Lord Byron's Poems

Early Poems: Oscar of Alva


How sweetly shines, through azure skies,

The lamp of Heaven on Lora's shore;

Where Alva's hoary turrets rise,

And hear the din of arms no more!


But often has yon rolling moon,

On Alva's casques of silver play'd;

And view'd, at midnight's silent noon,

Her chiefs in gleaming mail array'd:


And, on the crimson'd rocks beneath,

Which scowl o'er ocean's sullen flow,

Pale in the scatter'd ranks of death,

She saw the gasping warrior low; i


While many an eye, which ne'er again ii

Could mark the rising orb of day,

Turn'd feebly from the gory plain,

Beheld in death her fading ray.


Once, to those eyes the lamp of Love,

They blest her dear propitious light;

But, now, she glimmer'd from above,

A sad, funereal torch of night.


Faded is Alva's noble race,

And grey her towers are seen afar;

No more her heroes urge the chase,

Or roll the crimson tide of war.


But, who was last of Alva's clan?

Why grows the moss on Alva's stone?

Her towers resound no steps of man,

They echo to the gale alone.


And, when that gale is fierce and high,

A sound is heard in yonder hall;

It rises hoarsely through the sky,

And vibrates o'er the mould'ring wall.


Yes, when the eddying tempest sighs,

It shakes the shield of Oscar brave;

But, there, no more his banners rise,

No more his plumes of sable wave.


Fair shone the sun on Oscar's birth,

When Angus hail'd his eldest born;

The vassals round their chieftain's hearth

Crowd to applaud the happy morn.


They feast upon the mountain deer,

The Pibroch rais'd its piercing note, 2

To gladden more their Highland cheer,

The strains in martial numbers float.


And they who heard the war-notes wild,

Hop'd that, one day, the Pibroch's strain

Should play before the Hero's child,

While he should lead the Tartan train.


Another year is quickly past,

And Angus hails another son;

His natal day is like the last,

Nor soon the jocund feast was done.


Taught by their sire to bend the bow,

On Alva's dusky hills of wind,

The boys in childhood chas'd the roe,

And left their hounds in speed behind.


But ere their years of youth are o'er,

They mingle in the ranks of war;

They lightly wheel the bright claymore,

And send the whistling arrow far.


Dark was the flow of Oscar's hair,

Wildly it stream'd along the gale;

But Allan's locks were bright and fair,

And pensive seem'd his cheek, and pale.


But Oscar own'd a hero's soul,

His dark eye shone through beams of truth;

Allan had early learn'd controul,

And smooth his words had been from youth.


Both, both were brave; the Saxon spear

Was shiver'd oft beneath their steel;

And Oscar's bosom scorn'd to fear,

But Oscar's bosom knew to feel;


While Allan's soul belied his form,

Unworthy with such charms to dwell:

Keen as the lightning of the storm,

On foes his deadly vengeance fell.


From high Southannon's distant tower

Arrived a young and noble dame;

With Kenneth's lands to form her dower,

Glenalvon's blue-eyed daughter came;


And Oscar claim'd the beauteous bride,

And Angus on his Oscar smil'd:

It soothed the father's feudal pride

Thus to obtain Glenalvon's child.


Hark! to the Pibroch's pleasing note,

Hark! to the swelling nuptial song,

In joyous strains the voices float,

And, still, the choral peal prolong.


See how the Heroes' blood-red plumes

Assembled wave in Alva's hall;

Each youth his varied plaid assumes,

Attending on their chieftain's call.


It is not war their aid demands,

The Pibroch plays the song of peace;

To Oscar's nuptials throng the bands

Nor yet the sounds of pleasure cease.


But where is Oscar? sure 'tis late:

Is this a bridegroom's ardent flame?

While thronging guests and ladies wait,

Nor Oscar nor his brother came.


At length young Allan join'd the bride;

"Why comes not Oscar?" Angus said:

"Is he not here?" the Youth replied;

"With me he rov'd not o'er the glade:


"Perchance, forgetful of the day,

'Tis his to chase the bounding roe;

Or Ocean's waves prolong his stay:

Yet, Oscar's bark is seldom slow."


"Oh, no!" the anguish'd Sire rejoin'd,

"Nor chase, nor wave, my Boy delay;

Would he to Mora seem unkind?

Would aught to her impede his way?


"Oh, search, ye Chiefs! oh, search around!

