The Lord Of The Isles: Canto Vi. by Sir Walter Scott
O who, that shared them, ever shall forget
The emotions of the spirit-rousing time,
When breathless in the mart the couriers met,
Early and late, at evening and at prime;
When the loud cannon and the merry chime
Hail’d news on news, as field on field was won,
When Hope, long doubtful, soar’d at length sublime,
And our glad eyes, awake as day begun,
Watch’d Joy’s broad banner rise, to meet the rising sun!
O these were hours, when thrilling joy repaid
A long, long course of darkness, doubts, and fears!
The heart-sick faintness of the hope delay’d,
The waste, the woe, the bloodshed, and the tears,
That track’d with terror twenty rolling years,
All was forgot in that blithe jubilee!
Her downcast eye even pale Affliction rears,
To sigh a thankful prayer, amid the glee,
That hail’d the Despot’s fall, and peace and liberty!
Such news o’er Scotland’s hills triumphant rode,
When ‘gainst the invaders turn’d the battle’s scale,
When Bruce’s banner had victorious flow’d
O’er Loudoun’s mountain, and in Ury’s vale;
And fiery English blood oft deluged Douglas-dale,
And fiery Edward routed stout St. John,
When Randolph’s war-cry swell’d the southern gale,
And many a fortress, town, and tower, was won,
And fame still sounded forth fresh deeds of glory done.
Blithe tidings flew from baron’s tower,
To peasant’s cot, to forest-bower,
And waked the solitary cell,
Where lone Saint Bride’s recluses dwell.
Princess no more, fair Isabel,
A vot’ress of the order now,
Say, did the rule that bid thee wear
Dim veil and wollen scapulare,
And reft thy locks of dark-brown hair,
That stern and rigid vow,
Did it condemn the transport high,
Which glisten’d in thy watery eye,
When minstrel or when palmer told
Each fresh exploit of Bruce the bold?-
And whose the lovely form, that shares
Thy anxious hopes, thy fears, thy prayers?
No sister she of convent shade;
So say these locks in lengthen’d braid,
So say the blushes and the sighs,
The tremors that unbidden rise,
When, mingled with the Bruce’s fame,
The brave Lord Ronald’s praises came.
Believe, his father’s castle won,
And his bold enterprise begun,
That Bruce’s earliest cares restore
The speechless page to Arran’s shore:
Nor think that long the quaint disguise
Conceal’d her from a sister’s eyes;
And sister-like in love they dwell
In that lone convent’s silent cell.
There Bruce’s slow assent allows
Fair Isabel the veil and vows;
And there, her sex’s dress regain’d,
The lovely Maid of Lorn remain’d,
Unnamed, unknown, while Scotland far
Resounded with the din of war;
And many a month, and many a day,
In calm seclusion wore away.
These days, these months, to years had worn,
When tidings of high weight were borne
To that lone island’s shores;
Of all the Scottish conquests made
By the First Edward’s ruthless blade,
His son retain’d no more,
Northward of Tweed, but Stirling’s towers,
Beleaguer’d by King Robert’s powers;
And they took term of truce,
If England’s King should not relieve
The siege ere John the Baptist’s eve,
To yield them to the Bruce.
England was roused – on every side
Courier and post and herald hied,
To summon prince and peer,
At Berwick-bounds to meet their Liege,
Prepared to raise fair Stirling’s siege,
With buckler, brand, and spear.
The term was nigh – they muster’d fast,
By beacon and by bugle-fast
Forth marshall’d for the field;
There rode each knight of noble name,
There England’s hardy archers came,
The land they trode seem’d all on flame,
With banner, blade, and shield!
And not famed England’s powers alone,
Renown’d in arms, the summons own;
For Neustria’s knights obey’d,
Gascogne hath lent her horsemen good,
And Cambria, but of late subdued,
Sent forth her mountain-multitude,
And Connoght pour’d from waste and wood
Her hundred tribes, whose sceptre rude
Dark Eth O’Connor sway’d.
Right to devoted Caledon
The storm of war rolls slowly on,
With menace deep and dread;
So the dark clouds, with gathering power,
Suspend a while the threaten’d shower,
Till every peak and summit lower
Round the pale pilgrim’s head.
Nor with such pilgrim’s started eye
King Robert mark’d the tempest nigh!
Resolved the brunt to bide,
His royal summons warn’d the land,
That all who own’d their King’s command
Should instant take the spear and brand,
To combat at his side.
