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THE LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL.
A POEM. IN SIX CANTOS.
“Dum relego, scripsisse pudet ; quia plurima cerno,
Me quoque, qui feci, judice, digna lini."
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
CHARLES, EARL OF DALKEITH,
THIS POEM IS INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHOR,
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION, 1805. 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
f constant depredation with the influence of a rude spirit of chivalry, were often engaged in scenes highly susceptible of poetical ornament. As the description of scenery and 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 changes of rhythm in the text. The machinery also, adopted from popular belief, would have seemed puerile in a poem, which did not partake of the rudeness of the old Ballad, or Metrical Romance.
For these reasons, the Poem was put into the mouth of 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 actually flourished. The time occupied by the action is three nights and three days,
The way was long, the wind was cold,
The Minstrel was infirm and old;
His withered cheek, and tresses gray,
Seemed to have known a better day;
The harp, his sole remaining joy,
Was carried by an orphan boy:
The last of all the Bards was he,
Who sung of Border chivalry;
For, well-a-day! their date was fled,
His tuneful brethren all were dead;
And he, neglected and oppressed,
Wished to be with them, and at rest.
No more, on prancing palfrey borne,
He carolled, light as lark at morn;
No longer, courted and caressed,
High placed in hall, a welcome guest,
He poured, to lord and lady gay,
Thc unpremeditated lay :
Old times were changed, old manners gone;
A stranger filled the Stuarts' throne;
The bigots of the iron time
Had called his harmless art a crime.
A wandering harper, scorned and poor,
He begged his bread from door to door;
And tuned, to please a peasant's ear,
The harp a King had loved to hear.
He passed where Newark's stately tower
Looks out from Yarrow's birchen bower:
The Minstrel gazed with wishful eye-
No humbler resting-place was nigh.
With hesitating step, at last,
The embattled portal-arch he passed,
Whose ponderous grate, and massy bar,
Had oft rolleci back the tide of war,
But never closed the iron door
Against the desolate and poor.
The Duchess marked his weary pace,
His timid mien, and reverend face,
And bade her page the menials tell,
That they should tend the old man well.
For she had known adversity,
Though born in such a high degree;
In pride or power, in beauty's bloom,
Had wept o'er Níonmouth's bloody tomb!
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 Eari Francis, dead and gone,
And of Earl Walter, rest liim, 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 thouglit e'en yet, the sooth to speak,
That, if she loved the larp to hear,
He could make music to her ear.
The humble boon was soon obtained ;
The Aged Minstrel audience gained.
But, when he reacheď the room of state,
Where she, with all her ladies, sate,
Perchance he wished 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 glee
Was blended into harmony.
And then, he said, he would full fain
He could recall 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 played it to King Charles the Good,
When he kept court at IIolyrood;
And much he wished, yet feared, to try
The long-forgotten melody.
Amid the strings his fingers strayed,
And an uncertain warbling made-
And oft he shook his hoary head:
But when he caught the measure wild,
The old man raised his face, and smiled;
And lightened up his faded eye,
With all a poet's ecstasy!
In varying cadence, sost or strong,
He swept the sounding chords along:
The present scene, the future lot,
His toils, his wants, were all forgot:
Cold diffidence, and age's frost,
In the full tide of song were lost:
Each blank, in faithless memory void,
The poet's glowing thought supplied;
And, while his harp responsive rung,
'Twas thus the LATEST MINSTREL sung.
1. THE feast was over in Branksome tower,
And the Ladye had gone to her secret Lower;
Her bower, that was guarded by word are by spell,
Deadly to hear, and ccacl; lu tell--
Jesu Maria, shield us welli
No living wight save the Ladye alone,
Had dared to cross the threshold stone.
2. The tables were drawn, it was idlesse all;
Knight, and page, and household squire.
Loitered through the lofty hall,
Or crowded round the ample fire.
The stag-hounds, weary with the chase
Lay stretched upon the rushy floor,
And urged, in dreams, the forest race,
From Teviot-stone to Eskdale-moor. 3. Nine-and-twenty knights of fame
Hung their shields in Branksome Hall;
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 metal true,
Kinsmen to the bold Buccleuch. 4. 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,
Pillowed on buckler cold and hard;
They carved at the meal
With gloves of steel,
And they drank the red wine through the helmet
5. Ten squires, ten yeomen, mail-clad men,
Waited the beck of the warders ten :
Thirty steeds, both fleet and wight,
Stood saddled in stable day and night,
Barbed with frontlet of steel, I trow,
And with Jedwood-axe at saddle-bow:
A hundred more fed free in stall :-
Such was the custom of Branksome Hall. 6. Why do these steeds stand ready dight?
Why watch these wariors, armed, by night?
They watch, to hear the blood-hound baying;
They watch to hear the war-horn braying;
To see St George's red cross streaming,
To see the midnight beacon gleaming;
They watch, against Southern force and guile,
Lest Scroop, or Howard, or Percy's powers,
Threaten Branksome's lordly towers,
From Warkworth, or Naworth, or merry Carlisle.
7. Such is the custom of Branksome Hall.
Many a valiant knight is here;
But he, the Chieftain of them all,