Allan, with these, through Alva fly;

Till Oscar, till my son is found,

Haste, haste, nor dare attempt reply."


All is confusion - through the vale,

The name of Oscar hoarsely rings,

It rises on the murm'ring gale,

Till night expands her dusky wings.


It breaks the stillness of the night,

But echoes through her shades in vain;

It sounds through morning's misty light,

But Oscar comes not o'er the plain.


Three days, three sleepless nights, the Chief

For Oscar search'd each mountain cave;

Then hope is lost; in boundless grief,

His locks in grey-torn ringlets wave.


"Oscar! my son! - thou God of Heav'n,

Restore the prop of sinking age!

Or, if that hope no more is given,

Yield his assassin to my rage.


"Yes, on some desert rocky shore

My Oscar's whiten'd bones must lie;

Then grant, thou God! I ask no more,

With him his frantic Sire may die!


"Yet, he may live, - away, despair!

Be calm, my soul! he yet may live;

T' arraign my fate, my voice forbear!

O God! my impious prayer forgive.


"What, if he live for me no more,

I sink forgotten in the dust,

The hope of Alva's age is o'er:

Alas! can pangs like these be just?"


Thus did the hapless Parent mourn,

Till Time, who soothes severest woe,

Had bade serenity return,

And made the tear-drop cease to flow.


For, still, some latent hope surviv'd

That Oscar might once more appear;

His hope now droop'd and now revived,

Till Time had told a tedious year.


Days roll'd along, the orb of light

Again had run his destined race;

No Oscar bless'd his father's sight,

And sorrow left a fainter trace.


For youthful Allan still remain'd,

And, now, his father's only joy:

And Mora's heart was quickly gain'd,

For beauty crown'd the fair-hair'd boy.


She thought that Oscar low was laid,

And Allan's face was wondrous fair;

If Oscar liv'd, some other maid

Had claim'd his faithless bosom's care.


And Angus said, if one year more

In fruitless hope was pass'd away,

His fondest scruples should be o'er,

And he would name their nuptial day.


Slow roll'd the moons, but blest at last

Arriv'd the dearly destin'd morn:

The year of anxious trembling past,

What smiles the lovers' cheeks adorn!


Hark to the Pibroch's pleasing note!

Hark to the swelling nuptial song!

In joyous strains the voices float,

And, still, the choral peal prolong.


Again the clan, in festive crowd,

Throng through the gate of Alva's hall;

The sounds of mirth re-echo loud,

And all their former joy recall.


But who is he, whose darken'd brow

Glooms in the midst of general mirth?

Before his eyes' far fiercer glow

The blue flames curdle o'er the hearth.


Dark is the robe which wraps his form,

And tall his plume of gory red;

His voice is like the rising storm,

But light and trackless is his tread.


'Tis noon of night, the pledge goes round,

The bridegroom's health is deeply quaff'd;

With shouts the vaulted roofs resound,

And all combine to hail the draught.


Sudden the stranger-chief arose,

And all the clamorous crowd are hush'd;

And Angus' cheek with wonder glows,

And Mora's tender bosom blush'd.


"Old man!" he cried, "this pledge is done,

Thou saw'st 'twas truly drunk by me;

It hail'd the nuptials of thy son:

Now will I claim a pledge from thee.


"While all around is mirth and joy,

To bless thy Allan's happy lot,

Say, hadst thou ne'er another boy?

Say, why should Oscar be forgot?"


"Alas!" the hapless Sire replied,

The big tear starting as he spoke,

"When Oscar left my hall, or died,

This aged heart was almost broke.


"Thrice has the earth revolv'd her course

Since Oscar's form has bless'd my sight;

And Allan is my last resource,

Since martial Oscar's death, or flight."


"'Tis well," replied the stranger stern,

And fiercely flash'd his rolling eye;

"Thy Oscar's fate, I fain would learn;

Perhaps the Hero did not die.


"Perchance, if those, whom most he lov'd,

Would call, thy Oscar might return;

Perchance, the chief has only rov'd;

For him thy Beltane, yet, may burn. 3


"Fill high the bowl the table round,

We will not claim the pledge by stealth;

With wine let every cup be crown'd;

Pledge me departed Oscar's health."


"With all my soul," old Angus said,

And fill'd his goblet to the brim:

"Here's to my boy! alive or dead,

I ne'er shall find a son like him."


