Walter Scott.

The poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet online

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From its tall rock look grimly down.
And on the swelling ocean frown ;
Then from the mast they bore away,
And reached the Holy Island's bay.

The tide did now its flood-mark gain.

And girdled in the Saint's domain :

For, with the flow and ebb. its style

Varies from continent to isle :

Dry shod, o'er sands, twice everv day

The pilgrims to the shrine find u'a\ :

Twice every day the wa\

Of staves and sandalled feet the I

As to the poll the galley tlew.

Higher and higher rose to view

The castle with its battled walls.

The ancient monastery'! halls.

A solemn, huge, and dark-red pile,
Placed on the margin of the isle.

In Saxon strength that abbey frowned.
With mas- - broad and round.

That rose alternate, row and row.

On ponderous columns, short and low.
Built ere the art was known.

B\ pointed aisle and shafted stalk

The arcades of an alleyed walk
To emulate in stone.
On the deep walls the heathen Dane
Had poured his impious rage in vain :
And needful was such strength to t!
Exposed to the tempest \i>
Scourged by the winds' eternal sway.
Open to rovers fierce as they.
Which could twelve hundred years with-
Winds, waves, and northern pirates' hand.
Not but that portions of the pile,
Rebuilded in a later style.
Showed where the spoiler's hand had been ;
Not but the wasting sea-breeze keen
Had worn the pillar's carving quaint.
And mouldered in his niche the saint.
And rounded with consuming power
The pointed angles of each tower :
Yet still entire the abbey stood,
Like veteran, worn, but unsubdued.


Soon as they neared his turrets strong.
The maidens raised Saint Hilda's song,



And with the sea-wave and the wind
Their voices, sweetly shrill, combined,

And made harmonious close ;
Then, answering from the sandy shore,
Half-drowned amid the breakers' roar,

According chorus rose :

Down to the haven of the Isle
The monks and nuns in order file
From Cuthbert's cloisters grim ;
Banner, and cross, and relics there,
To meet Saint Hilda's maids, they bare;
And, as they caught the sounds on air,



They echoed back the hymn.
The islanders in joyous mood
Rushed emulously through the flood

To hale the bark to land ;
Conspicuous by her veil and hood,
Signing the cross, the Abbess stood.

And blessed them with her hand.


Suppose we now the welcome said,
Suppose the convent banquet made :

All through the holy dome,
Through cloister, aisle, and gallery,
Wherever vestal maid might pry,
Nor risk to meet unhallowed eye,

The stranger sisters roam ;
Till fell the evening damp with dew,
And the sharp sea-breeze coldly blew,
For there even summer night is chill.
Then, having strayed and gazed their fill,

They closed around the fire ;
And all, in turn, essayed to paint
The rival merits of their saint,

A theme that ne'er can tire
A holy maid, for be it known
That their saint's honor is their own.


Then Whitby's nuns exulting told
How to their house three barons bold

Must menial service do,
While horns blow out a note of shame,
And monks cry, ' Fie upon your name !
In wrath, for loss of sylvan game,

Saint Hilda's priest ye slew.' —
' This, on Ascension-day, each year
While laboring on our harbor-pier,
Must Herbert, Bruce, and Percy hear.' —
They told how in their convent-cell
A Saxon princess once did dwell,

The lovely Edelfled ;
And how, of thousand snakes, each one
Was changed into a coil of stone

When holy Hilda prayed :
Themselves, within their holy bound,
Their stony folds had often found.

They told how sea-fowls* pinions fail,
As over Whitby's towers they sail.
And, sinking down, with fluttering* faint.
They do their homage to the saint.


Nor did Saint Cuthbert's daughters fail
To vie with these in holy talc ;
His body's resting-place, of old.
How oft their patron changed, they told ;
How, when the rude Dane burned their pile,
The monks fled forth from Holy Isle :
O'er Northern mountain, marsh, and moor.
From sea to sea, from shore to shore,
Seven years Saint Cuthbert's corpse they

They rested them in fair Meln

But though, alive, he loved it well.

