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Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

The Ride to Melrose
(The Lay of the Last Minstrel: Cantos I-II)

(excerpt)


CANTO I.
XIX
          1.1The Lady sought the lofty hall,
          1.2    Where many a bold retainer lay,
          1.3And with jocund din among them all,
          1.4    Her son pursued his infant play.
          1.5A fancied moss-trooper, the boy
          1.6    The truncheon of a spear bestrode,
          1.7And round the hall right merrily
          1.8    In mimic foray rode.
          1.9Even bearded knights, in arms grown old,
        1.10    Share in his frolic gambols bore,
        1.11Albeit their hearts of rugged mould
        1.12    Were stubborn as the steel they wore.
        1.13For the gray warriors prophesied
        1.14    How the brave boy, in future war,
        1.15Should tame the Unicorn's pride,
        1.16    Exalt the Crescent and the Star.

XX
        1.17The Ladye forgot her purpose high
        1.18    One moment and no more;
        1.19One moment gazed with a mother's eye,
        1.20    As she paused at the arched door:
        1.21Then from amid the armed train,
        1.22She called to her William of Deloraine.

XXI
        1.23A stark moss-trooping Scott was he
        1.24As e'er couch'd Border lance by knee:
        1.25Through Solway sands, through Tarras moss,
        1.26Blindfold he knew the paths to cross;
        1.27By wily turns, by desperate bounds,
        1.28Had baffled Percy's best blood-hounds;
        1.29In Eske or Liddel, fords were none,
        1.30But he would ride them, one by one;
        1.31Alike to him was time or tide,
        1.32December's snow or July's pride;
        1.33Alike to him was tide or time,
        1.34Moonless midnight or matin prime:
        1.35Steady of heart and stout of hand
        1.36As ever drove prey from Cumberland;
        1.37Five times outlawed had he been
        1.38By England's King and Scotland's Queen.

XXII
        1.39'Sir William of Deloraine, good at need,
        1.40Mount thee on the wightest steed;
        1.41Spare not to spur, nor stint to ride,
        1.42Until thou come to fair Tweedside;
        1.43And in Melrose's holy pile
        1.44Seek thou the Monk of St. Mary's aisle.
        1.45    Greet the father well from me;
        1.46        Say that the fated hour is come,
        1.47    And to-night he shall watch with thee,
        1.48        To win the treasure of the tomb:
        1.49For this will be St. Michael's night,
        1.50And, though stars be dim, the moon is bright;
        1.51And the Cross of bloody red
        1.52Will point to the grave of the mighty dead.

XXIII
        1.53'What he gives thee, see thou keep;
        1.54Stay not thou for food or sleep:
        1.55Be it scroll or be it book,
        1.56Into it, knight, thou must not look;
        1.57If thou readest, thou art lorn!
        1.58Better hadst thou ne'er been born.'

XXIV
        1.59'O swiftly can speed my dapple-gray steed,
        1.60    Which drinks of the Teviot clear;
        1.61Ere break of day,' the warrior 'gan say,
        1.62    'Again will I be here:
        1.63And safer by none may thy errand be done,
        1.64    Than, noble dame, by me;
        1.65Letter nor line know I never a one,
        1.66    Were't my neck-verse at Hairibee.'

XXV
        1.67Soon in his saddle sate he fast,
        1.68And soon the steep descent he past,
        1.69Soon cross'd the sounding barbican,
        1.70And soon the Teviot side he won.
        1.71Eastward the wooded path he rode,
        1.72Green hazels o'er his basnet nod;
        1.73He pass'd the Peel of Goldiland,
        1.74And cross'd old Borthwick's roaring strand;
        1.75Dimly he view'd the Moat-hill's mound,
        1.76Where Druid shades still flitted round:
        1.77In Hawick twinkled many a light;
        1.78Behind him soon they set in night;
        1.79And soon he spurr'd his courser keen
        1.80Beneath the tower of Hazeldean.

