The Harpers Legend


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An epic old poem on Cadbol Castle, where no one could die, and the story of poor old broken-hearted Lady Mey.

Castle Cadboll standeth free,
Looking o'er the eastern sea;
At its feet the breakers roar
Beaten back along the shore,
 
Where the precipices fall
Sheer beneath the bastion wall;
From its brow the banner flies
Soaring in the murky skies;
 
Through its gates the vassals crowd,
Shouting, “Honour to MacLeod!"
Aged are thy towers, Loch Lin!
Deafened by the ocean's din;
 
Lithgow! proud thy palace swelled
Where the kings of Scotland dwelled:
Older, prouder than ye twain,
Cadboll frowns upon the main.
 
Here have ruled in lordship brief
Norway's jarl and Albyn's chief;
Thane, and knight, and mitred priest
Here have met in friendly feast;
 
Rovers of the northern sea
Here to safe retreat would flee;
Many a plan of vengeful raid
In these walls securely laid,
 
Whence to battle sallied forth
Mightiest champions of the north;
Of the scenes that there befell
Wondrous tales could Cadboll tell.
 
Care and grief have had their sway
O'er the lords of Cadboll gray;
Sickness on its couch hath flung
Weak and sturdy, old and young;
 
Hearts have felt thy gnawing sore,
Disappointment, at their core;
Trust hath been by treachery fooled,
War hath wounded, friends have cooled:
 
Every suffering, every woe
Which this mournful life can shew,
Here have raged in rabble rout;
Death alone was barred without;
 
Scared beyond these portals grim,
Too appalling e'en for him.
Death, the rider of the breeze,
Death, the swimmer of the seas,
 
At whose touch the fragile flower
Gives the poison-cup its power,
By whose 'hest the downy bed
Turns to coffin for the dead,
 
And the firmest human vow
Snappeth like a charrèd bough:
He, the king of earth and air,
Found his reign disputed there;
 
So from Cadboll's gate he fled,
Powerless and discomfited.
Dwellers in that castle high,
All might suffer, none might die;
 
Through its windows ne'er by night
Flew the disembodied sprite;
Witnessed ne'er its chambers vast
That dread scene of life, the last;
 
Never wake beside the corse,
Midnight roused with murmurs hoarse;
Funeral never passed its gate,
Awful with sepulchral state;
 
All that unto death pertains,
Banished from those proud domains.
Soft! I hear youth's voice of glee,
Saying, “Oh, that such might be!
 
Happy Cadboll's race to brave
The dark terrors of the grave!
Happy with the loved to dwell,
Whom no sudden doom befell!
 
Beautiful life shines o'erhead,
But the flowery path we tread
Soundeth, as we onward go,
Hollow from the tombs below.
 
Dearest faces by our side
Down unseen abysses slide;
Sweetest voices die away,
Closest ties of love decay;
 
Death is man's remorseless foe.
Ah! to Cadboll might we go,
Dwelling there in bliss secure,
Knowing life must still endure,
 
Meeting each beloved eye
With the thought, “they cannot die!"
Happy Cadboll's race to brave
All the terrors of the grave!
 
Dreamer! who, as yet untried,
Loit'rest by the riverside,
By the singing waters lulled,
Lapped by flowerets yet unculled,
 
Tempting fruitage yet untasted,
Eddying currents yet unbreasted,
Hope's illusive show before thee,
Cloudless sunshine spreading o'er thee,
 
List the moral of my lay,
Speaking through the Lady May.”
In the castle of MacLeod
Music rose and mirth was loud;
 
'Twas a hundred years ago
When a chieftain of Munro,
From the dark Ben Wyvis side
Hither came to seek a bride.
 
Here he saw the Lady May
Bending o'er her harp to play
With a simple maiden mien,
Charming him as soon as seen.
 
Nor the less he thought her fair,
Castle Cadboll's only heir;
Fitted for a chieftain proud
Was the dowry of MacLeod.
Wooing brief was needed then,
 
Life had sterner work for men.
Plighted were those lovers twain,
Joy was in that wide domain,
When the suitor homeward hied
 
To make ready for his bride.
As he rode there crossed his way
A wild son of wild MacCrae;
One who loved his lady bright,
But, rejected, burned with spite.
 
Evil was the hour they met,
For on thoughts of vengeance set,
In the daring young Munro
Soon the rival saw a foe.
 
Rash the boy, and stern the man,
Soon a desperate fight began.
Soon't was o'er-the bridegroom dead-
To the hills the murderer fled.
 
Then the vassals, full of grief,
Took the body of their chief,
Laid it in his fathers' tomb,
Spread abroad the tale of doom.
 
