James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

August 25

The Heart of the Bruce

By William E. Aytoun (1813–1865)

  • A Scottish nobleman. In accordance with the dying request of Bruce he set out on a journey to the Holy Land, carrying with him Bruce’s heart in a gold casket. On his way through Spain he joined the Spaniards in fighting the Saracens, he became separated from his companions and seeing himself surrounded by the enemy he took the casket from his neck and casting it before him explained, “Now pass onward as thou wert wont and Douglas will follow thee or die!” He then fell overpowered by his enemies on August 25, 1330.

  • THE TRUMPETS blew, the cross-bolts flew,

    The arrows flashed like flame,

    As spur in side, and spear in rest,

    Against the foe we came.

    And many a bearded Saracen

    Went down, both horse and man;

    For through their ranks we rode like corn,

    So furiously we ran!

    But in behind our path they closed,

    Though fain to let us through,

    For they were forty thousand men,

    And we were wondrous few.

    We might not see a lance’s length,

    So dense was their array,

    But the long fell sweep of the Scottish blade

    Still held them hard at bay.

    “Make in! make in!” Lord Douglas cried,

    “Make in, my brethren dear!

    Sir William of Saint Clair is down;

    We may not leave him here!”

    But thicker, thicker, grew the swarm,

    And sharper shot the rain,

    And the horses reared amid the press,

    But they would not charge again.

    “Now Jesu help thee,” said Lord James,

    “Thou kind and true St. Clair!

    An’ if I may not bring thee off,

    I’ll die beside thee there!”

    Then in his stirrups up he stood,

    So lionlike and bold,

    And held the precious heart aloft

    All in its case of gold.

    He flung it from him, far ahead,

    And never spake he more,

    But—“Pass thee first, thou dauntless heart,

    As thou wert wont of yore!”

    The roar of fight rose fiercer yet,

    And heavier still the stour,

    Till the spears of Spain came shivering in,

    And swept away the Moor.

    “Now praised be God, the day is won!

    They fly o’er flood and fell—

    Why dost thou draw the rein so hard,

    Good knight, that fought so well?”

    “Oh, ride ye on, Lord King!” he said,

    “And leave the dead to me,

    For I must keep the dreariest watch

    That ever I shall dree!

    “There lies, beside his master’s heart,

    The Douglas, stark and grim;

    And woe is me I should be here,

    Not side by side with him!”


    The King he lighted from his horse,

    He flung his brand away,

    And took the Douglas by the hand,

    So stately as he lay.

    “God give thee rest, thou valiant soul,

    That fought so well for Spain;

    I’d rather half my land were gone,

    So thou wert here again!”

    We bore the good Lord James away,

    And the priceless heart he bore,

    And heavily we steer’d our ship

    Towards the Scottish shore.

    No welcome greeted our return,

    Nor clang of martial tread,

    But all were dumb and hushed as death

    Before the mighty dead.

    We laid our chief in Douglas Kirk,

    The heart in fair Melrose;

    And woeful men were we that day—

    God grant their souls repose!