"Bravely, old man, this health has sped;

But why does Allan trembling stand?

Come, drink remembrance of the dead,

And raise thy cup with firmer hand."


The crimson glow of Allan's face

Was turn'd at once to ghastly hue;

The drops of death each other chace,

Adown in agonizing dew.


Thrice did he raise the goblet high,

And thrice his lips refused to taste;

For thrice he caught the stranger's eye

On his with deadly fury plac'd.


"And is it thus a brother hails

A brother's fond remembrance here?

If thus affection's strength prevails,

What might we not expect from fear?"


Roused by the sneer, he rais'd the bowl,

"Would Oscar now could share our mirth!"

Internal fear appall'd his soul; i

He said, and dash'd the cup to earth.


"'Tis he! I hear my murderer's voice!"

Loud shrieks a darkly gleaming Form.

"A murderer's voice!" the roof replies,

And deeply swells the bursting storm.


The tapers wink, the chieftains shrink,

The stranger's gone, - amidst the crew,

A Form was seen, in tartan green,

And tall the shade terrific grew.


His waist was bound with a broad belt round,

His plume of sable stream'd on high;

But his breast was bare, with the red wounds there,

And fix'd was the glare of his glassy eye.


And thrice he smil'd, with his eye so wild

On Angus bending low the knee;

And thrice he frown'd, on a Chief on the ground,

Whom shivering crowds with horror see.


The bolts loud roll from pole to pole,

And thunders through the welkin ring,

And the gleaming form, through the mist of the storm,

Was borne on high by the whirlwind's wing.


Cold was the feast, the revel ceas'd.

Who lies upon the stony floor?

Oblivion press'd old Angus' breast, iv

At length his life-pulse throbs once more.


"Away, away! let the leech essay

To pour the light on Allan's eyes:"

His sand is done, - his race is run;

Oh! never more shall Allan rise!


But Oscar's breast is cold as clay,

His locks are lifted by the gale;

And Allan's barbed arrow lay

With him in dark Glentanar's vale.


And whence the dreadful stranger came,

Or who, no mortal wight can tell;

But no one doubts the form of flame,

For Alva's sons knew Oscar well.


Ambition nerv'd young Allan's hand,

Exulting demons wing'd his dart;

While Envy wav'd her burning brand,

And pour'd her venom round his heart.


Swift is the shaft from Allan's bow;

Whose streaming life-blood stains his side?

Dark Oscar's sable crest is low,

The dart has drunk his vital tide.


And Mora's eye could Allan move,

She bade his wounded pride rebel:

Alas! that eyes, which beam'd with love,

Should urge the soul to deeds of Hell.


Lo! see'st thou not a lonely tomb,

Which rises o'er a warrior dead?

It glimmers through the twilight gloom;

Oh! that is Allan's nuptial bed.


Far, distant far, the noble grave

Which held his clan's great ashes stood;

And o'er his corse no banners wave,

For they were stain'd with kindred blood.


What minstrel grey, what hoary bard,

Shall Allan's deeds on harp-strings raise?

The song is glory's chief reward,

But who can strike a murd'rer's praise?


Unstrung, untouch'd, the harp must stand,

No minstrel dare the theme awake;

Guilt would benumb his palsied hand,

His harp in shuddering chords would break.


No lyre of fame, no hallow'd verse,

Shall sound his glories high in air:

A dying father's bitter curse,

A brother's death-groan echoes there.

Footnote 1: The catastrophe of this tale was suggested by the story of "Jeronymo and Lorenzo," in the first volume of Schiller's 'Armenian, or the Ghost-Seer'. It also bears some resemblance to a scene in the third act of 'Macbeth'. - 'Der Geisterseher', Schiller's 'Werke' (1819), x. 97, 'sq'.

Footnote 2: It is evident that Byron here confused the 'pibroch', the air, with the 'bagpipe', the instrument.

Footnote 3: Beltane Tree, a Highland festival on the first of May, held near fires lighted for the occasion.

Footnote i:

'She view'd the gasping' -- .

'Hours of Idleness'.

Footnote ii:

'When many an eye which ne'er again

Could view' -- .

'Hours of Idleness'.

Footnote iii:

'Internal fears' -- .

'Hours of Idleness'.

Footnote iv:

'Old Angus prest, the earth with his breast'.

'Hours of Idleness'.