1816
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo. Part the First. The Journey.

The Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo: by Robert Southey, Esq. Poet Laureate.

Robert Southey


Robert Southey's long Pilgrimage to Waterloo unfolds in two parts, each divided into several sections. In the first he describes a journey to the scene of the battle, in the second an allegorical vision underscoring the historical and theological significance of the event. While a late entry into a crowded field, Southey's poem, illustrated with engravings of the battlefield, was successful enough to go through three editions.

Argument: "The first part of this Poem describes a journey to the scene of war. The second is in an allegorical form; it exposes the gross material philosophy which has been the guiding principle of the French politicians, from Mirabeau to Buonaparte; and it states the opinions of those persons who lament the restoration of the Bourbons, because the hopes which they entertained from the French Revolution have not been realized: and of those who see only evil, or blind chance, in the course of human events" Works (1845) 10:1.

Anti-Jacobin Review: "We have accompanied Mr. Southey through his pilgrimage with unmixed pleasure, with satisfaction unalloyed" 50 (1816) 522.

The Portico [Baltimore]: "The next division of this interesting poem is called The Scene of War; and here the Poet rises in the full majesty of his powers to do justice to the subject. He has, indeed, acquitted himself above all expectation, in his description of this horrid scene: his fancy here burns bright, his diction glows, and his thoughts and reflections assume a bold, expressive, and energetick character. This is the prominent, and most conspicuous part of the poem: of awakening feelings, thoughts and pleasures, far beyond what his language conveys; and which only serves as a hint to the crowd of pleasing conceptions, and sensations of rapture which rush upon the reader. This part itself, would stamp the fame of the poet, and secure the celebrity of the poem.... The two parts are, strictly speaking, two distinct subjects, and should have had two different titles; for, from the Canto, called The Tower, to the end of the book, mention is made but once of Waterloo, and its advenient circumstances. The poem, therefore, should properly have ended with the Scene of War, which is the natural climax of the subject. By spinning it out four Cantos further, the author has diminished the interest, and weakened the effect of the whole, and rendered it rather irksome, than amusing. This was the more injudicious, on account of his having chosen a quaint and tedious measure; the old stanza of Spencer, in all its antiquated dress and structure: that makes it appear as stiff and formal as a courtier of the days of Queen Elizabeth. The stanza of Spencer is, however, susceptible of a more lively motion, and harmonious metre: but it is the fate of imitators to copy the deformities, as well as the beauties, of their original: and in this manner Mr. Southey has coined new words, and revived old ones" 2 (November 1816) 355-56, 358-59.

Edmund Gosse: "Almost immediately on his return to Keswick he produced a volume of verse, entitled The Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo. He also kept a full journal of his adventures in the course of this journey, but this diary was not published until 1903. It is a much more interesting document than the poem, Southey's prose being always more readable than his verse" "Napoleonic Wars in English Poetry" in Inter Arma (1916) 130.

The poem opens with a description of the poet's arrival at Bruges, he admiration of the medieval city, and a trip by barge to Ghent, and by land to Brussels. The description is punctuated with Spenserian archaisms, establishing a tone of jolly pilgrimage as the travellers pass through a flourishing countryside. At Brussels the signs of the conflict begin to appear, as three months after the battle the hospitals are still thronged with wounded, dying, and recovering soldiers. Proceeding south to Waterloo, he discovers moments to the fallen already appearing. The site of the battle is next described, mingled with recollections of the earlier wars of William III and Marlborough. Amid the grim reminders of death the landscape bursts into bloom. Napoleon's retreat is described, and the vengeance wreaked by the Prussians on the fleeing soldiers.



I.
FLANDERS.
Our world hath seen the work of war's debate
Consummated in one momentous day
Twice in the course of time; and twice the fate
Of unborn ages hung upon the fray:
First at Plataea, in that aweful hour
When Greece united smote the Persian's power.

For had the Persian triumphed, then the spring
Of knowledge from that living source had ceast;
All would have fallen before the barbarous King,
Art, Science, Freedom; the despotic East,
Setting her mark upon the race subdued,
Had stamp'd them in the mould of sensual servitude.

The second day was that when Martel broke
The Musselmen, delivering France opprest,
And in one mighty conflict, from the yoke
Of misbelieving Mecca saved the West;
Else had the Impostor's law destroyed the ties
Of public weal and private charities.

Such was the danger when that Man of Blood
Burst from the iron Isle, and brought again,
Like Satan rising from the sulphurous flood,
His impious legions to the battle plain:
Such too was our deliverance when the field
Of Waterloo beheld his fortunes yield.

I, who with faith unshaken from the first,
Even when the Tyrant seemed to touch the skies,
Had looked to see the high-blown bubble burst,
And for a fall conspicuous as his rise,
Even in that faith had look'd not for defeat
So swift, so overwhelming, so compleat.

Me most of all men it behoved to raise
The strain of triumph for this foe subdued,
To give a voice to joy, and in my lays
Exalt a nation's hymn of gratitude,
And blazon forth in song that day's renown, . .
For I was graced with England's laurel crown.

And as I once had journey'd to behold
Far off, Ourique's consecrated field,
Where Portugal the faithful and the bold
Assumed the symbols of her sacred shield,
More reason now that I should bend my way
The field of British glory to survey.

