Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
Narrative Poems: IX. Scotland
The Heart of the Bruce
William Edmondstoune Aytoun (1813–1865)
IT was upon an April morn,
  While yet the frost lay hoar,
We heard Lord James’s bugle-horn
  Sound by the rocky shore.
Then down we went, a hundred knights,        5
  All in our dark array,
And flung our armor in the ships
  That rode within the bay.
We spoke not as the shore grew less,
  But gazed in silence back,        10
Where the long billows swept away
  The foam behind our track.
And aye the purple hues decayed
  Upon the fading hill,
And but one heart in all that ship        15
  Was tranquil, cold, and still.
The good Lord Douglas paced the deck,
  And O, his face was wan!
Unlike the flush it used to wear
  When in the battle-van.—        20
“Come hither, come hither, my trusty knight,
  Sir Simon of the Lee;
There is a freit lies near my soul
  I fain would tell to thee.
“Thou know’st the words King Robert spoke        25
  Upon his dying day:
How he bade take his noble heart
  And carry it far away;
“And lay it in the holy soil
  Where once the Saviour trod,        30
Since he might not bear the blessèd Cross,
  Nor strike one blow for God.
“Last night as in my bed I lay,
  I dreamed a dreary dream:—
Methought I saw a Pilgrim stand        35
  In the moonlight’s quivering beam.
“His robe was of the azure dye,
  Snow-white his scattered hairs,
And even such a cross he bore
  As good Saint Andrew bears.        40
“‘Why go ye forth, Lord James,’ he said,
  ‘With spear and belted brand?
Why do you take its dearest pledge
  From this our Scottish land?
“‘The sultry breeze of Galilee        45
  Creeps through its groves of palm,
The olives on the Holy Mount
  Stand glittering in the calm.
“‘But ’t is not there that Scotland’s heart
  Shall rest, by God’s decree,        50
Till the great angel calls the dead
  To rise from earth and sea!
“‘Lord James of Douglas, mark my rede!
  That heart shall pass once more
In fiery fight against the foe,        55
  As it was wont of yore.
“‘And it shall pass beneath the Cross,
  And save King Robert’s vow;
But other hands shall bear it back,
  Not, James of Douglas, thou!’        60
“Now, by thy knightly faith, I pray,
  Sir Simon of the Lee,—
For truer friend had never man
  Than thou hast been to me,—
“If ne’er upon the Holy Land        65
  ’T is mine in life to tread,
Bear thou to Scotland’s kindly earth
  The relics of her dead.”
The tear was in Sir Simon’s eye
  As he wrung the warrior’s hand,—        70
“Betide me weal, betide me woe,
  I ’ll hold by thy command.
“But if in battle-front, Lord James,
  ’T is ours once more to ride,
Nor force of man, nor craft of fiend,        75
  Shall cleave me from thy side!”
And aye we sailed and aye we sailed
  Across the weary sea,
Until one morn the coast of Spain
  Rose grimly on our lee.        80
And as we rounded to the port,
  Beneath the watch-tower’s wall,
We heard the clash of the atabals,
  And the trumpet’s wavering call.
“Why sounds yon Eastern music here        85
  So wantonly and long,
And whose the crowd of armèd men
  That round yon standard throng?”
“The Moors have come from Africa
  To spoil and waste and slay,        90
And King Alonzo of Castile
  Must fight with them to-day.”
“Now shame it were,” cried good Lord James,
  “Shall never be said of me
That I and mine have turned aside        95
  From the Cross in jeopardie!
“Have down, have down, my merry men all,—
  Have down unto the plain;
We ’ll let the Scottish lion loose
  Within the fields of Spain!”        100
“Now welcome to me, noble lord,
  Thou and thy stalwart power;
Dear is the sight of a Christian knight,
  Who comes in such an hour!
“Is it for bond or faith you come,        105
  Or yet for golden fee?
Or bring ye France’s lilies here,
  Or the flower of Burgundie?”
“God greet thee well, thou valiant king,
  Thee and thy belted peers,—        110
Sir James of Douglas am I called.
  And these are Scottish spears.
“We do not fight for bond or plight,
  Nor yet for golden fee;
But for the sake of our Blessèd Lord,        115
  Who died upon the tree.
