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

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonor’d, and unsung.

O Caledonia! stern and wild,
Meet nurse for a poetic child!
Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood,
Land of my sires! what mortal hand
Can e’er untie the filial band,
That knits me to thy rugged strand!
Still as I view each well-known scene,
Think what is now, and what hath been,
Seems as, to me, of all bereft,
Sole friends thy woods and streams were left;
And thus I love them better still,
Even in extremity of ill.
By Yarrow’s stream still let me stray,
Though none should guide my feeble way;
Still feel the breeze down Ettrick break,
Although it chill my wither’d cheek:
Still lay my head by Teviot Stone,
Though there, forgotten and alone,
The Bard may draw his parting groan.

Not scorn’d like me! to Branksome Hall
The Minstrels came at festive call;
Trooping they came, from near and far
The jovial priests of mirth and war;
Alike for feast and fight prepar’d,
Battle and banquet both they shar’d.
Of late, before each martial clan,
They blew their death-note in the van,
But now, for every merry mate,
Rose the portcullis’ iron grate;
They sound the pipe, they strike the string,
They dance, they revel, and they sing,
Till the rude turrets shake and ring.

Me lists not at this tide declare
The splendor of the spousal rite,
How muster’d in the chapel fair
Both maid and matron, squire and knight;
Me lists not tell of owches rare,
Of mantles green, and braided hair,
And kirtles furr’d with miniver;
What plumage wav’d the altar round,
How spurs and ringing chainlets sound;
And hard it were for bard to speak
The changeful hue of Margaret’s cheek–
That lovely hue which comes and flies
As awe and shame alternate rise!

Some bards have sung the Ladye high
Chapel or altar came not nigh;
Nor durst the rites of spousal grace,
So much she fear’d each holy place.
False slanders these: I trust right well
She wrought not by forbidden spell;
For mighty words and signs have power
O’er sprites in planetary hour:
Yet scarce I praise their venturous part,
Who tamper with such dangerous art.
But this for faithful truth I say,
        The Ladye by the altar stood;
Of sable velvet her array,
And on her head a crimson hood
With pearls embroider’d and entwin’d,
Guarded with gold, with ermine lin’d;
A merlin sat upon her wrist
Held by a leash of silken twist.

The spousal rites were ended soon:
‘Twas now the merry hour of noon
And in the lofty arched hall
Was spread the gorgeous festival.
Steward and squire, with heedful haste,
Marshall’d the rank of every guest;
Pages, with ready blade, were there,
The mighty meal to carve and share:
O’er capon, heron-shew, and crane,
And princely peacock s gilded train,
And o’er the boar-head, garnish’d brave,
And cygnet from St. Mary’s wave;
O’er ptarmigan and venison
The priest had spoke his benison.
Then rose the riot and the din,
Above, beneath, without, within!
For, from the lofty balcony,
Rung trumpet, shalm, and psaltery:
Their clanging bowls old warriors quaff’d
Loudly they spoke, and loudly laugh’d;
Whisper’d young knights, in tone more mild,
To ladies fair, and ladies smil’d.
The hooded hawks, high perch’d on beam
The clamor join’d with whistling scream
And flapp’d their wings, and shook their bells
In concert with the stag-hounds’ yells
Round go the flasks of ruddy wine,
From Bordeaux, Orleans, or the Rhine;
Their tasks the busy sewers ply,
And all is mirth and revelry.

The Goblin Page, omitting still
No opportunity of ill,
Strove now, while blood ran hot and high,
To rouse debate and jealousy;
Till Conrad, Lord of Wolfenstein:
By nature fierce, and warm with wine,
And now in humor highly cross’d
About some steeds his band had lost,
High words to words succeeding still,
Smote with his gauntlet stout Hunthill–
A hot and hardy Rutherford,
Whom men called Dickon Draw-the-sword.
He took it on the page’s say
Hunthill had driven these steeds away.
Then Howard, Home, and Douglas rose
The kindling discord to compose:
Stern Rutherford right little said,
But bit his glove, and shook his head.
A fortnight thence, in Inglewood,
Stout Conrad, cold, and drench’d in blood,
His bosom gor’d with many a wound,
Was by a woodman’s lyme-dog found;
Unknown the manner of his death,
Gone was his brand, both sword and sheath;
But ever from that time, ’twas said,
That Dickon wore a Cologne blade.

