Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE COVENTANTERS, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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THE COVENTANTERS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Mine home is but a blacken'd heap
Last Line: Upon the rock, and loathe the vale beneath?
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia


Mine home is but a blacken'd heap
In the midst of a lonesome wild,
And the owl and the bat may their night-watch keep,
Where human faces smiled.

I rock'd the cradle of seven fair sons,
And I work'd for their infancy;
But, when like a child in mine own old age,
There are none to work for me!

NEVER! I will not know another home.
Ten summers have past on, with their blue skies,
Green leaves, and singing birds, and sun kiss'd fruit,
Since here I first took up my last abode, --
And here my bones shall rest. You say it is
A home for beasts, and not for humankind,
This bleak shed and bare rock, and that the vale
Below is beautiful. I know the time
When it look'd very beautiful to me!
Do you see that bare spot, where one old oak
Stands black and leafless, as if scorch'd by fire,
While round it the ground seems as if a curse
Were laid upon the soil? Once by that tree,
Then cover'd with its leaves and acorn crop,
A little cottage stood: 'twas very small,
But had an air of health and peace. The roof
Was every morning vocal with the song
Of the rejoicing swallows, whose warm nest
Was built in safety underneath the thatch;
A honeysuckle on the sunny side
Hung round the lattices its fragrant trumpets.
Around was a small garden: fruit and herbs
Were there in comely plenty: and some flowers,
Heath from the mountains, and the wilding bush
Gemm'd with red roses, and white apple blossoms,
Were food for the two hives, whence all day long
There came a music like the pleasant sound
Of lulling waters. And at even-tide
It was a goodly sight to see around
Bright eyes, and faces lighted up with health,
And youth, and happiness; these were my children,
That cottage was mine home....

There came a shadow o'er the land, and men
Were hunted by their fellow men like beasts,
And the sweet feelings of humanity
Were utterly forgotten; the white head,
Darken'd with blood and dust, was often laid
Upon the murder'd infant, for the sword
Of pride and cruelty was sent to slay
Those who in age would not forego the faith
They had grown up in. I was one of these:
How could I close the Bible I had read
Beside my dying mother, which had given
To me and mine such comfort? But the hand
Of the oppressor smote us. There were shrieks,
And naked swords, and faces dark as guilt,
A rush of feet, a bursting forth of flame,
Curses, and crashing boards, and infant words
Praying for mercy, and then childish screams
Of fear and pain. There were these the last night
The white walls of my cottage stood; they bound
And flung me down beside the oak, to watch
How the red fire gather'd, like that of hell.
There sprang one to the lattice, and leant forth,
Gasping for the fresh air, -- my own fair girl!
My only one! The vision haunts me still:
The white arms raised to Heaven, and the long hair,
Bright as the light beside it, stiff on the head
Upright, from terror. In th' accursed glare
We knew each other; and I heard a cry
Half tenderness, half agony, -- a crash, --
The roof fell in, -- I saw my child no more!
A cloud closed round me, a deep thunder-cloud,
Half darkness and half fire. At length sense came,
With a rememb'ring, like that which a dream
Leaves, of vague horrors; but the heavy chain,
The loathsome straw which was mine only bed,
The sickly light through the dim bars, the damp,
The silence, were realities; and then
I lay on the cold stones, and wept aloud,
And pray'd the fever to return again,
And bring death with it. Yet did I escape, --
Again I drank the fresh blue air of heaven,
And felt the sunshine laugh upon my brow;
I thought then I would seek my desolate home,
And die where it had been. I reach'd the place:
The ground was bare and scorch'd, and in the midst
Was a black heap of ashes. Franticly
I groped amid them, ever and anon
Meeting some human fragment, skulls and bones
Shapeless and cinders, till I drew a curl,
A long and beautiful curl of sunny hair,
Stainless and golden, as but then just sever'd,
A love-gift from the head: -- I knew the hair, --
It was my daughter's! There I stood, and howl'd
Curses upon that night. There came a voice,
There came a gentle step; -- even on that heap
Of blood and ashes did I kneel, and pour
To the great GOD my gratitude! That curl
Was wet with tears of happiness; that step,
That voice, were sweet familiar ones, -- one child,
My eldest son, was sent me from the grave!
That night he had escaped.....

We left the desolate valley, and we went
Together to the mountains and the woods,
And there inhabited in love and peace,
Till a strong spirit came upon men's hearts,
And roused them to avenge their many wrongs.
Yet stood they not in battle, and the arm
Of the oppressor was at first too mighty.
Albeit I have lived too see their bonds
Rent like burnt flax, yet much of blood was spilt
Or ever the deliverance was accomplish'd.
We fled in the dark night. At length the moon
Rose on the midnight, -- when I saw the face
Of my last child was ghastly white, and set
In the death-agony, and from his side
The life-blood came like tears; and then I pray'd
That he would rest, and let me stanch the wound.
He motion'd me to fly, and then lay down
Upon the rock and died! This is his grave,
His home and mine. Ask ye now why I dwell
Upon the rock, and loathe the vale beneath?





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