Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Coortin' O' Jeems M'Ilhagga

In '' there are all sorts of goodies. And one of them is in a book called 'Pat M'Carty, His Rhymes', published with a setting by John Stevenson (London, Edward Arnold, 1903). It has been digitised by The Library of The University of California. Chapter XVII is entitled 'Love'. The author, who calls himself 'a farmer of Antrim', prefaces the poems in this section with the comment, 'Courtship with us is not demonstrative, but not all of it is so tame as was that of Mr. M'Ilhagga'. Now do we have a James McIlhagga born about 1850 who married a Margaret Brown? I'm sorry we don't, so you'll have to make up your own mind about whether or not the story is ficticious! Enjoy.....!


He wasn't bad lookin', o' means he had some,
A guid steady man, warkin' early and late,
And noo, by the favour o' Providence, come
To years o' discretion - weel, say forty-eight -
The thought had come to him that maybe a wife
Might add to the comfort and pleasure o' life,
He thought, too, wi' raison I think, that the hand
That held twa leases o' guid ploo-land
Was no in the market just every day.
      He thought, as I say, that way.

For merriage the farmin's a deefficult trade,
It's no if she's tall, if she's light, if she's dark,
The man has to think o' in choosin' his maid;
He has to conseedir her p'ints for wark.
The wedded to farmer will verra soon feel
She has wedded the kye and the byre as weel,
And whaur there are acres o' guid ploo-land,
In less than a fortnight she'll weel understand
She, wi' the man bodie, has merried same day
      His praties and corn and hay.

Wi' halesome regard to the needs o' the case,
Jeems settled his mind on a lassie ca'e Meg;
A lassie no' muckle defeecient in grace,
The dochter o' ould Jamie Broon o' Dunbeg.
Her age might be thirty, he likit her hair,
Her temper (as far as he's kenn'd it) was fair;
Her step it was firm and weel rounded her arm,
Nae brithers had she to inherit the farm,
And then the bit penny that in the bank lay
      Was sure to be hers, some day.

Noo maybe ye'll think when the sweetheart was found
That Jeems wad be coortin' her every day,
And buying her peppermint draps by the pound,
And sayin' the saftest sweet things he could say,
And writin' lang letters extollin' her charms,
And tryin' to measure her waist wi' his arms,
And praisin' her eyebroo and kissin' her hand.
Na! sixty-wan acres o' guid ploo-land
Get on wi' nae blethers like that - not they.
      They coort quite anither way.

Once every week he wad tallow his shoon,
Wad put on the coat that o' Sundays he wore,
And find his way ow'r to see Mister Broon
And talk aboot matters o' farmin' galore.
His feet, straight afront o' his chair, he'd contrive
To fix at an angle o' forty-and-five.
And while the bit lassie, to north o' the fire,
Sat flashin' her needles and knittin' sae fast,
Oor frien' was addressin' his chat to her sire;
His face releegiously turn'd sou'-wast.
O never a word to the lass did he say -
       He lookit the ither way.

'Twas maistly o' Fridays the veesit was paid,
He cam' aboot seven and waited till nine;
But after the first "How d'ye do?" to the maid,
'Twas aye to the feyther his speech did incline.
He kept up the custom a guid twa year
Wi' weekly discourses on farmin' and gear,
And systems and praties and leases and hire,
And horses and butter, and drainage and hay,
Wi' Maggie aye knittin to north o' the fire,
And never a saft lovin' word went her way.
      Nae sweetheartin' word did he say.

The twa year complete, next Friday that came
He wesh'd his face weel wi' a bit scented sape,
And spent half-an-'oor at the glass wi' the aim
O' gettin' his touzled rid hair into shape.
Then a' in his best his guidsel' he arrays,
No' just the coat like ordinar' weeks,
But likewise the braw Sunday weskit and breeks.
In fack, wi' the hale o' his very best claes,
His boots, no' wi' tallow, but black frae the shap,
He polish'd until he had made them to shine;
Then oot frae the cupboard he took a wee drap,
The sma'est wee drap o' the ould port wine.
He fix'd in his buttonhole, wi' a bit string,
Twa lilac primroses - the saison was Spring -
Then made in the usual direction a start,
And whistled a bit to keep up his heart.
He didn't feel aisy although he look'd gay,
      Felt queer, just a bit, that day.

I s'pose ye'll be thinkin' ye're gaun to hear noo
O' kissin' and huggin' and wark o' that kind.
Git oot wi' your nonsense - I want ye to mind
This wee bit o' story I'm tellin' is true.
Proposals o' merriage ye must understand
Are serious in cases o' guid ploo-land,
Nae maitter what folk that tell stories may say,
      They're no' to be made that way.
It's mortal partickler is guid ploo-land,
It has to be carefu' in givin' its hand.
It doesn't do coortin' by commonplace rules,
Love letters, hand squeezes, a couple o' fools.
It does what it does in a 'sponsible way,
      A ser'ous, responsible way.

He arrivit at seven, like ordinar' days,
His greetin' was just o' the ordinar' kind.
But, barrin' the weel-observ'd fact of his claes,
Was naethin' to show he had aught on his mind.
His feet were, as usual, in front o' his chair,
Weel plac'd at the angle of forty-and-five.
His talk to the fayther was a' o' the fair
And prices o' cattle baith deid and alive.
He kept to that subjeck the veesit entire,
His face in the usual direction - sou'-wast
(The lassie aye knittin' to north o' the fire).
And never a word for the girl till the last,
And no' till the door clos'd behind him to boot
Did he put his heid back wi' the words, "May I beg
That ye'll come to the door for a meenute, Miss Meg".
And Maggie got up frae the fire and went oot.

They settled the maitter in two words then,
He ax'd her the question in one word, "Weel?"
She answered him straight wi' anither word, "When?"
(A word frae guid ploo-land, it means a great deal.)
They're married a year and a quarter the day,
The bairn's an uncommon fine laddie, they say.
      Tremendous fine babby, they say.

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