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19 Sep

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott

Lochinvar (Pearls from the Deep)

Sir Walter Scott 

Introduction

The image of a knight-at-arms charging to the battle field on his blood-red steed is an appealing vestige from the Middle Ages. Often known as the Age of Chivalry, this period witnessed brave and loyal knights fighting injustice and defending the honour of damsels in distress. Based on the lives of these brave knights, stories emerged about their heroics, castles, kings and damsels in distress. The poem ‘Lochinvar’ is set in this Age of Chivalry. It features a brave young knight Lochinvar who risks his life for his love. The poem narrates how Lochinvar successfully abducts his beloved Ellen.

‘Lochinvar’ is a literary ballad. A literary ballad may be defined as a ballad composed by an author, imitating the form of a traditional ballad. Hence it resembles the traditional ballad in many ways. It adopts the manner of storytelling used by traditional ballads. A major difference is that while a literary ballad has a known author, the traditional ballads are usually of anonymous authorship. In style and content, the literary ballad tends to be more modern.

Sir Walter Scott, one of the greatest writers to have emerged from Scotland, is the author of this poem. During a tour he undertook through the Scottish countryside, he collected famous songs and ballads transferred orally from one generation to another. He recorded them into a wonderful collection of ancient poems titled Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

During the Middle Ages, girls didn’t possess the right to choose their husbands. The girl was given in marriage to a boy selected by the girl’s parent/s. Neither love nor the choice of the girl was considered important. In most cases, the bride and the groom met for the first time only at the marriage ceremony.

The poem has a universal theme – a boy and a girl are in love and want to be together. The families apparently don’t support their love. The girl’s family try to give her in marriage to another boy. The lover appears just in time and runs away with his girl, leaving others fuming.

The poem ‘Lochinvar’ is written in iambic tetrameter. There are eight six-line stanzas in the poem. The rhyme scheme employed in the poem is aabbcc, ie, each stanza consists of three rhyming couplets. The last lines of all stanzas of the poem end with “Lochinvar”.

 

Lochinvar

Oh! Young Lochinvar is come out of the west;

Through all the wide border his steed was the best;

And save his good broadsword he weapon had none;

He rode all unarmed, and he rode all alone.

So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,

There never was knight like the young Lochinvar. 
 

He staid not for brake, and he stopped not for stone;

He swam the Eske river where ford there was none;

But ere he alighted at Netherby gate,

The bride had consented, the gallant came late:

For a laggard in love, and a dastard in war,

Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave Lochinvar. 
 

So boldly he enter’d the Netherby Hall,

Among bride’s-men, and kinsmen, and brothers, and all:

Then spoke the bride's father, his hand on his sword,

(For the poor craven bridegroom said never a word,)

‘O come ye in peace here, or come ye in war,

Or to dance at our bridal, young Lord Lochinvar?’
 

‘I long wooed your daughter, my suit you denied;

Love swells like the Solway, but ebbs like its tide ---

And now I am come, with this lost love of mine,

To lead but one measure, drink one cup of wine;

There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far,

That would gladly be bride to the young Lochinvar." 
 

The bride kissed the goblet --- the knight took it up;

He quaffed off the wine, and he threw down the cup.

She looked down to blush, and she looked up to sigh,

With a smile on her lips, and a tear in her eye.

He took her soft hand, ere her mother could bar ---

‘Now, tread we a measure!’ said young Lochinvar. 
 

So stately his form, and so lovely her face,

That never a hall such a galliard did grace;

While her mother did fret and her father did fume,

And the bridegroom stood dangling his bonnet and plume;

And the bride-maidens whispered, ’twere better by far

To have matched our fair cousin with young Lochinvar.’
 

One touch to her hand and one word in her ear,

When they reached the hall door, and the charger stood near

So light to the croup the fair lady he swung,

So light to the saddle before her he sprung!

‘She is won! we are gone, over bank, bush, and scaur;

They'll have fleet steeds that follow,’ quoth young Lochinvar.
 

There was mounting ‘mong Graemes of the Netherby clan;

Forsters, Fenwicks, and Musgraves, they rode and they ran

There was racing and chasing on Cannobie Lea,

But the lost bride of Netherby ne'er did they see.

So daring in love, and so dauntless in war,

Have ye e’er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?

