Bannockburn

I heard beneath my feet the clear sharp ring
Of grinding rail and wheel,
I felt, as on we sped with rush and swing,
The carriage sway and reel.


Outside, the metals on the other track
Like two thin lights were seen;
Ahead the signals, on a ground of black,
Glimmered red, white, and green.


I saw from windows, as if hung in air,
'Mid handles gleaming white,
Pointsmen that clutched and drew the levers there,
And set the points aright.


At times from out the dark there roared and crashed,
With sudden whistle blast,
An engine, and a gleaming head-light flashed
A moment, then shot past;


But not until I saw, as in a land
Misty with whirling steam,
Driver and stoker on the footplate stand
Ghost-like as in a dream.


Then all my thoughts began to wander out
To meet the march of Time,
With all his triumph poets rave about
And prophesy in rhyme.


The higher man, the broader laws to be;
The life of larger powers,
A furlong farther from the moaning sea
Of what to-day is ours.


Till, fraught with wonder at such Atlas-toil,
Wherever I might turn,
A voice said, 'We are passing sacred soil,
The Field of Bannockburn.'


'The Field of Bannockburn!' that name to me
Came like a spell of might;
I rose and put the window down, to see
That glorious spot by night.


Ahead, the dark, as in a sudden breeze
Went swaying up and down;
Behind, but faint and dim, by twos and threes,
The lights of Stirling town.


To right and left I shot an eager glance;
A heavy murky wall
Rose up, and spread a drear and cold expanse
Of darkness over all:


Not over all; for, when the stoker drew
The furnace doors apart,
A shaft of light rose upward, and shot through
The clouds like some huge dart.


Then I drew back, but as I took my seat
My former dream was gone;
The iron music underneath my feet
Sang with another tone.


The roar of wheel on rail had now become
One long continuous tread
Of thirty thousand men by trump and drum
To battle sternly led.


The engine's whistle was the trumpet shout,
The mighty battle cry,
Calling on men to sternly face about
And for their country die.


My blood was up. I saw the standard shake
Its folds upon the breeze,
And men from out the heavy columns break,
And fall upon their knees.


I saw the glitter of an axe on high,
And, keen to overwhelm,
Flash like a sudden bolt from out the sky,
And crush a shining helm;


A war-steed, rearing with his nostrils burst,
And eye-balls gleaming white,
Rush from beneath his falling rider, first
Fruit of the coming fight;


Then rolling onward full of death and doom,
A flood of chivalry,
Led on by streaming flags that rose like spume
Thrown from a roaring sea;


A billowy sea of steeds and riders grim
Mailed to the very lips—
Each one the bearer of some doom, like him
In the Apocalypse.


A sound of cutting hoofs that mar and smite
The turf; a long deep roar,
As if a muffled ocean smote by night
Upon an unseen shore!


From right to left with trumpet blast and blare,
A gleam of English steel
Sweeping on thirty thousand Scotsmen there,
On fire from head to heel!


On, on they came. At last they reach the pits,
A quiver and a shock
Breaks through the front rank, as a river splits
Upon a stubborn rock.


Then with one shout that quivered with its wrath
Our Scottish lions leapt,
And, like a torrent from its mountain path,
Down on the foe they swept.


A clash of sword and spear, of shield on shield,
The flash of eye to eye,
Wherein was but one thought, to keep the field,
Or, losing it, to die!


So went the storm of battle, fever red,
From thinning rank to rank;
The careless earth beneath the heaps of dead
Their life-blood slowly drank.


A waver through the English hosts, and then,
Like some retreating sea,
They fled, and, fleeing, left their heaps of slain,
And Scotland once more free.


Hark! that long shout from thousands as they yearn
To make their hearts as one,
That shout has made this Field of Bannockburn
Another Marathon!


I wake up from my dream. I hear no more
The battle shout prevail,
Nor underneath my feet the rush and roar
Of wheels upon the rail.


Far other music now is mine again;
The battle clangours cease,
With all the wiser years that proffer men
The white results of peace.


For lo! I hear on either side of me
The busy tramp of feet,
And, like a lower lane of stars, I see
The lights of Princes Street.

by Alexander Anderson

Comments (1)

The last few lines of this poem completely warped my understanding of it. What does it mean?