So forth I set upon this pilgrimage,
And took the partner of my life with me,
And one dear girl, just ripe enough of age
Retentively to see what I should see;
That thus with mutual recollections fraught,
We might bring home a store for after-thought.

We left our pleasant Land of Lakes, and went
Throughout whole England's length, a weary way,
Even to the farthest shores of eastern Kent:
Embarking there upon an autumn day,
Toward Ostend we held our course all night,
And anchored by its quay at morning's earliest light.

Small vestige there of that old siege appears,
And little of remembrance would be found,
When for the space of three long painful years
The persevering Spaniard girt it round,
And gallant youths of many a realm from far
Went students to that busy school of war.

Yet still those wars of obstinate defence
Their lessons offer to the soldier's hand;
Large knowledge may the statesman draw from thence:
And still from underneath the drifted sand,
Sometimes the storm, or passing foot lays bare
Part of the harvest Death has gathered there.

Peace be within thy walls, thou famous town,
For thy brave bearing in those times of old;
May plenty thy industrious children crown,
And prosperous merchants day by day behold
Many a rich vessel from the injurious sea,
Enter the bosom of thy quiet quay.

Embarking there, we glided on between
Strait banks raised high above the level land,
With many a cheerful dwelling white and green
In goodly neighbourhood on either hand.
Huge-timbered bridges o'er the passage lay,
Which wheeled aside and gave us easy way.

Four horses, aided by the favouring breeze,
Drew our gay vessel, slow and sleek and large;
Crack goes the whip, the steersman at his ease
Directs the way, and steady went the barge.
Ere evening closed to Bruges thus we came, . .
Fair city, worthy of her ancient fame.

The season of her splendour is gone by,
Yet every where its monuments remain;
Temples which rear their stately heads on high,
Canals that intersect the fertile plain,
Wide streets and squares, with many a court and hall
Spacious and undefaced, but ancient all.

Time hath not wronged her, nor hath Ruin sought
Rudely her splendid structures to destroy,
Save in those recent days with evil fraught,
When Mutability, in drunken joy
Triumphant, and from all restraint released,
Let loose the fierce and many-headed beast.

But for the scars in that unhappy rage
Inflicted, firm she stands and undecay'd;
Like our first sires', a beautiful old age
Is hers, in venerable years array'd;
And yet to her benignant stars may bring,
What fate denies to man, . . a second spring.

When I may read of tilts in days of old,
And tourneys graced by chieftains of renown,
Fair dames, grave citizens, and warriors bold,
If Fancy would pourtray some stately town,
Which for such pomp fit theatre should be,
Fair Bruges, I shall then remember thee.

Nor did thy landscape yield me less delight,
Seen from the deck as slow it glided by,
Or when beneath us, from thy Belfroy's height,
Its boundless circle met the bending sky;
The waters smooth and straight, thy proper boast,
And lines of road-side trees in long perspective lost.

No happier landscape may on earth be seen,
Rich gardens all around and fruitful groves,
White dwellings trim relieved with lively green,
The pollard that the Flemish painter loves,
With aspins tall and poplars fair to view,
Casting o'er all the land a grey and willowy hue.

My lot hath lain in scenes sublime and rude,
Where still devoutly I have served and sought
The Power divine which dwells in solitude.
In boyhood was I wont, with rapture fraught,
Amid those rocks and woods to wander free,
Where Avon hastens to the Severn sea.

In Cintra also have I dwelt erewhile,
That earthly Eden, and have seen at eve
The sea-mists, gathering round its mountain pile,
Whelm with their billows all below, but leave
One pinnacle sole seen, whereon it stood
Like the Ark on Ararat, above the flood.

And now am I a Cumbrian mountaineer;
Their wintry garment of unsullied snow
The mountains have put on, the heavens are clear,
And yon dark lake spreads silently below;
Who sees them only in their summer hour
Sees but their beauties half, and knows not half their power.

Yet hath the Flemish scene a charm for me
That soothes and wins upon the willing heart;
Though all is level as the sleeping sea,
A natural beauty springs from perfect art,
And something more than pleasure fills the breast,
To see how well-directed toil is blest.

Two nights have past; the morning opens well,
Fair are the aspects of the favouring sky;
Soon yon sweet chimes the appointed hour will tell,
For here to music Time moves merrily:
Aboard! aboard! no more must we delay, . .
Farewell, good people of the Fleur de Bled!

Beside the busy wharf the Trekschuit rides,
With painted plumes and tent-like awning gay;
Carts, barrows, coaches, hurry from all sides,
And passengers and porters throng the way,
Contending all at once in clamorous speech,
French, Flemish, English, each confusing each.

All disregardant of the Babel sound,
A swan kept oaring near with upraised eye, . .
A beauteous pensioner, who daily found
The bounty of such casual company;
Nor left us till the bell said all was done,
And slowly we our watry way begun.

Europe can boast no richer, goodlier scene,
Than that through which our pleasant passage lay,
By fertile fields and fruitful gardens green,
The journey of a short autumnal day;
Sleek well-fed steeds our steady vessel drew,
The heavens were fair, and Mirth was of our crew.

