Don Juan (Byron)/Canto the Eighth
Oh blood and thunder! and oh blood and wounds!
These are but vulgar oaths, as you may deem,
Too gentle reader! and most shocking sounds:
And so they are; yet thus is Glory's dream
Unriddled, and as my true Muse expounds
At present such things, since they are her theme,
So be they her inspirers! Call them Mars,
Bellona, what you will -- they mean but wars.
All was prepared -- the fire, the sword, the men
To wield them in their terrible array.
The army, like a lion from his den,
March'd forth with nerve and sinews bent to slay, --
A human Hydra, issuing from its fen
To breathe destruction on its winding way,
Whose heads were heroes, which cut off in vain
Immediately in others grew again.
History can only take things in the gross;
But could we know them in detail, perchance
In balancing the profit and the loss,
War's merit it by no means might enhance,
To waste so much gold for a little dross,
As hath been done, mere conquest to advance.
The drying up a single tear has more
Of honest fame, than shedding seas of gore.
And why? -- because it brings self-approbation;
Whereas the other, after all its glare,
Shouts, bridges, arches, pensions from a nation,
Which (it may be) has not much left to spare,
A higher title, or a loftier station,
Though they may make Corruption gape or stare,
Yet, in the end, except in Freedom's battles,
Are nothing but a child of Murder's rattles.
And such they are -- and such they will be found:
Not so Leonidas and Washington,
Whose every battle-field is holy ground,
Which breathes of nations saved, not worlds undone.
How sweetly on the ear such echoes sound!
While the mere victor's may appal or stun
The servile and the vain, such names will be
A watchword till the future shall be free.
The night was dark, and the thick mist allow'd
Nought to be seen save the artillery's flame,
Which arch'd the horizon like a fiery cloud,
And in the Danube's waters shone the same --
A mirror'd hell! the volleying roar, and loud
Long booming of each peal on peal, o'ercame
The ear far more than thunder; for Heaven's flashes
Spare, or smite rarely -- man's make millions ashes!
The column order'd on the assault scarce pass'd
Beyond the Russian batteries a few toises,
When up the bristling Moslem rose at last,
Answering the Christian thunders with like voices:
Then one vast fire, air, earth, and stream embraced,
Which rock'd as 't were beneath the mighty noises;
While the whole rampart blazed like Etna, when
The restless Titan hiccups in his den.
And one enormous shout of "Allah!" rose
In the same moment, loud as even the roar
Of war's most mortal engines, to their foes
Hurling defiance: city, stream, and shore
Resounded "Allah!" and the clouds which close
With thick'ning canopy the conflict o'er,
Vibrate to the Eternal name. Hark! through
All sounds it pierceth "Allah! Allah Hu!"
The columns were in movement one and all,
But of the portion which attack'd by water,
Thicker than leaves the lives began to fall,
Though led by Arseniew, that great son of slaughter,
As brave as ever faced both bomb and ball.
"Carnage" (so Wordsworth tells you) "is God's daughter:"
If he speak truth, she is Christ's sister, and
Just now behaved as in the Holy Land.
The Prince de Ligne was wounded in the knee;
Count Chapeau-Bras, too, had a ball between
His cap and head, which proves the head to be
Aristocratic as was ever seen,
Because it then received no injury
More than the cap; in fact, the ball could mean
No harm unto a right legitimate head:
"Ashes to ashes" -- why not lead to lead?
Also the General Markow, Brigadier,
Insisting on removal of the Prince
Amidst some groaning thousands dying near, --
All common fellows, who might writhe and wince,
And shriek for water into a deaf ear, --
The General Markow, who could thus evince
His sympathy for rank, by the same token,
To teach him greater, had his own leg broken.
Three hundred cannon threw up their emetic,
And thirty thousand muskets flung their pills
Like hail, to make a bloody diuretic.
Mortality! thou hast thy monthly bills;
Thy plagues, thy famines, thy physicians, yet tick,
Like the death-watch, within our ears the ills
Past, present, and to come; -- but all may yield
To the true portrait of one battle-field;
There the still varying pangs, which multiply
Until their very number makes men hard
By the infinities of agony,
Which meet the gaze whate'er it may regard --
The groan, the roll in dust, the all-white eye
Turn'd back within its socket, -- these reward
Your rank and file by thousands, while the rest
May win perhaps a riband at the breast!
Yet I love glory; -- glory's a great thing: --
Think what it is to be in your old age
Maintain'd at the expense of your good king:
A moderate pension shakes full many a sage,
And heroes are but made for bards to sing,
Which is still better; thus in verse to wage
Your wars eternally, besides enjoying
Half-pay for life, make mankind worth destroying.
