The Lay of the Last Minstrel/Canto 5

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Canto Fifth

I

Call it not vain;—they do not err,
        Who say, that when the Poet dies,
Mute Nature mourns her worshipper,
        And celebrates his obsequies:
Who say, tall cliff and cavern lone
For the departed Bard make moan;
That mountains weep in crystal rill;
That flowers in tears of balm distill;
Through his lov'd groves that breezes sigh,
And oaks, in deeper groan, reply;
And rivers teach their rushing wave
To murmur dirges round his grave

II

Not that, in sooth, o'er mortal urn
Those things inanimate can mourn;
But that the stream, the wood, the gale
Is vocal with the plaintive wail
Of those, who, else forgotten long,
Liv'd in the poet's faithful song,
And with the poet's parting breath,
Whose memory feels a second death.
The Maid's pale shade, who wails her lot,
That love, true love, should be forgot,
From rose and hawthorn shakes the tear
Upon the gentle Minstrel's bier:
The phantom Knight, his glory fled,
Mourns o'er the field he heap'd with dead;
Mounts the wild blast that sweeps amain,
And shrieks along the battle-plain.
The Chief, whose antique crownlet long
Still sparkled in the feudal song,
Now, from the mountain's misty throne,
Sees, in the thanedom once his own,
His ashes undistinguish'd lie,
His place, his power, his memory die:
His groans the lonely caverns fill,
His tears of rage impel the rill:
All mourn the Minstrel's harp unstrung,
Their name unknown, their praise unsung.

III

Scarcely the hot assault was staid,
The terms of truce were scarcely made,
When they could spy, from Branksome's towers,
The advancing march of martial powers.
Thick clouds of dust afar appear'd,
And trampling steeds were faintly heard;
Bright spears, above the columns dun,
Glanced momentary to the sun;
And feudal banners fair display'd
The bands that moved to Branksome's aid.

IV

Vails not to tell each hardy clan,
        From the fair Middle Marches came;
The Bloody Heart blaz'd in the van,
        Announcing Douglas, dreaded name!
Vails not to tell what steeds did spurn,
Where the Seven Spears of Wedderburne
        Their men in battle-order set;
And Swinton laid the lance in rest,
That tamed of yore the sparkling crest
        Of Clarence's Plantagenet.
Nor list I say what hundreds more,
From the rich Merse and Lammermore,
And Tweed's fair borders to the war,
Beneath the crest of Old Dunbar.
        And Hepburn's mingled banners come,
Down the steep mountain glittering far
        And shouting still, "A Home! a Home!"

V

Now squire and knight, from Branksome sent,
On many a courteous message went;
To every chief and lord they paid
Meet thanks for prompt and powerful aid:
And told them,—how a truce was made.
        And how a day of fight was ta'en
        'Twixt Musgrave and stout Deloraine;
                And how the Ladye pray'd them dear,
        That all would stay the fight to see,
        And deign, in love and courtesy,
                To taste of Branksome cheer.
Nor, while they bade to feast each Scot,
Were England's noble Lords forgot
Himself, the hoary Seneschal
Rode forth, in seemly terms to call
Those gallant foes to Branksome Hall.
Accepted Howard, than whom knight
Was never dubb'd more bold in fight;
Nor, when from war and armor free,
More fam'd for stately courtesy:
But angry Dacre rather chose
In his pavilion to repose.

VI

Now, noble Dame, perchance you ask
        How these two hostile armies met?
Deeming it were no easy task
        To keep the truce which here was set;
Where martial spirits, all on fire,
Breathed only blood and mortal ire.
By mutual inroads, mutual blows,
By habit, and by nation, foes,
        They met on Teviot's strand;
They met and sate them mingled down,
Without a threat, without a frown,
        As brothers meet in foreign land:
The hands the spear that lately grasp'd,
Still in the mailed gauntlet clasp'd,
        Were interchang'd in greeting dear;
Visors were raised, and faces shown,
And many a friend, to friend made known,
        Partook of social cheer.
Some drove the jolly bowl about;
        With dice and draughts some chas'd the day;
And some, with many a merry shout,
In riot revelry, and rout,
        Pursued the foot-ball play.

