The Widow Of Glencoe

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Do not lift him from the bracken,
 Leave him lying where he fell-
 Better bier ye cannot fashion:
 None beseems him half so well
 As the bare and broken heather,
 And the hard and trampled sod,
 Whence his angry soul ascended
 To the judgment-seat of God!
 Winding-sheet we cannot give him-
 Seek no mantle for the dead,
 Save the cold and spotless covering
 Showered from heaven upon his head.
 Leave his broadsword, as we found it,
 Bent and broken with the blow,
 That, before he died, avenged him
 On the foremost of the foe.
 Leave the blood upon his bosom-
 Wash not off that sacred stain:
 Let it stiffen on the tartan,
 Let his wounds unclosed remain,
 Till the day when he shall show them
 At the throne of God on high,
 When the murderer and the murdered
 Meet before their Judge's eye!

 Nay-ye should not weep, my children!
 Leave it to the faint and weak;
 Sobs are but a woman's weapon-
 Tears befit a maiden's cheek.
 Weep not, children of Macdonald!
 Weep not thou, his orphan heir-
 Not in shame, but stainless honour,
 Lies thy slaughtered father there.
 Weep not-but when years are over,
 And thine arm is strong and sure,
 And thy foot is swift and steady
 On the mountain and the muir-
 Let thy heart be hard as iron,
 And thy wrath as fierce as fire,
 Till the hour when vengeance cometh
 For the race that slew thy sire;
 Till in deep and dark Glenlyon
 Rise a louder shriek of woe
 Than at midnight, from their eyrie,
 Scared the eagles of Glencoe;
 Louder than the screams that mingled
 With the howling of the blast,
 When the murderer's steel was clashing,
 And the fires were rising fast;
 When thy noble father bounded
 To the rescue of his men,
 And the slogan of our kindred
 Pealed throughout the startled glen;
 When the herd of frantic women
 Stumbled through the midnight snow,
 With their fathers' houses blazing,
 And their dearest dead below.
 Oh, the horror of the tempest,
 As the flashing drift was blown,
 Crimsoned with the conflagration,
 And the roofs went thundering down!
 Oh, the prayers-the prayers and curses
 That together winged their flight
 From the maddened hearts of many
 Through that long and woeful night!
 Till the fires began to dwindle,
 And the shots grew faint and few,
 And we heard the foeman's challenge
 Only in a far halloo;
 Till the silence once more settled
 O'er the gorges of the glen,
 Broken only by the Cona
 Plunging through its naked den.
 Slowly from the mountain-summit
 Was the drifting veil withdrawn,
 And the ghastly valley glimmered
 In the gray December dawn.
 Better had the morning never
 Dawned upon our dark despair!
 Black amidst the common whiteness
 Rose the spectral ruins there:
 But the sight of these was nothing
 More than wrings the wild dove's breast,
 When she searches for her offspring
 Round the relics of her nest.
 For in many a spot the tartan
 Peered above the wintry heap,
 Marking where a dead Macdonald
 Lay within his frozen sleep.
 Tremblingly we scooped the covering
 From each kindred victim's head,
 And the living lips were burning
 On the cold ones of the dead.
 And I left them with their dearest-
 Dearest charge had everyone-
 Left the maiden with her lover,
 Left the mother with her son.
 I alone of all was mateless-
 Far more wretched I than they,
 For the snow would not discover
 Where my lord and husband lay.
 But I wandered up the valley
 Till I found him lying low,
 With the gash upon his bosom,
 And the frown upon his brow-
 Till I found him lying murdered
 Where he wooed me long ago.
 Woman's weakness shall not shame me;
 Why should I have tears to shed?
 Could I rain them down like water,
 O my hero, on thy head,
 Could the cry of lamentation
 Wake thee from thy silent sleep,
 Could it set thy heart a-throbbing,
 It were mine to wail and weep.
 But I will not waste my sorrow,
 Lest the Campbell women say
 That the daughters of Clanranald
 Are as weak and frail as they.
 I had wept thee hadst thou fallen,
 Like our fathers, on thy shield,
 When a host of English foemen
 Camped upon a Scottish field;
 I had mourned thee hadst thou perished
 With the foremost of his name,
 When the valiant and the noble
 Died around the dauntless Græme.
 But I will not wrong thee, husband!
 With my unavailing cries,
 Whilst thy cold and mangled body,
 Stricken by the traitor, lies;
 Whilst he counts the gold and glory
 That this hideous night has won,
 And his heart is big with triumph
 At the murder he has done.
 Other eyes than mine shall glisten,
 Other hearts be rent in twain,
 Ere the heathbells on thy hillock
 Wither in the autumn rain.
 Then I'll seek thee where thou sleepest,
 And I'll veil my weary head,
 Praying for a place beside thee,
 Dearer than my bridal-bed:
 And I'll give thee tears, my husband,
 If the tears remain to me,
 When the widows of the foemen
 Cry the coronach for thee.

© William Edmondstoune Aytoun