Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
 
I. Patriotism
The Execution of Montrose
William Edmondstoune Aytoun (1813–1865)
 
   [James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, was executed in Edinburgh, May 21, 1650, for an attempt to overthrow the Commonwealth and restore Charles II.]

COME hither, Evan Cameron!
  Come, stand behind my knee—
I hear the river roaring down
  Toward the wintry sea.
There ’s shouting on the mountain-side,        5
  There ’s war within the blast—
Old faces look upon me,
  Old forms go trooping past.
I hear the pibroch wailing
  Amidst the din of fight,        10
And my dim spirit wakes again
  Upon the verge of night.
 
’T was I that led the Highland host
  Through wild Lochaber’s snows,
What time the plaided clans came down        15
  To battle with Montrose.
I ’ve told thee how the Southrons fell
  Beneath the broad claymore,
And how we smote the Campbell clan
  By Inverlochy’s shore.        20
I ’ve told thee how we swept Dundee,
  And tamed the Lindsays’ pride;
But never have I told thee yet
  How the great Marquis died.
 
A traitor sold him to his foes;—        25
  O deed of deathless shame!
I charge thee, boy, if e’er thou meet
  With one of Assynt’s name—
Be it upon the mountain’s side,
  Or yet within the glen,        30
Stand he in martial gear alone,
  Or backed by armèd men—
Face him as thou wouldst face the man
  Who wronged thy sire’s renown;
Remember of what blood thou art,        35
  And strike the caitiff down!
 
They brought him to the Watergate,
  Hard bound with hempen span,
As though they held a lion there,
  And not a ’fenceless man.        40
They set him high upon a cart—
  The hangman rode below—
They drew his hands behind his back,
  And bared his noble brow.
Then, as a hound is slipped from leash,        45
  They cheered the common throng,
And blew the note with yell and shout,
  And bade him pass along.
 
It would have made a brave man’s heart
  Grow sad and sick that day,        50
To watch the keen, malignant eyes
  Bent down on that array.
There stood the Whig west-country lords
  In balcony and bow;
There sat their gaunt and withered dames,        55
  And their daughters all a-row.
And every open window
  Was full as full might be
With black-robed Covenanting carles,
  That goodly sport to see!        60
 
But when he came, though pale and wan,
  He looked so great and high,
So noble was his manly front,
  So calm his steadfast eye;—
The rabble rout forbore to shout,        65
  And each man held his breath,
For well they knew the hero’s soul
  Was face to face with death.
And then a mournful shudder
  Through all the people crept,        70
And some that came to scoff at him
  Now turned aside and wept.
 
But onward—always onward,
  In silence and in gloom,
The dreary pageant labored,        75
  Till it reached the house of doom.
Then first a woman’s voice was heard
  In jeer and laughter loud,
And an angry cry and a hiss arose
  From the heart of the tossing crowd:        80
Then, as the Græme looked upward,
  He saw the ugly smile
Of him who sold his king for gold—
  The master-fiend Argyle!
 
The Marquis gazed a moment,        85
  And nothing did he say,
But the cheek of Argyle grew ghastly pale,
  And he turned his eyes away.
The painted harlot by his side,
  She shook through every limb,        90
For a roar like thunder swept the street,
  And hands were clenched at him;
And a Saxon soldier cried aloud,
  “Back, coward, from thy place!
For seven long years thou hast not dared        95
  To look him in the face.”
 
Had I been there with sword in hand,
  And fifty Camerons by,
That day through high Dunedin’s streets
  Had pealed the slogan-cry.        100
Not all their troops of trampling horse,
  Nor might of mailèd men—
Not all the rebels in the south
  Had borne us backward then!
Once more his foot on Highland heath        105
  Had trod as free as air,
Or I, and all who bore my name,
  Been laid around him there!
 
It might not be. They placed him next
  Within the solemn hall,        110
Where once the Scottish kings were throned
  Amidst their nobles all.
But there was dust of vulgar feet
  On that polluted floor,
And perjured traitors filled the place        115
  Where good men sate before.
With savage glee came Warriston
  To read the murderous doom;
And then uprose the great Montrose
  In the middle of the room:        120
 
“Now, by my faith as belted knight
  And by the name I bear,
And by the bright St. Andrew’s cross
  That waves above us there—
Yea, by a greater, mightier oath—        125
  And O that such should be!—
By that dark stream of royal blood
  That lies ’twixt you and me—
I have not sought in battle-field
  A wreath of such renown,        130
Nor dared I hope on my dying day
  To win the martyr’s crown!
 
“There is a chamber far away
  Where sleep the good and brave,
But a better place ye have named for me        135
  Than by my father’s grave.
For truth and right, ’gainst treason’s might,
  This hand has always striven,
And ye raise it up for a witness still
  In the eye of earth and heaven.        140
Then nail my head on yonder tower—
  Give every town a limb—
And God who made shall gather them:
  I go from you to Him!”
 
The morning dawned full darkly,        145
  The rain came flashing down,
And the jagged streak of the levin bolt
  Lit up the gloomy town.
The thunder crashed across the heaven,
  The fatal hour was come;        150
Yet aye broke in, with muffled beat,
  The ’larum of the drum.
There was madness on the earth below
  And anger in the sky,
And young and old, and rich and poor,        155
  Came forth to see him die.
 
Ah God! that ghastly gibbet!
  How dismal ’t is to see
The great tall spectral skeleton,
  The ladder and the tree!        160
Hark! hark! it is the clash of arms,—
  The bells begin to toll,—
“He is coming! he is coming!
  God’s mercy on his soul!”
One last long peal of thunder,—        165
  The clouds are cleared away,
And the glorious sun once more looks down
  Amidst the dazzling day.
 
“He is coming! he is coming!”
  Like a bridegroom from his room        170
Came the hero from his prison
  To the scaffold and the doom.
There was glory on his forehead,
  There was lustre in his eye,
And he never walked to battle        175
  More proudly than to die.
There was color in his visage,
  Though the cheeks of all were wan;
And they marvelled as they saw him pass,
  That great and goodly man!        180
 
He mounted up the scaffold,
  And he turned him to the crowd;
But they dared not trust the people,
  So he might not speak aloud.
But he looked upon the heavens,        185
  And they were clear and blue,
And in the liquid ether
  The eye of God shone through:
Yet a black and murky battlement
  Lay resting on the hill,        190
As though the thunder slept within,—
  All else was calm and still.
 
The grim Geneva ministers
  With anxious scowl drew near,
As you have seen the ravens flock        195
  Around the dying deer.
He would not deign them word nor sign,
  But alone he bent the knee;
And veiled his face for Christ’s dear grace
  Beneath the gallows-tree.        200
Then, radiant and serene, he rose,
  And cast his cloak away;
For he had ta’en his latest look
  Of earth and sun and day.
 
A beam of light fell o’er him,        205
  Like a glory round the shriven,
And he climbed the lofty ladder
  As it were the path to heaven.
Then came a flash from out the cloud,
  And a stunning thunder-roll;        210
And no man dared to look aloft,—
  Fear was on every soul.
There was another heavy sound,
  A hush, and then a groan;
And darkness swept across the sky,—        215
  The work of death was done!
 
 
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