‘Lochinvar‘ by Sir Walter Scott is a Romantic literary ballad from Canto 5 of his longer poetic History of Scotland, Marmion, a Tale of Flodden Field, published in 1808.
This poem is a celebration of Medieval chivalric ballads. Still, within the love story between Lochinvar and his beloved, Ellen, Sir Walter Scott offers a unique perspective on tensions between Scotland and England in the 16th century.
Lochinvar Sir Walter ScottO young Lochinvar is come out of the west,Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,He rode all unarm’d, and he rode all alone.So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.He staid not for brake, and he stopp’d not for stone,He swam the Eske river where ford there was none;But ere he alighted at Netherby gate,The bride had consented, the gallant came late:For a laggard in love, and a dastard in war,Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave Lochinvar.So boldly he enter’d the Netherby Hall,Among bride’s-men, and kinsmen, and brothers and all:Then spoke the bride’s father, his hand on his sword,(For the poor craven bridegroom said never a word,)“O come ye in peace here, or come ye in war,Or to dance at our bridal, young Lord Lochinvar?”“I long woo’d your daughter, my suit you denied;—Love swells like the Solway, but ebbs like its tide—And now I am come, with this lost love of mine,To lead but one measure, drink one cup of wine.There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far,That would gladly be bride to the young Lochinvar.”The bride kiss’d the goblet: the knight took it up,He quaff’d off the wine, and he threw down the cup.She look’d down to blush, and she look’d up to sigh,With a smile on her lips and a tear in her eye.He took her soft hand, ere her mother could bar,—“Now tread we a measure!” said young Lochinvar.So stately his form, and so lovely her face,That never a hall such a galliard did grace;While her mother did fret, and her father did fume,And the bridegroom stood dangling his bonnet and plume;And the bride-maidens whisper’d, “’twere better by farTo have match’d our fair cousin with young Lochinvar.”One touch to her hand, and one word in her ear,When they reach’d the hall-door, and the charger stood near;So light to the croupe the fair lady he swung,So light to the saddle before her he sprung!“She is won! we are gone, over bank, bush, and scaur;They’ll have fleet steeds that follow,” quoth young Lochinvar.There was mounting ’mong Graemes of the Netherby clan;Forsters, Fenwicks, and Musgraves, they rode and they ran:There was racing and chasing on Cannobie Lee,But the lost bride of Netherby ne’er did they see.So daring in love, and so dauntless in war,Have ye e’er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?
‘Lochinvar‘ is about a brave and honorable Scottish knight whose beloved, Ellen, has been betrothed to a cowardly and unromantic man. It is told from the third person, and the speaker never identifies themself.
The poem opens in the middle of the action, with the bold knight Lochinvar riding swiftly and courageously across the Scottish border from the west. He travels through rough terrain unphased until he finally makes it to Netherby Hall, where the woman he loves, Ellen, lives.
However, he is late to the party and discovers that Ellen has already agreed to marry an unnamed man.
Lochinvar promptly approaches Ellen’s father, who does not trust Lochinvar. However, Lochinvar promises him that his love for Ellen has subsided, and he has only come for one glass of wine and a dance with the future bride.
Ellen then kisses a cup of wine and hands it to Lochinvar, who drinks it all in one big gulp. Then, he takes Ellen’s hand and dances with her. Ellen’s father grows angry, her mother frets, and her betrothed looks down in disappointment while all her cousins whisper about what a good match Lochinvar is for Ellen.
Meanwhile, as the two dance throughout the hall, they get closer and closer to Lochinvar’s horse. Then, suddenly, Lochinvar tosses Ellen on the saddle, and they ride away.
Ellen’s family searches for her, but they never find her. Presumably, Ellen and Lochinvar have ridden off into the sunset and will live happily ever after.
Structure and Form
Sir Walter Scott uses these rhymes to create three couplets within each stanza. Notably, each stanza ends with “Lochinvar,” creating an echoing effect and constantly refocusing attention on the crux and hero of the poem.
Additionally, the rhyming couplets within each stanza emphasize the theme of love and marriage in ‘Lochinvar,’ as each line has a counterpart.
Each line is written in anapestic tetrameter. The anapests create a three-beat pattern that sounds much like a horse’s gallop or canter, which works well in this poem since Lochinvar is riding his horse swiftly both at the beginning and end of the narrative.