The dwarf, who fear’d his master’s eye
Might his foul treachery espie,
Now sought the castle buttery,
Where many a yeoman, bold and free,
Revell’d as merrily and well
As those that sat in lordly selle.
Watt Tinlinn, there, did frankly raise
The pledge to Arthur Fire-the-Braes
And he, as by his breeding bound,
To Howard’s merry-men sent it round.
To quit them, on the English side,
Red Roland Forster loudly cried,
“A deep carouse to yon fair bride!”
At every pledge, from vat and pail,
Foam’d forth in floods the nut-brown ale
While shout the riders every one;
Such day of mirth ne’er cheer’d their clan,
Since old Buccleuch the name did gain
When in the cleuch the buck was ta’en.

The wily page, with vengeful thought
Remember d him of Tinlinn’s yew,
And swore it should be dearly bought
That ever he the arrow drew.
First, he the yeoman did molest
With bitter gibe and taunting jest;
Told how he fled at Solway strife,
And how Hob Armstrong cheer’d his wife;
Then, shunning still his powerful arm,
At unawares he wrought him harm;
From trencher stole his choicest cheer,
Dash’d from his lips his can of beer;
Then, to his knee sly creeping on,
With bodkin pierced him to the bone:
The venom’d wound, and festering joint,
Long after rued that bodkin’s point.
The startled yeoman swore and spurn’d,
And board and flagons overturn’d.
Riot and clamor wild began
Back to the hall the Urchin ran;
Took in a darkling nook his post,
And grinn’d, and mutter’d, “Lost! lost! lost!”

By this, the Dame, lest farther fray
Should mar the concord of the day.
Had bid the Minstrels tune their lay.
And first stept forth old Albert Graeme,
The Minstrel of that ancient name:
Was none who struck the harp so well
Within the Land Debateable;
Well friended, too his hardy kin,
Whoever lost, were sure to win;
They sought the beeves that made their broth,
In Scotland and in England both.
In homely guise, as nature bade
His simple song the Borderer said.

         Albert Graeme.
It was an English ladye bright,
(The sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,)
And she would marry a Scottish knight,
For Love will still be lord of all.
Blithely they saw the rising sun
When he shone fair on Carlisle wall;
But they were sad ere day was done,
Though Love was still the lord of all.
Her sire gave brooch and jewel fine,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall
Her brother gave but a flask of wine,
For ire that Love was lord of all.
For she had lands, both meadow and lea,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall;
And he swore her death ere he would see
A Scottish knight the lord of all!
That wine she had not tasted well,
(The sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,)
When dead in her true love’s arms she fell,
For Love was still the lord of all!

He pierc’d her brother to the heart,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall:
So perish all would true love part
That Love may still be lord of all!
And then he took the cross divine
(Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,)
And died for her sake in Palestine
So Love was still the lord of all!
Now all ye lovers that faithful prove,
(The sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,)
Pray for their souls who died for love,
For Love shall still be lord of all!

As ended Albert’s simple lay,
Arose a bard of loftier port;
For sonnet, rhyme, and roundelay,
Renown’d in haughty Henry’s court:
There rung thy harp, unrivall’d long,
Fitztraver of the silver song!
The gentle Surrey lov’ed his lyre–
        Who has not heard of Surrey’s fame?
His was the hero’s soul of fire,
        And his the bard’s immortal name,
And his was love, exalted high
By all the glow of chivalry.

They sought, together, climes afar,
And oft, within some olive grove,
When even came with twinkling star,
They sung of Surrey’s absent love
His step the Italian peasant stay’d,
And deem’d that spirits from on high,
Round where some hermit saint was laid,
Were breathing heavenly melody;
So sweet did harp and voice combine
To praise the name of Geraldine.

Fitztraver! O what tongue may say
The pangs thy faithful bosom knew,
When Surrey, of the deathless lay
Ungrateful Tudor’s sentence slew?
Regardless of the tyrant’s frown,
His harp call’d wrath and vengeance down.
He left, for Naworth’s iron towers,
Windsor’s green glades, and courtly bowers
And faithful to his patron’s name,
With Howard still Fitztraver came
Lord William’s foremost favorite he,
And chief of all his minstrelsy.

