’Woe to the clansman who shall view
This symbol of sepulchral yew,
Forgetful that its branches grew
Where weep the heavens their holiest dew
On Alpine’s dwelling low!
Deserter of his Chieftain’s trust,
He ne’er shall mingle with their dust,
But, from his sires and kindred thrust,
Each clansman’s execration just
Shall doom him wrath and woe.’
He paused; — the word the vassals took,
With forward step and fiery look,
On high their naked brands they shook,
Their clattering targets wildly strook;
And first in murmur low,
Then like the billow in his course,
That far to seaward finds his source,
And flings to shore his mustered force,
Burst with loud roar their answer hoarse,
‘Woe to the traitor, woe!’
Ben-an’s gray scalp the accents knew,
The joyous wolf from covert drew,
The exulting eagle screamed afar,—
They knew the voice of Alpine’s war.
The shout was hushed on lake and fell,
The Monk resumed his muttered spell:
Dismal and low its accents came,
The while he scathed the Cross with flame;
And the few words that reached the air,
Although the holiest name was there,
Had more of blasphemy than prayer.
But when he shook above the crowd
Its kindled points, he spoke aloud:—
’Woe to the wretch who fails to rear
At this dread sign the ready spear!
For, as the flames this symbol sear,
His home, the refuge of his fear,
A kindred fate shall know;
Far o’er its roof the volumed flame
Clan-Alpine’s vengeance shall proclaim,
While maids and matrons on his name
Shall call down wretchedness and shame,
And infamy and woe.’
Then rose the cry of females, shrill
As goshawk’s whistle on the hill,
Denouncing misery and ill,
Mingled with childhood’s babbling trill
Of curses stammered slow;
Answering with imprecation dread,
’Sunk be his home in embers red!
And cursed be the meanest shed
That o’er shall hide the houseless head
We doom to want and woe!’
A sharp and shrieking echo gave,
Coir-Uriskin, thy goblin cave!
And the gray pass where birches wave
Then deeper paused the priest anew,
And hard his laboring breath he drew,
While, with set teeth and clenched hand,
And eyes that glowed like fiery brand,
He meditated curse more dread,
And deadlier, on the clansman’s head
Who, summoned to his chieftain’s aid,
The signal saw and disobeyed.
The crosslet’s points of sparkling wood
He quenched among the bubbling blood.
And, as again the sign he reared,
Hollow and hoarse his voice was heard:
’When flits this Cross from man to man,
Vich-Alpine’s summons to his clan,
Burst be the ear that fails to heed!