William Edmondstoune Aytoun

(1813 - 1865 / Scotland)

The Heart Of The Bruce


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,
All in our dark array,
And flung our armour in the ships
That rode within the bay.

We spoke not as the shore grew less,
But gazed in silence back,
Where the long billows swept away
The foam behind our track.

And aye the purple hues decay'd
Upon the fading hill,
And but one heart in all that ship
Was tranquil, cold, and still.

The good Lord Douglas walk'd the deck,
And oh, his brow was wan!
Unlike the flush it used to wear
When in the battle van.-

'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
Upon his dying day,
How he bade me take his noble heart
And carry it far away;

'And lay it in the holy soil
Where once the Saviour trod,
Since he might not bear the blessed Cross,
Nor strike one blow for God.

'Last night as in my bed I lay,
I dream'd a dreary dream:-
Methought I saw a Pilgrim stand
In the moonlight's quivering beam.

'His robe was of the azure dye,
Snow-white his scatter'd hairs,
And even such a cross he bore
As good Saint Andrew bears.

''Why go you 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
Creeps through its groves of palm,
The olives on the Holy Mount
Stand glittering in the calm.

''But 'tis not there that Scotland's heart
Shall rest by God's decree,
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,
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!'

'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
'Tis 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-
'Betide me weal, betide me woe,
I'll hold by thy command.

'But if in battle front, Lord James,
'Tis ours once more to ride,
No force of man, nor craft of fiend,
Shall cleave me from thy side!'

And aye we sail'd, and aye we sail'd,
Across the weary sea,
Until one morn the coast of Spain
Rose grimly on our lee.

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
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,
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 turn'd aside,
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!'

'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 ye come,
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-
Sir James of Douglas am I called,
And these are Scottish spears.

'We do not fight for bond or plight,
Not yet for golden fee;
But for the sake of our blessed Lord,
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.

'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,
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 honour'd may I be,
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
In all the host of Spain!'

The Douglas turned towards us then,
O but his glance was high!-
'There is not one of all my men
But is as bold as I.

'There is not one of all my knights
But bears as true a spear-
Then onwards! Scottish gentlemen,
And think-King Robert's here!'

The trumpets blew, the cross-bolts flew,
The arrows flashed like flame,
As spur in side, and spear in rest,
Against the foe we came.

And many a bearded Saracen
Went down, both horse and man;
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,
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.

'Make in! make in!' Lord Douglas cried,
'Make in, my brethren dear!
Sir William of Saint Clair is down;
We may not leave him here!'

But thicker, thicker, grew the swarm,
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!
An' if I may not bring thee off,
I'll die beside thee there!'

Then in his stirrups up he stood,
So lionlike and bold,
And held the precious heart aloft
All in its case of gold.

He flung it from him, far ahead,
And never spake he more,
But-'Pass thee first, thou dauntless heart,
As thou wert wont of yore!'

The roar of fight 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!
They fly o'er flood and fell-
Why dost thou draw the rein so hard,
Good knight, that fought so well?'

'Oh, ride ye on, Lord King!' he said,
'And leave the dead to me,
For I must keep the dreariest watch
That ever I shall dree!

'There lies, beside his master's heart,
The Douglas, stark and grim;
And woe is me I should be here,
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 stretch'd before me there.

'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 may'st veil thy head
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,
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
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.

'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,
And the priceless heart he bore,
And heavily we steer'd our ship
Towards the Scottish shore.

No welcome greeted our return,
Nor clang of martial tread,
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 woeful men were we that day-
God grant their souls repose!

Submitted: Thursday, April 15, 2010

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