The Lay of the Last Minstrel (excerpt)

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

“Breathes there the man with soul so dead…”

Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored , and unsung.

Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott was a renowed Scottish poet and novelist. He was born in Edinburgh on August 15th, 1771. Scott first trained as an attorney, but he soon turned his love of writing into a successful career as an author and poet. His narrative poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), was his first work to gain widespread popularity, and it continues to be well known today.

At age 26, Scott was married to Charlotte Margaret Carpenter, the beautiful daughter of a French refugee. The couple lived quite happily for many years. Later, Scott faced bankruptcy as a result of the debt he accumulated while building the Abbotsford House, which Scott called home for most of his life. He wrote almost continuously to pay off his debts. His wife died after 29 years of marriage, leaving Scott heartbroken.

Scott’s health began to fail during the last years of his life. Yet, he continued to write both prose and poetry until his death in 1832. Not only is he remembered as an influential poet, but also as the creator of the historical novel. Scott is believed to have lived his life as a kind, moral, patriotic and intellectual man, and in his novels he combined these traits with historical facts to create some of the world’s best known stories.

About the Poem

The affection with which people view their homeland is an almost universal phenomenon, but it reached a new level of meaning with the rise of the modern nation state and the emphasis on patriotism.  One of the best known poems celebrating this “state of mind” is the verse by the Scottish nobleman, aptly named Sir Walter Scott.

About the Photo

“The River Tweed Below Melrose”- 1899.
Scottish Borders landscape.
Watercolour by Tom Scott RSA (1845-1927).