The Lay of the Last Minstrel – Canto IV – Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Sweet Teviot! on thy silver tide
The glaring bale-fires blaze no more;
No longer steel-clad warrior ride
Along thy wild and willow’d shore
Where’er thou wind’st, by dale or hill
All, all is peaceful, all is still,
As if thy waves, since Time was born
Since first they roll’d upon the Tweed,
Had only heard the shepherd’s reed,
Nor started at the bugle-horn.

Unlike the tide of human time,
Which, though it change in ceaseless flow
Retains each grief, retains each crime
Its earliest course was doom’d to know;
And, darker as it downward bears,
Is stain’d with past and present tears
Low as that tide has ebb’d with me,
It still reflects to Memory’s eye
The hour my brave, my only boy
Fell by the side of great Dundee.
Why, when the volleying musket play’d
Against the bloody Highland blade,
Why was not I beside him laid!
Enough, he died the death of fame;
Enough, he died with conquering Graeme.

Now over Border dale and fell
Full wide and far was terror spread;
For pathless marsh, and mountain cell,
The peasant left his lowly shed,
The frighten’d flocks and herds were pent
Beneath the peel’s rude battlement;
And maids and matrons dropp’d the tear,
While ready warriors seiz’d the spear.
From Branksome’s towers, the watchman’s eye
Dun wreaths of distant smoke can spy,
Which, curling in the rising sun,
Show’d southern ravage was begun.

Now loud the heedful gate-ward cried–
“Prepare ye all for blows and blood!
Watt Tinlinn, from the Liddel-side
Comes wading through the flood.
Full oft the Tynedale snatchers knock
At his lone gate, and prove the lock;
It was but last St. Barnabright
They sieg’d him a whole summer night,
But fled at morning; well they knew
In vain he never twang’d the yew.
Right sharp has been the evening shower
That drove him from his Liddel tower;
And, by my faith,” the gate-ward said,
“I think ’twill prove a Warden-Raid.”

While thus he spoke, the bold yeoman
Enter’d the echoing barbican.
He led a small and shaggy nag,
That through a bog, from hag to hag,
Could bound like any Billhope stag.
It bore his wife and children twain;
A half-clothed serf was all their train;
His wife, stout, ruddy, and dark-brow’d,
Of silver brooch and bracelet proud,
Laugh’d to her friends among the crowd.
He was of stature passing tall,
But sparely form’d, and lean withal
A batter’d morion on his brow;
A leather jack, as fence enow
On his broad shoulders loosely hung;
A border axe behind was slung;
His spear, six Scottish ells in length,
Seem’d newly dyed with gore
His shafts and bow, of wondrous strength,
His hardy partner bore.

Thus to the Ladye did Tinlinn show
The tidings of the English foe:
“Belted Will Howard is marching here,
And hot Lord Dacre, with many a spear,
And all the German hackbut men,
Who have long lain at Askerten:
They cross’d the Liddel at curfew hour,
And burn’d my little lonely tower:
The fiend receive their souls therefore!
It had not been burnt this year and more.
Barn-yard and dwelling, blazing bright,
Serv’d to guide me on my flight;
But I was chas’d the livelong night.
Black John of Akeshaw and Fergus Graeme
Fast upon my traces came,
Until I turn’d at Priesthaugh Scrogg,
And shot their horses in the bog,
Slew Fergus with my lance outright
I had him long at high despite–
He drove my cows last Fastern’s night.”

Now weary scouts from Liddesdale,
Fast hurrying in, confirm’d the tale;
As far as they could judge by ken,
        Three hours would bring to Teviot’s strand
Three thousand armed Englishmen;
        Meanwhile, full many a warlike band,
From Teviot, Aill, and Ettrick shade,
Came in, their Chief’s defence to aid.
There was saddling and mounting in haste,
        There was pricking o’er moor and lea;
He that was last at the trysting-place
        Was but lightly held of his gay ladye.

