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

February 13

The Widow of Glencoe

By William E. Aytoun (1813–1865)

  • For some years after the accession of William III. to the English throne Scotland remained in a turbulent condition. By the order of William forty members of the Clan Macdonald were massacred on Feb. 13, 1692, in their homes in the valley of Glencoe, an order which has left an indelible stain upon his memory.

  • From “Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers”

    DO not lift him from the bracken,

    Leave him lying where he fell—

    Better bier ye cannot fashion:

    None beseems him half so well

    As the bare and broken heather,

    And the hard and trampled sod,

    Whence his angry soul ascended

    To the judgment-seat of God!

    Winding-sheet we cannot give him—

    Seek no mantle for the dead,

    Save the cold and spotless covering

    Showered from heaven upon his head.

    Leave his broadsword, as we found it,

    Bent and broken with the blow,

    That, before he died, avenged him

    On the foremost of the foe.

    Leave the blood upon his bosom—

    Wash not off that sacred stain:

    Let it stiffen on the tartan,

    Let his wounds unclosed remain,

    Till the day when he shall show them

    At the throne of God on high,

    When the murderer and the murdered

    Meet before their Judge’s eye!

    Nay—ye should not weep, my children!

    Leave it to the faint and weak;

    Sobs are but a woman’s weapon—

    Tears befit a maiden’s cheek.

    Weep not, children of Macdonald!

    Weep not thou, his orphan heir—

    Not in shame, but stainless honour,

    Lies thy slaughtered father there.

    Weep not—but when years are over,

    And thine arm is strong and sure,

    And thy foot is swift and steady

    On the mountain and the muir—

    Let thy heart be hard as iron,

    And thy wrath as fierce as fire,

    Till the hour when vengeance cometh

    For the race that slew thy sire;

    Till in deep and dark Glenlyon

    Rise a louder shriek of woe

    Than at midnight, from their eyrie,

    Scared the eagles of Glencoe;

    Louder than the screams that mingled

    With the howling of the blast,

    When the murderer’s steel was clashing,

    And the fires were rising fast:

    When thy noble father bounded

    To the rescue of his men,

    And the slogan of our kindred

    Pealed throughout the startled glen;

    When the herd of frantic women

    Stumbled through the midnight snow,

    With their fathers’ houses blazing,

    And their dearest dead below.

    Oh, the horror of the tempest,

    As the flashing drift was blown,

    Crimsoned with the conflagration,

    And the roofs went thundering down!

    Oh, the prayers—the prayers and curses

    That together winged their flight

    From the maddened hearts of many

    Through that long and woeful night!

    Till the fires began to dwindle,

    And the shots grew faint and few,

    And we heard the foeman’s challenge

    Only in a far halloo;

    Till the silence once more settled

    O’er the gorges of the glen,

    Broken only by the Cona

    Plunging through its naked den.

    Slowly from the mountain-summit

    Was the drifting veil withdrawn,

    And the ghastly valley glimmered

    In the gray December dawn.

    Better had the morning never

    Dawned upon our dark despair!

    Black amidst the common whiteness

    Rose the spectral ruins there:

    But the sight of these was nothing

    More than wrings the wild dove’s breast,

    When she searches for her offspring

    Round the relics of her nest.

    For in many a spot the tartan

    Peered above the wintry heap,

    Marking where a dead Macdonald

    Lay within his frozen sleep.

    Tremblingly we scooped the covering

    From each kindred victim’s head,

    And the living lips were burning

    On the cold ones of the dead.

    And I left them with their dearest—

    Dearest charge had everyone—

    Left the maiden with her lover,

    Left the mother with her son.

    I alone of all was mateless—

    Far more wretched I than they,

    For the snow would not discover

    Where my lord and husband lay.

    But I wandered up the valley

    Till I found him lying low,

    With the gash upon his bosom,

    And the frown upon his brow—

    Till I found him lying murdered

    Where he wooed me long ago.