Along the smooth canal's unbending line,
Beguiling time with light discourse, we went,
Nor wanting savoury food nor generous wine.
Ashore too there was feast and merriment;
The jovial peasants at some village fair
Were dancing, drinking, smoking, gambling there.

Of these, or of the ancient towers of Ghent
Renowned, I must not tarry now to tell;
Of picture, or of church, or monument;
Nor how we mounted to that ponderous bell,
The Belfroy's boast, which bears old Roland's name,
Nor yields to Oxford Tom, or Tom of Lincoln's fame.

Nor of that sisterhood whom to their rule
Of holy life no hasty vows restrain,
Who, meek disciples of the Christian school,
Watch by the bed of sickness and of pain:
Oh what a strength divine doth Faith impart
To inborn goodness in the female heart!

A gentle party from the shores of Kent
Thus far had been our comrades as befell;
Fortune had linked us first, and now Consent, . .
For why should Choice divide whom Chance so well
Had joined, and they to view the famous ground,
Like us, were to the Field of Battle bound.

Farther as yet they looked not than that quest, . .
The land was all before them where to choose.
So we consorted here as seemed best;
Who would such pleasant fellowship refuse
Of ladies fair and gentle comrades free? . .
Certes we were a joyous company.

Yet lacked we not discourse for graver times,
Such as might suit sage auditors, I ween;
For some among us, in far distant climes
The cities and the ways of men had seen;
No unobservant travellers they, but well
Of what they there had learnt they knew to tell.

The one of frozen Moscovy could speak,
And well his willing listeners entertain
With tales of that inclement region bleak,
The pageantry and pomp of Catherine's reign,
And that proud city, which with wise intent
The mighty founder raised, his own great monument.

And one had dwelt with Malabars and Moors,
Where fertile earth and genial heaven dispense
Profuse their bounty upon Indian shores;
Whate'er delights the eye, or charms the sense,
The vallies with perpetual fruitage blest,
The mountains with unfading foliage drest.

He those barbaric palaces had seen,
The work of Eastern potentates of old;
And in the Temples of the Rock had been,
Awe-struck their dread recesses to behold;
A gifted hand was his, which by its skill
Could to the eye pourtray such wondrous scenes at will.

A third, who from the Land of Lakes with me
Went out upon this pleasant pilgrimage,
Had sojourned long beyond the Atlantic sea;
Adventurous was his spirit as his age,
For he in far Brazil, through wood and waste,
Had travelled many a day, and there his heart was placed.

Wild region, . . happy if at night he found
The shelter of some rude Tapuya's shed;
Else would he take his lodgement on the ground,
Or from the tree suspend his hardy bed;
And sometimes starting at the jaguar's cries,
See through the murky night the prowler's fiery eyes.

And sometimes over thirsty deserts drear,
And sometimes over flooded plains he went; . .
A joy it was his fire-side tales to hear,
And he a comrade to my heart's content:
For he of what I most desired could tell,
And loved the Portugals because he knew them well.

Here to the easy barge we bade adieu;
Land-travellers now along the well-paved way,
Where road-side trees still lengthening on the view,
Before us and behind unvarying lay:
Through lands well laboured to Alost we came,
Where whilome treachery stain'd the English name.

Then saw we Afflighem, by ruin rent,
Whose venerable fragments strew the land;
Grown wise too late, the multitude lament
The ravage of their own unhappy hand;
Its records in their frenzy torn and tost,
Its precious stores of learning wrecked and lost.

Whatever else we saw was chearful all,
The signs of steady labour well repaid;
The grapes were ripe on every cottage wall,
And merry peasants seated in the shade
Of garner, or within the open door,
From gathered hop-vines plucked the plenteous store.

Through Assche for water and for cakes renowned
We passed, pursuing still our way, though late;
And when the shades of night were closing round,
Brussels received us through her friendly gate, . .
Proud city, fated many a change to see,
And now the seat of new-made monarchy.

II.
BRUSSELS.
Where might a gayer spectacle be found
Than Brussels offered on that festive night,
Her squares and palaces irradiate round
To welcome the imperial Moscovite,
Who now, the wrongs of Europe twice redressed,
Came there a welcome and a glorious guest?

Her mile-long avenue with lamps was hung,
Innumerous, which diffused a light like day;
Where through the line of splendour, old and young
Paraded all in festival array;
While fiery barges, plying to and fro,
Illumined as they moved the liquid glass below.

By day with hurrying crowds the streets were thronged,
To gain of this great Czar a passing sight;
And music, dance, and banquetings prolonged
The various work of pleasure through the night.
You might have deemed, to see that joyous town,
That wretchedness and pain were there unknown.

Yet three short months had scarcely passed away,
Since, shaken with the approaching battle's breath,
Her inmost chambers trembled with dismay;
And now within her walls, insatiate Death,
Devourer whom no harvest e'er can fill,
The gleanings of that field was gathering still.

Within those walls there lingered at that hour
Many a brave soldier on the bed of pain,
Whom aid of human art should ne'er restore
To see his country and his friends again;
And many a victim of that fell debate
Whose life yet wavered in the scales of fate.

