Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE PILGRIM OF GLENCOE, by THOMAS CAMPBELL



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THE PILGRIM OF GLENCOE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The sunset sheds a horizontal smile
Last Line: Scorned not to weep at allan campbell's grave.
Subject(s): Glencoe, Massacre Of (1690-1692); Legends, Scottish


THE sunset sheds a horizontal smile
O'er Highland frith and Hebridean isle,
While, gay with gambols of its finny shoals,
The glancing wave rejoices as it rolls
With streamered busses, that distinctly shine
All downward, pictured in the glassy brine;
Whose crews, with faces brightening in the sun,
Keep measure with their oars, and all in one
Strike up th' old Gaelic song: -- Sweep, rowers, sweep!
The fisher's glorious spoils are in the deep.

Day sinks -- but twilight owes the traveller soon,
To reach his bourne, a round unclouded moon,
Bespeaking long undarkened hours of time;
False hope! -- the Scots are steadfast -- not their clime.

A war-worn soldier from the western land,
Seeks Cona's vale by Ballihoula's strand;
The vale, by eagle-haunted cliffs o'erhung,
Where Fingal fought and Ossian's harp was strung --
Our veteran's forehead, bronzed on sultry plains,
Had stood the brunt of thirty fought campaigns;
He well could vouch the sad romance of wars,
And count the dates of battles by his scars;
For he had served where o'er and o'er again
Britannia's oriflamme had lit the plain
Of glory -- and victorious stamped her name
On Oudenarde's and Blenheim's fields of fame.
Nine times in battle-field his blood had streamed,
Yet vivid still his veteran blue eye gleamed;
Full well he bore his knapsack -- unoppressed,
And marched with soldier-like erected crest:
Nor sign of ev'n loquacious age he wore,
Save when he told his life's adventures o'er;
Some tired of these; for terms to him were dear,
Too tactical by far for vulgar ear;
As when he talked of rampart and ravine,
And trenches fenced with gabion and fascine --
But when his theme possessed him all and whole
He scorned proud puzzling words and warmed the sour,
Hushed groups hung on his lips with fond surprise,
That sketched old scenes -- like pictures to their eyes; --
The wide war-plain, with banners glowing bright,
And bayonets to the furthest stretch of sight;
The pause, more dreadful than the peal to come
From volleys blazing at the beat of drum --
Till all the field of thundering lines became
Two level and confronted sheets of flame.
Then to the charge, when Marlboro's hot pursuit
Trode France's gilded lilies underfoot;
He came and kindled -- and with martial lung
Would chant the very march their trumpets sung.

The old soldier hoped, ere evening's light should fail,
To reach a home, south-east of Cona's vale;
But looking at Bennevis, capped with snow,
He saw its mist come curling down below,
And spread white darkness o'er the sunset glow; --
Fast rolling like tempestuous Ocean's spray,
Or clouds from troops in battle's fiery day --
So dense, his quarry 'scaped the falcon's sight,
The owl alone exulted, hating light.

Benighted thus our pilgrim groped his ground,
Half 'twixt the river's and the cataract's sound.
At last a sheep-dog's bark informed his ear
Some human habitation might be near;
Anon sheep-bleatings rose from rock to rock, --
'Twas Luath hounding to their fold the flock.
Ere long the cock's obstreperous clarion rang,
And next, a maid's sweet voice, that spinning sang:
At last, amidst the greensward, (gladsome sight!)
A cottage stood, with straw-roof golden bright.

He knocked, was welcomed in; none asked his name,
Nor whither he was bound, nor whence he came;
But he was beckoned to the stranger's seat,
Right side the chimney fire of blazing peat.
Blest Hospitality makes not her home
In walled parks and castellated dome;
She flies the city's needy greedy crowd,
And shuns still more the mansions of the proud; --
The balm of savage or of simple life,
A wild-flower cut by culture's polished knife!

The house, no common sordid shieling cot,
Spoke inmates of a comfortable lot;
The Jacobite white rose festooned their door;
The windows sashed and glazed, the oaken floor,
The chimney graced with antlers of the deer,
The rafters hung with meat for winter cheer,
And all the mansion, indicated plain
Its master a superior shepherd swain.

