Marmion, by Walter Scott

Introduction to Canto Second.

To the Rev John Marriott, A.M.
Ashestiel, Ettrick Forest.

The scenes are desert now, and bare

Where flourish’d once a forest fair,

When these waste glens with copse were lined,

And peopled with the hart and hind.

Yon Thorn — perchance whose prickly spears

Have fenced him for three hundred years,

While fell around his green compeers —

Yon lonely Thorn, would he could tell

The changes of his parent dell,

Since he, so grey and stubborn now,

Waved in each breeze a sapling bough;

Would he could tell how deep the shade

A thousand mingled branches made;

How broad the shadows of the oak,

How clung the rowan to the rock,

And through the foliage show’d his head,

With narrow leaves and berries red;

What pines on every mountain sprung,

O’er every dell what birches hung,

In every breeze what aspens shook,

What alders shaded every brook!

‘Here, in my shade,’ methinks he’d say,

‘The mighty stag at noon-tide lay:

The wolf I’ve seen, a fiercer game,

(The neighbouring dingle bears his name,)

With lurching step around me prowl,

And stop, against the moon to howl;

The mountain-boar, on battle set,

His tusks upon my stem would whet;

While doe, and roe, and red-deer good,

Have bounded by, through gay green-wood.

Then oft, from Newark’s riven tower,

Sallied a Scottish monarch’s power:

A thousand vassals muster’d round,

With horse, and hawk, and horn, and hound;

And I might see the youth intent,

Guard every pass with crossbow bent;

And through the brake the rangers stalk,

And falc’ners hold the ready hawk,

And foresters, in green-wood trim,

Lead in the leash the gazehounds grim,

Attentive, as the bratchet’s bay

From the dark covert drove the prey,

To slip them as he broke away.

The startled quarry bounds amain,

As fast the gallant greyhounds strain;

Whistles the arrow from the bow,

Answers the harquebuss below;

While all the rocking hills reply,

To hoof-clang, hound, and hunters’ cry,

And bugles ringing lightsomely.’

Of such proud huntings, many tales

Yet linger in our lonely dales,

Up pathless Ettrick and on Yarrow,

Where erst the outlaw drew his arrow.

But not more blithe that silvan court,

Than we have been at humbler sport;

Though small our pomp, and mean our game,

Our mirth, dear Marriott, was the same.

Remember’st thou my greyhounds true?

O’er holt or hill there never flew,

From slip or leash there never sprang,

More fleet of foot, or sure of fang.

Nor dull, between each merry chase,

Pass’d by the intermitted space;

For we had fair resource in store,

In Classic and in Gothic lore:

We mark’d each memorable scene,

And held poetic talk between;

Nor hill, nor brook, we paced along,

But had its legend or its song.

All silent now — for now are still

Thy bowers, untenanted Bowhill!

No longer, from thy mountains dun,

The yeoman hears the well-known gun,

And while his honest heart glows warm,

At thought of his paternal farm,

Round to his mates a brimmer fills,

And drinks, ‘The Chieftain of the Hills!’

No fairy forms, in Yarrow’s bowers,

Trip o’er the walks, or tend the flowers,

Fair as the elves whom Janet saw

By moonlight dance on Carterhaugh;

No youthful Baron’s left to grace

The Forest–Sheriff’s lonely chase,

And ape, in manly step and tone,

The majesty of Oberon:

And she is gone, whose lovely face

Is but her least and lowest grace;

Though if to Sylphid Queen ’twere given,

To show our earth the charms of Heaven,

She could not glide along the air,

With form more light, or face more fair.

No more the widow’s deafen’d ear

Grows quick that lady’s step to hear:

At noontide she expects her not,

Nor busies her to trim the cot;

Pensive she turns her humming wheel,

Or pensive cooks her orphans’ meal,

Yet blesses, ere she deals their bread,

The gentle hand by which they’re fed.

