(Poem #203) The Battle of Blenheim
It was a summer evening, Old Kaspar's work was done, And he before his cottage door Was sitting in the sun, And by him sported on the green His little grandchild Wilhelmine. She saw her brother Peterkin Roll something large and round, Which he beside the rivulet In playing there had found; He came to ask what he had found, That was so large, and smooth, and round. Old Kaspar took it from the boy, Who stood expectant by; And then the old man shook his head, And, with a natural sigh, "'Tis some poor fellow's skull," said he, "Who fell in the great victory. "I find them in the garden, For there's many here about; And often when I go to plough, The ploughshare turns them out! For many thousand men," said he, "Were slain in that great victory." "Now tell us what 'twas all about," Young Peterkin, he cries; And little Wilhelmine looks up With wonder-waiting eyes; "Now tell us all about the war, And what they fought each other for." "It was the English," Kaspar cried, "Who put the French to rout; But what they fought each other for, I could not well make out; But everybody said," quoth he, "That 'twas a famous victory. "My father lived at Blenheim then, Yon little stream hard by; They burnt his dwelling to the ground, And he was forced to fly; So with his wife and child he fled, Nor had he where to rest his head. "With fire and sword the country round Was wasted far and wide, And many a childing mother then, And new-born baby died; But things like that, you know, must be At every famous victory. "They say it was a shocking sight After the field was won; For many thousand bodies here Lay rotting in the sun; But things like that, you know, must be After a famous victory. "Great praise the Duke of Marlbro' won, And our good Prince Eugene." "Why, 'twas a very wicked thing!" Said little Wilhelmine. "Nay... nay... my little girl," quoth he, "It was a famous victory. "And everybody praised the Duke Who this great fight did win." "But what good came of it at last?" Quoth little Peterkin. "Why that I cannot tell," said he, "But 'twas a famous victory."
An antiwar poem with a somewhat different approach - rather than a graphic portrayal of the horrors of the battle, or a heartrending account of loss, it uses a matter of fact tone much more reflective of the common man's attitude to war, and a couple of children to reveal that the emperor is, indeed, unclad. Compare this poem to Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce Et Decorum Est', which speaks of "children ardent for some desperate glory" - Southey takes the opposite point of view; that left to themselves, children see war for the pointless exercise it usually is. Biography: Southey, Robert b. Aug. 12, 1774, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Eng. d. March 21, 1843, Keswick, Cumberland English poet and writer of miscellaneous prose who is chiefly remembered for his association with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, both of whom were leaders of the early Romantic movement. [...] Southey by this time  had decided to earn his living as a writer. In these years he composed many of his best short poems and ballads, and he became a regular contributor to newspapers and reviews. Southey also did translations, edited the works of Thomas Chatterton, and worked on the epic poem Madoc (1805) and completed the epic Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). In 1803 the Southeys visited the Coleridges, then living at Greta Hall, Keswick. The Southeys remained at Greta Hall for life, partly so that Sara and Edith could be together. Southey's friendship with Wordsworth, then at nearby Grasmere, dates from this time. The Southeys had seven children of their own, and, after Coleridge left his family for Malta, the whole household was economically dependent on Southey for a time. He was forced to produce unremittingly--poetry, criticism, history, biography, journalism, translations, and editions of earlier writers. During 1809-38 he wrote, for the Tory Quarterly Review, 95 political articles, for each of which he received £100. Of most interest today are those articles urging the state provision of "social services." He also worked on a projected history of Portugal that he was destined never to finish; only his History of Brazil, 3 vol. (1810-19), was published. In 1813 Southey was appointed poet laureate through the influence of Sir Walter Scott, and in 1835 his government pension of £160, which had been secured for him by Wynn in 1807, was increased to £300 in recognition of his services to literature. He thus gained economic security, but the unauthorized publication (1817) of Wat Tyler, an early verse drama reflecting his youthful political opinions, enabled his enemies to remind the public of his youthful republicanism. About this time he became involved in a literary imbroglio with Lord Byron, who disliked him. Byron had already attacked Southey in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809) and had dedicated to him (1819) the first cantos of Don Juan, a satire on hypocrisy. In his introduction to A Vision of Judgement (1821), Southey continued the quarrel by denouncing Byron as belonging to a "Satanic school" of poetry, and Byron replied by producing a masterful parody of Southey's own poem under the title The Vision of Judgment (1822). Southey's last years were clouded by his wife's insanity, by family quarrels resulting from his second marriage after her death (1837), and by his own failing mental and physical health. [...] Robert Southey was closely associated with Wordsworth and Coleridge and was looked upon as a prominent member, with them, of the "Lake School" of poetry. His grandiose epic poems, such as Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) and The Curse of Kehama (1810), were successful in their own time, but his fame is based on his prose work--the vigorous Life of Nelson (1813), the History of the Peninsular War (1823-32), and his classic formulation of the children's tale "The Three Bears." -- EB About the 'Lake Poets': Lake poet any of the English poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey, who lived in the English Lake District of Cumberland and Westmorland (now Cumbria) at the beginning of the 19th century. They were first described derogatorily as the "Lake school" by Francis (afterward Lord) Jeffrey in The Edinburgh Review in August 1817, and the description "Lakers" was also used in a similar spirit by the poet Lord Byron. These names confusingly group Wordsworth and Coleridge together with Southey, who did not subscribe in his views or work to their theories of poetry. -- EB Assessment: Except for a few lyrics, ballads, and comic-grotesque poems--e.g., "My days among the Dead are past," "After Blenheim," and "The Inchcape Rock" (considered a masterpiece of comic invention)--Southey's poetry is little read, but his prose style has been long regarded as masterly in its ease and clarity. [...] His less successful epic poems are verse romances having a mythological or legendary subject matter set in the past and in distant places. In his prose works and in his voluminous correspondence, which gives a detailed picture of his literary surroundings and friends, Southey's effortless mastery of prose is clearly evident, a fact attested to by such eminent contemporaries as William Hazlitt and Scott and even by such an enemy as Byron -- EB