Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/The March of Arthur

2687092Once a Week, Series 1, Volume VIII — The March of Arthur
1863Tom Taylor


M. de Villemarqué, to whom we owe the Breton original of “The March of Arthur,” which he obtained from the recitation of an old mountaineer of Leuhan, called Mikel Floih, informs us that these triplets were sung in chorus, as late as the Chouan war, by the Breton peasants, as they marched to battle against the Republican soldiers. The belief in the appearance of Arthur’s host on the mountains, headed by their mystic chief,—who awakens from his charmed sleep in the Valley of Avillion whenever war impends over his beloved Cymry,—is common to all the Celtic races. Sir Walter Scott has recorded the belief entertained in the Highlands of the apparition of mounted warriors riding along the precipitous flanks of the mountains, where no living horse could keep his footing. The apparition of this ghostly troop is always held to portend war; and it is no doubt the same which the Celtic bard has here described as arrayed under Arthur. The ancient air to which the triplets are sung (and of which I have appended the musical notes) is a wild and warlike march; and the peasant who chanted it to De Villemarqué told him it was always sung three times over. The composition is an ancient one, and contains many words now obsolete in Brittany, though still found in the Cymric of Wales. The last triplet is a late addition.

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Tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp to battle din!
Tramp son, tramp sire, tramp kith and kin!
Tramp one, tramp all, have hearts within.

The chieftain’s son his sire addrest,
As morn awoke the world from rest:
Lo! warriors on yon mountain crest—

Lo! warriors armed, their course that hold
On grey war-horses riding bold,
With nostrils snorting wide for cold!

Rank closing up on rank I see,
Six by six, and three by three,
Spear-points by thousands glinting free.

Now rank on rank, twos front they go,
Behind a flag which to and fro
Sways, as the winds of death do blow!

Nine sling-casts’ length from van to rear—
I know ’tis Arthur's hosts appear;—
There Arthur strides—that foremost peer!”

If it be Arthur—Ho! what, ho!
Up spear! out arrow! Bend the bow!
Forth, after Arthur, on the foe!”

Breton Peasants singing “The March of Arthur” (see p. 433).

The chieftain’s words were hardly spoke,
When forth the cry of battle broke—
From end to end the hills it woke:

Be’t head for hand, and heart for eye,
Death-wound for scratch—a-low, on high,—
Matron for maid, and man for boy!

Stone-horse for mare, for heifers steers,
War-chief for warrior, youth for years,
And fire for sweat, and blood for tears.

And three for one—by strath and scaur,
By day, by night, till near and far
The streams run red with waves of war!

If in the fight we fall, so best!
Bathed in our blood—a baptism blest—
With joyous hearts we’ll take our rest.

If we but fall where we have fought,
As Christian men and Bretons ought,
Such death is ne’er too early sought.”

Tom Taylor.