William Edmondstoune Aytoun (1813 - 1865 / Scotland)
Charles Edward At Versailles
ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF CULLODEN
Take away that star and garter-
Hide them from my aching sight:
Neither king nor prince shall tempt me
From my lonely room this night;
Fitting for the throneless exile
Is the atmosphere of pall,
And the gusty winds that shiver
'Neath the tapestry on the wall.
When the taper faintly dwindles
Like the pulse within the vein,
That to gay and merry measure
Ne'er may hope to bound again,
Let the shadows gather round me
While I sit in silence here,
Broken-hearted, as an orphan
Watching by his father's bier.
Let me hold my still communion
Far from every earthly sound-
Day of penance-day of passion-
Ever, as the year comes round;
Fatal day, whereon the latest
Die was cast for me and mine-
Cruel day, that quelled the fortunes
Of the hapless Stuart line!
Phantom-like, as in a mirror,
Rise the griesly scenes of death-
There before me, in its wildness,
Stretches bare Culloden's heath:
There the broken clans are scattered,
Gaunt as wolves, and famine-eyed,
Hunger gnawing at their vitals,
Hope abandoned, all but pride-
Pride, and that supreme devotion
Which the Southron never knew,
And the hatred, deeply rankling,
'Gainst the Hanoverian crew.
Oh, my God! are these the remnants,
These the wrecks of the array
That around the royal standard
Gathered on the glorious day,
When, in deep Glenfinnan's valley;
Thousands, on their bended knees,
Saw once more that stately ensign
Waving in the northern breeze,
When the noble Tullibardine
Stood beneath its weltering fold,
With the Ruddy Lion ramping
In the field of tressured gold,
When the mighty heart of Scotland,
All too big to slumber more,
Burst in wrath and exultation,
Like a huge volcano's roar?
There they stand, the battered columns,
Underneath the murky sky,
In the hush of desperation,
Not to conquer, but to die.
Hark! the bagpipe's fitful wailing:
Not the pibroch loud and shrill,
That, with hope of bloody banquet,
Lured the ravens from the hill,
But a dirge both low and solemn,
Fit for ears of dying men,
Marshalled for their latest battle,
Never more to fight again.
Madness-madness! Why this shrinking?
Were we less inured to war
When our reapers swept the harvest
From the field of red Dunbar?
Bring my horse, and blow the trumpet!
Call the riders of Fitz-James:
Let Lord Lewis head the column!
Valiant chiefs of mighty names-
Trusty Keppoch, stout Glengarry,
Gallant Gordon, wise Locheill-
Bid the clansmen hold together,
Fast, and fell, and firm as steel.
Elcho, never look so gloomy-
What avails a saddened brow?
Heart, man, heart! we need it sorely,
Never half so much, as now.
Had we but a thousand troopers,
Had we but a thousand more!
Noble Perth, I hear them coming!-
Hark! the English cannons' roar.
God! how awful sounds that volley,
Bellowing through the mist and rain!
Was not that the Highland slogan?
Let me hear that shout again!
Oh, for prophet eyes to witness
How the desperate battle goes!
Cumberland! I would not fear thee,
Could my Camerons see their foes.
Sound, I say, the charge at venture-
'Tis not naked steel we fear;
Better perish in the mêlée
Than be shot like driven deer;
Hold! the mist begins to scatter!
There in front 'tis rent asunder,
And the cloudy bastion crumbles
Underneath the deafening thunder;
There I see the scarlet gleaming!
Now, Macdonald-now or never!-
Woe is me, the clans are broken!
Father, thou art lost for ever!
Chief and vassal, lord and yeoman,
There they lie in heaps together,
Smitten by the deadly volley,
Rolled in blood upon the heather;
And the Hanoverian horsemen,
Fiercely riding to and fro,
Deal their murderous strokes at random.-
Ah, my God! where am I now?
Will that baleful vision never
Vanish from my aching sight?
Must those scenes and sounds of terror
Haunt me still by day and night?
Yea, the earth hath no oblivion
For the noblest chance it gave,
None, save in its latest refuge-
Seek it only in the grave!
