The Lay of the Last Minstrel
by Sir Walter Scott
And said I that my limbs were old,
And said I that my blood was cold,
And that my kindly fire was fled,
And my poor wither’d heart was dead,
And that I might not sing of love —
How could I to the dearest theme,
That ever warm’d a minstrel’s dream
So foul, so false a recreant prove!
How could I name love’s very name,
Nor wake my heart to notes of flame!
In peace, Love tunes the shepherd’s reed;
In war, he mounts the warrior’s steed;
In halls, in gay attire is seen;
In hamlets, dances on the green.
Love rules the court, the camp, the grove,
And men below, and saints above;
For love is heaven, and heaven is love.
So thought Lord Cranstoun, as I ween,
While, pondering deep the tender scene,
He rode through Branksome’s hawthorn green.
But the Page shouted wild and shrill,
And scarce his helmet could he don,
When downward from the shady hill
A stately knight came pricking on.
That warrior’s steed, so dapple-gray,
Was dark with sveat, and splashed with clay;
His armor red with many a stain
He seem’d in such a weary plight,
As if he had ridden the live-long night;
For it was William of Deloraine.
But no whit weary did he seem,
When, dancing in the sunny beam,
He mark’d the crane on the Baron’s crest;
For his ready spear was in his rest.
Few were the words, and stern and high,
That mark’d the foemen’s feudal hate;
For question fierce, and proud reply,
Gave signal soon of dire debate.
Their very coursers seem’d to know
That each was other’s mortal foe,
And snorted fire, when wheel’d around
To give each foe his vantage-ground.
In rapid round the Baron bent;
He sigh’d a sigh, and pray’d a prayer:
The prayer was to his patron saint,
The sigh was to his ladye fair.
Stout Deloraine nor sigh’d nor pray’d,
Nor saint, nor ladye, call’d to aid;
But he stoop’d his head, and couch’d his spear,
And spurred his steed to full career.
The meeting of these champions proud
Seem’d like the bursting thunder-cloud.
Stern was the dint the Borderer lent!
The stately Baron backwards bent;
Bent backwards to his horse’s tail
And his plumes went scattering on the gale;
The tough ash spear, so stout and true,
Into a thousand flinders flew.
But Cranstoun’s lance, of more avail
Pierc’d through, like silk, the Borderer’s mail;
Through shield, and jack, and acton, past,
Deep in his bosom broke at last.–
Still sate the warrior saddle-fast
Till, stumbling in the mortal shock,
Down went the steed, the girthing broke,
Hurl’d on a heap lay man and horse.
The Baron onward pass’d his course;
Nor knew–so giddy rolled his brain–
His foe lay stretch’d upon the plain.
But when he rein’d his courser round,
And saw his foeman on the ground
Lie senseless as the bloody clay,
He badehis page to stanch the wound,
And there beside the warrior stay,
And tend him in his doubtful state,
And lead him to Brauksome castle gate:
His noble mind was inly moved
For the kinsman of the maid he loved.
“This shalt thou do without delay:
No longer here myself may stay;
Unless the swifter I speed away
Short shrift will be at my dying day.”
Away in speed Lord Cranstoun rode;
The Goblin-Page behind abode;
His lord’s command he ne’er withstood,
Though small his pleasure to do good.
As the corslet off he took,
The Dwarf espied the Mighty Book!
Much he marvell’d a knight of pride,
Like a book-bosom’d priest should ride:
He thought not to search or stanch the wound
Until the secret he had found.
The iron band, the iron clasp,
Resisted long the elfin grasp:
For when the first he had undone
It closed as he the next begun.
