The Dying Covenanter

Poem By Alexander Anderson

Let me lie upon the heather
Where the heath fowl have abode,
In my hand the open Bible,
On my lip the psalm of God.
I have kept the faith and conquered,
Slipped not foot nor quailed an eye;
Gather round, and in the moorland
See a Covenanter die.


In the might of kingly sanction,
As the mountain torrents sweep,
Came the foe, athirst for slaughter,
And their oaths were loud and deep.
But we drew ourselves together,
Broke the still, yet pitying calm
With the music of our fathers,
And the worship of the psalm.


Then we heard our leader's question,
'Is there one within our band
Faint of heart to go to battle
For his God and for his land?
Is there one who, seeing foemen
Coming from the plain below,
Puts his sword back in the scabbard?'
And we sternly answered, 'No.


'For we fight against oppression,
For the weak against the strong,
For the right to God's own freedom,
And against the wrong of wrong,
For our homes in glen and valley,
For a thing of grander worth,
The old worship of our fathers
In the kirk and by the hearth.'


Then we took a deeper breathing
For the fight that was so near,
Put our Bibles in our bosoms,
With no sign of doubt or fear,
Felt upon our lips a prayer,
Drew forth to a man the sword,
Rushed upon the ranks of Satan,
For our Covenant and the Lord.


Ye have seen, beside the river,
The tall bulrush, thick and strong,
Bend before the summer whirlwind
As it swept in might along.
Lo, the foe at the first onslaught
Backward went in their alarm,
Ours we knew would be the battle,
For the Lord held up His arm.


Ay, we knew that He was with us,
Israel's mighty God of old.
Felt His spirit clasp our spirit,
And His presence made us bold;
And we raised our thrilling slogan
Till it ran from tongue to tongue—
'God and Covenant, God and Covenant!'
And the bleak, bare moorland rung.


Had you seen the wild rough troopers,
Pale with very rage and hate,
As our steel still sent them backwards
To a flight or sterner fate.
'Canting dogs!' they cried, 'and martyrs
For their heaven's paltry crown.'
'Soldiers now,' we hurled for answer,
And we shore the godless down.


Ay, they well may con their lessons
In their revels of to-night,
Tell, with all their newest curses,
That the babes of God can fight.
Did they think us sheep for slaughter,
Weak as weakest children be?
So they want that question answered,
Let them turn to their Dundee.


How the frown upon his forehead
(For I saw him in the fight)
Deepened till it burst in anger,
As the thunder peals by night!
And, when column after column
Shrank and withered at our brunt,
Onward came he like some devil,
With his black steed to the front.


'Are ye cowards?' forth he thundered,
As he rallied back his men.
'Fly from those that ye have hunted
Like the hare by field and glen?
What am I to send for answer
In your own, and in my name?
Give me better, or, by heaven!
Die, and so escape the shame!'


Ye have seen, beside the river,
The tall bulrush, thick and strong,
Springing upward when the whirlwind
Spent its force and passed along;
So came backward horse and trooper
On our firm, yet desperate few,
But our trust was not in princes,
And we knew what God could do.


Wild and high the conflict thickened
As a thunder-spout adds force
To the stream, and in the struggle
Down went rider, down went horse.
Foot by foot we drove them backward,
But they went like sullen seas,
Till I came against a war-horse,
And I knew it was Dundee's.


Swift as lightning's gleam at midnight,
When the stars are hidden dark,
Swift my sword upon the charger,
And I did not miss my mark.
Back he reared upon his rider,
And the two fell on the plain;
Had we not been such a handful
Black Dundee was with the slain.


But his troopers rallied round him,
Fought like devils at their need,
Drove us back and raised their master,
Brought him up another steed,
Made a front to stand our onset;
But they shrank as on they came,
Like the willow in the winter,
Like the heath before the flame.


Then we raised a shout of triumph
As the whelps of Satan fled,
But my death-wound came that moment,
And I fell among the dead.
Steeds and men, like one great whirlwind,
Thundered o'er me, and I knew
That our God had swept the godless
As the sun sweeps off the dew.


Closer, closer come around me,
Lift the grand old psalm again,
For I want to hear its music
Ere I pass away from men.
Shame to Scotland and to Scotsmen,
If they turn away in pride
From the songs that were our bucklers
On the bare, bleak mountain-side.


Let the Bible still lie open,
That my failing sight may see
My own blood upon that promise
Of the crown awaiting me.
I have kept the faith nor faltered,
Slipped not foot nor quailed an eye;
Gather round, and in the moorland
See a Covenanter die.

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