Their supper came -- the table soon was spread
With eggs, and milk, and cheese, and barley bread.
The family were three -- a father hoar,
Whose age you'd guess at seventy years or more,
His son looked fifty -- cheerful like her lord,
His comely wife presided at the board;
All three had that peculiar courteous grace
Which marks the meanest of the Highland race;
Warm hearts that burn alike in weal and wo,
As if the north-wind fanned their bosoms' glow!
But wide unlike their souls: old Norman's eye
Was proudly savage even in courtesy.
His sinewy shoulders -- each, though aged and lean,
Broad as the curled Herculean head between, --
His scornful lip, his eyes of yellow fire,
And nostrils that dilated quick with ire,
With ever downward-slanting shaggy brows,
Marked the old lion you would dread to rouse.

Norman, in truth, had led his earlier life
In raids of red revenge and feudal strife;
Religious duty in revenge he saw,
Proud Honor's right and Nature's honest law.
First in the charge and foremost in pursuit,
Long-breathed, deep-chested, and in speed of foot
A match for stags -- still fleeter when the prey
Was man, in persecution's evil day;
Cheered to that chase by brutal bold Dundee,
No Highland hound had lapped more blood than he.
Oft had he changed the covenanter's breath
From howls of psalmody to howls of death;
And though long bound to peace, it irked him still
His dirk had ne'er one hated foe to kill.

Yet Norman had fierce virtues, that would mock
Cold-blooded tories of the modern stock,
Who starve the breadless poor with fraud and cant; --
He slew and saved them from the pangs of want
Nor was his solitary lawless charm
Mere dauntlessness of soul and strength of arm;
He had his moods of kindness now and then,
And feasted even well-mannered lowland men
Who blew not up his Jacobitish flame,
Nor prefaced with "pretender" Charles's name.
Fierce, but by sense and kindness not unwon,
He loved, respected even, his wiser son;
And brooked from him expostulations sage,
When all advisers else were spurned with rage.

Far happier times had moulded Ronald's mind,
By nature too of more sagacious kind.
His breadth of brow, and Roman shape of chin,
Squared well with the firm man that reigned within.
Contemning strife as childishness, he stood
With neighbors on kind terms of neighborhood,
And whilst his father's anger nought availed,
His rational remonstrance never failed.
Full skilfully he managed farm and fold,
Wrote, ciphered, profitably bought and sold;
And, blessed with pastoral leisure, deeply took
Delight to be informed, by speech or book,
Of that wide world beyond his mountain home,
Where oft his curious fancy loved to roam.
Oft while his faithful dog ran round his flock,
He read long hours when summer warmed the rock:
Guests who could tell him aught were welcomed warm,
Even pedlers' news had to his mind a charm;
That like an intellectual magnet-stone
Drew truth from judgments simpler than his own.

His soul's proud instinct sought not to enjoy
Romantic fictions, like a minstrel boy;
Truth, standing on her solid square, from youth
He worshipped -- stern uncompromising truth.
His goddess kindlier smiled on him, to find
A votary of her light in land so blind;
She bade majestic History unroll
Broad views of public welfare to his soul,
Until he looked on clannish feuds and foes
With scorn, as on the wars of kites and crows:
Whilst doubts assailed him, o'er and o'er again,
If men were made for kings, or kings for men;
At last, to Norman's horror and dismay,
He flat denied the Stuarts' right to sway.

No blow-pipe ever whitened furnace fire
Quick as these words lit up his father's ire;
Who envied even old Abraham for his faith,
Ordained to put his only son to death.
He started up -- in such a mood of soul
The white-bear bites his showman's stirring pole;
He danced too, and brought out, with snarl and howl,
"O Dia! Dia! and Dioul! Dioul!"
But sense foils fury -- as the blowing whale
Spouts, bleeds, and dyes the waves without avail --
Wears out the cable's length that makes him fast,
But, worn himself, comes up harpooned at last --
Ev'n so, devoid of sense, succumbs at length
Mere strength of zeal to intellectual strength.
His son's close logic so perplexed his pate,
The old hero rather shunned than sought debate;
Exhausting his vocabulary's store
Of oaths and nick-names, he could say no more,
But tapped his mull, rolled mutely in his chair,
Or only whistled Killicranky's air.

Witch legends Ronald scorned -- ghost, kelpie, wraith,
And all the trumpery of vulgar faith;
Grave matrons ev'n were shocked to hear him slight
Authenticated facts of second-sight --
Yet never flinched his mockery to confound
The brutal superstition reigning round.

