Category Archives: Sir Walter Scott


Sir Walter Scott: “The Bard’s Incantation”

Sir Walter Scott saw nothing to ridicule or caricature in the man who ruled France. He saw the danger which threatened his own country, and, in a legitimate way, he endeavoured to arouse his fellow-countrymen to a proper sense of that danger. There were other English writers, like Wordsworth and Campbell, who were willing to treat Napoleon as a foeman worthy of British steel; but the great majority thought of him only as a Corsican pirate, coming over to burn, ravish, and destroy.

france-louvre-napoleons-coronationCoronation of Napoleon (1804) Palace of Versailles

The Bard’s Incantation

Written under the threat of Napoleon’s invasion in the Autumn of 1804.

The Forest of Glenmore is drear,
It is all of black pine, and the dark oak-tree;
And the midnight wind to the mountain deer,
Is whistling the forest lullaby:
The moon looks through the drifting storm,
But the troubled lake reflects not her form,
For the waves roll whitening to the land,
And dash against the shelvy strand.

There is a voice among the trees,
That mingles with the groaning oak-
That mingles with the stormy breeze,
And the lake-waves dashing against the rock;-
There is a voice within the wood,
The voice of the Bard in fitful mood;
His song was louder than the blast,
As the Bard of Glenmore through the forest past.

‘Wake ye from your sleep of death,
Minstrels and bards of other days!
For the midnight wind is on the heath,
And the midnight meteors dimly blaze:
The Spectre with the Bloody Hand,
Is wandering through the wild woodland;
The owl and the raven are mute for dread,
And the time is meet to awake the dead!

‘Souls of the mighty, wake, and say
To what high strain your harps were strung
When Lochlin plough’d her billowy way,
And on your shores her Norsemen flung?
Her Norsemen train’d to spoil and blood,
Skill’d to prepare the Raven’s food,
All, by your harpings, doom’d to die
On bloody Largs and Loncarty.

‘Mute are ye all? No murmurs strange
Upon the midnight breeze sail by;
Nor through the pines, with whistling change
Mimic the harp’s wild harmony!
Mute are ye now? – Ye ne’er were mute,
When Murder with his bloody foot,
And Rapine with his iron hand,
Were hovering near yon mountain strand.

‘O, yet awake, the strain to tell,
By every deed in song enroll’d,
By every chief who fought or fell
For Albion’s weal in battle bold:-
From Coilgach, first, who rolled his car
Through the deep ranks of Roman war,
To him, of veteran memory dear,
Who, victor, died on Aboukir.

‘By all their swords, by all their scars,
By all their names, a mighty spell!
By all their wounds, by all their wars,
Arise the mighty strain to tell!
For, fiercer than fierce Hengist’s strain,
More impious than the heathen Dane,
More grasping than all grasping Rome,
Gaul’s ravening legions hither come!’

The wind is hush’d, and still the lake-
Strange murmurs fill my tinkling ears,
Bristles my hair, my sinews quake
At the dread voice of other years-
‘When targets clash’d and bugles rung,
And blades round warriors’ heads were flung,
The foremost of the band were we,
And hymned the joys of liberty!’

G.A. Bürger: “Ellenore”

Gottfried August Bürger (1748-1701) is a poet of fiery and original genius. His ballads are among the noblest in the German language. His great aim was to make poetry popular, and his success in this respect was brilliant. He is chiefly known as a writer of ballads, of which his “Ellenore” is the best. This remarkable composition has been rendered familiar to English readers by the early translations of Taylor and Sir Walter Scott. It is Scott’s Paraphrase of “Ellenore” … known as “William and Helen” … which is presented below.



From heavy dreams fair Helen rose,
And eyed the dawning red:
“Alas, my love, thou tarriest long!
O art thou false or dead?”

With gallant Fred’rick’s princely power
He sought the bold Crusade;
But not a word from Judah’s wars
Told Helen how he sped.

With Paynim and with Saracen
At length a truce was made,
And every knight return’d to dry
The tears his love had shed.

Our gallant host was homeward bound
With many a song of joy;
Green waved the laurel in each plume,
The badge of victory.

And old and young, and sire and son,
To meet them crowd the way,
With shouts, and mirth, and melody,
The debt of love to pay.

Full many a maid her true-love met,
And sobb’d in his embrace,
And flutt’ring joy in tears and smiles
Array’d full many a face.

Nor joy nor smile for Helen sad
She sought the host in vain;
For none could tell her William’s fate,
In faithless, or if slain.

The martial band is past and gone;
She rends her raven hair,
And in distraction’s bitter mood
She weeps with wild despair.

