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With buoyant spirit Scott wrote The Lady of the Lake, and its extraordinary success justified his expectations. Scott, in speaking of this poem, says, “The ancient manners, the habits and customs, of the aboriginal race by whom the Highlands of Scotland were inhabited, had always appeared to me peculiarly adapted to poetry. The change in their manners, too, had taken place almost within my own time, or at least I had learned many particulars concerning the ancient state of the Highlands from the old men to the last generation. I had also read a great deal, seen much, and hear more, of the romantic country where I was in the habit of spending every autumn; and the scenery of Loch Katrine was connected with the recollection of many a dear friend and marry expedition of former days. This poem, the action of which lay among scenes so beautiful, and so deeply imprinted upon my recollections, was a labour of love; and it was no less so to recall the manners and incidents introduced. The frequent custom of James IV, and particularly of James V, of walking through the kingdom in disguise afforded me the hint of an incident which never fails to be interesting if managed with the slightest address or dexterity.”
I. The stag at eve had drunk his fill, Where danced the moon on Monan's rill, And deep his midnight lair had made In lone Glenartney's hazel shade; But when the sun his beacon red Had kindled on Benvoirlich's head, The deep-mouthed bloodhound's heavy bay Resounded up the rocky way, And faint, from farther distance borne, Were heard the clanging hoof and horn. II. As Chief, who hears his warder call, 'To arms! the foemen storm the wall,' The antlered monarch of the waste Sprung from his heathery couch in haste. But ere his fleet career he took, The dew-drops from his flanks he shook; Like crested leader proud and high Tossed his beamed frontlet to the sky; A moment gazed adown the dale, A moment snuffed the tainted gale, A moment listened to the cry, That thickened as the chase drew nigh; Then, as the headmost foes appeared, With one brave bound the copse he cleared, And, stretching forward free and far, Sought the wild heaths of Uam-Var. III. Yelled on the view the opening pack; Rock, glen, and cavern paid them back; To many a mingled sound at once The awakened mountain gave response. A hundred dogs bayed deep and strong, Clattered a hundred steeds along, Their peal the merry horns rung out, A hundred voices joined the shout; With hark and whoop and wild halloo, No rest Benvoirlich's echoes knew. Far from the tumult fled the roe, Close in her covert cowered the doe, The falcon, from her cairn on high, Cast on the rout a wondering eye, Till far beyond her piercing ken The hurricane had swept the glen. Faint, and more faint, its failing din Returned from cavern, cliff, and linn, And silence settled, wide and still, On the lone wood and mighty hill. IV. Less loud the sounds of sylvan war Disturbed the heights of Uam-Var, And roused the cavern where, 't is told, A giant made his den of old; For ere that steep ascent was won, High in his pathway hung the sun, And many a gallant, stayed perforce, Was fain to breathe his faltering horse, And of the trackers of the deer Scarce half the lessening pack was near; So shrewdly on the mountain-side Had the bold burst their mettle tried. V. The noble stag was pausing now Upon the mountain's southern brow, Where broad extended, far beneath, The varied realms of fair Menteith. With anxious eye he wandered o'er Mountain and meadow, moss and moor, And pondered refuge from his toil, By far Lochard or Aberfoyle. But nearer was the copsewood gray That waved and wept on Loch Achray, And mingled with the pine-trees blue On the bold cliffs of Benvenue. Fresh vigor with the hope returned, With flying foot the heath he spurned, Held westward with unwearied race, And left behind the panting chase. VI. 'T were long to tell what steeds gave o'er, As swept the hunt through Cambusmore; What reins were tightened in despair, When rose Benledi's ridge in air; Who flagged upon Bochastle's heath, Who shunned to stem the flooded Teith,-- For twice that day, from shore to shore, The gallant stag swam stoutly o'er. Few were the stragglers, following far, That reached the lake of Vennachar; And when the Brigg of Turk was won, The headmost horseman rode alone. VII. Alone, but with unbated zeal, That horseman plied the scourge and steel; For jaded now, and spent with toil, Embossed with foam, and dark with soil, While every gasp with sobs he drew, The laboring stag strained full in view. Two dogs of black Saint Hubert's breed, Unmatched for courage, breath, and speed, Fast on his flying traces came, And all but won that desperate game; For, scarce a spear's length from his haunch, Vindictive toiled the bloodhounds stanch; Nor nearer might the dogs attain, Nor farther might the quarry strain Thus up the margin of the lake, Between the precipice and brake, O'er stock and rock their race they take.