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
Flodden Field
Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
[September, 1513]

From “Marmion,” Canto VI.

A MOMENT then Lord Marmion stayed,
And breathed his steed, his men arrayed,
  Then forward moved his band,
Until, Lord Surrey’s rear-guard won,
He halted by a cross of stone,        5
That, on a hillock standing lone,
  Did all the field command.
 
Hence might they see the full array
Of either host for deadly fray;
Their marshalled lines stretched east and west,        10
  And fronted north and south,
And distant salutation past
  From the loud cannon-mouth;
Not in the close successive rattle
That breathes the voice of modern battle,        15
  But slow and far between.—
The hillock gained, Lord Marmion stayed:
“Here, by this cross,” he gently said,
  “You well may view the scene;
Here shalt thou tarry, lovely Clare:        20
O, think of Marmion in thy prayer!—
Thou wilt not?—well,—no less my care
Shall, watchful, for thy weal prepare.—
You, Blount and Eustace, are her guard,
  With ten picked archers of my train;        25
With England if the day go hard,
  To Berwick speed amain,—
But, if we conquer, cruel maid,
My spoils shall at your feet be laid,
  When here we meet again.”        30
He waited not for answer there,
And would not mark the maid’s despair,
  Nor heed the discontented look
From either squire: but spurred amain,
And, dashing through the battle-plain,        35
  His way to Surrey took.
*        *        *        *        *
Blount and Fitz-Eustace rested still
With Lady Clare upon the hill;
On which (for far the day was spent)
The western sunbeams now were bent.        40
The cry they heard, its meaning knew,
Could plain their distant comrades view:
Sadly to Blount did Eustace say,
“Unworthy office here to stay!
No hope of gilded spurs to-day.—        45
But, see! look up,—on Flodden bent
The Scottish foe has fired his tent.”—
  And sudden, as he spoke,
From the sharp ridges of the hill,
All downward to the banks of Till        50
  Was wreathed in sable smoke.
Volumed and vast, and rolling far,
The cloud enveloped Scotland’s war,
  As down the hill they broke;
Nor martial shout, nor minstrel tone,        55
Announced their march; their tread alone,
At times their warning trumpet blown,
  At times a stifled hum,
Told England, from his mountain-throne
  King James did rushing come.—        60
Scarce could they hear or see their foes,
Until at weapon-point they close.—
They close in clouds of smoke and dust,
With sword-sway and with lance’s thrust;
  And such a yell was there,        65
Of sudden and portentous birth,
As if men fought upon the earth
  And fiends in upper air:
O, life and death were in the shout,
Recoil and rally, charge and rout,        70
  And triumph and despair.
Long looked the anxious squires; their eye
Could in the darkness naught descry.
 
At length the freshening western blast
Aside the shroud of battle cast;        75
And, first, the ridge of mingled spears
Above the brightened cloud appears;
And in the smoke the pennons flew,
As in the storm the white sea-mew.
Then marked they, dashing broad and far,        80
The broken billows of the war,
And plumèd crests of chieftains brave
Floating like foam upon the wave;
  But naught distinct they see:
Wide raged the battle on the plain;        85
Spears shook, and falchions flashed amain;
Fell England’s arrow-flight like rain;
Crests rose, and stooped, and rose again,
  Wild and disorderly.
Amid the scene of tumult, high        90
They saw Lord Marmion’s falcon fly:
And stainless Tunstall’s banner white,
And Edmund Howard’s lion bright,
Still bear them bravely in the fight;
  Although against them come        95
Of gallant Gordons many a one,
And many a stubborn Highlandman,
And many a rugged Border clan,
  With Huntley and with Home.
 
Far on the left, unseen the while,        100
Stanley broke Lennox and Argyle;
Though there the western mountaineer
Rushed with bare bosom on the spear,
And flung the feeble targe aside,
And with both hands the broadsword plied,        105
’T was vain:—But Fortune, on the right,
With fickle smile, cheered Scotland’s fight.
Then fell that spotless banner white,
  The Howard’s lion fell;
Yet still Lord Marmion’s falcon flew        110
With wavering flight, while fiercer grew
  Around the battle-yell.
The Border slogan rent the sky!
A Home! a Gordon! was the cry:
Loud were the clanging blows;        115
Advanced,—forced back,—now low, now high,
  The pennon sunk and rose;
As bends the bark’s mast in the gale,
When rent are rigging, shrouds, and sail,
  It wavered mid the foes.        120
No longer Blount the view could bear:—
“By heaven and all its saints, I swear,
  I will not see it lost!
Fitz-Eustace, you with Lady Clare
May bid your beads, and patter prayer,—        125
  I gallop to the host.”
And to the fray he rode amain,
Followed by all the archer train.
The fiery youth, with desperate charge,
Made, for a space, an opening large,—        130
  The rescued banner rose,
But darkly closed the war around,
Like pine-tree rooted from the ground,
  It sunk among the foes.
Then Eustace mounted too;—yet stayed,        135
As loath to leave the helpless maid,
  When, fast as shaft can fly,
Bloodshot his eyes, his nostrils spread,
The loose rein dangling from his head,
Housing and saddle bloody red,        140
  Lord Marmion’s steed rushed by;
And Eustace, maddening at the sight,
  A look and sign to Clara cast,
  To mark he would return in haste,
Then plunged into the fight.        145
 
