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I crossed the stream, the sword did draw,
For her sake that died for me.
And then, after this terrific outburst of savage vengeance, mark the sudden gush of unspeakable love, tenderness, and regret, in the very next verse :
O Helen fair beyond compare,
Until the day I dee.
For her sake that died for me.
The same qualities come out, perhaps with yet more striking intensity, in the ballad of Edom o' Gordon. This traitor makes a raid upon a castle in the lord's absence, and tries to seize the person of his lady. Seeing the armed men in the distance, she thinks it is her lord returning, arrays herself in her robes, and prepares a banquet; but when Gordon comes the gates are shut, and she mounts the tower to parley with him. He orders her to come down, on pain of being burnt in the castle with her three babes ; in reply she bids her henchman load a gun, and fires at Edom.
She stood upon her castle wa’,
And let twa bullets flee ;
And only rased his knee.
“Set fire to the house," quo' fause Gordon,
Wud wi' dule and ire ;
As ye burn in the fire."
Without a single break in the narrative, instantly, in the poet's imagination, the castle is in flames, and the thick smoke is rolling through it in choking volumes toward the chamber of the little ones.
O then bespak her little son,
Sat on the nurse's knee :
For the reek it smothers me."
Sae wad I a' my fee,
To blaw the reek frae thee.”
She was baith jimp and sma' :
And throw me owre the wa'."
And throwed her owre the wa';
She gat a deadly fa'."
And cherry were her cheeks,
Whereon the red bloud dreeps.
Then wi' his spear he turned her owre ;
O gin her face was wan!
I wished alive again.”
He cam, and lookit again at her,
O gin her skin was white !
To hae been some man's delight.”
“ Busk and boun, my meiry men a',
For ill dooms I do guess :
As it lies on the grass."
Stricken with this new and wild remorse-aghast to see the sweet flower-face of the young girl, with its dew of blood upon the yellow hair-the wretch flies. Meanwhile the lord riding
back to the castle finds it in flames, and urges his men forward :
Then some they rade, and some they ran,
Out owre the grass and bent ;
Baith layde and babes were brent.
As fast as he might dri'e ;
He's wroken his fair ladye.
Aiter reading such horrible tragedy as this, one asks, Is it a fit sabject for poetry ? is it right to deal with such scenes ? The answer is simple. It is not right, if they be told simply to harrow our feelings with idle and fruitless emotion, which is the vice of modern sensationalism ; but it is right, if the sin and crime be spoken of with due gravity and rightness of feeling. Pity and terror may be evoked, but, as was the case in ancient tragedy, they may be evoked only for purifying purposes. It is a sin and an error to paint the horrors of life for the sole purpose of beguiling an idle hour ; but it is right for the poet to gaze upon them-right for him “to see life steadily, and see it whole,” if he does so with a duc sense of its solemn and unspeakable import.
As no ballads could be given in the limited space of this volume, I may here furnish one complete specimen, which is very characteristic of the intensity and of the swift pathetic transitions of ballad style in the midst of its simplicity--the ballad of Edward, or the Twa Brothers—the ancientness and popularity of which is best attested by the large number of different versions in which it appears.
There were twa brothers at the scule,
And when they got awa',
Or will ye play at the ba',
And there we'll wrestle a fa'?".
“I winna play at the stane-chucking,
I winna play at the ba',
And there we'll wrestle a fa'.”
Till John fell to the ground :
And gave John a deadly wound. “O lift me up upon your back,
Take me to yon well fair, And wash my bluidy wounds o'er and o'er,
And they'll ne'er bleed nae mair." He lifted his brother upon his back,
Ta’en him to yon well fair, And washed his bluidy wounds o’er and o'er,
But they bleed aye mair and mair.
And they'll ne'er bleed nae mair.”
And rived it gair by gair,
But they bled aye mair and mair. “O tak ye aff my green sleiding,
And row me saftly in,
Where the grass grows fair and green.”
And rowed him saftly in,
Where the grass grows fair and green. “O what will ye say to your father dear,
When ye gae kame at e'en ?”' “I'll say ye're lying by yon kirk style,
Where the grass grows fair and green." “O no, O no, my brother dear,
O ye must not say so ;
But say that I'm gane to a foreign land,
Where no man does me know."
When he sat in his father's chair,
He grew baith pale and wan. “O what bluid's that upon your brow,
O tell to me, dear son ?” “ It is the bluid of my red roan steed,
He wadna ride for me.” “O thy steed's bluid was ne'er sae red,
Nor e'er sae dear to me. "O what bluid's that upon your cheek,
O dear son, tell to me?” “ It is the bluid of my greyhound,
He wadna hunt for me." “O thy hound's bluid was ne'er sae red,
Nor e'er sae dear to me.
O dear son tell to me?"
He wadna flee for me." “O thy hawk's bluid was ne'er sae red,
Nor e'er so dear to me.”
Dear Willie, tell to me?”
O dule and wae is me.”
“O what will ye say to your father dear,
Dear Willie, tell to me?'' “I'll saddle my steed, and awa' I'll ride
To dwell in some far countree."
“O when will ye come back hame again,
Dear Willie, tell to me?”. • When sun and mune leap on yon hill,
And that will never be.”
She turned hersel' right round about,
And her heart burst into three : “ My a'e dear son is dead and gane,
And my t'other ane ne'er I'll see.”