Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Ellen Douglas’s Bower
By Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
The Retreat of the Douglas

From ‘The Lady of the Lake’

IT was a lodge of ample size,
But strange of structure and device,
Of such materials as around
The workman’s hands had readiest found.
Lopped off their boughs, their hoar trunks bared,        5
And by the hatchet rudely squared,
To give the walls their destined height
The sturdy oak and ash unite;
While moss and clay and leaves combined
To fence each crevice from the wind.        10
The lighter pine-trees overhead,
Their slender length for rafters spread,
And withered heath and rushes dry
Supplied a russet canopy.
Due westward, fronting to the green,        15
A rural portico was seen,
Aloft on native pillars borne,
Of mountain fir, with bark unshorn,
Where Ellen’s hand had taught to twine
The ivy and the Idæan vine,        20
The clematis, the favored flower
Which boasts the name of virgin-bower,
And every hardy plant could bear
Loch Katrine’s keen and searching air.
An instant in this porch she staid,        25
And gayly to the stranger said:—
“On heaven and on thy lady call,
And enter the enchanted hall!”
“My hope, my heaven, my trust must be,
My gentle guide, in following thee.”        30
He crossed the threshold—and a clang
Of angry steel that instant rang.
To his bold brow his spirit rushed;
But soon for vain alarm he blushed,
When on the floor be saw displayed,        35
Cause of the din, a naked blade,
Dropped from the sheath, that careless flung
Upon a stag’s huge antlers swung;—
For all around, the walls to grace,
Hung trophies of the fight or chase:        40
A target there, a bugle here,
A battle-axe, a hunting-spear,
And broadswords, bows, and arrows store,
With the tusked trophies of the boar.
Here grins the wolf as when he died,        45
And there the wild-cat’s brindled hide
The frontlet of the elk adorns,
Or mantles o’er the bison’s horns;
Pennons and flags defaced and stained,
That blackening streaks of blood retained,        50
And deerskins, dappled, dun, and white,
With otter’s fur and seal’s unite,
In rude and uncouth tapestry all,
To garnish forth the sylvan hall.
The wondering stranger round him gazed,        55
And next the fallen weapon raised;—
Few were the arms whose sinewy strength
Sufficed to stretch it forth at length;
And as the brand he poised and swayed,
“I never knew but one,” he said,        60
“Whose stalwart arm might brook to wield
A blade like this in battle-field.”
She sighed, then smiled and took the word:—
“You see the guardian champion’s sword:
As light it trembles in his hand        65
As in my grasp a hazel wand;
My sire’s tall form might grace the part
Of Ferragus or Ascabart:
But in the absent giant’s hold
Are women now, and menials old.”        70
The mistress of the mansion came:
Mature of age, a graceful dame,
Whose easy step and stately port
Had well become a princely court;
To whom, though more than kindred knew,        75
Young Ellen gave a mother’s due.
Meet welcome to her guest she made,
And every courteous rite was paid,
That hospitality could claim,
Though all unasked his birth and name.        80
Such then the reverence to a guest,
That fellest foe might join the feast,
And from his deadliest foeman’s door
Unquestioned turn, the banquet o’er.
At length his rank the stranger names:—        85
“The Knight of Snowdoun, James Fitz-James:
Lord of a barren heritage,
Which his brave sires, from age to age,
By their good swords had held with toil;
His sire had fallen in such turmoil,        90
And he, God wot, was forced to stand
Oft for his right with blade in hand.
This morning, with Lord Moray’s train,
He chased a stalwart stag in vain,
Outstripped his comrades, missed the deer,        95
Lost his good steed, and wandered here.”
Fain would the knight in turn require
The name and state of Ellen’s sire.
Well showed the elder lady’s mien,
That courts and cities she had seen;        100
Ellen, though more her looks displayed
The simple grace of sylvan maid,
In speech and gesture, form and face,
Showed she was come of gentle race.
’Twere strange in ruder rank to find        105
Such looks, such manners, and such mind.
Each hint the Knight of Snowdoun gave,
Dame Margaret heard with silence grave;
Or Ellen, innocently gay,
Turned all inquiry light away:—        110
“Weird women we! by dale and down
We dwell, afar from tower and town.
We stem the flood, we ride the blast,
On wandering knights our spells we cast;
While viewless minstrels touch the string,        115
’Tis thus our charmèd rhymes we sing.”
She sung, and still a harp unseen
Filled up the symphony between.