XXVI
        1.81The clattering hoofs the watchmen mark:
        1.82'Stand, ho! thou courier of the dark.'
        1.83'For Branksome, ho!' the knight rejoin'd,
        1.84And left the friendly tower behind.
        1.85    He turned him now from Teviotside,
        1.86        And, guided by the tinkling rill,
        1.87    Northward the dark ascent did ride,
        1.88        And gained the moor at Horsliehill;
        1.89Broad on the left before him lay,
        1.90For many a mile, the Roman way.

XXVII
        1.91A moment now he slack'd his speed,
        1.92A moment breathed his panting steed;
        1.93Drew saddle-girth and corslet-band,
        1.94And loosen'd in the sheath his brand.
        1.95On Minto-crags the moonbeams glint,
        1.96Where Barnhill hew'd his bed of flint,
        1.97Who flung his outlaw'd limbs to rest
        1.98Where falcons hang their giddy nest,
        1.99Mid cliffs from whence his eagle eye
      1.100For many a league his prey could spy;
      1.101Cliffs doubling, on their echoes borne,
      1.102The terrors of the robber's horn;
      1.103Cliffs, which for many a later year
      1.104The warbling Doric reed shall hear,
      1.105When some sad swain shall teach the grove,
      1.106Ambition is no cure for love.

XXVIII
      1.107Unchallenged, thence pass'd Deloraine
      1.108To ancient Riddel's fair domain,
      1.109    Where Aill, from mountains freed,
      1.110Down from the lakes did raving come;
      1.111Each wave was crested with tawny foam,
      1.112    Like the mane of a chestnut steed.
      1.113In vain! no torrent, deep or broad,
      1.114Might bar the bold moss-trooper's road.

XXIX
      1.115At the first plunge the horse sunk low,
      1.116And the water broke o'er the saddlebow;
      1.117Above the foaming tide, I ween,
      1.118Scarce half the charger's neck was seen:
      1.119For he was barded from counter to tail,
      1.120And the rider was armed complete in mail;
      1.121Never heavier man and horse
      1.122Stemm'd a midnight torrent's force.
      1.123The warrior's very plume, I say,
      1.124Was daggled by the dashing spray:
      1.125Yet, through good heart and Our Ladye's grace,
      1.126At length he gain'd the landing-place.

XXX
      1.127Now Bowden Moor the march-man won,
      1.128    And sternly shook his plumed head,
      1.129As glanced his eye o'er Halidon:
      1.130    For on his soul the slaughter red
      1.131Of that unhallow'd morn arose,
      1.132When first the Scott and Carr were foes;
      1.133When royal James beheld the fray,
      1.134Prize to the victor of the day;
      1.135When Home and Douglas in the van
      1.136Bore down Buccleuch's retiring clan,
      1.137Till gallant Cessford's heart-blood dear
      1.138Reek'd on dark Elliot's Border spear.

XXXI
      1.139In bitter mood he spurred fast,
      1.140And soon the hated heath was past:
      1.141And far beneath, in lustre wan,
      1.142Old Melros' rose, and fair Tweed ran:
      1.143Like some tall rock with lichens gray,
      1.144Seem'd dimly huge, the dark Abbaye.
      1.145When Hawick he pass'd, had curfew rung,
      1.146Now midnight lauds were in Melrose sung.
      1.147The sound upon the fitful gale
      1.148In solemn wise did rise and fail,
      1.149Like that wild harp whose magic tone
      1.150Is waken'd by the winds alone.
      1.151But when Melrose he reach'd, 'twas silence all:
      1.152He meetly stabled his steed in stall,
      1.153And sought the convent's lonely wall.