Not there his relics might repo-
For, wondrous tale to tell I

In his stone coffin forth he rides.

A ponderous bark for river tides,

Yet light as gossamer it glides
Downward to Tilmouth cell.
Nor long was his abiding there
For southward did the saint repair -.
Chester-le-Street and Ripon saw
His holy corpse ere Wardilaw

Hailed him with joy and fear ;
And, after many wanderings past.
He chose his lordly seat at last
Where his cathedral, huge and vast.

Looks down upon the Wear.
There, deep in Durham's Gothic shade,
His relics are in secret laid ;

But none may know the place,
Save of his holiest servants three.
Deep sworn to solemn secrecy,

Who share that wondrous grace.

Who may his miracles declare ?
Even Scotland's dauntless king and heir —

Although with them they led
Galwegians, wild as ocean's gale,
And Loden's knights, all sheathed in mail,



And the bold men of Teviotdale —

Before his standard fled.
'T was he, to vindicate his reign,
Edged Alfred's falchion on the Dane,
And turned the Conqueror back again,
When, with his Norman bowyer band,
He came to waste Northumberland.

But fain Saint Hilda's nuns would learn
If on a rock, by Lindisfarne,
Saint Cuthbert sits, and toils to frame
The sea-born beads that bear his name :
Such tales had Whitby's fishers told,
And said they might his shape behold,

And hear his anvil sound :
A deadened clang, — a huge dim form,
Seen but, and heard, when gathering storm

And night were closing round.
But this, as tale of idle fame,
The nuns of Lindisfarne disclaim.

While round the fire such legends go,
Far different was the scene of woe
Where, in a secret aisle beneath,
Council was held of life and death.
It was more dark and lone, that vault,

Than the worst dungeon cell :
Old Colwulf built it, for his faul*
In penitence to dwell.

When he for cowl and beads laid down
The Saxon battle-axe and crown.
This den, which, chilling every sense

Of feeling, hearing, sight,
Was called the Vault of Penitence,

Excluding air and light,
Was by the prelate Sexhelm made
A place of burial for such dead
As, having died in mortal sin,
Might not be laid the church within.
'T was now a place of punishment ;
Whence if so loud a shriek were sent

As reached the upper air,
The hearers blessed themselves, and said
The spirits of the sinful dead

Bemoaned their torments there.


But though, in the monastic pile.
Did of this penitential aisle

Some vague tradition go,
Few only, save the Abbot, knew
Where the place lay, and still more few
Were those who had from him the clew

To that dread vault to go.
Victim and executioner
Were blindfold when transported there.
In low dark rounds the arches hung,
From the rude rock the side-walls sprung ;
The gravestones, rudely sculptured o'er.
Half sunk in earth, by time half wore,



Were all the pavement of the floor;

The mildew-drops fell one by one,

With tinkling plash, upon the stone.

A cresset, in an iron chain,

Which served to light this drear domain,

With damp and darkness seemed to strive,

As if it scarce might keep alive ;

And yet it dimly served to show

The awful conclave met below.


There, met to doom in secrecy,

Were placed the heads of convents three,

All servants of Saint Benedict,

The statutes of whose order strict

On iron table lay ;
In long black dress, on seats of stone,
Behind were these three judges shown

By the pale cresset's ray.
The Abbess of Saint Hilda's there
Sat for a space with visage bare,
Until, to hide her bosom's swell,
And tear-drops that for pity fell,

She closely drew her veil ;
Yon shrouded figure, as I guess,
By her proud mien and flowing dress,
Is Tynemouth's haughty Prioress,

And she with awe looks pale ;
And he, that ancient man, whose sight
Has long been quenched by age's night,
Upon whose wrinkled brow alone
Nor ruth nor mercy's trace is shown,

Whose look is hard and stern, —
Saint Cuthbert's Abbot is his style,
For sanctity called through the isle

The Saint of Lindisfarne.