From Yair — which hills so closely bind,

Scarce can the Tweed his passage find,

Though much he fret, and chafe, and toil,

Till all his eddying currents boil —

Her long descended lord is gone,

And left us by the stream alone.

And much I miss those sportive boys,

Companions of my mountain joys,

Just at the age ‘twixt boy and youth,

When thought is speech, and speech is truth.

Close to my side, with what delight

They press’d to hear of Wallace wight,

When, pointing to his airy mound,

I call’d his ramparts holy ground!

Kindled their brows to hear me speak;

And I have smiled, to feel my cheek,

Despite the difference of our years,

Return again the glow of theirs.

Ah, happy boys! such feelings pure,

They will not, cannot long endure;

Condemn’d to stem the world’s rude tide,

You may not linger by the side;

For Fate shall thrust you from the shore,

And passion ply the sail and oar.

Yet cherish the remembrance still,

Of the lone mountain, and the rill;

For trust, dear boys, the time will come,

When fiercer transport shall be dumb,

And you will think right frequently,

But, well I hope, without a sigh,

On the free hours that we have spent,

Together, on the brown hill’s bent.

When, musing on companions gone,

We doubly feel ourselves alone,

Something, my friend, we yet may gain,

There is a pleasure in this pain:

It soothes the love of lonely rest,

Deep in each gentler heart impress’d.

’Tis silent amid worldly toils,

And stifled soon by mental broils;

But, in a bosom thus prepared,

Its still small voice is often heard,

Whispering a mingled sentiment,

‘Twixt resignation and content.

Oft in my mind such thoughts awake,

By lone Saint Mary’s silent lake;

Thou know’st it well — nor fen, nor sedge,

Pollute the pure lake’s crystal edge;

Abrupt and sheer, the mountains sink

At once upon the level brink;

And just a trace of silver sand

Marks where the water meets the land.

Far in the mirror, bright and blue,

Each hill’s huge outline you may view;

Shaggy with heath, but lonely bare,

Nor tree, nor bush, nor brake, is there,

Save where, of land, yon slender line

Bears thwart the lake the scatter’d pine.

Yet even this nakedness has power,

And aids the feeling of the hour:

Nor thicket, dell, nor copse you spy,

Where living thing conceal’d might lie;

Nor point, retiring, hides a dell,

Where swain, or woodman lone, might dwell;

There’s nothing left to fancy’s guess,

You see that all is loneliness:

And silence aids — though the steep hills

Send to the lake a thousand rills;

In summer tide, so soft they weep,

The sound but lulls the ear asleep;

Your horse’s hoof-tread sounds too rude,

So stilly is the solitude.

Nought living meets the eye or ear,

But well I ween the dead are near;

For though, in feudal strife, a foe

Hath laid Our Lady’s chapel low,

Yet still, beneath the hallow’d soil,

The peasant rests him from his toil,

And, dying, bids his bones be laid,

Where erst his simple fathers pray’d.

If age had tamed the passions’ strife,

And fate had cut my ties to life,

Here have I thought, ’twere sweet to dwell,

And rear again the chaplain’s cell,

Like that same peaceful hermitage,

Where Milton long’d to spend his age.

’Twere sweet to mark the setting day,

On Bourhope’s lonely top decay;

And, as it faint and feeble died

On the broad lake, and mountain’s side,

To say, ‘Thus pleasures fade away;

Youth, talents, beauty thus decay,

And leave us dark, forlorn, and grey;’

Then gaze on Dryhope’s ruin’d tower,

And think on Yarrow’s faded Flower:

And when that mountain-sound I heard,

Which bids us be for storm prepared,

The distant rustling of his wings,

As up his force the Tempest brings,

’Twere sweet, ere yet his terrors rave,

To sit upon the Wizard’s grave;

That Wizard Priest’s, whose bones are thrust,

From company of holy dust;

On which no sunbeam ever shines —

(So superstition’s creed divines)—

Thence view the lake, with sullen roar,

Heave her broad billows to the shore;

And mark the wild-swans mount the gale,

Spread wide through mist their snowy sail,

And ever stoop again, to lave

Their bosoms on the surging wave;

Then, when against the driving hail

No longer might my plaid avail,

Back to my lonely home retire,

And light my lamp, and trim my fire;

There ponder o’er some mystic lay,

Till the wild tale had all its sway,

And, in the bittern’s distant shriek,

I heard unearthly voices speak,

And thought the Wizard Priest was come,

To claim again his ancient home!

