The Lay of the Last Minstrel "Unwept, Unhonored, And Unsung"

Sir Walter Scott

"Unwept, Unhonored, And Unsung"

Context: When the old minstrel pauses during the telling of his tale of love and war on the English-Scottish border, his hearers, a duchess and her attendant ladies, ask him why he plods around Scotland to sing his songs; his harp would be much more appreciated in the south, in England, and the wealthy English would reward him more highly than the poor Scots are able to. The aged harper, although his harp is dear to him, rather resents the slight of putting his harp music above his poetry. He begins his next canto with what is probably the most famous expression of patriotism in poetry. He asks if there is a man who cannot say to himself that this is his own, his native land, whose heart has not been stimulated by a return home from foreign lands. If such an unenviable creature exists, take note of him, because he is a wretch who will die unwept, unhonored, and unsung. Scott's expression here is reminiscent of Achilles' characterization of the dead Hector (in Alexander Pope's translation of the Iliad); he said that the fallen warrior, lying on the plain, was "unwept, unhonor'd, uninterred."

Breathes there a 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.