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THE Poem, now offered to the Public, is intended to illustrate the customs and manmers, 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 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, authorizes the change 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 origimal 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 those 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,
The unpremeditated lay:
Old times were changed, old manners gone;
A stranger filled the Stuart's 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 migh.
With hesitating step, at last,
The embattled portal-arch he passed,
Whose ponderous grate and massy bar
Had oft rolled back the tide of war,
But never closed the iron door
Against the desolate and poor.
The Dutchess" 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 of power, in beauty's bloom,
Had wept o'er Monmouth'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 amon,
Of good Earl Francis,t dead and gone,
And of Earl Walter,t rest him God!
A braver ne'er to battle rode:
And how full many a tale he knew,
Of the old warriors of Buccleuch;
* Anne, Dutchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth, rep. resentative of the ancient lords of Buccleuch, and widow of the unfortunate James, Duke of Monmouth, who was beheaded in 1685.
t Francis Scott, Earl of Buccleuch, father of the Dutchess.
f Walter, Earl of Buccleuch, grandfather of the ontchess, and a celebrated warrior,
And, would the noble Dutchess 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 obtained;
The aged Minstrel audience gained.
But, when he reached 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 Dutchess 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 in Holy Rood;
And much he wished, yet feared, to try
The long-forgotten melody.