Some I beheld, for whom the doubtful scale
Had to the side of life inclined at length;
Emaciate was their form, their features pale,
The limbs so vigorous late, bereft of strength;
And for their gay habiliments of yore,
The habit of the House of Pain they wore.

Some in the courts of that great hospital,
That they might taste the sun and open air,
Crawled out; or sate beneath the southern wall;
Or leaning in the gate, stood gazing there
In listless guise upon the passers by,
Whiling away the hours of slow recovery.

Others in waggons borne abroad I saw,
Albeit recovering, still a mournful sight:
Languid and helpless some were stretched on straw,
Some more advanced sustained themselves upright,
And with bold eye and careless front, methought,
Seemed to set wounds and death again at nought.

Well had it fared with these; nor went it ill
With those whom war had of a limb bereft,
Leaving the life untouched, that they had still
Enough for health as for existence left;
But some there were who lived to draw the breath
Of pain through hopeless years of lingering death.

Here might the hideous face of war be seen,
Stript of all pomp, adornment, and disguise;
It was a dismal spectacle I ween,
Such as might well to the beholders' eyes
Bring sudden tears, and make the pious mind
Grieve for the crimes and follies of mankind.

What had it been then in the recent days
Of that great triumph, when the open wound
Was festering, and along the crowded ways,
Hour after hour was heard the incessant sound
Of wheels, which o'er the rough and stony road
Conveyed their living agonizing load!

Hearts little to the melting mood inclined
Grew sick to see their sufferings; and the thought
Still comes with horror to the shuddering mind
Of those sad days when Belgian ears were taught
The British soldier's cry, half groan, half prayer,
Breathed when his pain is more than he can bear.

Brave spirits, nobly had their part been done!
Brussels could show, where Senne's slow waters glide,
The cannon which their matchless valour won,
Proud trophies of the field, ranged side by side,
Where as they stood in inoffensive row,
The solitary guard paced to and fro.

Unconscious instruments of human woe,
Some for their mark the royal lilies bore,
Fixed there when Britain was the Bourbon's foe;
And some embossed in brazen letters wore
The sign of that abhorred misrule, which broke
The guilty nation for a Tyrant's yoke.

Others were stampt with that Usurper's name, . .
Recorders thus of many a change were they,
Their deadly work through every change the same;
Nor ever had they seen a bloodier day,
Than when as their late thunders rolled around,
Brabant in all her cities felt the sound.

Then ceased their occupation. From the field
Of battle here in triumph were they brought;
Ribbands and flowers and laurels half concealed
Their brazen mouths, so late with ruin fraught;
Women beheld them pass with joyful eyes,
And children clapt their hands and rent the air with cries.

Now idly on the banks of Senne they lay,
Like toys with which a child is pleased no more:
Only the British traveller bends his way
To see them on that unfrequented shore,
And as a mournful feeling blends with pride,
Remembers those who fought, and those who died.

III.
THE FIELD OF BATTLE.
Southward from Brussels lies the field of blood,
Some three hours' journey for a well-girt man;
A horseman who in haste pursued his road
Would reach it as the second hour began.
The way is through a forest deep and wide,
Extending many a mile on either side.

No chearful woodland this of antic trees,
With thickets varied and with sunny glade;
Look where he will, the weary traveller sees
One gloomy, thick, impenetrable shade
Of tall straight trunks, which move before his sight,
With interchange of lines of long green light.

Here, where the woods receding from the road
Have left on either hand an open space
For fields and gardens and for man's abode,
Stands Waterloo; a little lowly place,
Obscure till now, when it hath risen to fame,
And given the victory its English name.

What time the second Carlos ruled in Spain,
Last of the Austrian line by Fate decreed,
Here Castanaza reared a votive fane,
Praying the Patron Saints to bless with seed
His childless sovereign; Heaven denied an heir,
And Europe mourned in blood the frustrate prayer.

That temple to our hearts was hallowed now:
For many a wounded Briton there was laid,
With such poor help as time might then allow
From the fresh carnage of the field conveyed;
And they whom human succours could not save,
Here in its precincts found a hasty grave.

And here on marble tablets set on high,
In English lines by foreign workmen traced,
Are names familiar to an English eye;
Their brethren here the fit memorials placed,
Whose unadorned inscriptions briefly tell
Their gallant comrades' rank, and where they fell.

The stateliest monument of public pride,
Enriched with all magnificence of art,
To honour Chieftains who in victory died,
Would wake no stronger feeling in the heart
Than these plain tablets, by the soldier's hand
Raised to his comrades in a foreign land.

Not far removed you find the burial-ground,
Yet so that skirts of woodland intervene;
A small enclosure, rudely fenced around;
Three grave-stones only for the dead are seen:
One bears the name of some rich villager,
The first for whom a stone was planted there.

Beneath the second is a German laid,
Whom Bremen, shaking off the Frenchman's yoke,
Sent with her sons the general cause to aid;
He in the fight received his mortal stroke,
Yet for his country's aggravated woes
Lived to see vengeance on her hated foes.

A son of Erin sleeps below the third;
By friendly hands his body where it lay
Upon the field of blood had been interred,
And thence by those who mourned him borne away
In pious reverence for departed worth,
Laid here with holy rites in consecrated earth.

