(Poem #115) The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna
Not a drum was heard, nor a funeral note, As his corse to the rampart we hurried; Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot O'er the grave where our hero we buried. We buried him darkly at dead of night, The sods with our bayonets turning; By the struggling moonbeam's misty light And the lanthorn dimly burning. No useless coffin enclosed his breast, Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him; But he lay like a warrior taking his rest With his martial cloak around him. Few and short were the prayers we said, And we spoke not a word of sorrow; But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead, And we bitterly thought of the morrow. We thought, as we hollowed his narrow bed And smoothed down his lonely pillow, That the foe and the stranger would tread o'er his head, And we far away on the billow! Lightly they'll talk of the spirit that's gone And o'er his cold ashes upbraid him,-- But little he'll reck, if they let him sleep on In the grave where a Briton has laid him. But half of our heavy task was done When the clock struck the hour for retiring: And we heard the distant and random gun That the foe was sullenly firing. Slowly and sadly we laid him down, From the field of his fame fresh and gory; We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone, But left him alone with his glory.
I learnt this one way back in school, and it has stuck with me ever since - the resonant lines, the timeworn but never trite sentiments and the well-turned phrases make this a particularly memorable poem. The last two lines of the second verse, in particular, are among my favourite pieces of verse, both for the image and the sound of the words. m. Notes: The battle of Corunna was part of the Peninsular War January 16, 1809: Sir John Moore, given command, takes the small British army through Portugal and into Spain to support the rumoured Spanish uprising and relieve Madrid. When this proves to be false, he has to retreat over and through terrible snow covered mountains pursued by Bonaparte himself with a massive army. Though saving Spain from fulI occupation and conquest by the French, he partially loses control of his army and scenes of drunkeness ensue. At Corunna harbour, he defeats the French pursuit under Marshal Soult but is killed at the moment of victory. <http://www.sharpe.stayfree.co.uk/the_battles-noframes.htm> Biography: b. Dec. 14, 1791, Dublin, Ire. d. Feb. 21, 1823, Queenstown, County Cork Irish poet and clergyman, whose "Burial of Sir John Moore" (1817), commemorating the commander of the British forces at the Battle of Corunna (La Coruqa, Spain) during the Peninsular War, is one of the best-known funeral elegies in English. Wolfe attended Trinity College, Dublin, was ordained in 1817, and held curacies in County Tyrone. -- EB