Canto 29: Battle Banners

What can these wise emperors & kings think of themselves now, for giving such a tyranny an opportunity of once more bringing misery upon the world when they had it in them to destroy him

Mary Hutchinson

The King’s German Legion

I’d like to mean as much to you
each minute of the day
As you have meant, old friend of mine
Edgar Guest

There was a time when Teutonrie, allied
With Britain, fought & died for Europe’s peace,
As when her fearsome soldiers fortified
This stocky farm, whose piggeries & geese
Now lifeless lay,
An empty pond & pen
Was pillag’d yesterday by Major Baring’s men.

As these soldiers of King Georges’
Fought the Gallic cambsuscade
Beneath blood-spatter’d moustaches
Rose a vocal barricade
Urging on their battle-brothers,
A hard defence was made,
For there is something in the German blend
That makes men fight unto a lightless end.

Under musquetry & hecklers
Came Frenchmen on again,
Railing, reckless, frighten’d, feckless
War’s work drives all insane,
As round the farm grew blue-clad rings of weapons, caps & slain.

La Haye Saint
June 18th 1815

Cavalry Duel

Their brief desire
Impossibly close
To the rich destroying fire
GJF Dutton

Somehow his horse had flown the Lancers’ net,
But now completely blown, all hoofstep still
& panting hard, its gallant seeping sweat,
Electric to the terrors & the thrill;
Tis Judgement Day,
Swollen & Appaling,
When faces, sliced away, fell like apples falling.

He heard the thud of hooves & turn’d
Unto that Lancer dashing,
In mordant instant death discern’d
So sends his sabre slashing,
His squalling foeman groan’d & gurn’d,
Rushing bloodgush gashing
Out of the stumps where steely limbs once grew,
As if, from pumpwells, water sprites outflew.

At last his blasted, moody mare
Embark’d a little trot,
A pretty pair, this sense they share
Was wholly soulsome knot,
Like cradles with a swaddling child, like ladles in a pot.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815

Deadly Diversions

Yet this, & they, & all, will be forgot;
Why then should words challenge Eternity,
When greatest men, & greatest actions die?

Upon the conflict to the left below
Napoleon bawks with a deep disgust,
That single & moratory chateaux
Has somehow blunted every frontal thrust;
A fresh tactic,
Howitzing overhead
Flames settle in the nick of rooves & ruthless spread.

This upper oven separates
& raced off thro’ the tinder,
As rapidly communicates
Ashfallen heavy hinder,
Soul inferno suffocates
& grates soft skin to cinder –
But see, a miracle leaps thro the heat,
Flames halting in the chapel at Christ’s feet!

Unable, yet, to be dragg’d out,
Men to their fates resign’d,
With thick’ning doubt these wounded shout
Or for their mothers pined,
Or coped with death’s imminency by shutting down the mind.

June 18th 1815

Wellington’s Caution

He’d dreamt he was a shaft of wood
By axehead topp’d, his foes to fight
To chop off heads & branches smite!
Jaan Kaplinski

The field lay taken by an eerie calm,
But for the musketry’s endless rattle
Rising from the blazing Hougoumont farm,
A fierce battle within a fierce battle;
Across the ground
Ten thousand corpses strewn,
Aft’ that first frightful round e’en the stout-hearted swoon.

A young ensign upbraved the crest,
Peer’d into the smoky haze,
Saw tranquil horses, riderless,
On bleeding leg-stumps graze,
Watch’d silent, white & motionless
Whilst wounded Death’s knell raise –
‘Til BOOM! thro’ air cooling cannonball cuts,
Punctures his belly, out trails white worm guts.

The ridge becomes a smoking pyre,
Armies turn to spaces,
To dodge this fire we shall retire
Back a hundred paces!”
Breathing relief, that hot-spot left, war’s pain on strain’d faces.

The Ridge of Mont Saint-Jean
June 18th 1815

Ney’s Attack

I have seen in the hunt
The pulse of rent flesh;
Seen the fingers of Time
Mary Eliza Fullerton

Half-a-mile from the eyes of his master
Ney watch’d the scarlet enemy retreat,
Giving hordes of cavalry the order,
”Come claim the glory of England’s defeat;
In consequence
The Confederacy
Must offer no defence to French supremacy.”

