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The poem now offered to the public is intended to illustrate the customs and manners which anciently prevailed on the Borders of England and Scotland. The inhabitants, living in a state partly pastoral and partly warlike, and combining habits of constant depredition with the influence of a rude spirit of chivalry, were often engaged in scenes highly susceptible of poetical ornament. As the description of scenery und manners was more the object of the author than a combined and regular narrative, the plan of the ancient metrical romance was adopted, which allows greater latitude, in this respect, than would be consistent with the dignity of a regular poem. The same model offered other facilities, as it permits an occasional alteration of measure, which, in some degree, authorises the change of rhythm in the text. The machinery alse, adopted from popular belief, would have seemed puerile in a poem which did not partake of the rudenews of the old ballad or metrical romance.
For these reasons, the poem was put into the mouth cf an ancient minstrel, the last of the race, who, as he is supposed to have survived the Revolution, might have caught somewhat of the refinement of modern poetry, without losing the simplicity of his original model. The date of the Tale itself is about the middle of the sixteenth century, when most of the personages a tually flourished. The time occupied by the action | " three nights and three days.
The way was long, the wind was cold,
The Minstrel gazed with wishful eye–
When kindness had his wants supplied, And the old man was gratified, Began to rise his minstrel pride: And he began to talk anon, Of good Earl Francis,” dead and gone, And of Earl Walter,” rest him God! A braver ne'er to battle rode; And how full many a tale he knew Of the old warriors of Buccleuch; And, would the noble duchess deign To listen to an old man's strain, Though stiff his hand, his voice though weak, He thought, even yet, the sooth to speak, That, if she loved the harp to hear, He could make music to her ear.
The humble boon was soon obtain'd ; The aged Minstrel audience gain'd. But when he reach d the room of sate, Where she with all her ladies state, Perchance he wish'd his boon denied : For when to tune his harp he tried, His trembling hand had lost the ease Which marks security to please; And scenes, long past, of joy and pain, Came wildering o'er his aged brain– He tried to tune his harp in vain. The pitying duchess praised its chime, And gave him heart, and gave him time, Till every string's according blee Was blended into harmony. And then he said, he would full fain He could recal an ancient strain, He never thought to sing again. It was not framed for village churls, But for high dames and mighty earls; He had play d it to king Charles the Good, When he kept court in Holyrood; And much he wish'd, yet fear'd to try The long-forgotten melody. Amid the strings his fingers stray'd, And an uncertain warbling made, And oft he shook his hoary head.
• Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth, representative of the ancient lords of Buccleuch, and widow of the unfortunate James, Duke of Monmouth, who was beheaded in 1685.
* Francis Scott, Earl of Buccleuch, father to the duchess.
* Walter, Earl of Buccleuch, grandfather to the duchess, and a celebrated warrior.
But when he caught the measure wild,
LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL.
- i. The feast was over in Branksome tower, (1) And the Ladye had gone to her secret bower; Her bower that was guarded by word and by spell, Deadly to hear and deadly to tell– Jesu Maria shield us well ! No living wight, save the Ladye alone, llad dared to cross the threshold stone.
II. The tables were drawn, it was idlesse all; Knight, and page, and household squire, Loiter'd through the lofty hall, Or crowded round the ample fire. The stag-hounds, weary with the chace, Lay stretch'd upon the rushy floor, And urged in dreams the forest race, From Teviot-stone to Eskdale-moor.
Nine-and-twenty knights of fame
Hunt; their shields in Branksome-hall; (2) Nine-and-twenty squires of name
Brought them their steeds from bower to stall; Nine-and-twenty yeomen tall Waited duteous on them all : They were all knights of mettle true, Kinsmen to the bold Buccleuch.
IV. Ten of them were sheathed in steel, With belted sword, and spur on heel: They quitted not their harness bright, Neither by day, nor yet by night: They lay down to rest With corslet laced, Pillow'd on buckler cold and hard; They carved at the meal With gloves of steel, And they drank the red wine through the helmet barr'd.
From the sound of Teviot's tide,
The Ladye knew it well!
And he call'd on the Spirit of the Fell.
XV. Riven spirit. • Sleep'st thou, brother?» Mountain spirit. —a Brother, nay— On my hills the moon-beams play, From Craig-cross to Skelfhill-pen, By every rill, in every glen, Merry elves their morrice pacing, To aerial minstrelsy, Emerald rings on brown heath tracing, Trip it deft and merrily, Up, and mark their nimble feet! Up, and list their music sweet!.
xvi. River spirit.
• Tears of an imprison'd maiden
Mix with my polluted stream; Margaret of Branksome, sorrow-laden,
Mourns beneath the moon's pale beam. Tell me, thou, who view'st the stars, When shall cease these feudal jars? What shall be the maiden's fate? Who shall be the maiden's mate?.
* Arthur's slow wain his course doth roll
But no kind influence deign they shower
On Teviot's tide, and Branksome's tower, Till pride be quell'd, and love be free.
xWiii. The unearthly voices ceased, And the heavy sound was still:— It died on the river's breast, It died on the side of the hill. But round Lord David's tower The sound still floated near; For it rung in the Ladye's bower, And it rung in the Ladye's ear. She raised her stately head, And her heart throbb'd high with pride:— “Your mountains shall bend, And your streams ascend, Fre Margaret be our foeman's bride!»