VII

Yet, be it known, had bugles blown,
        Or sign of war been seen,
Those bands so fair together rang'd,
Those hands, so frankly interchang'd,
        Had dyed with gore the green:
The merry shout by Teviot-side
Had sunk in war-cries wild and wide,
        And in the groan of death;
And whingers, now in friendship bare
The social meal to part and share,
        Had found a bloody sheath.
'Twixt truce and war, such sudden change
Was not infrequent, nor held strange,
        In the old Border-day:
But yet on Branksome's towers and town,
In peaceful merriment, sunk down
        The sun's declining ray.

VIII

The blithsome signs of wassel gay
Decay'd not with the dying day:
Soon through the lattic'd windows tall
Of lofty Branksome's lordly hall,
Divided square by shafts of stone,
Huge flakes of ruddy lustre shone
Nor less the gilded rafters rang
With merry harp and beakers' clang:
        And frequent, on the darkening plain,
                Loud hollo, whoop, or whistle ran,
        As bands, their stragglers to regain
                Give the shrill watchword of their clan;
And revellers, o'er their bowls, proclaim
Douglas or Dacre's conquering name.

IX

Less frequent heard, and fainter still
        At length the various clamors died:
And you might hear, from Branksome hill
        No sound but Teviot's rushing tide;
Save when the changing sentinel
The challenge of his watch could tell;
And save where, through the dark profound,
The clanging axe and hammer's sound
        Rung from the nether lawn;
For many a busy hand toil'd there,
Strong pales to shape, and beams to square,
The lists' dread barriers to prepare
        Against the morrow's dawn.

X

Margaret from hall did soon retreat,
        Despite the Dame's reproving eye;
Nor mark'd she as she left her seat,
        Full many a stifled sigh;
For many a noble warrior strove
To win the Flower of Teviot's love,
        And many a bold ally.
With throbbing head and anxious heart,
All in her lonely bower apart,
        In broken sleep she lay:
Betimes from silken couch she rose
While yet the banner'd hosts repose,
        She view'd the dawning day:
Of all the hundreds sunk to rest
First woke the loveliest and the best.

XI

She gaz'd upon the inner court,
        Which in the tower's tall shadow lay;
Where coursers' clang, and stamp, and snort
        Had rung the livelong yesterday;
Now still as death; till stalking slow—
        The jingling spurs announc'd his tread—
A stately warrior pass'd below;
        But when he rais'd his plumed head—
                Bless'd Mary! can it be?
Secure, as if in Ousenam bowers,
He walks through Branksome's hostile towers
        With fearless step and free.
She dar'd not sign, she dar'd not speak—
Oh! if one page's slumbers break,
        His blood the price must pay!
Not all the pearls Queen Mary wears
Not Margaret's yet more precious tears,
        Shall buy his life a day.

XII

Yet was his hazard small; for well
You may bethink you of the spell
        Of that sly urchin page;
This to his lord he did impart,
And made him seem, by glamour art,
        A knight from Hermitage.
Unchalleng'd thus, the warder's post,
The court, unchalleng'd, thus he cross'd,
        For all the vassalage:
But O! what magic's quaint disguise
Could blind fair Margaret s azure eyes!
        She started from her seat;
While with surprise and fear she strove,
And both could scarcely master love—
        Lord Henry's at her feet.

XIII

Oft have I mus'd what purpose bad
That foul malicious urchin had
        To bring this meeting round;
For happy love's a heavenly sight,
And by a vile malignant sprite
        In such no joy is found;
And oft I've deem'd perchance he thought
Their erring passion might have wrought
        Sorrow, and sin, and shame;
And death to Cranstoun's gallant Knight
And to the gentle ladye bright
        Disgrace and loss of fame.
But earthly spirit could not tell
The heart of them that lov'd so well.
True love's the gift which God has given
To man alone beneath the heaven:
        It is not fantasy's hot fire,
                Whose wishes, soon as granted, fly;
        It liveth not in fierce desire,
                With dead desire it doth not die;
It is the secret sympathy,
The silver link, the silken tie,
Which heart to heart, and mind to mind
In body and in soul can bind.
Now leave we Margaret and her Knight,
To tell you of the approaching fight.

