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John Harris: 'The Cornish Chough'

John Harris was born in 1820 in Bolenowe, a small village not far from Camborne, in Cornwall. His father was a miner at Dolcoath Tin Mine where young John also started at the age of 10. he began writing poetry as a child, usually in the open air where he was inspired by nature. After 20 years working in the mine, one of his poems was eventually published in a magazine. It attracted notice, and he was encouraged to produce a collection, which was published in 1853. Shortly after, he obtained a position as a Scripture Reader in Falmouth, where he stayed until his death in 1884. He published several volumes of poetry, including his masterpiece, the loco-descriptive poem A Story of Carn Brea. None of his poetry is now in print, but I am making a selection available on my Cornish Poetry page. This page contains the full-text of 'The Cornish Chough'. (The Cornish Chough, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, is a medium-sized bird related to the crow with a red curved beak. It was once common in Cornwall and in fact is the Cornish national symbol. Sadly, however, the bird became extinct in Cornwall in the early 1970s, although it still lives in Wales and Scotland. The good news is that it seems to be making a return. Click here for more information)


          WHERE not a sound is heard
          But the white waves, O bird,
And slippery rocks fling back the vanquish'd sea,
          Thou soarest in thy pride,
          Not heeding storm or tide;
In Freedom's temple nothing is more free.

          'T is pleasant by this stone,
          Sea-wash'd and weed-o'ergrown,
With Solitude and Silence at my side,
          To list the solemn roar
          Of ocean on the shore,
And up the beetling cliff to see thee glide.

          Though harsh thy earnest cry.
          On crag, or shooting high
Above the tumult of this dusty sphere,
          Thou tellest of the steep
          Where Peace and Quiet sleep,
And noisy man but rarely visits here.

          For this I love thee, bird.
          And feel my pulses stirr'd
To see thee grandly on the high air ride,
          Or float along the land,
          Or drop upon the sand,
Or perch within the gully's frowning side.

          Thou bringest the sweet thought
          Of some straw-cover'd cot,
On the lone moor beside the bubbling well,
          Where cluster wife and child,
          And bees hum o'er the wild:
In this seclusion it were joy to dwell.

          Will such a quiet bower
          Be ever more my dower
In this rough region of perpetual strife?
          I like a bird from home
          Forward and backward roam;
But there is rest beneath the Tree of Life.

          In this dark world of din,
          Of selfishness and sin,
Help me, dear Saviour, on Thy love to rest;
          That, having cross'd life's sea,
          My shatter'd bark may be
Moor'd safely in the haven of the blest.

          The Muse at this sweet hour
          Hies with me to my bower
Among the heather of my native hill;
          The rude rock-hedges here
          And mossy turf, how dear!
What gushing song! how fresh the moors and still!

          No spot of earth like thee,
          So full of heaven to me,
O hill of rock, piled to the passing cloud!
          Good spirits in their flight
          Upon thy crags alight,
And leave a glory where they brightly bow'd.

          I well remember now,
          In boy-days on thy brow,
When first my lyre among thy larks I found,
          Stealing from mother's side
          Out on the common wide,
Strange Druid footfalls seem'd to echo round.

          Dark Cornish chough, for thee
          My shred of minstrelsy
I carol at this meditative hour,
          Linking thee with my reed,
          Grey moor and grassy mead,
Dear carn and cottage, heathy bank and bower.


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