O Love! O Glory! what are ye who fly
Around us ever, rarely to alight?
There ‘s not a meteor in the polar sky
Of such transcendent and more fleeting flight.
Chill, and chain’d to cold earth, we lift on high
Our eyes in search of either lovely light;
A thousand and a thousand colours they
Assume, then leave us on our freezing way.
And such as they are, such my present tale is,
A non-descript and ever-varying rhyme,
A versified Aurora Borealis,
Which flashes o’er a waste and icy clime.
When we know what all are, we must bewail us,
But ne’ertheless I hope it is no crime
To laugh at all things — for I wish to know
What, after all, are all things — but a show?
They accuse me — Me — the present writer of
The present poem — of — I know not what —
A tendency to under-rate and scoff
At human power and virtue, and all that;
And this they say in language rather rough.
Good God! I wonder what they would be at!
I say no more than hath been said in Dante’s
Verse, and by Solomon and by Cervantes;
By Swift, by Machiavel, by Rochefoucault,
By Fenelon, by Luther, and by Plato;
By Tillotson, and Wesley, and Rousseau,
Who knew this life was not worth a potato.
’T is not their fault, nor mine, if this be so —
For my part, I pretend not to be Cato,
Nor even Diogenes. — We live and die,
But which is best, you know no more than I.
Socrates said, our only knowledge was
‘To know that nothing could be known;’ a pleasant
Science enough, which levels to an ass
Each man of wisdom, future, past, or present.
Newton (that proverb of the mind), alas!
Declared, with all his grand discoveries recent,
That he himself felt only ‘like a youth
Picking up shells by the great ocean — Truth.’
Ecclesiastes said, ‘that all is vanity’-
Most modern preachers say the same, or show it
By their examples of true Christianity:
In short, all know, or very soon may know it;
And in this scene of all-confess’d inanity,
By saint, by sage, by preacher, and by poet,
Must I restrain me, through the fear of strife,
From holding up the nothingness of life?
Dogs, or men! — for I flatter you in saying
That ye are dogs — your betters far — ye may
Read, or read not, what I am now essaying
To show ye what ye are in every way.
As little as the moon stops for the baying
Of wolves, will the bright muse withdraw one ray
From out her skies — then howl your idle wrath!
While she still silvers o’er your gloomy path.
‘Fierce loves and faithless wars’— I am not sure
If this be the right reading —‘t is no matter;
The fact ‘s about the same, I am secure;
I sing them both, and am about to batter
A town which did a famous siege endure,
And was beleaguer’d both by land and water
By Souvaroff, or Anglice Suwarrow,
Who loved blood as an alderman loves marrow.
The fortress is call’d Ismail, and is placed
Upon the Danube’s left branch and left bank,
With buildings in the Oriental taste,
But still a fortress of the foremost rank,
Or was at least, unless ‘t is since defaced,
Which with your conquerors is a common prank:
It stands some eighty versts from the high sea,
And measures round of toises thousands three.
Within the extent of this fortification
A borough is comprised along the height
Upon the left, which from its loftier station
Commands the city, and upon its site
A Greek had raised around this elevation
A quantity of palisades upright,
So placed as to impede the fire of those
Who held the place, and to assist the foe’s.
This circumstance may serve to give a notion
Of the high talents of this new Vauban:
But the town ditch below was deep as ocean,
The rampart higher than you ‘d wish to hang:
But then there was a great want of precaution
(Prithee, excuse this engineering slang),
Nor work advanced, nor cover’d way was there,
To hint at least ‘Here is no thoroughfare.’
But a stone bastion, with a narrow gorge,
And walls as thick as most skulls born as yet;
Two batteries, cap-a-pie, as our St. George,
Case-mated one, and t’ other ‘a barbette,’
Of Danube’s bank took formidable charge;
While two and twenty cannon duly set
Rose over the town’s right side, in bristling tier,
Forty feet high, upon a cavalier.
But from the river the town ‘s open quite,
Because the Turks could never be persuaded
A Russian vessel e’er would heave in sight;
And such their creed was, till they were invaded,
When it grew rather late to set things right.
