Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Georgian Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Georgian Verse.  1909.
 
Hardyknute
By Elizabeth, Lady Wardlaw (1677–1727)
 
A Fragment

STATELY 1 stept he east the wa’,
  And stately stept he west;
Full seventy years he now had seen
  With scarce seven years of rest.
He lived when Britons’ breach of faith        5
  Wrought Scotland mickle wae,
And ay his sword tauld to their cost
  He was their deadly fae.
 
High on a hill his castle stood,
  With ha’s and towers a height,        10
And goodly chambers, fair to see,
  Where he lodged mony a knight.
His dame, sae peerless anes and fair,
  For chast and beauty deemed,
Nae marrow had in all the land        15
  Save Elenor the queen.
 
Full thirteen sons to him she bare,
  All men of valour stout;
In bloody fight, with sword in hand,
  Nine lost their lives but doubt.        20
Four yet remain, lang may they live
  To stand by liege and land;
High was their fame, high was their might,
  And high was their command.
 
Great love they bare to Fairly fair,        25
  Their sister saft and dear;
Her girdle shaw’d her middle jimp,
  And gowden glist her hair.
What waefou wae her beauty bred!
  Waefou to young and auld,        30
Waefou, I trow, to kyth and kin,
  As story ever tauld.
 
The King of Norse in summertyde,
  Puffed up with power and might,
Landed in fair Scotland the isle        35
  With mony a hardy knight.
The tidings to our good Scots King
  Came as he sat at dine
With noble chiefs in brave Aray,
  Drinking the blood-red wine.        40
 
‘To horse, to horse, my royal liege,
  Your faes stand on the strand,
Full twenty thousand glittering spears
  The King of Norse commands.’
‘Bring me my steed Mage, dapple-gray!        45
  Our good King rose and cried;
‘A trustier beast in all the land
  A Scots King never tried.
 
‘Go, little page, tell Hardyknute,
  That lives on hill so hie,        50
To draw his sword, the dread of faes,
  And haste and follow me.’
The little page flew swift as dart
  Flung by his master’s arm,
‘Come down, come down, Lord Hardyknute        55
  And rid your king of harm.’
 
Then red, red grew his dark-brown cheeks,
  Sae did his dark-brown brow;
His looks grew keen as they were wont
  In dangers great to do.        60
He’s ta’en a horn as green as glass,
  And gi’en five sounds sae shrill
That trees in greenwood shook thereat,
  Sae loud rang every hill.
 
His sons in manly sport and glee        65
  Had passed that summer’s morn,
When lo, down in a grassy dale,
  They heard their father’s horn.
‘That horn,’ quo’ they, ‘ne’er sounds in peace;
  We’ve other sport to bide.’        70
And soon they hied them up the hill,
  And soon were at his side.
 
‘Late, late yestreen I weened in peace
  To end my lengthened life;
My age might well excuse my arm        75
  Frae manly feats of strife;
But now that Norse does proudly boast
  Fair Scotland to enthrall,
It’s ne’er be said of Hardyknute
  He feared to fight or fall.        80
 
‘Robin of Rothesay, bend thy bow,
  Thy arrows shoot sae leal;
Mony a comely countenance
  They’ve turned to deadly pale.
Braid Thomas, take ye but your lance—        85
  You need nae weapons mair;
If you fight wi’t as you did anes
  ’Gainst Westmoreland’s fierce heir.
 
‘Malcolm, light of foot as stag
  That runs in forest wild,        90
Get me my thousands three of men
  Well bred to sword and shield.
Bring me my horse and harnisine,
  My blade of metal clear.’
If faes but kenn’d the hand it bare        95
  They soon had fled for fear.
 
‘Fareweel, my dame sae peerless good!’
  And took her by the hand;
‘Fairer to me in age you seem
  Then maids for beauty famed.        100
My youngest son shall here remain,
  To guard these stately towers,
And shut the silver bolt that keeps
  Sae fast your painted bowers.’
 
