Context: The last of the border minstrels, feeble and old, is entertained by a duchess who, with her attendant ladies, listens to his story. He tells of the activities that center on Branksome Hall, a castle on the Scottish side of the English-Scottish border. An English force of three thousand men marches on Branksome Hall to demand the surrender of William Deloraine, who has foully ravaged English soil. In the English army is the young heir of Branksome Hall; he had been kidnaped from his own estate and carried to the south. The English say that if Deloraine is not surrendered to them, the boy will be sent to London to be employed as a page to the king. At this point, news of the approach of a large Scottish army is announced to the English, who agree to a fight at single combat between Deloraine and Musgrave, whom he had wronged. If Deloraine wins, the heir will be freed; if Musgrave has the victory, the lad goes to London. At this point the minstrel breaks off the story to rest. The listening ladies all applaud the old man's performance. He smiles at the reception given his tale, as poets are a simple race who waste their toil for the slight reward of a smile.
The harper smiled, well pleased; for ne'er
Was flattery lost on poet's ear.
A simple race! they waste their toil
For the vain tribute of a smile;
E'en when in age their flame expires,
Her dulcet breath can fan its fires:
Their drooping fancy wakes at praise,
And strives to trim the short-lived blaze.