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.
Coronation 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!’