The Field of Waterloo
I. Fair Brussels, thou art far behind, Though, lingering on the morning wind, We yet may hear the hour Pealed over orchard and canal, With voice prolonged and measured fall, From proud St. Michael's tower; Thy wood, dark Soignies, holds us now, Where the tall beeches' glossy bough For many a league around, With birch and darksome oak between, Spreads deep and far a pathless screen, Of tangled forest ground. Stems planted close by stems defy The adventurous foot-the curious eye For access seeks in vain; And the brown tapestry of leaves, Strewed on the blighted ground, receives Nor sun, nor air, nor rain. No opening glade dawns on our way, No streamlet, glancing to the ray, Our woodland path has crossed; And the straight causeway which we tread Prolongs a line of dull arcade, Unvarying through the unvaried shade Until in distance lost. II. A brighter, livelier scene succeeds; In groups the scattering wood recedes, Hedge-rows, and huts, and sunny meads, And corn-fields glance between; The peasant, at his labour blithe, Plies the hooked staff and shortened scythe:- But when these ears were green, Placed close within destruction's scope, Full little was that rustic's hope Their ripening to have seen! And, lo, a hamlet and its fane:- Let not the gazer with disdain Their architecture view; For yonder rude ungraceful shrine, And disproportioned spire, are thine, Immortal WATERLOO! III. Fear not the heat, though full and high The sun has scorched the autumn sky, And scarce a forest straggler now To shade us spreads a greenwood bough; These fields have seen a hotter day Than e'er was fired by sunny ray, Yet one mile on-yon shattered hedge Crests the soft hill whose long smooth ridge Looks on the field below, And sinks so gently on the dale That not the folds of Beauty's veil In easier curves can flow. Brief space from thence, the ground again Ascending slowly from the plain Forms an opposing screen, Which, with its crest of upland ground, Shuts the horizon all around. The softened vale between Slopes smooth and fair for courser's tread; Not the most timid maid need dread To give her snow-white palfrey head On that wide stubble-ground; Nor wood, nor tree, nor bush are there, Her course to intercept or scare, Nor fosse nor fence are found, Save where, from out her shattered bowers, Rise Hougomont's dismantled towers. IV. Now, see'st thou aught in this lone scene Can tell of that which late hath been? - A stranger might reply, 'The bare extent of stubble-plain Seems lately lightened of its grain; And yonder sable tracks remain Marks of the peasant's ponderous wain, When harvest-home was nigh. On these broad spots of trampled ground, Perchance the rustics danced such round As Teniers loved to draw; And where the earth seems scorched by flame, To dress the homely feast they came, And toiled the kerchiefed village dame Around her fire of straw.' V. So deem'st thou-so each mortal deems, Of that which is from that which seems:- But other harvest here Than that which peasant's scythe demands, Was gathered in by sterner hands, With bayonet, blade, and spear. No vulgar crop was theirs to reap, No stinted harvest thin and cheap! Heroes before each fatal sweep Fell thick as ripened grain; And ere the darkening of the day, Piled high as autumn shocks, there lay The ghastly harvest of the fray, The corpses of the slain. VI. Ay, look again-that line, so black And trampled, marks the bivouac, Yon deep-graved ruts the artillery's track, So often lost and won; And close beside, the hardened mud Still shows where, fetlock-deep in blood, The fierce dragoon, through battle's flood, Dashed the hot war-horse on. These spots of excavation tell The ravage of the bursting shell - And feel'st thou not the tainted steam, That reeks against the sultry beam, From yonder trenched mound? The pestilential fumes declare That Carnage has replenished there Her garner-house profound. VII. Far other harvest-home and feast, Than claims the boor from scythe released, On these scorched fields were known! Death hovered o'er the maddening rout, And, in the thrilling battle-shout, Sent for the bloody banquet out A summons of his own. Through rolling smoke the Demon's eye Could well each destined guest espy, Well could his ear in ecstasy Distinguish every tone That filled the chorus of the fray - From cannon-roar and trumpet-bray, From charging squadrons' wild hurra, From the wild clang that marked their way, - Down to the dying groan, And the last sob of life's decay, When breath was all but flown. VIII. Feast on, stern foe of mortal life, Feast on!-but think not that a strife, With such promiscuous carnage rife, Protracted space may last; The deadly tug of war at length Must limits find in human strength, And cease when these are past. Vain hope!