Canto 28: Mont Saint Jean

Grim was it in that dawn to be alive
Except to those who like their mornings bloody


The British Lines

But by the Chieftain’s look, though at his side
Hangs that day’s treasured sword, how firm a check
Is given to triumph and all human pride!
William Wordsworth

Escorted by officers & troopers
Down the length of an infamous army
Of thieves, curs, scoundrels, blaggards & beggars,
Rode the giant, great warrior Wellesley;
As tho’ men were
In England with the hounds,
Chasing the foxes fur across the chalky Downs.

Artillery mounted the crest
Where the Chemin de la Croix
Held forces fast from East to West
Like some scarlet scalding scar,
Against the rearward slope hard-press’d
So cannon would fire far
Above their heads & safely out of harm –
The bugles hum, the time has come to arm.

Cloud castles drifted lazily
Over massive silence,
The gravity of death-to-be
Fills men’s minds with violence,
‘Til single shot cuts thro the knot of youthful innocence.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815

First Skirmish

How slowly they die
as we kneel beside them, whisper in their ear.
And we are too late. We are always too late
Eavan Boland

Wild flowers swayed in the soft sommer breeze;
Cloak’d by clouds of skirmishing Tirailleurs
Columns of infantry aim for the trees,
Toward pois’d troops of red-coated soldiers;
Battle baptis’d,
A hail of musket-balls,
The blue-coats halt surpris’d, a whirl of wounded souls.

From tree to tree thro’ that dense wood
Jerome’s dashing swordsmen surge,
Soil saturated with the blood
Of many a murd’rous urge,
The first Frenchman spat, sniff’d & stood
At the foliage verge,
Where the rickety chateau of his goal
Loom’d large behind it’s gun-lined garden wall.

L’Enforceur burst thro’ the North gate
With four & thirty men,
Death dealt by Fate, before too late
The gate was closed again,
Sharp bayonets dealt to those few trapp’d in the Lion’s den.

June 18th 1815


I knew you were
mortally wounded
that I was too
Claribel Alegría

With the sultry blaze of the mid-day sun
Came the barrage of the Grand Battery,
Shot & shell hurtl’d from a hundred gun
Cross the vale with a volumous volley;
Iron shower,
Dealer of destruction,
Falls to slay the flower of the Belgic nation.

Expos’d upon the forward slant,
Close by the Papolette farm,
The anguish’d moans transpose to chant
As the devlish shells reek harm,
Whilst some poor dashing Lieutenant
Clutches his sever’d arm –
Time abandons this terrible limbo,
This howling hurricane’s booming bellow.

Waiting for war behind the hill
Men of Alban Highlands
Led statue still beneath the shrill
Each fearsome shell commands,
Awaiting to do battle, muskets clutch’d in eager hands.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815

Deadly Wounds

They did evilly,
Beat on their palms, thumped their bodies,
Wailing to the monster who enslaved them
Book of Leinster: Anon

As Empires swell so small a plot of ground
No man alive there is which felt that noise
Whose spirit would not shudder at the sound,
An eerie onslaught, brave men wilt as boys;
Nerves jangle taut,
On the edge of snapping,
While Man’s most brutal sport throws it thunderclapping.

His belly caught wallumphing round,
His face utmost distortion,
His body floated to the ground,
His limbs ghostly contortion,
He made a brief, gut-clenching sound,
Pain laced with emotion,
When with his vital organs closing down
His face’s final grimace forg’d a frown.

At threshfolds of eternity
Embattl’d soliers stand,
Death’s legend’ry finality
No distant Samarkand,
But on this pitch today, perhaps, which never look’d so grand.

The Fields of Waterloo

Prussian Advance

Walking the mudflats,
I pass a stranger. We nod.
And leave it at that
Pat Boran

As cannonades echo for miles around,
Slowly, along those atrocious back lanes,
The Prussian hastens to the battleground
Thro’ marshland swollen by the recent rains;
Knee deep in mud
Blucher waves high his sword,
Forwards, my men, ye would not have me break my word.”