Reserved himself, still Ronald loved to scan
Men's natures -- and he liked the old hearty man
So did the partner of his heart and life --
Who pleased her Ronald, ne'er displeased his wife.
His sense, 'tis true, compared with Norman's son,
Was common-place -- his tales too long outspun
Yet Allan Campbell's sympathizing mind
Had held large intercourse with human kind;
Seen much, and gayly, graphically drew
The men of every country, clime, and hue;
Nor ever stooped, though soldier-like his strain,
To ribaldry of mirth or oath profane.
All went harmonious till the guest began
To talk about his kindred, chief, and clan;
And, with his own biography engrossed,
Marked not the changed demeanor of each host;
Nor how old choleric Norman's cheek became
Flushed at the Campbell and Breadalbane name;
Assigning, heedless of impending harm,
Their steadfast silence to his story's charm;
He touched a subject perilous to touch --
Saying, "'Midst this well-known vale I wondered much
To lose my way. In boyhood, long ago,
I roamed, and loved each pathway of Glencoe;
Trapped leverets, plucked wild berries on its braes,
And fished along its banks long summer days.
But times grew stormy -- bitter feuds arose,
Our clan was merciless to prostrate foes.
I never palliated my chieftain's blame,
But mourned the sin, and reddened for the shame
Of that foul morn (Heaven blot it from the year!)
Whose shapes and shrieks still haunt my dreaming ear
What could I do? a serf -- Glenlyon's page,
A soldier sworn at nineteen years of age;
T' have breathed one grieved remonstrance to our chief,
The pit or gallows would have cured my grief.
Forced, passive as the musket in my hand,
I marched -- when, feigning royalty's command,
Against the clan Macdonald, Stairs's lord
Sent forth exterminating fire and sword;
And troops at midnight through the vale defiled,
Enjoined to slaughter woman, man, and child.
My clansmen many a year had cause to dread
The curse that day entailed upon their head;
Glenlyon's self confessed th' avenging spell --
I saw it light on him.

"It so befell: --
A soldier from our ranks to death was brought,
By sentence deemed too dreadful for his fault;
All was prepared -- the coffin and the cart
Stood near twelve muskets, levelled at his heart.
The chief, whose breast for ruth had still some room,
Obtained reprieve a day before his doom; --
But of th' awarded boon surmised no breath.
The sufferer knelt, blindfolded, waiting death, --
And met it. Though Glenlyon had desired
The musketeers to watch before they fired;
If from his pocket they should see he drew
A handkerchief -- their volley should ensue;
But if he held a paper in its place,
It should be hailed the sign of pardoning grace:
He, in a fatal moment's absent fit,
Drew forth the handkerchief, and not the writ;
Wept o'er the corpse and wrung his hands in wo,
Crying 'Here's thy curse again, Glencoe! Glencoe!'"
Though thus his guest spoke feelings just and clear,
The cabin's patriarch lent impatient ear;
Wroth that, beneath his roof, a living man
Should boast the swine-blood of the Campbell clan;
He hastened to the door -- called out his son
To follow; walked a space, and thus begun: --
"You have not, Ronald, at this day to learn
The oath I took beside my father's cairn,
When you were but a babe, a twelvemonth born; --
Sworn on my dirk -- by all that's sacred, sworn
To be revenged for blood that cries to Heaven
Blood unforgiveable, and unforgiven!
But never power, since then, have I possessed
To plant my dagger in a Campbell's breast.
Now, here's a self-accusing partisan,
Steeped in the slaughter of Macdonald's clan!
I scorn his civil speech and sweet-lipped show
Of pity -- he is still our house's foe:
I'll perjure not myself -- but sacrifice
The caitiff ere to-morrow's sun arise!
Stand! hear me -- you're my son, the deed is just;
And if I say -- it must be done -- it must:
A debt of honor which my clansmen crave, --
Their very dead demand it from the grave."
Conjuring then their ghosts, he humbly prayed
Their patience till the blood-debt should be paid.
But Ronald stopped him. -- "Sir, Sir, do not dim
Your honor by a moment's angry whim;
Your soul's too just and generous, were you cool,
To act at once th' assassin and the fool.
Bring me the men on whom revenge is due,
And I will dirk them willingly as you!
But all the real authors of that black
Old deed are gone -- you can not bring them back;
And this poor guest, 'tis palpable to judge,
In all his life ne'er bore our clan a grudge; --
Dragged, when a boy, against his will, to share
That massacre, he loathed the foul affair.
Think, if your hardened heart be conscience-proof,
To stab a stranger underneath your roof --
One who has broken bread within your gate --
Reflect -- before reflection comes too late, --
Such ugly consequences there may be
As judge and jury, rope and gallows-tree.
The days of dirking snugly are gone by:
Where could you hide the body privily,
When search is made for't?"
"Plunge it in yon flood,
That Campbells crimsoned with our kindred blood."
"Ay, but the corpse may float --"
"Pshaw! dead men tell
No tales -- nor will it float if leaded well.
I am determined!" -- What could Ronald do?
No house within ear-reach of his halloo;
Though that would but have published household shame
He temporized with wrath he could not tame, --
And said, "Come in; till night put off the deed,
And ask a few more questions ere he bleed."
They entered: Norman with portentous air
Strode to a nook behind the stranger's chair,
And, speaking nought, sat grimly in the shade,
With dagger in his clutch, beneath his plaid.
His son's own plaid, should Norman pounce his prey,
Was coiled thick round his arm, to turn away
Or blunt the dirk. He purposed leaving free
The door, and giving Allan time to flee,
Whilst he should wrestle with (no safe emprise)
His father's maniac strength and giant size.
Meanwhile he could nowise communicate
Th' impending peril to his anxious mate;
But she, convinced no trifling matter now
Disturbed the wonted calm of Ronald's brow,
Divined too well the cause of gloom that lowered,
And sat with speechless terror overpowered.
Her face was pale, so lately blithe and bland,
The stocking knitting-wire shook in her hand.
But Ronald and the guest resumed their thread
Of converse -- still its theme that day of dread.