Repose in peace, brave soldiers, who have found
In Waterloo and Soigny's shade your rest!
Ere this hath British valour made that ground
Sacred to you, and for your foes unblest,
When Marlborough here, victorious in his might
Surprized the French, and smote them in their flight.

Those wars are as a tale of times gone by,
For so doth perishable fame decay, . .
Here on the ground wherein the slaughter'd lie,
The memory of that fight is passed away; . .
And even our glorious Blenheim to the field
Of Waterloo and Wellington must yield.

Soon shall we reach that scene of mighty deeds,
In one unbending line a short league hence;
Aright the forest from the road recedes,
With wide sweep trending south and westward thence;
Aleft along the line it keeps its place
Some half hour's distance at a traveller's pace.

The country here expands, a wide-spread scene;
No Flemish gardens fringed with willows these,
Nor rich Brabantine pastures ever green,
With trenches lined and rows of aspin trees;
In tillage here the unwooded open land
Returns its increase to the farmer's hand.

Behold the scene where Slaughter had full sway!
A mile before us lieth Mount St. John,
The hamlet which the Highlanders that day
Preserved from spoil; yet as much farther on
The single farm is placed, now known to fame,
Which from the sacred hedge derives its name.

Straight onward yet for one like distance more,
And there the house of Belle Alliance stands,
So named, I guess, by some in days of yore,
In friendship or in wedlock joining hands:
Little did they who called it thus foresee
The place that name should hold in history!

Beyond these points the fight extended not, . .
Small theatre for such a tragedy!
Its breadth scarce more, from eastern Papelot
To where the groves of Hougoumont on high
Rear in the west their venerable head,
And cover with their shade the countless dead.

But wouldst thou tread this celebrated ground,
And trace with understanding eyes a scene
Above all other fields of war renowned,
From western Hougoumont thy way begin;
There was our strength on that side, and there first,
In all its force, the storm of battle burst.

Strike eastward then across toward La Haye,
The single farm: with dead the fields between
Are lined, and thou wilt see upon the way
Long wave-like dips and swells which intervene,
Such as would breathe the war-horse, and impede,
When that deep soil was wet, his martial speed.

This is the ground whereon the young Nassau,
Emuling that day his ancestors' renown,
Received his hurt; admiring Belgium saw
The youth proved worthy of his destined crown:
All tongues his prowess on that day proclaim,
And children lisp his praise and bless their Prince's name.

When thou hast reached La Haye, survey it well,
Here was the heat and centre of the strife;
This point must Britain hold whate'er befell,
And here both armies were profuse of life:
Once it was lost, . . and then a stander by
Belike had trembled for the victory.

Not so the leader, on whose equal mind
Such interests hung in that momentous day;
So well had he his motley troops assigned,
That where the vital points of action lay,
There had he placed those soldiers whom he knew
No fears could quail, no dangers could subdue.

Small was his British force, nor had he here
The Portugals, in heart so near allied,
The worthy comrades of his late career,
Who fought so oft and conquered at his side,
When with the Red Cross joined in brave advance,
The glorious Quinas mocked the air of France.

Now of the troops with whom he took the field,
Some were of doubtful faith, and others raw;
He stationed these where they might stand or yield;
But where the stress of battle he foresaw,
There were his links (his own strong words I speak)
And rivets which no human force could break.

O my brave countrymen, ye answered well
To that heroic trust! Nor less did ye,
Whose worth your grateful country aye shall tell,
True children of our sister Germany,
Who while she groaned beneath the oppressor's chain,
Fought for her freedom in the fields of Spain.

La Haye, bear witness! sacred is it hight,
And sacred is it truly from that day;
For never braver blood was spent in fight
Than Britain here hath mingled with the clay.
Set where thou wilt thy foot, thou scarce canst tread
Here on a spot unhallowed by the dead.

Here was it that the Highlanders withstood
The tide of hostile power, received its weight
With resolute strength, and stemmed and turned the flood;
And fitly here, as in that Grecian straight,
The funeral stone might say, Go, traveller, tell
Scotland, that in our duty here we fell.

Still eastward from this point thy way pursue.
There grows a single hedge along the lane, . .
No other is there far or near in view:
The raging enemy essayed in vain
To pass that line, . . a braver foe withstood,
And this whole ground was moistened with their blood.

Leading his gallant men as he was wont,
The hot assailants' onset to repel,
Advancing hat in hand, here in the front
Of battle and of danger, Picton fell;
Lamented Chief! than whom no braver name
His country's annals shall consign to fame.

Scheldt had not seen us, had his voice been heard,
Return with shame from her disastrous coast:
But Fortune soon to fairer fields preferred
His worth approved, which Cambria long may boast:
France felt him then, and Portugal and Spain
His honoured memory will for aye retain.

Hence to the high-walled house of Papelot,
The battle's boundary on the left, incline;
Here thou seest Frischermont not far remote,
From whence, like ministers of wrath divine,
The Prussians issuing on the yielding foe,
Consummated their great and total overthrow.

Deem not that I the martial skill should boast
Where horse and foot were stationed, here to tell,
What points were occupied by either host,
And how the battle raged, and what befell,
And how our great Commander's eagle eye
Which comprehended all, secured the victory.

