1805
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Lay of the Last Minstrel: Canto VI.

The Lay of the Last Minstrel, a Poem. By Walter Scott, Esq.

Sir Walter Scott


The sixth and concluding canto begins with the Minstrel's patriotic address to Scotland: "Still, as I view each well known scene, | Think what is now, and what hath been, | Seems as, to me, of all bereft, | Sole friends, thy woods and streams were left" pp. 162-63. The nuptials are soon passed and the poem proceeds to the revelry following: "Their clanging bowls old warriors quaffed, | Loudly they spoke and loudly laughed; | Whispered young knights, in tone more mild, | To ladies fair, and ladies smiled" p. 167. The Goblin Page does his best to stir discord in both hall and buttery. To quell the mischief the Lady summons the minstrels to entertain her guests.

The first to perform is Albert Graeme, a simple border minstrel who relates a ballad in quatrains of the sad end of an English maiden murdered by her brother to prevent her marriage to a Scottish knight. The next is Fitztraver, a courtly poet admired by the Earl of Surrey. He relates a story in Spenserian stanzas of how the banished Surrey was able to view the form of his fair Geraldine by the aid of a magic mirror. The third singer is Harold of St. Clair, an Orcadean bard who sings a wild tale of a maiden drowned: "But the Kelpy rung, and the Mermaid sung, | The dirge of lovely Rosabelle" p. 184.

An uncanny darkness falls over the hall; "The elvish page fell to the ground, | And, shuddering, muttered, 'Found! found! found!'" p. 185. With a flash of lightning, the specter of Michael Scott claims his own; the splendid company is moved to devotion by the awesome spectacle. The Minstrel's tale concludes with a hymn for the dead sung in Melrose Abbey. Scott concludes his poem with a description of the Minstrel comfortably accommodated in his old age by the Duchess of Buccleugh: "And Yarrow, as he rolled along, | Bore burden to the Minstrel's song" p. 194.



I.
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentered all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.

II.
O Caledonia! stern and wild,
Meet nurse for a poetic child!
Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood,
Land of my sires! what mortal hand
Can e'er untie the filial band,
That knits me to thy rugged strand!
Still, as I view each well known scene,
Think what is now, and what hath been,
Seems as, to me, of all bereft,
Sole friends, thy woods and streams were left;
And thus I love them better still,
Even in extremity of ill.
By Yarrow's stream still let me stray,
Though none should guide my feeble way;
Still feel the breeze down Ettricke break,
Although it chill my withered cheek;
Though there, forgotten and alone,
The Bard may draw his parting groan.

III.
Not scorned like me! to Branksome Hall
The Minstrels came, at festive call;
Trooping they came, from near and far,
The jovial priests of mirth and war;
Alike for feast and fight prepared,
Battle and banquet both they shared.
Of late, before each martial clan,
They blew their death-note in the van;
But now, for every merry mate
Rose the Portcullis' iron grate;
They sound the pipe, they strike the string,
They dance, they revel, and they sing,
Till the rude turrets shake and ring.

IV.
Me lists not at this tide declare
The splendour of the spousal rite,
How mustered in the chapel fair
Both maid and matron, squire and knight;
Me lists not tell of owches rare,
Of mantles green, and braided hair,
And kirtles furred with miniver;
What plumage waved the altar round,
How spurs, and ringing chainlets, sound:
And hard it were for bard to speak
The changeful hue of Margaret's cheek;
That lovely hue, which comes and flies,
As awe and shame alternate rise!

V.
Some bards have sung, the Ladye high
Chapel or altar came not nigh;
Nor durst the rites of spousal grace,
So much she feared each holy place.
False slanders these—I trust right well,
She wrought not by forbidden spell;
For, mighty words and signs have power
O'er sprites in planetary hour—
Yet scarce I praise their venturous part,
Who tamper with such dangerous art.
But this for faithful truth I say,
The Ladye by the altar stood,
Of sable velvet her array,
And on her head a crimson hood,
With pearls embroidered and entwined,
Guarded with gold, with ermine lined;
A merlin sat upon her wrist,
Held by a leash of silken twist.

