The Poems of Thomas Thorpe

poetry, Poetry, Song & Literature

The poet Thomas Thorpe was born on 9 March, 1829 in Milton, Dunbartonshire, son of a block printer at the local works. When he was five, he moved with his family to Strathblane. One of his earliest childhood memories was being with his sisters in a wood where wild primroses were growing – testament to a lifelong love of nature. He attended the local school and following in the family footsteps he later began to work in the printworks. After serving his apprenticeship as a block printer, he obtained work as a warehouseman. The Thorpe family, like many others who worked in the printworks, lived in the Netherton area of the parish.

Thomas Thorpe was a keen scholar. Even after he started at the printworks he carried on attending evening classes as well as continuing to amass as much information as he could. He was encouraged in this by his elder brother. One of his first purchases was Chambers’s Cyclopaedia of English Literature.

In 1859 he married a Janet Jolly, who was born in Campsie. Three years later they moved with their two children to Busby, where he worked in the local printworks. All but three of their eight children died during childhood.  From an early age Thomas Thorpe wrote poetry. In 1873 he began to have some of his poems published, at first under the initial ‘T’. As his success and confidence grew he began to publish more poems in a variety of journals under his full name of Thomas Thorpe.

In 1882 his work was included in an anthology entitled Modern Scottish Poets edited by D.H. Edwards. In 1883 he had a book entitled Poems by the Wood, Field and Fireside published privately.

Thomas Thorpe died in Busby on 15 March 1892 at the age of 63. He was buried in Mearns kirkyard. Though the parish cannot claim him as native-born poet, the years he spent in Strathblane greatly influenced him.

Blane Burn

Tumbling over rocky fells,
Richly-brown from moorlands wells;
Spots of snowy, feathery foam
Dancing on thy wavelets come;
While thy amber-tinted stream
Sparkles in the sunny gleam.
Bonnie Blane, I love thee better
Chafing in thy rocky fetter,
Twisting ’mong the rocks so jaggy,
Foaming ’mong the boulders craggy
Pouring o’er Ballagan Fall,
Where the mountain ash grows tall,
And fronds of graceful maidenhair
Wave like streamers in the air.
I love thee better in sweet anger
Than I love thy ease and languor,
By Duntreath so slowly wandering,
And by moss, so old, meandering;
Where Buchanan saw thee flowing,
As, on Roman lore bestowing
All his heart, he wandered musing,
Old heroic deeds perusing;
While wine-water gurgled up
Unheeded in thy emerald cup.
Bonnie Blane, unchanged forever!
Blessings on thee, modest river!
Still thou flowest on, meandering –
Though no seer is by thee wandering –
Through rich herbage, flower-bedropt,
Through rich meadow, lamb becropt.
Sometimes in deep pool thou liest,
Where the sun-gleam never pryest,
Sleeping in a coloured bed
Strewn with pebbles white and red.
Bonnie Blane, sweet, tiny river!
Blessings be upon thee ever,
As in sleeping or in waking
Onward thy sweet way thou’rt taking,
While the scented breezes quiver
With light breath thy tideless river!
Thus, in ever-varying mood,
Foaming bright or sullen flood,
Thou holdest on thy lonely way,
Stopping neither night nor day.
Till, at last, all tired and weary,
Through the sauchs and tangles dreary,	
In the Meetring Linn so deep
At last thou liest down to sleep,
Thy name forgot, in soft repose
Clear Endrick Waters thee enclose,
And in Loch Lomond’s quiet breast
Thy joys and griefs are lulled to rest.

Parlane’s Schule

Parlane Macfarlane was appointed headteacher of the school in 1838 and continued until 1862. Until improvements were begun in 1854, the school was described as a very airless uncomfortable place not much better than the one it had replaced.