And bade my busy fancy range,

To frame him fitting shape and strange,

Till from the task my brow I clear’d,

And smiled to think that I had fear’d.

But chief, ’twere sweet to think such life,

(Though but escape from fortune’s strife,)

Something most matchless good and wise,

A great and grateful sacrifice;

And deem each hour, to musing given,

A step upon the road to heaven.

Yet him, whose heart is ill at ease,

Such peaceful solitudes displease;

He loves to drown his bosom’s jar

Amid the elemental war:

And my black Palmer’s choice had been

Some ruder and more savage scene,

Like that which frowns round dark Loch-skene.

There eagles scream from isle to shore;

Down all the rocks the torrents roar;

O’er the black waves incessant driven,

Dark mists infect the summer heaven;

Through the rude barriers of the lake,

Away its hurrying waters break,

Faster and whiter dash and curl,

Till down yon dark abyss they hurl.

Rises the fog-smoke white as snow,

Thunders the viewless stream below,

Diving, as if condemn’d to lave

Some demon’s subterranean cave,

Who, prison’d by enchanter’s spell,

Shakes the dark rock with groan and yell.

And well that Palmer’s form and mien

Had suited with the stormy scene,

Just on the edge, straining his ken

To view the bottom of the den,

Where, deep deep down, and far within,

Toils with the rocks the roaring linn;

Then, issuing forth one foamy wave,

And wheeling round the Giant’s Grave,

White as the snowy charger’s tail,

Drives down the pass of Moffatdale.

Marriott, thy harp, on Isis strung,

To many a Border theme has rung:

Then list to me, and thou shalt know

Of this mysterious Man of Woe.


The Rev. John Marriott, A. M., to whom this introductory poem is dedicated, was tutor to George Henry, Lord Scott, son of Charles, Earl of Dalkeith, afterwards fourth Duke of Buccleuch and sixth of Queensberry. Lord Scott died early, in 1808. Marriott, while still at Oxford, proved himself a capable poet, and Scott shewed his appreciation of him by including two of his ballads at the close of the ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.’ The concluding lines of this Introduction refer to Marriott’s ballads.

line 2. ‘Ettrick Forest, now a range of mountainous sheep-walks, was anciently reserved for the pleasure of the royal chase. Since it was disparked, the wood has been, by degrees, almost totally destroyed, although, wherever protected from the sheep, copses soon arise without any planting. When the King hunted there, he often summoned the array of the country to meet and assist his sport. Thus, in 1528, James V “made proclamation to all lords, barons, gentlemen, landward-men, and freeholders, that they should compear at Edinburgh, with a month’s victuals, to pass with the King where he pleased, to danton the thieves of Tiviotdale, Annandale, Liddisdale, and other parts of that country; and also warned all gentlemen that had good dogs to bring them, that he might hunt in the said country as he pleased: The whilk the Earl of Argyle, the Earl of Huntley, the Earl of Athole, and so all the rest of the gentlemen of the Highland, did, and brought their hounds with them in like manner, to hunt with the King, as he pleased.

‘“The second day of June the King past out of Edinburgh to the hunting, with many of the nobles and gentlemen of Scotland with him, to the number of twelve thousand men; and then past to Meggitland, and hounded and hawked all the country and bounds; that is to say, Crammat, Pappert-law, St. Mary-laws, Carlavirick, Chapel, Ewindoores, and Langhope. I heard say, he slew, in these bounds, eighteen score of harts.” — PITSCOTTIE’S History of Scotland, folio edition, p. 143.