Marching on a murd’rous ordeal
Men moved thro’ glutinous goo,
Took three of them to free a wheel
As weary exhaustion grew,
But with that great Teutonic zeal
Them close to battle drew,
Emerging from the woods by Saint-Lambert,
The bloodshed spread below them everywhere.

Napoleon gazed hopefully
Along the Eastern track,
“They could well be troops of Grouchy…”
“Perhaps, sire, Prussian black!”
“It makes no difference to us now, on with D’Erlon’s attack.”

La Belle Alliance
June 18th 1815

D’Erlon’s Attack

I belong to you and call you mine
like my mother whom I did not choose
but nonetheless love
Conceição Lima

As low, dense powder clouds drifted away,
The bands struck up, notes melting the mile,
Juggernauts launch, & slowly make their way
Across the valley in the same old style;
War’s theatre
Rips with the sounds of drum;
Rrum-da, rrum-dum…rrum-da, rrubba-dabba-dum-dum!

As mile-long lines of skirmisher
Drive the keen sharpshooters back
From behind, in phalanx terror,
Five thousand from front to back,
Pass into the smoke & sulphur,
Press glorious attack
Upon the British, ignoble retreat
Must come to them & consummate defeat.

A blaze of muskets strafed the flanks
Flung out from La Haye Saint,
From cannon clanks ploughs thro’ the ranks
Screaming balls of iron,
Dreamy, regardless of their loss, men joyously march’d on.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815

Death of Picton

Doing, a filthy pleasure is, & short:
& done, we straight repent us of the sport:
Let us not then rush blindly on unto it

Below the ridge, in nervous ribaldry,
Gin rations allay a real human fear,
Ready to die, the Highlander stands steady,
Eyes on the crest, appears the Grenadier!
A Cymric roar
Defies the glide of France,
His tartan & claymore piped into an advance.

As driving on those men he led,
“At ’em you drunken rascals!”
What lucky shot pierc’d Picton’s head,
From his mount he slowly falls,
But still that regiment in red
Blow forwards musketballs,
As bayonets are thrust into the charge,
”Get into ‘em!” bellows their foul-mouth’d sarge.

Little do we know of courage
’Til battle’s lust takes oer,
With fearful rage our fight we rage
Altho’ we know not for,
To kill a man, or by him slain, the sacrament of war.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815

Scots Greys

O what is Death? ‘Tis life’s last shore,
Where vanities are vain no more!
Where all pursuits their goal obtain
Leigh Richmond

Lord Uxbridge watch’d the battle’s lethal course,
Observ’d the gravitas of the melee,
Spurr’d to face his fine phalanx of grey horse,
Order’d their sabers from rest to ready;
The bugle’s peel
Cancels all distraction,
Perform’d a perfect wheel, forth into the action

The earth-thumping hoofbeats propel
Centaurs of derring & dash,
Bloodstirring the Britisher’s yell
As into the Gaul they crash,
How many a gallant foe fell
Neath scything sabre slash
& the hooves of the stamping stallion –
Grave panic grips the forces of D’Erlon.

With the capture of their standard
Brave Frenchmen fled like sheep,
Fully routed or led founder’d,
Dead or feigning Death’s sleep,
While nigh three thousand prisoners lament the lives they keep.

The Fields of Waterloo

Sanguine Stalemate

I go up onto the rocky earth-hill summit,
Till my horses are sick with the effort;
My charioteer is poorly now
Chou South

Drunk on rum & bloodshed the Grey’s charg’d on;
No voice nor blast could halt the lusty heart
Careering round each small yet deadly gun,
Wreaking revenge for those they blew apart;
Heroic fray,
Fought in that danger zone,
Safety skulk’d far away as their mounts became blown.

He watch’d as tho’ struck by thunder,
A terrible sight to see,
Then cast the Polish Lancer
Gin’ the milling cavalry,
With the promise of no quarter
They spear’d the enemy,
Slaying spent stragglers with furious zest,
Oft times twenty lances punctur’d the chest.

The plain was litter’d with the slain
Like shrapnel from a bomb,
While fresh cocaine sped to his brain
He rode back to Rossome,
Screaming, “Where the fuck is Grouchy? Where are these English from!”

June 18th 1815

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s