Oh, leese me on the happy days:
Oh, leese me on them still;
The happy days, the merry days
We spent in Parlane’s schule!
The memory o’ thae gowden days
Comes back like rainbow gleams,
And flings an arch o’ colour bricht
O’er age’s wintry dreams.
Oh, leese me on yon braid green hills;
Oh, leese me on Blane Burn;
Oh, leese me on the auld Caw-Craig
Whaur jackdaws wheel an’ turn!
We played the truan’ aft for them,
An’ wi’ oor bannets fill
We jinked the maister and the tawse
Awa’ at Parlane’s schule.
I think I see the schule-hoose yet,
Sae dingy, auld an’ grey,
Whaur laddie prisoners, lithe o’ limb
Pined to be oot at play;
An’ whan the gowden twal-oors cam’
Ran oot like mad-cap fule,
Wi’ a hap-stap doon the precipice
At Parlane’s auld-warl’ schule.
Oh, wae’s me on yon auld hacked dask
Whaur we, wi’ copy set,
Sat glowrin’ at the floo’rs oot by
In dreamy, fond regret;
For, on the dyke fornent oor een,
Whan Spring her cups did fill,
Blue peeriewinkie stars were seen
At back o’ Parlane’s schule.
Oh, leese me on auld Jennie’s Glen,
Wi’ hazels green and cool,
Whaur, like wee puddocks, naked bare,
We paidled in the pool!
An’ in the yellow harvest time
We pu’d the nits at will;
Oh, deary me, thae were the days
Langsyne at Parlane’s schule!
Oh, leese me on oor winter joys,
Whan snaw lay white an’ deep,
An’ in a coorie-hunker string
We resseled doon the steep!
An’ Cannelmiss, whan it cam roon’
We tried oor tow-gun’s skill;
Oh, leese me on that day o’ fun
Awa’ at Parlane’s schule.
But oh, waesuck, thae days are gane,
The auld schule’s knockit doon:
Nae peeriewinkies’ een o’ blue
Decks dewy Springtime’s croon.
A new fledged race noo speel the braes
But I lo’e the memories still,
And a gowden haze floats roon the days
I spent in Parlane’s schule.

The Gowk Stane

The Gowk Stane is a large boulder on the track up from Milndavie Mill to Boards Farm on the top of Craigmarloch. It is the meeting place of the lands of Craigend, Craigallian and Duntreath. Near the Gowk Stane is an area known as Cockmylane, just above the water tunnel entrance, where the first licensed distillery in the parish was built in the 1820s. Cockmylane is thought to be the corruption of the old Scottish Word Cockalane meaning ‘a comic play or satyre’, and this may be where plays were performed in pre-Reformation days. According to Guthrie Smith, the Gowk Stane may have got this name from the ‘antics’ performed there by the fool or jester in those days. It is also said that you cannot be considered a native of the parish unless you have slid down the Gowk Stane.

How fondly memory loves to trace
Our happy youthful days;
The green hills of some dear old place
Dim now in misty haze;
Yon crags, so rugged, stern, and hoar,
The foamy streamlet, Blane,
The pinewoods, fragrant evermore,
Around the old Gowk Stane.
Return, sweet visions, to my mind,
Cast o’er me your dear spell,
Waft me to scenes long left behind,
Long bidden sad farewell!
To moors of Mugdock blooming red,
To bonnie murmuring Blane,
To Haw glen, rich with wild flowers spread,
To lichen’d old Gowk Stane.
I see Duntreath with ivy trail’d,
I hear the lambkins bleat,
I see Dungoick – warrior mail’d,
White hawthorn round his feet;
Dungoin still frowns like watch-tower high,
Unchanged flows amber Blane,
Blue heaven still bends   sweet canopy  
Above the old Gowk Stane.
Ah me! it seems but yesterday
I climbed yon ferny braes,
And listened to the blackbird’s lay,
Or gathered nuts and slaes;
Or wandered with my heart’s young queen
Adown by prattling Blane,
Or trysted the love tryst at e’en
Beside the old Gowk Stane.
How often, stirred by secret thrills,
I’ve watched the sunset heaven,
While the dark outline of the hills
Stood sharp in flush of even;
Then rose the dewy evening star,
And hushed seemed flowing Blane;
And mellow sounds came wafted far,
From the old grey Gowk Stane.
Farewell, old Strath! endeared to me
With griefs and joys of old,
Mayhaps I ne’er might visit thee:
What then! my tale is told;
The story of those joys and woes
Haunts me like sweet refrain;
Away! let winds harp out the close,
By weird, old, grey Gowk Stane.
Perchance some one may think of me
When I am fast asleep,
Or may for loving memory
Some frail small token keep.
Away, I care not! let some soul
Take up my brochen strain,
And sing on, while the ages roll,
Of lichened grey Gowk Stane.