This were the historian's, not the poet's part;
Such task would ill the gentle Muse beseem,
Who to the thoughtful mind and pious heart,
Comes with her offering from this awful theme;
Content if what she saw and gathered there
She may in unambitious song declare.

Look how upon the Ocean's treacherous face
The breeze and summer sunshine softly play,
And the green-heaving billows bear no trace
Of all the wrath and wreck of yesterday; . .
So from the field which here we looked upon,
The vestiges of dreadful war were gone.

Earth had received into her silent womb
Her slaughtered creatures: horse and man they lay,
And friend and foe, within the general tomb.
Equal had been their lot; one fatal day
For all, . . one labour, . . and one place of rest
They found within their common parent's breast.

The passing seasons had not yet effaced
The stamp of numerous hoofs impressed by force
Of cavalry, whose path might still be traced.
Yet Nature every where resumed her course;
Low pansies to the sun their purple gave,
And the soft poppy blossomed on the grave.

In parts the careful farmer had renewed
His labours, late by battle frustrated;
And where the unconscious soil had been imbued
With blood, profusely there like water shed,
There had his plough-share turned the guilty ground,
And the green corn was springing all around.

The graves he left for natural thought humane
Untouched; and here and there where in the strife
Contending feet had trampled down the grain,
Some hardier roots were found, which of their life
Tenacious, had put forth a second head,
And sprung, and eared, and ripened on the dead.

Some marks of wreck were scattered all around,
As shoe, and belt, and broken bandoleer,
And hats which bore the mark of mortal wound;
Gun-flints and balls for those who closelier peer;
And sometimes did the breeze upon its breath
Bear from ill-covered graves a taint of death.

More vestige of destructive man was seen
Where man in works of peace had laboured more;
At Hougoumont the hottest strife had been,
Where trees and walls the mournful record bore
Of war's wild rage, trunks pierced with many a wound,
And roofs and half-burnt rafters on the ground.

A goodly mansion this, with gardens fair,
And ancient groves and fruitful orchard wide,
Its dove-cot and its decent house of prayer,
Its ample stalls and garners well supplied,
And spacious bartons clean, well-walled around,
Where all the wealth of rural life was found.

That goodly mansion on the ground was laid,
Save here and there a blackened broken wall;
The wounded who were borne beneath its shade
Had there been crushed and buried by the fall;
And there they lie where they received their doom, . .
Oh let no hand disturb that honourable tomb!

Contiguous to this wreck the little fane
For worship hallowed, still uninjured stands,
Save that its Crucifix displays too plain
The marks of outrage from irreverent hands.
Alas, to think such irreligious deed
Of wrong from British soldiers should proceed!

The dove-cot too remains; scared at the fight
The birds sought shelter in the forest shade;
But still they kept their native haunts in sight,
And when few days their terror had allayed,
Forsook again the solitary wood,
For their old home and human neighbourhood.

The gardener's dwelling was untouched; his wife
Fled with her children to some near retreat,
And there lay trembling for her husband's life:
He stood the issue, saw the foe's retreat,
And lives unhurt where thousands fell around,
To tell the story of that famous ground.

His generous dog was well approved that hour,
By courage as by love to man allied;
He through the fiery storm and iron shower
Kept the ground bravely by his master's side:
And now when to the stranger's hand he draws,
The noble beast seems conscious of applause.

Toward the grove the wall with musket holes
Is pierced; our soldiers here their station held
Against the foe, and many were the souls
Then from their fleshly tenements expelled.
Six hundred Frenchmen have been burnt close by,
And underneath one mound their bones and ashes lie.

One streak of blood upon the wall was traced,
In length a man's just stature from the head;
There where it gushed you saw it uneffaced:
Of all the blood which on that day was shed
This mortal stain alone remained impressed, . .
The all-devouring earth had drunk the rest.

Here from the heaps who strewed the fatal plain
Was Howard's corse by faithful hands conveyed,
And not to be confounded with the slain,
Here in a grave apart with reverence laid,
Till hence his honoured relics o'er the seas
Were borne to England, there to rest in peace.

Another grave had yielded up its dead,
From whence to bear his son a father came,
That he might lay him where his own grey head
Ere long must needs be laid. That soldier's name
Was not remembered there, yet may the verse
Present this reverent tribute to his herse.

Was it a soothing or a mournful thought
Amid this scene of slaughter as we stood,
Where armies had with recent fury fought,
To mark how gentle Nature still pursued
Her quiet course, as if she took no care
For what her noblest work had suffered there?

The pears had ripened on the garden wall;
Those leaves which on the autumnal earth were spread,
The trees, though pierced and scarred with many a ball,
Had only in their natural season shed:
Flowers were in seed whose buds to swell began
When such wild havoc here was made of man!

Throughout the garden, fruits and herbs and flowers
You saw in growth, or ripeness, or decay;
The green and well-trimmed dial marked the hours
With gliding shadow as they passed away;
Who would have thought, to see this garden fair,
Such horrors had so late been acted there!

Now Hougoumont, farewell to thy domain!
Might I dispose of thee, no woodman's hand
Should e'er thy venerable groves profane;
Untouched, and like a temple should they stand,
And consecrate by general feeling, wave
Their branches o'er the ground where sleep the brave.