‘These huntings had, of course, a military character, and attendance upon them was part of the duty of a vassal. The act for abolishing ward or military tenures in Scotland, enumerates the services of hunting, hosting, watching and warding, as those which were in future to be illegal.’— SCOTT.

lines 5–11. Cp. Wordsworth’s ‘Thorn’:—

‘There is a Thorn — it looks so old,

In truth, you’d find it hard to say

How it could ever have been young,

It looks so old and grey.’

There is a special suggestion of antiquity in the wrinkled, lichen-covered thorn of a wintry landscape, and thus it is a fitting object to stir and sustain the poet’s tendency to note ‘chance and change’ and to lament the loss of the days that are no more. The exceeding appropriateness of this in a narrative poem dealing with departed habits and customs must be quite apparent. The thorn grows to a very great age, and many an unpretentious Scottish homestead receives a pathetic grace and dignity from the presence of its ancestral thorn-tree.

line 15. The rowan is the mountain ash. One of the most tender and haunting of Scottish songs is Lady Nairne’s ‘Oh, Rowan tree!’—

‘How fair wert thou in summer time, wi’ a’ thy clusters white,

How rich and gay thy autumn dress, wi’ berries red and


line 27. There are some notable allusions in the poets to the moonlight baying of dogs and wolves. Cp. Julius Caesar, iv. 3. 27:—

‘I had rather be a dog and bay the moon.’

See also Shield’s great English song, ‘The Wolf’:—

‘While the wolf, in nightly prowl,

Bays the moon with hideous howl!’

One of the best lines in English verse on the wolf — both skilfully onomatopoeic and suggestively picturesque — is Campbell’s, line 66 of ‘Pleasures of Hope’:—

‘The wolf’s long howl from Oonalaska’s shore.’

line 30. Cp. the movement of this line with line 3 in ‘Sang of the Outlaw Murray’:—

‘There’s hart and hynd, and dae and rae.’

line 31. ‘Grene wode’ is a phrase of the ‘Robyn Hode Ballads.’ Cp.:—

‘She set her on a gode palfray,

To GRENE WODE anon rode she.’

line 32. The ruins of Newark Castle are above the confluence of the Ettrick and the Yarrow, on the latter river, and a few miles from Selkirk. Close by is Bowhill, mentioned below, 73. See Prof. Minto’s ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’ (Clarendon Press), pp. 122–3. In the days of the ‘last minstrel’ it was appropriate to describe this ‘riven’ relic as ‘Newark’s stately tower.’

line 33. James II built Newark as a fortress.

line 41. The gazehound or greyhound hunts by sight, not scent. The Encyclopedic Dictionary quotes Tickell ‘On Hunting’:—

‘See’st thou the GAZEHOUND! how with glance severe

From the close herd he marks the destined deer.’

line 42. ‘Bratchet, slowhound.’— SCOTT. The older spelling is brachet (from BRACH or BRACHE), as:—

‘BRACHETES bayed that best, as bidden the maystarez.’

Sir Gaw. and the Green Knyght, 1603.

In contrast with the gazehound the brachet hunts by scent.

line 44. Cp. Julius Caesar, iii. I. 273, ‘Let slip the dogs of war.’

line 48. Harquebuss, arquebus, or hagbut, a heavy musket. Cp. below, V. 54.

line 49. Cp. Dryden’s ‘Alexander’s Feast,’ ‘The vocal hills reply.’

line 54. Yarrow stream is the ideal scene of Border romance. See the Border Minstrelsy, and cp. the works of Hamilton of Bangour, John Leyden, Wordsworth’s Yarrow poems, the poems of the Ettrick Shepherd, Prof. Veitch, and Principal Shairp. John Logan’s ‘Braes of Yarrow’ also deserves special mention, and many singers of Scottish song know Scott Riddell’s ‘Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow.’

line 61. Holt, an Anglo–Saxon word for wood or grove, has been a favourite with poet’s since Chaucer’s employment of it (Prol. 6):—

‘Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breethe

Enspired hath in every HOLTE and heethe

The tendre croppes.’

