Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
The Buccaneer (from Rokeby)
By Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
[From Canto I.]

          [Bertram Risingham, the Buccaneer, brings the tidings of Marston Moor, and of his murder of Philip Mortham in the battle, to Oswald Wycliffe, his accomplice, then holding Barnard Castle for the Parliament.]

FAR town-ward sounds a distant tread,
And Oswald, starting from his bed,
Hath caught it, though no human ear,
Unsharpen’d by revenge and fear,
Could e’er distinguish horse’s clank,        5
Until it reach’d the castle bank.
Now nigh and plain the sound appears,
The warder’s challenge now he hears,
Then clanking chains and levers tell,
That o’er the moat the drawbridge fell,        10
And, in the castle court below,
Voices are heard, and torches glow,
As marshalling the stranger’s way,
Straight for the room where Oswald lay;
The cry was,—‘Tidings from the host,        15
Of weight—a messenger comes post.’
Stifling the tumult of his breast,
His answer Oswald thus express’d—
‘Bring food and wine, and trim the fire;
Admit the stranger, and retire.’        20
The stranger came with heavy stride;
The morion’s plumes his visage hide,
And the buff-coat, an ample fold,
Mantles his form’s gigantic mould.
Full slender answer deigned he        25
To Oswald’s anxious courtesy,
But mark’d, by a disdainful smile,
He saw and scorn’d the petty wile,
When Oswald changed the torch’s place,
Anxious that on the soldier’s face        30
Its partial lustre might be thrown,
To show his looks, yet hide his own.
His guest, the while, laid low aside
The ponderous cloak of tough bull’s hide,
And to the torch glanced broad and clear        35
The corslet of a cuirassier;
Then from his brows the casque he drew,
And from the dank plume dash’d the dew,
From gloves of mail relieved his hands,
And spread them to the kindling brands,        40
And, turning to the genial board,
Without a health, or pledge, or word
Of meet and social reverence said,
Deeply he drank, and fiercely fed;
As free from ceremony’s sway,        45
As famish’d wolf that tears his prey.
With deep impatience, tinged with fear,
His host beheld him gorge his cheer,
And quaff the full carouse, that lent
His brow a fiercer hardiment.        50
Now Oswald stood a space aside,
Now paced the room with hasty stride,
In feverish agony to learn
Tidings of deep and dread concern,
Cursing each moment that his guest        55
Protracted o’er his ruffian feast.
Yet, viewing with alarm, at last,
The end of that uncouth repast,
Almost he seem’d their haste to rue,
As, at his sign, his train withdrew,        60
And left him with the stranger, free
To question of his mystery.
Then did his silence long proclaim
A struggle between fear and shame.
Much in the stranger’s mien appears,        65
To justify suspicious fears.
On his dark face a scorching clime,
And toil, had done the work of time,
Roughen’d the brow, the temples bared,
And sable hairs with silver shared,        70
Yet left—what age alone could tame—
The lip of pride, the eye of flame;
The full-drawn lip that upward curl’d,
The eye that seem’d to scorn the world.
That lip had terror never blench’d;        75
Ne’er in that eye had tear-drop quench’d
The flash severe of swarthy glow,
That mock’d at pain, and knew not woe.
Inured to danger’s direst form,
Tornade and earthquake, flood and storm,        80
Death had he seen by sudden blow,
By wasting plague, by tortures slow,
By mine or breach, by steel or ball,
Knew all his shapes, and scorn’d them all.
But yet, though Bertram’s hardened look,        85
Unmoved, could blood and danger brook,
Still worse than apathy had place
On his swart brow and callous face;
For evil passions, cherish’d long,
Had plough’d them with impressions strong.        90
All that gives gloss to sin, all gay
Light folly, past with youth away,
But rooted stood, in manhood’s hour,
The weeds of vice without their flower,
And yet the soil in which they grew,        95
Had it been tamed when life was new,
Had depth and vigour to bring forth
The hardier fruits of virtuous worth.
Not that, e’en then, his heart had known
The gentler feelings’ kindly tone;        100
But lavish waste had been refined
To bounty in his chasten’d mind,
And lust of gold, that waste to feed,
Been lost in love of glory’s meed,
And, frantic then no more, his pride        105
Had ta’en fair virtue for its guide.
Even now, by conscience unrestrain’d,
Clogg’d by gross vice, by slaughter stain’d,
Still knew his daring soul to soar,
And mastery o’er the mind he bore;        110
For meaner guilt, or heart less hard,
Quail’d beneath Bertram’s bold regard.
And this felt Oswald, while in vain
He strove, by many a winding train,
To lure his sullen guest to show,        115
Unask’d, the news he long’d to know,
While on far other subject hung
His heart, than falter’d from his tongue.
Yet nought for that his guest did deign
To note or spare his secret pain,        120
But still, in stern and stubborn sort,
Return’d him answer dark and short,
Or started from the theme, to range
In loose digression wild and strange,
And forced the embarrass’d host to buy,        125
By query close, direct reply.

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