CANTO II.
I
          2.1If thou would'st view fair Melrose aright,
          2.2Go visit it by the pale moonlight;
          2.3For the gay beams of lightsome day
          2.4Gild, but to flout, the ruins gray.
          2.5When the broken arches are black in night,
          2.6And each shafted oriel glimmers white;
          2.7When the cold light's uncertain shower
          2.8Streams on the ruin'd central tower;
          2.9When buttress and buttress, alternately,
        2.10Seem framed of ebon and ivory;
        2.11When silver edges the imagery,
        2.12And the scrolls that teach thee to live and die;
        2.13When distant Tweed is heard to rave,
        2.14And the owlet to hoot o'er the dead man's grave,
        2.15Then go--but go alone the while--
        2.16Then view St. David's ruin'd pile;
        2.17And, home returning, soothly swear,
        2.18Was never scene so sad and fair!

II
        2.19Short halt did Deloraine make there;
        2.20Little reck'd he of the scene so fair
        2.21With dagger's hilt on the wicket strong
        2.22He struck full loud, and struck full long.
        2.23The porter hurried to the gate--
        2.24'Who knocks so loud, and knocks so late?'
        2.25'From Branksome I,' the warrior cried;
        2.26And straight the wicket open'd wide:
        2.27For Branksome's chiefs had in battle stood
        2.28    To fence the rights of fair Melrose;
        2.29And lands and livings, many a rood
        2.30    Had gifted the shrine for their souls' repose.

III
        2.31Bold Deloraine his errand said;
        2.32The porter bent his humble head;
        2.33With torch in hand, and feet unshod,
        2.34And noiseless step the path he trod;
        2.35The arched cloister, far and wide,
        2.36Rang to the warrior's clanking stride,
        2.37Till, stooping low his lofty crest,
        2.38He enter'd the cell of the ancient priest,
        2.39And lifted his barred aventayle
        2.40To hail the Monk of St. Mary's aisle.

IV
        2.41'The Ladye of Branksome greets thee by me;
        2.42    Says that the fated hour is come,
        2.43And that to-night I shall watch with thee,
        2.44    To win the treasure of the tomb.'
        2.45From sackcloth couch the monk arose,
        2.46    With toil his stiffen'd limbs he rear'd;
        2.47A hundred years had flung their snows
        2.48    On his thin locks and floating beard.

V
        2.49And strangely on the knight look'd he,
        2.50    And his blue eyes gleam'd wild and wide;
        2.51'And darest thou, warrior, seek to see
        2.52    What heaven and hell alike would hide?
        2.53My breast in belt of iron pent,
        2.54    With shirt of hair and scourge of thorn;
        2.55For threescore years, in penance spent,
        2.56    My knees those flinty stones have worn;
        2.57Yet all too little to atone
        2.58For knowing what should ne'er be known.
        2.59    Would'st thou thy every future year
        2.60        In ceaseless prayer and penance drie,
        2.61    Yet wait thy latter end with fear--
        2.62        Then, daring warrior, follow me!'

VI
        2.63'Penance, father, will I none;
        2.64Prayer know I hardly one;
        2.65For mass or prayer can I rarely tarry,
        2.66Save to patter an Ave Mary,
        2.67When I ride on a Border foray.
        2.68Other prayer can I none;
        2.69So speed me my errand, and let me be gone.'

VII
        2.70Again on the knight look'd the churchman old,
        2.71    And again he sighed heavily;
        2.72For he had himself been a warrior bold,
        2.73    And fought in Spain and Italy.
        2.74And he thought on the days that were long since by,
        2.75When his limbs were strong, and his courage was high:
        2.76Now, slow and faint, he led the way
        2.77Where, cloister'd round, the garden lay;
        2.78The pillar'd arches were over their head,
        2.79And beneath their feet were the bones of the dead,

VIII
        2.80Spreading herbs and flowerets bright,
        2.81Glisten'd with the dew of night;
        2.82Nor herb nor floweret glisten'd there,
        2.83But was carved in the cloister-arches as fair.
        2.84    The monk gazed long on the lovely moon,
        2.85        Then into the night he looked forth;
        2.86    And red and bright the streamers light
        2.87        Were dancing in the glowing north.
        2.88    So had he seen in fair Castile
        2.89        The youth in glittering squadrons start;
        2.90    Sudden the flying jennet wheel,
        2.91        And hurl the unexpected dart.
        2.92He knew, by the streamers that shot so bright,
        2.93That spirits were riding the northern light.