Before them stood a guilty pair ;
But, though an equal fate they share.
Yet one alone deserves our care.
Her sex a page's dress belied ;
The cloak and doublet, loosely tied,
Obscured her charms, but could not hide.

Her cap down o'er her face she drew ;
And, on her doublet breast,

She tried to hide the badge of blue,
Lord Marmion's falcon crest.
But, at the prioress' command,
A monk undid the silken band

That tied her tresses fair,
And raised the bonnet from her head,
And down her slender form they spread

In ringlets rich and rare.
Constance de Beverley they know,
Sister professed of Fontevraud,
Whom the Church numbered with the dead,
For broken vows and convent fled.


When thus her face was given to view, —

Although so pallid was her hue.

It did a ghastly contrast bear

To those bright ringlets glistering fair. —

Her look composed, and steady eye,

Bespoke a matchless constanc v :

And there she stood so calm and pale

That, but her breathing did not fail.

And motion slight of eye and head,

And of her bosom, warranted

That neither sense nor pulse she lacks.

You might have thought a form of wax.

Wrought to the very life, was there:

So still she was. so pale, so fair.


Her comrade was a sordid soul.

Such as does murder for a nurd ;
Who, but of fear, knows no control,
Because his conscience, seared and foul.

Feels not the import of his ilwd :
One whose brute-feeling ne'er aspires
Beyond his own snore brute desires.
Such tools the Tempter ever needs
To do the savagest of deeds ;
For them no visioned terrors daunt,
Their nights no fancied spectres haunt ;
One fear with them, of all most base,
The fear of death, alone finds place.
This wretch was clad in frock and cowl,
And shamed not loud to moan and howl,
His body on the floor to clash.
And crouch, like hound beneath the lash :
While his mute partner, standing near,
Waited her doom without a tear.


Yet well the luckless wretch might shriek,
Well might her paleness terror speak !
For there were seen in that dark wall
Two niches, narrow, deep, and tall ; —
Who enters at such grisly door
Shall ne'er, I ween, find exit more.
In each a slender meal was laid,
Of roots, of water, and of bread ;
By each, in Benedictine dress,
Two haggard monks stood motionless,
Who, holding high a blazing torch,
Showed the grim entrance of the porch :
Reflecting back the smoky beam,
The dark-red walls and arches gleam.
Hewn stones and cement were displayed.
And building tools in order laid.


These executioners were chose

As men who were with mankind foes,

And, with despite and envy fired,



Into the cloister had retired,

Or who, in desperate doubt of grace,
Strove by deep penance to efface

Of some foul crime the stain ;
For, as the vassals of her will,

Such men the Church selected still
As either joyed in doing ill,
Or thought more grace to gain
If in her cause they wrestled down
Feelings their nature strove to own. I



By strange device were they brought there.
They knew not how, and knew not where.


And now that blind old abbot rose,

To speak the Chapter's doom
On those the wall was to enclose

Alive within the tomb,
But stopped because that woful maid,
Gathering her powers, to speak essayed;
Twice she essayed, and twice in vain,
Her accents might no utterance gain ;
Nought but imperfect murmurs slip
From her convulsed and quivering lip :

'Twixt each attempt all was so still.

You seemed to hear a distant rill —
'T was ocean's swells and falls ;

For though this vault of sin and fear

Was to the sounding surge so near,

A tempest there you scarce could hear,
So massive were the walls.


At length, an effort sent apart

The blood that curdled to her heart,

And light came to her eye,
And color dawned upon her cheek,
A hectic and a fluttered streak,
Like that left on the Cheviot peak-
By Autumn's stormy sky ;
And when her silence broke at length,
Still as she spoke she gathered strength,

And armed herself to bear.
It was a fearful sight to see
Such high resolve and constancy
In form so soft and fair.