The troops, already disembark'd, push'd on
To take a battery on the right; the others,
Who landed lower down, their landing done,
Had set to work as briskly as their brothers:
Being grenadiers, they mounted one by one,
Cheerful as children climb the breasts of mothers,
O'er the entrenchment and the palisade,
Quite orderly, as if upon parade.
And this was admirable; for so hot
The fire was, that were red Vesuvius loaded,
Besides its lava, with all sorts of shot
And shells or hells, it could not more have goaded.
Of officers a third fell on the spot,
A thing which victory by no means boded
To gentlemen engaged in the assault:
Hounds, when the huntsman tumbles, are at fault.
But here I leave the general concern,
To track our hero on his path of fame:
He must his laurels separately earn;
For fifty thousand heroes, name by name,
Though all deserving equally to turn
A couplet, or an elegy to claim,
Would form a lengthy lexicon of glory,
And what is worse still, a much longer story:
And therefore we must give the greater number
To the Gazette -- which doubtless fairly dealt
By the deceased, who lie in famous slumber
In ditches, fields, or wheresoe'er they felt
Their clay for the last time their souls encumber; --
Thrice happy he whose name has been well spelt
In the despatch: I knew a man whose loss
Was printed Grove, although his name was Grose.
Juan and Johnson join'd a certain corps,
And fought away with might and main, not knowing
The way which they had never trod before,
And still less guessing where they might be going;
But on they march'd, dead bodies trampling o'er,
Firing, and thrusting, slashing, sweating, glowing,
But fighting thoughtlessly enough to win,
To their two selves, one whole bright bulletin.
Thus on they wallow'd in the bloody mire
Of dead and dying thousands, -- sometimes gaining
A yard or two of ground, which brought them nigher
To some odd angle for which all were straining;
At other times, repulsed by the close fire,
Which really pour'd as if all hell were raining
Instead of heaven, they stumbled backwards o'er
A wounded comrade, sprawling in his gore.
Though 't was Don Juan's first of fields, and though
The nightly muster and the silent march
In the chill dark, when courage does not glow
So much as under a triumphal arch,
Perhaps might make him shiver, yawn, or throw
A glance on the dull clouds (as thick as starch,
Which stiffen'd heaven) as if he wish'd for day; --
Yet for all this he did not run away.
Indeed he could not. But what if he had?
There have been and are heroes who begun
With something not much better, or as bad:
Frederic the Great from Molwitz deign'd to run,
For the first and last time; for, like a pad,
Or hawk, or bride, most mortals after one
Warm bout are broken into their new tricks,
And fight like fiends for pay or politics.
He was what Erin calls, in her sublime
Old Erse or Irish, or it may be Punic
(The antiquarians who can settle time,
Which settles all things, Roman, Greek, or Runic,
Swear that Pat's language sprung from the same clime
With Hannibal, and wears the Tyrian tunic
Of Dido's alphabet; and this is rational
As any other notion, and not national); --
But Juan was quite "a broth of a boy,"
A thing of impulse and a child of song;
Now swimming in the sentiment of joy,
Or the sensation (if that phrase seem wrong),
And afterward, if he must needs destroy,
In such good company as always throng
To battles, sieges, and that kind of pleasure,
No less delighted to employ his leisure;
But always without malice: if he warr'd
Or loved, it was with what we call "the best
Intentions," which form all mankind's trump card,
To be produced when brought up to the test.
The statesman, hero, harlot, lawyer -- ward
Off each attack, when people are in quest
Of their designs, by saying they meant well;
'T is pity "that such meaning should pave hell."
I almost lately have begun to doubt
Whether hell's pavement -- if it be so paved --
Must not have latterly been quite worn out,
Not by the numbers good intent hath saved,
But by the mass who go below without
Those ancient good intentions, which once shaved
And smooth'd the brimstone of that street of hell
Which bears the greatest likeness to Pall Mall.
Juan, by some strange chance, which oft divides
Warrior from warrior in their grim career,
Like chastest wives from constant husbands' sides
Just at the close of the first bridal year,
By one of those odd turns of Fortune's tides,
Was on a sudden rather puzzled here,
When, after a good deal of heavy firing,
He found himself alone, and friends retiring.
I don't know how the thing occurr'd -- it might
Be that the greater part were kill'd or wounded,
And that the rest had faced unto the right
About; a circumstance which has confounded
Caesar himself, who, in the very sight
Of his whole army, which so much abounded
In courage, was obliged to snatch a shield,
And rally back his Romans to the field.
