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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Scotland: Vols. VI–VIII. 1876–79.

Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey

By John Wilson (1720–1789)

IT was not when the sun through the glittering sky,

In summer’s joyful majesty,

Looked from his cloudless height;—

It was not when the sun was sinking down,

And tingeing the ruin’s mossy brown

With gleams of ruddy light;—

Nor yet when the moon, like a pilgrim fair,

Mid star and planet journeyed slow,

And, mellowing the stillness of the air,

Smiled on the world below;

That, Melrose! mid thy mouldering pride,

All breathless and alone,

I grasped the dreams to day denied,

High dreams of ages gone!—

Had unshrieved guilt for one moment been there,

His heart had turned to stone!

For oft, though felt no moving gale,

Like restless ghost in glimmering shroud,

Through the lofty oriel opening pale,

Was seen the hurrying cloud;

And, at doubtful distance, each broken wall

Frowned black as bier’s mysterious pall

From mountain-cave beheld by ghastly seer;

It seemed as if sound had ceased to be;

Nor dust from arch nor leaf from tree

Relieved the noiseless ear.

The owl had sailed from her silent tower,

Tweed hushed his weary wave,

The time was midnight’s moonless hour,

My seat a dreaded Douglas’ grave!

My being was sublimed by joy,

My heart was big, yet I could not weep;

I felt that God would ne’er destroy

The mighty in their tranced sleep.

Within the pile no common dead

Lay blended with their kindred mould;

Theirs were the hearts that prayed, or bled,

In cloister dim, on death-plain red,

The pious and the bold.

There slept the saint whose holy strains

Brought seraphs round the dying bed;

And there the warrior, who to chains

Ne’er stooped his crested head.

I felt my spirit sink or swell

With patriot rage or lowly fear,

As battle-trump, or convent-bell,

Rung in my tranced ear.

But dreams prevailed of loftier mood,

When stern beneath the chancel high

My country’s spectre-monarch stood,

All sheathed in glittering panoply;

Then I thought with pride what noble blood

Had flowed for the hills of liberty.

High the resolves that fill the brain

With transports trembling upon pain,

When the veil of time is rent in twain,

That hides the glory past!

The scene may fade that gave them birth,

But they perish not with the perishing earth,

Forever shall they last.

And higher, I ween, is that mystic might

That comes to the soul from the silent night,

When she walks, like a disembodied spirit,

Through realms her sister shades inherit,

And soft as the breath of those blessed flowers

That smile in Heaven’s unfading bowers,

With love and awe, a voice she hears

Murmuring assurance of immortal years.

In hours of loneliness and woe,

Which even the best and wisest know,

How leaps the lightened heart to seize

On the bliss that comes with dreams like these!