These galloping stanzas run smoothly and quickly, drawing even more attention to Lochinvar’s persistence, boldness, and courage.
One of the most common literary devices in ‘Lochinvar‘ is inversion – or a change in the expected word order in a sentence. For example, line one of stanza two states:
He staid not for brake, and he stopp’d not for stone.
‘Lochinvar‘ also contains many examples of alliteration, such as the “F” and “R” in the line “Forsters, Fenwicks, and Musgraves, they rode and they ran.”
Setting and Historical Context
The poem’s action takes place on the Scottish-English border in the early 1500s. Sir Walter Scott was fascinated with the history of the Scottish-English border and the battles that ensued there due to invading Scottish raiding parties or reivers.
Most of the poem takes place at Ellen’s home, Netherby Hall, a border fortress in Carlisle with a history dating back to the Roman period. The 15th-19th century inhabitants, the Grahams, played a significant part in Scottish-English conflicts.
The area surrounding Netherby Hall is often called the Scottish badlands, a place where border disputes often made legal jurisdictions murky. Thus, the area often attracted raiders, thieves, and criminals seeking an escape from legal issues.
This liminal setting adds context to why Ellen’s father refuses to allow Ellen to marry the poem’s hero. Ellen’s father distrusts the bold and fearless Lochinvar simply because he is a Scot. Lochinvar himself suggests that he cannot marry Ellen because he is Scottish, quoting, “There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far, / That would gladly be bride to the young Lochinvar.”
Locations like “all the wide Border,” “the Eske River where ford there was none,” and “the Solway” give Lochinvar’s travels a dynamic breadth. Still, in reality, our hero is always in the borderlands, somewhere between England and Scotland.
His location also raises several questions that Sir Walter Scott Never addresses. While Lochinvar is the hero of this poem, he is, to put it in modern terms, a bride-snatcher.
Could Lochinvar not be one of the raiders living in the Scottish badlands to escape his past crimes? Would a criminal past make Lochinvar any less heroic or admirable? Or, to echo Sir Walter Scott, “Have ye e’er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?”
O young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;
And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,
He rode all unarm’d, and he rode all alone.
So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,
There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.
Our main character, Lochinvar, is a noble knight traveling along the border between Scotland and England on his trusty steed. Though he is “dauntless in war” and uses a broadsword in battle, he now rides unarmed. Thus, our hero’s current struggle is not in war but in the fight for love.
The first thing to note about this stanza is that it puts the listener right into the middle of the action. Lochinvar is already in his saddle, continually moving across the countryside. From the get-go, Lochinvar is in the spotlight, and it’s clear that his rapid pace is what will drive the poem forward.
The poem’s speaker speaks admiringly of the knight’s devotion to love, bravery in war, and simple lifestyle, indicating that he is much like the good nights of the Arthurian legends. This theme of Arthurian chivalry also explains why the speaker uses the past tense. In effect, the speaker is telling you an old folktale or looking back at a historical event.
Also note the rhyme between “Lochinvar” and “war,” which also occurs in the last two lines of the second, third, and eighth stanzas. These rhymes tie Lochinvar to battle.
He staid not for brake, and he stopp’d not for stone,
He swam the Eske river where ford there was none;
But ere he alighted at Netherby gate,
The bride had consented, the gallant came late:
For a laggard in love, and a dastard in war,
Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave Lochinvar.
In stanza two, Lochinvar travels rapidly now and overcomes every obstacle as he makes his way to Netherby Gate, where his metaphorical battle will take place. However, despite his rapid pace in the first stanza, he is too late. The woman he loves, “fair Ellen,” has already agreed to marry an unnamed man.
In the first two lines, Lochinvar is on the move, but right in the middle of the stanza, he meets a pause. While the Esk river, stones, and hedges are not enough to stop Lochinvar from meeting his goal, Netherby Gate is where he meets his first setback.
In Scott’s clever placement of the words “Netherby Gate” in the middle of the stanza, he creates a contrast between the countryside and the fortified hall. Like most gates, it bars out unwelcome guests but opens for those who are welcome. Following the stanza’s structure, Ellen and her bridegroom are on the other side, barred away from Lochinvar.
Using the fifth line of the second stanza, the poem’s speaker also implies that Ellen’s betrothed is the exact opposite of our hero. Compared to Lochinvar, “So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,” the other man is “… a laggard in love, and a dastard in war,” or a lazy lover and a coward.
