Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
 
Narrative Poems: IX. Scotland
Fitz-James and Roderick Dhu
Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
From “The Lady of the Lake,” Canto V.

                “I AM by promise tried
To match me with this man of pride:
Twice have I sought Clan-Alpine’s glen
In peace; but when I come again,
I come with banner, brand, and bow,        5
As leader seek this mortal foe.
For lovelorn swain, in lady’s bower,
Ne’er panted for the appointed hour,
As I, until before me stand
This rebel Chieftain and his band.”        10
 
“Have, then, thy wish!”—He whistled shrill,
And he was answered from the hill;
Wild as the scream of the curlew,
From crag to crag the signal flew.
Instant, through copse and heath, arose        15
Bonnets and spears and bended bows;
On right, on left, above, below,
Sprung up at once the lurking foe;
From shingles gray their lances start,
The bracken bush sends forth the dart,        20
The rushes and the willow-wand
Are bristling into axe and brand,
And every tuft of broom gives life
To plaided warrior armed for strife.
That whistle garrisoned the glen        25
At once with full five hundred men,
As if the yawning hill to heaven
A subterranean host had given.
Watching their leader’s beck and will,
All silent there they stood, and still.        30
Like the loose crags whose threatening mass
Lay tottering o’er the hollow pass,
As if an infant’s touch could urge
Their headlong passage down the verge,
With step and weapon forward flung,        35
Upon the mountain-side they hung.
The Mountaineer cast glance of pride
Along Benledi’s living side,
Then fixed his eye and sable brow
Full on Fitz-James: “How say’st thou now?        40
These are Clan-Alpine’s warriors true;
And, Saxon,—I am Roderick Dhu!”
 
Fitz-James was brave;—though to his heart
The life-blood thrilled with sudden start,
He manned himself with dauntless air,        45
Returned the Chief his haughty stare,
His back against a rock he bore,
And firmly placed his foot before:—
“Come one, come all! this rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I.”        50
Sir Roderick marked,—and in his eyes
Respect was mingled with surprise,
And the stern joy which warriors feel
In foemen worthy of their steel.
Short space be stood,—then waved his hand:        55
Down sunk the disappearing band;
Each warrior vanished where he stood,
In broom or bracken, heath or wood:
Sunk brand and spear, and bended bow,
In osiers pale and copses low:        60
It seemed as if their mother Earth
Had swallowed up her warlike birth.
The wind’s last breath had tossed in air
Pennon and plaid and plumage fair,—
The next but swept a lone hillside,        65
Where heath and fern were waving wide;
The sun’s last glance was glinted back,
From spear and glaive, from targe and jack,—
The next, all unreflected, shone
On bracken green, and cold gray stone.        70
 
Fitz-James looked round,—yet scarce believed
The witness that his sight received;
Such apparition well might seem
Delusion of a dreadful dream.
Sir Roderick in suspense he eyed,        75
And to his look the Chief replied:
“Fear naught—nay, that I need not say—
But—doubt not aught from mine array.
Thou art my guest;—I pledged my word
As far as Coilantogle ford:        80
Nor would I call a clansman’s brand
For aid against one valiant hand,
Though on our strife lay every vale
Rent by the Saxon from the Gael.
So move we on;—I only meant        85
To show the reed on which you leant,
Deeming this path you might pursue
Without a pass from Roderick Dhu.”
They moved;—I said Fitz-James was brave,
As ever knight that belted glaive;        90
Yet dare not say that now his blood
Kept on its wont and tempered flood,
As, following Roderick’s stride, he drew
That seeming lonesome pathway through,
Which yet, by fearful proof, was rife        95
With lances, that, to take his life,
Waited but signal from a guide,
So late dishonored and defied.
Ever, by stealth, his eye sought round
The vanished guardians of the ground,        100
And still, from copse and heather deep,
Fancy saw spear and broadsword peep,
And in the plover’s shrilly strain
The signal whistle heard again.
Nor breathed he free till far behind        105
The pass was left; for then they wind
Along a wide and level green,
Where neither tree nor tuft was seen,
Nor rush nor bush of broom was near,
To hide a bonnet or a spear.        110
 
The Chief in silence strode before,
And reached that torrent’s sounding shore,
Which, daughter of three mighty lakes,
From Vennachar in silver breaks,
Sweeps through the plain, and ceaseless mines        115
On Bochastle the mouldering lines,
Where Rome, the Empress of the world,
Of yore her eagle wings unfurled.
And here his course the Chieftain stayed,
Threw down his target and his plaid,        120
And to the Lowland warrior said:
“Bold Saxon! to his promise just,
Vich-Alpine has discharged his trust.
This murderous Chief, this ruthless man,
This head of a rebellious clan,        125
Hath led thee safe through watch and ward,
Far past Clan-Alpine’s outmost guard.
Now, man to man, and steel to steel,
A Chieftain’s vengeance thou shalt feel.
See, here, all vantageless I stand,        130
Armed, like thyself, with single brand;
For this is Coilantogle ford,
And thou must keep thee with thy sword.”
 