VI.
The spousal rites were ended soon;
'Twas now the merry hour of noon,
And in the lofty-arched hall
Was spread the gorgeous festival:
Steward and squire, with heedful haste,
Marshalled the rank of every guest;
Pages, with ready blade, were there,
The mighty meal to carve and share.
O'er capon, heron-shew, and crane,
And princely peacock's gilded train,
And o'er the boar-head, garnished brave,
And cygnet from St. Mary's wave;
O'er ptarmigan and venison,
The priest had spoke his benison.
Then rose the riot and the din,
Above, beneath, without, within!
For, from the lofty balcony,
Rung trumpet, shalm, and psaltery;
Their clanging bowls old warriors quaffed,
Loudly they spoke, and loudly laughed;
Whispered young knights, in tone more mild,
To ladies fair, and ladies smiled.
The hooded hawks, high perched on beam,
The clamour joined with whistling scream,
And flapped their wings and shook their bells,
In concert with the staghounds' yells.
Round go the flasks of ruddy wine,
From Bordeaux, Orleans, or the Rhine;
Their tasks the busy sewers ply,
And all is mirth and revelry.

VII.
The goblin page, omitting still
No opportunity of ill,
Strove now, while blood ran hot and high,
To rouse debate and jealousy;
Till Conrade, Lord of Wolfenstein,
By nature fierce, and warm with wine,
And now in humour highly crossed,
About some steeds his band had lost,
High words to words succeeding still,
Smote with his gauntlet stout Hunthill;
A hot and hardy Rutherford,
Whom men called Dickon Draw-the-sword.
He took it, on the page's saye,
Hunthill had driven these steeds away.
Then Howard, Home, and Douglas rose,
The kindling discord to compose;
Stern Rutherford right little said,
But bit his glove and shook his head—
A fortnight thence, in Inglewood,
Stout Conrade, cold, and drenched in blood,
His bosom gored with many a wound,
Was by a woodman's lyme-dog found;
Unknown the manner of his death,
Gone was his brand, both sword and sheath;
But ever from that time, 'twas said,
That Dickon wore a Cologne blade.

VIII.
The dwarf, who feared his master's eye
Might his foul treachery espie,
Now sought the castle buttery,
Where many a yeoman, bold and free,
Revelled as merrily and well,
As those that sat in lordly selle.
Watt Tinlinn, there, did frankly raise
The pledge to Arthur Fire-the-braes;
And he, as by his breeding bound,
To Howard's merry-men sent it round.
To quit them, on the English side,
Red Roland Forster loudly cried,
"A deep carouse to yon fair bride!"
At every pledge, from vat and pail,
Foamed forth, in floods, the nut-brown ale;
While shout the riders every one,
Such day of mirth ne'er cheered their clan,
Since old Buckleuch the name did gain,
When in the cleuch the buck was ta'en.

IX.
The wily page, with vengeful thought,
Remembered him of Tinlinn's yew,
And swore, it should be dearly bought
That ever he the arrow drew.
First, he the yeoman did molest,
With bitter gibe and taunting jest;
Told how he fled at Solway strife,
And how Hob Armstrong cheered his wife;
Then, shunning still his powerful arm,
At unawares he wrought him harm;
From trencher stole his choicest cheer,
Dashed from his lips his can of beer;
Then, to his knee sly creeping on,
With bodkin pierced him to the bone:
The venomed wound, and festering joint,
Long after rued that bodkin's point.
The startled yeoman swore and spurned,
And board and flagons overturned;
Riot and clamour wild began;
Back to the hall the urchin ran;
Took, in a darkling nook, his post,
And grinned, and muttered, "Lost! lost! lost!"

X.
By this, the Dame, lest further fray
Should mar the concord of the day,
Had bid the Minstrels tune their lay.
And first stepped forth old Albert Graeme,
The Minstrel of that ancient name:
Was none who struck the harp so well,
Within the Land Debateable;
Well friended too, his hardy kin,
Whoever lost, were sure to win;
They sought the beeves that made their broth,
In Scotland and in England both.
In homely guise, as nature bade,
His simple song the Borderer said.

XI.
albert graeme.
It was an English ladye bright,
The sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,
And she would marry a Scottish knight,
For Love will still be lord of all!

Blithely they saw the rising sun,
When he shone fair on Carlisle wall,
But they were sad ere day was done,
Though Love was still the lord of all!

Her sire gave brooch and jewel fine,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,
Her brother gave but a flask of wine,
For ire that Love was lord of all!

For she had lands, both meadow and lea,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,
And he swore her death, ere he would see
A Scottish knight be lord of all!

XII.
That wine she had not tasted well,
The sun shines fair on Carlisle wall;
When dead, in her true love's arms, she fell,
For Love was still the lord of all!

He pierced her brother to the heart,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall;
So perish all would true love part,
That Love may still be lord of all!

And then he took the cross divine,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,
And died for her sake in Palestine,
So Love was still the lord of all!

Now all ye lovers that faithful prove,
The sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,
Pray for their souls who died for love,
For Love shall still be lord of all!