From fair St. Mary’s silver wave,
From dreary Gamescleugh’s dusky height,
His ready lances Thirlestane brave
Array’d beneath a banner bright.
The treasured fleur-de-luce he claims
To wreathe his shield, since royal James,
Encamp’d by Fala’s mossy wave,
The proud distinction grateful gave,
For faith ‘mid feudal jars;
What time, save Thirlestane alone,
Of Scotland’s stubborn barons none
Would march to southern wars;
And hence, in fair remembrance worn,
Yon sheaf of spears his crest has borne
Hence his high motto shines reveal’d–
” Ready, aye ready” for the field.

An aged Knight, to danger steel’d,
With many a moss-trooper came on;
And azure in a golden field,
The stars and crescent graced his shield,
Without the bend of Murdieston.
Wide lay his lands round Oakwood tower
And wide round haunted Castle-Ower;
High over Borthwick’s mountain flood
His wood-embosom’d mansion stood;
In the dark glen, so deep below,
The herds of plunder’d England low–
His bold retainers’ daily food,
And bought with danger, blows, and blood.
Marauding chief! his sole delight
The moonlight raid, the morning fight;
Not even the Flower of Yarrow’s charms,
In youth, might tame his rage for arms
And still, in age, he spurn’d at rest,
And still his brows the helmet press’d,
Albeit the blanched locks below
Were white as Dinlay’s spotless snow;
Five stately warriors drew the sword
        Before their father’s band;
A braver knight than Harden’s lord
        Ne’er belted on a brand.

Scotts of Eskdale, a stalwart band,
Came trooping down the Todshaw-hill;
By the sword they won their land,
And by the sword they hold it still.
Hearken, Ladye, to the tale,
How thy sires won fair Eskdale.
Earl Morton was lord of that valley fair;
The Beattisons were his vassals there.
The Earl was gentle, and mild of mood;
The vassals vere warlike, and fierce, and rude;
High of heart, and haughty of word,
Little they reck’d of a tame liege lord.
The Earl into fair Eskdale came,
Homage and seignory to claim:
Of Gilbert the Galliard a heriot he sought,
Saying, “Give thy best steed, as a vassal ought.”
“Dear to me is my bonny white steed,
Oft has he help d me at pinch of need;
Lord and Earl though thou be, I trow
I can rein Bucksfoot better than thou.”
Word on word gave fuel to fire,
Till so highly blazed the Beattison’s ire,
But that the Earl the flight had ta’en,
The vassals there their lord had slain.
Sore he plied both whip and spur,
As he urged his steed through Eskdale muir;
And it fell down a weary weight,
Just on the threshold of Branksome gate.

The Earl was a wrathful man to see,
Full fain avenged would he be.
In haste to Branksome’s Lord he spoke,
Saying–“Take these traitors to thy yoke;
For a cast of hawks, and a purse of gold,
All Eskdale I’ll sell thee, to have and hold:
Beshrew thy heart, of the Beattisons’ clan
If thou leavest on Eske a landed man;
But spare Woodkerrick’s lands alone,
For he lent me his horse to escape upon.”
A glad man then was Branksome bold,
Down he flung him the purse of gold;
To Eskdale soon he spurr’d amain,
And with him five hundred riders has ta’en
He left his merrymen in the mist of the hill
And bade them hold them close and still;
And alone he wended to the plain,
To meet with the Galliard and all his train.
To Gilbert the Galliard thus he said
“Know thou me for thy liege-lord and head;
Deal not with me as with Morton tame,
For Scotts play best at the roughest game.
Give me in peace my heriot due,
Thy bonny white steed, or thou shalt rue.
If my horn I three times wind,
Eskdale shall long have the sound in mind.”