-that morn's o'erclouded sun Heard the wild shout of fight begun Ere he attained his height, And through the war-smoke, volumed high, Still peals that unremitted cry, Though now he stoops to night. For ten long hours of doubt and dread, Fresh succours from the extended head Of either hill the contest fed; Still down the slope they drew, The charge of columns paused not, Nor ceased the storm of shell and shot; For all that war could do Of skill and force was proved that day, And turned not yet the doubtful fray On bloody Waterloo. IX. Pale Brussels! then what thoughts were thine, When ceaseless from the distant line Continued thunders came! Each burgher held his breath, to hear These forerunners of havoc near, Of rapine and of flame. What ghastly sights were thine to meet, When rolling through thy stately street, The wounded showed their mangled plight In token of the unfinished fight, And from each anguish-laden wain The blood-drops laid thy dust like rain! How often in the distant drum Heard'st thou the fell Invader come, While Ruin, shouting to his band, Shook high her torch and gory brand! - Cheer thee, fair City! From yon stand, Impatient, still his outstretched hand Points to his prey in vain, While maddening in his eager mood, And all unwont to be withstood, He fires the fight again. X. 'On! On!' was still his stern exclaim; 'Confront the battery's jaws of flame! Rush on the levelled gun! My steel-clad cuirassiers, advance! Each Hulan forward with his lance, My Guard-my Chosen-charge for France, France and Napoleon!' Loud answered their acclaiming shout, Greeting the mandate which sent out Their bravest and their best to dare The fate their leader shunned to share. But HE, his country's sword and shield, Still in the battle-front revealed, Where danger fiercest swept the field, Came like a beam of light, In action prompt, in sentence brief - 'Soldiers, stand firm!' exclaimed the Chief, 'England shall tell the fight!' XI. On came the whirlwind-like the last But fiercest sweep of tempest-blast - On came the whirlwind-steel-gleams broke Like lightning through the rolling smoke; The war was waked anew, Three hundred cannon-mouths roared loud, And from their throats, with flash and cloud, Their showers of iron threw. Beneath their fire, in full career, Rushed on the ponderous cuirassier, The lancer couched his ruthless spear, And hurrying as to havoc near, The cohorts' eagles flew. In one dark torrent, broad and strong, The advancing onset rolled along, Forth harbingered by fierce acclaim, That, from the shroud of smoke and flame, Pealed wildly the imperial name. XII. But on the British heart were lost The terrors of the charging host; For not an eye the storm that viewed Changed its proud glance of fortitude, Nor was one forward footstep stayed, As dropped the dying and the dead. Fast as their ranks the thunders tear, Fast they renewed each serried square; And on the wounded and the slain Closed their diminished files again, Till from their line scarce spears'-lengths three, Emerging from the smoke they see Helmet, and plume, and panoply, - Then waked their fire at once! Each musketeer's revolving knell, As fast, as regularly fell, As when they practise to display Their discipline on festal day. Then down went helm and lance, Down were the eagle banners sent, Down reeling steeds and riders went, Corslets were pierced, and pennons rent; And, to augment the fray, Wheeled full against their staggering flanks, The English horsemen's foaming ranks Forced their resistless way. Then to the musket-knell succeeds The clash of swords-the neigh of steeds - As plies the smith his clanging trade, Against the cuirass rang the blade; And while amid their close array The well-served cannon rent their way, And while amid their scattered band Raged the fierce rider's bloody brand, Recoiled in common rout and fear, Lancer and guard and cuirassier, Horsemen and foot,-a mingled host Their leaders fall'n, their standards lost. XIII. Then, WELLINGTON! thy piercing eye This crisis caught of destiny - The British host had stood That morn 'gainst charge of sword and lance As their own ocean-rocks hold stance, But when thy voice had said, 'Advance!' They were their ocean's flood. - O Thou, whose inauspicious aim Hath wrought thy host this hour of shame, Think'st thou thy broken bands will bide The terrors of yon rushing tide? Or will thy chosen brook to feel The British shock of levelled steel, Or dost thou turn thine eye Where coming squadrons gleam afar, And fresher thunders wake the war, And other standards fly? - Think not that in yon columns, file Thy conquering troops from distant Dyle - Is Blucher yet unknown? Or dwells not in thy memory still (Heard frequent in thine hour of ill), What notes of hate and vengeance thrill In Prussia's trumpet-tone? - What yet remains?