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Marmion -- Sir Walter Scott

Guest poem submitted by Siddhartha Joshi:
(Poem #495) Marmion
 (A Tale of Flodden Field)

 I. (Canto First 1-13)

 Day set on Norham's castled steep,
 And Tweed's fair river, broad and deep,
 And Cheviot's mountains lone:
 The battled towers, the donjon keep,
 The loophole grates, where captives weep,
 The flanking walls that round it sweep,
 In yellow lustre shone.
 The warriors on the turrets high,
 Moving athwart the evening sky,
 Seemed forms of giant height:
 Their armour, as it caught the rays,
 Flashed back again the western blaze,
 In lines of dazzling light.

 V. (Canto Second 87-98)

 Nought say I here of Sister Clare,
 Save this, that she was young and fair;
 As yet a novice unprofessed,
 Lovely and gentle, but distressed.
 She was betrothed to one now dead,
 Or worse, who had dishonoured fled.
 Her kinsmen bid her give her hand
 To one who loved her for her land:
 Herself, almost heart-broken now,
 Was bent to take the vestal vow,
 And shroud within Saint Hilda's gloom,
 Her blasted hopes and withered bloom.

 VII. (Canto Second 113-127)

 Lovely, and gentle, and distressed-
 These charms might tame the fiercest breast.
 Harpers have sung, and poets told,
 That he, in fury uncontrolled,
 The shaggy monarch of the wood,
 Before a virgin, fair and good,
 Hath pacified his savage mood.
 But passions in the human frame,
 Oft put the lion's rage to shame:
 And jealousy, by dark intrigue,
 With sordid avarice in league,
 Had practiced with their bowl and knife
 Against the mourner's harmless life.
 This crime was charged 'gainst those who lay
 Prisoned in Cuthbert's islet grey.[1]

 XVI. (Canto Fifth 463-475)

 And while the king his hand did strain,
 The old man's tears fell down like rain.
 To seize the moment Marmion tried,
 And whispered to the king aside:
 "Oh, let such tears unwonted plead
 For respite short from dubious deed!
 A child will weep a bramble's smart,
 A maid to see her sparrow part,
 A stripling for a woman's heart:
 But woe awaits a country when
 She sees the tears of bearded men.
 Then, oh! what omen dark and high,
 When Douglas wets his manly eye!"

 And for those bits that Pelham Grenville pinched and had Bertie Wooster (or
Jeeves) mouth :

 XVIII. (Canto Sixth 532-537)

 O, what a tangled web we weave,
 When first we practice to deceive!
 A Palmer [2] too! - no wonder why
 I felt rebuked beneath his eye:
 I might have known there was but one,
 Whose look could quell Lord Marmion."

 XXX (Canto Sixth 902-907)

 [3] O, woman in our hours of ease,
 Uncertain, coy and hard to please,
 And variable as the shade
 By the light quivering aspen made;
 When pain and anguish wring the brow,
 A ministering angel thou!
-- Sir Walter Scott
This is a poem which does not pretend to champion principles (while filled with
incidents highlighting Chivalry, Love and other Good Things beginning with
capital letters) or claim to be a result of a deep study of human nature (though
Scott would clearly come across as someone with a deep interest in and
understanding of the same). Neither is it perfect - indeed there are barren
passages that could not have come from Scott's quill. It is poetry for the sake
of poetry (with the intention of course of spinning an engaging yarn). Marmion
is a poem that could at once become a good friend - the kind of poem you would
get back to for solace - not necessarily for advice or commiseration, but to
read the familiar, rhyming - indeed almost alive - and soothing verses.

Also evident is the feeling of motion as you read the poem - it just doesn't
*feel* right to recite it standing still. As RF Cholmeley wrote in the
introduction to the old school edition I have - "Certainly Marmion is a poem to
be recited walking - one might almost say riding, or running, but for the
practical difficulties of such a performance; it goes with motion. To say it on
a hearthrug, or in a classroom, may be good evidence that you know it, but the
poem does not get a fair chance."

Scott did write much of "Marmion" when he was in quarters with the volunteer
cavalry that he had helped to raise, 1797, against the expected invasion of the
French.

