Bruce and Douglas

Menella Bute Smedley

 Next Poem          


There is darkness in the chamber,
There is silence by the hearth,
For pale, and cold, and dying,
Lies a great one of the earth;
That eye's dim ray is faint and grey,
Those lips have lost their red,
powerless is a people's love
To lift that languid head.

Through hilly Caledonia
Woe spreadeth far and fast,
As spreads the shadow of a cloud
Before a thunder-blast,—
For it is The Bruce whose mighty heart
Is beating now its last!

A tearful group was gathered
Around that bed of death:
There stood undaunted Randolph,
Knight of the Perfect Wreath;
And Campbell, strong and stedfast
Through danger and despair;
And valiant Grey, and stern La Haye,
And loyal Lennox there;
There, last in name, but first in fame,
And faithful to the end,

All weeping stood Lord James the Good,
True knight and constant friend;
And there, with eyes of grave surprise,
Fast rooted to the place,
The monarch's son, scarce four years old,
Gazed in his father's face!
But the stillness of that solemn room
Was stirred by scarce a breath—
Silent were all, and silently
The Bruce encountered Death.

They stood and saw, with reverent awe,
How ever, upward glancing,
He seemed to watch some dim array
Of warrior-shapes advancing;
For as he lay in silence,
His life's long memories,
Like a slow and stately pageant,
Did pass before his eyes.

And first—brief days of bitter shame,
Repented and disowned—
His early sins before him came,
By many an after-deed of fame
Effaced and well atoned.
One passing shade of noble grief
Darkened the brow of the dying chief,
But fast it faded from the sight,
Lost in his life's remember'd light;
For then of burning thoughts arose
A shadowy and unnumbered host,—
And Methven's field of blood and woes,
And Rachrin's unforgotten coast,

Where Freedom's form, through gloom and storm,
Did first for Scotland shine,
As faint by night a beacon-light
Glimmers through mist and brine.
And Arran's isle, by shady Clyde,
Where, when the summer noon was high,
Friends, parted long and sorely tried,
Met, and went forth to victory;
Where loud the Bruce his bugle wound,
And Douglas answered to the sound!

Then name by name, and deed by deed,
Bright trains of glorious thought succeed;—
The midnight watch, till o'er the foam
Gleamed the lone beacon guiding home,
And on old Carrick's well-loved shore
The exile plants his foot once more;
The ford, beside whose waters grey
His single arm kept hosts at bay;
The hurrying march, the bold surprise,
The chase, the ambush, the disguise.
Now leader of a conquering band,
Now track'd by bloodhounds, swift and stern;
Till Glory's sun, at God's command,
Stood still at last on Bannockburn,
And stamped in characters of flame
On Scottish breasts The Bruce's name.—
Oh, seldom deathbed memories
Are populous with thoughts like these!

To the face of the dying monarch
Came a sudden glow, and proud,
But brief as the tinge of sunset
Flung on a wandering cloud;
But see—his lips are parting,
Though scarce a sound be heard,—
Down stoops the noble Douglas
To catch each feeble word;
And all the knights and warriors,
Holding their tightened breath,
Close in a narrower circle
Around the couch of death.

“O Douglas, O my brother!
My heart is ill at ease;
Unceasingly mine aching eye
One haunting vision sees;
It sees the lengthened arches,
The solemn aisles of prayer,
And the death of the traitor Comyn
Upon the altar-stair.
Woe's me! that deed unholy
Lies like a heavy weight,
Crushing my wearied conscience
Before heaven's open gate.
Fain would I wend a pilgrim
Forth over land and sea,
Where God's dear Son for sinners died—
Alas, it must not be!
But if thy love be stedfast
As it was proved of yore,—
When these few struggling pulses
Are stilled, and all is o'er,
Unclose this lifeless bosom,
Take thence this heart of mine,
And bear it safely for my sake
To holy Palestine:
Well pleased my heart shall tarry
In thy fair company;
For it was wont, while yet in life,
Ever to dwell with thee!”

The dying king was silent,
And down the Douglas kneeled—
A kiss upon his sovereign's hand
His ready promise sealed;
Never a word he answered,
In sorrow strong and deep,
But he wept, that iron soldier,
Tears such as women weep.
The Bruce hath prest him to his breast
With faint but eager grasp,
And the strong man's arm was tremulous
As that weak dying clasp!

That last embrace unloosing,
The monarch feebly cried,
“Oh, lift me up, my comrades dear,
And let me look on Clyde!”
Widely they flung the casement,
And there in beauty lay
That broad and rolling river
All sparkling to the day.
The Bruce beheld its waters
With fixed and wistful eye,
Where calm regret was blending
With bright expectancy;

And then, with sudden effort,
Somewhat his arms he raised,
As one that would have fain embraced
The things on which he gazed.
And then on those who held him
There fell a strange deep thrill—
For the lifted arms dropped heavily,
The mighty heart was still!

Hushed was the voice of weeping—
Mutely did Douglas close
The eyes of the illustrious dead,
As if for soft repose;
And backwards from the couch they drew,
Calmly and reverently;
For solemn is the face of death,
Though full of hope it be!