IX
        2.94By a steel-clenched postern door
        2.95    They enter'd now the chancel tall;
        2.96The darken'd roof rose high aloof
        2.97    On pillars lofty and light and small:
        2.98The key-stone that lock'd each ribbed aisle,
        2.99Was a fleur-de-lys or a quatre-feuille;
      2.100The corbells were carved grotesque and grim;
      2.101And the pillars, with cluster'd shafts so trim,
      2.102With base and with capital flourish'd around,
      2.103Seem'd bundles of lances which garlands had bound.

X
      2.104Full many a scutcheon and banner riven
      2.105Shook to the cold night-wind of heaven,
      2.106    Around the screened altar's pale;
      2.107And there the dying lamps did burn
      2.108Before thy low and lonely urn,
      2.109O gallant chief of Otterburne!
      2.110    And thine, dark knight of Liddesdale!
      2.111O fading honours of the dead!
      2.112O high ambition lowly laid!

XI
      2.113The moon on the east oriel shone
      2.114Through slender shafts of shapely stone,
      2.115    By foliaged tracery combined;
      2.116Thou would'st have thought some fairy's hand
      2.117'Twixt poplars straight the osier wand
      2.118    In many a freakish knot had twined;
      2.119Then framed a spell when the work was done,
      2.120And changed the willow wreaths to stone.
      2.121The silver light, so pale and faint,
      2.122Show'd many a prophet and many a saint,
      2.123    Whose image on the glass was dyed;
      2.124Full in the midst, his Cross of Red
      2.125Triumphant Michael brandished,
      2.126    And trampled the Apostate's pride.
      2.127The moon-beam kiss'd the holy pane,
      2.128And threw on the pavement a bloody stain.

XII
      2.129They sate them down on a marble stone,--
      2.130    A Scottish monarch slept below;--
      2.131Thus spoke the monk, in solemn tone:
      2.132    'I was not always a man of woe;
      2.133For Paynim countries I have trod,
      2.134And fought beneath the Cross of God:
      2.135Now, strange to my eyes thine arms appear,
      2.136And their iron clang sounds strange to my ear.

XIII
      2.137'In these far climes it was my lot
      2.138To meet the wondrous Michael Scott;
      2.139    A wizard of such dreaded fame
      2.140That when, in Salamanca's cave,
      2.141Him listed his magic wand to wave,
      2.142    The bells would ring in Notre Dame!
      2.143Some of his skill he taught to me;
      2.144And, warrior, I could say to thee
      2.145The words that cleft Eildon hills in three,
      2.146    And bridled the Tweed with a eurb of stone:
      2.147But to speak them were a deadly sin;
      2.148And for having but thought them my heart within,
      2.149    A treble penance must be done.

XIV
      2.150'When Michael lay on his dying bed,
      2.151His conscience was awakened;
      2.152He bethought him of his sinful deed,
      2.153And he gave me a sign to come with speed:
      2.154I was in Spain when the morning rose,
      2.155But I stood by his bed ere evening close.
      2.156The words may not again be said
      2.157That he spoke to me, on death-bed laid;
      2.158They would rend this Abbaye's messy nave,
      2.159And pile it in heaps above his grave.

XV
      2.160'I swore to bury his Mighty Book,
      2.161That never mortal might therein look;
      2.162And never to tell where it was hid,
      2.163Save at his Chief of Branksome's need:
      2.164And when that need was past and o'er,
      2.165Again the volume to restore.
      2.166I buried him on St. Michael's night,
      2.167When the bell toll'd one, and the moon was bright,
      2.168And I dug his chamber among the dead
      2.169When the floor of the chancel was stained red,
      2.170That his patron's cross might over him wave,
      2.171And scare the fiends from the wizard's grave.

