William Edmondstoune Aytoun ( )

The Execution Of Montrose

COME hither, Evan Cameron!
Come, stand beside my knee:
I hear the river roaring down
Towards the wintry sea.
There s shouting on the mountain-side,
There s war within the blast;
Old faces look upon me,
Old forms go trooping past:
I hear the pibroch wailing
Amidst the din of fight,
And my dim spirit wakes again
Upon the verge of night.

T was I that led the Highland host
Through wild Lochabers snows,
What time the plaided clans came down
To battle with Montrose.
I ve told thee how the Southrons fell
Beneath the broad claymore,
And how we smote the Campbell clan
By Inverlochys shore.
I ve told thee how we swept Dundee,
And tamd the Lindsays pride;
But never have I told thee yet
How the great Marquis died.

A traitor sold him to his foes;
O deed of deathless shame!
I charge thee, boy, if eer thou meet
With one of Assynts name
Be it upon the mountains side,
Or yet within the glen,
Stand he in martial gear alone,
Or backd by armed men
Face him, as thou wouldst face the man
Who wrongd thy sires renown;
Remember of what blood thou art,
And strike the caitiff down!

They brought him to the Watergate,
Hard bound with hempen span,
As though they held a lion there,
And not a fenceless man.
They set him high upon a cart,
The hangman rode below,
They drew his hands behind his back
And bard his noble brow.
Then, as a hound is slippd from leash,
They cheerd the common throng,
And blew the note with yell and shout
And bade him pass along.

It would have made a brave mans heart
Grow sad and sick that day,
To watch the keen malignant eyes
Bent down on that array.
There stood the Whig west-country lords,
In balcony and bow;
There sat their gaunt and witherd dames,
And their daughters all a-row.
And every open window
Was full as full might be
With black-robd Covenanting carles,
That goodly sport to see!

But when he came, though pale and wan,
He lookd so great and high,
So noble was his manly front,
So calm his steadfast eye,
The rabble rout forbore to shout,
And each man held his breath,
For well they knew the heros soul
Was face to face with death.
And then a mournful shudder
Through all the people crept,
And some that came to scoff at him
Now turnd aside and wept.

But onwardsalways onwards,
In silence and in gloom,
The dreary pageant labord,
Till it reachd the house of doom.
Then first a womans voice was heard
In jeer and laughter loud,
And an angry cry and a hiss arose
From the heart of the tossing crowd:
Then as the Graeme lookd upwards,
He saw the ugly smile
Of him who sold his king for gold,
The master-fiend Argyle!

The Marquis gazd a moment,
And nothing did he say,
But the cheek of Argyle grew ghastly pale
And he turnd his eyes away.
The painted harlot by his side,
She shook through every limb,
For a roar like thunder swept the street,
And hands were clenchd at him;
And a Saxon soldier cried aloud,
Back, coward, from thy place!
For seven long years thou hast not dard
To look him in the face.

Had I been there with sword in hand,
And fifty Camerons by,
That day through high Dunedins streets
Had peald the slogan-cry.
Not all their troops of trampling horse,
Nor might of mailed men,
Not all the rebels in the south
Had borne us backwards then!
Once more his foot on Highland heath
Had trod as free as air,
Or I, and all who bore my name,
Been laid around him there!

It might not be. They placed him next
Within the solemn hall,
Where once the Scottish kings were thrond
Amidst their nobles all.
But there was dust of vulgar feet
On that polluted floor,
And perjud traitors filld the place
Where good men sate before.
With savage glee came Warristoun
To read the murderous doom;
And then uprose the great Montrose
In the middle of the room.

Now, by my faith as belted knight,
And by the name I bear,
And by the bright Saint Andrews cross
That waves above us there,
Yea, by a greater, mightier oath
And oh, that such should be!
By that dark stream of royal blood
That lies twixt you and me,
I have not sought in battle-field
A wreath of such renown,
Nor dard I hope on my dying day
To win the martyrs crown!

There is a chamber far away
Where sleep the good and brave,
But a better place ye have namd for me
Than by my fathers grave.
For truth and right, gainst treasons might,
This hand hath always striven,
And ye raise it up for a witness still
In the eye of earth and heaven.
Then nail my head on yonder tower,
Give every town a limb,
And God who made shall gather them:
I go from you to Him!

The morning dawnd full darkly,
The rain came flashing down,
And the jagged streak of the levin-bolt
Lit up the gloomy town:
The thunder crashd across the heaven,
The fatal hour was come;
Yet aye broke in with muffled beat
The larum of the drum.
There was madness on the earth below
And anger in the sky,
And young and old, and rich and poor,
Came forth to see him die.

Ah, God! that ghastly gibbet!
How dismal t is to see
The great tall spectral skeleton,
The ladder and the tree!
Hark! hark! it is the clash of arms
The bells begin to toll
He is coming! he is coming!
Gods mercy on his soul!
One last long peal of thunder:
The clouds are cleard away,
And the glorious sun once more looks down
Amidst the dazzling day.

He is coming! he is coming!
Like a bridegroom from his room,
Came the hero from his prison
To the scaffold and the doom.
There was glory on his forehead,
There was lustre in his eye,
And he never walkd to battle
More proudly than to die:
There was color in his visage,
Though the cheeks of all were wan,
And they marvelld as they saw him pass,
That great and goodly man!

He mounted up the scaffold,
And he turnd him to the crowd;
But they dard not trust the people,
So he might not speak aloud.
But he lookd upon the heavens,
And they were clear and blue,
And in the liquid ether
The eye of God shone through;
Yet a black and murky battlement
Lay resting on the hill,
As though the thunder slept within
All else was clam and still.

The grim Geneva ministers
With anxious scowl drew near,
As you have seen the ravens flock
Around the dying deer.
He would not deign them word nor sign,
But alone he bent the knee,
And veild his face for Christs dear grace
Beneath the gallows-tree.
Then radiant and serene he rose,
And cast his cloak away:
For he had taen his latest look
Of earth and sun and day.

A beam of light fell oer him,
Like a glory round the shriven,
And he climbd the lofty ladder
As it were the path to heaven.
Then came a flash from out the cloud,
And a stunning thunder-roll;
And no man dard to look aloft,
For fear was on every soul.
There was another heavy sound,
A hush and then a groan;
And darkness swept across the sky
The work of death was done! 

William Edmondstoune Aytoun's other poems:
  1. The Old Camp
  2. Epitaph Of Constantine Kanaris
  3. Blind Old Milton
  4. Charles Edward At Versailles
  5. The Broken Pitcher

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