This poem is a part of the long narrative poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, written in 1805. This poem was a best-seller for its time, reflecting different literary tastes in an era when book-length poetry, which could be read aloud among family and friends during long winter evenings, was far more popular than it is today.
The poem centers on the theme of nationalism. If the Romantic poet William Wordsworth was concentrating on elevating and making sympathetic the English common farmer or laborer, Scott's project was to make the Scot alluring and sympathetic. Up until his era, Scotland and the Scottish were largely considered barbaric. Scott almost single-handedly set the cult of venerating Scotland on fire.
In this poem's first stanza, the hard-hearted love of his homeland condemns a selfish wealthy man, despite all his power, titles, and pride, to ultimate dishonor. This man, the speaker says, is a "wretch:"
concentred all in self, [and]
Living, shall forfeit fair renown
He will die
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.
In the second stanza, this wealthy aristocrat is contrasted to the picture painted of a simple man who loves his country. The voice shifts to first person, as the speaker, full of appreciation and an overflow of emotion towards his native land, says
what mortal hand
Can e’er untie the filial band,
That knits me to thy rugged strand!
He states that he "loves" his native Scotland with its rugged heath, mountains, and "shaggy woods." He recognizes it as in his blood, the land of his forebears.
This poem clearly favors nationalism—love of homeland and ancestry—over a focus on self.