“Soldier, rest! thy warfare o’er,
  Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking;        120
Dream of battled fields no more,
  Days of danger, nights of waking.
In our isle’s enchanted hall,
  Hands unseen thy couch are strewing;
Fairy strains of music fall,        125
  Every sense in slumber dewing.
Soldier, rest! thy warfare o’er,
Dream of fighting fields no more:
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Morn of toil, nor night of waking.        130
“No rude sound shall reach thine ear,
  Armor’s clang, nor war-steed champing,
Trump nor pibroch summon here
  Mustering clan, or squadron tramping;
Yet the lark’s shrill fife may come        135
  At the daybreak from the fallow,
And the bittern sound his drum,
  Booming from the sedgy shallow.
Ruder sounds shall none be near,
Guards nor warders challenge here;        140
Here’s no war-steed’s neigh and champing,
Shouting clans, or squadrons stamping.”
She paused—then, blushing, led the lay
To grace the stranger of the day.
Her mellow notes awhile prolong        145
The cadence of the flowing song,
Till to her lips in measured frame
The minstrel verse spontaneous came:—
“Huntsman, rest! thy chase is done;
  While our slumb’rous spells assail ye,        150
Dream not, with the rising sun,
  Bugles here shall sound reveillé.
Sleep! the deer is in his den;
  Sleep! thy hounds are by thee lying;
Sleep! nor dream in yonder glen        155
  How thy gallant steed lay dying.
Huntsman, rest! thy chase is done,
Think not of the rising sun;
For at dawning to assail ye,
Here no bugles sound reveillé.”        160
The hall was cleared; the stranger’s bed
Was there of mountain heather spread,
Where oft a hundred guests had lain,
And dreamed their forest sports again.
But vainly did the heath-flower shed        165
Its moorland fragrance round his head;
Not Ellen’s spell had lulled to rest
The fever of his troubled breast.
In broken dreams the image rose
Of varied perils, pains, and woes:        170
His steed now flounders in the brake,
Now sinks his barge upon the lake;
Now leader of a broken host,
His standard falls, his honor’s lost.
Then—from my couch may heavenly might        175
Chase that worst phantom of the night!—
Again returned the scenes of youth,
Of confident undoubting truth;
Again his soul he interchanged
With friends whose hearts were long estranged.        180
They come, in dim procession led,
The cold, the faithless, and the dead;
As warm each hand, each brow as gay,
As if they parted yesterday:
And doubt distracts him at the view,—        185
Oh, were his senses false or true?
Dreamed he of death, or broken vow,
Or is it all a vision now?
At length, with Ellen in a grove
He seemed to walk, and speak of love:        190
She listened with a blush and sigh,
His suit was warm, his hopes were high,
He sought her yielded hand to clasp,
And a cold gauntlet met his grasp:
The phantom’s sex was changed and gone,        195
Upon its head a helmet shone;
Slowly enlarged to giant size,
With darkened cheek and threatening eyes,
The grisly visage, stern and hoar,
To Ellen still a likeness bore.—        200
He woke, and panting with affright,
Recalled the vision of the night.
The hearth’s decaying brands were red,
And deep and dusky lustre shed,
Half showing, half concealing, all        205
The uncouth trophies of the hall.
Mid those the stranger fixed his eye,
Where that huge falchion hung on high,
And thoughts on thoughts, a countless throng,
Rushed, chasing countless thoughts along,        210
Until, the giddy whirl to cure,
He rose, and sought the moonshine pure.
The wild rose, eglantine, and broom,
Wafted around their rich perfume;
The birch-trees wept in fragrant balm,        215
The aspens slept beneath the calm;
The silver light, with quivering glance,
Played on the water’s still expanse,—
Wild were the heart whose passion’s sway
Could rage beneath the sober ray!        220
He felt its calm, that warrior guest,
While thus he communed with his breast:—
“Why is it, at each turn I trace
Some memory of that exiled race!
Can I not mountain maiden spy,        225
But she must bear the Douglas eye?
Can I not view a Highland brand,
But it must match the Douglas hand?
Can I not frame a fevered dream,
But still the Douglas is the theme?        230
I’ll dream no more: by manly mind
Not even in sleep is will resigned.
My midnight orisons said o’er,
I’ll turn to rest, and dream no more.”
His midnight orisons he told,        235
A prayer with every bead of gold;
Consigned to heaven his cares and woes,
And sunk in undisturbed repose:
Until the heath-cock shrilly crew,
And morning dawned on Benvenue.        240

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