XIV

Their warning blasts the bugles blew,
        The pipe's shrill port arous'd each clan;
In haste, the deadly strife to view,
        The trooping warriors eager ran:
Thick round the lists their lances stood
Like blasted pines in Ettric wood;
To Branksome many a look they threw,
The combatants' approach to view,
And bandied many a word of boast
About the knight each favor'd most.

XV

Meantime, full anxious was the Dame;
For now arose disputed claim
Of who should fight for Deloraine,
'Twixt Harden and 'twixt Thirlestaine
They 'gan to reckon kin and rent,
And frowning brow on brow was bent;
        But yet not long the strife—for, lo!
Himself, the Knight of Deloraine,
Strong, as it seem'd, and free from pain
        In armor sheath'd from top to toe,
Appear'd and crav'd the combat due.
The Dame her charm successful knew,
And the fierce chiefs their claims withdrew.

XVI

When for the lists they sought the plain,
The stately Ladye's silken rein
        Did noble Howard hold;
Unarmed by her side he walk'd,
And much, in courteous phrase, they talk'd
        Of feats of arms of old.
Costly his garb; his Flemish ruff
Fell o'er his doublet, shap'd of buff,
        With satin slash'd and lin'd;
Tawny his boot, and gold his spur,
His cloak was all of Poland fur,
        His hose with silver twin'd;
His Bilboa blade, by Marchmen felt,
Hung in a broad and studded belt;
Hence, in rude phrase, the Borderers still
Call'd noble Howard, Belted Will.

XVII

Behind Lord Howard and the Dame,
Fair Margaret on her palfrey came,
        Whose foot-cloth swept the ground:
White was her wimple, and her veil,
And her loose locks a chaplet pale
        Of whitest roses bound;
The lordly Angus, by her side,
In courtesy to cheer her tried;
Without his aid, her hand in vain
Had strove to guide her broider'd rein.
He deem'd she shudder'd at the sight
Of warriors met for mortal fight;
But cause of terror, all unguess'd,
Was fluttering in her gentle breast,
When, in their chairs of crimson plac'd,
The Dame and she the barriers grac'd.

XVIII

Prize of the field, the young Buccleuch,
An English knight led forth to view;
Scarce rued the boy his present plight,
So much he long'd to see the fight.
Within the lists, in knightly pride,
High Home and haughty Dacre ride;
Their leading staffs of steel they wield
As marshals of the mortal field;
While to each knight their care assign'd
Like vantage of the sun and wind.
Then heralds hoarse did loud proclaim,
In King and Queen and Warden's name
        That none, while lasts the strife,
Should dare, by look, or sign, or word,
Aid to a champion to afford,
        On peril of his life;
And not a breath the silence broke,
Till thus the alternate Heralds spoke:

XIX

        English Herald

"Here standeth Richard of Musgrave,
        Good knight and true, and freely born,
Amends from Deloraine to crave,
        For foul despiteous scathe and scorn.
He sayeth that William of Deloraine
        Is traitor false by Border laws;
This with his sword he will maintain,
        So help him God, and his good cause!"

XX
        Scottish Herald

"Here standeth William of Deloraine,
Good knight and true, of noble strain,
Who sayeth that foul treason's stain,
        Since he bore arms, ne'er soil'd his coat;
                And that, so help him God above!
        He will on Musgrave's body prove,
                He lies most foully in his throat."

        Lord Dacre

"Forward, brave champions, to the fight!
Sound trumpets!"—

        Lord Home

                        —"God defend the right!"—
Then, Teviot! how thine echoes rang,
When bugle-sound and trumpet-clang
        Let loose the martial foes,
And in mid list, with shield pois'd high,
And measur'd step and wary eye,
        The combatants did close.