And the lovely Lady May
Pined and sickened from that day.
Fifty years have passed away,
Old and bent is Lady May,
 
Living in her feudal tower
Like the everlasting flower,
Which, though sapless, hard, and dry,
Liveth on-it cannot die.
 
By the lattice she reclines,
While the sunset redly shines,
Clothing shore and boundless sea
With a gorgeous blazonry;
 
Brighter scene ne'er cheered the eye,-
Wherefore doth the lady sigh?
Wherefore to her handmaids call,
Spinning near within the hall?
 
“Maidens, lay the distaff by,
Lift me forth that I may die!
Weary is my endless fate,
Lift me past the warder's gate;
 
Bear me to the cliffs that sink
Rugged to the water's brink;
Leave me on that narrow ledge
At the precipice's edge,
 
Where the spell shall lose its force,
Where the soul may take its course
Springing from the body worn,
As a lark ascends at morn.
 
But her maidens answered none,
Looked askance and silent spun;
Or in whisper low did say,
Hark! she raveth-Lady May.
 
Glorious sun!” the lady said,
Sinking to thine ocean bed,
Thou, like me, each day must climb
Painfully the arch of Time,
 
Treading in thy old routine,
Each the same as it hath been,
Falling back at close of night
From that slowly mounted height,
 
Ceaselessly at morning blue,
Once again to climb anew
So my life goes circling round,
Like a timepiece in its bound;
 
Every hour familiar grown,
Every minute's beating known!
Lift me forth, my maidens dear,
I am tired of lingering here;
 
If my soul can ever rise
To the fair inviting skies,
Such a wind as curls the sea
Now would give me liberty
:
 
Haste ye, maidens, as I bid!”
But in vain she urged and chid ;
For the maidens answered none,
Spinning silent in the sun,
 
Only, trembling, low did say,
Raving is the Lady May.”
“Ocean calm and golden-eyed,”
Once again the lady sighed,
 
“I had plunged beneath thy wave,
Certain there to find a grave,
Had not limbs been stiff and dead,
Palsied on my helpless bed;
 
Had they worked my soul's intent,
Cadboll's charm had long been spent.
Oh, for dagger or for brand,
Naked in mine eager hand!
 
Yet 't were vain, the sharpest steel
In this hall I could not feel ;
Death, abhorring Cadboll's gate,
Leaves me here, forgot by fate.
 
Maidens dear, again I call,
Loves me none among you all ?
Rich the spoil I leave behind,
Yours it is, my maidens kind,
 
If to me ye now are true,
This last grace of love to do ;
Take me from this magic roof!”
But the maidens stood aloof;
 
“ Hark! she doth delirious grow,
She is crazed by pain and woe;
Heed not what the doting say,
She is mad — the Lady May!”
 
“Come, Munro,” the lady said,
“Come, my husband, though unwed;
Mortal strength avails me none,
Come, thou grave-corrupted one!
 
Spirit, from thy cloudy home,
Borne across the wild sea foam,
Haste to help me from this life;
Thou wilt listen to thy wife.
 
Wert thou here beside my bed,
Living, I would ne'er be dead;
Age and palsy eath to bear,
If with thee I life might share.
 
Take me from this solitude,
Bridegroom of my womanhood!
Shuddering terrors quickly ran
Through the maidens as they span;
 
Close they huddled in their dread,
“She is talking with the dead!
Is her bridegroom's ghost in hall?--
Let us hearken to her call;
 
or the sun is well-nigh set,
Faintly twilight lingers yet.
Better stand on open coast
Than with maniac and with ghost
 
Linger in this haunted tower
At the evening's fateful hour
So together linked they went
Trembling at their bold intent,
 
And bespake them willing there
Her beyond the gate to bear
Maidens true, I bless the deed
God will help you in your need,
 
Hearing you in dying day
As ye heard the Lady May
Forth they move, a fearful band
On the threshold now they stand;
 
O’er the moated bridge they go
With their burden, sad and slow
Upward to the darkening sky
Turns the sufferer's patient eye;
 
Hope upon her pale, meek face,
Brightens as they mend their
From her lips a grateful word
Faint at intervals is heard;
 
On her long bewildered soul
Heaven's unnumbered glories roll.
pass the Now the maidens gate
Heavier grows their feeble weight;
 
Broken sounds she utters still
As they wind along the hill.
When the ocean's broad expanse
Burst upon the lady's glance,
 
O'er her face a rapture flashed,
Into sudden darkness dashed;
From her mouth a joyous cry
Left her hushed eternally;
 
In the maidens' trembling hold
Lay a corse serene and cold.
Cadboll's spell had passed away,-
She was dead—the Lady May