Janet Hamilton

1795-1873 / Scotland

The Warning Wail

A minstrel old, in feudal hall,
When wassail bowls were brimm'd and flowing,
Responsive to his chieftain's call,
And joyous dame, young, bright, and glowing,
With harp high strung, with voice of song
He came,-bright eyes were on him beaming,
And poured the tuneful tide along,
With eye of fire, and white locks streaming.
He sang of love, of war, and fame,
At first with harp and voice unfailing;
But with the closing notes there came
Deep tones of woe and mournful wailing.
I may not wake my harp again,
He said, to glory, love, and gladness;
Oh, hear ye not each joyous strain
Dies in a wail of funeral sadness!
Fill up the bowl, hold revel high,
Even till the lark shall bid good-morrow;
The revel ends not so, they cry,
The closing wail of coming sorrow.
I sang the bridegroom, while his bride
Wore on her brow the orange blossom;
He gazed on her with tender pride,
And fondly drew her to his bosom.
And still I sang in glowing strain
Of wedded love too soon to languish;
Then sank my song in moans of pain,
And died away in tones of anguish.
And I have sung soft cradle songs
Beside my rosy infant sleeping;
He lived to crush my heart with wrongs,
And drown my song in sobs and weeping.
No more, no more!-Be hushed the song,
The strain that dies in tones of wailing;
Oh, why the mournful strain prolong
On one sad theme so unavailing?
The bard who woke with heart and song
High strains of wassail, love, and gladness,
And heard with awe the chords among,
A wail of more than mortal sadness.
He deemed a spirit's hand had swept
The chords, the sudden doom foretelling
Of his high chieftain, honour'd, wept,
Or her, the love-light of his dwelling.
More deep, more dread the wail of woe,
The spirit-echo of my numbers,
The haunting voice too well I know,
'Tis his-the fiend that never slumbers.
The cradle hymns, the bridal song,
Oft sung in strains soft, true and tender;
The demon comes, the strain ere long
But tones of wailing woe can render.
The haunting fiend whose voice of fear
Is in our midst for ever swelling;
All that is tender, good, and dear,
From thousand hearts and homes expelling.
How sad the wail when life has fled!
Yet words and tones of deeper sorrow
Are wailing o'er the living dead,
Word or wail I need not borrow.
Up to heaven a cry has gone,
Mourning, woe, and lamentation;
The chains are thine in which we groan,
Dread demon of Intoxication.
We see the flood-gates opened wide,
We see ten thousand victims floating
Upon the foul and turbid tide,
And licensed vultures o'er them gloating.
They wider still the flood-gates throw,
To let the red infernal river
O'er all the land in torrents flow;
Shut ye the flood-gates, never! never!
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