4 I speak not to implore your grace,
Well know I for one minute's space

Successless might 1 sue :
Nor do I speak your prayers to gain ;
For if a death of lingering pain
To cleanse my sins be penance vain,

Vain are your masses too. —
I listened to a traitor's tale,
I left the convent and the veil ;
For three long years I bowed my pride.
A horse-boy in his train to ride ;
And well my folly's meed he gave.
Who forfeited, to be his slave,
All here, and all beyond the grave.
He saw young Clara's face more fair,
He knew her of broad lands the heir,
Forgot his vows, his faith forswore,
And Constance was beloved no more.

'T is an old tale, and often told ;
But did my fate and wish agree,

Ne'er had been read, in story old,

Of maiden true betrayed for gold,
That loved, or was avenged, like me I


1 The king approved his favorite's aim :
In vain a rival barred his claim,

Whose fate with/Clare's was plight,
For he attaints that rival's fame
With treason's charge — and on they came

In mortal lists to fight
Their oaths are said,
Their prayers are prayed,
Their lances in the rest are laid.

They meet in mortal shock ;
And hark ! the throng, with thundering cry,
Shout " Marmion. Marmion! to the Bky,

De Wilton to the block
Say, ye who preach Heaven shall d<
When in the lists two champions ride.

Say, was Heaven's justice here?
When, loyal in his love and faith.
Wilton found overthrow or death

Beneath a traitor's spear ?
How false the charge, how true he tell.
This guilty packet best can tell.'
Then drew a packet from her breast,
Paused, gathered voice, and spoke the rest.


' Still was false Marmion's bridal stayed ;
To Whitby's convent fled the maid,

The hated match to shun.
" Ho ! shifts she thus ? " King Henry cried.
" Sir Marmion, she shall be thy bricfe,

If she were sworn a nun."
One way remained — the king's command
Sent Marmion to the Scottish land ;
I lingered here, and rescue planned

For Clara and for me :
This caitiff monk for gold did swear
He would to Whitby's shrine repair.
And by his drugs my rival fair

A saint in heaven should be ;
But ill the dastard kept his oath,
Whose cowardice hath undone us both.


' And now my tongue the secret tells,
Not that remorse my bosom swells,
But to assure my soul that none
Shall ever wed with Marmion.
Had fortune my last hope betrayed,
This packet, to the king conveyed,
Had given him to the headsman's stroke,
Although my heart that instant broke. —
Now, men of death, work forth your will.
For I can suffer, and be still ;
And come he slow, or come he fast,
It is but Death who comes at last.


8 5


1 Yet dread me from my living: tomb,
Ye vassal slaves of bloody Rome !
If Marmion's late remorse should wake,
Full soon such vengeance will he take
That you shall wish the fiery Dane
Had rather been your guest again.
Behind, a darker hour ascends !
The altars quake, the crosier bends,
The ire of a despotic king
Rides forth upon destruction's wing ;
Then shall these vaults, so strong and deep,
Hurst open to the sea-winds' sweep;
Some traveller then shall find my bones
Whitening amid disjointed stones,
And, ignorant of priests' cruelty,
Marvel such relics here should be.'


Fixed was her look and stern her air :
Back from her shoulders streamed her hair
The locks that wont her brow to shade
Stared up erectly from her head ;
Her figure seemed to rise more high ;
Her voice despair's wild energy
Had given a tone of prophecy.
Appalled the astonished conclave sate ;
With stupid eyes, the men of fate
Gazed on the light inspired form,
And listened for the avenging storm ;
The judges felt the victinrs dread ;
No hand was moved, no word was said,
Till thus the abbot's doom was given,
Raising his sightless balls to heaven :
1 Sister, let thy sorrows cease ;

Sinful brother, part in peace ! '

From that dire dungeon, place of doom,
Of execution too, and tomb,

Paced forth the judges three ;.
Sorrow it were and shame to tell
The butcher-work that there befell,
When they had glided from the cell
Of sin and misery.