And first she wet her comely cheeks        105
  And then her bodice green,
Her silken chords of twirtle twist,
  Well plet with silver sheen;
And apron set with mony a dice
  Of needlewark sae rare,        110
Wove by nae hand, as ye may guess,
  Save that of Fairly fair.
 
And he has ridden o’er muir and moss,
  O’er hills and mony a glen,
When he came to a wounded knight        115
  Making a heavy mane.
‘Here maun I lie, here maun I die
  By treachery’s false guiles:
Witless I was that ere ga’e faith
  To wicked woman’s smiles!’        120
 
‘Sir Knight, gin you were in my power,
  To lean on silken seat,
My lady’s kindly care you’d prove,
  Who ne’er kenn’d deadly hate.
Herself would watch you a’ the day.        125
  Her maids a’ dead of night,
And Fairly fair your heart would cheer,
  As she stands in your sight.
 
[‘Arise, young knight, and mount your steed,
  Full lowers the shining day;        130
Choose frae my menzie whom ye please
  To lead ye on the way.’
With smileless look and visage wan
  The wounded knight replied,
‘Kind chieftain, your intent pursue,        135
  For here I maun abide.
 
‘To me nae after day nor night
  Can ere be sweet or fair;
But soon beneath some drooping tree
  Cauld death shall end my care.’        140
With him nae pleading might prevail:
  Brave Hardyknute, to gain,
With fairest words and reason strang
  Strave courteously in vain.]
 
Syne he has gane far hynd our o’er        145
  Lord Chattan’s land sae wide.
That lord a worthy wight was aye
  When faes his courage ’sayed
Of Pictish race by mother’s side,
  When Picts ruled Caledon—        150
Lord Chattan claimed the princely maid
  When he saved Pictish crown.
 
[Now with his fierce and stalwart train
  He reached a rising height
Where, braid encampit on the dale,        155
  Norse army lay in sight.
‘Yonder, my valiant sons and feres,
  Our raging reivers wait,
On the unconquered Scottish sward
  To try with us their fate.        160
 
‘Mak’ orisons to him that saved
  Our souls upon the rood,
Syne bravely show your veins are filled
  With Caledonian blood.
Then forth he drew his trusty glaive,        165
  While thousands all around,
Drawn frae their sheath, glanced in the sun,
  And loud the bugles sound.
 
To join his king, adown the hill
  In haste his march he made,        170
While, playing pibrochs, minstrels meet
  Afore him stately strade.
‘Thrice welcome, valiant stoup of war,
  Thy nation’s shield and pride!
Thy king nae reason has to fear        175
  When thou art by his side.’]
 
When bows were bent and darts were thrawn,
  For thrang scarce could they flee;
The darts clove arrows as they met,
  The arrows dart the tree.        180
Lang did they rage and fight fou fierce
  With little skaith to man,
But bloody bloody was the field
  Ere that lang day was done.
 
The king of Scots, that sinle brooked        185
  The war that looked like play,
Drew his braid sword and brake his bow,
  Sin’ bows seemed but delay.
Quoth noble Rothesay, ‘Mine I’ll keep:
  I wat it’s bled a score.’        190
‘Haste up, my merry man,’ cried the king,
  As he rode on before.
 
The King of Norse he sought to find,
  With him to mense the faucht;
But on his forehead there did light        195
  A sharp and fatal shaft;
As he his hand put up to find
  The wound, an arrow keen,
O waefou chance! there pinned his hand
  In midst, between his een.        200
 
‘Revenge, revenge!’ cried Rothesay’s heir,
  ‘Your mail-coat shall na bide
The strength and sharpness of my dart.’
  Then sent it through his side.
Another arrow well he marked,        205
  It pierced his neck in twa;
His hands then quat the silver reins,
  He low as earth did fa’.
 
‘Sair bleeds my liege! sair, sair he bleeds!’
  Again with might he drew—        210
And gesture dread—his sturdy bow;
  Fast the braid arrow flew,
Wae to the Knight he ettled at!
  Lament now Queen Elgreed!
High dames too wail your darling’s fall,        215
  His youth and comely meed.
 