XIII.
As ended Albert's simple lay;
Arose a bard of loftier port,
For sonnet, rhyme, and roundelay,
Renowned in haughty Henry's court:
There rung thy harp, unrivalled long,
Fitztraver of the silver song.
The gentle Surrey loved his lyre—
Who has not heard of Surrey's fame?
His was the hero's soul of fire,
And his the bard's immortal name,
And his was love exalted high,
By all the glow of chivalry.

XIV.
They sought, together, climes afar,
And oft within some olive grove,
When even came, with twinkling star,
They sung of Surrey's absent love.
His step the Italian peasant staid,
And deemed, that spirits from on high,
Round where some hermit saint was laid,
Were breathing heavenly melody;
So sweet their harps and voices join,
To praise the name of Geraldine.

XV.
Fitztraver! O what tongue may say
The pangs thy faithful bosom knew,
When Surrey of the deathless lay,
Ungrateful Tudor's sentence slew?
Regardless of the tyrant's frown,
His harp called wrath and vengeance down;
He left, for Naworth's iron towers,
Windsor's green glades and courtly bowers;
And faithful to his patron's name,
With Howard, still Fitztraver came;
Lord William's foremost favourite he,
And chief of all his minstrelsy.

XVI.
Fitztraver.
'Twas All-souls's eve, and Surrey's heart beat high!
He heard the midnight-bell with anxious start,
Which told the mystic hour, approaching nigh,
When wise Cornelius promised, by his art,
To shew to him the ladye of his heart,
Albeit, betwixt them roared the ocean grim;
Yet so the sage had hight to play his part,
That he should see her form in life and limb,
And mark, if still she loved, and still she thought of him.

XVII.
Dark was the vaulted room of gramarye,
To which the wizard led the gallant knight,
Save that before a mirror, huge and high,
A hallowed taper shed a glimmering light
On mystic implements of magic might,
On cross, and character, and talisman,
And almagest, and altar, nothing bright:
For fitful was the lustre, pale and wan,
As watch-light, by the bed of some departing man.

XVIII.
But soon within that mirror, huge and high,
Was seen a self-emitted light to gleam;
And forms upon its breast, the earl 'gan spy,
Cloudy and indistinct, as feverish dream;
Till, slow arranging, and defined, they seem
To form a lordly and a lofty room,
Part lighted by a lamp, with silver beam,
Placed by a couch of Agra's silken loom,
And part by moonshine pale, and part was hid in gloom.

XIX.
Fair all the pageant—but how passing fair
The slender form which lay on couch of Ind!
O'er her white bosom strayed her hazel hair,
Pale her dear cheek, as if for love she pined;
All in her night-robe loose, she lay reclined,
And, pensive, read from tablet eburnine,
Some strain, that seemed her inmost soul to find—
That favoured strain was Surrey's raptured line,
That fair and lovely form, the Ladye Geraldine.

XX.
Slow rolled the clouds upon the lovely form,
And swept the goodly vision all away—
So royal envy rolled the murky storm
O'er my beloved Master's glorious day.
Thou jealous, ruthless tyrant! Heaven repay
On thee, and on thy children's latest line,
The wild caprice of thy despotic sway,
The gory bridal bed, the plundered shrine,
The murdered Surrey's blood, the tears of Geraldine!

XXI.
Both Scots and Southern chiefs, prolong
Applauses of Fitztraver's song;
These hated Henry's name as death,
And those still held the ancient faith.
Then, from his seat, with lofty air,
Rose Harold, bard of brave St. Clair;
St. Clair, who, feasting high at Home,
Had with that Lord to battle come.
Harold was born where restless seas
Howl round the storm-swept Orcades;
Where erst St. Clairs held princely sway,
O'er isle and islet, strait and bay;
Still nods their palace to its fall,
Thy pride and sorrow, fair Kirkwall!
Thence oft he marked fierce Pentland rave,
As if grim Odinn rode her wave;
And watched, the whilst, with visage pale,
And throbbing heart, the struggling sail;
For all of wonderful and wild
Had rapture for the lonely child.