But as the Danube could not well be waded,
They look’d upon the Muscovite flotilla,
And only shouted, ‘Allah!’ and ‘Bis Millah!’
The Russians now were ready to attack:
But oh, ye goddesses of war and glory!
How shall I spell the name of each Cossacque
Who were immortal, could one tell their story?
Alas! what to their memory can lack?
Achilles’ self was not more grim and gory
Than thousands of this new and polish’d nation,
Whose names want nothing but — pronunciation.
Still I ’ll record a few, if but to increase
Our euphony: there was Strongenoff, and Strokonoff,
Meknop, Serge Lwow, Arsniew of modern Greece,
And Tschitsshakoff, and Roguenoff, and Chokenoff,
And others of twelve consonants apiece;
And more might be found out, if I could poke enough
Into gazettes; but Fame (capricious strumpet),
It seems, has got an ear as well as trumpet,
And cannot tune those discords of narration,
Which may be names at Moscow, into rhyme;
Yet there were several worth commemoration,
As e’er was virgin of a nuptial chime;
Soft words, too, fitted for the peroration
Of Londonderry drawling against time,
Ending in ‘ischskin,’ ‘ousckin,’ ‘iffskchy,’ ‘ouski:
Of whom we can insert but Rousamouski,
Scherematoff and Chrematoff, Koklophti,
Koclobski, Kourakin, and Mouskin Pouskin,
All proper men of weapons, as e’er scoff’d high
Against a foe, or ran a sabre through skin:
Little cared they for Mahomet or Mufti,
Unless to make their kettle-drums a new skin
Out of their hides, if parchment had grown dear,
And no more handy substitute been near.
Then there were foreigners of much renown,
Of various nations, and all volunteers;
Not fighting for their country or its crown,
But wishing to be one day brigadiers;
Also to have the sacking of a town —
A pleasant thing to young men at their years.
‘Mongst them were several Englishmen of pith,
Sixteen call’d Thomson, and nineteen named Smith.
Jack Thomson and Bill Thomson; all the rest
Had been call’d ‘Jemmy,’ after the great bard;
I don’t know whether they had arms or crest,
But such a godfather ‘s as good a card.
Three of the Smiths were Peters; but the best
Amongst them all, hard blows to inflict or ward,
Was he, since so renown’d ‘in country quarters
At Halifax;’ but now he served the Tartars.
The rest were jacks and Gills and Wills and Bills;
But when I ’ve added that the elder jack Smith
Was born in Cumberland among the hills,
And that his father was an honest blacksmith,
I ’ve said all I know of a name that fills
Three lines of the despatch in taking ‘Schmacksmith,’
A village of Moldavia’s waste, wherein
He fell, immortal in a bulletin.
I wonder (although Mars no doubt ‘s a god
Praise) if a man’s name in a bulletin
May make up for a bullet in his body?
I hope this little question is no sin,
Because, though I am but a simple noddy,
I think one Shakspeare puts the same thought in
The mouth of some one in his plays so doting,
Which many people pass for wits by quoting.
Then there were Frenchmen, gallant, young, and gay:
But I ’m too great a patriot to record
Their Gallic names upon a glorious day;
I ‘d rather tell ten lies than say a word
Of truth; — such truths are treason; they betray
Their country; and as traitors are abhorr’d
Who name the French in English, save to show
How Peace should make John Bull the Frenchman’s foe.
The Russians, having built two batteries on
An isle near Ismail, had two ends in view;
The first was to bombard it, and knock down
The public buildings and the private too,
No matter what poor souls might be undone.
The city’s shape suggested this, ‘t is true;
Form’d like an amphitheatre, each dwelling
Presented a fine mark to throw a shell in.
The second object was to profit by
The moment of the general consternation,
To attack the Turk’s flotilla, which lay nigh
Extremely tranquil, anchor’d at its station:
But a third motive was as probably
To frighten them into capitulation;
A phantasy which sometimes seizes warriors,
Unless they are game as bull-dogs and fox-terriers.