‘Twas All-soul’s eve, and Surrey’s heart beat high;
He heard the midnight bell with anxious start,
Which told the mystic hour, approaching nigh,
When wise Cornelius promis’d, by his art,
To show to him the ladye of his heart
Albeit betwixt them roar’d the ocean grim
Yet so the sage had hight to play his part
That he should see her form in life and limb
And mark, if still she lov’d,
And still she thought of him.

Dark was the vaulted room of gramarye,
To which the wizard led the gallant Knight,
Save that before a mirror, huge and high,
A hallow’d taper shed a glimmering light
On mystic implements of magic might;
On cross, and character, and talisman,
And almagest, and altar, nothing bright:
For fitful was the lustre, pale and wan
As watchlight by the bed
Of some departing man.

But soon, within that mirror huge and high,
Was seen a self-emitted light to gleam;
And forms upon its breast the Earl ‘gan spy
Cloudy and indistinct, as feverish dream;
Till, slow arranging, and defin’d, they seem
To form a lordly and a lofty room,
Part lighted by a lamp with silver beam,
Plac’d by a couch of Agra’s silken loom,
And part by moonshine pale,
And part was hid in gloom.

Fair all the pageant: but how passing fair
The slender form which lay on couch of Ind!
O’er her white bosom stray’d her hazel hair;
Pale her dear cheek, as if for love she pin’d;
All in her night-robe loose she lay reclin’d,
And pensive read from tablet eburnine
Some strain that seem’d her inmost soul to find:
That favor’d strain was Surrey’s raptur’d line,
That fair and lovely form,
The Lady Geraldine.

Slow roll’d the clouds upon the lovely form,
And swept the goodly vision all away–
So royal envy roll’d the murky storm
O’er my beloved Master’s glorious day.
Thou jealous, ruthless tyrant! Heaven repay
On thee, and on thy children’s latest line,
The wild caprice of thy despotic sway,
The gory bridal bed, the plunder’d shrine,
The murder’d Surrey’s blood,
The tears of Geraldine!

Both Scots, and Southern chiefs, prolong
Applauses of Fitztraver’s song;
These hated Henry’s name as death,
And those still held the ancient faith.
Then from his seat, with lofty air,
Rose Harold, bard of brave St. Clair;
St. Clair, who, feasting high at Home,
Had with that lord to battle come.
Harold was born where restless seas
Howl round the storm-swept Orcades;
Where erst St. Clairs held princely sway
O’er isle and islet, strait and bay;–
Still nods their palace to its fall,
Thy pride and sorrow, fair Kirkwall!
Thence oft he mark’d fierce Pentland rave,
As if grim Odin rode her wave:
And watch’d the while, with visage pale,
And throbbing heart, the struggling sail;
For all of wonderful and wild
Had rapture for the lonely child.

And much of wild and wonderful
In these rude isles might fancy cull;
For thither came. in times afar,
Stern Lochlin’s sons of roving war.
The Norsemen, train’d to spoil and blood,
Skill’d to prepare the raven’s food;
Kings of the main their leaders brave,
Their barks the dragons of the wave.
And there in many a stormy vale,
The Scald had told his wondrous tale;
And many a Runic column high
Had witness’d grim idolatry.
And thus had Harold in his youth
Learn’d many a Saga’s rhyme uncouth–
Of that Sea-Snake, tremendous curl’d,
Whose monstrous circle girds the world;
Of those dread Maids, whose hideous yell
Maddens the battle’s bloody swell;
Of Chief, who, guided through the gloom
By the pale death-lights of the tomb,
Ransack’d the graves of warriors old,
Their falchions wrench’d from corpses’ hold,
Wak’d the deaf tomb with war’s alarms,
And bade the dead arise to arms!
With war and wonder all on flame,
To Roslin’s bowers young Harold came,
Where, by sweet glen and greenwood tree,
He learn’d a milder minstrelsy;
Yet something of the Northern spell
Mix’d with the softer numbers well.