Ask me not what the maiden feels,
  Left in that dreadful hour alone:
Perchance her reason stoops or reels;
  Perchance a courage, not her own,
  Braces her mind to desperate tone.—        150
The scattered van of England wheels;—
  She only said, as loud in air
  The tumult roared, “Is Wilton there?”
  They fly, or, maddened by despair,
  Fight but to die,—“Is Wilton there?”        155
With that, straight up the hill there rode
  Two horsemen drenched with gore,
And in their arms, a helpless load,
  A wounded knight they bore.
His hand still strained the broken brand;        160
His arms were smeared with blood and sand.
Dragged from among the horses’ feet,
With dinted shield, and helmet beat,
The falcon-crest and plumage gone,
Can that be haughty Marmion!…        165
Young Blount his armor did unlace,
And, gazing on his ghastly face,
  Said,—“By Saint George, he ’s gone!
That spear-wound has our master sped,—
And see the deep cut on his head!        170
  Good night to Marmion.”—
“Unnurtured Blount! thy brawling cease:
He opes his eyes,” said Eustace; “peace!”
 
When, doffed his casque, he felt free air,
Around ’gan Marmion wildly stare:—        175
“Where ’s Harry Blount? Fitz-Eustace where?
Linger ye here, ye hearts of hare!
Redeem my pennon,—charge again!
Cry—‘Marmion to the rescue!’—vain!
Last of my race, on battle-plain        180
That shout shall ne’er be heard again!—
Yet my last thought is England’s:—fly,
  To Dacre bear my signet-ring:
  Tell him his squadrons up to bring:—
Fitz-Eustace, to Lord Surrey hie;        185
  Tunstall lies dead upon the field,
  His life-blood stains the spotless shield:
  Edmund is down;—my life is reft;—
  The Admiral alone is left.
  Let Stanley charge with spur of fire,—        190
  With Chester charge, and Lancashire,
  Full upon Scotland’s central host,
  Or victory and England ’s lost.—
  Must I bid twice?—hence, varlets! fly!
  Leave Marmion here alone—to die.”        195
  They parted, and alone he lay:
  Clare drew her from the sight away,
Till pain rung forth a lowly moan,
And half he murmured,—“Is there none,
  Of all my halls have nurst,        200
Page, squire, or groom, one cup to bring,
Of blessèd water from the spring,
  To slake my dying thirst?”
 
O woman! in our hours of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,        205
And variable as the shade
By the light quivering aspen made;
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!—
Scarce were the piteous accents said,        210
When, with the Baron’s casque, the maid
  To the nigh streamlet ran;
Forgot were hatred, wrongs, and fears;
The plaintive voice alone she hears,
  Sees but the dying man.        215
She stooped her by the runnel’s side,
  But in abhorrence backward drew;
For, oozing from the mountain’s side,
Where raged the war, a dark-red tide
  Was curdling in the streamlet blue,        220
Where shall she turn!—behold her mark
  A little fountain cell,
Where water, clear as diamond-spark,
  In a stone basin fell.
Above, some half-worn letters say,        225
Drink, weary pilgrim, drink and pray
For the kind soul of Sybil Gray,
  Who built this cross and well.
She filled the helm, and back she hied,
And with surprise and joy espied        230
  A monk supporting Marmion’s head;
A pious man whom duty brought
To dubious verge of battle fought,
  To shrive the dying, bless the dead.
 
Deep drank Lord Marmion of the wave,        235
And, as she stooped his brow to lave,—
“Is it the hand of Clare,” he said,
“Or injured Constance, bathes my head?”
  Then, as remembrance rose,—
“Speak not to me of shrift or prayer!        240
  I must redress her woes.
Short space, few words, are mine to spare;
Forgive and listen, gentle Clare!”—
  “Alas!” she said, “the while,—
O, think of your immortal weal!        245
In vain for Constance is your zeal;
  She—died at Holy Isle.”—
Lord Marmion started from the ground,
As light as if he felt no wound;
Though in the action burst the tide        250
In torrents from his wounded side.
“Then it was truth!” he said,—“I knew
That the dark presage must be true.—
I would the Fiend, to whom belongs
The vengeance due to all her wrongs,        255
  Would spare me but a day!
For wasting fire, and dying groan,
And priests slain on the altar stone,
  Might bribe him for delay.
It may not be!—this dizzy trance,—        260
Curse on yon base marauder’s lance,
And doubly cursed my failing brand!
A sinful heart makes feeble hand.”
Then, fainting, down on earth he sunk,
Supported by the trembling monk.        265
 
With fruitless labor, Clara bound,
And strove to stanch the gushing wound:
The monk, with unavailing cares,
Exhausted all the Church’s prayers.
Ever, he said, that, close and near,        270
A lady’s voice was in his ear,
And that the priest he could not hear,
  For that she ever sung,
“In the lost battle, borne down by the flying,
Where mingles war’s rattle with groans of the dying!”        275
  So the notes rung:—
“Avoid thee, Fiend!—with cruel hand,
Shake not the dying sinner’s sand!—
O, look, my son, upon yon sign
Of the Redeemer’s grace divine:        280
  O, think on faith and bliss!—
By many a death-bed I have been,
And many a sinner’s parting seen,
  But never aught like this.”
 
The war, that for a space did fail,        285
Now trebly thundering swelled the gale,
  And STANLEY! was the cry:—
A light on Marmion’s visage spread,
  And fired his glazing eye:
With dying hand above his head        290
He shook the fragment of his blade,
  And shouted “Victory!—
Charge, Chester, charge! On, Stanley, on!”
Were the last words of Marmion.
 
 
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