Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Trial of the Dead

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Trial of the Dead

By Lydia Huntley Sigourney (1791–1865)

[From Poems. Second Edition. 1836.]

THE SPEARS at Corrichie were bright,

Where, with a stern command,

The Earl of Huntley ranged his host

Upon their native strand.

From many a Highland strath and glen

They at his summons came,

A stalwart band of fearless men,

Who counted war a game.

Then, from Edina’s royal court

Fierce Murray northward sped,

And rushed his envied foe to meet

In battle sharp and dread.

They met, they closed, they struggled sore,

Like waves when tempests blow,

The slogan-music high in air,

The sound of groans below.

They broke, they wheeled, they charged again,

Till on the ensanguined ground

The noble Gordon lifeless lay,

Transpierced with many a wound.

Long from her tower his Lady looked:

“I see a dusky cloud,

And there, behold! comes floating high

Earl Huntley’s banner proud.”

Then, deep she sighed, for rising mist

Involved her aching sight;

’Twas but an autumn-bough that mocked

Her chieftain’s pennon bright.

His mother by the ingle sate,

Her head upon her knee,

And murmured low in hollow tone,

“He’ll ne’er come back to thee.”

“Hist, Lady, mother! hear I not

Steed-tramp and pibroch-roar?

As when the victor-surf doth tread

Upon a rocky shore?”

Not toward the loop-hole raised her head

That woman wise and hoar,

But whispered in her troubled soul,

“Thy Lord returns no more!

“A funeral march is in my ear,

A scattered host I see,”

And, straining wild, her sunken eye

Gazed out on vacancy.

Back to their homes, the Gordon clan

Stole with despairing tread,

While to the vaults of Holyrood

Was borne their chieftain dead.

Exulting foemen bore him there,

While lawless vassals jeered,

Nor spared to mock the haughty brow

Whose living frown they feared.

No earth upon his corse they strewed,

At no rich shrine inurned,

But heavenward, as the warrior fell,

His noble forehead turned.

Months fled; and while, from castled height

To cot in lowly dell,

O’er Corrichie’s disastrous day

The tears of Scotland fell,

Behold, a high and solemn court

With feudal pomp was graced,

And at the bar, in princely robes,

A muffled chieftain placed.

No glance his veiled face might scan,

Though throngs beside him pressed;

The Gordon plume his brow adorned,

Its tartan wrapped his breast.

“Lord George of Gordon, Huntley’s earl!

High-treason taints thy name;

For God, and for thy country’s cause,

Defend thine ancient fame;

“Make oath upon thine honor’s seal,

Heaven’s truth unblenching tell!”

No lip he moved, no hand he raised,

And dire that silence fell.

No word he spake, though thrice adjured;

Then came the sentence drear:

“Foul traitor to thy queen and realm,

Our laws denounce thee here.”

They stripped him of his cloak of state,

They bared his helmed head,

Though the pale judges inly quaked

Before the ghastly dead.

Light thing to him, that earthly doom

Or man’s avenging rod,

Who, in the land of souls, doth bide

The audit of his God.

Before his face the crowd drew back,

As from sepulchral gloom,

And sternest veterans shrank to breathe

The vapor of the tomb.

And now, this mockery of the dead

With hateful pageant o’er,

They yield him to his waiting friends

Who throng the palace door.

And on their sad procession pressed,

Unresting day and night,

To where mid Elgin’s towers they mark

The fair cathedral’s height.

And there, by kindred tears bedewed,

Beneath its hallowed shade,

With midnight torch and chanted dirge,

Their fallen chief they laid,

Fast by king Duncan’s mouldering dust,

Whose locks of silver hue

Were stained, as Avon’s swan hath sung,

With murder’s bloody dew.

So, rest thou here, thou Scottish earl

Of ancient fame and power,

No more a valiant host to guide

In battle’s stormy hour.

Yea, rest thee here, thou Scottish earl,

Until that day of dread,

Which to eternity consigns

The trial of the dead.