O who may tell the sons of fame,
That at King Robert’s bidding came,
To battle for the right!
From Cheviot to the shores of Ross,
From Solway-Sands to Marshal’s-Moss,
All boun’d them for the fight.
Such news the royal courier tells,
Who came to rouse dark Arran’s dells;
But father tidings must the ear
Of Isabel in secret hear.
These in her cloister walk, next morn,
Thus shared she with the Maid of Lorn:-
‘My Edith, can I tell how dear
Our intercourse of hearts sincere
Hath been to Isabel?-
Judge then the sorrow of my heart,
When I must say the words, We part!
The cheerless convent-cell
Was not, sweet maiden, made for thee;
Go thou where thy vocation free
On happier fortunes fell.
Nor, Edith, judge thyself betray’d,
Though Robert knows that Lorn’s high Maid
And his poor silent Page were one.
Versed in the fickle heart of man,
Earnest and anxious hath he look’d
How Ronald’s heart the message brook’d
That gave him, with her last farewell,
The charge of Sister Isabel,
To think upon thy better right,
And keep the faith his promise plight.
Forgive him for thy sister’s sake,
At first if vain repinings wake –
Long since that mood is gone:
Now dwells he on thy juster claims,
And oft his breach of faith he blames-
Forgive him for thine own!’-
‘No! never to Lord Ronald’s bower
Will I again as paramour’ –
‘Nay, hush thee, too impatient maid,
Until my final tale be said!-
The good King Robert would engage
Edith once more his elfin page,
By her own heart, and her own eye,
Her lover’s penitence to try-
Safe in his royal charge, and free,
Should such thy final purpose be,
Again unknown to seek the cell,
And live and die with Isabel.’
Thus spoke the maid – King Robert’s eye,
Might have some glance of policy;
Dunstaffnage had the Monarch ta’en,
And Lorn had own’d King Robert’s reign;
Her brother had to England fled,
And there in banishment was dead;
Ample, through exile, death, and flight,
O’er tower and land was Edith’s right;
This ample right o’er tower and land
Were safe in Ronald’s faithful hand.
Embarrass’d eye and blushing cheek
Pleasure and shame, and fear bespeak!
Yet much the reasoning Edith made:-
‘Her sister’s faith she must upbraid,
Who gave such secret, dark and dear,
In council to another’s ear.
Why should she leave the peaceful cell?-
How should she part with Isabel?-
How wear that strange attire agen?-
How risk herself ‘midst martial men?-
And how be guarded on the way?-
At least she might entreat delay.’
Kind Isabel, with secret smile,
Saw and forgave the maiden’s wile,
Reluctant to be thought to move
At the first call of truant love.
Oh, blame her not! – when zephyrs wake,
The aspen’s trembling leaves must shake;
When beams the sun through April’s shower,
It needs must bloom, the violet flower;
And Love, howe’er the maiden strive,
Must with reviving hope revive!
A thousand soft excuses came,
To plead his cause ‘gainst virgin shame.
Pledged by their sires in earliest youth,
He had her plighted faith and truth –
Then, ’twas her Liege’s strict command,
And she, beneath his royal hand,
A ward in person and in land:-
And, last, she was resolved to stay
Only brief space – one little day –
Close hidden in her safe disguise
From all, but most from Ronald’s eyes-
But once to see him more! – nor blame
Her wish – to hear him name her name! –
Then, to bear back solitude
The thought he had his falsehood rued!
But Isabel, who long had seen
Her pallid cheek and pensive mien,
And well herself the cause might know,
Though innocent, of Edith’s woe,
Joy’d, generous, that revolving time
Gave means to expiate the crime.
High glow’d her bosom as she said,
‘Well shall her sufferings be repaid!’
Now came the parting hour – a band
From Arran’s mountains left the land;
Their chief, Fitz-Louis, ad the care
The speechless Amadine to bear
To Bruce, with honour, as behoved
To page the monarch dearly loved.
The King had deem’d the maiden bright
Should reach him long before the fight,
But storms and fate her course delay:
It was on eve of battle-day,
When o’er the Gillie’s-hill she rode.
The landscape like a furnace glow’d,
And far as e’er the eye was borne,
The lances waved like autumn-corn.
In battles four beneath their eye,
The forces of King Robert lie.
As one below the hill was laid,
Reserved for rescue and for aid;
And three, advanced, form’d vaward-line,
‘Twixt Bannock’s brook and Ninian’s shrine.
Detach’d was each, yet each so nigh
As well might mutual aid supply.
