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    The Dance of Death

    by Sir Walter Scott
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    Launch Reading Mode
    (1815)

    I.
    Night and morning were at meeting
    Over Waterloo;
    Cocks had sung their earliest greeting;
    Faint and low they crew,
    For no paly beam yet shone
    On the heights of Mount Saint John;
    Tempest-clouds prolonged the sway
    Of timeless darkness over day;
    Whirlwind, thunder-clap, and shower
    Marked it a predestined hour.
    Broad and frequent through the night
    Flashed the sheets of levin-light:
    Muskets, glancing lightnings back,
    Showed the dreary bivouac
    Where the soldier lay,
    Chill and stiff, and drenched with rain,
    Wishing dawn of morn again,
    Though death should come with day.

    II.
    'Tis at such a tide and hour
    Wizard, witch, and fiend have power,
    And ghastly forms through mist and shower
    Gleam on the gifted ken;
    And then the affrighted prophet's ear
    Drinks whispers strange of fate and fear
    Presaging death and ruin near
    Among the sons of men; -
    Apart from Albyn's war-array,
    'Twas then grey Allan sleepless lay;
    Grey Allan, who, for many a day,
    Had followed stout and stern,
    Where, through battle's rout and reel,
    Storm of shot and edge of steel,
    Led the grandson of Lochiel,
    Valiant Fassiefern.
    Through steel and shot he leads no more,
    Low laid 'mid friends' and foemen's gore -
    But long his native lake's wild shore,
    And Sunart rough, and high Ardgower,
    And Morven long shall tell,
    And proud Bennevis hear with awe
    How, upon bloody Quatre-Bras,
    Brave Cameron heard the wild hurra
    Of conquest as he fell.

    III.
    Lone on the outskirts of the host,
    The weary sentinel held post,
    And heard, through darkness far aloof,
    The frequent clang of courser's hoof,
    Where held the cloaked patrol their course,
    And spurred 'gainst storm the swerving horse;
    But there are sounds in Allan's ear,
    Patrol nor sentinel may hear,
    And sights before his eye aghast
    Invisible to them have passed,
    When down the destined plain,
    'Twixt Britain and the bands of France,
    Wild as marsh-borne meteor's glance,
    Strange phantoms wheeled a revel dance,
    And doomed the future slain. -
    Such forms were seen, such sounds were heard,
    When Scotland's James his march prepared
    For Flodden's fatal plain;
    Such, when he drew his ruthless sword,
    As Choosers of the Slain, adored
    The yet unchristened Dane.
    An indistinct and phantom band,
    They wheeled their ring-dance hand in hand,
    With gestures wild and dread;
    The Seer, who watched them ride the storm,
    Saw through their faint and shadowy form
    The lightning's flash more red;
    And still their ghastly roundelay
    Was of the coming battle-fray,
    And of the destined dead.

    IV. SONG.
    Wheel the wild dance
    While lightnings glance,
    And thunders rattle loud,
    And call the brave
    To bloody grave,
    To sleep without a shroud.

    Our airy feet,
    So light and fleet,
    They do not bend the rye
    That sinks its head when whirlwinds rave,
    And swells again in eddying wave,
    As each wild gust blows by;
    But still the corn,
    At dawn of morn,
    Our fatal steps that bore,
    At eve lies waste,
    A trampled paste
    Of blackening mud and gore.
    Wheel the wild dance
    While lightnings glance,
    And thunders rattle loud,
    And call the brave
    To bloody grave,
    To sleep without a shroud.

    V.
    Wheel the wild dance!
    Brave sons of France,
    For you our ring makes room;
    Make space full wide
    For martial pride,
    For banner, spear, and plume.
    Approach, draw near,
    Proud cuirassier!
    Room for the men of steel!
    Through crest and plate
    The broadsword's weight
    Both head and heart shall feel.

    VI.
    Wheel the wild dance
    While lightnings glance,
    And thunders rattle loud,
    And call the brave
    To bloody grave,
    To sleep without a shroud.

    Sons of the spear!
    You feel us near
    In many a ghastly dream;
    With fancy's eye
    Our forms you spy,
    And hear our fatal scream.
    With clearer sight
    Ere falls the night,
    Just when to weal or woe
    Your disembodied souls take flight
    On trembling wing--each startled sprite
    Our choir of death shall know.

    VII.
    Wheel the wild dance
    While lightnings glance,
    And thunders rattle loud,
    And call the brave
    To bloody grave,
    To sleep without a shroud.

    Burst, ye clouds, in tempest showers,
    Redder rain shall soon be ours -
    See the east grows wan -
    Yield we place to sterner game,
    Ere deadlier bolts and direr flame
    Shall the welkin's thunders shame,
    Elemental rage is tame
    To the wrath of man.

    VIII.
    At morn, grey Allan's mates with awe
    Heard of the visioned sights he saw,
    The legend heard him say;
    But the Seer's gifted eye was dim,
    Deafened his ear, and stark his limb,
    Ere closed that bloody day.
    He sleeps far from his Highland heath,
    But often of the Dance of Death
    His comrades tell the tale
    On picquet-post, when ebbs the night,
    And waning watch-fires glow less bright,
    And dawn is glimmering pale.
    If you're writing a The Dance of Death essay and need some advice, post your Sir Walter Scott essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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