XVI
      2.172'It was a night of woe and dread
      2.173When Michael in the tomb I laid;
      2.174Strange sounds along the chancel pass'd,
      2.175The banners waved without a blast'--
      2.176Still spoke the monk, when the bell toll'd one!--
      2.177I tell you that a braver man
      2.178Than William of Deloraine, good at need,
      2.179Against a foe ne'er spurr'd a steed;
      2.180Yet somewhat was he chill'd with dread,
      2.181And his hair did bristle upon his head.

XVII
      2.182'Lo, warrior! now, the Cross of Red
      2.183Points to the grave of the mighty dead;
      2.184Within it burns a wondrous light,
      2.185To chase the spirits that love the night:
      2.186That lamp shall burn unquenchably,
      2.187Until the eternal doom shall be.'
      2.188Slow moved the monk to the broad flag-stone
      2.189Which the bloody Cross was traced upon:
      2.190He pointed to a secret nook;
      2.191An iron bar the warrior took;
      2.192And the monk made a sign with his wither'd hand,
      2.193The grave's huge portal to expand.

XVIII
      2.194With beating heart to the task he went;
      2.195His sinewy frame o'er the grave-stone bent;
      2.196With bar of iron heaved amain
      2.197Till the toil-drops fell from his brows like rain.
      2.198It was by dint of passing strength
      2.199That he moved the messy stone at length.
      2.200I would you had been there to see
      2.201How the light broke forth so gloriously,
      2.202Stream'd upward to the chancel roof,
      2.203And through the galleries far aloof!
      2.204No earthly flame blazed e'er so bright:
      2.205It shone like heaven's own blessed light,
      2.206    And, issuing from the tomb,
      2.207Show'd the monk's cowl and visage pale,
      2.208Danced on the dark-brow'd warrior's mail,
      2.209    And kiss'd his waving plume.

XIX
      2.210Before their eyes the wizard lay,
      2.211As if he had not been dead a day.
      2.212His hoary beard in silver roll'd,
      2.213He seem'd some seventy winters old;
      2.214    A palmer's amice wrapp'd him round,
      2.215    With a wrought Spanish baldric bound,
      2.216        Like a pilgrim from beyond the sea:
      2.217    His left hand held his Book of Might,
      2.218    A silver cross was in his right,
      2.219        The lamp was placed beside his knee:
      2.220High and majestic was his look,
      2.221At which the fellest fiend had shook,
      2.222And all unruffled was his face:
      2.223They trusted his soul had gotten grace.

XX
      2.224Often had William of Deloraine
      2.225Rode through the battle's bloody plain,
      2.226And trampled down the warriors slain,
      2.227    And neither known remorse nor awe;
      2.228Yet now remorse and awe he own'd;
      2.229His breath came thick, his head swam round,
      2.230    When this strange scene of death he saw,
      2.231Bewilder'd and unnerv'd he stood,
      2.232And the priest pray'd fervently and loud:
      2.233With eyes averted prayed he;
      2.234He might not endure the sight to see
      2.235Of the man he had loved so brotherly.

XXI
      2.236And when the priest his death-prayer had pray'd,
      2.237Thus unto Deloraine he said:
      2.238'Now, speed thee what thou hast to do,
      2.239Or, warrior, we may dearly rue;
      2.240For those thou may'st not look upon,
      2.241Are gathering fast round the yawning stone!'
      2.242Then Deloraine in terror took
      2.243From the cold hand the Mighty Book,
      2.244With iron clasp'd and with iron bound:
      2.245He thought, as he took it, the dead man frown'd;
      2.246But the glare of the sepulchral light
      2.247Perchance had dazzled the warrior's sight.