XXII.
And much of wild and wonderful,
In these rude isles might Fancy cull;
For thither came, in times afar,
Stern Lochlin's sons of roving war,
The Norsemen, trained to spoil and blood,
Skilled to prepare the raven's food,
Kings of the main, their leaders brave,
Their barks, the dragons of the wave;
And there, in many a stormy vale,
The Scald had told his wondrous tale,
And many a Runic column high
Had witnessed grim idolatry.
And thus had Harold, in his youth
Learned many a Saga's rhime uncouth,—
Of that sea-snake, tremendous curled,
Whose monstrous circle girds the world;
Of those dread maids, whose hideous yell
Maddens the battle's bloody swell;
Of chiefs, who, guided through the gloom
By the pale death-lights of the tomb,
Ransacked the graves of warriors old,
Their faulchions wrenched from corpses' hold,
Waked the deaf tomb with war's alarms,
And bade the dead arise to arms!
With war and wonder all on flame,
To Roslin's bowers young Harold came,
Where, by sweet glen and greenwood tree,
He learned a milder minstrelsy;
Yet something of the Northern spell
Mixed with the softer numbers well.

XXIII.
harold.
O listen, listen, ladies gay!
No haughty feat of arms I tell;
Soft is the note, and sad the lay,
That mourns the lovely Rosabelle.

—"Moor, moor the barge, ye gallant crew!
And, gentle ladye, deign to stay!
Rest thee in Castle Ravensheuch,
Nor tempt the stormy firth to-day.

"The blackening wave is edged with white;
To inch and rock the sea-mews fly;
The fishers have heard the Water-Sprite,
Whose screams forebode that wreck is nigh.

"Last night the gifted seer did view
A wet shroud rolled round ladye gay;
Then stay thee, Fair, in Ravensheuch:
Why cross the gloomy firth to-day?"—

—"'Tis not because Lord Lindesay's heir
To-night at Roslin leads the ball,
But that my Ladye-mother there
Sits lonely in her castle-hall.


"'Tis not because the ring they ride,
And Lindesay at the ring rides well,
But that my sire the wine will chide,
If 'tis not filled by Rosabelle."—

O'er Roslin all that dreary night
A wondrous blaze was seen to gleam;
'Twas broader than the watch-fire light,
And redder than the bright moon-beam.

It glared on Roslin's castled rock,
It reddened all the copse-wood glen;
'Twas seen from Dryden's groves of oak,
And seen from caverned Hawthornden.

Seemed all on fire that chapel proud,
Where Roslin's chiefs uncoffined lie;
Each Baron, for a sable shroud,
Sheathed in his iron panoply.

Seemed all on fire within, around,
Both vaulted crypt and altar's pale;
Shone every pillar foliage-bound,
And glimmered all the dead-men's mail.

Blazed battlement and pinnet high,
Blazed every rose-carved buttress fair—
So still they blaze when fate is nigh
The lordly line of high St. Clair.

There are twenty of Roslin's barons bold
Lie buried within that proud chapelle;
Each one the holy vault doth hold—
But the sea holds lovely Rosabelle!

And each St. Clair was buried there,
With candle, with book, and with knell;
But the Kelpy rung, and the Mermaid sung,
The dirge of lovely Rosabelle.


XXV.
So sweet was Harold's piteous lay,
Scarce marked the guests the darkened hall,
Though long before the sinking day,
A wonderous shade involved them all:
It was not eddying mist or fog,
Drained by the sun from fen or bog;
Of no eclipse had sages told;
And yet, as it came on apace,
Each one could scarce his neighbour's face,
Could scarce his own stretched hand, behold.
A secret horror checked the feast,
And chilled the soul of every guest;
Even the high Dame stood half aghast,
She knew some evil on the blast;
The elvish page fell to the ground,
And, shuddering, muttered, "Found! found! found!"

XXVI.
Then sudden through the darkened air
A flash of lightning came;
So broad, so bright, so red the glare,
The castle seemed on flame;
Glanced every rafter of the hall,
Glanced every shield upon the wall.
Each trophied beam, each sculptured stone,
Were instant seen, and instant gone;
Full through the guests' bedazzled band
Resistless flashed the levin-brand,
And filled the hall with smouldering smoke,
As on the elvish page it broke—
It broke, with thunder long and loud,
Dismayed the brave, appalled the proud,
From sea to sea the larum rung;
On Berwick wall, and at Carlisle withal,
To arms the startled warders sprung.
When ended was the dreadful roar,
The elvish dwarf was seen no more!

XXVII.
Some heard a voice in Branksome Hall,
Some saw a sight not seen by all;
That dreadful voice was heard by some
Cry with loud summons, "Gylbyn, come!"
And on the spot where burst the brand,
Just where the page had flung him down,
Some saw an arm, and some a hand,
And some the waving of a gown.
The guests in silence prayed and shook,
And terror dim'd each lofty look:
But none of all the astonished train
Was so dismayed as Deloraine;
His blood did freeze, his brain did burn,
'Twas feared his mind would ne'er return;
For he was speechless, ghastly, wan,
Like him of whom the story ran,
Who spoke the spectre-hound in Man.
At length, by fits, he darkly told,
With broken hint, and shuddering cold—
That he had seen right certainly,
A shape with amice wrapped around,
With a wrought Spanish baldric bound,
Like a pilgrim from beyond the sea—
And knew—but how it mattered not—
It was the wizard, Michael Scott.