O listen, listen, ladies gay!
No haughty feat of arms I tell;
Soft is the note, and sad the lay,
That mourns the lovely Rosabelle.
–“Moor, moor the barge, ye gallant crew!
And gentle ladye, deign to stay!
Rest thee in Castle Ravensheuch,
Nor tempt the stormy firth to-day.
“The blackening wave is edg’d with white:
To inch and rock the sea-mews fly;
The fishers have heard the Water-Sprite,
Whose screams forebode that wreck is nigh.
“Last night the gifted Seer did view
A wet shroud swathed round ladye gay;
Then stay thee, Fair, in Ravensheuch:
Why cross the gloomy firth today?”
” ‘Tis not because Lord Lindesay’s heir
To-night at Roslin leads the ball,
But that my ladye-mother there
Sits lonely in her castle-hall.
” ‘Tis not because the ring they ride,
And Lindesay at the ring rides well,
But that my sire the wine will chide,
If ’tis not fill’d by Rosabelle.”
O’er Roslin all that dreary night
A wondrous blaze was seen to gleam;
‘Twas broader than the watch-fire’s light,
And redder than the bright moonbeam.
It glar’d on Roslin’s castled rock,
It ruddied all the copse wood glen;
‘Twas seen from Dryden’s groves of oak
And seen from cavern’d Hawthorn-den.
Seem’d all on fire that chapel proud,
Where Roslin’s chiefs uncoffin’d lie,
Each Baron, for a sable shroud,
Sheath’d in his iron panoply.
Seem’d all on fire within, around,
Deep sacristy and altar s pale;
Shone every plllar foliage bound,
And glimmer’d all the dead men’s mail.
Blaz’d battlement and pinnet high,
Blaz’d every rose-carved buttress fair–
So still they blaze when fate is nigh
The lordly line of high St. Clair.
There are twenty of Roslin’s barons bold
Lie buried within that proud chapelle;
Each one the holy vault doth hold–
But the sea holds lovely Rosabelle!
And each St. Clair was buried there,
With candle, with book, and with knell;
But the sea-caves rung, and the wild winds sung
The dirge of lovely Rosabelle.

So sweet was Harold’s piteous lay,
Scarce mark’d the guests the darken’d hall,
Though, long before the sinking day,
A wondrous shade involv’d them all:
It was not eddying mist or fog,
Drain’d by the sun from fen or bog;
Of no eclipse had sages told;
And yet, as it came on apace,
Each one could scarce his neighbour’s face,
Could scarce his own stretch’d hand behold.
A secret horror check’d the feast,
And chill’d the soul of every guest;
Even the high Dame stood half aghast–
She knew some evil on the blast;
The elvish page fell to the ground,
And, shuddering, mutter’d, “Found! found! found!”

Then sudden,through the darken’d air,
A flash of lightning came;
So broad, so bright, so red the glare,
The castle seem’d on flame.
Glanc’d every rafter of the hall,
Glanc’d every shield upon the wall;
Each trophied beam, each sculptur’d stone,
Were instant seen, and instant gone;
Full through the guests’ bedazzled band
Resistless flash’d the levin-brand,
And fill’d the hall with smoldering smoke,
As on the elvish page it broke.
It broke, with thunder long and loud,
Dismay’d the brave, appall’d the proud,–
        From sea to sea the larum rung;
On Berwick wall, and at Carlisle withal,
        To arms the startled warders sprung.
When ended was the dreadful roar,
The elvish dwarf was seen no more!

Some heard a voice in Branksome Hall,
Some saw a sight, not seen by all
That dreadful voice was heard by some,
Cry, with loud summons, “Gylbin, come!”
And on the spot where burst the brand
        Just where the page had flung him down,
Some saw an arm, and some a hand,
        And some the waving of a gown.
The guests in silence pray’d and shook,
And terror dimm’d each lofty look.
But none of all the astonish’d train
Was so dismay’d as Deloraine
His blood did freeze, his brain did burn,
‘Twas fear’d his mind would ne’er return;
For he was speechless, ghastly, wan,
Like him of whom the story ran
Who spoke the spectre-hound in Man.
At length, by fits, he darkly told.
With broken hint, and shuddering cold,
That he had seen, right certainly.
A shape with amice wrapp’d around,
With a wrought Spanish baldric bound,
Like pilgrim from beyond the sea;
And knew–but how it matter’d not–
It was the wizard, Michael Scott.