XXI

Ill would it suit your gentle ear,
Ye lovely listeners, to hear
How to the axe the helms did sound,
And blood pour'd down from many a wound;
For desperate was the strife and long,
And either warrior fierce and strong.
But, were each dame a listening knight,
I well could tell how warriors fight!
For I have seen war's lightning flashing,
Seen the claymore with bayonet clashing,
Seen through red blood the war-horse dashing,
And scorn'd, amid the reeling strife,
To yield a step for death or life.

XXII

'Tis done, 'tis done! that fatal blow
        Has stretch d him on the bloody plain;
He strives to rise—brave Musgrave, no!
        Thence never shalt thou rise again!
He chokes in blood! some friendly hand
Undo the visor's barred band,
Unfix the gorget's iron clasp,
And give him room for life to gasp!
O, bootless aid! haste, holy Friar,
Haste, ere the sinner shall expire!
Of all his guilt let him be shriven,
And smooth his path from earth to heaven!

XXIII

In haste the holy Friar sped
His naked foot was dyed with red
        As through the lists he ran;
Unmindful of the shouts on high,
That hail'd the conqueror's victory,
        He rais'd the dying man;
Loose wav'd his silver beard and hair,
As o'er him he kneel'd down in prayer;
And still the crucifix on high
He holds before his darkening eye;
And still he bends an anxious ear
His faltering penitence to hear;
        Still props him from the bloody sod,
Still, even when soul and body part,
Pours ghostly comfort on his heart,
        And bids him trust in God.
Unheard he prays; the death pang's o'er!
Richard of Musgrave breathes no more.

XXIV

As if exhausted in the fight,
Or musing o'er the piteous sight,
        The silent victor stands;
His beaver did he not unclasp,
Mark'd not the shouts, felt not the grasp
        Of gratulating hands.
When lo! strange cries of wild surprise,
Mingled with seeming terror, rise
        Among the Scottish bands;
And all amid the throng'd array,
In panic haste gave open way
To a half-naked ghastly man
Who downward from the castle ran:
He cross'd the barriers at a bound,
And wild and haggard look'd around,
        As dizzy, and in pain;
And all, upon the armed ground
        Knew William of Deloraine!
Each ladye sprung from seat with speed;
Vaulted each marshal from his steed;
        "And who art thou," they cried,
"Who hast this battle fought and won?"
His plumed helm was soon undone—
        "Cranstoun of Teviot-side !
For this fair prize I've fought and won."
And to the Ladye led her son.

XXV

Full oft the rescued boy she kiss'd,
And often press'd him to her breast;
For, under all her dauntless show,
Her heart had throbb'd at every blow;
Yet not Lord Cranstoun deign'd she greet,
Though low he kneeled at her feet.
Me lists not tell what words were made,
What Douglas, Home, and Howard said—
        For Howard was a generous foe—
And how the clan united pray'd
        The Ladye would the feud forego,
And deign to bless the nuptial hour
Of Cranstoun's Lord and Teviot's Flower.

XXVI

She look'd to river, look'd to hill,
        Thought on the Spirit's prophecy,
Then broke her silence stern and still—
        "Not you, but Fate, has vanquish'd me;
Their influence kindly stars may shower
On Teviot's tide and Branksome's tower,
        For pride is quell'd, and love is free."
She took fair Margaret by the hand,
Who, breathless, trembling, scarce might stand;
        That hand to Cranstoun's lord gave she:
"As I am true to thee and thine,
Do thou be true to me and mine!
        This clasp of love our bond shall be;
For this is your betrothing day,
And all these noble lords shall stay
To grace it with their company."