-shall it be thine To head the relics of thy line In one dread effort more? - The Roman lore thy leisure loved, And than canst tell what fortune proved That Chieftain, who, of yore, Ambition's dizzy paths essayed And with the gladiators' aid For empire enterprised - He stood the cast his rashness played, Left not the victims he had made, Dug his red grave with his own blade, And on the field he lost was laid, Abhorred-but not despised. XIV. But if revolves thy fainter thought On safety-howsoever bought, - Then turn thy fearful rein and ride, Though twice ten thousand men have died On this eventful day To gild the military fame Which thou, for life, in traffic tame Wilt barter thus away. Shall future ages tell this tale Of inconsistence faint and frail? And art thou He of Lodi's bridge, Marengo's field, and Wagram's ridge! Or is thy soul like mountain-tide, That, swelled by winter storm and shower, Rolls down in turbulence of power, A torrent fierce and wide; Reft of these aids, a rill obscure, Shrinking unnoticed, mean and poor, Whose channel shows displayed The wrecks of its impetuous course, But not one symptom of the force By which these wrecks were made! XV. Spur on thy way!-since now thine ear Has brooked thy veterans' wish to hear, Who, as thy flight they eyed Exclaimed,-while tears of anguish came, Wrung forth by pride, and rage, and shame, 'O that he had but died!' But yet, to sum this hour of ill, Look, ere thou leav'st the fatal hill, Back on yon broken ranks - Upon whose wild confusion gleams The moon, as on the troubled streams When rivers break their banks, And, to the ruined peasant's eye, Objects half seen roll swiftly by, Down the dread current hurled - So mingle banner, wain, and gun, Where the tumultuous flight rolls on Of warriors, who, when morn begun, Defied a banded world. XVI. List-frequent to the hurrying rout, The stern pursuers' vengeful shout Tells, that upon their broken rear Rages the Prussian's bloody spear. So fell a shriek was none, When Beresina's icy flood Reddened and thawed with flame and blood, And, pressing on thy desperate way, Raised oft and long their wild hurra, The children of the Don. Thine ear no yell of horror cleft So ominous, when, all bereft Of aid, the valiant Polack left - Ay, left by thee-found soldiers grave In Leipsic's corpse-encumbered wave. Fate, in those various perils past, Reserved thee still some future cast; On the dread die thou now hast thrown Hangs not a single field alone, Nor one campaign-thy martial fame, Thy empire, dynasty, and name Have felt the final stroke; And now, o'er thy devoted head The last stern vial's wrath is shed, The last dread seal is broke. XVII. Since live thou wilt-refuse not now Before these demagogues to bow, Late objects of thy scorn and hate, Who shall thy once imperial fate Make wordy theme of vain debate. - Or shall we say, thou stoop'st less low In seeking refuge from the foe, Against whose heart, in prosperous life, Thine hand hath ever held the knife? Such homage hath been paid By Roman and by Grecian voice, And there were honour in the choice, If it were freely made. Then safely come-in one so low, - So lost,-we cannot own a foe; Though dear experience bid us end, In thee we ne'er can hail a friend. - Come, howsoe'er-but do not hide Close in thy heart that germ of pride, Erewhile, by gifted bard espied, That 'yet imperial hope;' Think not that for a fresh rebound, To raise ambition from the ground, We yield thee means or scope. In safety come-but ne'er again Hold type of independent reign; No islet calls thee lord, We leave thee no confederate band, No symbol of thy lost command, To be a dagger in the hand From which we wrenched the sword. XVIII. Yet, even in yon sequestered spot, May worthier conquest be thy lot Than yet thy life has known; Conquest, unbought by blood or harm, That needs nor foreign aid nor arm, A triumph all thine own. Such waits thee when thou shalt control Those passions wild, that stubborn soul, That marred thy prosperous scene:- Hear this-from no unmoved heart, Which sighs, comparing what THOU ART With what thou MIGHT'ST HAVE BEEN! XIX. Thou, too, whose deeds of fame renewed Bankrupt a nation's gratitude, To thine own noble heart must owe More than the meed she can bestow. For not a people's just acclaim, Not the full hail of Europe's fame, Thy Prince's smiles, the State's decree, The ducal rank, the gartered knee, Not these such pure delight afford As that, when hanging up thy sword, Well may'st thou think, 'This honest steel Was ever drawn for public weal; And, such was rightful Heaven's decree, Ne'er sheathed unless with victory!' XX. Look forth, once more, with softened heart, Ere from the field of fame we part; Triumph and Sorrow border near, And joy oft melts into a tear. Alas! what links of love that morn Has War's rude hand asunder torn! For ne'er was field so sternly fought, And ne'er was conquest dearer bought, Here piled in common slaughter sleep Those whom affection long shall weep Here rests the sire, that ne'er shall strain His orphans to his heart again; The son, whom, on his native shore, The parent's voice shall bless no more; The bridegroom, who has hardly pressed His blushing consort to his breast; The husband, whom through many a year Long love and mutual faith endear. Thou canst not name