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Inverawe.

Does death cleanse the stains of the spirit
When sundered at last from the clay,
Or keep we thereafter till judgment,
Desires that on earth had their way?
Bereft of the strength which was given
To use for our good or our bane,
Shall yearnings vain, impotent, endless,
Be ours with their burden of pain?
 
Though flesh does not clothe them, what anguish
Must be known in the world of the dead,
If the future lies open before them,
And fate has no secret unread.
And yet, oh how rarely our vision
May know the lost presence is nigh;
How seldom its purpose be gathered,
Be it comfort, or warning to die!
 
With mute or half breathed supplication
Permitted to utter their prayer,
Demanding earth's justice, but ever
Poor phantoms of mist and of air;
If in aught our belief may be certain
Where founded on witness of man,
They come; and no tomb e'er imprisoned
The shade when corruption began.
 
They come: and oh swiftly they follow
The track of the murderer vile;
He is haunted for ever; his refuge
A hell on far ocean or isle!
Though he fly as once fled from Barcaldine
Young Donald's assassin, to claim
Guest-right, where all mercy a treason
To kinship and justice became.
 
"Inverawe, Inverawe, give me shelter,
I have shed a man's blood in a fray;
Oh swear that you will not betray me,
By your dirk, by the dear light of day!"
And the prayer in his kindness he answered,
But aghast heard the voices that cried;
"Your cousin lies slain! Can a stranger
Have passed by the steep river side?"
 
Then bound by his oath he deceived them;
But night brought a dream full of fear,
His cousin's pale image stood o'er him,
Came a voice he had loved to his ear:
"Inverawe, Inverawe, give no shelter
To the man by whom blood has been shed:"
And he went to his guest, saying, "Leave me,
I obey the dear voice of the dead."
 
"By your oath, by the light of God's heaven
Your word has been passed for your guest"
"Then sleep in the cave in the mountain,
If Donald allow you to rest!"
Again shone the vision more awful,
Ere the hours of the darkness had fled;
"Inverawe, Inverawe, give no shelter
To the man by whom blood has been shed."
 
But empty the cave was at morning,
When searched for the murderer's trace,
And the ghost came again in the darkness,
The gore on its breast and its face.
"Inverawe, Inverawe," again whispered
The shade of the echoless feet,
"My blood has been shed, I await thee,
At Ticonderoga we meet."
 
And often in wonder repeated
That warning to many was known,
The strangely named place for the trysting
Men said was in dreamland alone;
"Why cherish a dismal illusion?
War summons gay hearts to the strife:
All share in the prizes of glory,
The chances of death or of life."
 
In camp, on the march, in the battle,
His thought would repeat evermore,
"At the place fore-ordained in the vision
I shall pass to the Dark River's shore."
And often awaiting the summons,
He asked for the wild Indian name,
When curled o'er American hamlets
The smoke from the guns' sudden flame.
 
The forest one evening was silent
As though in the calm of a trance
Yet within it two armies were resting,
The soldiers of Britain and France.
Our Highlanders slumbered, march-wearied,
Their sentries at watch in the wood:
Behind their long lines of entrenchment
The French in their bivouacs stood.
 
"Inverawe, take your sleep ere the morning,
When our praise or our death shall be sung,"
A comrade cried; "soon for Carillon
A chime that is new shall be rung!"
But the air of that night of midsummer
Seemed chilly, and sleep fled away;
And he wandered to where, near Carillon,
The charge would be sounded at day.
 
To the North a pale ray of Aurora
Shot white o'er the black forest spars,
A lake through the pines softly gleaming
Lay calm in the radiance of stars.
It seemed a sweet heaven, whose brightness
Life's dark prison-bars could not hide:
As he gazed, lo, he thought that a figure
Advanced from that silvery tide.
 
Distinct as a luminous shadow,
It moved in the starlight alone,
Till it came to him close, and he shuddered,
For the face that he saw was his own!
The cloak of the dread apparition
His own, but bedabbled in blood!
Inverawe stretched his hand, but the spectre
Had vanished like mist in the wood.
 
To the fires of his comrades returning,
"Ah! friends, you deceived me," he said;
"Why conceal from my ears that Carillon
Has the name that was named by the dead?
'Tis Ticonderoga, the fortress
We march on the morrow to storm,
Where Death and the Phantom stand watching
The hour when our column shall form."
 
The morn brought the hell of the onset,
When bayonet and Highlanders' blade
Sank crushed where the trenches were flashing
In the roll of the long fusillade.
Repulsed! O how sadly at night-fall
The remnant was gathered and told!
In silence they thought of the wounded,
And mourned the brave hearts that were cold.
 
Ere thundered again the dim battle
Saluting the deathless in God,
A truce found that Leader all gory,
Yet gasping his breath on the sod.
They bore him to camp, where around him
They pressed as he beckoned in pain:
His voice seemed a breath in the forest,
"I die--I have seen him again."
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Submitted on August 03, 2020

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John Campbell

John Campbell Shairp (30 July 1819 - 18 September 1885) was a Scottish poet, literary critic and academic. From his youth Shairp was a writer, but he did not publish early. In 1856 he issued a vigorous pamphlet on ‘The Wants of Scottish Universities and some of the Remedies.’ After settling at St. Andrews, he contributed frequently to periodicals. In 1864 he published Kilmahoe: A Highland pastoral, and other poems, in which he revealed his love of nature and of Scottish scenes and interests, and displayed a strong and original, if somewhat irregular, lyrical gift. Among the miscellaneous pieces in the volume, the tender and haunting "Bush aboon Traquair" easily won and retained popularity more…

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    "Inverawe." Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 21 Jun 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/55830/inverawe.>.

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