Love may die, and hatred slumber,
And their memory will decay,
As the watered garden recks not
Of the drought of yesterday;
But the dream of power once broken,
What shall give repose again?
What shall charm the serpent-furies
Coiled around the maddening brain?
What kind draught can nature offer
Strong enough to lull their sting?
Better to be born a peasant
Than to live an exiled king!
Oh, these years of bitter anguish!-
What is life to such as me,
With my very heart as palsied
As a wasted cripple's knee!
Suppliant-like for alms depending
On a false and foreign court,
Jostled by the flouting nobles,
Half their pity, half their sport.
Forced to hold a place in pageant,
Like a royal prize of war,
Walking with dejected features
Close behind his victor's car,
Styled an equal-deemed a servant-
Fed with hopes of future gain-
Worse by far is fancied freedom
Than the captive's clanking chain!
Could I change this gilded bondage
Even for the dusky tower,
Whence King James beheld his lady
Sitting in the castle bower;
Birds around her sweetly singing,
Fluttering on the kindling spray,
And the comely garden glowing
In the light of rosy May.
Love descended to the window-
Love removed the bolt and bar-
Love was warder to the lovers
From the dawn to even-star.
Wherefore, Love, didst thou betray me?
Where is now the tender glance?
Where the meaning looks once lavished
By the dark-eyed Maid of France?
Where the words of hope she whispered,
When around my neck she threw
That same scarf of broidered tissue,
Bade me wear it and be true-
Bade me send it as a token
When my banner waved once more
On the castled Keep of London,
Where my fathers' waved before?
And I went and did not conquer-
But I brought it back again-
Brought it back from storm and battle-
Brought it back without a stain;
And once more I knelt before her,
And I laid it at her feet,
Saying, 'Wilt thou own it, Princess?
There at least is no defeat!'
Scornfully she looked upon me
With a measured eye and cold-
Scornfully she viewed the token,
Though her fingers wrought the gold;
And she answered, faintly flushing,
'Hast thou kept it, then, so long?
Worthy matter for a minstrel
To be told in knightly song!
Worthy of a bold Provençal,
Pacing through the peaceful plain,
Singing of his lady's favour,
Boasting of her silken chain,
Yet scarce worthy of a warrior
Sent to wrestle for a crown.
Is this all that thou hast brought me
From thy fields of high renown?
Is this all the trophy carried
From the lands where thou hast been?
It was broidered by a Princess,
Canst thou give it to a Queen?'
Woman's love is writ in water!
Woman's faith is traced in sand!
Backwards-backwards let me wander
To the noble northern land:
Let me feel the breezes blowing
Fresh along the mountain-side;
Let me see the purple heather,
Let me hear the thundering tide,
Be it hoarse as Corrievreckan
Spouting when the storm is high-
Give me but one hour of Scotland-
Let me see it ere I die!
Oh, my heart is sick and heavy-
Southern gales are not for me;
Though the glens are white with winter,
Place me there, and set me free;
Give me back my trusty comrades-
Give me back my Highland maid-
Nowhere beats the heart so kindly
As beneath the tartan plaid!
Flora! when thou wert beside me,
In the wilds of far Kintail-
When the cavern gave us shelter
From the blinding sleet and hail-
When we lurked within the thicket,
And, beneath the waning moon,
Saw the sentry's bayonet glimmer,
Heard him chant his listless tune-
When the howling storm o'ertook us,
Drifting down the island's lee,
And our crazy bark was whirling
Like a nutshell on the sea-
When the nights were dark and dreary,
And amidst the fern we lay,
Faint and foodless, sore with travel,
Waiting for the streaks of day;
When thou wert an angel to me,
Watching my exhausted sleep-
Never didst thou hear me murmur-
Couldst thou see how now I weep!
Bitter tears and sobs of anguish,
Unavailing though they be:
Oh, the brave-the brave and noble-
That have died in vain for me!
Comments about this poem (Charles Edward At Versailles by William Edmondstoune Aytoun )
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