See Dr. Morris’s Glossary to Chaucer’s Prologue, &c. (Clarendon Press).

line 68. Cp. Wordsworth’s two Matthew poems, ‘The Two April Mornings’ and ‘The Fountain’; also Matthew Arnold’s ‘Thyrsis’—

‘Too rare, too rare grow now my visits here!

But once I knew each field, each flower, each stick;

  And with the country-folk acquaintance made

By barn in threshing-time, by new-built rick,

  Here, too, our shepherd-pipes we first assay’d.’

line 82. Janet in the ballad of ‘The Young Tamlane’ in the Border Minstrelsy. The dissertation Scott prefixed to this ballad is most interesting and valuable.

line 84. See above, note on Rev. J. Marriott.

line 85. Scott was sheriff-substitute of Selkirkshire. As the law requires residence within the limits of the sheriffdom, Scott dwelt at Ashestiel at least four months of every year. Prof. Veitch, in his descriptive poem ‘The Tweed,’ writes warmly on Ashestiel, as Scott’s residence in his happiest time:—

‘Sweet Ashestiel! that peers ‘mid woody braes,

And lists the ripple of Glenkinnon’s rill —

Fair girdled by Tweed’s ampler gleaming wave —

His well loved home of early happy days,

Ere noon of Fame, and ere dark Ruin’s eve,

When life lay unrevealed, with hopeful thrill

Of all that might be in the reach of powers

Whose very flow was a continued joy —

Strong-rushing as the dawn, and fresh and fair

In outcome as that morning of the world,

Which gilded all his kindled fancy’s dream!’

line 88. Harriet, Countess of Dalkeith, afterwards Duchess of Buccleuch. A suggestion of hers led to the composition of the ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel.’ See Prof. Minto’s Introduction to Clarendon Press edition of the poem, p. 8.

lines 90–93. ‘These lines were not in the original MS.’— LOCKHART.

line 106. ‘The late Alexander Pringle, Esq., of Whytbank — whose beautiful seat of the Yair stands on the Tweed, about two miles below Ashestiel.’— LOCKHART.

line 108. ‘The sons of Mr. Pringle of Whytbank.’— LOCKHART.

line 113. Cp. VI. 611, below.

line 115. ‘There is, on a high mountainous ridge above the farm of Ashestiel, a fosse called Wallace’s Trench.’— SCOTT.

line 124. Cp. Gray’s ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,’ especially lines 6l-2:—

‘These shall the fury Passions tear,

   The vultures of the mind.’

lines 126–33. Cp. Wordsworth variously, particularly in the Matthew poems, the Ode on Intimations of Immortality, and Tintern Abbey, especially in its last twenty-five lines:—

            ‘Therefore let the moon

Shine on thee in thy solitary walk,’ &c.

line 143. Cp. I Kings xix. 12.

lines 147–73. ‘This beautiful sheet of water forms the reservoir from which the Yarrow takes its source. It is connected with a smaller lake, called the Loch of the Lowes, and surrounded by mountains. In the winter, it is still frequented by flights of wild swans; hence my friend Mr. Wordsworth’s lines:—

“The swan on sweet St. Mary’s lake

Floats double, swan and shadow.”

Near the lower extremity of the lake are the ruins of Dryhope tower, the birth-place of Mary Scott, daughter of Philip Scott of Dryhope, and famous by the traditional name of the Flower of Yarrow. She was married to Walter Scott of Harden, no less renowned for his depredations than his bride for her beauty. Her romantic appellation was, in latter days, with equal justice, conferred on Miss Mary Lilias Scott, the last of the elder branch of the Harden family. The author well remembers the talent and spirit of the latter Flower of Yarrow, though age had then injured the charms which procured her the name. The words usually sung to the air of “Tweedside,” beginning “What beauties does Flora disclose,” were composed in her honour.’— SCOTT.