‘Take aff, take aff his costly jupe!’
  Of gold well was it twined,
Knit like the fowler’s net through which
  His steely harness shined.        220
‘Take, Norse, that gift frae me, and bid
  Him venge the blood it bears;
Say, if he face my bended bow
  He sure nae weapon fears.’
 
Proud Norse, with giant body tall,        225
  Braid shoulders, and arms strong,
Cried, ‘Where is Hardyknute sae famed
  And feared at Britain’s throne?
The Britons tremble at his name;
  I soon shall make him wail        230
That e’er my sword was made sae sharp,
  Sae saft his coat of mail.’
 
That brag his stout heart couldna bide,
  It lent him youthful might;
‘I’m Hardyknute this day,’ he cried,        235
  ‘To Scotland’s king I heght
To lay thee low as horse’s hoof;
  My word I mean to keep.’
Syne with the first stroke e’er he strake
  He garr’d his body bleed.        240
 
Norse een like grey gosshawk’s stared wild;
  He sighed with shame and spite—
‘Disgraced is now my far-famed arm,
  That left you power to strike!’
Then ga’ his head a blow sae fell,        245
  It made him down to stoop
As low as he to ladies used
  In courtly guise to lout.
 
Fou soon he raised his bent body,
  His bow he marvelled sair,        250
Sin blows till then on him but darr’d
  As touch of Fairly fair.
Norse marvelled too as sair as he
  To see his stately look—
Sae soon as e’er he strake a fae        255
  Sae soon his life he took.
 
[Where, like a fire to heather set,
  Bold Thomas did advance,
A sturdy fae, with look enraged,
  Up towards him did prance.        260
He spurred his steed through thickest ranks
  The hardy youth to quell,
Who stood unmoved at his approach,
  His fury to repell.
 
‘That short brown shaft sae meanly trimmed,        265
  Looks like poor Scotland’s gear,
But dreadful seems the rusty point!’
  And loud he leugh in jeer.
‘Aft Britons’ blood has dimmed its shine;
  This point cut short their vaunt.’        270
Syne pierced the boisterous bearded cheek—
  Nae time he took to taunt.
 
Short while he in his saddle swung,
  His stirrup was nae stay,
Sae feeble hung his unbent knee—        275
  Sure token he was fey.
Swith on the hardened clay he fell,
  Right far was heard the thud;
But Thomas looked not as he lay
  All weltering in his blood.        280
 
With careless gesture, mind unmoved,
  On rode he north the plain,
He seemed in thrang of fiercest strife
  When winner aye the same.
Nor yet his heart dame’s dimpled cheek        285
  Could meise saft love to brook,
Till vengeful Ann returned his scorn;
  Then languid grew his look.
 
In throes of death, with wallowit cheek,
  All panting on the plain,        290
The fainting corpse of warriors lay,
  Ne’er to rise again—
Ne’er to return to native land,
  Nae mair with blithesome sounds
To boast the glories of the day,        295
  And show their shining wounds.
 
On Norway’s coast the widowed dame
  May wash the rocks with tears—
May lang look o’er the shipless seas
  Before her mate appears.        300
Cease, Emma, cease to hope in vain;
  Thy lord lies in the clay:
The valiant Scots nae reivers thole
  To carry life away.]
 
There, on a lea where stands a cross        305
  Set up for monument,
Thousands fou fierce that summer’s day,
  Killed keen war’s black intent.
Let Scots, while Scots, praise Hardyknute,
  Let Norse the name aye dread—        310
Aye how he fought, aft how he spared,
  Shall latest ages read.
 