An hundred winding steps convey
That conclave to the upper day ;
But ere they breathed the fresher air
They heard the shriekings of despair,

And many a stifled groan.
With speed their upward way they take, —
Such speed as age and fear can make, —
And crossed themselves for terror's sake,

As hurrying, tottering on,
Even in the vesper's heavenly tone
They seemed to hear a dying groan,
And bade the passing knell to toll
For welfare of a parting soul.
Slow o'er the midnight wave it swung,
Northumbrian rocks in answer rung ;
To Warkworth cell the echoes rolled,
His beads the wakeful hermit told ;
The Bamborough peasant raised his head,
But slept ere half a prayer he said ;
So far was heard the mighty knell,
The stag sprung up on Cheviot Fell,
Spread his broad nostril to the wind,
Listed before, aside, behind,
Then couched him down beside the hind,
And quaked among the mountain fern,
To hear that sound so dull and stern.






Ashcstiel, Ettrick Forest.

Like April morning clouds, that pass
With varying shadow o'er the grass,
And imitate on field and furrow
Life's checkered scene of joy and sorrow ;
Like streamlet of the mountain north,
Now in a torrent racing forth,
Now winding slow its silver train,
And almost slumbering on the plain ;
Like breezes of the autumn day,
Whose voice inconstant dies away,
And ever swells again as fast
When the ear deems its murmur past ;
Thus various; my romantic theme
Flits, winds, or sinks, a morning dream.
Yet pleased, our eye pursues the trace
Of Light and Shade's inconstant race ;
Pleased, views the rivulet afar,
Weaving its maze irregular ;
And pleased, we listen as the breeze
Heaves its wild sigh through Autumn trees :
Then, wild as cloud, or stream, or gale,
Flow on, flow unconfined, my tale !

Need I to thee, dear Erskine, tell
I love the license all too well,
In sounds now lowly, and now strong,
To raise the desultory song?
Oft, when mid such capricious chime
Some transient fit of loftier rhyme
To thy kind judgment seemed excuse
For many an error of the muse,
Oft hast thou said, ' If, still misspent,
Thine hours to poetry are lent,
Go, and to tame thy wandering course,
Quaff from the fountain at the source ;
Approach those masters o'er whose tomb
Immortal laurels ever bloom :
Instructive of the feebler bard,
Still from the grave their voice is heard ;
From them, and from the paths they showed,

Choose honored guide and practised road :
Nor ramble on through brake and maze.
With harpers rude of barbarous days.

'Or deem'st thou not our later time-
Yields topic meet for classic rhyme ?
Hast thou no elegiac verse
For Brunswick's venerable hearse ?
What ! not a line, a tear, a sigh,
When valor bleeds for liberty? —
Oh, hero of that glorious time,
When, with unrivalled light sublime, —
Though martial Austria, and though all
The might of Russia, and the Gaul,
Though banded Europe stood her foes —
The star of Brandenburg arose !
Thou couldst not live to see her beam
Forever quenched in Jena's stream.
Lamented chief! — it was not given
To thee to change the doom of Heaven.
And crush that dragon in its birth,
Predestined scourge of guilty earth.
Lamented chief ! — not thine the power
To save in that presumptuous hour
When Prussia hurried to the field,
And snatched the spear, but left the shield !
Valor and skill 't was thine to try,
And, tried in vain, 't was thine to die.
Ill had it seemed thy silver hair
The last, the bitterest pang to share,
For princedoms reft, and scutcheons riven,
And birthrights to usurpers given ;
Thy land's, thy children's wrongs to feel
And witness woes thou couldst not heal !
On thee relenting Heaven bestows
For honored life an honored close ;
And when revolves, in time's sure change,
The hour of Germany's revenge,
When, breathing fury for her sake,
Some new Arminius shall awake,
Her champion, ere he strike, shall come
To whet his sword on Brunswick's tomb.