The anxious crowd, with horror pale,
All trembling heard the wondrous tale;
No sound was made, no word was spoke,
Till noble Angus silence broke;
        And he a solemn sacred plight
Did to St. Bride of Douglas make,
That he a pilgrimage would take
To Melrose Abbey, for the sake
        Of Michael’s restless sprite.
Then each, to ease his troubled breast,
To some bless’d saint his prayers address’d:
Some to St. Modan made their vows,
Some to St. Mary of the Lowes,
Some to the Holy Rood of Lisle,
Some to our Ladye of the Isle;
Each did his patron witness make,
That he such pilgrimage would take,
And monks should sing, and bells should toll,
All for the weal of Michael’s soul.
While vows were ta’en, and prayers were pray’d,
‘Tis said the noble dame, dismay’d,
Renounc’d, for aye, dark magic’s aid.

Nought of the bridal will I tell,
Which after in short space befell;
Nor how brave sons and daughters fair
Bless’d Teviot’s Flower, and Cranstoun’s heir:
After such dreadful scene, ’twere vain
To wake the note of mirth again.
More meet it were to mark the day
        Of penitence, and prayer divine,
When pilgrim-chiefs, in sad array,
        Sought Melrose’ holy shrine.

With naked foot, and sackcloth vest,
And arms enfolded on his breast,
Did every pilgrim go;
The standers-by might hear uneath,
Footstep, or voice, or high-drawn breath,
Through all the lengthen’d row:
No lordly look, nor martial stride;
Gone was their glory, sunk their pride,
Forgotten their renown
Silent and slow, like ghosts they glide
To the high altar’s hallow’d side,
And there they knelt them down:
Above the suppliant chieftains wave
The banners of departed brave;
Beneath the lettered stones were laid
The ashes of their fathers dead;
From many a garnish’d niche around,
Stern saints and tortur’d martyrs frown’d.

And slow up the dim aisle afar,
With sable cowl and scapular,
And snow-white stoles, in order due,
The holy Fathers, two and two,
In long procession came;
Taper and host, and book they bare,
And holy banner, flourish’d fair
With the Redeemer’s name.
Above the prostrate pilgrim band
The mitred Abbot stretch’d his hand
And bless’d them as they kneel’d
With holy cross he sign’d them all,
And pray’d they might be sage in hall,
And fortunate in field.
Then mass was sung, and prayers were said,
And solemn requiem for the dead;
And bells toll’d out their mighty peal,
For the departed spirit’s weal;
And ever in the office close
The hymn of intercession rose;
And far the echoing aisles prolong
The awful burthen of the song,–
Dies Iræ, Dies Illa,
Solvet Sæclum in Favilla,
While the pealing organ rung.
Were it meet with sacred strain
To close my lay, so light and vain,
Thus the holy Fathers sung:

         Hymn for the Dead
That day of wrath, that dreadful day,
When heaven and earth shall pass away,
What power shall be the sinner’s stay?
How shall he meet that dreadful day?
When, shrivelling like a parched scroll,
The flaming heavens together roll;
When louder yet, and yet more dread,
Swells the high trump that wakes the dead:
Oh! on that day, that wrathful day,
When man to judgment wakes from clay,
Be Thou the trembling sinner’s stay,
Though heaven and earth shall pass away!

Hush’d is the harp: the Minstrel gone.
And did he wander forth alone?
Alone, in indigence and age,
To linger out his pilgrimage?
No; close beneath proud Newark’s tower,
Arose the Minstrel’s lowly bower;
A simple hut; but there was seen
The little garden hedged with green,
The cheerful hearth, and lattice clean.
There shelter’d wanderers, by the blaze,
Oft heard the tale of other days;
For much he lov’d to ope his door,
And give the aid he begg’d before.
So pass’d the winter’s day; but still,
When summer smil’d on sweet Bowhill,
And July’s eve, with balmy breath,
Wav’d the blue-bells on Newark heath;
When throstles sung in Harehead-shaw,
And corn was green on Carterhaugh,
And flourish’d, broad, Blackandro’s oak,
The aged Harper’s soul awoke!
Then would he sing achievements high,
And circumstance of chivalry,
Till the rapt traveller would stay,
Forgetful of the closing day;
And noble youths, the strain to hear,
Forsook the hunting of the deer;
And Yarrow, as he roll’d along,
Bore burden to the Minstrel’s song.