A habit rather blamable, which is
That of despising those we combat with,
Common in many cases, was in this
The cause of killing Tchitchitzkoff and Smith;
One of the valorous ‘Smiths’ whom we shall miss
Out of those nineteen who late rhymed to ‘pith;’
But ‘t is a name so spread o’er ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam,’
That one would think the first who bore it ‘Adam.’
The Russian batteries were incomplete,
Because they were constructed in a hurry;
Thus the same cause which makes a verse want feet,
And throws a cloud o’er Longman and John Murray,
When the sale of new books is not so fleet
As they who print them think is necessary,
May likewise put off for a time what story
Sometimes calls ‘murder,’ and at others ‘glory.’
Whether it was their engineer’s stupidity,
Their haste, or waste, I neither know nor care,
Or some contractor’s personal cupidity,
Saving his soul by cheating in the ware
Of homicide, but there was no solidity
In the new batteries erected there;
They either miss’d, or they were never miss’d,
And added greatly to the missing list.
A sad miscalculation about distance
Made all their naval matters incorrect;
Three fireships lost their amiable existence
Before they reach’d a spot to take effect:
The match was lit too soon, and no assistance
Could remedy this lubberly defect;
They blew up in the middle of the river,
While, though ‘t was dawn, the Turks slept fast as ever.
At seven they rose, however, and survey’d
The Russ flotilla getting under way;
’T was nine, when still advancing undismay’d,
Within a cable’s length their vessels lay
Off Ismail, and commenced a cannonade,
Which was return’d with interest, I may say,
And by a fire of musketry and grape,
And shells and shot of every size and shape.
For six hours bore they without intermission
The Turkish fire, and aided by their own
Land batteries, work’d their guns with great precision:
At length they found mere cannonade alone
By no means would produce the town’s submission,
And made a signal to retreat at one.
One bark blew up, a second near the works
Running aground, was taken by the Turks.
The Moslem, too, had lost both ships and men;
But when they saw the enemy retire,
Their Delhis mann’d some boats, and sail’d again,
And gall’d the Russians with a heavy fire,
And tried to make a landing on the main;
But here the effect fell short of their desire:
Count Damas drove them back into the water
Pell-mell, and with a whole gazette of slaughter.
‘If’ (says the historian here) ‘I could report
All that the Russians did upon this day,
I think that several volumes would fall short,
And I should still have many things to say;’
And so he says no more — but pays his court
To some distinguish’d strangers in that fray;
The Prince de Ligne, and Langeron, and Damas,
Names great as any that the roll of Fame has.
This being the case, may show us what Fame is:
For out of these three ‘preux Chevaliers,’ how
Many of common readers give a guess
That such existed? (and they may live now
For aught we know.) Renown ‘s all hit or miss;
There ‘s fortune even in fame, we must allow.
’T is true the Memoirs of the Prince de Ligne
Have half withdrawn from him oblivion’s screen.
But here are men who fought in gallant actions
As gallantly as ever heroes fought,
But buried in the heap of such transactions
Their names are rarely found, nor often sought.
Thus even good fame may suffer sad contractions,
And is extinguish’d sooner than she ought:
Of all our modern battles, I will bet
You can’t repeat nine names from each Gazette.
In short, this last attack, though rich in glory,
Show’d that somewhere, somehow, there was a fault,
And Admiral Ribas (known in Russian story)
Most strongly recommended an assault;
In which he was opposed by young and hoary,
Which made a long debate; but I must halt,
For if I wrote down every warrior’s speech,
I doubt few readers e’er would mount the breach.
There was a man, if that he was a man,
Not that his manhood could be call’d in question,
For had he not been Hercules, his span
Had been as short in youth as indigestion
Made his last illness, when, all worn and wan,
He died beneath a tree, as much unblest on
The soil of the green province he had wasted,
As e’er was locust on the land it blasted.
This was Potemkin — a great thing in days
When homicide and harlotry made great;
If stars and titles could entail long praise,
His glory might half equal his estate.
This fellow, being six foot high, could raise
A kind of phantasy proportionate
In the then sovereign of the Russian people,
Who measured men as you would do a steeple.
While things were in abeyance, Ribas sent
A courier to the prince, and he succeeded
In ordering matters after his own bent;
I cannot tell the way in which he pleaded,
But shortly he had cause to be content.
