Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland (from 1306 to 1329) is one of Scotland’s greatest kings and most famous warriors of his generation. He led the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, winning independence from the English. There are several poems which retell the legend of how he was defeated in battle several times and retreated to a cave in despondency. Resting there he became inspired to fight again after watching a spider try again and again to spin its web. We have included a modern version and older one below.
From To Read & to Tell, edited by Norah Montgomery, Arco Publishing Co., Inc. New York, 1964
When Bruce, King of Scotland, was getting the worst
Of the war he was waging with Edward the First;
When most of his friends had been captured or slain,
And the sky of Scotland looked very like rain;
When he spent his days hiding in bushes and trees,
Getting thorns in his fingers and cuts on his knees,
And when nothing could lighten the gloom he was feeling –
He lay in a cave and looked at the ceiling.
He stared at the ceiling with thoughts that were black,
Till a spidery spider came out of a crack,
A spidery spider all bulging with thread,
Which she started to spin on the beam overhead.
She spun the web once, but the spider-thread broke;
She spun the thread twice – Bruce’s interest awoke;
She spun the web three times with pluck unavailing;
She spun the thread four times but still went on failing.
She spun the web five times – “My goodness!” cried Bruce,
“Yon spidery spider must see it’s no use!
O Spidery, spider, it’s plan as a pike
We two are as like as two peas are alike!”
She spun the web six times – “How now!” cried the Scot,
“Don’t you know when you’re beaten?” The spider did not.
But calmly proceeded, as patient as ever,
To start on an obstinate seventh endeavor.
She hung and she swung and she swayed in the air,
While Bruce for the Spider could not help but stare –
Then he whooped with delight and he sprang to his feet,
For from one beam to another the web hung complete!
With hope he was filled and with courage he burned.
“O spider!” he said, “What a lesson I’ve learned!
Dear Scotland! Of English invaders I’ll rid it!”
Then Bruce sallied forth and at Bannockburn did it.
By Bernard Barton (1784-1849)
FOR Scotland’s and for freedom’s right
The Bruce his part has played
In five successive fields of fight
Been conquered and dismayed:
Once more against the English host
His band he led, and once more lost
The meed for which he fought;
And now from battle, faint and worn,
The homeless fugitive, forlorn,
A hut’s lone shelter sought.
And cheerless was that resting-place
For him who claimed a throne;–
His canopy, devoid of grace,
The rude, rough beams alone;
The heather couch his only bed–
Yet well I ween had slumber fled
From couch of eider down!
Through darksome night till dawn of day,
Absorbed in wakeful thought he lay
Of Scotland and her crown.
The sun rose brightly, and its gleam
Fell on that hapless bed,
And tinged with light each shapeless beam
Which roofed the lowly shed;
When, looking up with wistful eye,
The Bruce beheld a spider try
His filmy thread to fling
From beam to beam of that rude cot–
And well the insect’s toilsome lot
Taught Scotland’s future king.
Six times the gossamery thread
The wary spider threw;–
In vain the filmy line was sped,
For powerless or untrue
Each aim appeared, and back recoiled
The patient insect, six times foiled,
And yet unconquered still;
And soon the Bruce, with eager eye,
Saw him prepare once more to try
His courage, strength, and skill.
One effort more, his seventh and last!–
The hero hailed the sign!–
And on the wished-for beam hung fast
That slender silken line!
Slight as it was, his spirit caught
The more than omen; for his thought
The lesson well could trace,
Which even “he who runs may read,”
That Perseverance gains its meed,
And Patience wins the race.