Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
 
Battle of Beal’ an Duine (from The Lady of the Lake)
By Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
[From Canto VI.]

[The Minstrel relates to the dying Roderick Dhu, Chief of Clan Alpine, the story of the battle between the royal forces and those of the Clan.]

  THE MINSTREL came once more to view
  The eastern ridge of Benvenue,
  For ere he parted, he would say
  Farewell to lovely Loch Achray—
  Where shall he find, in foreign land,        5
  So lone a lake, so sweet a strand!—
  There is no breeze upon the fern,
    Nor ripple on the lake,
  Upon her eyry nods the erne,
    The deer has sought the brake;        10
  The small birds will not sing aloud,
    The springing trout lies still,
  So darkly glooms yon thunder cloud,
  That swathes, as with a purple shroud,
    Benledi’s distant hill.        15
  Is it the thunder’s solemn sound
    That mutters deep and dread,
  Or echoes from the groaning ground
    The warrior’s measured tread?
  Is it the lightning’s quivering glance        20
    That on the thicket streams,
  Or do they flash on spear and lance—
    The sun’s retiring beams?—
I see the dagger-crest of Mar,
I see the Moray’s silver star,        25
Wave o’er the cloud of Saxon war,
That up the lake comes winding far!
  To hero bound for battle-strife,
    Or bard of martial lay,
  ’Twere worth ten years of peaceful life,        30
    One glance at their array!
  Their light-arm’d archers far and near
    Survey’d the tangled ground,
  Their centre ranks, with pike and spear,
    A twilight forest frown’d,        35
  Their barbed horsemen, in the rear,
    The stern battalia crown’d.
  No cymbal clash’d, no clarion rang,
    Still were the pipe and drum;
  Save heavy tread, and armour’s clang,        40
    The sullen march was dumb.
  There breathed no wind their crests to shake,
    Or wave their flags abroad;
  Scarce the frail aspen seem’d to quake,
    That shadow’d o’er their road.        45
  Their vaward scouts no tidings bring,
    Can rouse no lurking foe,
  Nor spy a trace of living thing,
    Save when they stirr’d the roe;
  The host moves like a deep-sea wave,        50
  Where rise no rocks its power to brave,
    High-swelling, dark, and slow.
The lake is pass’d, and now they gain
A narrow and a broken plain,
Before the Trosach’s rugged jaws;        55
And here the horse and spearmen pause,
While, to explore the dangerous glen,
Dive through the pass the archer-men.
 
At once there rose so wild a yell
Within that dark and narrow dell,        60
As all the fiends, from heaven that fell,
Had peal’d the banner-cry of hell!
  Forth from the pass in tumult driven,
  Like chaff before the wind of heaven,
    The archery appear:        65
  For life! for life! their plight they ply—
  And shriek, and shout, and battle-cry,
  And plaids and bonnets waving high,
  And broad-swords flashing to the sky,
    Are maddening in the rear.        70
  Onward they drive, in dreadful race,
    Pursuers and pursued;
  Before that tide of flight and chase,
  How shall it keep its rooted place,
    The spearmen’s twilight wood?—        75
‘Down, down,’ cried Mar, ‘your lances down!
  Bear back both friend and foe!’
Like reeds before the tempest’s frown,
That serried grove of lances brown
  At once lay levell’d low;        80
And closely shouldering side to side,
The bristling ranks the onset bide.—
‘We ’ll quell the savage mountaineer,
  As their Tinchel 1 cows the game!
They come as fleet as forest deer,        85
  We ’ll drive them back as tame.’
 
Bearing before them, in their course,
The relics of the archer force,
Like wave with crest of sparkling foam,
Right onward did Clan-Alpine come.        90
  Above the tide, each broadsword bright
  Was brandishing like beam of light,
    Each targe was dark below;
  And with the ocean’s mighty swing,
  When heaving to the tempest’s wing,        95
    They hurl’d them on the foe.
I heard the lance’s shivering crash,
As when the whirlwind rends the ash;
I heard the broadsword’s deadly clang,
As if an hundred anvils rang!        100
But Moray wheel’d his rearward rank
Of horsemen on Clan Alpine’s flank,—
    ‘My banner-man, advance!
  I see,’ he cried, ‘their column shake.
  Now, gallants! for your ladies’ sake,        105
    Upon them with the lance!’—
  The horsemen dash’d among the rout,
    As deer break through the broom;
  Their steeds are stout, their swords are out,
    They soon make lightsome room.        110
  Clan-Alpine’s best are backward borne—
    Where, where was Roderick then!
  One blast upon his bugle horn
    Were worth a thousand men.
  And refluent through the pass of fear        115
    The battle’s tide was pour’d;
  Vanish’d the Saxon’s struggling spear,
    Vanish’d the mountain-sword.
  As Bracklinn’s chasm, so black and steep,
    Receives her roaring linn,        120
  As the dark caverns of the deep
    Suck the wild whirlpool in,
So did the deep and darksome pass
Devour the battle’s mingled mass:
None linger now upon the plain,        125
Save those who ne’er shall fight again.
 
Note 1. A gradually narrowing circle of sportsmen closing in the game. [back]
 
 
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