Francis Turner Palgrave Poems >>
The Soldier's Battle
November 5: 1854
In the solid sombre mist
And the drizzling dazzling shower
They may mass them as they list,
The gray-coat Russian power;
They are fifties 'gainst our tens, they, and more!
And from the fortress-town
In silent squadrons down
O'er the craggy mountain-crown
Unseen, they pour.
On the meagre British line
That northern ocean press'd;
But we never knew how few
Were we who held the crest!
While within the curtain-mist dark shadows loom
Making the gray more gray,
Till the volley-flames betray
With one flash the long array:
And then, the gloom.
For our narrow line too wide
On the narrow crest we stood,
And in pride we named it _Home_,
As we sign'd it with our blood.
And we held-on all the morning, and the tide
Of foes on that low dyke
Surged up, and fear'd to strike,
Or on the bayonet-spike
Flung them, and died.
It was no covert, that,
'Gainst the shrieking cannon-ball!
But the stout hearts of our men
Were the bastion and the wall:--
And their chiefs hardly needed give command;
For they tore through copse and gray
Mist that before them lay,
And each man fought, that day,
For his own hand!
Yet should we not forget
'Gainst that dun sea of foes
How Egerton bank'd his line,
Till in front a cloud uprose
From the level rifle-mouths; and they dived
With bayonet-thrust beneath;
Clench'd teeth and sharp-drawn breath,
Plunging to certain death,--
And yet survived!
Nor the gallant chief who led
Those others, how he fell;
When our men the captive guns
Set free they loved so well,
And embraced them as live things, by loss endear'd:--
Nor, when the crucial stroke
On their last asylum broke,
And e'en those hearts of oak
Might well have fear'd,--
How Stanley to the fore
The citadel rush'd to guard,
With that old Albuera cry
_Fifty-seventh_! _Die hard_!
Yet saw not how his lads clear the crest,
And, each one confronting five,
The stubborn squadrons rive,
And backward, downward, drive,--
--Death-call'd to rest!
--O proud and sad for thee!
And proud and sad for those
Who on that stern foreign field
Not seeking, found repose,
As for England dear their life they gladly shed!
Yet in death bethought them where,
Not on these hillsides bare,
But within sweet English air
Their own home-dead
In a green and sure repose
Beside God's house are laid:--
Then faced the charging foes
Unmoved, unhelp'd, unafraid:--
For they knew that God would rate each shatter'd limb
Death-torn for England's sake,
And in Christ's own mercy take
On the day when souls shall wake,
Their souls to Him!
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