XXII
      2.248When the huge stone sunk o'er the tomb,
      2.249The night return'd in double gloom;
      2.250For the moon had gone down, and the stars were few;
      2.251And, as the knight and priest withdrew,
      2.252With wavering steps and dizzy brain,
      2.253They hardly might the postern gain.
      2.254'Tis said, as through the aisles they pass'd,
      2.255They heard strange noises on the blast;
      2.256And through the cloister-galleries small,
      2.257Which at mid-height thread the chancel wall,
      2.258Loud sobs, and laughter louder ran,
      2.259And voices unlike the voice of man;
      2.260As if the fiends kept holiday
      2.261Because these spells were brought to day.
      2.262I cannot tell how the truth may be;
      2.263I say the tale as 'twas said to me.

XXIII
      2.264`Now, hie thee hence,' the father said,
      2.265`And when we are on death-bed laid,
      2.266O may our dear Ladye and sweet St. John
      2.267Forgive our souls for the deed we have done!
      2.268    The monk returned him to his cell,
      2.269        And many a prayer and penance sped;
      2.270    When the convent met at the noontide bell,
      2.271        The Monk of St. Mary's aisle was dead!
      2.272Before the cross was the body laid
      2.273With hands clasp'd fast, as if still he pray'd.

XXIV
      2.274The knight breathed free in the morning wind,
      2.275And strove his hardihood to find:
      2.276He was glad when he pass'd the tombstones gray
      2.277Which girdle round the fair Abbaye;
      2.278For the mystic book, to his bosom prest,
      2.279Felt like a load upon his breast;
      2.280And his joints, with nerves of iron twined,
      2.281Shook like the aspen leaves in wind.
      2.282Full fain was he when the dawn of day
      2.283Began to brighten Cheviot gray;
      2.284He joy'd to see the cheerful light,
      2.285And he said Ave Mary as well as he might.

Notes

1.1] This selection contains an episode of the story of "The Lady of the Lake", published in 1810--the work which established his poetic reputation. The poem was "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." (Scott.)

The Ladye. The lady of Branksome Castle, the seat of the Border family of the Scotts of Buccleuch from which the Poet himself was descended. By the recent death of her husband in a skirmish with the Carrs, or Kerrs, of Cessford, she has become the head of the house, and having learned by supernatural means that her daughter is likely to wed a member of the hostile house, she, at the point when our selection opens, despatches a retainer for a magical volume buried at Melrose Abbey, in the hope of defeating, by the aid of its spells, the threatened marriage. The antiquated spelling is intended to give the proper colouring to a poem which is supposed to be recited by the last of the minstrels.

1.5] moss-trooper. This was the usual appellation of the marauders upon the Borders. "Mosses" are boggy moors, such as are common in the Border shires.

1.6] truncheon. A diminutive of 'trunk'; here, 'the shaft of a spear'.

1.8] foray. A predatory inroad.

1.15] Lockhart explains the defective metre of this line by the fact that in the poet's own pronunciation the rolled r in 'Unicorn's' would have the effect of a syllable. The arms of the Carrs of Cessford bore three unicorns' heads, with a unicorn's head for the crest; those of the Scotts of Buccleuch a star of six points between two crescents. The story of the "Lay" has to do with a feud between these two Border clans.

1.23] stark. Strong.

1.25] The Solway sands were extremely dangerous owing to the rapidity with which the tide rose and the numerous quicksands. (See the description in Scott's Redgauntlet, Letter iv.)
Tarras. A river which runs into the Eske from the east.

1.28] Percy. The head of the well-known English family whose estates lay in Northumberland, and who were constantly engaged in Scottish wars.

1.29] Eske or Liddel. These rivers are on the southern border of Scotland and united reach the Solway.

1.31] tide. Not in the usual modern sense, which is secondary, but in the original meaning of 'time', as in 'Eventide', 'Whitsuntide'.

1.34] matin prime. The first hour of morning.

1.38] England's King. Edward VI, or possibly Henry VIII.
Scotland's Queen. Mary Queen of Scots.