Siddhartha.

[Bio]

Born: 15 August 1771 - the son of a very honourable and generous Scottish
attorney. His mother was the daughter of Dr. John Rutherford of Edinburgh; she
liked poetry and as a little boy he read aloud to her a great deal of Pope's
translation of Homer, among other poems. He was a delicate child and a sudden
lameness, which came upon him at the age of eighteen months, never quite left
him - though as he grew up, he became strong and active beyond the average.

At school, according to his own account, he was "an incorrigibly idle imp, who
was always longing to do something else than was enjoined him", and he owns that
to his sorrow he forgot entirely what little Greek he learned. However, in 1786
he was apprenticed to his father in Edinburgh and in 1792 was called to the bar,
and worked steadily at that profession for some years, though without much
success or liking.

He took an active part in social and political life and in December 1799 was
made Sheriff of Selkirkshire. This secured him an income without heavy duties
and he turned at once to poetry, though as yet only by editing Border
Minstrelsy. The success of the Lay of the Last Minstrel, five years later made
it clear that literature was to be his business. In the same year (1805) he
began what was to bring him even greater fame than his poetry, the Waverley
Novels. Waverley, the first of these, was often interrupted and was not
published until 1814, after which he continued to produce them with
extraordinary rapidity. A man of his vigorous spirit was not likely to be
without ambition, and Scott's ambition was to found a family and become a
distinguished landowner. This aim and a taste for adventurous projects such as
often goes with a quick imagination led him into business enterprises which
ended disastrously; he met his calamities with great courage and devoted his
strength and genius to securing his creditors from loss. In 1820 he was made a
baronet by George IV. He died on the 21st of September, 1832, at Abbotsford.

[On Marmion]

The plot of Marmion is concerned with the love story of Clara and De Wilton, and
the treachery and death of Marmion, intervening with the battle of Flodden and
ending with a splendid description of the battle itself. Marmion and De Wilton
were both English nobles and Clara de Clare an heiress of the Earl of
Gloucester. Clara was betrothed to De Wilton, but Marmion coveted her lands and
determined to marry her. He contrived, by forged letters, to bring a charge of
high treason against De Wilton. De Wilton, unable to clear himself, challenged
him to the ordeal of battle in accordance with feudal practice, but was defeated
and left for dead. His life was saved, but he had to wander in foreign lands
from which, as the story opens, he had returned in the form of a palmer [2].
Meanwhile Clare had fled from Marmion to the protection of the Abbess of Whitby,
to whom she was related, and had become a novice in the convent. (See the third
verse above). Marmion's position was complicated by the fact that he had, three
years before, induced a nun Constance de Beverley, to leave her convent in
France and follow him disguised as a page. She helped him in his plot against De
Wilton, but in jealousy of Clare, attempted with the help of a monk to poison
her. The plot was discovered and Marmion, on  his way to the Scottish court as
ambassador from Henry VIII, left Constance at Holy Isle in the hands of the
monks [1]. The poem begins with the arrival of Marmion at Norham castle on the
south bank of the Tweed, in August 1513.

A friend of Scott's laughed at him for bringing his hero by a way where "there
never was a road since the world was created". Scott said that he had done it
for the scenery, and that it was Marmion's business to find his own road; but he
took a hint from the criticism and brought him back by Dunbar and Tantallon
Castle.

[Notes]

1. Constance was imprisoned and executed for breaking her vows.

2. palmer: a pilgrim who spent his life in traveling from one holy shrine to
another; De Wilton in disguise.

3. Marmion to Clare as he lay dying of his wounds after the battle of Flodden.

PS:

But passions in the human frame,
Oft put the lion's rage to shame:

Lovely, that :-).

PPS: And this is the work that has "Lochinvar" sung by a minstrel in the Fifth
Canto!

79 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

HHB said...

Does anyone else find it strange that in the famous XVIII stanza, Sir
Walter Scott would have adopted New World usage for the verb "to
practise"?

O, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice (sic) to deceive!

viagra said...

Interesting I hear this song once, but I wonder why it was in a church it's not a religious stuff, or yes ?
Thanks for share and hope you answer.

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