XIX. The Ladye sought the lofty hall, Where many a bold retainer lay,
And, with jocund din, among them all,
XX. The Ladye forgot her purpose high One moment—and no more; One moment gazed with a mother's eye, As she paused at the arched door: Then, from amid the armed train, She call'd to her William of Deloraine. (15)
XXI. A stark moss-trooping Scott was he, As e'er couch'd Border lance by knee: Through Solway sands, through Tarrass moss, Blindfold he knew the paths to cross; By wily turns, by desperate bounds, Had baffled Percy's best blood-hounds; (16) In Eske, or Liddel, fords were none, But he would ride them, one by one; Alike to him was time or tide, December's snow, or July's pride; Alike to him was tide or time, Moonless midnight, or matin prime: Steady of heart and stout of hand, As ever drove prey from Cumberland; Five times outlawed had he been, By England's king and Scotland's queen.
• Sir William of Deloraine, good at need,
Say, that the fated hour is come,
To win the treasure of the tomb : For this will be St Michael's night, And, though stars be dim, the moon is bright; And the cross, of bloody red, Will point to the grave of the Mighty Dead.
xxiv. • 0 swiftly can speed my dapple-tray steed, Which drinks of the Teviot clear ! Ere break of day,” the warrior 'gan say, “Again will I be here: And safer by none may thy errand be done, Than, noble dame, by me; Letter nor line know I never a one, Were 't my neck-verse at Hairibee.”
xxv. Soon in his saddle sate he fast, Aud soon the steep descent he past, Soon cross'd the sounding barbican,” And soon the Teviot side he won. Eastward the wooded path he rode, Green hazels o'er his basnet nod; He pass'd the Peel3 of Goldiland, And cross'd old Borthwick's roaring strand; Dimly he view'd the Moat-hill's mound, (17) Where Druid shades still slitted round: In Hawick twinkled many a light; Behind him soon they set in night; And soon he spurr'd his courser keen, Beneath the tower of Hazeldean. (18)
The clattering hoofs the watchmen mark;• Stand, ho! thou courier of the dark.” • For Branksome, ho!» the knight rejoin'd, And left the friendly tower behind. He turn'd him now from Teviot side
And, guided by the tinkling rill,
And gain'd the moor at Horsliehill;
xxvii. A moment now he slack'd his speed, A monent breathed his panting steed, Drew saddle-girth and corslet band, And loosen'd in the sheath his brand. On Minto—crags the moon-beams glint, (19) where Barnhill hew'd his bed of flint; who flung his outlaw'd limbs to rest Where falcons hang their giddy nest, Mid cliffs from whence his eagle eye For many a league his prey could spy; Cliffs, doubling, on their echoes borne, The terrors of the robber's horn; Cliffs which, for many a later year, The warbling Doric reed shall hear, When some sad swain shall teach the grove Ambition is no cure for love!
xxviii. Unchallenged, thence pass'd Deloraine To ancient Riddel's fair domain, (zo) Where Aill, from mountains freed,
"Hai-u-e, the place of executing the Border marauders, at Car
Down from the lakes did raving come,
xxix. At the first plunge the horse sunk low, And the I water broke o'er the saddle-bow; Above the foaming tide, I ween, Scarce half the charger's neck was seen; For he was barded" from counter to tail, And the rider was arm'd complete in mail: Never heavier man and horse Stemm'd a midnight torrent's force. The warrior's very plume, I say, Was daggled by the dashing spray; Yet, through good heart and Our Ladye's grace, At length he gain'd the landing-place.
Now Bowden Moor the march-man won,
And sternly shook his plumed head, As glanced his eye o'er Halidon;” (21)
For on his soul the slaughter red Of that unhallow'd morn arose, When first the Scott and Car were foes; When royal James beheld the fray Prize to the victor of the day; When Home and Douglas, in the van, Bore down Buccleuch's retiring clan, Till gallant Cessford's heart-blood dear Reek'd on dark Elliot's Border spear.
xxxi. In bitter mood he spurred fast, And soon the hated heath was past; And far beneath, in lustre wan, Old Melros' rose, and fair Tweed ran: (22) Like some tall rock, with lichens gray, Rose, dimly huge, the dark abbaye. When Hawick he pass'd, had curfew rung, Now midnight lauds" were in Melrose sung. The sound upon the fitful gale, In solemn wise did rise and fail, Like that wild harp, whose magic tone is waken'd by the winds alone. But when Melrose he reach'd, 't was silence all; he meetly stabled his steed in stall, And sought the convent's lonely wall.
Hene paused the harp; and with its swell The master's fire and courage fell: Dejectedly, and low, he bow’d, And, gazing timid on the crowd, He seem'd to seek, in every eye, If they approved his minstrelsy; And, diffident of present praise, Somewhat he spoke of former days, And how old age, and wandering long, Had done his hand and harp some wrong.
too. The e-o-terre is the beginning of the 51st psalm, Miserere
i -, *------ally read by criminals claiming the benefit of clergy. ******, the defence of the outer gate of a feudal castle. * P- a Border tower, *** **** Roman road, crossing through part of Roxburghshire.
1 Barded, or barbed, -applied to a horse accoutred with defensive artnour.
• Italidon-hill, on which the battle of Melrose was fought.
* Lauds, the midnight service of the catholic church.