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
 
The Eve of St. John
By Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
THE BARON of Smaylho’me rose with day,
  He spurred his courser on,
Without stop or stay, down the rocky way,
  That leads to Brotherstone.
 
He went not with the bold Buccleuch,        5
  His banner broad to rear;
He went not ’gainst the English yew,
  To lift the Scottish spear.
 
Yet his plate-jack 1 was braced, and his helmet was laced,
  And his vaunt-brace of proof he wore;        10
At his saddle-gerthe was a good steel sperthe,
  Full ten pound weight and more.
 
The Baron returned in three days’ space,
  And his looks were sad and sour;
And weary was his courser’s pace,        15
  As he reached his rocky tower.
 
He came not from where Ancram Moor
  Ran red with English blood;
Where the Douglas true, and the bold Buccleuch,
  ’Gainst keen Lord Evers stood.        20
 
Yet was his helmet hacked and hewed,
  His acton pierced and tore,
His axe and his dagger with blood imbrued,—
  But it was not English gore.
 
He lighted at the Chapellage,        25
  He held him close and still;
And he whistled thrice for his little foot-page,
  His name was English Will.
 
‘Come thou hither, my little foot-page,
  Come hither to my knee;        30
Though thou art young, and tender of age,
  I think thou art true to me.
 
‘Come, tell me all that thou hast seen,
  And look thou tell me true!
Since I from Smaylho’me tower have been,        35
  What did my lady do?’—
 
‘My lady, each night, sought the lonely light
  That burns on the wild Watchfold;
For, from height to height, the beacons bright
  Of the English foemen told.        40
 
‘The bittern clamoured from the moss,
  The wind blew loud and shrill;
Yet the craggy pathway she did cross,
  To the eiry Beacon Hill.
 
‘I watched her steps, and silent came        45
  Where she sat her on a stone;
No watchman stood by the dreary flame;
  It burned all alone.
 
‘The second night I kept her in sight,
  Till to the fire she came,        50
And, by Mary’s might! an armèd Knight
  Stood by the lonely flame.
 
‘And many a word that warlike lord
  Did speak to my lady there;
But the rain fell fast, and loud blew the blast,        55
  And I heard not what they were.
 
‘The third night there the sky was fair,
  And the mountain-blast was still,
As again I watched the secret pair,
  On the lonesome Beacon Hill.        60
 
‘And I heard her name the midnight hour,
  And name this holy eve;
And say, “Come this night to thy lady’s bower;
  Ask no bold Baron’s leave.
 
‘“He lifts his spear with the bold Buccleuch;        65
  His lady is all alone;
The door she’ll undo to her knight so true,
  On the eve of good St. John.”—
 
‘“I cannot come; I must not come;
  I dare not come to thee;        70
On the eve of St. John I must wander alone;
  In thy bower I may not be.”—
 
‘“Now, out on thee, faint-hearted knight!
  Thou shouldst not say me nay;
For the eve is sweet, and when lovers meet,        75
  Is worth the whole summer’s day.
 
‘“And I’ll chain the blood-hound, and the warder shall not sound,
  And rushes shall be strewed on the stair;
So, by the black rood-stone, 2 and by holy St. John,
  I conjure thee, my love, to be there!”        80
 
‘“Though the blood-hound be mute, and the rush beneath my foot,
  And the warder his bugle should not blow,
Yet there sleepeth a priest in the chamber to the east,
  And my footstep he would know.”
 
‘“O fear not the priest, who sleepeth to the east;        85
  For to Dryburgh the way he has ta’en;
And there to say mass, till three days do pass,
  For the soul of a knight that is slain.”—
 
‘He turned him around, and grimly he frowned;
  Then he laughed right scornfully—        90
“He who says the mass-rite for the soul of that knight,
  May as well say mass for me:
 
‘“At the lone midnight hour, when bad spirits have power,
  In thy chamber will I be.”—
With that he was gone, and my lady left alone,        95
  And no more did I see.’—
 
Then changed, I trow, was that bold Baron’s brow,
  From the dark to the blood-red high;
‘Now tell me the mien of the knight thou hast seen,
  For, by Mary, he shall die!’—        100
 
‘His arms shone full bright, in the beacon’s red light;
  His plume it was scarlet and blue;
On his shield was a hound, in a silver leash bound,
  And his crest was a branch of the yew.’—
 
‘Thou liest, thou liest, thou little foot-page,        105
  Loud dost thou lie to me!
For that knight is cold, and low laid in the mould,
  All under the Eildon-tree.’— 3
 
‘Yet hear but my word, my noble lord!
  For I heard her name his name;        110
And that lady bright, she called the knight,
  Sir Richard of Coldinghame.’
 