Beyond, the Southern host appears,
A boundless wilderness of spears,
Whose verge or rear the anxious eye
Strove far, but strove in vain, to spy.
Thick flashing in the evening beam,
Glaives, lances, bills, and banners gleam;
And where the heaven join’d with the hill,
Was distant armour flashing still,
So wide, so far, the boundless host
Seem’d in the blue horizon lost.
Down from the hill the maiden pass’d,
At the wild show of war aghast;
And traversed first the rearward host,
Reserved for aid where needed most.
The men of Carrick and of Ayr,
Lennox and Lanark too, were there,
And all the western land;
With these the valiant of the Isles
Beneath there Chieftains rank’d their files,
In many a plaided band.
There, in the centre, proudly raised,
The Bruce’s royal standard blazed,
And there Lord Ronald’s banner bore
A galley driven by sail and oar.
A wild, yet pleasing contrast, made
Warriors in mail and plate array’d,
With the plumed bonnet and the plaid
By these Hebrideans worn;
But O! unseen for three long years,
Dear was the garb of mountaineers
To the fair Maid of Lorn!
For one she look’d – but he was far
Busied amid the ranks of war –
Yet with affection’s troubled eye
She mark’d his banner boldly fly,
Gave on the countless foe a glance,
And thought on battle’s desperate chance.
To centre of the vaward-line
Fitz-Louis guided Amadine.
Arm’d all on foot, that host appears
A serried mass of glimmering spears.
There stood the Marchers’ warlike band,
The warriors there of Lodon’s land;
Ettrick and Liddell bent the yew,
A band of archers fierce, though few;
The men of Nith and Annan’s vale,
The dauntless Douglas these obey,
And the young Stuart’s gentle sway.
North-eastward by Saint Ninian’s shrine,
Beneath fierce Randolph’s charge, combine
The warriors whom the hardy North
From Tay to Sutherland sent forth.
The rest of Scotland’s war-array
With Edward Bruce to westward lay,
Where Bannock, with his broken bank
And deep ravine, protects their flank.
Behind them, screen’d by sheltering wood,
The gallant Keith, Lord Marshal, stood:
His men-at-arms bare mace and lance,
And plumes that wave, and helms that glance.
Thus fair divided by the King
Centre, and right, and left-ward wing,
Composed his front; nor distant far
Was strong reserve to aid the war.
And ’twas to front of this array,
Her guide and Edith made their way.
Here must they pause; for, in advance
As far as one might pitch a lance,
The Monarch rode along the van,
The foe’s approaching force to scan,
His line to marshal and to range,
And ranks to square, and fronts to change.
Alone he rode – from head to heel
Sheathed in his ready arms of steel;
Nor mounted yet on war-horse wight,
But, till more near the shock of flight,
Reining a palfrey low and light.
A diadem of gold was set
Above his bright steel basinet,
And clasp’d within its glittering twine
Was seen the glove of Argentine;
Truncheon or leading staff he lacks,
Bearing, instead, a battle-axe.
He ranged his soldiers for the fight,
Accoutred thus, in open sight
Of either host. – Three bowshots far,
Paused the deep front of England’s war,
And rested on their arms awhile,
To close and rank their warlike file,
And hold high council, if that night
Should view the strife, or dawning light.
O gay, yet fearful to behold,
Flashing with steel and rough with gold,
And bristled o’er with bills and spears,
With plumes and pennons waving fair,
Was that bright battle-front! for there
Rode England’s King and Peers:
And who, that saw that Monarch ride,
His kingdom battled by his side,
Could then his direful doom foretell!-
Fair was his seat in knightly selle,
And in his sprightly eye was set
Some spark of the Plantagenet.
Though light and wandering was his glance,
It flash’d at sight of shield and lance.
‘Know’st thou,’ he said, ‘De Argentine,
Yon knight who marshals thus their line?’-
‘The tokens on his helmet tell
The Bruce, my Liege: I know him well.’-
‘And shall the audacious traitor brave
The presence where our banners wave?’-
‘So please my Liege,’ said Argentine,
‘Were he but horsed on steed like mine,
To give him fair and knightly chance,
I would adventure forth my lance.’-
‘In battle-day,’ the King replied,
‘Nice tourney rules are set aside.
-Still must the rebel dare our wrath?
Set on him – Sweep him from our path!’
And, at King Edward’s signal, soon
Dash’d from the ranks Sir Henry Boune.
Of Hereford’s high blood he came,
A race renown’d for knightly fame.
