The Last Sabbath

in Strathnaver Before the Burnings

'Twas not the beacon light of war,                       
  Nor yet the "slogan" cry,                              
That chilled each heart, and blanched each cheek,        
  In the country of Mackay,                              
And made them march with weary feet,                     
  As men condemned to die.                               
Ah! had it been their country's foe                      
  That they were called to brave,                        
How loudly would the piobrachd sound,                    
  How proud their "bratach" wave;                        
How joyfully each man would march,                       
  Tho' marching to his grave.                            
No! 'Twas a cruel, sad behest,                           
  An alien chief's command,                              
Depriving them of house and home,                        
  Their country and their land;                          
Dealing a death-blow at their hearts,                    
  Binding the "strong right hand".                       
Slowly and sadly, down the glen                          
  They took their weary way,                             
The sun was shining overhead                             
  Upon that sweet spring day,                            
And earth was throbbing with the life                    
  Of the great glad month of May.                        

The deer were browsing on the hills,                     
  And looked with wondering eye;                         
The birds were singing their songs of praise,            
  The smoke curled to the sky,                           
And the river added its gentle voice                     
  To nature's melody.                                    
No human voice disturbed the calm,                       
  No answering smile was there,                          
For men and women walked along,                          
  Mute pictures of despair;                              
This was the last sad Sabbath they                       
  Would join in praise and prayer.                       
And men were there whose brows still bore                
  The trace of many scars,                               
Who oft their vigils kept with death                     
  Beneath the midnight stars,                            
Where'er their country needed men,                       
  Brave men to fight her wars.                           
And grey-haired women tall and strong,                   
  Erect and full of grace,                               
Meet mothers of a noble clan,                            
  A brave and stalwart race,                             
And many a maiden young and fair,                        
  With pallid, tear-stained face.                        
They met upon the river's brink,                         
  By the church so old and grey,                         
They could not sit within its walls                      
  Upon this sunny day;                                   
The Heavens above would be their dome,                   
  And hear what they would say.                          

The preacher stood upon a bank,                          
  His face was pale and thin,                            
And, as he looked upon his flock,                        
  His eyes with tears were dim,                          
And they awhile forgot their grief,                      
  And fondly looked at him.                              

His text: "Be faithful unto death,                
  And I will give to thee                         
A crown of life that will endure                  
  To all eternity."                               
And he pleaded God's dear promises,               
  So rich, so full, so free;                      
Then said "Ah friends, an evil day                
  Has come upon our Glen,                         
Now sheep and deer are held of more               
  Account than living men;                        
It is a lawless law that yet                      
  All nations will condemn.                       
"I would not be a belted knight,                  
  Nor yet a wealthy lord,                         
Nor would I, for a coronet,                       
  Have said the fatal word                        
That made a devastation worse                     
  Than famine, fire, or sword.                    
"The path before each one of us                   
  Is long, and dark, and steep;                   
I go away a shepherd lone,                        
  Without a flock to keep,                        
And ye without a shepherd go,                     
  My well beloved sheep.                          

"But God our Father will not part                 
  With one of us, I know,                         
Though in the cold wide world our feet            
  May wander to and fro;                          
If we like children cling to Him,                 
  With us He'll ever go.                          
"Farewell my people, fare ye well,                
  We part to meet no more,                        
Until we meet before the throne,                  
  On God's eternal shore,                         
Where parting will not break the heart.           
  Farewell for ever more."                        
He sat upon the low green turf,                   
  His head with sorrow bowed;                     
Men sobbed upon their father's graves,            
  And women wept aloud,                           
And there was not a tearless eye                  
  In that heart-stricken crowd.                   
The tune of "Martyrdom" was sung                  
  By lips with anguish pale,                      
And as it rose upon the breeze                    
  It swelled into a wail,                         
And, like a weird death coronach,                 
  It sounded in the vale:                         
"Beannaicht' gu robh gu siorruidh buan            
  Ainm glormhor uasal fein                        
Lionadh a ghloir gach uile thir                   
  Amen agus Amen."                                
And echo lingering on the hills                   
  Gave back the sad refrain.                      

Methinks there never yet was heard                
  Such a pathetic cry                             
As rose from that dear, hallowed spot             
  Unto the deep blue sky,                         
'Twas the death wail of a broken clan -           
  The noble clan Mackay.                          

And ere another Sabbath came,
  The people were no more
Within their glens, but they were strewn
  Like wreck upon the shore,
And the smoke of each burning home ascends
  To Heaven for ever more.
The text given, Psalm sung, are all as it happened.
In a short time after a crow built her nest in the deserted church.

- Annie MacKay, Scotland: 1883

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