Canto 27: Waterloo Dawn

Oh, more or less than man – in high or low,
Battling with nations, flying from the field;
Now making monarchs necks thy footstool, now
An empire couldst thy crush, command, rebuild…

Lord Byron


 

Miss’d Opportunities

Dawn illumed the carnage about Ligny,
Napoleon stood proudly at it’s heart,
Discussing his strategy with Grouchy,
The finest master of the martial art;
“You must now keep
A sword in Blucher’s back,
Seldom relax nor sleep & keep on the attack.”

Aft’ one last glance he rode away
From the smoky rubble-town,
Hard gallop’d west to Marshall Ney,
Vicious was his dressing down,
“You should have took this yesterday,
Fucking moronic clown!
Wellington’s been retreating all morning,
France may be ruined thro’ your dithering.”

Clutching his gut he scream’d in pain,
Snuff’d from box of silver,
Purest cocaine sped to his brain,
Firing fading ardour –
& galvanised to action pursues with renewed vigour.

Quatra Bras
June 17th 1815
13:00


 

Wellington’s Withdrawal

The Duke observes his army pass him by,
Grumbling defeat, retreating from attack,
Then took a longful look upon the sky –
His heart leapt up to see large clouds loom black;
Bright summer’s day
Transfigured by the rain
That wash’d the blood away from the skin of the slain.

“Just like the Salamancan storm!”
Said vet’rans of the army,
By dripping woods & sodden corn
Tramping disconsolately.
In life’s last moment, left alone,
Writhing in agony
Died vast numbers of sad, gallant fellows –
Some shall be buried, some food for the crows.

“Muffling, I beg thee, ride once more,
Ask Blucher to provide
A single corps to end the war
& fall upon his side!”
“I shall, my grace, I go straightway!” “Godspeed, my man, safe ride.”

Genappe
June 17th 1815
16:00


 

Rear-Gaurd

From ridge to ridge they cover’d the retreat,
These cavalry disguised as an army,
Blocking the passage of the Genappe street,
Flank’d by the Royal Horse Artillery;
So beautiful,
Along the long slopes length,
The Chasseurs de Cheval came charging in great strength.

Like some great river’s tidal flow
The contest raged in the rain,
The pendulum swung to & fro
As the campaigns fought in Spain,
Each charge would blow, & then follow
Counters with equal mein,
& with each skirmish fought, all the while,
Wellington’s army retreats one more mile.

How soon have roads churning to ooze
Delay’d the French advance,
Allow’d to choose, thro’ rain & ruse,
The field to fight with France,
Smiled Wellington, as Mont Saint-Jean appear’d in his distance.

La Belle Alliance
June 17th 1815
18:00


 

Battle’s Eve

The Emperor reach’d the inn tward sunset
Lord of a footsore, rain-sodden army,
Viewing lush fields he never would forget
Rippling yellow in the shallow valley;
“Dare he stand here?
The battlefield so small!”
A stench of secret fear now permeates his soul.

Thro’ Heaven waltz’d the Evening Star
As four French cannonballs fly,
The grand, full-throated voice of war
As sixty roar in reply,
Thick blood puls’d thro’ his throbbing scar,
“These English want to die –
Have the troops bivouac here for the night,
First light shall prove their stomach for the fight.”

Thro’ starry climes the Eagle flew
Oer each moon-sprinkl’d cloud,
Then swoop’d down to the farm Caillou
Close to the cheering crowd,
For thro’ them rode an Emperor, the father of the proud.

Maison du Roi
June 17th 1815
21:00


 

A Restless Night

Two blazing fire trails lined the vault black vale
Where men sat cooking their meagre ration,
Whiling the while with a glorious tayle
Or some camp follower’s lurid passion;
The wind whipp’d rain
Still slipp’d down in splashes,
Drenching all in disdain, fram’d by lightning flashes.

The soldier slipp’d into a dream;
Stood face-to-face with the foe,
The sunglint of his sabre’s gleam
Blinds his target to the blow,
Who ripp’d his dreamspace with a scream –
Is this truth tomorrow?
He flows deeper thro’ sleep’s soft sanctuary,
Where dwells no fearful mind nor enemy.

Strange nightmares stalk Napoleon;
Some monstrous cannoneer
Fired one great gun at Wellington
Who held a burning spear,
& hurl’d it down the cannon’s mouth… he woke awash with fear.

La Ferme de Caillou
June 18th 1815
01:30


 

A Busy Night

All thro’ the night the ammo carts trundl’d;
Thousands of rounds of grape & canister
With the black mountains of shot were bundl’d
For to slay with musket, blade & sabre;
O deadly sword,
With edge as sharp as breath,
Rough sharpen’d to accord the victims bloody death.

Wellington watch’d his Hussars que
To send their sabres sharper,
Then rode the road to Waterloo
To try a little supper,
Paced round the halls of his H.Q.
Waits for word of Blucher –
Til Muffling enters, fresh from the saddle,
“Good news, your grace, you may fight your battle!”

All thro’ the short midsummer’s night
Horizon’s murky zone
Shows hints of light, a tint of white,
Faint traces of the dawn,
That grew in strength, until, at length, the day of battle born.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815
05:00


 

Waterloo Dawn

A soft sun crown’d the yonder eastern height,
Gave birth to a dirty & dulsome dawn,
Casting her blanket of watery light
To wrap up the dismal & dreary morn;
Some secret tear
From sleeping tearducts pass’d,
For many who are here this day shall be their last.

The eagle’s golden gilded glide,
Sweeps majestic thro’ the sky,
Surveys this stretch of countryside,
Rolling seas of rippling rye,
Brash bugles blared out far & wide,
From woods the birds outcry –
The clashing clatter of fluttering wings –
Two armies wake to fight the fight of kings.

Unshaven & shivering blue,
Depress’d the darkling mood,
Soak’d thro’ & thro’ & filthy too,
His hunger unsubdued,
Freddie Johnstone search’d high & low for water, fuel & food.

Frischermont
June 18th 1815
07:00


 

Imperial Breakfast

The Marshalls receive the summons to dine
Breaking the night’s fast with Napoleon,
Whose smile, as soft as Corsican sunshine,
Settles their spirits, they know they must win;
“Still he stands fast,”
Spew’d thro’ some chew’d-up fish,
“Then I have them at last, these whore’s bastard English!”

“Attack at nine!” “It can’t be done,
The ground is as a quagmire.
I cannot move all my cannon
To the open fields of fire.”
“What do you think of Wellington?”
“Strong when well posted sire.”
“Nonsense, you’ve all been beaten by a dick!
This battle shall be but a child’s picnic.”

With certain generals he did meet,
Then spoke with his colonels,
While for a sweet he sate to eat
Plates of sugar’d mussels –
Guzzl’d down, gracef’ly upstood, “Tonight we sleep in Brussels.”

La Ferme de Caillou
June 18th 1815
08:00


 

French Optimism

How they march’d onto the field of slaughters
With music & banners to daunt the foe
As the Emperor’s beautiful daughters
Wheel’d into position, row after row;
Plush cavalry
Mounted on fine horses –
In sight for all to see, the mighty French forces.

Along the front their leader made
The grand tour of inspection,
As tho’ his men were on parade,
Abundant with affection,
Steeping upon his cavalcade
Rapt’rous salutation,
“Before the sun sets we shall, together,
Help France rise more glorious than ever.”

He sat at a small deal table,
Down shone a burning sun,
“By a brutal assault frontal
We must take Mont Saint-Jean,
But first, to draw the reserves out, let us tease Hougoumont.”

La Belle Alliance
June 18th 1815
11:00

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