Canto 30: Waterloo Dusk

The next worst thing after a battle lost is a battle won

The Duke of Wellington


The Killing Time

The French advance their cannon down the slopes
& up again, where halting they commence
A constant fire, in which hot blaze lie hopes
Of victory & tigrish recompense;
Now is the time
When England’s best are slain
Cull’d savage & sublime under a silver rain.

As canister shells macerate,
Pulping flesh to mushy pink,
The Iron Duke now felt his fate
A-tottering on the brink,
No further minute could he wait
No seconds left to think,
So marshalling all forces of the line
He fortifies the vital centre-spine.

As every man & everyone
Was taking turns to die,
Palladian the sinking sun
Diminishes the sky,
Brave Wellington gazed gravely on with grim, determined eye.

Mont St Jean
June 18th 1815
18:10


Human Destruction

‘Lads go & occupy the fortress gates,
Defend them with the fury of thy clan,
Outside a brutal enemy awaits
With orders not to spare a single man,’
This noble air
Wrung from a chieftan’s hall,
Seem’d sung, sung everywhere by soldiers in a thrall.

As men cut one another’s throats
& agitates confusion,
They wallow’d in the mud like boats
Toss’d in a stormy season,
Some tore apart their bleeding coats
Unzipping the lesion,
Erewhile blows blinding smoke, hums sulphur eggs,
& horses crawling only on front legs.

A raw youth chirps, ‘that ball is spent,’
Full blocks it with his foot,
His ankle bent, & off it went
As if by surgeon’s cut,
Calamitous, cantankerous, unkindly & kaput.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815
18:20


Echoes of War

Miltering from that stoumach-searing stench,
Hooves thudded by each busy surgeon’s blade,
As battle’s grisly carnage, & the French,
Abandon’d by a cavalry brigade
Quite cowardly,
Bursting thro’ those wagons
Of wounded creaking free from death’s ruthless dragons.

On bolting thro’ the Namur Gate,
Grave panic spread like wylde-fire,
Fearful of the forthcoming fate,
For troops of the French Empire
Oft wreak revenge in rabid state –
Those dastards daz’d & dire,
Spread rumors rife, “We’ve heard Napoleon
Has promised two days pillage to his men.”

She gaz’d towards the rumbling sound,
Saw battles in her head,
She, wistful, found a spot of ground
& helpless there she led,
Not knowing if her William was wounded, well or dead.

Brussels
June 18th 1815
18:30


Napoleonic Sunset

From thirsty throats shot a tremendous cheer
For France, the Emperor & Victory!
Faces contorted with pleasure & fear
Like some black Parisian tragedy;
Mountains of dead,
The screams, the smoke, the smell,
The dark, dantean red that paints this trophy hell.

Ney gallop’d to his emperor,
Prussian shells fell on Rossome,
Face blacken’d with face & powder,
“Sire the time to push has come!”
“Fool! how can I manufacture
Men, where to pluck them from?
Back to battle & do the best you can,
Spare not the efforts of a single man!”

To secure Plancenoit he threw
The Young Guard from his hand,
Then rode back to the inn to view
The battle’s prospect grand,
Sky painted black with evenfall, by smoke & ashes fann’d.

La Belle Alliance
June 18th 1815
18:45


A Desperate Defence

Gazing on the gathering enemy
Calmly amidst the cannonball shower,
Duke calls his last Aide-de-Camp, DeLancey,
“High crisis is on us, whence breaks the hour?”
“Nigh on seven!”
“By my bones I hope the
Holy King of Heaven brings us Night or Blucher.”

With an eye on his investment
Nathan Rothschilds quaff’d back fear,
With a gruff, Germanic accent
Offer’d services sincere,
With vital timely orders sent –
“What remains of us stands here!”
The white cockade betray’d point of attack
Where black round ploughs into DeLancey’s back.

& as he scream’d for god in vain
It seem’d his wife did hear,
Sharing his pain her spirits wane,
The moment too severe,
& tho she clung to HOPE her grieving soul shed this first tear.

Brussels
June 18th 1815
19:00


A Deadly Pause

Across the playne prickest the lone hussar,
Sate nobly on his magnificent Bay,
Bellow’d forth the stirring “Vive, L’Empereur!”
Which held an entire army in it’s sway;
His sabre sweeps
The long length of the line
A grim & sneering scythe reaping the mortal vine.

He gallop’d away in a trice,
After him musketballs flew,
Such derring-do at what high price,
Soak’d in hot blood thro’ & thro,
Singing the supreme sacrifice,
“My Prince… I die… for you…”
Utter’d with a spluttering gust of breath,
The beauty & the agony of Death.

Along the line was pass’d the cry,
“Soldats voila Grouchy!”
A forlorn lie for those that die
To win his victory –
A cause clutch’d in such scrawny claws, the crows shall feast for free.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815
19:30


Imperial Guard

He led them upon the glorious way,
His soldiers, of the Middle, of the Old,
Once more handed the Fate of France to Ney,
More precious than his weight in Bourbon gold;
The grand guardsmen
March musically as one,
“Forwards my brave children, A Bruxelles mes enfants.”

They march’d with splendour’s cool élan
Onto the field of glory,
The power surging thro’ each man
To shape Europe’s destiny,
Brave bandsmen foremost in the van
Stirring strain’d melody,
They swept in solemn & savage silence,
Th’espirit-de-corps carv’d from deadly violence.

On march’d th’immortal sons of France,
Men who built an empire,
The eminence of their advance
Plough’d to a muddy mire,
Two columns paced into the fray straf’d by a galling fire.

The Ridge of Mont Saint-Jean
June 18th 1815
19:45


Routing the Gaurd

“Now Maitland! Now’s your time!” Swiftly upsprung
One long, scarlet line of grimy faces,
With one thundering volley forward flung
Murd’rous musketry at twenty paces;
Death’s wind was blown,
Driving men to their knees,
Strange field of human corn all swaying in the breeze.

“Up gaurds & at ’em!” Arthur cried,
& Wellesley’d to the murder,
Where brave blues stood fresh terrified
Of death by English slaughter,
The bayonet, coldly applied,
Adds to the disorder
A cowering coward yelps a wild shout –
As one the beaten heroes turn & rout.

“La Garde recule,” ” Impossible!”
“Nous sommes traits!” the cry,
Their spirits fell, broken the spell,
To France these Frenchmen fly,
So cruel & bitter tasting tears trickle from each proud eye.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 18th 1815
20:00


Wellington’s Victory

As tho’ to some pre-destin’d harmony,
Black flags flying like vengeful, hungry crows,
The hate-fill’d horde of Prussians show pity
No mind as thro’ the ruptured right flank flows;
Sunsetting stream
Dips neath the smoky clouds,
Casting a copper beam upon the golden crowds.

The Duke shone black upon the verge,
Sky red as an evening wine,
Hat waving high his lads emerge,
As a mile-wide scarlet line,
Who with one great, glorious surge,
With fleeing French entwine –
Empassion’d by triumphant exstasi,
Architects of this gallic tragedy!

& as he watch’d his rascals run
He gave a poignant smile
Napoleon had fired best gun
At England’s rank & file,
Yet they stood firm, as had his nerve, forever France to rile.

The Fields of Waterloo
20:15

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