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The Poem 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 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 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 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.
way was long, the wind was cold,
The harp, his sole remaining joy, : Was carried by an orphan boy.
The last of all the Bards was he,
And he, neglected and oppress'd,
The bigots of the iron time
The humble boon was soon obtain'd; Had call'd his harmless art a crime. The aged Minstrel audience gain'd. A wandering Harper, scorn’d and poor, But, when he reach'd the room of He begg'd his bread from door to door,
state, And tuned, to please a peasant's ear,
Where she with all her ladies sate, The harp a king had loved to hear. Perchance he wish'd his boon denied :
For, when to tune his harp he tried, He pass'd where Newark's stately
His trembling hand had lost the ease, tower
Which marks security to please ; Looks out from Yarrow's birchen
And scenes long past, of joy and pain, bower :
Came wildering o'er his aged brainThe Minstrel gazed with wishful eye
He tried to tune his harp in vain ! No humbler resting-place was nigh ;
The pitying Duchess prais'd its With hesitating step at last
chime, The embattled portal arch he pass'd,
And gave him heart, and gave him Whose ponderous grate and massy bar
time, Had oft rollid back the tide of war,
Till every string's according glee But never closed the iron door
Was blended into harmony.
And then, he said, he would full fain
He could recall an ancient strain His timid mien, and reverend face,
He never thought to sing again. And bade her page the menials tell
It was not framed for village churls, That they should tend the old man
But for high dames and mighty earls; well :
He had play'd it to King Charles the For she had known adversity,
Good, Though born in such a high degree;
When he kept court in Holyrood; In pride of power, in beauty's bloom, Had wept o’er Monmouth's bloody The long-forgotten melody.
And much he wish'd, yet fear'd, to try tomb !
Amid the strings his fingers stray'd, When kindness had his wants sup And an uncertain warbling made, plied,
And oft he shook his hoary head. And the old man was gratified, But when he caught the measure Began to rise his minstrei pride : And he began to talk anon
The old man rais’d his face, and Of good Earl Francis, dead and gone,
smil'd; And of Earl Walter, rest him, God ! And lighten'd up his faded eye A braver ne'er to battle rode;
With all a poet's ecstasy. And how full many a tale he knew In varying cadence, soft or strong, Of the old warriors of Buccleuch : He swept the sounding chords along: And, would the noble Duchess deign The present scene, the future lot, To listen to an old man's strain, His toils, his wants, were all forgot; Though stiff his hand, his voice though Cold diffidence, and age's frost, weak,
In the full tide of song were lost; He thought even yet, the sooth to Each blank, in faithless memory void, speak,
The poet's glowing thought supplied; That, if she loved the harp to hear, And, while his harp responsive rung, He could make music to her ear. 'Twas thus the LATEST MINSTREL sung.
Knight, and page, and household
squire, Loiter'd through the lofty hall,
Or crowded round the ample fire: The stag-hounds, weary with the
chase, Lay stretch'd upon the rushy floor, And urg'd, in dreams, the forest race
From Teviot-stone to Eskdale-moor.
Why do these steeds stand ready
dight ? Why watch these warriors, arm’d, by
night ? They watch to hear the blood-hound
baying: They watch to hear the war-horn
braying; Tosee St. George'sredcrossstreaming, 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
VII. Such is the custom of Branksome Hall.
Many a valiant knight is here;
Beside his broken spear.