’Twas in that memorable year
France threaten’d to put off in
Flat-bottom’d boats, intending each
To be a British coffin,
To make sad widows of our wives,
And every babe an orphan:—
When coats were made of scarlet cloaks,
And heads were dredg’d with flour,
I listed in the Lawyer’s Corps,
Against the battle hour;
A perfect Volunteer — for why?
I brought my “will and pow’r.”
One dreary day — a day of dread,
Like Cato’s, over-cast —
About the hour of six, (the morn
And I were breaking fast,)
There came a loud and sudden sound,
That struck me all aghast!
A dismal sort of morning roll,
That was not to be eaten;
Although it was no skin of mine,
But parchment that was beaten,
I felt tattooed through all my flesh,
Like any Otaheitan.
My jaws with utter dread enclos’d
The morsel I was munching,
And terror lock’d them up so tight,
My very teeth went crunching
All through my bread and tongue at once,
Like sandwich made at lunching.
My hand that held the tea-pot fast,
Stiffen’d, but yet unsteady,
Kept pouring, pouring, pouring o’er
The cup in one long eddy,
Till both my hose were marked with tea,
As they were mark’d already.
I felt my visage turn from red
To white — from cold to hot;
But it was nothing wonderful
My color changed, I wot,
For, like some variable silks,
I felt that I was shot.
And looking forth with anxious eye,
From my snug upper story,
I saw our melancholy corps,
Going to beds all gory;
The pioneers seem’d very loth
To axe their way to glory.
The captain march’d as mourners march,
The ensign too seem’d lagging,
And many more, although they were
No ensigns, took to flagging —
Like corpses in the Serpentine,
Methought they wanted dragging.
But while I watch’d, the thought of death
Came like a chilly gust,
And lo! I shut the window down,
With very little lust
To join so many marching men,
That soon might be March dust.
Quoth I, “Since Fate ordains it so,
Our foe the coast must land on”; —
I felt so warm beside the fire
I cared not to abandon;
Our hearths and homes are always things
That patriots make a stand on.
“The fools that fight abroad for home,”
Thought I, “may get a wrong one;
Let those who have no homes at all
Go battle for a long one.”
The mirror here confirm’d me this
Reflection, by a strong one.
For there, where I was wont to shave,
And deck me like Adonis,
There stood the leader of our foes,
With vultures for his armies —
No Corsican, but Death himself,
The Bony of all Bonies.
A horrid sight it was, and sad,
To see the grisly chap
Put on my crimson livery,
And then begin to clap
My helmet on — ah me! it felt
Like any felon’s cap.
My plume seem’d borrow’d from a hearse,
An undertaker’s crest;
My epaulette’s like coffin-plates;
My belt so heavy press’d,
Four pipeclay cross-roads seem’d to lie
At once upon my breast.
My brazen breast-plate only lack’d
A little heap of salt,
To make me like a corpse full dress’d,
Preparing for the vault —
To set up what the Poet calls
My everlasting halt.
This funeral show inclined me quite
To peace:— and here I am!
Whilst better lions go to war,
Enjoying with the lamb
A lengthen’d life, that might have been
A Martial Epigram.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55