Tween La Haye Saint & Hougoumont
The noble Cuirassier,
His golden breastplate gleaming dun,
His horse-pistol & sabre,
Came on, came slow & calmly on,
Some sea-wave of sommer –
A long, glittering line of man & steed
Emanating granduer’s will to succeed.

The Royal Horse Artillery
Hard gallop’d to the spot
There, with deadly accuracy,
Unleash’d storms of case-shot –
Carcass reduced to bloody pulp as tho’ it’s flesh did rot.

The Ridge of Mont Saint-Jean
June 18th 1815

Carvello Carnage

To see it selfe in that eternall Glasse,
Where time doth end, & thoughts accuse the dead.
Where all to come, is one with all that was
Fulke Greville

The entire army clamour’d into square,
Form’d chequer-style for fire-fields to combine,
The poignant whispers of an English prayer
As onto the ridge surged the mounted line;
Out rings the scream,
One wild “Vive L’Empereur!”
The Cuirassiers stream… Wellesley shakes off wonder,

“Prepare to receive cavalry!”
Ranks of frontal redcoats kneel,
Whose bayonets in company
Form a bristling hedge of steel,
Muzzles train’d on an enemy
Charging empassion’d zeal;
Lucid blue horde meets the red, ragged host –
A stormy ocean & a jagged coast.

Shoot at the horses!” came the cry,
Down fell many a steed,
A human sigh dwelt in the eye
Of our most noble breed,
Man’s heavenly companions dying hell-bent for his greed.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815

Rocks of Empire

Weeping another’s death, my grief atones
No whit. All forms of human doom
Arouse but transient thoughts of joy or gloom
Jan Kochanowski

They stood about the shot-tatter’d colours,
Driven to the limits of endurance,
Defending their ground ‘gainst the warriors
Driven by the spirits of ancyent France;
Without a flinch
They took all France could throw,
Nor yield a single inch to the relentless foe.

Each wave of brave sabres withstood
By the savage squares of red,
Melting into the Belgian mud,
Courtyards litter’d with the dead,
Between each foam-fleck’d horseman flood
Descended deadly dread,
For black balls from BOOM-BOOMING batteries
Cut carnage in swathes thro’ the companies.

With each assault dwindl’d the foe,
Their dead litter’d the plain,
The weighty blow did drain & slow
Tho’ still they came again,
‘Til the last spectres of this ghastly danse macabre wane.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815

The Wounding of DeLancey

War’s still our master, as awry
Falls everyone – friends, enemies –
Morass’d by chutzpah perfidies
Durs Gunbein

As battle sheds a voluntary truce
On soldiers roasting in exhausting blood,
Napoleon’s neck slips into its noose,
The fury of his flower well withstood;
Like Agincourt
& Crecy Frenchmen toil,
Commingling crimson gore with continental soil.

As poor Delancey dismounted
To fasten to his saddle
His purple cloak, a round shot sped
& whack’d him like a paddle
Unripping ribs that pierc’d & bled
Lungbowls, which now rattle,
Out a name, tis ‘Madelaine,’ & he flops
To earth, stands up at once, gasps pain, then drops.

All officers leapt to his aid
Like hounds at the release,
All flap & fray’d De Lancey pray’d
‘Lads let me die in peace,’
“Take him a-rear,” huff-quaff’d the Duke  as deaths on deaths increase.

Mont St Jean
June 18th 1815

Fall of a Farmouse

The two God’s creatures
Fight odiously.
They fight vehemently
Gueorgui Konstantinov

With Wellington press’d hard to distraction
D’Erlons rallied remnants swarm round this farm
In the midst of a furious action,
Show contemptuous recklessness tward harm;
From shot-pock’d walls
The Kings German Legion
Pour’d streams of musketballs into the blue ocean.

As la rage steam-soak’d in despair
Hurls men at the bold defence,
Stone, cold fire of the legionnaire
Splutters to vanquish’d silence,
‘Twas such a murderous affair
The French claim recompense –
Bayonets plunge into wounded soldiers,
“Take zat for being such good defenders!”

On the key to the position
The Tricolor waved free,
The battle won! The division
Of Wellington’s army
Must soon be follow’d by the Brussels march & VICTORY!

La Haye Saint
June 18th 1815

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