The Lay of the Last Minstrel/Canto 5

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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 distil;
Through his loved groves that breezes sigh,
And oaks, in deeper groan, reply;
And rivers teach their rushing wave
To murmur dirges round his grave.

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,
Lived 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 heaped 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 undistinguished 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.

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 appeared,
And trampling steeds were faintly heard;
Spear-heads, above the columns dun,
Glanced momentary to the sun;
And feudal banners fair displayed
The bands that moved to Branksome's aid.

Vails not to tell each hardy clan,
From the fair Middle Marches came;
The Bloody Heart blazed in the van,
Announcing Douglas, dreaded name!
Vails not to tell 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!"

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 prayed 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 dubbed, more bold in fight;
Nor, when from war and armour free,
More famed for stately courtesy:
But angry Dacre rather chose
In his pavilion to repose.

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 grasped,
Still in the mailed gauntlet clasped,
Were interchanged in greeting dear;
Visors were raised, and faces shewn,
And many a friend, to friend made known,
Partook of social cheer.
Some drove the jolly bowl about;
With dice and draughts some chased the day;
And some, with many a merry shout,
In riot, revelry, and rout,
Pursued the foot-ball play.

Yet, be it known, had bugles blown,
Or sign of war been seen;
Those bands, so fair together ranged,
Those hands, so frankly interchanged,
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[1], now in friendship bare,
The social meal to part and share,
Had found a bloody sheath.
'Twixt truce and war, such sudden change
Was nor 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.

The blithsome signs of wassell gay
Decayed not with the dying day;
Soon through the latticed 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 watch-word of their clan;
And revellers, o'er their bowls, proclaim
Douglas or Dacre's conquering name.

Less frequent heard, and fainter still,
At length the various clamours 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 toiled there,
The list's dread barriers to prepare,
Against the morrow's dawn.

Margaret from hall did soon retreat,
Despite the Dame's reproving eye;
Nor marked 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;
By times, from silken couch she rose,
While yet the bannered hosts repose;
She viewed the dawning day.
Of all the hundreds sunk to rest,
First woke the loveliest and the best.

She gazed upon the inner court,
Which in the tower's tall shadow lay;
Where coursers' clang, and stamp, and snort,
Had rung the live-long yesterday.
Now still as death—till, stalking slow—
The jingling spurs announced his tread—
A stately warrior passed below;
But when he raised his plumed head—
  Blessed Mary! can it be?
Secure, as if in Ousenam bowers,
He walks through Branksome's hostile towers,
  With fearless step, and free.
She dared not sign, she dared 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.

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.
Unchallenged, thus, the warder's post,
The court, unchallenged, thus he crossed,
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.

Oft have I mused 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 deemed, 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 loved 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 cord, 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.

Their warning blasts the bugles blew,
The pipe's shrill port[2] aroused 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 Ettricke wood;
To Branksome many a look they threw,
The combatants' approach to view,
And bandied many a word of boast
About the knight each favoured most.

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 seemed, and free from pain,
In armour sheathed from top to toe,
Appeared, and craved the combat due.
The Dame her charm successful knew[3],
And the fierce chiefs their claims withdrew.

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

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 broidered rein.
He deemed she shuddered at the sight
Of warriors met for mortal fight;
But cause of terror, all unguessed,
Was fluttering in her gentle breast,
When in their chairs of crimson placed,
The Dame and she the barriers graced.

Prize of the field, the young Buccleuch,
An English knight led forth to view;
Scarce rued the boy his present plight,
So much he longed 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;
Then heralds hoarse did loud proclaim,
In king, and queen, and wardens' 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.
Then not a breath the silence broke,
Till thus the alternate heralds spoke.

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!

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 soiled his coat,
  And that, so help him God above,
  He will on Musgrave's body prove,
He lyes most foully in his throat.

Lord Dacre.
Forward, brave champions, to the fight!
Sound trumpets——

Lord Home.
———"God defend the right!"
At the last word, with deadly blows,
The ready warriors fiercely close.

Ill would it suit your gentle ear,
Ye lovely listeners, to hear
How to the axe the helms did sound,
And blood poured 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 scorned, amid the reeling strife,
To yield a step for death or life.

'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!—
In vain, in vain—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.

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 hailed the conqueror's victory,
He raised the dying man;
Loose waved his silver beard and hair,
As o'er him he kneeled down in prayer.
And still the crucifix on high,
He holds before his darkening eye,
And still he bends an anxious ear,
His faultering 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; 'tis o'er, 'tis o'er!
Richard of Musgrave breathes no more.

As if exhausted in the fight,
Or musing o'er the piteous sight,
The silent victor stands;
His beaver did he not unclasp,
Marked 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 thronged array,
In panic haste gave open way,
To a half-naked ghastly man,
Who downward from the castle ran:
He crossed the barriers at a bound,
And wild and haggard looked 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 Teviotside!
For this fair prize I've fought and won."—
And to the Ladye led her son.

Full oft the rescued boy she kissed,
And often pressed him to her breast;
For, under all her dauntless show,
Her heart had throbbed at every blow;
Yet not Lord Cranstoun deigned 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 prayed,
The Ladye would the feud forego,
And deign to bless the nuptial hour
Of Cranstoun's Lord and Teviot's Flower.

She looked to river, looked to hill,
Thought on the spirit's prophecy,
Then broke her silence stern and still,
"Not you, but Fate, has vanquished me;
Their influence kindly stars may shower
On Teviot's tide and Branksome's tower,
For pride is quelled, 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."

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 armour dight,
Stolen by his page, while slept the knight,
He took on him the single fight.
But half his tale he left unsaid,
And lingered till he joined the maid.
Cared 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.

William of Deloraine, some chance
Had wakened 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, unarmed, he ran,
And hence his presence scared the clan,
Who held him for some fleeting wraith[4],
And not a man of blood and breath.
Not much this new ally he loved,
Yet, when he saw what hap had proved,
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 looked down,
Grief darkened on his rugged brow,
Though half-disguised with a frown;
And thus, while sorrow bent his head,
His foeman's epitaph he made.

"Now, Richard Musgrave, liest thou here!
I ween my deadly enemy,
For if I slew thy brother dear,
Thou slewest a sister's son to me;
And when I lay in dungeon dark,
Of Naworth Castle, long months three,
Till, ransomed 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, Snafle, spur, and spear[5],
Thou wert the best to follow gear;
'Twas pleasure, as we looked behind,
To see how thou the chace couldst 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."—

So mourned he, till Lord Dacre's band
Were bowning back to Cumberland.
They raised brave Musgrave from the field,
And laid him on his bloody shield;
On levelled 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 trod;
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 hushed 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 mountain's side 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 touched 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 skilful hand.

The aged Harper, howsoe'er
His only friend, his harp, was dear,
Liked not to hear it ranked so high
Above his flowing poesy:
Less liked he still that scornful jeer
Misprized the land he loved so dear;
High was the sound, as thus again
The Bard resumed his minstrel strain.

  1. A sort of knife, or poniard.
  2. A martial piece of music, adapted to the bagpipes.
  3. See p. 82. Stanza XXIII.
  4. The spectral apparition of a living person.
  5. The lands that over Ouse to Berwick forth do bear,
    Have for their blazon had, the snafle, spur, and spear.
    Poly-albion, Song xxxiii.