He burn’d before his Monarch’s eye
To do some deed of chivalry.
He spurr’d his steed, he couch’d his lance,
And darted on the Bruce at once.
-As motionless as rocks, that bide
The wrath of advancing tide,
The Bruce stood fast. – Each breast beat high,
And dazzled was each gazing eye-
The heart had hardly time to think,
The eyelid scarce had time to wink,
While on the King, like flash of flame,
Spurr’d to full speed the war-horse came!
The partridge may the falcon mock,
If that slight palfrey stand the shock –
But, swerving from the Knight’s career,
Just as they met, Bruce shunn’d the spear.
Onward the baffled warrior bore
His course – but soon his course was o’er!-
High in his stirrups stood the King,
And gave his battle-axe the swing.
Right on De Boune, the whiles he pass’d,
Fell that stern dint – the first – the last!-
Such strength upon the blow was put,
The helmet crash’d like hazel-nut;
The axe-shaft, with its brazen clasp,
Was shiver’d to the gauntlet grasp.
Springs from the blow the startled horse,
Drops to the plain the lifeless corse;
-First of that fatal field, how soon,
How sudden, fell the fierce De Boune!
One pitying glance the Monarch sped,
Where on the field his foe lay dead;
Then gently turn’d his palfrey’s head,
And, pacing back his sober way,
Slowly he gain’d his own array.
There round their King the leaders crowd,
And blame his recklessness aloud,
That risk’d ‘gainst each adventurous spear
A life so valued and so dear.
His broken weapon’s shaft survey’d
The King, and careless answer made,-
‘My loss may pay my folly’s tax;
I’ve broke my trusty battle-axe.’
‘Twas then Fitz-Louis, bending low,
Did Isabel’s commission show;
Edith, disguised, at distance stands,
And hides her blushes with her hands.
The Monarch’s brow has changed its hue,
Away the gory axe he threw,
While to the seeming page he drew,
Clearing war’s terrors from his eye.
Her hand with gentle ease he took,
With such a kind protecting look,
As to a weak and timid boy
Might speak, that elder brother’s care
And elder brother’s love were there.
‘Fear not,’ he said, ‘young Amadine!’
Then whisper’d, ‘Still that name be thine.
Fate plays her wonted fantasy,
Kind Amadine, with thee and me,
And sends thee here in doubtful hour.
But soon we are beyond her power;
For on this chosen battle-plain,
Victor or vanquish’d, I remain.
Do thou to yonder hill repair;
The followers of our host are there,
And all who may not weapons bear. –
Fitz-Louis, have him in thy care.-
Joyful we meet, if all go well;
If not, in Arran’s holy cell
Thou must take part with Isabel;
For brave Lord Ronald, too, hath sworn,
Not to regain the Maid of Lorn,
(The bliss on earth he covets most,)
Would he forsake his battle-post,
To Bruce, to Scotland, and to all.-
But, hark! some news these trumpets tell;
And in a lower voice he said,
‘Be of good cheer – farewell, sweet maid!’-
‘What train of dust, with trumpet-sound
And glimmering spears, is wheeling round
Our leftward flank?’ – the Monarch cried,
To Moray’s Earl who rode beside.
‘Lo! round thy station pass the foes!
Randolph, thy wreath hath lost a rose.’
The Earl his visor closed, and said –
‘My wreath shall bloom, or life shall fade.-
Follow, my household!’ – And they go
Like lightning on the advancing foe.
‘My Liege,’ said noble Douglas then,
‘Earl Randolph has but one to ten:
Let me go forth his band to aid!’-
-‘Stir not. The error he hath made,
Let him not weaken mine array.’
Then loudly rose the conflict-cry,
And Douglas’s brave heart swell’d high,-
‘My Liege,’ he said, ‘with patient ear
I must not Moray’s death-knell hear!’-
‘Then go – but speed thee back again.’-
Forth sprung the Douglas with his train:
But, when they won a rising hill,
He bade his followers hold them still.-
‘See, see! the routed Southern fly!
The Earl hath won the victory.
Lo! where yon steeds run masterless,
His banner towers above the press.
Rein up; our presence would impair
The fame we come too late to share.’
Back to the host the Douglas rode,
And soon glad tidings are abroad,
That, Dayncourt by stout Randolph slain,
His followers fled with loosen’d rein.-
That skirmish closed the busy day,
And couch’d in battle’s prompt array,
Each army on their weapons lay.