1.39] good at need. Scott found this phrase in a Border ballad, "The Raid of the Reidswire". It was a fashion in ballad poetry, as in the Homeric poems, to attach some adjective to the name of a person, even in places where the context did not specially call for it, so we have the 'swift-footed Achilles', the 'far-darting Apollo'.

1.40] wightest. Strongest, most active.

1.43-44] See note on 1. 142 below.

1.49] St. Michael's night. 'Michaelmas', the festival of St. Michael is celebrated on the 29th September.

1.49-52] The wizard was buried at one o'clock on St. Michael's night in such a position that the moon shining through a stained-glass window made a red cross over the tomb. His magic book was buried with him, and was only to be used by the chief of the clan in the hour of extremity.

1.61] 'an. Scott points with the apostrophe as if the word were for 'began'; modern philologists hold that 'an' is the past tense of 'gin', a word used by Chaucer, Spenser, and other early poets as an auxiliary in the sense of 'did'.

1.66] "Hairibee. The place of execution at Carlisle. The neck-verse is the beginning of the 51st Psalm, Miserere mei, etc., anciently read by criminals claiming the benefit of clergy." (Scott.) The clergy were anciently amenable not to the secular, but to the ecclesiastical courts; in process of time this privilege was claimed by all who could read, and as the ecclesiastical courts did not inflict the penalty of death, the reading of the verse might save the criminal's neck.

1.69] barbican. "The defence of the outer gate of a feudal castle." (Scott). Minto adds: "The epithet 'sounding' indicates that Scott probably took his idea of a barbican from Alnwick Castle, where there is a very fine gate and barbican of the Edwardian period. The barbican is fifty-five feet long, strong masonry protecting a passage to the gate about ten feet broad. The outer passage is vaulted to the length of about twenty feet, the rest open to the sky."

1.72] basnet. A small light helmet, diminutive from 'basin'.

1.73] Peel of Goldiland. A peel was a simple strong tower common on the Borders for purposes of defence. For the exact situation of the places mentioned in this selection, a map should be consulted.

1.74] Borthwick Water is a small tributary of the Teviot, half way between Branksome and Hawick.

1.75] Moat-hill. "This is a round artificial mound near Hawick which from its name (A.S. Mot, concilium, conventus) was probably anciently used as a place for assembling a national council of the neighhouring tribes." (Scott.)

1.90] the Roman way. "An ancient Roman road, crossing through this part of Roxburghshire." (Scott.)

1.95] Minto-crags. "A romantic assembly of cliffs which rise suddenly above the vale of Teviot, in the immediate vicinity of the family seat from which Lord Minto takes his title. A small platform on a projecting crag, commanding a most beautiful prospect, is termed Barnhill's bed. This Barnhill is said to have been a robber, or outlaw. There are remains of a strong tower beneath the rocks, where he is supposed to have dwelt, and from which he derived his name. " (Scott.)

1.104] the warbling Doric reed. Scott explains that the allusion is to a pastoral song written by Sir Gilbert Elliot, father of the first Lord Minto. 'Doric' because the founder of pastoral poetry, the Greek Theocritus, wrote in the Doric dialect; 'reed' because from reeds the pipes were made upon which shepherds played.

1.105-06] This indicates the subject of the pastoral poem referred to; it may be found quoted in Scott's notes.

1.109] Aill. A tributary of the Teviot.

1.119] barded. Armed; used of horses only.
Counter. The breast of a horse, the part from the shoulders tothe neck.

1.121-22] Minto remarks that these two lines "must be literally true. The weight of a complete suit of armour was from 150 to 200 lbs. Mosstroopers generally were not so heavily encumbered. Scott, however, gives Deloraine four hours to ride the twenty miles between Hawick and Melrose".

1.124] daggled. Sprinkled.

1.129] Halidon. "An ancient seat of the Kerrs of Cessford. About a quarter of a mile to the northward lay the field of battle between Buccleuch and Angus." (Scott.)