 

Summary and Analysis

Lochinvar is a brave young knight who sets out from West Scotland to Netherby Hall where the wedding of his beloved Ellen is about to take place. He has the best horse in the country, is faithful in love, fearless in war and except his good broadsword he has no weapons. He is matchless among knights; he rides all unarmed and all alone. On his way he encounters brakes, stones and the Eske River. However, he does not stay for brake or stop for stone, and he swims across the Eske River at a place where there are no shallow parts which can be crossed easily. However, he arrives late at Netherby Hall since the bride has already given her consent.

She is being given in marriage to a bridegroom who is described as a laggard in love and a dastard in war. When Lochinvar boldly breaks into the Netherby Hall unannounced, there are bridesmen, kinsmen and brothers among the guests at the bridal. The cowardly bridegroom utters not a word. With his hand on his sword, the bride’s father breaches to his defence,  asking Lochinvar if he has come there in peace or war or to dance at their bridal feast. Lochinvar quietly states he has long wooed Ellen, but since his suit has been denied, his love has died out like the falling tide of Solway. Hence he has come with his lost love to dance but one measure and drink one cup of wine. He even boasts that there are many lovelier maidens in Scotland glad to be his bride. The reply is a deliberate ploy by Lochinvar to trick the bride’s family into believing that he has no hidden motives so that he can abduct her without bloodshed. But his reply seems to have wounded Ellen. He rubs insult to injury when after drinking from it he throws down the goblet she has kissed for him. She is obviously upset as she looks up to sigh and looks down to blush.

However, he reassures her of his love when he takes her soft hand and says that they shall tread a measure. As they dance, the stateliness of his form and the loveliness of her face impress the guests. They feel that the Netherby Hall is lucky to have witnessed such a graceful dance. Ellen’s mother frets, her father fumes and the bridegroom stands helplessly dangling his bonnet and plume. This reference to ‘dangling’ probably suggests that he will be helpless and inactive in married life as well. The bride-maidens whisper that it would have been much better to have matched their Ellen with young Lochinvar. During the dance, as Lochinvar and Ellen reach the hall door, the touches her hand and whispers something into her ear. He swings first Ellen and then himself onto his horse back and rides away swiftly, triumphantly exulting “She is won! We are gone”. The Netherby clan mount on their horses and race and chase Lochinvar and Ellen on Cannobie Lee but their efforts go futile. They never manage to see their lost bride again.

An Alternate Reading

A counter reading of the poem suggests that the bridegroom is not so much of a “laggard in love and a dastard in war” as the poem compels us to believe initially. During the Middle Ages, women were often considered as having no rights of their own. Hence the options before Ellen now are limited. She has to belong either to Lochinvar or to the bridegroom. She doesn’t have the freedom to reject both of them. Nor can she choose both. Thus, in a different sense, the bridegroom's behaviour and demeanour turn chivalric and noble. If he is passive, it is because he respects Ellen’s wish to be with her true love. His sacrifice thus becomes the very epitome of gentlemanly behaviour and he becomes a paragon of chivalry. He would have been cowardly only if Ellen had been truly in love with him and not Lochinvar. In that scenario, their elopement would have become a matter of kidnap. However, that isn’t the case in the poem. Evidently, Ellen loves Lochinvar and she wilfully elopes with him.

Comprehension Questions

Section A

A1. Describe the coming of Lochinvar from the west.

Lochinvar is a brave young knight who sets out from West Scotland. He has the best horse in the country, is faithful in love, fearless in war and except his good broadsword he has no weapons. He is matchless among knights; he rides all unarmed and all alone.

A2. What difficulties does he brave on the way to Netherby Hall?

Lochinvar sets out from the West to Netherby Hall where the wedding of his beloved Ellen is about to take place. On his way he encounters brakes, stones and the Eske River. However, he does not stay for brake or stop for stone, and he swims across the Eske River bravely.

A3. What does Scott say about the Eske River?

Eske is a river in Ireland flowing through the borderlands. On his way to Netherby Hall, Lochinvar comes to the Eske River. Sir Walter Scott says that Lochinvar swims the Eske at a place where there are no shallow parts which can be crossed easily.

A4. How does Scott describe the bridegroom?

Sir Walter Scott describes the bridegroom as a laggard in love and a dastard in war. He is a coward who says nothing when Lochinvar boldly enters the Netherby Hall. When Lochinvar dances with Ellen, he stands helplessly dangling his bonnet and plume.

A5. What does Lochinvar say about love?