So boldly he enter’d the Netherby Hall,
Among bride’s-men, and kinsmen, and brothers and all:
Then spoke the bride’s father, his hand on his sword,
(For the poor craven bridegroom said never a word,)
“O come ye in peace here, or come ye in war,
Or to dance at our bridal, young Lord Lochinvar?”
Lochinvar boldly bursts into Netherby, where he finds all of the men of the hall preparing for a wedding. The bride’s father clutches his sword and asks if Lochinvar came to Netherby to fight, make peace, or dance.
This distrust from Ellen’s father and the terms “kinsmen, and brothers, and all” draw attention to Lochinvar’s foreignness.
However, “the bride’s father” and the “poor craven bridegroom” never get names in this ballad. In contrast, Lochinvar’s name occurs in every stanza. In this, the speaker emphasizes that Lochinvar is the notable hero, while the other men in this story are unremarkable, and presumably, their names were lost to history.
The third line in stanza three, “Then spoke the bride’s father, his hand on his sword,” also refers to the third line in stanza one: “And save his good broadsword he weapons had none.” This reference is evidence that Lochinvar, though he may be a fearless warrior, knows how to pick and choose his battles, unlike the master of the hall. Prepared for such suspicion, our hero came to the hall unarmed.
So, Lochinvar isn’t just heroic, brave, and “dauntless in war,” but he is also an intelligent strategist.
“I long woo’d your daughter, my suit you denied;—
Love swells like the Solway, but ebbs like its tide—
And now I am come, with this lost love of mine,
To lead but one measure, drink one cup of wine.
There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far,
That would gladly be bride to the young Lochinvar.”
Stanza four contains Lochinvar’s response to Ellen’s father. The knight begins with a slow and calculated answer, as noted in the long dashes at the end of lines one and two. This is peculiar for the poem, which has been racing along at full speed until now. However, the slowness and deliberateness emphasize how intelligent and thoughtful Lochinvar is.
Lochinvar tells Ellen’s father that his love for Ellen has receded, comparing it to the ebbing tide of the Solway Firth in a simile. He states that he has only come to Netherby hall for a glass of wine and a “measure,” or a dance.
He then states that back home in Scotland, there are even prettier girls than Ellen lining up to marry him.
However, as the speaker stated at the beginning of the poem, Lochinvar is ” faithful in love,” which puts his speech in stanza four at odds with the rest of the poem. With this speech, then, Lochinvar is merely twisting the truth to appease the bride’s father.
The bride kiss’d the goblet: the knight took it up,
He quaff’d off the wine, and he threw down the cup.
She look’d down to blush, and she look’d up to sigh,
With a smile on her lips and a tear in her eye.
He took her soft hand, ere her mother could bar,—
“Now tread we a measure!” said young Lochinvar.
Ellen kisses a glass of wine, then Lochinvar drinks it rapidly, tossing the cup to the ground.
The speaker describes Ellen’s reaction as she blushes, sighs, smiles, and tears up as she looks at Lochinvar after hearing his speech. With these actions, the speaker reveals that Ellen is happy to see Lochinvar but sad that she cannot be with him. However, she looks down to blush, concealing her affection for him. This is a clue that Ellen doesn’t want to marry the cowardly bridegroom.
Still, these emotional reactions paint Ellen as a stereotypical, soft, gentle, “fair lady” of medieval ballads. Her soft hands also emphasize that she is of high status.
Additionally, Ellen is the passive counterpart to the ever-active, loud Lochinvar. She never says a single word in this poem; instead, everything she does is done to her, as in “he took her soft hand, ere her mother could bar.”
After her soft, shy, and passive reactions, Lochinvar exclaims, “Now tread we a measure,” AKA: “Let’s dance!”
Note that Lochinvar drinks the wine that Ellen first kisses, tosses down the cup, then takes her hand. While this is not a legal marriage, Ellen and Lochinvar walk through many steps of the vow-exchanging ritual here in a split second, rushing through each step before anyone else can figure out what’s going on.
Quickly, they spin around for the first dance.
So stately his form, and so lovely her face,
That never a hall such a galliard did grace;
While her mother did fret, and her father did fume,
And the bridegroom stood dangling his bonnet and plume;
And the bride-maidens whisper’d, “’twere better by far
To have match’d our fair cousin with young Lochinvar.”