Thy ruins as they fell should aye remain, . .
What monument so fit for those below?
Thy garden through whole ages should retain
The form and fashion which it weareth now,
That future pilgrims here might all things see,
Such as they were at this great victory.

IV.
THE SCENE OF WAR.
No cloud the azure vault of heaven distained
That day when we the field of war surveyed;
The leaves were falling, but the groves retained
Foliage enough for beauty and for shade;
Soft airs prevailed, and thro' the sunny hours
The bees were busy on the year's last flowers.

Well was the season with the scene combined.
The autumnal sunshine suited well the mood
Which here possessed the meditative mind, . .
A human sense upon the field of blood,
A Christian thankfulness, a British pride,
Tempered by solemn thought, yet still to joy allied.

What British heart that would not feel a flow
Upon that ground, of elevating pride?
What British cheek is there that would not glow
To hear our country blest and magnified? . .
For Britain here was blest by old and young,
Admired by every heart and praised by every tongue.

Not for brave bearing in the field alone
Doth grateful Belgium bless the British name;
The order and the perfect honour shown
In all things, have enhanced the soldier's fame:
For this we heard the admiring people raise
One universal voice sincere of praise.

Yet with indignant feeling they enquired
Wherefore we spared the author of this strife?
Why had we not, as highest law required,
With ignominy closed the culprit's life?
For him alone had all this blood been shed, . .
Why had not vengeance struck the guilty head?

O God! they said, it was a piteous thing
To see the after-horrors of the fight,
The lingering death, the hopeless suffering, . .
What heart of flesh unmoved could bear the sight?
One man was cause of all this world of woe, . .
Ye had him, . . and ye did not strike the blow!

How will ye answer to all after time
For that great lesson which ye failed to give?
As if excess of guilt excused the crime,
Black as he is with blood ye let him live!
Children of evil, take your course henceforth,
For what is Justice but a name on earth!

Vain had it been with these in glosing speech
Of precedents to use the specious tongue:
This might perplex the ear, but fail to reach
The heart, from whence that honest feeling sprung:
And had I dared my inner sense belie,
The voice of blood was there to join them in their cry.

We left the field of battle in such mood
As human hearts from thence should bear away,
And musing thus our purposed route pursued,
Which still through scenes of recent bloodshed lay,
Where Prussia late with strong and stern delight
Hung on her hated foes to persecute their flight.

No hour for tarriance that, or for remorse!
Vengeance, who long had hungered, took her fill.
And Retribution held its righteous course:
As when in elder time, the Sun stood still
On Gibeon, and the Moon above the vale
Of Ajalon hung motionless and pale.

And what though no portentous day was given
To render here the work of wrath compleat,
The Sun, I ween, seemed standing still in heaven
To those who hurried from that dire defeat;
And when they prayed for darkness in their flight,
The Moon arose upon them broad and bright.

No covert might they find; the open land,
O'er which so late exultingly they passed,
Lay all before them and on either hand;
Close on their flight the avengers followed fast,
And when they reached Genappe and there drew breath,
Short respite found they there from fear and death.

That fatal town betrayed them to more loss;
Through one long street the only passage lay,
And then the narrow bridge they needs must cross
Where Dyle, a shallow streamlet, crossed the way:
For life they fled, . . no thought had they but fear,
And their own baggage choaked the outlet here.

He who had bridged the Danube's affluent stream,
With all the unbroken Austrian power in sight,
(So had his empire vanished like a dream)
Was by this brook impeded in his flight; . .
And then what passions did he witness there. . .
Rage, terror, execrations, and despair!

Ere thro' the wreck his passage could be made,
Three miserable hours, which seemed like years,
Was he in that ignoble strait delayed;
The dreadful Prussian's cry was in his ears,
Fear in his heart, and in his soul that hell
Whose due rewards he merited so well.

Foremost again as he was wont to be
In flight, though not the foremost in the strife,
The Tyrant hurried on, of infamy
Regardless, nor regarding ought but life; . .
Oh wretch! without the courage or the faith
To die with those whom he had led to death!

Meantime his guilty followers in disgrace,
Whose pride for ever now was beaten down,
Some in the houses sought a hiding place;
While at the entrance of that fatal town
Others, who yet some show of heart displayed,
A short vain effort of resistance made:

Feeble and ill-sustained! The foe burst through;
With unabating heat they searched around;
The wretches from their lurking-holes they drew, . .
Such mercy as the French had given they found;
Death had more victims there in that one hour
Than fifty years might else have rendered to his power.

Here did we inn upon our pilgrimage,
After such day an unfit resting-place:
For who from ghastly thoughts could disengage
The haunted mind, when every where the trace
Of death was seen, . . the blood-stain on the wall,
And musquet-marks in chamber and in hall!

All talk too was of death. They shewed us here
The room where Brunswick's body had been laid,
Where his brave followers, bending o'er the bier,
In bitterness their vow of vengeance made;
Where Wellington beheld the slaughtered Chief,
And for awhile gave way to manly grief.

Duhesme, whose crimes the Catalans may tell,
Died here; . . with sabre strokes the posts are scored,
Hewn down upon the threshold where he fell,
Himself then tasting of the ruthless sword;
A Brunswicker discharged the debt of Spain,
And where he dropt the stone preserves the stain.