' Or of the Red-Cross hero teach,
Dauntless in dungeon as on breach.
Alike to him the sea, the shore,
The brand, the bridle, or the oar :
Alike to him the war that calls
Its votaries to the shattered walls
Which the grim Turk, besmeared with blood,
Against the Invincible made good ;
Or that whose thundering voice could wake
The silence of the polar lake,
When stubborn Russ and mettled Swede
On the warped wave their death-game

played ;
Or that where Vengeance and Affright
Howled round the father of the fight,
Who snatched on Alexandria's sand
The conqueror's wreath with dying hand.



1 Or, if to touch such chord be thine,
Restore the ancient tragic line,
And emulate the notes that rung
From the wild harp which silent hung
By silver Avon's holy shore
Till twice an hundred years rolled o'er;
When she, the bold Enchantress, came,
With fearless hand and heart on flame,
From the pale willow snatched the treasure,
And swept it with a kindred measure,
Till Avon's swans, while rung the grove
With Montfort's hate and Basil's love,
Awakening at the inspired strain,
Deemed their own Shakespeare lived again.'

Thy friendship thus thy judgment wrong-
With praises not to me belonging,
In task more meet for mightiest powers
Wouldst thou engage my thriftless hours.
But say* my Erskine, hast thou weighed
That secret power by all obeyed,
Which warps not less the passive mind,
Its source concealed or undefined;
Whether an impulse, that has birth
Soon as the infant wakes on earth,
One with our feelings and our powers,
And rather part of us than ours ;
Or whether fitlier termed the sway
Of habit, formed in early day ?
Howe'er derived, its force confessed
Rules with despotic sway the breast,
And drags us on by viewless chain,
While taste and reason plead in vain.
Look east, and ask the Belgian why,
Beneath Batavia's sultry sky,
He seeks not eager to inhale
The freshness of the mountain gale,
Content to rear his whitened wall
Beside the dank and dull canal ?
He'll say, from youth he loved to see
The white sail gliding by the tree.
Or see yon weather-beaten hind,
Whose 'sluggish herds before him wind,
Whose tattered plaid and rugged cheek
His northern clime and kindred speak;
Through England's laughing meads he goes,
And England's wealth around him flows ;
Ask if it would content him well,
At ease in those gay plains to dwell,
Where hedge-rows spread a verdant screen,
And spires and forests intervene,
And the neat cottage peeps between ?
No ! not for these will he exchange
His dark Lochaber's boundless range,
Not for fair Devon's meads forsake
Ben Nevis gray and Garry's lake.

Thus while I ape the measure wild
Of tales that charmed me yet a child,
Rude though they be, still with the chime

Return the thoughts of early time ;

And feelings, roused in life's first day,

Glow in the line and prompt the lay.

Then rise those crags, that mountain tower,

Which charmed my fancy's wakening hour.

Though no broad river swept along,

To claim, perchance, heroic song,

Though sighed no groves in summer gale,

To prompt of love a softer tale,

Though scarce a puny streamlet's speed

Claimed homage from a shepherd's reed,

Yet was poetic impulse given

By the green hill and clear blue heaven.

It was a barren scene and wild,

W T here naked cliffs were rudely piled,

But ever and anon between

Lay velvet tufts of loveliest green ;

And well the lonely infant knew

Recesses where the wall-flower grew,

And honeysuckle loved to crawl

Up the low crag and ruined wall.

I deemed such nooks the sweetest shade

The sun in all its round surveyed ;

And still I thought that shattered tower

The mightiest work of human power,

And marvelled as the aged hind

With some strange tale bewitched my mind

Of forayers, who with headlong force

Down from that strength had spurred their

Their southern rapine to renew

Online LibraryWalter ScottThe poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet → online text (page 9 of 78)