Canto 31: La Belle Alliance

But man’s pleasure is a short time growing
& it falls to the ground
as quickly, when an unlucky twist of thought
loosens its roots

Pindar


The Soul of France

Sheltering in the centre of a square,
His loyal First view’d their leader blankly,
Who, with the terrible rage of despair,
Stood to save the honour of the army;
Breathing a sigh
Retiring in all haste,
He left his men to die as on the Russian waste.

Befitting the call of glory,
Steep’d in mystique ’til the last,
Like islands in a raging sea,
Screaming comrades streaming past,
Swarm’d by hussars & infantry
Fought they fierce & steadfast –
Freddie Johnstone pleads them to surrender,
Dead silence feeds the defiant, “Merde!”

“La Garde meurt mais ne se rend pas!”
Twelve cannon pack’d with case
Administer the coup de grace,
Death’s scythe swept thro’ the space,
The soul of the Grand Armee duly vanish’d from Earth’s face.

La Belle Alliance
June 18th 1815
20:45


Happy Meeting

Tho’ the battle won & Europa saved
Death doubles his efforts as night draws in,
The mortal right to mercy clearly waiv’d,
Frenchmen hack’d down in droves for kinsmen sin;
In joyous rows
Their vanquishers advance,
As Allied pincers close about the throat of France

They meet with a gladsome greeting,
Victorious embrace share,
“My prince, that was a damn’d nice thing!”
“Oui, mon duke, une quelle affaire!”
& triumphant soldiers singing
Blasted tall thro’ the air;
For twenty years the misery of France
Full twenty years of bloody arrogance.

The simple north country farmer
Heard English lyrical,
Crept in terror from the cellar,
Paced his ruin’d castle
Stood forever at the threshfold of a famous battle.

La Belle Alliance
June 18th 1815
21:00


Battle’s End

Lone rider cross’d the scene, grave duty done,
Counting the cost of his certain glory,
“Next to a battle lost a battle won
Is the worst thing any captain could see;”
The tears he cry
Whilst whispering wistful,
“I hope to God that I have fought my last battle.”

Mangl’d thousands cover the ground
Like a shipwreck’s rippling sail,
Some dreadful organ piped hell’s sound
While the wounded shriek & wail,
One stumbling, mumbling widow found
Beloved husband pale;
Shadowy ghouls sporting guns, helms & coats
Scavenge for booty, slitting gurgling throats.

Weary the Duke of Wellington,
Bright is the moon & blue,
He trotted on past La Haye Saint
Where one lone eagle flew,
Then glanced his last & turn’d his back on the fields of Waterloo.

Mont Saint-Jean
June 18th 1815
21:30


Napoleonic Fall

An eagle circl’d La Belle Alliance
‘Fore gliding by the chausee to Charleroi,
Above weaponless warriors of France
Begging madly ‘neath the Prussian hussar;
Nowhere to hide
From Blucher’s vengeful will,
Combing the countryside for fleeing foe to kill.

Oer Genappe the Eagle’s hover
Coldly espied confusion,
An army cramm’d tight together,
Half-craz’d by fears contagion,
Sabres sweep in civil murder,
The tragic illusion
Of one bridge spanning the deep Dyle’s swift flow –
That stream’s tranquil amble, shallow & slow.

For forest flame flew the flyer
To perch by Bounaparte,
Who in the fire saw his Empire
Ashen & wrench’d apart,
Shed tears of loss pulsing from the well of his broken heart.

Bois de Gosselies
June 18th 1815
23:00


Costs of War

What journey for a warrior to make,
Attesting to the uttermost ruin
Of age-old foes, in whose rubious wake
Brood these roosting eagles as they come in;
A broken spell,
Pride’s votive gifts defuse,
To live their life in Hell encurses those who lose.

So fall fair France, tho’ ye shall rise
Twice more thro’ this course of wars,
When other demagogues devise
Dark empires, but these not yours,
Instead a complex web of ties
Knotted across thy shores
Shall fight for thee, fight for thy Libertie,
In fields, those keystones of our future free.

All this the Duke could never know
As drifting off to sleep
Names blow-by-blow lame griefs bestow
Him for them all did weep,
Until he sank in thankless dreams… dank, hankering & deep.

Waterloo
June 19th 1815
04:00


A Broken Field

How strange that any man escap’d alive
This sorry scene of carnage incarnate,
An epic pool of death in which connive
The sobbing phantoms of a sword-law state;
While bedlam shrieks
Faces shine bright moonbeams
Upon subfuscous freaks erupting amid screams.

As men bellow their Christian hymns
Or beg to end pain, be shot,
Others untangle scrambling limbs
From a stinking horsres knot,
The chance of night’s survival slims,
No pennies for the slot;
When one-by-one, as wounded men expire,
Fell ever, ever quieter, Hell’s choir.

As in light sunrise increases,
Unfolds a tragedy,
Broken pieces, choking ceases,
As life’s finality
Still weeps across that field of foes with woeful witcherie.

The Fields of Waterloo
June 19th 1815
06:30


Death of De Lancey

She sat with silence in the jolting cart,
It’s horses screaming at Death’s awful stench,
Pangs of suspense hang heavy on her heart
‘Til Waterloo, where with a mighty wrench,
Her joys outpour,
Her husband is alive!
Before a cottage door to breathlessly arrive.

She crept into the dusty room
Saw upon a simple bed,
Him waiting for his painful doom,
How miserable there he led!
Her love-light true didst pierce the room,
Bright halo hugs her head –
A feverish vision or darling true,
“Magdalene, darling, is that really you?”

She sat upon a broken chair,
Into his slipt her hands,
With kisses, prayer & tender care
Helpless she watch’d time’s sands
Trickle from life’s glass chamber to the one that Death commands.

Mont Saint Jean
June 19th 1815
17.30


Spendid News

The carriage thunder’d oer Westminster bridge –
Eagles poking proudly from it’s window,
Captur’d in the fight for Wellington’s ridge –
To wheel into Whitehall… the horses slow;
Grime-faced major
Brushes the guards aside,
Interrupting dinner, words bursting forth with pride.

“Great & glorious victory!”
Sang Percy to his Regent,
Kneeling upon a bended knee,
“My liberty to present
Twin colours pluck’d with gallantry
From a French regiment;
Representing Napoleon’s downfall!”
Three long hurrahs huzzah’d by one & all.

Trophys display’d to growing throng,
News flew round like lightning,
They skipp’d along awash with song
Singing, “God save the King!”
While wide across the countryside ten thousand church bells ring.

Saint James’ Square
21st June 21st
1815


Treaty of Vienna

Once more beneath the moon of Austria,
Men gather in a mutual respect
Readress the borders of Europa,
But this time cautious & more circumspect;
From them their lies
The fate of future days –
Some seek a merchant’s prize, some seek a monarch’s praise.

Wise Metternich takes centre stage,
Napoleon derided,
The threshfold of the modern age,
His conquests were divided
Tween signatories of this page,
Nation states decided,
& surely to some pre-destined design
The Prussian borders brought up to the Rhine.

For as the great cities of Spain
Founded by Moorish king
& howling, rain-swept hurricane
Whipp’d by butterfly wing,
Battles determine destinies long centuries shall bring.

Vienna
July
1815

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