Poem of the day

Stanzas on Waterloo
by Lord Byron (1788-1824)
from Canto III of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage


   And Harold stands upon this place of skulls,
⁠   The grave of France, the deadly Waterloo!
⁠   How in an hour the Power which gave annuls
⁠   Its gifts, transferring fame as fleeting too!—
⁠   In “pride of place” here last the Eagle flew,
⁠   Then tore with bloody talon the rent plain,
⁠   Pierced by the shaft of banded nations through;
⁠   Ambition’s life and labours all were vain—
He wears the shattered links of the World’s broken chain. …


   There was a sound of revelry by night,
⁠   And Belgium’s Capital had gathered then
⁠   Her Beauty and her Chivalry—and bright
⁠   The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men;
⁠   A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
⁠   Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
⁠   Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,
⁠   And all went merry as a marriage bell;
But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!


   Did ye not hear it?—No—’twas but the Wind,
⁠   Or the car rattling o’er the stony street;
⁠   On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
⁠   No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
⁠   To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet—
⁠   But hark!—that heavy sound breaks in once more,
⁠   As if the clouds its echo would repeat;
⁠   And nearer—clearer—deadlier than before!
Arm! Arm! it is—it is—the cannon’s opening roar!


   Within a windowed niche of that high hall
⁠   Sate Brunswick’s fated Chieftain; he did hear
⁠   That sound the first amidst the festival,
⁠   And caught its tone with Death’s prophetic ear;
⁠   And when they smiled because he deemed it near,
⁠   His heart more truly knew that peal too well
⁠   Which stretched his father on a bloody bier,
⁠   And roused the vengeance blood alone could quell;
He rushed into the field, and, foremost fighting, fell.


   Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro—
⁠   And gathering tears, and tremblings of distress,
⁠   And cheeks all pale, which but an hour ago
⁠   Blushed at the praise of their own loveliness—
⁠   And there were sudden partings, such as press
⁠   The life from out young hearts, and choking sighs
⁠   Which ne’er might be repeated; who could guess
⁠   If ever more should meet those mutual eyes,
Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise!


   And there was mounting in hot haste—the steed,
⁠   The mustering squadron, and the clattering car,
⁠   Went pouring forward with impetuous speed,
⁠   And swiftly forming in the ranks of war—
⁠   And the deep thunder peal on peal afar;
⁠   And near, the beat of the alarming drum
⁠   Roused up the soldier ere the Morning Star;
⁠   While thronged the citizens with terror dumb,
Or whispering, with white lips—“The foe! They come! they come!”


   And wild and high the “Cameron’s Gathering” rose!
⁠   The war-note of Lochiel, which Albyn’s hills
⁠   Have heard, and heard, too, have her Saxon foes:—
⁠   How in the noon of night that pibroch thrills,
⁠   Savage and shrill! But with the breath which fills
⁠   Their mountain-pipe, so fill the mountaineers
⁠   With the fierce native daring which instils
⁠   The stirring memory of a thousand years,
And Evan’s—Donald’s fame rings in each clansman’s ears!


   And Ardennes waves above them her green leaves,
⁠   Dewy with Nature’s tear-drops, as they pass—
⁠   Grieving, if aught inanimate e’er grieves,
⁠   Over the unreturning brave,—alas!
⁠   Ere evening to be trodden like the grass
⁠   Which now beneath them, but above shall grow
⁠   In its next verdure, when this fiery mass
⁠   Of living Valour, rolling on the foe
And burning with high Hope, shall moulder cold and low.


   Last noon beheld them full of lusty life;—
⁠   Last eve in Beauty’s circle proudly gay;
⁠   The Midnight brought the signal-sound of strife,
⁠   The Morn the marshalling in arms,—the Day
⁠   Battle’s magnificently-stern array!
⁠   The thunder-clouds close o’er it, which when rent
⁠   The earth is covered thick with other clay
⁠   Which her own clay shall cover, heaped and pent,
Rider and horse,—friend,—foe,—in one red burial blent!

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