Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
 
Descriptive Poems: III. Places
Melrose Abbey
Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
From “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” Canto II.

IF thou wouldst view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight;
For the gay beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to flout, the ruins gray.
When the broken arches are black in night,        5
And each shafted oriel glimmers white;
When the cold light’s uncertain shower
Streams on the ruined central tower;
When buttress and buttress, alternately,
Seem framed of ebon and ivory:        10
When silver edges the imagery,
And the scrolls that teach thee to live and die;
When distant Tweed is heard to rave,
And the owlet to hoot o’er the dead man’s grave,
Then go,—but go alone the while,—        15
Then view Saint David’s ruined pile;
And, home returning, soothly swear,
Was never seen so sad and fair!
*        *        *        *        *
The pillared arches were over their head,
And beneath their feet were the bones of the dead.        20
 
Spreading herbs and flowerets bright
Glistened with the dew of night;
Nor herb nor flower glistened there,
But was carved in the cloister-arches as fair.
  The monk gazed long on the lovely moon,        25
    Then into the night he lookèd forth;
  And red and bright the streamers light
    Were dancing in the glowing north.
  So had he seen, in fair Castile,
    The youth in glittering squadrons start,        30
  Sudden the flying jennet wheel,
    And hurl the unexpected dart.
He knew, by the streamers that shot so bright,
That spirits were riding the northern light.
 
By a steel-clenched postern door,        35
  They entered now the chancel tall;
The darkened roof rose high aloof
  On pillars lofty and light and small;
The keystone, that locked each ribbèd aisle,
Was a fleur-de-lys, or a quatre-feuille:        40
The corbells were carved grotesque and grim:
And the pillars, with clustered shafts so trim,
With base and with capital flourished around,
Seemed bundles of lances which garlands had bound.
 
Full many a scutcheon and banner, riven,        45
Shook to the cold night-wind of heaven,
  Around the screenèd altar’s pale;
And there the dying lamps did burn,
Before thy low and lonely urn,
O gallant Chief of Otterburne!        50
  And thine, dark Knight of Liddesdale!
O fading honors of the dead!
O high ambition lowly laid!
 
The moon on the east oriel shone
Through slender shafts of shapely stone,        55
  By foliaged tracery combined;
Thou wouldst have thought some fairy’s hand
’Twixt poplars straight the osier wand
  In many a freakish knot had twined;
Then framed a spell, when the work was done,        60
And changed the willow wreaths to stone.
The silver light, so pale and faint,
Showed many a prophet, and many a saint,
  Whose image on the glass was dyed;
Full in the midst, his Cross of Red        65
Triumphant Michael brandishèd,
  And trampled the Apostate’s pride.
The moonbeam kissed the holy pane,
And threw on the pavement a bloody stain.
 
 
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