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Incident of the French Camp -- Robert Browning

(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.
-- Robert Browning
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.


[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

        -- [broken link]

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

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