Sir Walter Scott The Minstrelsy of
the Scottish Borders Ode on visiting Flodden
By J. Leyden
Green Flodden! on thy blood-stain'd head
Descend no rain nor vernal dew;
But still thou charnel of the dead,
May whitening bones thy surface strew!
Soon as I tread thy rush-clad vale,
Wild fancy feels the clasping mail;
The rancour of a thousand years
Glows in my breast; again I burn
To see the banner'd pomp of war return,
And mark, beneath the moon, the silver light of spears.
Lo! bursting from their common tomb,
The spirits of the ancient dead
Dimly streak the parted gloom
With awful faces, ghastly red;
As once, around their martial king,
They closed the death-devoted ring,
With dauntless hearts, unknown to yield;
In slow procession round the pile
Of heaving corses, moves each shadowy file,
And chants, in solemn strain, the dirge of Flodden field.
What youth of graceful form and mein,
Foremost leads the spectred brave,
While o'er his mantle's folds of green
His amber locks redundant wave?
When slow returns the fated day,
That view'd their chieftain's long array,
Wild to the harp's deep plaintive string,
The virgins raise the funeral strain,
From Ord's black mountain to the northern main,
And mourn the emerald hue which paints the vest of spring. *
Alas! that Scottish maid should sing
The combat where her lover fell!
That Scottish bard should wake the string,
The triumph of our foes to tell!
Yet Teviot's sons, with high disdain,
Have kindled at the thrilling strain,
That mourn'd their martial father's bier;
And at the sacred font, the priest
Through ages left the master-hand unblest, **
To urge, with keener aim, the blood-encrusted spear.
Red Flodden! when thy plaintive strain
In early youth rose soft and sweet,
My life-blood through each throbbing vein,
With wild tumultuous passion beat;
And oft, in fancied might, I trode,
The spear-strewn path to Fame's abode,
Encircled with a sanguine flood;
And thought I heard the mingling hum,
When, croaking hoarse, the birds of carrion
Afar, on rustling wing, to feast on English blood.
Rude Border Chiefs, of mighty name,
And iron soul, who sternly tore
The blossoms from the tree of fame,
And purpled deep their tints with gore,
Rush from brown ruins, scarr'd with age,
That frown o'er haunted Hermitage;
Where, long by spells mysterious bound,
They pace their round, with lifeless smile,
And shake, with restless foot, the guilty pile,
Till sink the mouldering towers beneath the burden'd ground. ***
Shades of the dead! on Alfer's plain
Who scorned with backward step to move,
But struggling mid the hills of slain,
Against the Sacred Standard stove; ****
Amid the lanes of war I trace
Each broad claymore and ponderous mace;
Where'er the surge of arms is tost,
Your glittering spears in close array,
Sweep like the spider's filmy web away
The flower of Norman pride, and English's victor host.
But distant fleets each warrior ghost,
With surly sounds that murmur far;
Such sounds were heard when Syria's host
Roll'd from the walls of proud Samar,
Around my solitary head
Gleam the blue lightnings of the dead,
While murmur low the shadowy band -
"Lament no more the warrior's doom!
Blood, blood alone should dew the hero's tomb,
Who falls, 'mid circling spears, to save his native land."
*Under the vigorous administration of James IV, the young Earl of Caithness incurred the penalty of outlawry and forfeiture, for revenging an ancient feud. On the evening preceding the battle of Flodden, accompanied by 300 young warriors, arrayed in green, he presented himself before the King, and submitted to his mercy. This mark of attachment was so agreeable to that war-like prince, that he granted an immunity to the Earl and all his followers. The parchment on which this immunity was inscribed, is said to be still preserved in the archives of the Earls of Caithness, and is marked with the drum-strings, having been cut out of a drum-head, as no other parchment could be found in the army. The Earl and his gallant band perished to a man in the battle of Flodden; since which period, it has been reckoned unlucky in Caithness to wear green or cross the Ord on a Monday, the day of the week on which the Chieftain advanced into Sutherland.
**In the Border counties of Scotland, it was formerly customary, when any rancorous enmity subsisted between two clans, to leave the right hand of male children unchristened, that it might deal the more deadly, or according to the popular phrase "unhallowed" blows to their enemies. By this superstitious rite, they were devoted to bear the family feud, or enmity.
***Popular superstition in Scotland still retains so formidable an idea of the guilt of blood, that those ancient edifices, or castles, where enormous crimes have been committed, are supposed to sink gradually into the ground. With regards to the castle of Hermitage, in particular, the common people believe that thirty feet of the walls sunk, thirty feet fell, and thirty feet remain standing.
****The fatal battle of the Standard was fought on Cowton Moor, near Northallerton, in Yorkshire, 1138. David I commanded the Scottish army. He was opposed by Thurston, Archbishop of York, who, to animate his followers, had recourse to the impressions of religious enthusiasm. The mast of a ship was fitted into the perch of a four-wheeled carriage; on the top was placed a little casket, containing a consecrated host. It also contained the banner of St. Cuthbert, round which were displayed those of St. Peter of York, St. John of Beverly, and St. Wilfred of Rippon. This was the English standard, and was stationed in the centre of the army. Prince Henry, son of David, at the head of the men-of arms, chiefly from Cumberland and Teviotdale, charged, broke, and completely dispersed the centre; but unfortunately was not supported by the other divisions of the Scottish army. The expression of Alfred, describing this encounter, is more spirited than the general tenor of monkish historians; that division of the phalanx was dispersed like a cobweb.
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