It was a night of lovely June,
High rode in cloudless blue the moon,
Demayet smiled beneath her ray;
Old Stirling’s towers arose in light,
And, twined in links of silver bright,
Her winding river lay.
Ah! gentle planet! other sight
Shall greet thee, next returning night,
Of broken arms and banners tore,
And marshes dark with human gore,
And piles of slaughter’d men and horse,
And Forth that floats the frequent corse,
And many a wounded wretch to plain
Beneath thy silver light in vain!
But now, from England’s host, the cry
Thou hear’st of wassail revelry,
While from the Scottish legions pass
The murmur’d prayer, the early mass!-
Here, numbers had presumption given;
There, bands o’er-match’d sought aid from Heaven.
On Gillie’s-hill, whose height commands
The battle-field, fair Edith stands,
With serf and page unfit for war,
To eye the conflict from afar.
O! with what doubtful agony
She sees the dawning tint the sky! –
Now on the Ochils gleams the sun,
And glistens now Demayet dun;
Is it the lark that carols shrill,
Is it the bittern’s early hum?
No! – distant, but increasing still,
The trumpet’s sound swells up the hill,
With the deep murmur of the drum.
Responsive from the Scottish host,
Pipe-clang and bugle-sound were toss’d,
His breast and brow each soldier cross’d,
And started from the ground;
Arm’d and array’d for instant fight,
Rose archer, spearman, squire and knight,
And in the pomp of battle bright
The dread battalia frown’d.
Now onward, and in open view,
The countless ranks of England drew,
Dark rolling like the ocean-tide,
When the rough west hath chafed his pride,
And his deep roar sends challenge wide
To all that bars his way!
In front the gallant archers trode,
The men-at-arms behind them rode,
And midmost of the phalanx broad
The Monarch held his sway.
Beside him many a war-horse fumes,
Around him waves a sea of plumes,
Where many a knight in battle known,
And some who spurs had first braced on,
And deem’d that fight should see them won,
King Edward’s hests obey.
De Argentine attends his side,
With stout De Valence, Pembroke’s pride,
Selected champions from the train,
To wait upon his bridle-rein.
Upon the Scottish foe he gazed –
-At once, before his sight amazed,
Sunk banner, spear, and shield;
Each weapon-point is downward sent,
Each warrior to the ground is bent.
‘The rebels, Argentine, repent!
For pardon they have kneel’d.’-
‘Aye! – but they bend to other powers,
And other pardon sue than ours!
See where yon bare-foot Abbot stands,
And blesses them with lifted hands!
Upon the spot where they have kneel’d,
These men will die, or win the field.’-
-‘Then prove we if they die or win!
Bid Gloster’s Earl the fight begin.’
Earl Gilbert waved his truncheon high,
Just as the Northern ranks arose,
Signal for England’s archery
Then stepp’d each yeoman forth a pace,
Glanced at the intervening space,
And raised his left hand high;
To the right ear the cords they bring –
-At once ten thousand bow-strings ring,
Ten thousand arrows fly!
Nor paused on the devoted Scot
The ceaseless fury of their shot;
As fiercely and as fast,
Forth whistling came the grey-goose wing
As the wild hailstones pelt and ring
Adown December’s blast.
Nor mountain targe of tough bull-hide,
Nor lowland mail, that storm may bide;
Woe, woe to Scotland’s banner’d pride,
If the fell shower may last!
Upon the right, behind the wood,
Each by his steed dismounted, stood
The Scottish revelry;-
-With foot in stirrup, hand on mane,
Fierce Edward Bruce can scarce restrain
His own keen heart, his eager train,
Until the archers gain’d the plain;
Then, ‘Mount, ye gallants free!’
He cried; and, vaulting from the ground,
His saddle every horseman found.
On high their glittering crests they toss,
As springs the wild-fire from the moss;
The shield hangs down on every breast,
Each ready lance is in the rest,
And loud shouts Edward Bruce,-
‘Forth, Marshal! on the peasant foe!
We’ll tame the terrors of their bow,
And cut the bow-string loose!’
Then spurs were dash’d in chargers’ flanks,
They rush’d among the archer ranks,
No spears were there the shock to let,
No stakes to turn the charge were set,
And how shall yeoman’s armour slight,
Stand the long lance and mace of might?
Or what may their short swords avail,
‘Gainst barbed horse and shirt of mail?
Amid their ranks the chargers sprung,
High o’er their heads the weapons swung,
And shriek and groan and vengeful shout
Give note of triumph and of rout!