Ballagan, which means a sheltered or lown place, is noted for the Spout of Ballagan and the geological phenomenon known as the Ballagan Beds. In bygone days, there was a castle at Ballagan, possibly built in the 16th century by one Walter Stirling. In Guthrie Smith’s day there was no trace of the castle except for an old yew tree. There was also a mill – the Kirkland Mill which is marked on Blaeu’s map of 1654 – but again there is no trace left of it.

Gurgling through green Ballagan Glen,
’Mong hazels tangled wild,
Dark eddying through each darksome den,
Nature’s own undefiled;
The angler seeks thy shady pool
To throw his subtle snare;
In thy soft bower in the evening cool
The lover woos his fair.
The poet in thy silence dreams
O’er flowers of thousand dyes,
While silvery sounds of falling streams
Blend with white lambkins’ cries;
And there stern science too doth go,
To view the wondrous plan;
How God through centuries dim and slow
Built up this earth for man.
Unprofaned by the rabble crew,
Long may’st thou dream in peace;
Untrod save by the thoughtful few,
Let flowers and ferns increase.
Queens of the glens, Ballagan green,
Beauty is still thy dower,
Hide sweetly ’neath thy leafy screen,
’Mid sungleams or soft shower.

The Strath in Winter

It seems that winters in Thorpe’s day were colder than they are now. It was not unusual for the Curling Club to open in November and for the parish to be snowed up at Christmas and on and off until early March.

Bare and naked is thy brow,
Strath of Blane, ’tis Winter now!
Storms on thy devoted head
By the hand of God are shed;
All thy glory now is o’er,
All thy wild flowers bloom no more;
Naked trees now moaning stand,
And grim destruction rules the land;
Ballagan’s spout speaks thunder now
From off the mountain’s snowy brow;
The snow drift soft sweeps down the Strath,
And fills each lonely mountain path;
The shepherd climbs the mountain high
To bring the sheep the cot house nigh
And hide them from the whirling blast
Until its fury fierce is past.
Or doth the Frost King hold his sway,
Then, jewelled beauty, thou art gay,
The edges of thine own clear stream
In the faint wintry sun do gleam
The curlers hold their wintry play
On Loch Ardinning’s watery way,
While Robin at our window clear
Looks for the crumbs he left last year.

Strathblane Revisited
September 1881

From the context of this poem, it must have been written following a visit back to the parish. It is known that many of Thomas Thorpe’s relatives remained in the village and his nephew, Duncan Thorpe, was the organist at the parish church.

Half in sunshine, half in rain,
Sweet Strath, I’ve seen thy face again,
Like some coy beauty partly seen
Peeping from out thy leafy screen;
As if withdrawing from the eye
Of the too curious passer by,
Thou draw’st thy veil more close around ;
So in deep shadow oft thou’rt found,
And oft thou weep’st, and pearly rain
Still makes thee young and fresh again;
Then bright sun with golden gleam
Doth seek thee out by wood and stream,
And then, illumined by his light,
Thy beauty shines out pure and bright.
So mused I, as in thoughtful mood
I strayed in silence through thy wood,
And near old Mugdock’s ruined towers
Looked down upon thy bonnie bowers.
O native Strath! how fair thou gleams,
Bright land of all my golden dreams;
First love, and last, I ne’er again
Perchance might see thy fruitful plain,
So while thou brighten’st on mine eye,
I glory in thy harmony.
I see thy lakelets gurgling up
Like amber wine in emerald cup;
I glory in thy high-arched heaven,
In peaked Dungoin, all thunder riven;
In dark Dungoick’s firwoods lone,
In lichen-covered old Gowk Stone;
In Loch Ardinning, sparkling, lying;
In moor-fowl ’mong the heather crying;
In Blane, still singing on in glory;
In mansion grand and cottage lowly;
In lone Duntreath, with ivy trailing;
In flights of crows in legions sailing;
In every nameless charm, sweet vale,
That decks thy wild-flowers dark or pale,
My all-delighted eye doth trace
The glorious beauty of thy face,
Till lost in yon blue peaks my view –
Thrice bless’d of heaven, adieu, adieu.


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