Quoting from memory, Scott gives ‘sweet’ for STILL in Wordsworth’s lines. Mr. Aubrey de Vere, in ‘Essays Chiefly on Poetry,’ ii. 277, reports an interview with Wordsworth, in which the poet, referring to St. Mary’s Lake, says: ‘The scene when I saw it, with its still and dim lake, under the dusky hills, was one of utter loneliness; there was one swan, and one only, stemming the water, and the pathetic loneliness of the region gave importance to the one companion of that swan — its own white image in the water.’ For a criticism, deeply sympathetic and appreciative, of Scott’s description of St. Mary’s Loch in calm, see Prof. Veitch’s ‘Feeling for Nature in Scottish Poetry,’ ii. 196. The scene remains very much what it was in Scott’s time, ‘notwithstanding that the hand of the Philistine,’ says Prof. Veitch, ‘has set along the north shore of St. Mary’s, as far as his power extended, a strip of planting.’

line 177. ‘The chapel of St. Mary of the Lowes {de lacubus} was situated on the eastern side of the lake, to which it gives name. It was injured by the clan of Scott, in a feud with the Cranstouns; but continued to be a place of worship during the seventeenth century. The vestiges of the building can now scarcely be traced; but the burial-ground is still used as a cemetery. A funeral, in a spot so very retired, has an uncommonly striking effect. The vestiges of the chaplain’s house are yet visible. Being in a high situation, it commanded a full view of the lake, with the opposite mountain of Bourhope, belonging, with the lake itself, to Lord Napier. On the left hand is the tower of Dryhope, mentioned in a preceding note.’— SCOTT.

line 187. See ‘Il Penseroso,’ line 167.

line 197. Cp. Thomson’s ‘Winter,’ line 66:—

‘Along the woods, along the moorish fens,

Sighs the sad genius of the coming storm;

And up among the loose disjointed cliffs,

And fractured mountains wild, the brawling brook

And cave, presageful, send a hollow moan,

Resounding long in listening fancy’s ear.’

line 204. ‘At one corner of the burial-ground of the demolished chapel, but without its precincts, is a small mound, called Binrams Corse, where tradition deposits the remains of a necromantic priest, the former tenant of the chaplainry. His story much resembles that of Ambrosio in “The Monk,” and has been made the theme of a ballad by my friend Mr. James Hogg, more poetically designed the Ettrick Shepherd. To his volume, entitled “The Mountain Bard,” which contains this, and many other legendary stories and ballads of great merit, I refer the curious reader.’— SCOTT.

line 239. ‘Loch-skene is a mountain lake, of considerable size, at the head of the Moffat-water. The character of the scenery is uncommonly savage; and the earn, or Scottish eagle, has, for many ages, built its nest yearly upon an islet in the lake. Loch-skene discharges itself into a brook, which, after a short and precipitate course, falls from a cataract of immense height and gloomy grandeur, called, from its appearance, the “Grey Mare’s Tail.” The “Giant’s Grave,” afterwards mentioned, is a sort of trench, which bears that name, a little way from the foot of the cataract. It has the appearance of a battery designed to command the pass.’— SCOTT.

Cp. ‘Loch Skene,’ a descriptive and meditative poem by Thomas Tod Stoddart, well known as poet and angler on the Borders during the third quarter of the nineteenth century:—

‘Like a pillar of Parian stone,

That in some old temple shone,

Or a slender shaft of living star,

Gleams that foam-fall from afar;

But the column is melted down below

Into a gulf of seething snow,

And the stream steals away from its whirl of hoar,

As bright and as lovely as before.’

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00