Those iron chlsps, that iron band,
Would not yield to unchristen’d hand
Till he smear’d the cover o’er
With the Borderer’s curdled gore;
A moment then the volume spread,
And one short spell therein he read:
It had much of glamour might;
Could make a ladye seem a knight;
The cobwebs on a dungeon wall
Seem tapestry in lordly hall;
A nut-shell seem a gilded barge,
A sheeling seem a palace large,
And youth seem age, and age seem youth:
All was delusion, nought was truth.<20>
He had not read another spell,
When on his cheek a buffet fell,
So fierce, it stretch’d him on the plain
Beside the wounded Deloraine.
From the ground he rose dismay’d,
And shook his huge and matted head;
One word he mutter’d, and no more,
“Man of age, thou smitest sore!”
No more the Elfin Page durst try
Into the wondrous Book to pry;
The clasps, though smear’d with Christian gore,
Shut faster than they were before.
He hid it underneath his cloak.
Now, if you ask who gave the stroke,
I cannot tell, so mot I thrive;
It was not given by man alive.
Unwillingly himself he address’d,
To do his master’s high behest:
He lifted up the living corse,
And laid it on the weary horse;
He led him into Branksome hall,
Before the beards of the warders all;
And each did after swear and say
There only pass’d a wain of hay.
He took him to Lord David’s tower,
Even to the Ladye’s secret bower;
And, but that stronger spells were spread,
And the door might not be opened,
He had laid him on her very bed.
Whate’er he did of gramarye
Was always done maliciously;
He flung the warrior on the ground,
And the blood well’d freshly from the wound.
As he repass’d the outer court,
He spied the fair young child at sport:
He thought to train him to the wood;
For, at a word be it understood,
He was always for ill, and never for good.
Seem’d to the boy, some comrade gay
Led him forth to the woods to play;
On the drawbridge the warders stout
Saw a terrier and lurcher passing out.
He led the boy o’er bank and fell,
Until they came to a woodland brook
The running stream dissolv’d the spell,<21>
And his own elvish shape he took.
Could he have had his pleasure vilde
He had crippled the joints of the noble child;
Or, with his fingers long and lean,
Had strangled him in fiendish spleen:
But his awful mother he had in dread,
And also his power was limited;
So he but scowl’d on the startled child,
And darted through the forest wild;
The woodland brook he bounding cross’d,
And laugh’d, and shouted, “Lost! lost! lost!”–
Full sore amaz’d at the wondrous change,
And frighten’d, as a child might be,
At the wild yell and visage strange,
And the dark words of gramarye,
The child, amidst the forest bower,
Stood rooted like a lily flower;
And when at length, with trembling pace,
He sought to find where Branksome lay,
He fear’d to see that grisly face
Glare from some thicket on his way.
Thus, starting oft, he journey’d on,
And deeper in the wood is gone,–
For aye the more he sought his way,
The farther still he went astray,–
Until he heard the mountains round
Ring to the baying of a hound.
And hark! and hark! the deep-mouth’d bark
Comes nigher still, and nigher:
Bursts on the path a dark blood-hound;
His tawny muzzle track’d the ground,
And his red eye shot fire.
Soon as the wilder’d child saw he,
He flew at him right furiouslie.
I ween you would have seen with joy
The bearing of the gallant boy,
When, worthy of his noble sire,
His wet cheek glow’d ‘twixt fear and ire!
He faced the blood-hound manfully,
And held his little bat on high;
So fierce he struck, the dog, afraid,
At cautious distance hoarsely bay’d
But still in act to spring;
When dash’d an archer through the glade,
And when he saw the hound was stay’d,
He drew his tough bow-string;
But a rough voice cried, “Shoot not, hoy!
Ho! shoot not, Edward; ’tis a boy!”
The speaker issued from the wood,
And check’d his fellow’s surly mood,
And quell’d the ban-dog’s ire:
He was an English yeoman good,
And born in Lancashire.
Well could he hit a fallow-deer
Five hundred feet him fro;
With hand more true, and eye more clear,
No archer bended bow.
