Verse > Anthologies > James and Mary Ford, eds. > Every Day in the Year
James and Mary Ford, eds.  Every Day in the Year.  1902.
June 24
The Forced Recruit
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
          Solferino is a village in northern Italy where, on June 24th, 1859, the French and Sardinian armies, under Napoleon III. and Victor Emmanuel, defeated the Austrians under Francis Joseph.

IN the ranks of the Austrian you found him,
  He died with his face to you all;
Yet bury him here where around him
  You honor your bravest that fall.
Venetian, fair-featured and slender,
  He lies shot to death in his youth,
With a smile on his lips over-tender
  For any mere soldier’s dead mouth.
No stranger, and yet not a traitor,
  Though alien the cloth on his breast,        10
Underneath it how seldom a greater
  Young heart, has a shot sent to rest!
By your enemy tortured and goaded
  To march with them, stand in their file,
His musket (see) never was loaded,        15
  He facing your guns with that smile!
As orphans yearn on to their mothers,
  He yearned to your patriot bands;—
‘Let me die for our Italy, brothers,
  If not in your ranks, by your hands!        20
‘Aim straightly, fire steadily! spare me
  A ball in the body which may
Deliver my heart here, and tear me
  This badge of the Austrian away!’
So thought he, so died he this morning.
  What then? many others have died.
Ay, but easy for men to die scorning
  The death-stroke, who fought side by side—
One tricolor floating above them;
  Struck down ’mid triumphant acclaims        30
Of an Italy rescued to love them
  And blazon the brass with their names.
But he,—without witness or honor,
  Mixed, shamed in his country’s regard,
With the tyrants who march in upon her        35
  Died faithful and passive: ’twas hard.
’Twas sublime. In a cruel restriction
  Cut off from the guerdon of sons,
With most filial obedience, conviction,
  His soul kissed the lips of her guns.        40
That moves you? Nay, grudge not to show it,
  While digging a grave for him here:
The others who died, says your poet,
  Have glory,—let him have a tear.

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