Thomas Hardy |
I saw a slowly-stepping train --
Lined on the brows, scoop-eyed and bent and hoar --
Following in files across a twilit plain
A strange and mystic form the foremost bore.
And by contagious throbs of thought
Or latent knowledge that within me lay
And had already stirred me, I was wrought
To consciousness of sorrow even as they.
The fore-borne shape, to my blurred eyes,
At first seemed man-like, and anon to change
To an amorphous cloud of marvellous size,
At times endowed with wings of glorious range.
And this phantasmal variousness
Ever possessed it as they drew along:
Yet throughout all it symboled none the less
Potency vast and loving-kindness strong.
Almost before I knew I bent
Towards the moving columns without a word;
They, growing in bulk and numbers as they went,
Struck out sick thoughts that could be overheard: --
'O man-projected Figure, of late
Imaged as we, thy knell who shall survive?
Whence came it we were tempted to create
One whom we can no longer keep alive?
'Framing him jealous, fierce, at first,
We gave him justice as the ages rolled,
Will to bless those by circumstance accurst,
And longsuffering, and mercies manifold.
'And, tricked by our own early dream
And need of solace, we grew self-deceived,
Our making soon our maker did we deem,
And what we had imagined we believed,
'Till, in Time's stayless stealthy swing,
Uncompromising rude reality
Mangled the Monarch of our fashioning,
Who quavered, sank; and now has ceased to be.
'So, toward our myth's oblivion,
Darkling, and languid-lipped, we creep and grope
Sadlier than those who wept in Babylon,
Whose Zion was a still abiding hope.
'How sweet it was in years far hied
To start the wheels of day with trustful prayer,
To lie down liegely at the eventide
And feel a blest assurance he was there!
'And who or what shall fill his place?
Whither will wanderers turn distracted eyes
For some fixed star to stimulate their pace
Towards the goal of their enterprise?'.
Some in the background then I saw,
Sweet women, youths, men, all incredulous,
Who chimed as one: 'This is figure is of straw,
This requiem mockery! Still he lives to us!'
I could not prop their faith: and yet
Many I had known: with all I sympathized;
And though struck speechless, I did not forget
That what was mourned for, I, too, once had prized.
Still, how to bear such loss I deemed
The insistent question for each animate mind,
And gazing, to my growing sight there seemed
A pale yet positive gleam low down behind,
Whereof, to lift the general night,
A certain few who stood aloof had said,
'See you upon the horizon that small light --
Swelling somewhat?' Each mourner shook his head.
And they composed a crowd of whom
Some were right good, and many nigh the best.
Thus dazed and puzzled 'twixt the gleam and gloom
Mechanically I followed with the rest.
Thomas Hardy |
Good Father!… ’Twas an eve in middle June,
And war was waged anew
By great Napoleon, who for years had strewn
Men’s bones all Europe through.
Three nights ere this, with columned corps he’d crossed
The Sambre at Charleroi,
To move on Brussels, where the English host
Dallied in Parc and Bois.
The yestertide we’d heard the gloomy gun
Growl through the long-sunned day
From Quatre-Bras and Ligny; till the dun
Twilight suppressed the fray;
Albeit therein—as lated tongues bespoke—
Brunswick’s high heart was drained,
And Prussia’s Line and Landwehr, though unbroke,
Stood cornered and constrained.
And at next noon-time Grouchy slowly passed
With thirty thousand men:
We hoped thenceforth no army, small or vast,
Would trouble us again.
My hut lay deeply in a vale recessed,
And never a soul seemed nigh
When, reassured at length, we went to rest—
My children, wife, and I.
But what was this that broke our humble ease?
What noise, above the rain,
Above the dripping of the poplar trees
That smote along the pane?
—A call of mastery, bidding me arise,
Compelled me to the door,
At which a horseman stood in martial guise—
Splashed—sweating from every pore.
Had I seen Grouchy? Yes? Which track took he?
Could I lead thither on?—
Fulfilment would ensure gold pieces three,
Perchance more gifts anon.
