The Banner Of The Covenanters

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HERE, where the rain-drops may not fall, the sunshine doth not play,
Where the unfelt and distant breeze in whispers dies away;
Here, where the stranger paces slow along the silent halls,
Why mutely art thou hanging thus against the massive walls?
Thou, that hast seen blood shed for thee--that midst the battle-tide
Hast faintly lit the soldier's eye with triumph ere he died;
Bright banner, which hath witness'd oft the struggles of the free,
Emblem of proud and holy hope, is this a place for thee?

Wake! wave aloft, thou Banner! let every snowy fold
Float on our wild, unconquer'd hills, as in the days of old:
Hang out, and give again to Death a glory and a charm,
Where Heaven's pure dew may freshen thee, and Heaven's pure sunshine warm.
Wake, wave aloft!
I hear the silk low rustling on the breeze,
Which whistles through the lofty fir, and bends the birchen trees;
I hear the tread of warriors arm'd to conquer or to die;
Their bed or bier the heathery hill, their canopy the sky.

What, what is life or death to them? they only feel and know
Freedom is to be struggled for, with an unworthy foe--
Their homes--their hearths--the all for which their fathers, too, have fought,
And liberty to breathe the prayers their cradled lips were taught.
On, on they rush--like mounitain streams resistlessly they sweep--
On! those who live are heroes now--and martyrs those who sleep!
While still the snow-white Banner waves above the field of strife,
With a proud triumph, as it were a thing of soul and life.

They stand--they bleed--they fall! they make one brief and breathless pause,
And gaze with fading eyes upon the standard of their cause;--
Again they brave the strife of death, again each weary limb
Faintly obeys the warrior soul, tho' earth's best hopes grow dim;--
The mountain-rills are red with blood, the pure and quiet sky
Rings with the shouts of those who win, the groans of those who die;
Taken--re-taken--raised again, but soil'd with clay and gore,
Heavily, on the wild free breeze, that Banner floats once more.

I hear the wail of women now: the dreadful day is done:
God's creatures wait to strive and slay until to-morrow's sun:
I hear the heavy breathing of the weary ones who sleep,
The death-sob and the dying word, "the voice of them that weep;"
The half-choked grief of those who, while they stifle back their breath,
Scarce know if what they watch be hush'd in slumber or in death;
While mournfully, as if it knew and felt for their despair,
The moon-lit Banner flaps and falls upon the midnight air.

Morning! the glad and glorious light! the waking of God's earth,
Which rouses men to stan with gore the soil that gave them birth.
In the still sunshine sleeps the hill, the stream, the distant town;
In the still sunshine--clogg'd and stiff--the battle-flag hangs down.
Peace is in Heaven, and Heaven's good gifts, but war is amongst men--
Red blood is pouring on the hill, wild shouts are in the glen;
'T is past--they sink, they bleed, they fly--that faint, enfeebled host,
Right is not might--the Banner-flag, the victory, are lost!

Heaven's dew hath drunk the crimson drops which on the heather lay,
The rills that were so red with gore, go sparkling on their way;
The limbs that fought, the hearts that swell'd, are crumbled into dust,
The souls which strove are gone to meet the spirits of the just;
But that frail silken flag, for which, and under which, they fought,
(And which e'en now retains its power upon the soul of thought,)
Survives--a tatter'd, senseless thing--to meet the curious eye,
And wake a momentary dream of hopes and days gone by.

A momentary dream! oh! not for one poor transient hour,
Not for a brief and hurried day that flag exerts its power;
Full flashing on our dormant souls the firm conviction comes,
That what our fathers did for theirs, we could for our homes.
We, too, could brave the giant arm that seeks to chain each word,
And rule what form of prayer alone shall by our God be heard:
We, too, in triumph or defeat, could drain our heart's best veins,
While the good old cause of Liberty for Church and State remains!

© Caroline Norton