The handsome Lochinvar and beautiful Ellen dance the galliard, a popular dance of the 16th century.
This pre-choreographed dance consists of many jumps, called cadences, performed in a repeating sequence with first the left and then the right foot. Lifts and spins are also some of the primary steps of this dance. The galliard fits nicely into the meter of “Lochinvar,” with the cadence falling between the metrical feet of each line.
This dance is also perfect for Lochinvar since it is energetic and active, just like him.
As Ellen and Lochinvar leap and dance, Ellen’s mother “frets,” and her father “fume[s]” in anger, an excellent example of alliteration. Meanwhile, all the ladies whisper about how Lochinvar would have been a better husband for Ellen.
The man Ellen is supposed to marry holds his head down passively, showing his bonnet and plume or his woolen hat and its feather. Again, here, he is a coward who does not go after what he wants in life. Even the bride-maidens are more outspoken than he is.
One touch to her hand, and one word in her ear,
When they reach’d the hall-door, and the charger stood near;
So light to the croupe the fair lady he swung,
So light to the saddle before her he sprung!
“She is won! we are gone, over bank, bush, and scaur;
They’ll have fleet steeds that follow,” quoth young Lochinvar.
In stanza seven, Lochinvar and Ellen finally reach the apex of their galliard, called the volta, where the man lifts the woman and spins her around 270 degrees. Fittingly, the volta, or turn of the poem, takes place in stanza seven.
Lochinvar and Ellen dance closer and closer to Lochinvar’s horse, standing nearby, as the brave knight whispers one single word in Ellen’s ear.
Clearly, all it took for Ellen to jump on board with his plan was a little tap and one word since suddenly he sweeps her up from the dance floor. He then tosses her on his horses’ hindquarters, exclaiming, “She is won!”
This grand, sweeping lift over the threshold also implies interesting things about marriage. Like a husband carrying his wife over the threshold, Lochinvar tosses Ellen out the door and up onto his horse in a rushed marriage rite.
He then explains that they must hurry to escape, and they take off.
There was mounting ’mong Graemes of the Netherby clan;
Forsters, Fenwicks, and Musgraves, they rode and they ran:
There was racing and chasing on Cannobie Lee,
But the lost bride of Netherby ne’er did they see.
So daring in love, and so dauntless in war,
Have ye e’er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?
All of the relatives of the Netherbys and the bridegroom jump on horseback to chase Ellen and Lochinvar into Scotland through Cannonbie Lee, better known as Canonbie Lee today, bordered by the river Esk mentioned in stanza two. Thus, the poem has come full circle, and Lochinvar and Ellen have made their way into Scotland.
Presumably, these relatives search for the couple out of anger, feeling slighted by Lochinvar.
However, no matter how hard they searched, no one ever found “the lost bride of Netherby.”
In the poem’s final lines, the speaker concludes the narrative with an apostrophe for the listener: “Have ye e’er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?” This reminds listeners that the poem is a folk tale, sung for an audience.
The name Lochinvar means “lake on the top of the hill” in Scots-Gaelic. Lochinvar, or Loch Var, is a real place in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, near the border between Scotland and England. Sir Walter Scott likely used this name to tie his hero, Lochinvar, to the Scottish side of the Scottish-English border.
Lochinvar’s main goal in the poem is to regain Ellen, a woman he once courted, before she marries another man. Lochinvar used a clever trick to steal Ellen away from her home in England. The two ride away at the poem’s end, and Ellen’s family never sees her again.
‘Lochinvar‘ is a narrative poem about a young knight named Lochinvar, who goes to England to regain his lost love, Ellen. This ballad, published in 1808, mimics medieval ballads about knights, courtly love, and heroes.
‘Lochinvar‘ by Sir Walter Scott is written in the past tense, using verbs such as “did,” “swam,” and “spoke.” The use of the past tense places Lochinvar’s narrative in history, which fits well within the context of Sir Walter Scott’s historic Marmion. In the Marmion, Lochinvar is a song that a woman sings in the court of King James IV of Scotland before the Battle of Flodden, which took place in 1513.
If you enjoyed reading Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott, you might also like:
- ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ by John Keats – one of the most famous examples of a ballad that explores the themes of chivalry and love.
- ‘Auld Lang Syne‘ by Robert Burns – a classic and sentimental ballad from Scotland’s national poet.
- ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Tennyson is an inspiring poem about bravery in facing challenges.