"Much," said the veteran, "much as I bemoan
That deed, when half a hundred years have flown,
Still on one circumstance I can reflect
That mitigates the dreadful retrospect.
A mother with her child before us flew, --
I had the hideous mandate to pursue;
But swift of foot, outspeeding bloodier men,
I chased, o'ertook her in the winding glen,
And showed her, palpitating, where to save
Herself and infant in a secret cave;
Nor left them till I saw that they could mock
Pursuit and search within that sheltering rock."
"Heavens!" Ronald cried, in accents gladly wild,
"That woman was my mother -- I the child!
Of you, unknown by name, she late and air,
Spoke, wept, and ever blessed you in her prayer,
Ev'n to her death; describing you withal
A well-looked florid youth, blue-eyed and tall."
They rose, exchanged embrace: the old lion then
Upstarted, metamorphosed, from his den;
Saying, "Come and make thy home with us for life,
Heaven-sent preserver of my child and wife.
I fear thou'rt poor -- that Hanoverian thing
Rewards his soldiers ill." -- "God save the king!"
With hand upon his heart, old Allan said,
"I wear his uniform, I eat his bread,
And whilst I've tooth to bite a cartridge, all
For him and Britain's fame I'll stand or fall."
"Bravo!" cried Ronald. "I commend your zeal,"
Quoth Norman, "and I see your heart is leal;
But I have prayed my soul may never thrive
If thou shouldst leave this house of ours alive.
Nor shalt thou; -- in this home protract thy breath
Of easy life, nor leave it till thy death."

The following morn arose serene as glass,
And red Bennevis shone like molten brass;
While sunrise opened flowers with gentle force,
The guest and Ronald walked in long discourse.
"Words fail me," Allan said, "to thank aright
Your father's kindness shown me yesternight;
Yet scarce I'd wish my latest days to spend,
A fireside fixture, with the dearest friend:
Besides, I've but a fortnight's furlough now,
To reach Macallin More, beyond Lochawe.
I'd fain memorialize the powers that be
To deign remembrance of my wounds and me;
My life-long service never bore the brand
Of sentence -- lash, disgrace, or reprimand.
And so I've written, though in meagre style,
A long petition to his Grace Argyle;
I mean, on reaching Innerara's shore,
To leave it safe within his castle door."
"Nay," Ronald said, "the letter that you bear
Intrust it to no lying varlet's care;
But say, a soldier of King George demands
Access, to leave it in the Duke's own hands.
But show me, first, the epistle to your chief;
'Tis nought, unless succinctly clear and brief;
Great men have no great patience when they read,
And long petitions spoil the cause they plead."