Awhile, with stubborn hardihood,
Their English hearts the strife made good.
Borne down at length on every side,
Compell’d to flight they scatter wide.-
Let stage of Sherwood leap for glee,
And bound the deer of Dallom-Lee!
The broken bows of Bannock’s shore
Shall in the greenwood ring no more!
Round Wakefield’s merry May-pole now,
The maids may twine the summer bough,
May northward look with longing glance,
For those that wont to lead the dance,
For the blithe archers look in vain!
Broken, dispersed, in flight o’erta’en,
Pierced through, trod down, by thousands slain,
They cumber Bannock’s bloody plain.
The King with scorn beheld their flight,
‘Are these,’ he said, ‘our yeoman wight?
Each braggart churl could boast before,
Twelve Scottish lives his baldric bore!
Fitter to plunder chase or park,
Than make a manly foe their mark.-
Forward, each gentleman and knight!
Let gentle blood show generous might,
And chivalry redeem the fight!’
To rightward of the wild affray,
The field show’d fair and level way;
But, in mid-space, the Bruce’s care
Had bored the ground with many a pit,
With turf and brushwood hidden yet,
That form’d a ghastly snare.
Rushing, ten thousand horsemen came,
With spears in rest, and hearts on flame,
That panted for the shock!
With blazing crests and banners spread,
And trumpet-clang and clamour dread,
The wide plain thunder’d to their tread,
As far as Stirling rock.
Down! down! in headlong overthrow,
Horseman and horse, the foremost go,
Wild floundering on the field!
The first are in destruction’s gorge,
Their followers wildly o’er them urge;-
The knightly helm and shield,
The mail, the action, and the spear,
Strong hand, high heart, are useless here!
Loud from the mass confused the cry
Of dying warriors swells on high,
And steeds that shriek in agony!
They came like mountain-torrent red,
That thunders o’er its rocky bed;
They broke like that same torrent’s wave,
When swallow’d by a darksome cave.
Billows on billows burst and boil,
Maintaining still the stern turmoil,
And to their wild and tortured groan
Each adds new terrors of his own!
Too strong in courage and in might
Was England yet, to yield the fight.
Her noblest all are here;
Names that to fear were never known,
Bold Norfolk’s Earl De Brotherton,
And Oxford’s famed De Vere.
There Gloster plied the bloody sword,
And Berkley, Grey, and Hereford,
Bottetourt and Sanzavere,
Ross, Montague, and Mauley, came,
And Courtenay’s pride, and Percy’s fame –
Names known too well in Scotland’s war,
At Falkirk, Methven, and Dunbar,
Blazed broader yet in after years,
At Cressy red and fell Poitiers.
Pembroke with these, and Argentine,
Brought up the rearward battle-line.
With caution o’er the ground they tread,
Slippery with blood and piled with dead,
Till hand to hand in battle set,
The bills with spears and axes met,
And, closing dark on every side,
Raged the full contest far and wide.
Then was the strength of Douglas tried,
Then proved was Randolph’s generous pride,
And well did Stewart’s actions grace
The sire of Scotland’s royal race!
Firmly they kept their ground;
As firmly England onward press’d,
And down went many a noble crest,
And rent was many a valiant breast,
And Slaughter revell’d round.
Unflinching foot ‘gainst foot was set,
Unceasing blow by blow was met;
The groans of those who fell
Were drown’d amid the shriller clang,
That from the blades and harness rang,
And in the battle-yell.
Yet fast they fell, unheard, forgot,
Both Southern fierce and hardy Scot;
And O! amid that waste of life,
What various motives fired the strife!
The aspiring Noble bled for fame,
The Patriot for his country’s claim;
This Knight his youthful strength to prove,
And that to win his lady’s love;
Some fought from ruffian thirst of blood,
From habit some, or hardihood.
But ruffian stern, and soldier good,
The noble and the slave,
From various cause the same wild road,
On the same bloody morning, trode,
To that dark inn, the grave!
The tug of strife to flag begins,
Though neither loses yet nor wins.
High rides the sun, thick rolls the dust,
And feebler speeds the blow and thrust.
Douglas leans on his war-sword now,
And Randolph wipes his bloody brow;
Nor less had toil’d each Southern knight,
From morn till mid-day in the fight.
Strong Egremont for air must gasp,
Beauchamp undoes his visor-clasp,
And Montague must quit his spear,
And sinks thy falchion, bold De Vere!
