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Himself he saw, amid the field,
On high his brandish'd war-axe wield,
And strike proud Haco from his car,
While all around the shadowy Kings
Denmark's grim ravens cower'd their wings.
'Tis said, that, in that awful night,
Remoter visions met his sight,
Foreshowing future conquest far,
When our sons' sons wage northern war;
A royal city, tower and spire,
Redden'd the midnight sky with fire,
And shouting crews her navy bore,
Triumphant, to the victor shore.
Such signs may learned clerks explain,
They pass the wit of simple swain.
'The joyful King turn'd home again,
Headed his host, and quell'd the Dane;
But yearly, when return'd the night
Of his strange combat with the sprite,
His wound must bleed and smart; Lord Gifford then would gibing say, “Bold as ye were, my liege, ye pay
The penance of your start.”
Long since, beneath Dunfermline's nave,
King Alexander fills his grave,
Our Lady give him rest !
Yet still the knightly spear and shield
The Elfin Warrior doth wield,
Upon the brown hill's breast;
And many a knight hath proved his chance,
In the charm'd ring to break a lance,
But all have foully sped ;
Save two, as legends tell, and they
Were Wallace wight, and Gilbert Hay.
Gentles, my tale is said.'
The quaighs were deep, the liquor strong,
And on the tale the yeoman-throng
Had made a comment sage and long,
But Marmion gave a sign :
And, with their lord, the squires retire;
The rest around the hostel fire,
Their drowsy limbs recline :
For pillow, underneath each head,
The quiver and the targe were laid.
Deep slumbering on the hostel floor,
Oppress'd with toil and ale, they snore :
The dying flame, in fitful change,
Threw on the group its shadows strange.
Apart, and nestling in the hay
Of a waste loft, Fitz-Eustace lay ;
Scarce, by the pale moonlight, were seen
The foldings of his mantle green :
Lightly he dreamt, as youth will dream,
Of sport by thicket, or by stream,
Of hawk or hound, of ring or glove,
Or, lighter yet, of lady's love.
A cautious tread his slumber broke,
And, close beside him, when he woke,
In moonbeam half, and half in gloom,
Stood a tall form, with nodding plume ;
But, ere his dagger Eustace drew,
His master Marmion's voice he knew.
—'Fitz-Eustace! rise,- I cannot rest;
Yon churl's wild legend haunts my breast,
And graver thoughts have chafed my mood :
The air must cool my feverish blood;
And fain would I ride forth, to see
The scene of elfin chivalry.
Arise, and saddle me my steed;
And, gentle Eustace, take good heed
Thou dost not rouse these drowsy slaves ; 545
I would not, that the prating knaves
Had cause for saying, o'er their ale,
That I could credit such a tale.'—
Then softly down the steps they slid,
Eustace the stable door undid,
And, darkling, Marmion's steed array'd,
While, whispering, thus the Baron said :-
‘Did'st never, good my youth, hear tell,
That on the hour when I was born, Saint George, who graced my sire's chapelle, 555 Down from his steed of marble fell,
A weary wight forlorn ? The flattering chaplains all agree, The champion left his steed to me. I would, the omen's truth to show, - 560 That I could meet this Elfin Foe! Blithe would I battle, for the right To ask one question at the sprite :Vain thought! for elves, if elves there be, An empty race, by fount or sea,
To dashing waters dance and sing,
Or round the green oak wheel their ring.'
Thus speaking, he his steed bestrode,
And from the hostel slowly rode.
Fitz-Eustace follow'd him abroad,
570 And mark'd him pace the village road, And listen’d to his horse's tramp,
Till, by the lessening sound,
He judged that of the Pictish camp
Lord Marmion sought the round.
Wonder it seem'd, in the squire's eyes,
That one, so wary held, and wise, -
Of whom 'twas said, he scarce received
For gospel, what the Church believed, -
Should, stirr'd by idle tale,
Ride forth in silence of the night,
As hoping half to meet a sprite,
Array'd in plate and mail.
For little did Fitz-Eustace know,
That passions, in contending flow,
Unfix the strongest mind;
Wearied from doubt to doubt to flee,
We welcome fond credulity,
Guide confident, though blind.
Little for this Fitz-Eustace cared,
But, patient, waited till he heard,
At distance, prick'd to utmost speed,
The foot-tramp of a flying steed,
Come town-ward rushing on;
First, dead, as if on turf it trode,
Then, clattering on the village road,-
In other pace than forth he yode,
Return'd Lord Marmion.
Down hastily he sprung from selle,
And, in his haste, wellnigh he fell;
To the squire's hand the rein he threw,
And spoke no word as he withdrew :
But yet the moonlight did betray,
The falcon-crest was soild with clay;
And plainly might Fitz-Eustace see,
By stains upon the charger's knee,
And his left side, that on the moor
He had not kept his footing sure.
Long musing on these wondrous signs,
At length to rest the squire reclines,
Broken and short; for still, between,
Would dreams of terror intervene :
Eustace did ne'er so blithely mark
The first notes of the morning lark.
INTRODUCTION TO CANTO FOURTH.
TO JAMES SKENE, ESQ.
Ashestiel, Ettrick Forest.
An ancient Minstrel sagely said,
“Where is the life which late we led ?".
That motley clown in Arden wood,
Whom humorous Jacques with envy view'd,
Not even that clown could amplify,
On this trite text, so long as I.
Eleven years we now may tell,
Since we have known each other well ;
Since, riding side by side, our hand
First drew the voluntary brand;
And sure, through many a varied scene,
Unkindness never came between.
Away these winged years have flown,
To join the mass of ages gone;
And though deep mark’d, like all below,
With chequer'd shades of joy and woe;
Though thou o'er realms and seas hast ranged,
Mark'd cities lost, and empires changed,
While here, at home, my narrower ken
Somewhat of manners saw, and men ;
Though varying wishes, hopes, and fears,
Fever'd the progress of these years,
Yet now, days, weeks, and months, but seem
The recollection of a dream,
So still we glide down to the sea
Of fathomless eternity.
Even now it scarcely seems a day,
Since first I tuned this idle lay;