1.130-38] In the year 1526, the young King, James V, tired of the authority of Douglas, Earl of Angus, the virtual ruler of the country, wrote secretly to Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, asking to be rescued from the hands of the Douglases. An opportunity would be afforded when the Douglases, with the King in their company, were on their return from the expedition to the Borders in which they were at this time engaged. Buccleuch, attempting to carry out the King's wishes, attacked the Douglases, who were assisted by the clans of Kerr and Home at Melrose. The Scotts were defeated, and pursued by the Kerrs. The leader of the latter, the Laird of Cessford, was slain in the pursuit by a retainer of Scott of Buccleuch, named Eliot. Hence a deadly feud between the Scotts and the Kerrs. In consequence of this quarrel Sir Walter was slain by the Kerrs in the streets of Edinburgh in 1552. The poem is supposed to open shortly after this event.

1.142] Melros' for Melrose to avoid assonance with the next word. "The ancient and beautiful monastery of Melrose was founded by King David [in 1136]. Its ruins afford the finest specimen of Gothic architecture and Gothic sculpture of which Scotland can boast. The stone of which it is built, though it has resisted the weather for so many ages, retains perfect sharpness, so that even the most minute ornaments seem as entire as when newly wrought. In some of the cloisters, as is hinted in the next canto, there are representations of flowers, vegetables, etc., carved in stone, with accuracy and precision so delicate that we almost distrust our senses, when we consider the difficulty of subjecting so hard a substance to such intricate and exquisite modulation. This superb convent was dedicated to St. Mary, and the monks were of the Cistercian order." (Scott.)

1.144] Abbaye. Abbey, for the sake of the rhyme and the archaic effect.

1.146] lauds. "The midnight service of the Catholic church." (Scott.)

1.149] wild harp. An Aeolian harp.

2.3] lightsome. Not the ordinary word which is derived from "light", meaning 'not heavy'; the word as employed here is found in Spenser's "Faerie Queene", I.vii.23, "O lightsome day, the lamp of highest Jove."

2.6] oriel. Used loosely here by Scott in the sense of a mullioned window (i.e., a window partitioned by perpendicular divisions); an "oriel" is properly a projecting window.

2.9] alternately. Not in reference to the successive buttresses, but to each buttress, which was part in light, part in shade.

2.11-12] "The buttresses ranged along the sides of the ruins of Melrose Abbey are, according to Gothic style, richly carved and fretted, containing niches for the statues of saints, and labelled with scrolls, bearing appropriate texts of Scripture." (Scott.)

2.16] St. David's. David, king of Scotland in the 11th century, won a reputation for sanctity hy his monastic foundations.

2.20] reck'd of. 'Cared for', a poetical word, more commonly without the preposition, as in "Hamlet", "recks not his own rede".

2.39] aventayle. The lower part of the helmet before the face, which might be raised so as to admit the air.

2.60] drie. 'Endure'; found in Old English, and in Lowland Scotch.

2.66] Ave Mary. 'Hail, Mary', a short prayer beginning with these words, cf. Luke i.28.

2.90] jennet. A small Spanish horse.

2.98-103] "The carved bosses at the intersection of the ribs of a vaulted ceiling cannot be fairly called keystones. If they could be so called, it is not the aisles that they lock. By quatre-feuille the poet means the four-leaved flower which is so common an ornament in the Decorated style. I do not know any authority for this use of the word. Quatrefoil is applied to an opening pierced in four foils, much used in ornaments, but quite different from a four-leaved boss. A corbel is a projecting stone or piece of timber supporting a superincumbent weight, such as the shaft or small column which supports the ribs of the vault. They are carved and moulded in a great variety of ways, often, as in Melrose Abbey, in the form of heads and faces." (Minto.)


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text:
RPO poem editor: W. J. Alexander, William Hall Clawson
RP edition: RP (1912), pp. 120-35; RPO 1997.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/3

Form: couplets


Other poems by Sir Walter Scott