That day saw Ronald from the field full soon
Return; and when they all had dined at noon,
He conned th' old man's memorial -- lopped its length,
And gave it style, simplicity, and strength;
Twas finished in an hour -- and in the next
Transcribed by Allan in perspicuous text.
At evening, he and Ronald shared once more
A long and pleasant walk by Cona's shore.
"I'd press you," quoth his host -- ("I need not say
How warmly) ever more with us to stay;
But Charles intends, 'tis said, in these same parts
To try the fealty of our Highland hearts.
'Tis my belief, that he and all his line
Have -- saving to be hanged -- no right divine;
From whose mad enterprise can only flow
To thousands slaughter, and to myriads wo.
Yet have they stirred my father's spirit sore, --
He flints his pistols, whets his old claymore,
And longs as ardently to join the fray
As boy to dance who hears the bagpipe play.
Though calm one day, the next, disdaining rule,
He'd gore your red coat like an angry bull:
I told him, and he owned it might be so,
Your tempers never could in concert flow.
But 'Mark,' he added, 'Ronald! from our door
Let not this guest depart forlorn and poor;
Let not your souls the niggardness evince
Of lowland pedler, or of German prince:
He gave you life -- then feed him as you'd feed
Your very father were he cast in need.'
He gave -- you'll find it by your bed to-night --
A leathern purse of crowns, all sterling bright:
You see I do you kindness not by stealth.
My wife -- no advocate of squandering wealth --
Vows that it would be parricide, or worse,
Should we neglect you -- here's a silken purse,
Some golden pieces through the network shine,
'Tis proffered to you from her heart and mine
But come! no foolish delicacy -- no!

We own, but can not cancel what we owe; --
This sum shall duly reach you once a year."
Poor Allan's furrowed face, and flowing tear,
Confessed sensations which he could not speak.
Old Norman bade him farewell kindly meek.

At morn, the smiling dame rejoiced to pack
With viands full the old soldier's haversack.
He feared not hungry grass with such a load,
And Ronald saw him miles upon his road.

A march of three days brought him to Lochfyne:
Argyle, struck with his manly look benign,
And feeling interest in the veteran's lot,
Created him a sergeant on the spot --
An invalid, to serve not -- but with pay
(A mighty sum to him,) twelve pence a day.
"But have you heard not," said Macallin More,
"Charles Stuart's landed on Eriska's shore,
And Jacobites are arming?" -- "What! indeed!
Arrived! then I'm no more an invalid;
My new-got halbert I must straight employ
In battle." -- "As you please, old gallant boy:
Your gray hairs well might plead excuse, 'tis true,
But now's the time we want such men as you."
In brief, at Innerara Allan stayed,
And joined the banners of Argyle's brigade.

Meanwhile, th' old choleric shepherd of Glencoe
Spurned all advice, and girt himself to go.
What was't to him that foes would poind their fold,
Their lease, their very beds beneath them sold?
And firmly to his text he would have kept,
Though Ronald argued and his daughter wept.
But 'midst the impotence of tears and prayer,
Chance snatched them from proscription and despair.
Old Norman's blood was headward wont to mount
Too rapid from his heart's impetuous fount;
And one day, whilst the German rats he cursed,
An artery in his wise sensorium burst.
The lancet saved him: but how changed, alas!
From him who fought at Killiecrankie's pass!
Tame as a spaniel, timid as a child,
He muttered ncoherent words and smiled;
He wept at kindness, rolled a vacant eye,
And laughed full often when he meant to cry.
Poor man! whilst in this lamentable state,
Came Allan back one morning to his gate,
Hale and unburdened by the woes of eild,
And fresh with credit from Culloden's field.
'Twas feared, at first, the sight of him might touch
The old Macdonald's morbid mind too much;
But no! though Norman knew him and disclosed,
Ev'n rallying memory, he was still composed;
Asked all particulars of the fatal fight,
And only heaved a sigh for Charles's flight;
Then said, with but one moment's pride of air,
It might not have been so had I been there!
Few days elapsed till he reposed beneath
His gray cairn, on the wild and lonely heath:
Son, friends, and kindred, of his dust took leave,
And Allan with the crape bound round his sleeve.

Old Allan now hung up his sergeant's sword,
And sat, a guest for life, at Ronald's board.
He waked no longer at the barrack's drum,
Yet still you'd see, when peep of day was come,
Th' erect tall red-coat, walking pastures round,
Or delving with his spade the garden ground.
Of cheerful temper, habits strict and sage,
He reached, enjoyed a patriarchal age --
Love to the last by the Macdonalds. Near
Their house, his stone was placed with many a tear
And Ronald's self, in stoic virtue brave,
Scorned not to weep at Allan Campbell's grave.





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