The blows of Berkley fall less fast,
And gallant Pembroke’s bugle-blast
Hath lost its lively tone;
Sinks, Argentine, thy battle-word,
And Percy’s shout was fainter heard, –
‘My merry men, fight on!’
Bruce, with the pilot’s wary eye,
The slackening of the storm could spy.
‘One effort more, and Scotland’s free!
Lord of the Isles, my trust in the
Is firm as Ailsa Rock;
Rush on with Highland sword and targe,
I, with my Carrick spearmen, charge;
Now, forward to the shock!’
At once the spears were forward thrown,
Against the sun the broadswords shone;
The pibroch lent its maddening tone,
And loud King Robert’s voice was known-
‘Carrick, press on – they fail, they fail!
Press on, brave sons of Innisgail,
The foe is fainting fast!
Each strike for parent, child, and wife,
For Scotland, liberty, and life, –
The battle cannot last!’
The fresh and desperate onset bore
The foes three furlongs back and more,
Leaving their noblest in their gore.
Alone, De Argentine
Yet bears on high his red-cross shield,
Gathers the relics of the field,
Renews the ranks where they have reel’d,
And still makes good the line.
Brief strife, but fierce, his efforts raise
A bright but momentary blaze.
Fair Edith heard the Southern shout,
Beheld them turning from the rout,
Heard the wild call their trumpets sent,
In notes ‘twixt triumph and lament.
That rallying force combined anew,
Appear’d in her distracted view,
To hem the Islemen round;
‘O God! the combat they renew,
And is no rescue found!
And ye that look thus tamely on,
And see your native land o’erthrown,
O! are your hearts of flesh or stone?’
The multitude that watch’d afar,
Rejected from the ranks of war,
Had not unmoved beheld the fight
When strove the Bruce for Scotland’s right;
Each heart had caught the patriot spark,
Old man and stripling, priest and clerk,
Bondsman and serf; even female hand
Stretch’d to the hatchet or the brand;
But, when mute Amadine they heard
Give to their zeal his signal-word,
A frenzy fired the throng;-
‘Portents and miracles impeach
Our sloth – the dumb our duties teach –
And he that gives the mute his speech,
Can bid the weak be strong.
To us, as to our lords, are given
A native earth, a promised heaven;
To us, as to our lords, belongs
The vengeance for our nation’s wrongs;
The choice, ‘twixt death or freedom, warms
Our breasts as theirs – To arms! to arms!’
To arms they flew,- axe, club, or spear,-
And mimic ensigns high they rear,
And, like a banner’d host afar,
Bear down on England’s wearied war.
Already scatter’d o’er the plain,
Reproof, command, and counsel vain,
The rearward squadrons fled amain,
Or made but doubtful stay;-
But when they mark’d the seeming show
Of fresh and fierce and marshall’d foe,
The boldest broke array.
O give their hapless prince his due!
In vain the Royal Edward threw
His person ‘mid the spears,
Cried, ‘Fight!’ to terror and despair,
Menaced, and wept, and tore his hair,
And cursed their caitiff fears;
Till Pembroke turn’d his bridle rein,
And forced him from the fatal plain.
With them rode Argentine, until,
They gain’d the summit of the hill,
But quitted there the train:-
‘In yonder field a gage I left,
I must not live of fame bereft;
I needs must turn again.
Speed hence, my Liege, for on your trace
The fiery Douglas takes the chase,
I know his banner well.
God send my Sovereign joy and bliss,
And many a happier field than this!-
Once more, my Liege, farewell!’
Again he faced the battle-field,-
Wildly they fly, are slain, or yield.
‘Now then,’ he said, and couch’d his spear,
‘My course is run, the goal is near;
One effort more, one brave career,
Must close this race of mine.’
Then in his stirrups rising high,
He shouted loud his battle-cry,
‘Saint James for Argentine!’
And, of the bold pursuers, four
The gallant knight from saddle bore;
But not unharm’d – a lance’s point
Has found his breastplate’s loosen’d joint,
An axe has razed his crest;
Yet still on Colonsay’s fierce lord,
Who press’d the chase with gory sword,
He rode with spear in rest,
And through his bloody tartans bored,
And through his gallant breast.
Nail’d to the earth, the mountaineer
Yet writhed him up against the spear,
And swung his broadsword round!
Stirrup, steel-boot, and cuish gave way,
Beneath that blow’s tremendous sway,
The blood gush’d from the wound;
And the grim Lord of Colonsay
Hath turn’d him on the ground,
And laugh’d in death-pang, that his blade
The mortal thrust so well repaid.