In the mean time, the batteries proceeded,
And fourscore cannon on the Danube’s border
Were briskly fired and answer’d in due order.
But on the thirteenth, when already part
Of the troops were embark’d, the siege to raise,
A courier on the spur inspired new heart
Into all panters for newspaper praise,
As well as dilettanti in war’s art,
By his despatches couch’d in pithy phrase;
Announcing the appointment of that lover of
Battles to the command, Field–Marshal Souvaroff.
The letter of the prince to the same marshal
Was worthy of a Spartan, had the cause
Been one to which a good heart could be partial —
Defence of freedom, country, or of laws;
But as it was mere lust of power to o’er-arch all
With its proud brow, it merits slight applause,
Save for its style, which said, all in a trice,
‘You will take Ismail at whatever price.’
‘Let there be light! said God, and there was light!’
‘Let there be blood!’ says man, and there ‘s a seal
The fiat of this spoil’d child of the Night
(For Day ne’er saw his merits) could decree
More evil in an hour, than thirty bright
Summers could renovate, though they should be
Lovely as those which ripen’d Eden’s fruit;
For war cuts up not only branch, but root.
Our friends the Turks, who with loud ‘Allahs’ now
Began to signalise the Russ retreat,
Were damnably mistaken; few are slow
In thinking that their enemy is beat
(Or beaten, if you insist on grammar, though
I never think about it in a heat),
But here I say the Turks were much mistaken,
Who hating hogs, yet wish’d to save their bacon.
For, on the sixteenth, at full gallop, drew
In sight two horsemen, who were deem’d Cossacques
For some time, till they came in nearer view.
They had but little baggage at their backs,
For there were but three shirts between the two;
But on they rode upon two Ukraine hacks,
Till, in approaching, were at length descried
In this plain pair, Suwarrow and his guide.
‘Great joy to London now!’ says some great fool,
When London had a grand illumination,
Which to that bottle-conjurer, John Bull,
Is of all dreams the first hallucination;
So that the streets of colour’d lamps are full,
That Sage (said john) surrenders at discretion
His purse, his soul, his sense, and even his nonsense,
To gratify, like a huge moth, this one sense.
’T is strange that he should farther ‘damn his eyes,’
For they are damn’d; that once all-famous oath
Is to the devil now no farther prize,
Since John has lately lost the use of both.
Debt he calls wealth, and taxes Paradise;
And Famine, with her gaunt and bony growth,
Which stare him in the face, he won’t examine,
Or swears that Ceres hath begotten Famine.
But to the tale:— great joy unto the camp!
To Russian, Tartar, English, French, Cossacque,
O’er whom Suwarrow shone like a gas lamp,
Presaging a most luminous attack;
Or like a wisp along the marsh so damp,
Which leads beholders on a boggy walk,
He flitted to and fro a dancing light,
Which all who saw it follow’d, wrong or right.
But certes matters took a different face;
There was enthusiasm and much applause,
The fleet and camp saluted with great grace,
And all presaged good fortune to their cause.
Within a cannon-shot length of the place
They drew, constructed ladders, repair’d flaws
In former works, made new, prepared fascines,
And all kinds of benevolent machines.
’T is thus the spirit of a single mind
Makes that of multitudes take one direction,
As roll the waters to the breathing wind,
Or roams the herd beneath the bull’s protection;
Or as a little dog will lead the blind,
Or a bell-wether form the flock’s connection
By tinkling sounds, when they go forth to victual;
Such is the sway of your great men o’er little.
The whole camp rung with joy; you would have thought
That they were going to a marriage feast
(This metaphor, I think, holds good as aught,
Since there is discord after both at least):
There was not now a luggage boy but sought
Danger and spoil with ardour much increased;
And why? because a little — odd — old man,
Stript to his shirt, was come to lead the van.
But so it was; and every preparation
Was made with all alacrity: the first
Detachment of three columns took its station,
And waited but the signal’s voice to burst
Upon the foe: the second’s ordination
Was also in three columns, with a thirst
For glory gaping o’er a sea of slaughter:
The third, in columns two, attack’d by water.