The bold Baron’s brow then changed, I trow,
  From high blood-red to pale—
‘The grave is deep and dark—and the corpse is stiff and stark—        115
  So I may not trust thy tale.
 
‘Where fair Tweed flows round holy Melrose,
  And Eildon slopes to the plain,
Full three nights ago, by some secret foe,
  That gay gallant was slain.        120
 
‘The varying light deceived thy sight,
  And the wild winds drowned the name;
For the Dryburgh bells ring, and the white monks do sing,
  For Sir Richard of Coldinghame!’
 
He passed the court-gate, and he oped the tower grate,        125
  And he mounted the narrow stair
To the bartizan-seat, where, with maids that on her wait,
  He found his lady fair.
 
That lady sat in mournful mood;
  Looked over hill and vale;        130
Over Tweed’s fair flood, and Mertoun’s wood,
  And all down Teviotdale.
 
‘Now hail, now hail, thou lady bright!’—
  ‘Now hail, thou Baron true!
What news, what news from Ancram fight?        135
  What news from the bold Buccleuch?’—
 
‘The Ancram Moor is red with gore,
  For many a Southron fell;
And Buccleuch has charged us, evermore
  To watch our beacons well.’        140
 
The lady blushed red, but nothing she said;
  Nor added the Baron a word;
Then she stepped down the stair to her chamber fair,
  And so did her moody lord.
 
In sleep the lady mourned, and the Baron tossed and turned,        145
  And oft to himself he said—
‘The worms around him creep, and his bloody grave is deep …
  It cannot give up the dead!’
 
It was near the ringing of matin-bell,
  The night was wellnigh done,        150
When a heavy sleep on that Baron fell,
  On the eve of good St. John.
 
The lady looked through the chamber fair
  By the light of a dying flame;
And she was aware of a knight stood there—        155
  Sir Richard of Coldinghame!
 
‘Alas! away, away!’ she cried,
  ‘For the holy Virgin’s sake!’—
‘Lady, I know who sleeps by thy side;
  But, lady, he will not awake.        160
 
‘By Eildon-tree, for long nights three,
  In bloody grave have I lain;
The mass and the death-prayer are said for me,
  But lady, they are said in vain.
 
‘By the Baron’s brand, near Tweed’s fair strand,        165
  Most foully slain I fell;
And my restless sprite on the beacon’s height
  For a space is doomed to dwell.
 
‘At our trysting-place, for a certain space
  I must wander to and fro;        170
But I had not had power to come to thy bower,
  Hadst thou not conjured me so.’—
 
Love mastered fear—her brow she crossed;
  ‘How, Richard, hast thou sped?
And art thou saved, or art thou lost?’—        175
  The Vision shook his head!
 
‘Who spilleth life, shall forfeit life,
  So bid my lord believe;
That lawless love is guilt above,
  This awful sign receive.’        180
 
He laid his left palm on an oaken beam;
  His right upon her hand;
The lady shrunk, and fainting sunk,
  For it scorched like a fiery brand.
 
The sable score, of fingers four,        185
  Remains on that board impressed;
And for evermore that lady wore
  A covering on her wrist.
 
There is a Nun in Dryburgh bower,
  Ne’er looks upon the sun:        190
There is a Monk in Melrose tower,
  He speaketh word to none.
 
That Nun, who ne’er beholds the day,
  That Monk, who speaks to none—
That Nun was Smaylho’me’s Lady gay,        195
  That Monk the bold Baron.
 
Note 1. The plate-jack is coat armour; the vaunt-brace, or wam-brace, armour for the body; the sperthe, a battle-axe. [back]
Note 2. The black-rood of Melrose was a crucifix of black marble, and of superior sanctity. [back]
Note 3. Eildon is a high hill, terminating in three conical summits, immediately above the town of Melrose, where are the admired ruins of a magnificent monastery. Eildon-tree is said to be the spot where Thomas the Rhymer uttered his prophecies. [back]
 
 
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