Thomas Hardy (1840–1928). Wessex Poems and Other Verses. 1898.
24. The Peasants Confession
And war was waged anew
By great Napoleon, who for years had strewn
Men’s bones all Europe through.
The Sambre at Charleroi,
To move on Brussels, where the English host
Dallied in Parc and Bois.
Growl through the long-sunned day
From Quatre-Bras and Ligny; till the dun
Twilight suppressed the fray;
Brunswick’s high heart was drained,
And Prussia’s Line and Landwehr, though unbroke,
Stood cornered and constrained.
With thirty thousand men:
We hoped thenceforth no army, small or vast,
Would trouble us again.
And never a soul seemed nigh
When, reassured at length, we went to rest—
My children, wife, and I.
What noise, above the rain,
Above the dripping of the poplar trees
That smote along the pane?
Compelled me to the door,
At which a horseman stood in martial guise—
Splashed—sweating from every pore.
Could I lead thither on?—
Fulfilment would ensure gold pieces three,
Perchance more gifts anon.
“Charging the Marshal straight
To strike between the double host ahead
Ere they co-operate,
Lord Wellington to flight,
And next the Prussians. This to set afoot
Is my emprise to-night.”
To estimate his say,
Grouchy had made for Wavre; and yet, on thought,
I did not lead that way.
The clash comes sheer hereon;
My farm is stript. While, as for pieces three,
Money the French have none.
And mine is left to me—
They buy, not borrow.”—Hence did I begin
To lead him treacherously.
Dawn pierced the humid air;
And eastward faced I with him, though I knew
Never marched Grouchy there.
(Lim’lette left far aside),
And thence direct toward Pervez and Noville
Through green grain, till he cried:
I doubt they gagèd word!”
Thereat he scowled on me, and pranced me near,
And pricked me with his sword.
Of Grouchy,” said I then:
“As we go, yonder went he, with his force
Of thirty thousand men.”
A hoarse artillery boomed,
And from Saint-Lambert’s upland, chapel-crowned,
The Prussian squadrons loomed.
“My mission fails!” he cried;
“Too late for Grouchy now to intercept,
For, peasant, you have lied!”
The sabre from his flank,
And ’twixt his nape and shoulder, ere he knew,
I struck, and dead he sank.
His shroud green stalks and loam;
His requiem the corn-blade’s husky note—
And then I hastened home.…
And brass and iron clang
From Goumont, past the front of Waterloo,
To Pap’lotte and Smohain.
The Emperor’s face grew glum;
“I sent,” he said, “to Grouchy yesternight,
And yet he does not come!”
Streaking the summer land,
The men of Blücher. But the Emperor cried,
“Grouchy is now at hand!”
Met d’Erlon, Friant, Ney;
But Grouchy—mis-sent, blamed, yet blame-exempt—
Grouchy was far away.
Bold Travers, Dnop, Delord,
Smart Guyot, Reil-le, l’Heriter, Friant.
Scattered that champaign o’er.
Did that red sunset see;
Colbert, Legros, Blancard!… And of the foe
Picton and Ponsonby;
L’Estrange, Delancey, Packe,
Grose, D’Oyly, Stables, Morice, Howard, Hay,
Von Schwerin, Watzdorf, Boek,
And hosts of ranksmen round…
Memorials linger yet to speak to thee
Of those that bit the ground!
Lay between vale and ridge,
As, thinned yet closing, faint yet fierce, they sped
In packs to Genappe Bridge.
Intact each cock and hen;
But Grouchy far at Wavre all day had lain,
And thirty thousand men.
And saved the cause once prized!
O Saints, why such false witness had I borne
When late I’d sympathized!…
My slowly dwindling store,
And crave my mite; till, worn with tarriance,
I care for life no more.
And Virgin-Saint Marie;
O Michael, John, and Holy Ones in rest,
Entreat the Lord for me!