Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
III. War
Lord Byron (1788–1824)
[June 15, 1815]

From “Childe Harold,” Canto III.

  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        5
  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; ’t was but the wind,        10
  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,        15
  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        20
  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,        25
  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        30
  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 would guess
  If evermore should meet those mutual eyes        35
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;        40
  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!”        45
  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        50
  Their mountain pipe, so fill the mountaineers
  With the fierce native daring which instills
  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,        55
  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        60
  In its next verdure, when this fiery mass
  Of living valor, 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,        65
  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,        70
  Which her own clay shall cover, heaped and pent,
Rider and horse,—friend, foe,—in one red burial blent!
  Their praise is hymned by loftier harps than mine;
  Yet one I would select from that proud throng,
  Partly because they blend me with his line,        75
  And partly that I did his sire some wrong,
  And partly that bright names will hallow song!
  And his was of the bravest, and when showered
  The death-bolts deadliest the thinned files along,
  Even where the thickest of war’s tempest lowered,        80
They reached no nobler breast than thine, young, gallant Howard!
  There have been tears and breaking hearts for thee,
  And mine were nothing, had I such to give;
  But when I stood beneath the fresh green tree,
  Which living waves where thou didst cease to live,        85
  And saw around me the wide field revive
  With fruits and fertile promise, and the Spring
  Come forth her work of gladness to contrive,
  With all her reckless birds upon the wing,
I turned from all she brought to those she could not bring.        90
  I turned to thee, to thousands, of whom each
  And one as all a ghastly gap did make
  In his own kind and kindred, whom to teach
  Forgetfulness were mercy for their sake;
  The Archangel’s trump, not glory’s, must awake        95
  Those whom they thirst for; though the sound of Fame
  May for a moment soothe, it cannot slake
  The fever of vain longing, and the name
So honored but assumes a stronger, bitterer claim.
  They mourn, but smile at length; and, smiling, mourn:        100
  The tree will wither long before it fall;
  The hull drives on, though mast and sail be torn;
  The roof-tree sinks, but moulders on the hall
  In massy hoariness; the ruined wall
  Stands when its wind-worn battlements are gone;        105
  The bars survive the captive they enthrall;
  The day drags through though storms keep out the sun;
And thus the heart will break, yet brokenly live on;
  Even as a broken mirror, which the glass
  In every fragment multiplies, and makes        110
  A thousand images of one that was
  The same, and still the more, the more it breaks;
  And thus the heart will do which not forsakes,
  Living in shattered guise, and still, and cold,
  And bloodless, with its sleepless sorrow aches,        115
  Yet withers on till all without is old,
Showing no visible sign, for such things are untold.

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