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


The Tower of Ercildoune

By David Macbeth Moir (1798–1851)

THERE is a stillness on the night;

Glimmers the ghastly moonshine white

On Learmonth’s woods and Leader’s streams,

Till Earth looks like a land of dreams:

Up in the arch of heaven afar,

Receded looks each little star,

And meteor flashes faintly play

By fits along the Milky Way.

Upon me in this eerie hush,

A thousand wild emotions rush,

As, gazing spellbound o’er the scene,

Beside thy haunted walls I lean,

Gray Ercildoune, and feel the Past

His charméd mantle o’er me cast;

Visions, and thoughts unknown to Day,

Bear o’er the fancy wizard sway,

And call up the traditions told

Of him who sojourned here of old.

What stirs within thee? ’T is the owl

Nursing amid thy chambers foul

Her impish brood; the nettles rank

Are seeding on thy wild-flower bank;

The hemlock and the dock declare

In rankness dark their mastery there;

And all around thee speaks the sway

Of desolation and decay.

In outlines dark the shadows fall

Of each grotesque and crumbling wall.

Extinguished long hath been the strife

Within thy courts of human life.

The rustic, with averted eye,

At fall of evening hurries by,

And lists to hear, and thinks he hears,

Strange sounds,—the offspring of his fears;

And wave of bough, and waters’ gleam,

Not what they are, but what they seem

To be, are by the mind believed,

Which seeks not to be undeceived.

Thou scowlest like a spectre vast

Of silent generations past,

And all about thee wears a gloom

Of something sterner than the tomb.

For thee, ’t is said, dire forms molest,

That cannot die, or will not rest.

Backward my spirit to the sway

Of shadowy Eld is led away,

When underneath thine ample dome

Thomas the Rhymer made his home,

The wondrous poet-seer, whose name,

Still floating on the breath of fame,

Hath overpast five hundred years,

Yet fresh as yesterday appears,

With spells to arm the winter’s tale,

And make the listener’s cheek grow pale.

Secluded here in chamber lone,

Often the light of genius shone

Upon his pictured page, which told

Of Tristrem brave, and fair Isolde,

And how their faith was sorely tried,

And how they would not change, but died

Together, and the fatal stroke

Which stilled one heart, the other broke;

And here, on midnight couch reclined,

Hearkened his gifted ear the wind

Of dark Futurity, as on

Through shadowy ages swept the tone,

A mystic voice, whose murmurs told

The acts of eras yet unrolled;

While Leader sang a low wild tune,

And redly set the waning moon,

Amid the West’s pavilion grim,

O’er Soltra’s mountains vast and dim.

His mantle dark, his bosom bare,

His floating eyes and flowing hair,

Methinks the visioned bard I see

Beneath the mystic Eildon Tree,

Piercing the mazy depths of Time,

And weaving thence prophetic rhyme;

Beings around him that had birth

Neither in heaven nor yet on earth;

And at his feet the broken law

Of Nature, through whose chinks he saw.