(Poem #778) Incident of the French Camp
You know, we French stormed Ratisbon: A mile or so away On a little mound, Napoleon Stood on our storming-day; With neck out-thrust, you fancy how, Legs wide, arms locked behind, As if to balance the prone brow Oppressive with its mind. Just as perhaps he mused, "My plans That soar, to earth may fall, Let once my army-leader Lannes Waver a yonder wall," -- Out 'twixt the battery-smokes there flew A rider, bound on bound Full-galloping; nor bridle drew Until he reached the mound. Then off there flung in smiling joy, And held himself erect By just his horse's mane, a boy: You hardly could suspect -- (So tight he kept his lips compressed, Scarce any blood came through) You looked twice ere you saw his breast Was all but shot in two. "Well," cried he, "Emperor, by God's grace We've got you Ratisbon! The Marshal's in the market-place, And you'll be there anon To see your flag-bird flap his vans Where I, to heart's desire, Perched him!" The chief's eye flashed; his plans Soared up again like fire. The chief's eye flashed; but presently Softened itself, as sheathes A film the mother-eagle's eye When her bruised eaglet breathes: "You're wounded!" "Nay", the soldier's pride Touched to quick, he said: "I'm killed, Sire!" And his chief beside, Smiling the boy fell dead.
A rather straightforward tale of adventure, but one that's given additional strength by the vigour of its verse. Browning's metrical skill and command of the spoken voice save the poem from mediocrity, though some of the passages do seem a bit strained (especially the eagle metaphor, which, though it might be apt, I do not much care for). Pay special attention to the first and last lines: the former converts what would ordinarily have been a common-or-garden variety ballad into the form so beloved of Browning, the dramatic monologue, while the latter is (though predictable) justly celebrated for its portrayal of courage and dedication to duty. A bit dated, perhaps, but enjoyable nonetheless. thomas. [On the events described] Regensburg: also called Ratisbon, city, Bavaria Land (state), southeastern Germany, on the right bank of the Danube River at its most northerly course, where it is joined by the Regen River. In the area of the old city was a Celtic settlement (Radasbona), which later became the site of a Roman stronghold and legionary camp, Castra Regina (founded AD 179). The Roman north gate (Porta Praetoria) and parts of the walls survive. The capital of the dukes of Bavaria from 530, it was made a bishopric in 739 and shortly afterward became a capital of the Carolingians. The only imperial free city in the Duchy of Bavaria from 1245, Regensburg was exceedingly prosperous in the 12th-13th century. It was taken by the Swedes and later by imperial troops in the Thirty Years' War (17th century) and was destroyed by the French in 1809. It passed to Bavaria in 1810. The astronomer Johannes Kepler died there (1630), and the painter Albrecht Altdorfer (d. 1538) was both a city architect and counselor. -- EB It was during the artillery bombardment at Ratisbon that Napoleon was wounded for the first and only time in his military career: a bullet struck the Emperor on the right heel as he was giving instructions to Marshal Lannes. Word of the wounding spread rapidly, and the French army is said to have been on the verge of panic until the Emperor showed himself on horseback. -- [broken link] http://www.miniatures.de/html/int/campaigns/1809Regensburg.html Google[Napoleon Ratisbon 1809] has more. [Minstrels Links] Browning poems: Poem #65, "Home Thoughts From Abroad" Poem #104, "My Last Duchess" Poem #130, "The Lost Leader" Poem #133, "Song, from Pippa Passes" Poem #242, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" Poem #352, "My Star" Poem #364, "The Patriot" Poem #425, "Memorabilia" Poem #526, "A Toccata of Galuppi's" Poem #635, "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" Napoleon poems: Poem #272, "Napoleon", Walter de la Mare Poem #258, "Macavity: The Mystery Cat", T. S. Eliot