africa, and other destinations (Richards Britannia’s Children 181.) Among those who emigrated, some were Highland crofters and cottars evicted or dispossessed by the clearances. But, as Harvie asserts, “the Scots who went abroad were mainly from the Lowlands, craftsmen with their certificates, clerks, weavers with their savings taken from the penny bank. They were concerned to get on, and they created an emigration ideology to justify their move” (921). The emigrant described in Bernstein’s poem is characterized chiefly by his poverty, so it is impossible to deduce whether she has in mind a man who flees a remote rural district experiencing economic decline or one who leaves an urban area with surplus labor. Notable here, too, are deeply ingrained views about the savagery that one might encounter in new and godless lands; such notions were just as much a part of the Scottish collective imagination as the overarching British imperialism. As in several poems, including “The East Coast Fishermen,” she prescribes faith as an antidote to loss of compass.