“I bear the Emperor’s mandate,” then he said,
“Charging the Marshal straight
To strike between the double host ahead
Ere they co-operate,
“Engaging Bl?cher till the Emperor put
Lord Wellington to flight,
And next the Prussians.
This to set afoot
Is my emprise to-night.
I joined him in the mist; but, pausing, sought
To estimate his say,
Grouchy had made for Wavre; and yet, on thought,
I did not lead that way.
I mused: “If Grouchy thus instructed be,
The clash comes sheer hereon;
My farm is stript.
While, as for pieces three,
Money the French have none.
“Grouchy unwarned, moreo’er, the English win,
And mine is left to me—
They buy, not borrow.
”—Hence did I begin
To lead him treacherously.
By Joidoigne, near to east, as we ondrew,
Dawn pierced the humid air;
And eastward faced I with him, though I knew
Never marched Grouchy there.
Near Ottignies we passed, across the Dyle
(Lim’lette left far aside),
And thence direct toward Pervez and Noville
Through green grain, till he cried:
“I doubt thy conduct, man! no track is here
I doubt they gag?d word!”
Thereat he scowled on me, and pranced me near,
And pricked me with his sword.
“Nay, Captain, hold! We skirt, not trace the course
Of Grouchy,” said I then:
“As we go, yonder went he, with his force
Of thirty thousand men.
—At length noon nighed, when west, from Saint-John’s-Mound,
A hoarse artillery boomed,
And from Saint-Lambert’s upland, chapel-crowned,
The Prussian squadrons loomed.
Then to the wayless wet gray ground he leapt;
“My mission fails!” he cried;
“Too late for Grouchy now to intercept,
For, peasant, you have lied!”
He turned to pistol me.
I sprang, and drew
The sabre from his flank,
And ’twixt his nape and shoulder, ere he knew,
I struck, and dead he sank.
I hid him deep in nodding rye and oat—
His shroud green stalks and loam;
His requiem the corn-blade’s husky note—
And then I hastened home….
—Two armies writhe in coils of red and blue,
And brass and iron clang
From Goumont, past the front of Waterloo,
To Pap’lotte and Smohain.
The Guard Imperial wavered on the height;
The Emperor’s face grew glum;
“I sent,” he said, “to Grouchy yesternight,
And yet he does not come!”
’Twas then, Good Father, that the French espied,
Streaking the summer land,
The men of Bl?cher.
But the Emperor cried,
“Grouchy is now at hand!”
And meanwhile Vand’leur, Vivian, Maitland, Kempt,
Met d’Erlon, Friant, Ney;
But Grouchy—mis-sent, blamed, yet blame-exempt—
Grouchy was far away.
Be even, slain or struck, Michel the strong,
Bold Travers, Dnop, Delord,
Smart Guyot, Reil-le, l’Heriter, Friant.
Scattered that champaign o’er.
Fallen likewise wronged Duhesme, and skilled Lobau
Did that red sunset see;
Colbert, Legros, Blancard!… And of the foe
Picton and Ponsonby;
With Gordon, Canning, Blackman, Ompteda,
L’Estrange, Delancey, Packe,
Grose, D’Oyly, Stables, Morice, Howard, Hay,
Von Schwerin, Watzdorf, Boek,
Smith, Phelips, Fuller, Lind, and Battersby,
And hosts of ranksmen round…
Memorials linger yet to speak to thee
Of those that bit the ground!
The Guards’ last column yielded; dykes of dead
Lay between vale and ridge,
As, thinned yet closing, faint yet fierce, they sped
In packs to Genappe Bridge.
Safe was my stock; my capple cow unslain;
Intact each cock and hen;
But Grouchy far at Wavre all day had lain,
And thirty thousand men.
O Saints, had I but lost my earing corn
And saved the cause once prized!
O Saints, why such false witness had I borne
When late I’d sympathized!…
So, now, being old, my children eye askance
My slowly dwindling store,
And crave my mite; till, worn with tarriance,
I care for life no more.
To Almighty God henceforth I stand confessed,
And Virgin-Saint Marie;
O Michael, John, and Holy Ones in rest,
Entreat the Lord for me!