Now toil’d the Bruce, the battle done,
To use his conquest boldly won;
And gave command for horse and spear
To press the Southron’s scatter’d rear,
Nor let his broken force combine,
-When the war-cry of Argentine
Fell faintly on his ear;
‘Save, save his life,’ he cried, ‘O save
The squadrons round free passage gave,
The wounded knight drew near;
He raised his red-cross shield no more,
Helm, cuish, and breastplate stream’d with gore,
Yet, as he saw the King advance,
He strove even then to couch his lance-
The effort was in vain!
The spur-stroke fail’d to rouse the horse!
Wounded and weary, in mid course
He stumbled on the plain.
Then foremost was the generous Bruce
To raise his head, his helm to loose;-
‘Lord Earl, the day is thine!
My sovereign’s charge, and adverse fate,
Have made our meeting all too late:
Yet this may Argentine,
As boon from ancient comrade, crave –
A Christian’s mass, a soldier’s grave.’
Bruce press’d his dying hand – its grasp
Kindly replied; but, in his clasp,
It stiffen’d and grew cold –
‘And, O farewell!’ the victor cried,
‘Of chivalry the flower and pride,
The arm in battle bold,
The courteous mien, the noble race,
The stainless faith, the manly face! –
Bid Ninian’s convent light their shrine,
For late-wake of De Argentine.
O’er better knight on death-bier laid,
Torch never gleam’d nor mass was said!’
Nor for De Argentine alone,
Through Ninian’s church these torches shone,
And rose the death-prayer’s awful tone.
That yellow lustre glimmer’d pale,
On broken plate and bloodied mail,
Rent crest and shatter’d coronet,
Of Baron, Earl, and Banneret;
And the best names that England knew,
Claim’d in the death-prayer dismal due.
Yet mourn not, Land of Fame!
Though ne’er the Leopards on thy shield
Retreated from so sad a field,
Since Norman William came.
Oft may thine annals justly boast
Of battles stern by Scotland lost;
Grudge not her victory,
When for her freeborn rights she strove;
Rights dear to all who freedom love,
To none so dear as thee!
Turn we to Bruce, whose curious ear
Must from Fitz-Louis tidings hear;
With him, a hundred voices tell
Of prodigy and miracle,
‘For the mute page had spoke.’-
‘Page!’ said Fitz-Louis, ‘rather, say,
An angel sent from realms of day,
To burst the English yoke.
I saw his plume and bonnet drop,
A lovely brow, dark locks that wave,
To his bright eyes new lustre gave,
A step as light upon the green,
As if his pinions waved unseen!’
‘Spoke he with none?’ – ‘With none – one word
Burst when he saw the Island Lord
Returning from the battle-field.’-
‘What answer made the Chief?’ – ‘He kneel’d,
Durst not look up, but mutter’d low,
Some mingled sounds that none might know,
And greeted him ‘twixt joy and fear,
As being of superior sphere.’
Even upon Bannock’s bloody plain,
Heap’d then with thousands of the slain,
‘Mid victor monarch’s musings high,
Mirth laugh’d in good King Robert’s eye:-
‘And bore he such angelic air,
Such noble front, such waving hair?
Hath Ronald kneel’d to him?’ he said;
‘Then must we call the church to aid-
Our will be to the Abbot known,
Ere these strange news are wider blown,
To Cambuskenneth straight ye pass,
And deck the church for solemn mass,
To pay for high deliverance given,
A nation’s thanks to gracious Heaven.
Let him array, besides, such state,
As should on princes’ nuptials wait.
Ourself the cause, through fortune’s spite,
That once broke short that spousal rite,
Ourself will grace, with early morn,
The Bridal of the Maid of Lorn.’
Go forth, my Song, upon thy venturous way;
Go boldly forth; nor yet thy master blame,
Who chose no patron for his humble lay,
And graced thy numbers with no friendly name,
Whose partial zeal might smooth thy path to fame.
– and O! how many sorrows crowd
Into these two brief words! –
By generous friendship given – had fate allow’d,
It well had bid thee rank the proudest of the proud!
All angel now – yet little less than all,
While still a pilgrim in our world below!
What ‘vails it us that patience to recall,
Which hid its own to soothe all other woe;
What ‘vails to tell, how Virtue’s purest glow
Shone yet more lovely in a form so fair:
And, least of all, what ‘vails the world should know,
That one poor garland, twined to deck thy hair,
Is hung upon thy hearse, to droop and wither there!