New batteries were erected, and was held
A general council, in which unanimity,
That stranger to most councils, here prevail’d,
As sometimes happens in a great extremity;
And every difficulty being dispell’d,
Glory began to dawn with due sublimity,
While Souvaroff, determined to obtain it,
Was teaching his recruits to use the bayonet
It is an actual fact, that he, commander
In chief, in proper person deign’d to drill
The awkward squad, and could afford to squander
His time, a corporal’s duty to fulfil:
Just as you ‘d break a sucking salamander
To swallow flame, and never take it ill:
He show’d them how to mount a ladder (which
Was not like Jacob’s) or to cross a ditch.
Also he dress’d up, for the nonce, fascines
Like men with turbans, scimitars, and dirks,
And made them charge with bayonet these machines,
By way of lesson against actual Turks:
And when well practised in these mimic scenes,
He judged them proper to assail the works;
At which your wise men sneer’d in phrases witty:
He made no answer; but he took the city.
Most things were in this posture on the eve
Of the assault, and all the camp was in
A stern repose; which you would scarce conceive;
Yet men resolved to dash through thick and thin
Are very silent when they once believe
That all is settled:— there was little din,
For some were thinking of their home and friends,
And others of themselves and latter ends.
Suwarrow chiefly was on the alert,
Surveying, drilling, ordering, jesting, pondering;
For the man was, we safely may assert,
A thing to wonder at beyond most wondering;
Hero, buffoon, half-demon, and half-dirt,
Praying, instructing, desolating, plundering;
Now Mars, now Momus; and when bent to storm
A fortress, Harlequin in uniform.
The day before the assault, while upon drill —
For this great conqueror play’d the corporal —
Some Cossacques, hovering like hawks round a hill,
Had met a party towards the twilight’s fall,
One of whom spoke their tongue — or well or ill,
’T was much that he was understood at all;
But whether from his voice, or speech, or manner,
They found that he had fought beneath their banner.
Whereon immediately at his request
They brought him and his comrades to head-quarters;
Their dress was Moslem, but you might have guess’d
That these were merely masquerading Tartars,
And that beneath each Turkish-fashion’d vest
Lurk’d Christianity; which sometimes barters
Her inward grace for outward show, and makes
It difficult to shun some strange mistakes.
Suwarrow, who was standing in his shirt
Before a company of Calmucks, drilling,
Exclaiming, fooling, swearing at the inert,
And lecturing on the noble art of killing —
For deeming human clay but common dirt,
This great philosopher was thus instilling
His maxims, which to martial comprehension
Proved death in battle equal to a pension; —
Suwarrow, when he saw this company
Of Cossacques and their prey, turn’d round and cast
Upon them his slow brow and piercing eye:—
‘Whence come ye?’—‘From Constantinople last,
Captives just now escaped,’ was the reply.
‘What are ye?’—‘What you see us.’ Briefly pass’d
This dialogue; for he who answer’d knew
To whom he spoke, and made his words but few.
‘Your names?’—‘Mine ‘s Johnson, and my comrade ‘s Juan;
The other two are women, and the third
Is neither man nor woman.’ The chief threw on
The party a slight glance, then said, ‘I have heard
Your name before, the second is a new one:
To bring the other three here was absurd:
But let that pass:— I think I have heard your name
In the Nikolaiew regiment?’—‘The same.’
‘You served at Widdin?’—‘Yes.’—‘You led the attack?’
‘I did.’—‘What next?’—‘I really hardly know.’
‘You were the first i’ the breach?’—‘I was not slack
At least to follow those who might be so.’
‘What follow’d?’—‘A shot laid me on my back,
And I became a prisoner to the foe.’
‘You shall have vengeance, for the town surrounded
Is twice as strong as that where you were wounded.
‘Where will you serve?’—‘Where’er you please.’—‘I know
You like to be the hope of the forlorn,
And doubtless would be foremost on the foe
After the hardships you ’ve already borne.
And this young fellow — say what can he do?
He with the beardless chin and garments torn?’
‘Why, general, if he hath no greater fault
In war than love, he had better lead the assault.’