Loudly the Beattison laugh’d in scorn;
“Little care we for thy winded horn.
Ne’er shall it be the Galliard’s lot
To yield his steed to a haughty Scott.
Wend thou to Branksome back on foot
With rusty spur and miry boot.”
He blew his bugle so loud and hoarse
That the dun deer started at fair Craikcross;
He blew again so loud and clear,
Through the grey mountain-mist there did lances appear;
And the third blast rang with such a din
That the echoes answer’d from Pentoun-linn
And all his riders came lightly in.
Then had you seen a gallant shock
When saddles were emptied and lances broke!
For each scornful word the Galliard had said
A Beattison on the field was laid.
His own good sword the chieftain drew,
And he bore the Galliard through and through;
Where the Beattisons’ blood mix’dwith the rill,
The Galliard’s-Haugh men call it still,
The Scotts have scatter’d the Beattison clan
In Eskdale they left but one landed man
The valley of Eske, from the mouth to the source
Was lost and won for that bonny white horse.

Whitslade the Hawk, and Headshaw came
And warriors more than I may name;
From Yarrow-cleugh to Hindhaugh-swair,
From Woodhouselie to Chesterglen,
Troop’d man and horse, and bow and spear;
Their gathering word was Bellenden.
And better hearts o’er Border sod
To siege or rescue never rode.
The Ladye mark’d the aids come in,
        And high her heart of pride arose:
She bade her youthful son attend,
That he might know his father’s friend,
        And learn to face his foes.
“The boy is ripe to look on war;
        I saw him draw a cross-bow stiff,
And his true arrow struck afar
        The raven s nest upon the cliff;
The red cross on a southern breast
Is broader than the raven s nest:
Thou, Whitslade, shalt teach him his weapon to wield,
And o’er him hold his father’s shield.”

Well may you think the wily page
Car’d not to face the Ladye sage.
He counterfeited childish fear
And shriekd, and shed full many tear,
And moan’d and plain’d in manner wild.
        The attendants to the Ladye told
Some fairy, sure, had chang’d the child,
        That wont to be so free and bold.
Then wrathful was the noble dame;
She blush’d blood-red for very shame:
“Hence! ere the clan his faintness view;
Hence with the weakling to Buccleuch!
Watt Tinlinn, thou shalt be his guide
To Rangleburn s lonely side.
Sure some fell fiend has cursed our line
That coward should e’er be son of mine!”

A heavy task Watt Tinlinn had,
To guide the counterfeited lad.
Soon as the palfrey felt the wight
Of that ill-omen’d elfish freight,
He bolted, sprung, and rear’d amain,
Nor heeded bit nor curb, nor rein.
It cost Watt Tinlinn mickle toil
To drive him but a Scottish mile;
        But as a shallow brook they cross’d,
The elf, amid the running stream,
His figure chang’d, like form in dream,
        And fled, and shouted, “Lost! lost! lost!”
Full fast the urchin ran and laugh’d,
But faster still a cloth-yard shaft
Whistled from startled Tinlinn’s yew
And pierc’d his shoulder through and through.
Although the imp might not be slain,
And though the wound soon heal’d again
Yet, as he ran, he yell’d for pain;
And Wat of Tinlinn, much aghast,
Rode back to Branksome fiery fast.

Soon on the hill’s steep verge he stood,
That looks o’er Branksome’s towers and wood;
And martial murmurs, from below,
Proclaim’d the approaching southern foe.
Through the dark wood, in mingled tone,
Were Border pipes and bugles blown;
The coursers’ neighing he could ken,
A measured tread of marching men;
While broke at times the solemn hum
The Almayn’s sullen kettle-drum;
        And banners tall of crimson sheen
Above the copse appear;
        And, glistening through the hawthorns green,
Shine helm, and shield, and spear.

Light forayers, first, to view the ground,
Spurr’d their fleet coursers loosely round;
        Behind, in close array, and fast,
The Kendal archers, all in green,
        Obedient to the bugle blast,
Advancing from the wood were seen.
To back and guard the archer band,
Lord Dacre’s bill-men were at hand:
A hardy race on Irthing bred,
With kirtles white, and crosses red,
Array’d beneath the banner tall,
That stream’d o’er Acre’s conquer’d wall;
And minstrels, as they march’d in order,
Play’d “Noble Lord Dacre, he dwells on the Border.”

