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Walter Scott: The Dance of Death

Walter Scott: The Dance of Death, 1815.


NIGHT and morning were at meeting
Over Waterloo;
Cocks had sung their earliest greeting,
Faint and low they crew,
For no paly beam yet shone
On the heights of Mount Saint John;
Tempest-clouds prolong'd the sway
Of timeless darkness over day;
Whirlwind, thunder-clap, and shower
Mark'd it a predestined hour.
Broad and frequent through the night
Flash'd the sheets of leven-light;
Muskets, glancing lightnings back,
Shew'd the dreary bivouac
Where the soldier lay,
Chill and stiff, and drench'd with rain,
Wishing dawn of morn again,
Though death should come with day.

'Tis at such a tide and hour,
Wizard, witch, and fiend have power.
And ghastly forms through mist and shower,
Gleam on the gifted ken;
And then the affrighted prophet's ear
Drinks whispers strange of fate and fear,
Presaging death and ruin near
Among the sons of men; –
Apart from Albyn's war-array,
'Twas then gray Allan sleepless lay;
Gray Allan, who, for many a day,
Had follow'd stout and stern,
Where through battle's rout and reel,
Storm of shot and hedge of steel,
Led the grandson of Lochiel,
Valiant Fassiefern.
Through steel and shot he leads no more,
Low-laid 'mid friends' and foemen's gore –
But long his native lake's wild shore,
And Sunart rough, and high Ardgower,
And Morvern long shall tell,
And proud Bennevis hear with awe,
How, upon bloody Quatre-Bras,
Brave Cameron heard the wild hurra
Of conquest as he fell.

'Lone an the outskirts of the host,
The weary sentinel held post.
And heard through darkness far aloof,
The frequent clang of courser's hoof,
Where held the cloak'd patrole their course,
And spurr'd 'gainst storm the swerving horse.
But there are sounds in Allan's ear,
Patrole nor centinel may hear,
And sights before his eye aghast
Invisible to them have prass'd,
When down the destined plain
'Twixt Britain and the bands of France,
Wild as marsh-borne meteors glance,
Strange Phantoms wheel'd a revel-dance,
And doom'd the future slain. –
Such forms were seen, such sounds were heard,
When Scotland's James his march prepared
For Flodden's fatal plain;
Such, when he drew his ruthless sword,
As Chusers of the Slain, adored
The yet unchristen'd Dane.
An indistinct and phantom band,
They wheel'd their ring-dance hand in hand,
With gesture wild and dread;
The Seer, who watch'd them ride the storm,
Saw through their faint and shadowy form
The lightning's flash more red;
And still their ghastly roundelay
Was of the coming battle-fray,
And of the destined dead.


SONG.

Wheel the wild dance,
While lightnings glance,
And thunders rattle loud,
And call the brave
To bloody grave,
To sleep without a shroud.

Our airy feet,
So light and fleet,
They do not bend the rye
That sinks its head when whirlwinds rave,
And swells again in eddying wave,
As each wild gust blows by;
But still the corn,
At dawn of morn,
Our fatal steps that bore,
At eve lies waste,
A trampled paste
Of blackening mud and gore.

Wheel the wild dance,
While lightnings glance,
And thunders rattle loud,
And call the brave
To bloody grave,
To sleep without a shroud.

Wheel the wild dance!
Brave sons of France,
For you our ring makes room;
Makes space full wide
For martial pride,
For banner, spear, and plume.
Approach, draw near,
Proud cuirassier!
Room for the men of steel!
Through crest and plate,
The broadsword's weight
Both head and heart shall feel.

Wheel the wild dance,
While lightnings glance,
And thunders rattle loud,
And call the brave
To bloody grave,
To sleep without a shroud.

Sons of the spear!
You feel us near
In many a ghastly dream;
With fancy's eye
Our forms you spy,
And hear our fatal scream.
With clearer sight
Ere falls the night,
Just when to weal or woe
Your disembodied souls take flight
On trembling wing – each startled sprite
Our choir of death shall know.

Wheel the wild dance,
While lightnings glance,
And thunders rattle loud,
And call the brave
To bloody grave,
To sleep without a shroud.

Burst, ye clouds, in tempest-showers,
Redder rain shall soon he ours –
See the east grows wan –
Yield we place to sterner game,
Ere deadlier bolts and drearer flame
Shall the welkin's thunders shame;
EIemental rage is tame
To the wrath of man.


At morn, gray Allan's mates with awe
Heard of the vision'd sights he saw,
The legend heard him say;
But the Seer's gifted eye was dim,
Deafen'd his ear, and stark his limb,
Ere closed that bloody day –
He sleeps far from his Highland-heath, –
But often of the Dance of Death
His comrades tell the tale
On picquet-post, when ebbs the night,
And waning watch-fires glow less bright,
And dawn is glimmering pale.

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