His coal-black hair, shorn round and close,
Set off his sun-burn’d face:
Old England’s sign, St. George’s cross,
His barret-cap did grace;
His bugle-horn hung by his side,
All in a wolf-skin baldric tied;
And his short falchion, sharp and clear,
Had pierc’d the throat of many a deer.
His kirtle, made of forest green,
Reach’d scantly to his knee;
And, at his belt, of arrows keen
A furbish’d sheaf bore he;
His buckler, scarce in breadth a span,
No larger fence had he;
He never counted him a man,
Would strike below the knee:<22>
His slacken’d bow was in his hand,
And the leash that was his blood-hound’s band.
He would not do the fair child harm,
But held him with his powerful arm,
That he might neither fight nor flee;
For when the Red-Cross spied he,
The boy strove long and violently.
“Now, by St. George,” the archer cries,
“Edward, methinks we have a prize!
This boy’s fair face, and courage free,
Show he is come of high degree.”
“Yes! I am come of high degree,
For I am the heir of bold Buccleuch
And, if thou dost not set me free,
False Southron, thou shalt dearly rue!
For Walter of Harden shall come with speed,
And William of Deloraine, good at need,
And every Scott, from Esk to Tweed;
And, if thou dost not let me go,
Despite thy arrows and thy bow
I’ll have thee hang’d to feed the crow!”
“Gramercy for thy good-will, fair boy!
My mind was never set so high;
But if thou art chief of such a clan,
And art the son of such a man
And ever comest to thy command
Our wardens had need to keep good order;
My bow of yew to a hazel wand
Thou’lt make them work upon the Border.
Meantime, be pleased to come with me
For good Lord Dacre shalt thou see;
I think our work is well begun,
When we have taken thy father’s son.”
Although the child was led away
In Branksome still he seem’d to stay,
For so the Dwarf his part did play;
And, in the shape of that young boy,
He wrought the castle much annoy.
The comrades of the young Buccleuch
He pinch’d, and beat, and overthrew;
Nay, some of them he wellnigh slew.
He tore Dame Maudlin’s silken tire
And, as Sym Hall stood by the fire
He lighted the match of his bandelier,
And wofully scorch’d the hackbuteer.
It may be hardly thought or said,
The mischief that the urchin made,
Till many of the castle guess’d,
That the young Baron was possess’d!
Well I ween the charm he held
The noble Ladye had soon dispell’d;
But she was deeply busied then
To tend the wounded Deloraine.
Much she wonder’d to find him lie
On the stone threshold stretch’d along;
She thought some spirit of the sky
Had done the bold moss-trooper wrong;
Because, despite her precept dread
Perchance he in the Book had read;
But the broken lance in his bosom stood,
And it was earthly steel and wood.
She drew the splinter from the wound,
And with a charm she stanch’d the blood;
She bade the gash be cleans’d and bound:
No longer by his couch she stood;
But she has ta’en the broken lance,
And wash’d it from the clotted gore
And salved the splinter o’er and o’er.
William of Deloraine, in trance
Whene’er she turn’d it round and round,
Twisted as if she gall’d his wound.
Then to her maidens she did say
That he should be whole man and sound
Within the course of a night and day.
Full long she toil’d; for she did rue
Mishap to friend so stout and true.
So pass’d the day; the evening fell,
‘Twas near the time of curfew bell;
The air was mild, the wind was calm,
The stream was smooth, the dew was balm;
E’en the rude watchman on the tower
Enjoy’d and bless’d the lovely hour.
Far more fair Margaret lov’d and bless’d
The hour of silence and of rest.
On the high turret sitting lone,
She waked at times the lute’s soft tone;
Touch’d a wild note, and all between
Thought of the bower of hawthorns green.
Her golden hair stream’d free from band,
Her fair cheek rested on her hand
Her blue eyes sought the west afar
For lovers love the western star.
Is yon the star, o’er Penchryst Pen,
That rises slowly to her ken,
And, spreading broad its wavering light,
Shakes its loose tresses on the night?