Behind the English bill and bow,
The mercenaries, firm and slow,
        Moved on to fight, in dark array,
By Conrad led of Wolfenstein,
Who brought the band from distant Rhine,
        And sold their blood for foreign pay.
The camp their home, their law the sword,
They knew no country, own’d no lord :
They were not arm’d like England’s sons,
But bore the levin-darting guns;
Buff coats, all frounc’d and ‘broider’d o’er,
And morsing-horns and scarfs they wore;
Each better knee was bared, to aid
The warriors in the escalade;
All as they march’d, in rugged tongue,
Songs of Teutonic feuds they sung.

But louder still the clamour grew,
And louder still the minstrels blew,
When fom beneath the greenwood tree,
Rode forth Lord Howard’s chivalry;
His men-at-arms, with glaive and spear,
Brought up the battle’s glittenng rear.
There many a youthful knight, full keen
To gain his spurs, in arms was seen;
With favor in his crest, or glove,
Memorial of his ladye-love.
So rode they forth in fair array,
Till full their lengthen’d lines display;
Then call’d a halt, and made a stand,
And cried “St. George for merry England!”

Now every English eye intent
On Branksome’s armed towers was bent;
So near they were, that they might know
The straining harsh of each cross-bow;
On battlement and bartizan
Gleam’d axe, and spear, and partisan;
Falcon and culver, on each tower,
Stood prompt their deadly hail to shower;
And flashing armor frequent broke
From eddying whirls of sable smoke,
Where upon tower and turret-head,
The seething pitch and molten lead
Reek’d, like a witch’s caldron red.
While yet they gaze, the bridges fall,
The wicket opes, and from the wall
Rides forth the hoary Seneschal.

Armed he rode, all save the head,
His white beard o’er his breast-plate spread;
Unbroke by age, erect his seat,
He rul’d his eager courser’s gait;
Forc’d him, with chasten’d fire to prance,
And, high curvetting, slow advance;
In sign of truce, his better hand
Display’d a peeled willow wand;
His squire, attending in the rear,
Bore high a gauntlet on a spear.
When they espied him riding out,
Lord Howard and Lord Dacre stout
Sped to the front of their array,
To hear what this old knight should say.

“Ye English warden lords, of you
Demands the Ladye of Buccleuch
Why, ‘gainst the truce of Border tide,
In hostile guise ye dare to ride,
With Kendal bow, and Gilsland brand,
And all yon mercenary band,
Upon the bounds of fair Scotland?
My Ladye redes you swith return;
And, if but one poor straw you burn
Or do our towers so much molest
As scare one swallow from her nest,
St. Mary! but we’ll light a brand
Shall warm your hearths in Cumberland.”

A wrathful man was Dacre’s lord,
But calmer Howard took the word:
“May ‘t please thy Dame, Sir Seneschal,
To seek the castle’s outward wall,
Our pursuivant-at-arms shall show
Both why we came, and when we go.”
The message sped, the noble Dame
To the wall’s outward circle came;
Each chief around lean’d on his spear
To see the pursuivant appear.
All in Lord Howard’s livery dress’d,
The lion argent deck-d his breast;
He led a boy of blooming hue–
O sight to meet a mother’s view!
It was the heir of great Buccleuch
Obeisance meet the herald made,
And thus his master’s will he said:

“It irks, high Dame, my noble Lords,
‘Gainst ladye fair to draw their swords;
But yet they may not tamely see,
All through the Western Wardenry,
Your law-contemning kinsmen ride,
And burn and spoil the Border-side;
And ill beseems your rank and birth
To make your towers a flemens-firth
We claim from thee William of Deloraine
That he may suffer march-treason pain.
It was but last St. Cuthbert’s even
He prick’d to Stapleton on Leven,
Harried the lands of Richard Musgrave,
And slew his brother by dint of glaive.
Then, since a lone and widow’d Dame
These restless riders may not tame,
Either receive within thy towers
Two hundred of my master’s powers,
Or straight they sound their warrison,
And storm and spoil thy garrison:
And this fair boy, to London led,
Shall good King Edward’s page be bred.”

