Culture

Poetry Corner:Mary Queen of Scots

On the 7th of August 1548 Mary Queen of Scots set sail for France to escape the soldiers of Henry VIII. She was five years old. She would not return to Scotland until she was 18 years old.

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots

I look’d far back into other years, and lo ! in bright array,
I saw, as in a dream, the forms of ages pass away.

It was a stately convent, with its old and lofty walls,
And gardens, with their broad green walks, where soft the footstep falls ;
And o’er the antique dial-stones the creeping shadow pass’d,
And all around the noon-day sun a drowsy radiance cast.
No sound of busy life was heard, save from the cloister dim,
The tinkling of the silver bell, or the sisters’ holy hymn.
And there five noble maidens sat, beneath the orchard trees,
In that first budding spring of youth, when all its prospects please ;
And little reck’d they when they sang, or knelt at vesper prayers,
That Scotland knew no prouder names?held none more dear than theirs;
And little even the loveliest thought, before the Virgin’s Shrine,
Of royal blood, and high descent from the ancient Stuart line;
Calmly her happy days flew on, uncounted in their flight,
And as they flew, they left behind a long-continued light.

The scene was changed.    It was the court?the gay court of Bourbon,?
And ‘neath a thousand silver lamps, a thousand courtiers throng;
And proudly kindles Henry’s eye?well pleased, I ween, to see
The land assemble all its wealth of grace and chivalry 😕
Gray Montmorency, o’er whose head has passed a storm of years,
Strong in himself and children stand, the first among his peers;
And next the Guises, who so well fame’s steepest heights assailed,
And walked ambition’s diamond ridge, where bravest hearts have failed;
And higher yet their path shall be, stronger shall wax their might,
For before them Montmorency’s star shall pale its waning light.
Here Louis, Prince of Condé, wears his all-unconquered sword,
With great Coligni by his side?each name a household word !
And there walks she of Medicis?the proud Italian line,
The mother of a race of kings?the haughty Catharine !
The forms that follow in her train, a glorious sunshine make?
A milky way of stars that grace a comet’s glittering wake ;
But fairer far than all the rest, who bask on fortune’s tide,
Effulgent in the light of youth, is she the new-made bride !
The homage of a thousand hearts?the fond, deep love of one?
The hopes that dance around a life whose charms are but begun?
They lighten up her chestnut eye, they mantle o’er her cheek,
They sparkle on her open brow, and high-souled joy bespeak.
Ah ! who shall blame, if scarce that day, through all its brilliant hours,
She thought of that quiet convent’s calm, its sunshine, and its flowers ?

The scene was changed.    It was a bark that slowly held its way,
And o’er its lee the coast of France in the light of evening lay ;
And on its deck a lady sat, who gazed with tearful eyes
Upon the fast receding hills, that dim and distant rise.
No marvel that the lady wept : there was no land on earth
She loved like that dear kind, although she owed it not her birth ;
It was her mother’s land, the land of childhood and of friends?
It was the land where she had found for all her griefs amends?
The land where her dead husband slept, the land where she had known
The tranquil convent’s hushed repose, and the splendours of a throne ;
No marvel that the lady wept?it was the land of France,
The chosen home of chivalry, the garden of romance !
The past was bright, like those dear hills so far behind her bark ;
The future, like the gathering night, was ominous and dark !
One gaze again?one long, last gaze?” Adieu, fair France, to thee !”
The breeze comes forth?she is alone on the unconscious sea.

The scene was changed.    It was an eve of raw and surly mood,
And in a turret-chamber high of ancient Holyrood
Sat Mary, listening to the rain, and sighing with the winds,
That seemed to suit the stormy state of men’s uncertain minds.
The touch of care had blanched her cheek?her smile was sadder now,
The weight of royalty had pressed too heavy on her brow ;
And traitors to her councils came, and rebels to the field;
The Stuart sceptre well she swayed, but the sword she could not wield.
She thought of all her blighted hopes?the dreams of youth’s brief day,
And summoned Rizzio with his lute, and bade the minstrel play
The songs she loved in early years?the songs of gay Navarre,
The songs, perchance, that erst were sung by gallant Chatelar :
They half beguiled her of her cares, they soothed her into smiles,
They won her thoughts from bigot zeal, and fierce domestic broils ;
But hark ! the tramp of armed men ! the Douglas’ battle cry !
They come?they come ; and lo ! the scowl of Ruthven’s hollow eye !
And swords are drawn, and daggers gleam, and tears and words are vain,
The ruffian steel is in his heart?the faithful Rizzio’s slain !
Then Mary Stuart brushed aside the tears that trickling fell ;
” Now for my father’s arm !” she said, ” My woman’s heart farewell !”

The scene was changed.    It was a lake, with one small, lonely isle,
And there, within the prison walls of its baronial pile,
Stern men stood menacing their queen, till she should stoop to sign
The traitorous scroll that snatched the crown from her ancestral line ;
” My lords ! my lords !” the captive said, ” Were I but once more free,
With ten good knights on yonder shore to aid my cause and me,
That parchment would I scatter wide to every breeze that blows,
Aud once more reign a Stuart Queen o’er my remorseless foes !”
A red spot burned upon her cheek, streamed her rich tresses down,
She wrote the words.    She stood erect?a queen without a crown !

The scene was changed.    A royal host a royal banner bore,
And the faithful of the land stood round their smiling queen once more ;
She stayed her steed upon a hill?she saw them marching by?
She heard their shouts?she read success in every flashing eye ;
The tumult of the strife begins?it roars?it dies away ;
And Mary’s troops and banners now, and courtiers?where are they ?
Scattered and strewn, and flying far, defenceless and undone?
Oh ! God ; to see what she has lost, and think what guilt has won !
Away !?away ! thy gallant steed must act no laggard’s part ;
Yet vain his speed, for thou dost bear the arrow in thy heart.

The scene was changed.    Beside the block a sullen headsman stood,
And gleamed the broad axe in his hand that soon must drip with blood.
With slow and steady step there came a lady through the hall, .
And breathless silence chained the lips, and touched the hearts of all;
Rich were the sable robes she wore?her white veil round her fell,
And from her neck there hung the cross?the cross she loved so well.
I knew that queenly form again, though blighted was its bloom ;
I saw that grief had decked it out?an offering for the tomb !
I knew the eye, though faint its light, that once so brightly shone ;
I knew the voice, though feeble now, that thrilled with every tone;
I knew the ringlets, almost gray, once threads of living gold,
I knew that bounding grace of step?that symmetry of mould.
Even now I see her far away, in that calm convent aisle,
I hear her chant her vesper-hymn, I mark her holy smile,
Even now I see her bursting forth upon her bridal morn,
A new star in the firmament, to light and glory born.
Alas ! the change ; she placed her foot upon a triple throne,
And on the scaffold now she stands?beside the block, alone !
The little dog that licks her hand, the last of all the crowd
Who sunned themselves beneath her glance, and round her footsteps bowed.
Her neck is bared?the blow is struck?the soul is passed away?
The bright?the beautiful?is now a bleeding piece of clay !
The dog is moaning piteously ; and, as it gurgles o’er,
Laps the warm blood that trickling runs unheeded to the floor !
The blood of beauty, wealth, and power?the heart-blood of a queen?
The noblest of the Stuart race?the fairest earth hath seen?
Lapped by a dog !    Go ; think of it in silence and alone ;
Then weigh against a grain of sand the glories of a throne.

Written by Henry Glassford Bell

Published in 1877 in The Poets Box Glasgow

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