Loud and chill blew the westlin’ wind,
  Sair beat the heavy shower,
Mirk grew the night ere Hardyknute        315
  Wan near his stately tower.
His tower that used wi’ torches’ blaze
  To shine sae far at night,
Seemed now as black as mourning weed—
  Nae marvel sair he sight.        320
 
[‘There’s nae light in my lady’s bower,
  There’s nae light in my hall,
Nae blink shines round my Fairly fair,
  Nor ward stands on my wall.
What bodes it? Robert, Thomas say!’        325
  Nae answer fits their dread,
‘Stand back, my sons, I’ll be your guide;’
  But by they passed with speed.
 
‘As fast I’ve sped over Scotland’s faes—’
  There ceased his brag of war,        330
Sair shamed to mind aught but his dame,
  And maiden Fairly fair.
Black fear he felt, but what to fear
  He wist not yet with dread;
Sair shook his body, sair his limbs,        335
  And all the warrior fled.]
 
Note 1. Stately stept he east the wa’.  “The earliest and in some respects most curious of the literary mysteries for which the eighteenth century remains notorious was that concerning the authorship of the ballad of Hardyknute. This composition, then, as now, a fragment, was published by James Watson at Edinburgh in 1719 in a neat folio edition of twelve pages. An apparently earlier, but undated and less finished, copy is known to have been in the possession of the well-known editor, David Laing. Regarding the piece Lady Wardlaw of Pitreavie told a romantic story. She had discovered it, she said, written on some shreds of paper used for the bottoms of weaving clues. The statement was accepted in good faith, the ballad was hailed as a genuine antique poem by men of taste like Lord President Forbes and Elliot of Minto, the Lord Justice-Clerk, and was included by Allan Ramsay in his Evergreen in 1724, among the ‘poems wrote by the ingenious before 1600.’ In doing this, Ramsay took the liberty of altering the orthography to restore it, as he supposed, to something like its original antique shape. So the matter stood till 1767. As a contemporary account of an episode of the battle of Largs fought in 1263, Hardyknute was looked upon as the oldest extant historical ballad in the Scots tongue, taking precedence in this respect of Sir Patrick Spens. But in 1767, Lord Hailes communicated a new piece of information for the second edition of Percy’s Reliques. Certain critics, it appeared, had doubted the antiquity of the work. In consequence Lady Wardlaw had been questioned, had admitted the authorship, and, to put the matter beyond doubt, had added two fresh concluding stanzas. The question, nevertheless, did not rest here. In his Scottish Tragic Ballads in 1781, Pinkerton printed an amended version of the ballad, including a second part which completed the story. For this version and the conclusion he avowed indebtedness to ‘the memory of a Lady in Lanarkshire.’ Later, in his Select Scottish Ballads, 1783, and in his Ancient Scottish Poems, 1786, this unscrupulous editor admitted the added second part to be his own composition, but regarding the original poem he made a new statement upon the authority of an alleged communication of Lord Hailes. The new story was that Sir John Bruce of Kinross, in a letter to Lord Binning, had narrated his finding of the MS. in an old vault in Dunfermline, and, desiring to screen his own connection with the fragment, had induced Lady Wardlaw to become its foster-parent. Pinkerton’s new statement was accepted, apparently without question, by Bishop Percy, and, accordingly, in the fourth edition of the Reliques, Hardyknute is attributed directly to Sir John Bruce. These conflicting statements appear to have left some doubt in the mind even of the historian of Scottish poetry, Dr. Irving. It was not till the year 1830, that the question was finally cleared up. Among Pinkerton’s correspondence, then published, appeared a letter from Lord Hailes, dated December 2, 1785, explicitly disavowing the new statement to which his name had been attached, and reasserting the authorship of Lady Wardlaw. Lord Hailes was of the opinion that the ballad had been founded on some antique fragment, and he quoted a statement of Thomson, the editor of the Orpheus Caledonius of 1733, that he had heard parts of it repeated in his infancy, before Lady Wardlaw’s copy was heard of. But against these considerations there exists the explicit statement of Lady Wardlaw’s daughter that her mother was the author of the ballad, and from the internal evidence of the composition itself it is impossible now to believe that any part of it is ancient.” (Eyre-Todd, in Scottish Poetry of the Eighteenth Century.) [back]
 
 
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