We have been out walking along the West Highland Way near Inversnaid today, and I was put in mind of this landscape’s many famous visitors. Because of its fine views and beautiful surroundings, this was a spot much beloved of the Victorians, and particularly of literary travellers to Scotland. William Wordsworth wrote “to a Highland Girl at Inversnaid” following his visit in 1803, but I much prefer the poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins almost eighty years later. Finding himself on a prolonged stay in Glasgow in August 1881, Hopkins was keen to “see something of the Highlands” but found himself somewhat pressed for time: “I hurried to Loch Lomond,” he wrote in a letter to a friend, “the day was dark, and partly hid the lake, yet it did not altogether disfigure it, but gave a pensive or solemn beauty which left a deep impression on me.” His poem is dated September 28th, 1881:
THIS darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.