Page images
PDF
EPUB

The desert, forest, cavern, breaker's foam,
Were unto him companionship ; they spake
A mutual language, clearer than the tome

Of his land's tongue, which he would oft forsake
For Nature's pages glassed by sunbeams on the lake.

XIV

Like the Chaldean,' he could watch the stars,
Till he had peopled them with beings bright
As their own beams ; and earth, and earth-born jars,
And human frailties, were forgotten quite :
Could he have kept his spirit to that flight
He had been happy ;? but this clay will sink
Its spark immortal, envying it the light

To which it mounts, as if to break the link
That keeps us from yon heaven which woos us to its brink.

XV

But in Man's dwellings he became a thing
Restless and worn, and stern and wearisome,3
Drooped as a wild-born falcon with clipt wing,
To whom the boundless air alone were home :
Then came his fit again, which to o'ercome,
As eagerly the barred-up bird will beat
His breast and beak against his wiry dome
Till the blood tinge his plumage, so the heat
Of his impeded soul would through his bosom eat.

XVI

Self-exiled Harold wanders forth again,
With nought of hope left, but with less of gloom ;
The very knowledge that he lived in vain,
That all was over on this side the tomb,
Had made Despair a smilingness assume,
Which, though 'twere wild, -

, -as on the plundered wreck When mariners would madly meet their doom

With draughts intemperate on the sinking deck,Did yet inspire a cheer, which he forebore to check.

? The Chaldean.] The primitive astrologers to whom we are indebted for the sun-dial. Chaldæans or Chasdim in Babylonia.

2 He had been happy.] Beatus fuisset.

3 Wearisome.] A passive use of the word, suffering weariness. Just as in Puritan days a painful sermon was a sermon on which pains had been expended,

XVII

Stop !—for thy tread 1 is on an Empire's dust!
An Earthquake's spoil is sepulchred below!
Is the spot marked with no colossal bust?
Nor column ? trophied for triumphal show?
None;

but the moral's truth tells simpler so,
As the ground was before, thus let it be ;-
How that red rain hath made the harvest grow!

And is this all the world has gained by thee, Thou first and last of fields ! king-making Victory?'

XVIII

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 ' 4 here last the eagle flew,
Then tore with bloody talon the rent plain,

Pierced by the shaft of banded nations through ;
He wears the shattered links of the world's broken chain.

XIX

Fit retribution ! Gaul may champ the bit
And foam in fetters ;—but is Earth more free?
Did nations combat to make One 5 submit;
Or league to teach all kings true sovereignty?
What! shall reviving Thraldom again be
The patched-up idol of enlightened days ?
Shall we, who struck the Lion down, shall we

Pay the Wolfe homage ? proffering lowly gaze
And servile knees to thrones? No; prove before ye praise !

i Thy tread.) Byron is traversing the field of Waterloo.

2 Column.] "A column now exists, but was erected subsequent to Byron's visit.

3° King-making Victory.) The issue of the battle of Waterloo was the restoration of Louis XVIII. to the throne of France.

4 Pride of place.]. An expression derived from falconry—the highest flight which the hawk attains.

5 One.] What the feeling of Byron was to Napoleon we can scarcely surmise. Under the frequent allusion we can discern great fascination. See Mazeppa,' i., 'Age of Bronze,' • D. J.' canto xvi.

6 Wolf.] It is not inconsistent with Byron's sympathy with the revolutionary Carbonari of Italy-the secret society whose

XX

If not, o'er one fallen despot boast no more!
In vain fair cheeks were furrowed with hot tears
For Europe's flowers long rooted up before
The trampler of her vineyards ; in vain years
Of death, depopulation, bondage, fears,
Have all been borne, and broken by the accord
Of roused-up millions ; all that most endears

Glory, is when the myrtle wreathes a sword 1
Such as Harmodius drew on Athens' tyrant lord,

XXI

2

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!

XXII

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 3 meet
To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet-

But hark !-that heavy sound breaks in once more, object was to destroy all kingly governments—to imagine that the word wolf may even mean Guelph. He dwells on this subject of monarchs again (and the Holy Alliance formed in 1815 between Russia, Austria, and Prussia) in Canto iv. st. xcv. See • D. J.'ii. 147, viii. 26.

Myrtle wreathes a sword.] Myrtle, as an emblem of love and peace, wreaths a sword when it gains the freedom of men, as when Harmodius and Aristogeiton, in 514 B.C., slew Hipparchus, and released Athens from the Peisistratids. See · D. J.' xvi. 109.

2 This description of the Duchess of Richmond's ball at Brussels might well be learnt by heart. 3 Youth and Pleasure.] Conf. Gray, The Bard:'

In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes,
Youth on the prow and Pleasure at the helm,'

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!

XXIII

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.

XXIV

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 !

XXV

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!'

1 Brunswick's fated chieftain.] William Frederick, who was killed at Quatre Bras.

? His father.] Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, who promulgated in 1792 his manifesto of Coblent which led so disastrously to the murder of Louis XVI. He was killed at the

XXVI

And wild and high the Cameron's gathering '1 rose !
The war-note of Lochiel,” which Albyn's 3 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, 4 Donald’s5 fame rings in each clansman's ears !

XXVII

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.

XXVIII

Last noon beheld them full of lusty life,

Last eve in Beauty's circle proudly gay, battle of Auerstadt, the victory of Davoust over the Prussians, the same day as the battle of Jena, October 14, 1806.

1 Cameron's gathering.] A well-known piece of music, commonly called Lochiel's March.'

2 Lochiel.] The chief of the clan Cameron.

3 Albyn.] The Highlands, probably containing the Gaelic root Alp, a mountain.

4 Evan.) Sir Ewen Cameron, called Evandhu (Black Evan) of Lochiel, first to join the insurrection of 1652 in favour of King Charles II., and the last who held out against Cromwell. He fought at Killiecrankie, though then an old man, and died in 1719.

5 Donald.] Donald Cameron of Lochiel, grandson of the last, joined Charles Edward in 1745 with a considerable body of men, and fought at their head many times. After Culloden he retired to France, and died in 1748, after commanding the Regiment of Albany.

His great-grandson, Donald (of Lochiel), entered the Grenadier Guards in 1814, and fought at Waterloo.

6 Ardennes.] (In Celtic forest, the ‘Sylva Arduenna' of Cæsar.) Extends from the Aisne to the Roer,

« PreviousContinue »