He ceased–and loud the boy did cry,
And stretch’d his little arms on high;
Implor’d for aid each well-known face,
And strove to seek the Dame’s embrace .
A moment chang’d that Ladye’s cheer,
Gush’d to her eye the unbidden tear;
She gaz’d upon the leaders round,
And dark and sad each warrior frown’d;
Then, deep within her sobbing breast
She lock’d the struggling sigh to rest;
Unalter’d and collected stood,
And thus replied in dauntless mood:

“Say to your Lords of high emprize,
Who war on women and on boys,
That either William of Deloraine
Will cleanse him by oath of march-treason stain
Or else he will the combat take
‘Gainst Musgrave, for his honor’s sake.
No knight in Cumberland so good,
But William may count with him kin and blood.
Knighthood he took of Douglas’ sword,
When English blood swell’d Ancram’s ford;
And but Lord Dacre’s steed was wight,
And bare him ably in the flight,
Himself had seen him dubb’d a knight.
For the young heir of Branksome’s line,
God be his aid, and God be mine;
Through me no friend shall meet his doom;
Here, while I live, no foe finds room.
Then, if thy Lords their purpose urge
        Take our defiance loud and high;
Our slogan is their lyke-wake dirge,
        Our moat the grave where they shall lie.”

Proud she look’d round, applause to claim–
Then lighten’d Thirlestane’s eye of flame
His bugle Wat of Harden blew;
Pensils and pennons wide were flung,
To heaven the Border slogan rung,
“St. Mary for the young Buccleuch!”
The English war-cry answer’d wide,
And forward bent each southern spear;
Each Kendal archer made a stride,
And drew the bowstring to his ear;
Each minstrel’s war-note loud was blown;
But, ere a grey-goose shaft had flown
A horseman gallop’d from the rear.

“Ah! noble Lords!” he breathless said,
“What treason has your march betray’d ?
What make you here, from aid so far,
Before you walls, around you war?
Your foemen triumph in the thought
That in the toils the lion’s caught.
Already on dark Ruberslaw
The Douglas holds his weapon-schaw;
The lances, waving in his train,
Clothe the dun heath like autumn grain;
And on the Liddel’s northern strand,
To bar retreat to Cumberland,
Lord Maxwell ranks his merry-men good,
Beneath the eagle and the rood;
And Jedwood, Eske, and Teviotdale,
        Have to proud Angus come;
And all the Merse and Lauderdale
        Have risen with haughty Home.
An exile from Northumberland,
        In Liddesdale I’ve wander’d long;
But still my heart was with merry England,
        And cannot brook my country’s wrong;
And hard I’ve spurr’d all night, to show
The mustering of the coming foe.”

“And let them come!” fierce Dacre cried;
“For soon yon crest, my father’s pride,
That swept the shores of Judah’s sea,
And wav’d in gales of Galilee,
From Branksome’s highest towers display’d,
Shall mock the rescue’s lingering aid!–
Level each harquebuss on row;
Draw, merry archers, draw the bow;
Up, bill-men, to the walls, and cry,
Dacre for England, win or die!”

“Yet hear,” quoth Howard, “calmly hear
Nor deem my words the words of fear:
For who, in field or foray slack,
Saw the blanche lion e’er fall back?
But thus to risk our Border flower
In strife against a kingdom’s power,
Ten thousand Scots ‘gainst thousands three,
Certes, were desperate policy.
Nay, take the terms the Ladye made,
Ere conscious of the advancing aid:
Let Musgrave meet fierce Deloraine
In single fight, and, if he gain,
He gains for us; but if he’s cross’d,
‘Tis but a single warrior lost:
The rest retreating as they came,
Avoid defeat, and death, and shame.”