XXVIII.
The anxious crowd, with horror pale,
All trembling, heard the wonderous tale;
No sound was made, no word was spoke,
Till noble Angus silence broke;
And he a solemn sacred plight
Did to St. Bride of Douglas make,
That he a pilgrimage would take
To Melrose Abbey, for the sake
Of Michael's restless sprite.
Then each to ease his troubled breast,
To some blessed saint his prayers addressed:
Some to St. Modan made their vows,
Some to St. Mary of the Lowes,
Some to the Holy Rood of Lisle,
Some to our Ladye of the Isle;
Each did his patron witness make,
That he such pilgrimage would take,
And monks should sing, and bells should toll,
All for the weal of Michael's soul.
While vows were ta'en, and prayers were prayed,
'Tis said the noble Dame, dismayed,
Renounced for aye dark magic's aid.

XXIX.
Nought of the bridal will I tell,
Which after in short space befel;
Nor how brave sons and daughters fair
Blessed Teviot's Flower, and Cranstoun's heir:
After such dreadful scene, 'twere vain
To wake the note of mirth again;
More meet it were to mark the day
Of penitence and prayer divine,
When pilgrim-chiefs, in sad array,
Sought Melrose' holy shrine.

XXX.
With naked foot, and sackcloth vest,
And arms enfolded on his breast,
Did every pilgrim go;
The standers-bye might hear uneath,
Footstep, or voice, or high-drawn breath,
Through all the lengthened row;
No lordly look, nor martial stride,
Gone was their glory, sunk their pride,
Forgotten their renown;
Silent and slow, like ghosts, they glide
To the high altar's hallowed side,
And there they knelt them down:
Above the suppliant chieftains wave
The banners of departed brave;
Beneath the lettered stones were laid
The ashes of their fathers dead;
From many a garnished nich around,
Stern saints, and tortured martyrs, frowned.

XXXI.
And slow up the dim aisle afar,
With sable cowl and scapular,
And snow-white stoles, in order due,
The holy fathers, two and two,
In long procession came;
Taper, and host, and book, they bare,
And holy banner, flourished fair
With the Redeemer's name;
Above the prostrate pilgrim band,
The mitred abbot stretched his hand,
And blessed them as they kneeled;
With holy cross he signed them all,
And prayed they might be sage in hall,
And fortunate in field.
Then mass was sung, and prayers were said,
And solemn requiem for the dead;
And bells tolled out their mighty peal,
For the departed spirit's weal;
And ever in the office close
The hymn of intercession rose;
And far the echoing aisles prolong
The awful burthen of the song,
Dies iraee, dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla;
While the pealing organ rung;
Were it meet with sacred strain
To close my lay so light and vain,
Thus the holy fathers sung.

XXXII.
hymn for the dead.
That day of wrath, that dreadful day,
When heaven and earth shall pass away,
What power shall be the sinner's stay?
How shall he meet that dreadful day?
When, shrivelling like a parched scroll,
The flaming heavens together roll;
When louder yet, and yet more dread,
Swells the high trump that wakes the dead;
O! on that day, that wrathful day,
When man to judgment wakes from clay,
Be Thou the trembling sinner's stay,
Though heaven and earth shall pass away!

Hushed is the harp—the Minstrel gone.
And did he wander forth alone?
Alone, in indigence and age,
To linger out his pilgrimage?
No—close beneath proud Newark's tower,
Arose the Minstrel's lowly bower;
A simple hut; but there was seen
The little garden hedged with green,
The cheerful hearth, and lattice clean.
There sheltered wanderers, by the blaze,
Oft heard the tale of other days;
For much he loved to ope his door,
And give the aid he begged before.
So passed the winter's day—but still,
When summer smiled on sweet Bowhill,
And July's eve, with balmy breath,
Waved the blue-bells on Newark heath;
When throstles sung in Harehead-shaw,
And grain waved green on Carterhaugh,
And flourished, broad, Blackandro's oak,
The aged Harper's soul awoke!
Then would he sing achievements high
And circumstance of Chivalry,
Till the rapt traveller would stay,
Forgetful of the closing day;
And noble youths, the strain to hear,
Forsook the hunting of the deer;
And Yarrow, as he rolled along,
Bore burden to the Minstrel's song.

[pp. 161-94]