“We bring our great King Robert’s heart
  Across the weltering wave,
To lay it in the holy soil
  Hard by the Saviour’s grave.        120
“True pilgrims we, by land or sea,
  Where danger bars the way;
And therefore are we here, Lord King,
  To ride with thee this day!”
The King has bent his stately head,        125
  And the tears were in his eyne,—
“God’s blessing on thee, noble knight,
  For this brave thought of thine!
“I know thy name full well, Lord James;
  And honored may I be,        130
That those who fought beside the Bruce
  Should fight this day for me!
“Take thou the leading of the van,
  And charge the Moors amain;
There is not such a lance as thine        135
  In all the host of Spain!”
The Douglas turnèd towards us then,
  O, but his glance was high!—
“There is not one of all my men
  But is as bold as I.        140
“There is not one of all my knights
  But bears as true a spear,—
Then onward, Scottish gentlemen,
  And think King Robert ’s here!”
The trumpets blew, the cross-bolts flew,        145
  The arrows flashed like flame,
As spur in side and spur in rest,
  Against the foe we came.
And many a bearded Saracen
  Went down, both horse and man;        150
For through their ranks we rode like corn,
  So furiously we ran!
But in behind our path they closed,
  Though fain to let us through,
For they were forty thousand men,        155
  And we were wondrous few.
We might not see a lance’s length,
  So dense was their array,
But the long fell sweep of the Scottish blade
  Still held them hard at bay.        160
“Make in! make in!” Lord Douglas cried—
  “Make in, my brethren dear!
Sir William of St. Clair is down;
  We may not leave him here!”
But thicker, thicker grew the swarm,        165
  And sharper shot the rain,
And the horses reared amid the press,
  But they would not charge again.
“Now Jesu help thee,” said Lord James,
  “Thou kind and true St. Clair!        170
An’ if I may not bring thee off,
  I ’ll die beside thee there!”
Then in his stirrups up he stood,
  So lion-like and bold,
And held the precious heart aloft,        175
  All in its case of gold.
He flung it from him, far ahead,
  And never spake he more,
But—“Pass thou first, thou dauntless heart,
  As thou were wont of yore!”        180
The roar of fire rose fiercer yet,
  And heavier still the stour,
Till the spears of Spain came shivering in,
  And swept away the Moor.
“Now praised be God, the day is won!        185
  They fly, o’er flood and fell,—
Why dost thou draw the rein so hard,
  Good knight, that fought so well?”
“O, ride ye on, Lord King!” he said,
  “And leave the dead to me,        190
For I must keep the dreariest watch
  That ever I shall dree!
“There lies, above his master’s heart,
  The Douglas, stark and grim;
And woe is me I should be here,        195
  Not side by side with him!
“The world grows cold, my arm is old,
  And thin my lyart hair,
And all that I loved best on earth
  Is stretched before me there.        200
“O Bothwell banks, that bloom so bright
  Beneath the sun of May!
The heaviest cloud that ever blew
  Is bound for you this day.
“And Scotland! thou mayst veil thy head        205
  In sorrow and in pain,
The sorest stroke upon thy brow
  Hath fallen this day in Spain!
“We ’ll bear them back unto our ship,
  We ’ll bear them o’er the sea,        210
And lay them in the hallowed earth
  Within our own countrie.
“And be thou strong of heart, Lord King,
  For this I tell thee sure,
The sod that drank the Douglas’ blood        215
  Shall never bear the Moor!”
The King he lighted from his horse,
  He flung his brand away,
And took the Douglas by the hand,
  So stately as he lay.        220
“God give thee rest, thou valiant soul!
  That fought so well for Spain;
I ’d rather half my land were gone,
  So thou wert here again!”
We bore the good Lord James away,        225
  And the priceless heart we bore,
And heavily we steered our ship
  Towards the Scottish shore.
No welcome greeted our return,
  Nor clang of martial tread,        230
But all were dumb and hushed as death
  Before the mighty dead.
We laid our chief in Douglas Kirk,
  The heart in fair Melrose;
And woful men were we that day,—        235
  God grant their souls repose!

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