Is yon red glare the western star?
O, ’tis the beacon-blaze of war!
Scarce could she draw her tighten’d breath,
For well she knew the fire of death!
The Warder view’d it blazing strong,
And blew his war-note loud and long,
Till, at the high and haughty sound,
Rock, wood, and river rung around.
The blast alarm’d the festal hall,
And startled forth the warriors all;
Far downward, in the castle-yard,
Full many a torch and cresset glared;
And helms and plumes, confusedly toss’d,
Were in the blaze half-seen, half-lost;
And spears in wild disorder shook,
Like reeds beside a frozen brook.
The Seneschal, whose silver hair
Was redden’d by the torches’ glare,
Stood in the midst with gesture proud,
And issued forth his mandates loud:
“On Penchryst glows a bale of fire,
And three are kindling on Priest-haughswire;
Ride out, ride out,
The foe to scout!
Mount, mount for Branksome, every man!
Thou, Todrig, warn the Johnstone clan
That ever are true and stout;
Ye need not send to Liddesdale,
For when they see the blazing bale,
Elliots and Armstrongs never fail.
Ride, Alton, ride, for death and life!
And warn the Warder of the strife.
Young Gilbert, let our beacon blaze,
Our kin, and clan, and friends to raise.”
Fair Margaret from the turret head
Heard, far below, the coursers’ tread,
While loud the harness rung
As to their seats, with clamor dread,
The ready horsemen sprung:
And trampling hoofs, and iron coat,
And leaders’ voices mingled notes,
And out! and out!
In hasty route,
The horsemen gallop’d forth;
Dispersing to the south to scout,
And east, and west, and north,
To view their coming enemies,
And warn their vassals and allies.
The ready page, with hurried hand,
Awaked the need-fire’s slumbering brand,
And ruddy blush’d the heaven:
For a sheet of flame from the turret high
Wav’d like a blood-flag on the sky,
All flaring and uneven;
And soon a score of fires, I ween,
From height, and hill, and cliff, were seen;
Each with warlike tidings fraught,
Each from each the signal caught;
Each after each they glanc’d to sight
As stars arise upon the night.
They gleam d on many a dusky tarn,
Haunted by the lonely earn;
On many a cairn’s grey pyramid,
Where urns of mighty chiefs lie hid;<23>
Till high Dunedin the blazes saw
From Soltra and Dumpender Law,
And Lothian heard the Regent’s order
That all should bowne them for the Border.
The livelong night in Branksome rang
The ceaseles sound of steel;
The castle-bell, with backward clang
Sent forth the larum peal;
Was frequent heard the heavy jar,
Where massy stone and iron bar
Were piled on echoing keep and tower,
To whelm the foe with deadly shower
Was frequent heard the changing guard,
And watch-word from the sleepless ward;
While, wearied by the endless din,
Blood-hound and ban-dog yell’d within.
The noble Dame, amid the broil
Shared the grey Seneschal’s high toil,
And spoke of danger with a smile;
Cheer’d the young knights, and council sage
Held with the chiefs of riper age.
No tidings of the foe were brought
Nor of his numbers knew they aught,
Nor what in time of truce he sought.
Some said that there were thousands ten;
And others ween’d that it was nought
But Leven clans, or Tynedale men,
Who came to gather in black-mail;
And Liddesdale, with small avail,
Might drive them lightly back agen.
So pass’d the anxious night away,
And welcome was the peep of day.
Ceas’d the high sound. The listening throng
Applaud the Master of the Song;
And marvel much, in helpless age,
So hard should be his pilgrimage.
Had he no friend, no daughter dear,
His wandering toil to share and cheer;
No son to be his father’s stay,
And guide him on the rugged way?
“Ay, once he had–but he was dead!”
Upon the harp he stoop’d his head,
And busied himself the strings withal
To hide the tear that fain would fall.
In solemn measure, soft and slow,
Arose a father’s notes of woe.