It was Lord James of Douglas
Set sail across the brine,
With a warrior band, to seek the land
Of holy Palestine.
Stately and gay was his bold array,
With plume and pennon streaming,
With the sounding horn at break of day,
With clustered lances gleaming.
A nobler knight than the good Lord James,
In sooth, is seldom seen:
His words, though few, were straight and true
As his sword so bright and keen;
Dark was his cheek, and dark his eye,
But lit with a fiery glow,
And his form of lofty majesty
Beseemed a king, I trow.
Beneath his vest a silver case,
At a string of silk and gold,
For ever lay, by night and day
Upon his bosom bold;
That casket none must hope to win
By force or fraudful art,
For priceless was the wealth within—
It held the Bruce's heart!
In far Dunfermline's towers he lay
In honoured sleep, and there
Had loyal Douglas kneel'd to pay
His vows, and lift his prayer,
When stole along the steeps and glades
The noiseless tread of Night,
And Moonshine with her massy shades
And cold clear lines of light.
And there he laid upon his breast
The heart of the mighty dead,—
Sign that his monarch's last behest
Should be accomplishèd.
That solemn hour, that awful scene,
Bare witness to his vow;
And soon the waves of ocean green
Danced round his daring prow.

Lord James hath landed in fair Castile,—
Where, waiting by the sea,
Alphonso of Spain with a glittering train
Hath welcomed him royally:
But woe was in that lovely land;
For, from Granada's towers,
Dark Osmyn's fierce and ruthless band
Ravaged its myrtle bowers.
The Douglas gazed on the leafy shore,
He gazed on the ocean blue,
And the swarthy light in his eye grew bright,
And his gleaming sword he drew:
“Wert thou at my side, my king,” he cried,
“Thy voice's well-known sounds
Would bid me aid these Christian knights
To chase these Paynim hounds!”
Then joy went forth through all the land;
And hurrying thousands came
To see the chief whose valorous hand
Had won him deathless fame.
There stood a knight on the monarch's right
Well proved in bloody wars,
His face, I trow, from chin to brow,
Was seamed with ghastly scars.
“Lord Douglas, thou hast been,” quoth he,
“In battles from thy youth;
Good faith, I marvel much to see
Thy manly face so smooth.”
“I thank my God,” the Douglas said,
“Whose favour and whose grace

These hands have ever strengthenèd
Thus to protect my face.”
But the clarion's thrilling note was heard,—
And, loosing each his rein,
Their fiery steeds the warriors spurred
Down to the battle-plain;
So swiftly on their way they went,
So brightly their mail was flashing,
That they might seem a mountain-stream
O'er the edge of a tall cliff dashing.
In full noonday, the fair array
Of turban'd Moslems shone,
Like a cluster strange of gorgeous flowers
Of form and clime unknown;
But when his arm each lifted, swinging
His keen and twisted blade,
It was like a glittering snake upspringing
Out of the flower's soft shade.
Lord Douglas looked on the crescent proud,
And his Christian heart beat high:
“Charge, countrymen!” he shouted loud
“For God and Scotland, I!”
Oh, never did eagle on its prey
Dart with a feller swoop
Than bounded the angry Scots that day
On the Saracen's startled troop!
Like hunted tigers o'er the plain
The Moors they are flying fast —
Like huntsmen true the Scots pursue
With shout and clarion blast:

But track the tiger to his lair.
And the tiger turns to spring—
Brave hearts, beware; for still despair
Is a feared and powerful thing!
The Moors have wheeled on that fatal field,
They gather and they stand,
And the wild long yell of “Allah hu!”
Is heard on every hand;
They are circling about their daring foes
In a grim and narrowing bound,
As the walls of a burning jungle close
The awe-struck traveller round.
The foremost there fell brave St. Clair—
That saw the Douglas bold,
And did unloose the heart of Bruce
From its string of silk and gold;
He hurled it through the serried spears,
And his lifted voice rang high—
“Pass to the front, as thou wert wont!
I follow thee, or die!”
The day hath closed on fair Castile,
The sinking sun gleams red
On shattered plumes and broken steel,
And piles of gallant dead;
In the centre of that bloody field
Lord Douglas lay in death,—
Above him was his own good shield,
And the Bruce's heart beneath!
No tears for him! In Honour's light,
As he had lived, he fell.

Good night, thou dauntless soul, good night,
For sure thou sleepest well!
Full hearts and reverent hands had those
Who bare thee on thy bier
Back to the place of thy repose—
Thy Scotland, famed and dear!
A valiant knight the casket bore:
And for that honoured part,
His scutcheon wore for evermore
A padlock and a heart.
They buried the Douglas in St. Bride;
And the heart of Bruce they laid
In Melrose stately aisles, beside
The altar's sacred shade.
Not mine, with hand profane, to trace
Grey Melrose towers around,—
There is a Presence in the place,
Making it holy ground.
Strewing their snows on that fair spot,
May countless years succeed,
But they sever not the name of Scott
From Melrose and from Tweed!

Next Poem 

 Back to Menella Bute Smedley
Get a free collection of Classic Poetry ↓

Receive the ebook in seconds 50 poems from 50 different authors

To be able to leave a comment here you must be registered. Log in or Sign up.