Ill could the haughty Dacre brook
His brother Warden’s sage rebuke;
And yet his forward step he stay’d,
And slow and sullenly obey’d.
But ne’er again the Border side
Did these two lords in friendship ride;
And this slight discontent, men say,
Cost blood upon another day.

The pursuivant-at-arms again
Before the castle took his stand;
His trumpet call’d, with parleying strain
The leaders of the Scottish band;
And he defied in Musgrave’s right,
Stout Deloraine to single fight;
A gauntlet at their feet he laid,
And thus the terms of fight he said:
“If in the lists good Musgrave’s sword
Vanquish the Knight of Deloraine,
Your youthful chieftain, Branksome’s Lord
Shall hostage for his clan remain:
If Deloraine foil good Musgrave,
The boy his liberty shall have.
Howe’er it falls the English band,
Unharming Scots, by Scots unharm’d,
In peaceful march, like men unarm’d,
Shall straight retreat to Cumberland.”

Unconscious of the near relief
The proffer pleased each Scottish chief,
Though much the Ladye sage gainsay’d;
For though their hearts were brave and true,
From Jedwood’s recent sack they knew
How tardy was the Regent’s aid:
And you may guess the noble Dame
Durst not the secret prescience own,
Sprung from the art she might not name,
By which the coming help was known.
Clos’d was the compact, and agreed
That lists should be enclos’d with speed,
Beneath the castle, on a lawn:
They fix’d the morrow for the strife,
On foot, with Scottish axe and knife,
At the fourth hour from peep of dawn;
When Deloraine, from sickness freed,
Or else a champion in his stead,
Should for himself and chieftain stand
Against stout Musgrave, hand to hand.

I know right well, that, in their lay,
Full many minstrels sing and say,
Such combat should be made on horse,
On foaming steed, in full career,
With brand to aid, when as the spear
Should shiver in the course:
But he, the jovial Harper, taught
Me, yet a youth, how it was fought,
In guise which now I say;
He knew each ordinance and clause
Of Black Lord Archibald s battle-laws,
In the old Douglas’ day.
He brook’d not, he, that scoffing tongue
Should tax his minstrelsy with wrong,
Or call his song untrue:
For this, when they the goblet plied,
And such rude taunt had chaf’d his pride,
The Bard of Reull he slew.
On Teviot’s side, in fight they stood,
And tuneful hands were stain’d with blood;
Where still the thorn’s white branches wave,
Memorial o’er his rival’s grave.

Why should I tell the rigid doom
That dragg’d my master to his tomb;
How Ousenam’s maidens tore their hair
Wept till their eyes were dead and dim
And wrung their hands for love of him
Who died at Jedwood Air?
He died!–his scholars, one by one,
To the cold silent grave are gone;
And I, alas! survive alone,
To muse o’er rivalries of yore,
And grieve that I shall hear no more
The strains, with envy heard before;
For, with my minstrel brethren fled,
My jealousy of song is dead.

He paused: the listening dames again
Applaud the hoary Minstrel’s strain.
With many a word of kindly cheer,
In pity half, and half sincere,
Marvell’d the Duchess how so well
His legendary song could tell
Of ancient deeds, so long forgot;
Of feuds, whose memory was not;
Of forests, now laid waste and bare;
Of towers, which harbor now the hare;
Of manners, long since chang’d and gone;
Of chiefs, who under their grey stone
So long had slept, that fickle Fame
Had blotted from her rolls their name,
And twin’d round some new minion’s head
The fading wreath for which they bled;
In sooth,’twas strange, this old man’s verse
Could call them from their marble hearse.
The Harper smil’d, well-pleas’d; for ne’er
Was flattery lost on poet’s ear:
A simple race! they waste their toil
For the vain tribute of a smile;
E’en when in age their flame expires,
Her dulcet breath can fan its fires:
Their drooping fancy wakes at praise,
And strives to trim the short-liv’d blaze.
Smil’d then, well pleas’d, the aged man
And thus his tale continued ran.