one tender tie, But here dissolved its relics lie! Oh! when thou see'st some mourner's veil Shroud her thin form and visage pale, Or mark'st the Matron's bursting tears Stream when the stricken drum she hears; Or see'st how manlier grief, suppressed, Is labouring in a father's breast, - With no inquiry vain pursue The cause, but think on Waterloo! XXI. Period of honour as of woes, What bright careers 'twas thine to close! - Marked on thy roll of blood what names To Britain's memory, and to Fame's, Laid there their last immortal claims! Thou saw'st in seas of gore expire Redoubted PICTON'S soul of fire - Saw'st in the mingled carnage lie All that of PONSONBY could die - DE LANCEY change Love's bridal-wreath For laurels from the hand of Death - Saw'st gallant MILLER'S failing eye Still bent where Albion's banners fly, And CAMERON, in the shock of steel, Die like the offspring of Lochiel; And generous GORDON, 'mid the strife, Fall while he watched his leader's life. - Ah! though her guardian angel's shield Fenced Britain's hero through the field. Fate not the less her power made known, Through his friends' hearts to pierce his own! XXII. Forgive, brave Dead, the imperfect lay! Who may your names, your numbers, say? What high-strung harp, what lofty line, To each the dear-earned praise assign, From high-born chiefs of martial fame To the poor soldier's lowlier name? Lightly ye rose that dawning day, From your cold couch of swamp and clay, To fill, before the sun was low, The bed that morning cannot know. - Oft may the tear the green sod steep, And sacred be the heroes' sleep, Till time shall cease to run; And ne'er beside their noble grave, May Briton pass and fail to crave A blessing on the fallen brave Who fought with Wellington! XXIII. Farewell, sad Field! whose blighted face Wears desolation's withering trace; Long shall my memory retain Thy shattered huts and trampled grain, With every mark of martial wrong, That scathe thy towers, fair Hougomont! Yet though thy garden's green arcade The marksman's fatal post was made, Though on thy shattered beeches fell The blended rage of shot and shell, Though from thy blackened portals torn, Their fall thy blighted fruit-trees mourn, Has not such havoc bought a name Immortal in the rolls of fame? Yes-Agincourt may be forgot, And Cressy be an unknown spot, And Blenheim's name be new; But still in story and in song, For many an age remembered long, Shall live the towers of Hougomont And Field of Waterloo! Conclusion Stern tide of human Time! that know'st not rest, But, sweeping from the cradle to the tomb, Bear'st ever downward on thy dusky breast Successive generations to their doom; While thy capacious stream has equal room For the gay bark where Pleasure's steamers sport, And for the prison-ship of guilt and gloom, The fisher-skiff, and barge that bears a court, Still wafting onward all to one dark silent port;- Stern tide of Time! through what mysterious change Of hope and fear have our frail barks been driven! For ne'er, before, vicissitude so strange Was to one race of Adam's offspring given. And sure such varied change of sea and heaven, Such unexpected bursts of joy and woe, Such fearful strife as that where we have striven, Succeeding ages ne'er again shall know, Until the awful term when Thou shalt cease to flow. Well hast thou stood, my Country!-the brave fight Hast well maintained through good report and ill; In thy just cause and in thy native might, And in Heaven's grace and justice constant still; Whether the banded prowess, strength, and skill Of half the world against thee stood arrayed, Or when, with better views and freer will, Beside thee Europe's noblest drew the blade, Each emulous in arms the Ocean Queen to aid. Well art thou now repaid-though slowly rose, And struggled long with mists thy blaze of fame, While like the dawn that in the orient glows On the broad wave its earlier lustre came; Then eastern Egypt saw the growing flame, And Maida's myrtles gleamed beneath its ray, Where first the soldier, stung with generous shame, Rivalled the heroes of the watery way, And washed in foemen's gore unjust reproach away. Now, Island Empress, wave thy crest on high, And bid the banner of thy Patron flow, Gallant Saint George, the flower of Chivalry, For thou halt faced, like him, a dragon foe, And rescued innocence from overthrow, And trampled down, like him, tyrannic might, And to the gazing world may'st proudly show The chosen emblem of thy sainted Knight, Who quelled devouring pride and vindicated right. Yet 'mid the confidence of just renown, Renown dear-bought, but dearest thus acquired, Write, Britain, write the moral lesson down: 'Tis not alone the heart with valour fired, The discipline so dreaded and admired, In many a field of bloody conquest known, -Such may by fame be lured, by gold be hired: 'Tis constancy in the good cause alone Best justifies the meed thy valiant sons have won.
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