Juan, who had no shield to snatch, and was
No Caesar, but a fine young lad, who fought
He knew not why, arriving at this pass,
Stopp'd for a minute, as perhaps he ought
For a much longer time; then, like an ass --
(Start not, kind reader; since great Homer thought
This simile enough for Ajax, Juan
Perhaps may find it better than a new one) --
Then, like an ass, he went upon his way,
And, what was stranger, never look'd behind;
But seeing, flashing forward, like the day
Over the hills, a fire enough to blind
Those who dislike to look upon a fray,
He stumbled on, to try if he could find
A path, to add his own slight arm and forces
To corps, the greater part of which were corses.
Perceiving then no more the commandant
Of his own corps, nor even the corps, which had
Quite disappear'd -- the gods know how! (I can't
Account for every thing which may look bad
In history; but we at least may grant
It was not marvellous that a mere lad,
In search of glory, should look on before,
Nor care a pinch of snuff about his corps): --
Perceiving nor commander nor commanded,
And left at large, like a young heir, to make
His way to -- where he knew not -- single handed;
As travellers follow over bog and brake
An "ignis fatuus;" or as sailors stranded
Unto the nearest hut themselves betake;
So Juan, following honour and his nose,
Rush'd where the thickest fire announced most foes.
He knew not where he was, nor greatly cared,
For he was dizzy, busy, and his veins
Fill'd as with lightning -- for his spirit shared
The hour, as is the case with lively brains;
And where the hottest fire was seen and heard,
And the loud cannon peal'd his hoarsest strains,
He rush'd, while earth and air were sadly shaken
By thy humane discovery, Friar Bacon!
And as he rush'd along, it came to pass he
Fell in with what was late the second column,
Under the orders of the General Lascy,
But now reduced, as is a bulky volume
Into an elegant extract (much less massy)
Of heroism, and took his place with solemn
Air 'midst the rest, who kept their valiant faces
And levell'd weapons still against the glacis.
Just at this crisis up came Johnson too,
Who had "retreated," as the phrase is when
Men run away much rather than go through
Destruction's jaws into the devil's den;
But Johnson was a clever fellow, who
Knew when and how "to cut and come again,"
And never ran away, except when running
Was nothing but a valorous kind of cunning.
And so, when all his corps were dead or dying,
Except Don Juan, a mere novice, whose
More virgin valour never dreamt of flying
From ignorance of danger, which indues
Its votaries, like innocence relying
On its own strength, with careless nerves and thews, --
Johnson retired a little, just to rally
Those who catch cold in "shadows of Death's valley."
And there, a little shelter'd from the shot,
Which rain'd from bastion, battery, parapet,
Rampart, wall, casement, house, -- for there was not
In this extensive city, sore beset
By Christian soldiery, a single spot
Which did not combat like the devil, as yet,
He found a number of Chasseurs, all scatter'd
By the resistance of the chase they batter'd.
And these he call'd on; and, what's strange, they came
Unto his call, unlike "the spirits from
The vasty deep," to whom you may exclaim,
Says Hotspur, long ere they will leave their home.
Their reasons were uncertainty, or shame
At shrinking from a bullet or a bomb,
And that odd impulse, which in wars or creeds
Makes men, like cattle, follow him who leads.
By Jove! he was a noble fellow, Johnson,
And though his name, than Ajax or Achilles,
Sounds less harmonious, underneath the sun soon
We shall not see his likeness: he could kill his
Man quite as quietly as blows the monsoon
Her steady breath (which some months the same still is):
Seldom he varied feature, hue, or muscle,
And could be very busy without bustle;
And therefore, when he ran away, he did so
Upon reflection, knowing that behind
He would find others who would fain be rid so
Of idle apprehensions, which like wind
Trouble heroic stomachs. Though their lids so
Oft are soon closed, all heroes are not blind,
But when they light upon immediate death,
Retire a little, merely to take breath.
But Johnson only ran off, to return
With many other warriors, as we said,
Unto that rather somewhat misty bourn,
Which Hamlet tells us is a pass of dread.
To Jack howe'er this gave but slight concern:
His soul (like galvanism upon the dead)
Acted upon the living as on wire,
And led them back into the heaviest fire.
Egad! they found the second time what they
The first time thought quite terrible enough
To fly from, malgré all which people say
Of glory, and all that immortal stuff
Which fills a regiment (besides their pay,
That daily shilling which makes warriors tough) --
They found on their return the self-same welcome,
Which made some think, and others know, a hell come.
They fell as thick as harvests beneath hail,
Grass before scythes, or corn below the sickle,
Proving that trite old truth, that life's as frail
As any other boon for which men stickle.
