Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
 
III. War
Beal’ an Dhuine
Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
[1411]

From “The Lady of the Lake,” Canto VI.

THERE is no breeze upon the fern,
  No ripple on the lake,
Upon her eyrie nods the erne,
  The deer has sought the brake;
The small birds will not sing aloud,        5
  The springing trout lies still,
So darkly glooms yon thunder-cloud,
That swathes, as with a purple shroud,
  Benledi’s distant hill.
Is it the thunder’s solemn sound        10
  That mutters deep and dread,
Or echoes from the groaning ground
  The warrior’s measured tread?
Is it the lightning’s quivering glance
  That on the thicket streams,        15
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
Wave o’er the cloud of Saxon war,        20
  That up the lake comes winding far!
To hero bound for battle strife,
  Or bard of martial lay,
’T were worth ten years of peaceful life,
  One glance at their array!        25
 
Their light-armed archers far and near
  Surveyed the tangled ground,
Their centre ranks, with pike and spear,
  A twilight forest frowned,
Their barbèd horsemen, in the rear,        30
  The stern battalia crowned.
No cymbal clashed, no clarion rang,
  Still were the pipe and drum;
Save heavy tread, and armor’s clang,
  The sullen march was dumb.        35
There breathed no wind their crests to shake,
  Or wave their flags abroad;
Scarce the frail aspen seemed to quake,
  That shadowed o’er their road.
Their vaward scouts no tidings bring,        40
  Can rouse no lurking foe,
Nor spy a trace of living thing,
  Save when they stirred the roe;
The host moves like a deep sea wave,
Where rise no rocks its pride to brave,        45
  High swelling, dark, and slow.
The lake is passed, and now they gain
A narrow and a broken plain,
Before the Trosach’s rugged jaws;
And here the horse and spearmen pause,        50
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,
As all the fiends, from heaven that fell,        55
Had pealed the banner cry of hell!
Forth from the pass in tumult driven,
Like chaff before the winds of heaven,
  The archery appear:
For life! for life! their flight they ply—        60
And shriek, and shout, and battle-cry,
And plaids and bonnets waving high,
And broadswords flashing to the sky,
  Are maddening in the rear.
Onward they drive, in dreadful race,        65
  Pursuers and pursued;
Before that tide of flight and chase,
How shall it keep its rooted place,
  The spearmen’s twilight wood?
—“Down, down,” cried Mar, “your lances down!        70
  Bear back both friend and foe!”
Like reeds before the tempest’s frown,
That serried grove of lances brown
  At once lay levelled low;
And closely shouldering side to side,        75
The bristling ranks the onset bide.—
—“We ’ll quell the savage mountaineer,
  As their linchel 1 cows the game;
They come as fleet as forest deer,
  We ’ll drive them back as tame.”        80
 
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.
Above the tide, each broadsword bright        85
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,
  They hurled them on the foe.        90
I heard the lance’s shivering crash,
As when the whirlwind rends the ash;
I heard the broadsword’s deadly clang,
As if a hundred anvils rang!
But Moray wheeled his rearward flank—        95
Of horsemen on Clan-Alpine’s flank—
  “My bannerman, advance!
I see,” he cried, “their columns shake.
Now, gallants! for your ladies’ sake,
  Upon them with the lance!”        100
The horsemen dashed among the rout,
  As deer break through the broom;
Their steeds are stout, their swords are out,
  They soon make lightsome room.
Clan-Alpine’s best are backward borne—        105
  Where, where was Roderick then?
One blast upon his bugle-horn
  Were worth a thousand men!
And refluent through the pass of fear
  The battle’s tide was poured;        110
Vanished the Saxon’s struggling spear,
  Vanished the mountain sword.
As Bracklinn’s chasm, so black and steep,
  Receives her roaring linn,
As the dark caverns of the deep        115
  Suck the wild whirlpool in,
So did the deep and darksome pass
Devour the battle’s mingled mass;
None linger now upon the plain,
Save those who ne’er shall fight again.        120
 
Note 1. A circle of sportsmen, surrounding the deer. [back]
 
 
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