XXVII

All as they left the listed plain
Much of the story she did gain
How Cranstoun fought with Deloraine
And of his page, and of the Book
Which from the wounded knight he took;
And how he sought her castle high,
That morn, by help of gramarye;
How, in Sir William's armor dight,
Stolen by his page, while slept the knight,
He took on him the single fight.
But half his tale he left unsaid
And linger'd till he join'd the maid.
Car'd not the Ladye to betray
Her mystic arts in view of day;
But well she thought, ere midnight came
Of that strange page the pride to tame
From his foul hands the Book to save,
And send it back to Michael's grave.
Needs not to tell each tender word
'Twixt Margaret and twixt Cranstoun s lord;
Nor how she told of former woes,
And how her bosom fell and rose,
While he and Musgrave bandied blows
Needs not these lovers' joys to tell:
One day, fair maids, you'll know them well.

XXVIII

William of Deloraine some chance
Had waken'd from his deathlike trance;
        And taught that, in the listed plain
Another, in his arms and shield
Against fierce Musgrave axe did wield
        Under the name of Deloraine.
Hence to the field unarm'd he ran,
And hence his presence scar'd the clan,
Who held him for some fleeting wraith
And not a man of blood and breath.
        Not much this new ally he lov'd,
        Yet, when he saw what hap had prov'd
                He greeted him right heartilie:
He would not waken old debate,
For he was void of rancorous hate,
                Though rude, and scant of courtesy;
In raids he spilt but seldom blood,
Unless when men-at-arms withstood,
Or, as was meet, for deadly feud
He ne'er bore grudge for stalwart blow,
Ta'en in fair fight from gallant foe:
        And so 'twas seen of him, e'en now,
                When on dead Musgrave he look d down;
        Grief darken'd on his rugged brow,
                Though half disguised with a frown;
And thus, while sorrow bent his head,
His foeman's epitaph he made.

XXIX

"Now, Richard Musgrave, liest thou here!
        I ween, my deadly enemy
For, if I slew thy brother dear,
        Thou slew'st a sister's son to me;
And when I lay in dungeon dark
        Of Naworth Castle, long months three,
Till ransom'd for a thousand mark,
        Dark Musgrave, it was 'long of thee .
And, Musgrave, could our fight be tried,
And thou wert now alive as I,
No mortal man should us divide,
Till one, or both of us, did die:
Yet, rest thee God! for well I know
I ne'er shall find a nobler foe.
In all the northern counties here,
Whose word is Snaffle, spur, and spear,
Thou wert the best to follow gear!
'Twas pleasure, as we look'd behind,
To see how thou the chase could'st wind,
Cheer the dark blood-hound on his way
And with the bugle rouse the fray!
I'd give the lands of Deloraine
Dark Musgrave were alive again."

XXX

So mourn'd he, till Lord Dacre's band
Were bowning back to Cumberland.
They rais'd brave Musgrave from the field,
And laid him on his bloody shield;
On levell'd lances, four and four,
By turns, the noble burden bore.
Before, at times, upon the gale,
Was heard the Minstrel s plaintive wail;
Behind, four priests, in sable stole,
Sung requiem for the warrior's soul:
Around, the horsemen slowly rode;
With trailing pikes the spearmen trode;
And thus the gallant knight they bore
Through Liddesdale to Leven's shore;
Thence to Holme Coltrame's lofty nave,
And laid him in his father's grave.

        ————————

The harp's wild notes, though hush'd the song,
The mimic march of death prolong;
Now seems it far, and now a-near,
Now meets, and now eludes the ear;
Now seems some mountainside to sweep,
Now faintly dies in valley deep;
Seems now as if the Minstrel's wail,
Now the sad requiem, loads the gale;
Last, o'er the warrior's closing grave,
Rung the full choir in choral stave.

        After due pause, they bade him tell,
Why he, who touch'd the harp so well,
Should thus, with ill-rewarded toil,
Wander a poor and thankless soil,
When the more generous Southern land
Would well requite his skillful hand.

        The aged Harper howsoe'er
His only friend, his harp, was dear,
Lik'd not to hear it rank'd so high
Above his flowing poesy:
Less lik'd he still that scornful jeer
Mispris'd the land he lov'd so dear;
High was the sound, as thus again
The Bard resum'd his minstrel strain.

Canto 4 Canto 6