“O rise, my child,” her mother said,
“Nor sorrow thus in vain;
A perjured lover’s fleeting heart
No tears recall again.”

“O mother, what is gone, is gone,
What’s lost for ever lorn:
Death, death alone can comfort me;
O had I ne’er been born!

“O break, my heart, — O break at once!
Drink my life-blood, Despair!
No joy remains on earth for me,
For me in Heaven no share.”

“O enter not in judgement, Lord!”
The pious mother prays;
“Impute not guilt to thy frail child!
She knows not what she says.

“O say thy pater noster, child,
O turn to God and grace!
His will, that turn’d thy bliss to bale,
Can change thy bale to bliss.”

“O mother, mother, what is bliss?
O mother, what is bale?
My William’s love was heaven on earth,
Without it earth is hell.

“Why should I pray to ruthless Heaven,
Since my loved William’s slain?
I only pray’d for William’s sake,
And all my prayers were vain.”

“O take the sacrament, my child,
And check these tears that flow;
By resignation’s humble prayer,
O hallow’d be thy woe!”—

“No sacrament can quench this fire,
Or slake this scorching pain;
No sacrament can bid the dead
Arise and live again.

“O break, my heart, — O break at once!
Be thou my God, Despair!
Heaven’s heaviest blow has fallen on me,
And vain each fruitless prayer.”

“O enter not in judgement, Lord,
With thy frail child of clay!
She knows not what her tongue has spoke;
Impute it not, I pray!

“Forbear, my child, this desperate woe,
And turn to God and grace;
Well can devotion’s heavenly glow
Convert thy bale to bliss.”

“O mother, mother, what is bliss?
O mother, what is bale?
Without my William what were heaven,
Or with him what were hell?”

Wild she arraigns the eternal doom,
Upbraids each sacred power,
Till, spent, she sought her silent room,
All in the lonely tower.

She beat her breast, she wrung her hands,
Till sun and day were o’er,
And through the glimmering lattice shone
The twinkling of the star.

Then, crash! the heavy drawbridge fell
That o’er the moat was hung;
And, clatter! clatter! on its boards
The hoof of courser rung.

The clank of echoing steel was heard
As off the rider bounded;
And slowly on the winding stair
A heavy footstep sounded.

And hark! and hark! a knock — Tap! tap!
A rustling stifled noise;—
Door-latch and tinkling staples ring;—
At length a whispering voice.

“Awake, awake, arise, my love!
How, Helen, dost thou fare?
Wak’st thou, or sleep’st? laugh’st thou or weep’st?
Hast thought on me, my fair?”

“My love! my love! — so late by night!
I waked, I wept for thee:
Much have I borne since dawn of morn;
Where, William, couldst thou be?”

“We saddle late — from Hungary
I rode since darkness fell;
And to its bourne we both return
Before the matin-bell.”

“O rest this night within my arms,
And warm thee in their fold!
Chill howls through hawthorn bush the wind:—
My love is deadly cold.”

“Let the wind howl through hawthorn bush!
This night we must away;
The steed is wight, the spur is bright;
I cannot stay till day.

“Busk, busk, and boune! Thou mount’st behind
Upon my black barb steed:
O’er stock and stile, a hundred miles,
We haste to bridal bed.”

“To-night — to-night a hundred miles!
O dearest William, stay!
The bell strikes twelve — dark, dismal hour!
O wait, my love, till day!”

Look here, look here — the moon shines clear
Full fast I ween we ride;
Mount and away! for ere the day
We reach our bridal bed.

“The black barb snorts, the bridle rings;
Haste, busk, and boune, and seat thee!
The feast is made, the chamber spread,
The bridal guests await thee.”

Strong love prevail’d: She busks, she bounes,
She mounts barb behind,
And round her darling William’s waist
Her lily arms she twined.

And, hurry! hurry! off they rode,
As fast as fast might be;
Spurn’d from the courser’s thundering heels
The flashing pebbles flee.

And on the right, and on the left,
Ere they could snatch a view,
Fast, fast each mountain, mead, and plain,
And cot, and castle, flew.

“Sit fast — dost fear? — The moon shines clear —
Fleet goes my barb — keep hold!
Fear’st thou?” — “O no!” she faintly said;
“But why so stern and cold?

“What yonder rings? what yonder sings?
Why shrieks the owlet grey?”
“‘Tis death-bells’ clang, ’tis funeral song,
The body to the clay.

“With song and clang, at morrow’s dawn,
Ye may inter the dead:
To-night I ride with my young bride,
To deck our bridal bed.