The Saxon paused: “I ne’er delayed,
When foeman bade me draw my blade;        135
Nay more, brave Chief, I vowed thy death:
Yet sure thy fair and generous faith,
And my deep debt for life preserved,
A better meed have well deserved:
Can naught but blood our feud atone?        140
Are there no means?” “No, Stranger, none;
And hear,—to fire thy flagging zeal,—
The Saxon cause rests on thy steel;
For thus spoke Fate, by prophet bred
Between the living and the dead:        145
‘Who spills the foremost foeman’s life,
His party conquers in the strife.’”
“Then, by my word,” the Saxon said,
“The riddle is already read.
Seek yonder brake beneath the cliff,—        150
There lies Red Murdock, stark and stiff.
Thus Fate hath solved her prophecy,
Then yield to Fate, and not to me.
To James, at Stirling, let us go,
When, if thou wilt be still his foe,        155
Or if the King shall not agree
To grant thee grace and favor free,
I plight mine honor, oath, and word,
That, to thy native strengths restored,
With each advantage shalt thou stand,        160
That aids thee now to guard thy land.”
 
Dark lightning flashed from Roderick’s eye.
“Soars thy presumption, then, so high,
Because a wretched kern ye slew,
Homage to name to Roderick Dhu?        165
He yields not, he, to man nor fate!
Thou add’st but fuel to my hate:—
My clansman’s blood demands revenge.
Not yet prepared?—By Heaven, I change
My thought, and hold thy valor light        170
As that of some vain carpet knight,
Who ill deserved my courteous care,
And whose best boast is but to wear
A braid of his fair lady’s hair.”
“I thank thee, Roderick, for the word!        175
It nerves my heart, it steels my sword;
For I have sworn this braid to stain
In the best blood that warms thy vein.
Now, truce, farewell! and ruth, begone!—
Yet think not that by thee alone,        180
Proud Chief! can courtesy be shown;
Though not from copse, or heath, or cairn,
Start at my whistle clansmen stern,
Of this small horn one feeble blast
Would fearful odds against thee cast.        185
But fear not—doubt not—which thou wilt—
We try this quarrel hilt to hilt.”
Then each at once his falchion drew,
Each on the ground his scabbard threw,
Each looked to sun and stream and plain,        190
As what they ne’er might see again;
Then, foot and point and eye opposed,
In dubious strife they darkly closed.
 
Ill fared it then with Roderick Dhu,
That on the field his targe he threw,        195
Whose brazen studs and tough bull-hide
Had death so often dashed aside;
For, trained abroad his arms to wield,
Fitz-James’s blade was sword and shield.
He practised every pass and ward,        200
To thrust, to strike, to feint, to guard;
While less expert, though stronger far,
The Gael maintained unequal war.
Three times in closing strife they stood,
And thrice the Saxon blade drank blood:        205
No stinted draught, no scanty tide,
The gushing floods the tartans dyed.
Fierce Roderick felt the fatal drain,
And showered his blows like wintry rain;
And, as firm rock or castle-roof        210
Against the winter shower is proof,
The foe, invulnerable still,
Foiled his wild rage by steady skill;
Till, at advantage ta’en, his brand
Forced Roderick’s weapon from his hand,        215
And, backwards borne upon the lea,
Brought the proud Chieftain to his knee.
 
“Now yield thee, or, by Him who made
The world, thy heart’s blood dyes my blade!”
“Thy threats, thy mercy, I defy!        220
Let recreant yield, who fears to die.”
Like adder darting from his coil,
Like wolf that dashes through the toil,
Like mountain-cat who guards her young,
Full at Fitz-James’s throat he sprung;        225
Received, but recked not of a wound,
And locked his arms his foeman round.
Now, gallant Saxon, hold thine own!
No maiden’s hand is round thee thrown!
That desperate grasp thy frame might feel        230
Through bars of brass and triple steel!
They tug, they strain! down, down they go,
The Gael above, Fitz-James below.
The chieftain’s gripe his throat compressed,
His knee was planted in his breast;        235
His clotted locks he backward threw,
Across his brow his hand he drew,
From blood and mist to clear his sight,
Then gleamed aloft his dagger bright!
But hate and fury ill supplied        240
The stream of life’s exhausted tide,
And all too late the advantage came,
To turn the odds of deadly game;
For, while the dagger gleamed on high,
Reeled soul and sense, reeled brain and eye.        245
Down came the blow! but in the heath
The erring blade found bloodless sheath.
The struggling foe may now unclasp
The fainting Chief’s relaxing grasp;
Unwounded from the dreadful close,        250
But breathless all, Fitz-James arose.
 
He faltered thanks to Heaven for life,
Redeemed, unhoped, from desperate strife;
Next on his foe his look he cast,
Whose every gasp appeared his last;        255
In Roderick’s gore he dipped the braid,—
“Poor Blanche! thy wrongs are dearly paid.
Yet with thy foe must die, or live,
The praise that faith and valor give.”
With that he blew a bugle note,        260
Undid the collar from his throat,
Unbonneted, and by the wave
Sat down his brow and hands to lave.
Then faint afar are heard the feet
Of rushing steeds in gallop fleet;        265
The sounds increase, and now are seen
Four mounted squires in Lincoln green;
Two who bear lance, and two who lead,
By loosened rein, a saddled steed;
Each onward held his headlong course,        270
And by Fitz-James reined up his horse,—
With wonder viewed the bloody spot,—
“Exclaim not, gallants! question not,—
You, Herbert and Luffness, alight,
And bind the wounds of yonder knight;        275
Let the gray palfrey bear his weight,
We destined for a fairer freight,
And bring him on to Stirling straight;
I will before at better speed,
To seek fresh horse and fitting weed.        280
The sun rides high;—I must be boune
To see the archer-game at noon;
But lightly Bayard clears the lea.
De Vaux and Herries, follow me.”
 
 
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