Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE PRAYER OF THE BRUCE, by THOMAS KENNEDY



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THE PRAYER OF THE BRUCE, by            
First Line: The clouds came down and hung upon the hills
Last Line: The fates had come and written -- victory.
Subject(s): Prayer


THE clouds came down and hung upon the hills,
And wrapp'd in drizzling mist wide moor and glen,
As if in pity for poor Scotland's ills
They fain would screen, and hide her scatter'd men.
For o'er the land, in town and castled keep,
The countless foe in insolence held sway;
Whilst in ravines and wild recesses deep,
The Scottish brave were hunted as a prey.

In woods, in caves, 'neath rocks where cataracts pour'd,
Lived Scotland's freemen, 'reft of all save life,
And that sweet prayer for vengeance, which the sword
Yet amply answer'd in the deadly strife.
Deem not their prayer impious -- 'twas the appeal
Of noble hearts to desperation driven;
Hearts which, against oppression hard as steel,
Burn'd with that fire whose flame is lit in heaven,

Such were the times, and such this special day,
When towards a lone hut, half hid in heather,
A warrior strode -- one who, in fight or fray,
Smote like the thunder when wild tempests gather.
Within the straw-couch'd tenement he lay,
Mist-wet and weary, through the cheerless night,
His shield his pillow -- for the dawn's first ray
Might bring the foe, in fierce unequal fight.

Watching the first faint glimmerings of morn,
Which through the broken roof began to steal,
He mark'd upon a rafter, scath'd and torn,
A spider working with unflagging zeal;
Twelve times the anxious insect tried to swing
And fix itself into a cosier bield;
Twelve times it fail'd, but still the tiny thing
Toil'd with an energy that would not yield.

The warrior chief who, musing, watch'd below,
Beheld the emblem of his own hard lot,
Twelve times in blood had the remorseless foe
Reel'd from his onset, yet success came not;
Hope now was dying, and a heavy woe,
Full of dark dreamings of the adverse past,
Was setting down upon his soul, when lo!
He mark'd the spider win the goal at last.

With quickening pulse and kindling eye, he rose
And bade despair and all its gloom depart,
His good sword-arm nerv'd for a thousand blows,
And war's wild impulse leaping in his heart --
"Rise, thou brave sun, and chase the coward night,
Whose doleful bodings would benumb the soul;
Shine out, for by the Holy Rood, thy light
Shall gild great deeds where battle-echoes roll."

"Come, ye vile hordes, slaves to a base design,
Come, till your dark-plum'd hosts cloud hill and heath,
Come -- But, O, Heaven! if justice still be thine,
England shall wail their ignomy and death;
On this good broadsword, dinted with long years
Of brunt and battle for my country's right,
I swear yet to avenge her blood and tears,
And, kneeling, ask thee to watch o'er the fight."

Humble and low he bent his head in prayer,
Alone in that bleak tenantless abode,
No saint nor surpliced priest was needed there,
The fervent spirit rose direct to God.
Few, but impassion'd were his words, that rose
In throbbing accents through the morning air,
Up where entranced vision could disclose
Ethereal forms, now hovering dimly there.

Shades from an hundred battlefields they came,
Gory and grim, even as they fought and bled;
Many who gave their life, 'midst blood and flame,
Still following where the kingly Bruce had led.
Like drifting fragments of some broken cloud
Shaped into ghastly phantoms of the dead,
They drew together there, and in close crowd
Spread out their arms, in blessing, o'er his head.

Oh! could those spirits, in their happier spheres,
Forget the gall and grief which tyrants bring --
Forget their hero, kneeling there in tears --
There own beloved Scotland's warrior king!
They came, with love that would not die, to tell,
And in their benedictions, to unveil,
Their country's future, glorious and well,
And show that yet her valour would prevail.

Stooping, they o'er him hung in fond farewell,
Then gazing up, as if they would return,
They vanish'd; whilst the breeze caught the soft swell
Of dying echoes whispering, BANNOCKBURN.
The monarch rose, but on his visage now
Gleam'd the bright glory of the times to be;
Scotland was saved, for on that kingly brow
The fates had come and written -- VICTORY.





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