“Come with thy choir, thou coffin’d guest,
To swell our nuptial song!
Come, priest, to bless our marriage feast!
Come all, come all along!”—

Ceased clang and song; down sunk the bier;
The shrouded corpse arose:
And, hurry! hurry! all the train
The thundering steed pursues.

And, forward! forward! on they go;
High snorts the straining steed;
Thick pants the rider’s labouring breath,
As headlong on they speed.

“O William, why this savage haste?
And where thy bridal bed?”
“‘Tis distant far, low, damp, and chill,
And narrow, trustless maid.”

“No room for me?” — “Enough for both;
Speed, speed, my barb, thy course!”
O’er thundering bridge, through boiling surge
He drove the furious horse.

Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,
Splash! splash! along the sea;
The scourge is wight, the spur is bright,
The flashing pebbles flee.

Fled past on right and left how fast
Each forest, grove, and bower!
On right and left fled past how fast
Each city, town, and tower!

“Dost fear? dost fear?  The moon shines clear,
Dost fear to ride with me?
Hurrah! hurrah! the dead can ride!”
“O William, let them be!

“See there, see there!  What yonder swings
And creaks ‘mid whistling rain?”
“Gibbet and steel, th’ accursed wheel;
A murderer in his chain.

“Hollo! thou felon, follow here:
To bridal bed we ride;
And thou shalt prance a fetter dance
Before me and my bride.”

And, hurry! hurry! clash, clash, clash!
The wasted form descends;
And fleet as wind through hazel bush
The wild career attends.

Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,
Splash! splash! along the sea;
The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,
The flashing pebbles flee.

How fled what moonshine faintly show’d!
How fled what darkness hid!
How fled the earth beneath their feet,
The heaven above their head!

“Dost fear? dost fear? The moon shines clear,
And well the dead can ride;
Does faithful Helen fear for them?”
“O leave in peace the dead!”

“Barb! Barb! methinks I hear the cock;
The sand will soon be run:
Barb! Barb! I smell the morning air;
The race is wellnigh done.”

Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode;
Splash! splash! along the sea;
The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,
The flashing pebbles flee.

“Hurrah! hurrah! well ride the dead;
The bride, the bridge is come;
And soon we reach the bridal bed,
For, Helen, here’s my home.”

Reluctant on its rusty hinge
Revolved an iron door,
And by the pale moon’s setting beam
Were seen a church and tower.

With many a shriek and cry whiz round
The birds of midnight, scared;
And rustling like autumnal leaves
Unhallow’d ghosts were heard.

O’er many a tomb and tombstones pale
He spurr’d the fiery horse,
Till sudden at an open grave
He check’d the wondrous course.

The falling gauntlet quits the rein,
Down drops the casque of steel,
The cuirass leaves his shrinking side,
The spur his gory heel.

The eyes desert the naked skull,
The mould’ring flesh the bone,
Till Helen’s lily arms entwine
A ghastly skeleton.

The furious barb snorts fire and foam,
And, with a fearful bound,
Dissolves at once in empty air,
And leaves her on the ground.

Half seen by fits, by fits half heard,
Pale spectres flit along,
Wheel round the maid in dismal dance,
And howl the funeral song;

“E’en when the heart’s with anguish cleft,
Revere the doom of Heaven,
Her soul is from her body reft;
Her spirit be forgiven!”



Sir Walter Scott: “Enchantress, Farewell”



Farewell to the Muse

Enchantress, farewell, who so oft hast decoy'd me,
At the close of the evening through woodlands to roam,
Where the forester, 'lated, with wonder espied me
Explore the wild scenes he was quitting for home.

Farewell and take with thee thy numbers wild speaking
The language alternate of rapture and woe:
Oh! none but some lover, whose heartstrings are breaking
The pang that I feel at our parting can know.
Each joy thou couldst double, and when there came sorrow,
Or pale disappointment to darken my way,
What voice was like thine, that could sing of tomorrow,
Till forgot in the strain was the grief of today!

But when friends drop around us in life's weary waning,
The grief, Queen of Numbers, thou canst not assuage;
Nor the gradual estrangement of those yet remaining,
The languor of pain, and the chillness of age.
'Twas thou that once taught me, accents bewailing,
To sing how a warrior I lay stretch'd on the plain,
And a maiden hung o'er him with aid unavailing,
And held to his lips the cold goblet in vain ;

As vain thy enchantments, O Queen of wild Numbers
To a bard when the reign of his fancy is o'er,
And the quick pulse of feeling in apathy slumbers --
Farewell, then, Enchantress I'll meet thee no more!
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