Too much of life hath on thy plains been shed,
Brabant! so oft the scene of war's debate;
But ne'er with blood were they so largely fed
As in this rout and wreck; when righteous Fate
Brought on the French, in warning to all times,
A vengeance wide and sweeping as their crimes:

Vengeance for Egypt and for Syria's wrong;
For Portugal's unutterable woes;
For Germany, who suffered all too long
Beneath these lawless, faithless, godless foes;
For blood which on the Lord so long had cried,
For Earth opprest, and Heaven insulted and defied.

We followed from Genappe their line of flight
To the Cross Roads, where Britain's sons sustained
Against such perilous force the desperate fight:
Deserving for that field so well maintained,
Such fame as for a like devotion's meed
The world hath to the Spartan band decreed.

Upon this ground the noble Brunswick died,
Led on too rashly by his ardent heart;
Long shall his grateful country tell with pride
How manfully he chose the better part;
When groaning Germany in chains was bound,
He only of her Princes faithful found.

And here right bravely did the German band
Once more sustain their well-deserved applause;
As when, revenging there their native land,
In Spain they laboured for the general cause.
In this most arduous strife none more than they
Endured the heat and burthen of the day.

Here too we heard the praise of British worth,
Still best approved when most severely tried;
Here were broad patches of loose-lying earth,
Sufficing scarce the mingled bones to hide, . .
And, half-uncovered graves, where one might see
The loathliest features of mortality.

Eastward from hence we struck, and reached the field
Of Ligny, where the Prussian, on that day
By far-outnumbering force constrained to yield,
Fronted the foe, and held them still at bay;
And in that brave defeat acquired fresh claim
To glory, and enhanced his country's fame.

Here was a scene which fancy might delight
To treasure up among her cherished stores,
And bring again before the inward sight
Often when she recalls the long-past hours; . .
Well-cultured hill and dale extending wide,
Hamlets and village spires on every side;

The autumnal-tinted groves; the upland mill
Which oft was won and lost amid the fray:
Green pastures watered by the silent rill;
The lordly Castle yielding to decay,
With bridge and barbican and moat and tower,
A fairer sight perchance than when it frowned in power:

The avenue before its ruined gate,
Which when the Castle, suffering less from time
Than havoc, hath foregone its strength and state,
Uninjured flourisheth in nature's prime;
To us a grateful shade did it supply,
Glad of that shelter from the noontide sky:

The quarries deep, where many a massive block
For some Parisian monument of pride,
Hewn with long labour from the granite rock,
Lay in the change of fortune cast aside;
But rightly with those stones should Prussia build
Her monumental pile on Ligny's bloody field!

The wealthy village bearing but too plain
The dismal marks of recent fire and spoil;
Its decent habitants, an active train,
And many a one at work with needful toil
On roof or thatch, the ruin to repair, . .
May never War repeat such devastation there!

Ill had we done if we had hurried by
A scene in faithful history to be famed
Through long succeeding ages; nor may I
The hospitality let pass unnamed,
And courteous kindness on that distant ground,
Which strangers as we were for England's sake we found.

And dear to England should be Ligny's name,
Prussia and England both were proved that day;
Each generous nation to the other's fame
Her ample tribute of applause will pay;
Long as the memory of those labours past,
Unbroken may their Fair Alliance last!

The tales which of that field I could unfold,
Better it is that silence should conceal.
They who had seen them shuddered while they told
Of things so hideous; and they cried with zeal,
One man hath caused all this, of men the worst, . .
O wherefore have ye spared his head accurst!

It fits not now to tell our farther way
Through many a scene by bounteous nature blest
Nor how we found where'er our journey lay,
An Englishman was still an honoured guest;
But still upon this point where'er we went,
The indignant voice was heard of discontent.

And hence there lay, too plainly might we see,
An ominous feeling upon every heart:
What hope of lasting order could there be,
They said, where Justice has not had her part?
Wisdom doth rule with Justice by her side;
Justice from Wisdom none may e'er divide.

The shaken mind felt all things insecure:
Accustomed long to see successful crimes,
And helplessly the heavy yoke endure,
They now looked back upon their fathers' times,
Ere the wild rule of Anarchy began,
As to some happier world, or golden age of man.

As they who in the vale of years advance,
And the dark eve is closing on their way,
When on their mind the recollections glance
Of early joy, and Hope's delightful day,
Behold, in brighter hues than those of truth,
The light of morning on the fields of youth.

Those who amid these troubles had grown grey,
Recurred with mournful feeling to the past;
Blest had we known our blessings, they would say,
We were not worthy that our bliss should last!
Peaceful we were and flourishing and free,
But madly we required more liberty!

Remorseless France had long oppressed the land,
And for her frantic projects drained its blood;
And now they felt the Prussian's heavy hand:
He came to aid them; bravely had he stood
In their defence; . . but oh! in peace how ill
The soldier's deeds, how insolent his will!

One general wish prevailed, . . if they might see
The happy order of old times restored!
Give them their former laws and liberty,
This their desires and secret prayers implored; . .
Forgetful, as the stream of time flows on,
That that which passes is for ever gone.

[pp. 17-98]