Lochinvar says that love swells like the Solway but ebbs like its tide. Hence his love is a lost love. The tidal waves in the Solway sea in-let rises and sinks quickly. Similarly, if love is not properly nurtured, it will die out quickly.

A6. How does Ellen run away with Lochinvar?

During their dance, Lochinvar and Ellen reach the hall door. He touches her hand and whispers something into her ear. Then he swings first Ellen and then himself onto his horse back and rides away swiftly, triumphantly exulting “She is won!”.

A7. How does the Netherby clan respond to Lochinvar riding away with Ellen?

As Lochinvar skilfully abducts Ellen, the members of the Netherby clan mount on their horses and chase them. They race and chase Lochinvar and Ellen on Cannobie Lee but their efforts go futile. They never manage to see their lost bride again.

A8. How does Walter Scott describe young Lochinvar?

Lochinvar is a brave young knight who sets out from West Scotland to Netherby Hall where the wedding of his beloved Ellen is about to take place. Scott describes him as faithful and daring in love, and fearless in war. Gallant knights like Lochinvar are so unique and so rare.

 

Section B

B1. What question does Ellen’s father raise to Lochinvar and how does he reply?

When Lochinvar boldly enters the Netherby Hall where the wedding of his beloved Ellen takes place, the cowardly bridegroom says nothing. With his hand on his sword, the bride’s father asks him if he has come there in peace or war or to dance at their bridal feast. Lochinvar quietly states he has long wooed Ellen, but since his suit has been denied, his love has died out like the falling tide of Solway. Hence he has come with his lost love to dance but one measure and drink one cup of wine. He even boasts that there are many lovelier maidens in Scotland glad to be his bride. The reply, however, is a deliberate ploy by Lochinvar to trick the bride’s family into believing that he has no hidden motives so that he can abduct her cleverly, without a fight.

B2. Comment on the people’s response to Lochinvar’s presence at Netherby Hall and the lovers’ dance.

When Lochinvar boldly enters the Netherby Hall where the wedding of his beloved Ellen takes place, the cowardly bridegroom says nothing. With his hand on his sword, the bride’s father asks him if he has come there in peace or war or to dance at their bridal feast. As Lochinvar dances with Ellen, the stateliness of his form and the loveliness of her face impress the guests. They feel that the Netherby Hall is lucky to have witnessed such a graceful dance. Meanwhile, Ellen’s mother frets, her father fumes and the bridegroom stands helplessly dangling his bonnet and plume. The bride-maidens whisper that it would have been much better to have matched their Ellen with young Lochinvar.

B3. Describe Lochinvar’s elopement with Ellen and its consequences.

In reply to the question posed to him by Ellen’s father, Lochinvar says that since his suit has been denied, his love has died out like the falling tide of Solway. Hence he has come with his lost love to dance but one measure and drink one cup of wine. This reply tricks the bride’s family into believing that he has no intentions to disrupt the bridal feast. Then during their dance, as Lochinvar and Ellen reach the hall door, he touches her hand and whispers something into her ear. He swings first Ellen and then himself onto his horse back and rides away swiftly, triumphantly exulting “She is won! We are gone”. The Netherby clan mount on their horses and race and chase Lochinvar and Ellen on Cannobie Lee but their efforts go futile. They never manage to see their lost bride again.

B4. Describe the appearance, gestures and attitudes of Lochinvar and Ellen at Netherby Hall.

Lochinvar is described as faithful and daring in love, and fearless in war. Gallant knights like Lochinvar are so unique and so rare. He appears “dauntless”, “bold”, “stately” and “daring”. While he is presented as active and bold, Ellen is portrayed as passive and helpless. She appears weak and malleable. She is described as “fair”, “lovely”, “soft” and “light”. Unlike Lochinvar, she is not proactive or decisive. In Ellen’s presence, Lochinvar insults her saying that there are lovelier maidens in Scotland waiting to be his bride. After drinking from the goblet she kisses for him, he throws it down. However, he reassures her of his love when he takes her soft hand and says they shall dance. During the dance, the stateliness of his form and the loveliness of her face impress the guests. They feel that the Netherby Hall is lucky to have witnessed such a graceful dance. To communicate his plan to elope, he touches her hand and whispers something into her ear. They make good their escape, without caring for the bridegroom, her parents or the guests.

Copyright © Manu Mangattu, Assistant Professor, Department of English, St Goege's College Aruvithura

Provide your Feedback/Suggestion/Requests for notes to manumangattu@gmail.com

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