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Poem by David Macbeth Moir

The Dark Wagon

THE WATER-WRAITH shrieked over Clyde,
The winds through high Dumbarton sighed,
When to the trumpet’s call replied
    The deep drum from the square;
And in the midnight’s misty shade,
With helm, and cloak, and glancing blade,
Two hundred horsemen stood arrayed
    Beneath the torch’s glare.

Around a huge sepulchral van
They took their station, horse and man.
The outer gateway’s bolts withdrawn,
    In haste the drawbridge fell;
And out, with iron clatter, went
That sullen midnight armament,
Alone the leader knew where bent,
    With what—he might not tell.

Into the darkness they are gone:
The blinded wagon thundered on,
And, save of hoof-tramp, sound was none:
    Hurriedly on they scour
The eastward track—away—away;
To none they speak, brook no delay,
Till farm-cocks heralded the day,
    And hour had followed hour.

Behind them, mingling with the skies,
Westward the smoke of Glasgow dies.—
The pastoral hills of Campsie rise
    Northward in morning’s air,—
By Kirkintilloc, Cumbernold,
And Castlecary, on they hold,
Till Lythgo shows, in mirrored gold,
    Its palaced loch so fair.

Brief baiting-time;—the bugle sounds,
Onwards the ponderous van rebounds
Mid the grim squadron, which surrounds
    Its path with spur and spear.
Thy shrine, Dumanie, fades on sight,
And, seen from Niddreff’s hazelly height,
The Forth, amid its islands bright,
    Shimmers with lustre clear.	

The Maiden Castle next surveyed,
Across the furzy hills of Braid,
By Craig-Milor, through Wymet’s glade
    To Inneresc they wound;
Then o’er the Garlton crags afar,
Where, oft a check to England’s war,
Cospatrick’s stronghold of Dunbar
    In proud defiance frowned.

*        *        *        *        *

The password given, o’er bridge of Tweed
The cavalcade, with slackened speed,
Rolled on, like one from nightmare freed,
    That draws an easier breath;
But o’er and round it hung the gloom
As of some dark, mysterious doom,—
Shadows cast forward from the tomb,
    And auguries of death.

Scotland receded from the view,
And, on the far horizon blue,
Faded her last, dear hills,—the mew
    Screamed to its sea-isle near.
As day-beams ceased the west to flout,
Each after each the stars came out,
Like camp-fires heaven’s high hosts about,
    With lustre calm and clear.

And on, through many a Saxon town
Northumbrian, and of quaint renown,
Before the morning star went down,
    With thunderous reel they hied;
While from the lattices aloof,
Of many an angled, gray-stone roof,
Rose sudden heads, as sound of hoof
    And wheel to southward died.

Like Hope’s voice preaching to Despair,
Sweetly the chimes for matin prayer
Melted upon the dewy air
    From Hexham’s holy pile;
But, like the adder deaf, no sound,
Or stern or sweet, an echo found
Mid that dark squadron, as it wound
    Still onward, mile on mile.

*        *        *        *        *

Bright are thy shadowy forest-bowers,
Fair Ashby-de-la-Zouche! with flowers;
The wild-deer in its covert cowers,
    And, from its pine-tree old,
The startled cushat, in unrest,
Circles around its airy nest,
As forward, on its route unblest,
    Aye on that wagon rolled.

And many a grove-encircled town,
And many a keep of old renown,
That grimly watched o’er dale and down,
    They passed unheeding by;
Prone from the rocks the waters streamed,
And, mid the yellow harvests, gleamed
The reapers’ sickles, but all seemed
    Mere pictures to the eye.

*        *        *        *        *

Hundreds and hamlets far from sight,
By lonely granges through the night
They camped; and, ere the morning light
    Crimsoned the orient, they,	
By royal road or baron’s park,
Waking the watchful ban-dog’s bark,
Before the first song of the lark,
    Were on their southward way.

By Althorpe, and by Oxendon,
Without a halt they hurried on,
Nor paused by that fair cross of stone.
    Now for the first time seen,
(For death’s dark billows overwhelm
Both jewelled braid and knightly helm!)	
Raised, by the monarch of the realm,
    To Eleanor his queen.

Five times through darkness and through day,
Since crossing Tweed, with fresh relay
Ever in wait, their forward way
    That cavalcade had held;
Now joy! for on the weary wights
Loomed London from the Hampstead heights,
As, by the opal morning, night’s
    Thin vapors were dispelled.

With spur on heel and spear in rest,
And bucklered arm and trellised breast,
Closer around their charge they pressed,—
    On whirled, with livelier roll,
The wheels begirt with prancing feet,
And arms, a serried mass complete,
Until, by many a stately street,
    They reached their destined goal.

Grim Westminster! thy pile severe
Struck to the heart like sudden fear;
“Hope flies from all that enter here!”
    Seemed graven on its crest.
The moat o’erpassed, at warn of bell,
Down thundering the portcullis fell,
And clanged the studded gates,—a knell
    Despairing and unblest.

Ye guardian angels! that fulfil
Heaven’s high decrees, and work its will,—
Ye thunderbolts! launched forth to kill,—
    Where was it then ye slept,
When, foe-bemocked, in prison square,
To death foredoomed, with dauntless air,
From out that van, a shackled man,
    Sir William Wallace stept!

David Macbeth Moir

David Macbeth Moir's other poems:
  1. An Evening Sketch
  2. Thomson’s Birthplace
  3. Kelburn Castle
  4. Langside
  5. Lines Written in the Isle of Bute

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