‘He shall if that he dare.’ Here Juan bow’d
Low as the compliment deserved. Suwarrow
Continued: ‘Your old regiment’s allow’d,
By special providence, to lead tomorrow,
Or it may be to-night, the assault: I have vow’d
To several saints, that shortly plough or harrow
Shall pass o’er what was Ismail, and its tusk
Be unimpeded by the proudest mosque.
‘So now, my lads, for glory!’— Here he turn’d
And drill’d away in the most classic Russian,
Until each high, heroic bosom burn’d
For cash and conquest, as if from a cushion
A preacher had held forth (who nobly spurn’d
All earthly goods save tithes) and bade them push on
To slay the Pagans who resisted, battering
The armies of the Christian Empress Catherine.
Johnson, who knew by this long colloquy
Himself a favourite, ventured to address
Suwarrow, though engaged with accents high
In his resumed amusement. ‘I confess
My debt in being thus allow’d to die
Among the foremost; but if you ‘d express
Explicitly our several posts, my friend
And self would know what duty to attend.’
‘Right! I was busy, and forgot. Why, you
Will join your former regiment, which should be
Now under arms. Ho! Katskoff, take him to
(Here he call’d up a Polish orderly)
His post, I mean the regiment Nikolaiew:
The stranger stripling may remain with me;
He ‘s a fine boy. The women may be sent
To the other baggage, or to the sick tent.’
But here a sort of scene began to ensue:
The ladies — who by no means had been bred
To be disposed of in a way so new,
Although their haram education led
Doubtless to that of doctrines the most true,
Passive obedience — now raised up the head,
With flashing eyes and starting tears, and flung
Their arms, as hens their wings about their young,
O’er the promoted couple of brave men
Who were thus honour’d by the greatest chief
That ever peopled hell with heroes slain,
Or plunged a province or a realm in grief.
O, foolish mortals! Always taught in vain!
O, glorious laurel! since for one sole leaf
Of thine imaginary deathless tree,
Of blood and tears must flow the unebbing sea.
Suwarrow, who had small regard for tears,
And not much sympathy for blood, survey’d
The women with their hair about their ears
And natural agonies, with a slight shade
Of feeling: for however habit sears
Men’s hearts against whole millions, when their trade
Is butchery, sometimes a single sorrow
Will touch even heroes — and such was Suwarrow.
He said — and in the kindest Calmuck tone —
‘Why, Johnson, what the devil do you mean
By bringing women here? They shall be shown
All the attention possible, and seen
In safety to the waggons, where alone
In fact they can be safe. You should have been
Aware this kind of baggage never thrives:
Save wed a year, I hate recruits with wives.’
‘May it please your excellency,’ thus replied
Our British friend, ‘these are the wives of others,
And not our own. I am too qualified
By service with my military brothers
To break the rules by bringing one’s own bride
Into a camp: I know that nought so bothers
The hearts of the heroic on a charge,
As leaving a small family at large.
‘But these are but two Turkish ladies, who
With their attendant aided our escape,
And afterwards accompanied us through
A thousand perils in this dubious shape.
To me this kind of life is not so new;
To them, poor things, it is an awkward scrape.
I therefore, if you wish me to fight freely,
Request that they may both be used genteelly.’
Meantime these two poor girls, with swimming eyes,
Look’d on as if in doubt if they could trust
Their own protectors; nor was their surprise
Less than their grief (and truly not less just)
To see an old man, rather wild than wise
In aspect, plainly clad, besmear’d with dust,
Stript to his waistcoat, and that not too clean,
More fear’d than all the sultans ever seen.
For every thing seem’d resting on his nod,
As they could read in all eyes. Now to them,
Who were accustom’d, as a sort of god,
To see the sultan, rich in many a gem,
Like an imperial peacock stalk abroad
(That royal bird, whose tail ‘s a diadem),
With all the pomp of power, it was a doubt
How power could condescend to do without.
John Johnson, seeing their extreme dismay,
Though little versed in feelings oriental,
Suggested some slight comfort in his way:
Don Juan, who was much more sentimental,
Swore they should see him by the dawn of day,
Or that the Russian army should repent all:
And, strange to say, they found some consolation
In this — for females like exaggeration.
And then with tears, and sighs, and some slight kisses,
They parted for the present — these to await,
According to the artillery’s hits or misses,
What sages call Chance, Providence, or Fate
(Uncertainty is one of many blisses,
A mortgage on Humanity’s estate)—
While their beloved friends began to arm,
To burn a town which never did them harm.
Suwarrow — who but saw things in the gross,
Being much too gross to see them in detail,
Who calculated life as so much dross,
And as the wind a widow’d nation’s wail,
And cared as little for his army’s loss
(So that their efforts should at length prevail)
As wife and friends did for the boils of job —
What was ‘t to him to hear two women sob?
Nothing. — The work of glory still went on
In preparations for a cannonade
As terrible as that of Ilion,
If Homer had found mortars ready made;
But now, instead of slaying Priam’s son,
We only can but talk of escalade,
Bombs, drums, guns, bastions, batteries, bayonets, bullets —
Hard words, which stick in the soft Muses’ gullets.
O, thou eternal Homer! who couldst charm
All cars, though long; all ages, though so short,
By merely wielding with poetic arm
Arms to which men will never more resort,
Unless gunpowder should be found to harm
Much less than is the hope of every court,
Which now is leagued young Freedom to annoy;
But they will not find Liberty a Troy:—
O, thou eternal Homer! I have now
To paint a siege, wherein more men were slain,
With deadlier engines and a speedier blow,
Than in thy Greek gazette of that campaign;
And yet, like all men else, I must allow,
To vie with thee would be about as vain
As for a brook to cope with ocean’s flood;
But still we moderns equal you in blood;
If not in poetry, at least in fact;
And fact is truth, the grand desideratum!
Of which, howe’er the Muse describes each act,
There should be ne’ertheless a slight substratum.
But now the town is going to be attack’d;
Great deeds are doing — how shall I relate ’em?
Souls of immortal generals! Phoebus watches
To colour up his rays from your despatches.
O, ye great bulletins of Bonaparte!
O, ye less grand long lists of kill’d and wounded!
Shade of Leonidas, who fought so hearty,
When my poor Greece was once, as now, surrounded!
O, Caesar’s Commentaries! now impart, ye
Shadows of glory! (lest I be confounded)
A portion of your fading twilight hues,
So beautiful, so fleeting, to the Muse.
When I call ‘fading’ martial immortality,
I mean, that every age and every year,
And almost every day, in sad reality,
Some sucking hero is compell’d to rear,
Who, when we come to sum up the totality
Of deeds to human happiness most dear,
Turns out to be a butcher in great business,
Afflicting young folks with a sort of dizziness.
Medals, rank, ribands, lace, embroidery, scarlet,
Are things immortal to immortal man,
As purple to the Babylonian harlot:
An uniform to boys is like a fan
To women; there is scarce a crimson varlet
But deems himself the first in Glory’s van.
But Glory’s glory; and if you would find
What that is — ask the pig who sees the wind!
At least he feels it, and some say he sees,
Because he runs before it like a pig;
Or, if that simple sentence should displease,
Say, that he scuds before it like a brig,
A schooner, or — but it is time to ease
This Canto, ere my Muse perceives fatigue.
The next shall ring a peal to shake all people,
Like a bob-major from a village steeple.
Hark! through the silence of the cold, dull night,
The hum of armies gathering rank on rank!
Lo! dusky masses steal in dubious sight
Along the leaguer’d wall and bristling bank
Of the arm’d river, while with straggling light
The stars peep through the vapours dim and dank,
Which curl in curious wreaths:— how soon the smoke
Of Hell shall pall them in a deeper cloak!
Here pause we for the present — as even then
That awful pause, dividing life from death,
Struck for an instant on the hearts of men,
Thousands of whom were drawing their last breath!
A moment — and all will be life again!
The march! the charge! the shouts of either faith!
Hurra! and Allah! and — one moment more,
The death-cry drowning in the battle’s roar.
Last updated Tuesday, November 10, 2015 at 20:47