The Turkish batteries thrash'd them like a flail,
Or a good boxer, into a sad pickle
Putting the very bravest, who were knock'd
Upon the head, before their guns were cock'd.
The Turks, behind the traverses and flanks
Of the next bastion, fired away like devils,
And swept, as gales sweep foam away, whole ranks:
However, Heaven knows how, the Fate who levels
Towns, nations, worlds, in her revolving pranks,
So order'd it, amidst these sulphury revels,
That Johnson and some few who had not scamper'd,
Reach'd the interior "talus" of the rampart.
First one or two, then five, six, and a dozen,
Came mounting quickly up, for it was now
All neck or nothing, as, like pitch or rosin,
Flame was shower'd forth above, as well 's below,
So that you scarce could say who best had chosen,
The gentlemen that were the first to show
Their martial faces on the parapet,
Or those who thought it brave to wait as yet.
But those who scaled, found out that their advance
Was favour'd by an accident or blunder:
The Greek or Turkish Cohorn's ignorance
Had palisado'd in a way you'd wonder
To see in forts of Netherlands or France
(Though these to our Gibraltar must knock under) --
Right in the middle of the parapet
Just named, these palisades were primly set:
So that on either side some nine or ten
Paces were left, whereon you could contrive
To march; a great convenience to our men,
At least to all those who were left alive,
Who thus could form a line and fight again;
And that which farther aided them to strive
Was, that they could kick down the palisades,
Which scarcely rose much higher than grass blades.
Among the first, -- I will not say the first,
For such precedence upon such occasions
Will oftentimes make deadly quarrels burst
Out between friends as well as allied nations:
The Briton must be bold who really durst
Put to such trial John Bull's partial patience,
As say that Wellington at Waterloo
Was beaten -- though the Prussians say so too; --
And that if Blucher, Bulow, Gneisenau,
And God knows who besides in "au" and "ow,"
Had not come up in time to cast an awe
Into the hearts of those who fought till now
As tigers combat with an empty craw,
The Duke of Wellington had ceased to show
His orders, also to receive his pensions,
Which are the heaviest that our history mentions.
But never mind; -- "God save the King!" and Kings!
For if he don't, I doubt if men will longer --
I think I hear a little bird, who sings
The people by and by will be the stronger:
The veriest jade will wince whose harness wrings
So much into the raw as quite to wrong her
Beyond the rules of posting, -- and the mob
At last fall sick of imitating Job.
At first it grumbles, then it swears, and then,
Like David, flings smooth pebbles 'gainst a giant;
At last it takes to weapons such as men
Snatch when despair makes human hearts less pliant.
Then comes "the tug of war;" -- 't will come again,
I rather doubt; and I would fain say "fie on 't,"
If I had not perceived that revolution
Alone can save the earth from hell's pollution.
But to continue: -- I say not the first,
But of the first, our little friend Don Juan
Walk'd o'er the walls of Ismail, as if nursed
Amidst such scenes -- though this was quite a new one
To him, and I should hope to most. The thirst
Of glory, which so pierces through and through one,
Pervaded him -- although a generous creature,
As warm in heart as feminine in feature.
And here he was -- who upon woman's breast,
Even from a child, felt like a child; howe'er
The man in all the rest might be confest,
To him it was Elysium to be there;
And he could even withstand that awkward test
Which Rousseau points out to the dubious fair,
"Observe your lover when he leaves your arms;"
But Juan never left them, while they had charms,
Unless compell'd by fate, or wave, or wind,
Or near relations, who are much the same.
But here he was! -- where each tie that can bind
Humanity must yield to steel and flame:
And he whose very body was all mind,
Flung here by fate or circumstance, which tame
The loftiest, hurried by the time and place,
Dash'd on like a spurr'd blood-horse in a race.
So was his blood stirr'd while he found resistance,
As is the hunter's at the five-bar gate,
Or double post and rail, where the existence
Of Britain's youth depends upon their weight,
The lightest being the safest: at a distance
He hated cruelty, as all men hate
Blood, until heated -- and even then his own
At times would curdle o'er some heavy groan.
The General Lascy, who had been hard press'd,
Seeing arrive an aid so opportune
As were some hundred youngsters all abreast,
Who came as if just dropp'd down from the moon,
To Juan, who was nearest him, address'd
His thanks, and hopes to take the city soon,
Not reckoning him to be a "base Bezonian"
(As Pistol calls it), but a young Livonian.
Juan, to whom he spoke in German, knew
As much of German as of Sanscrit, and
In answer made an inclination to
The general who held him in command;
For seeing one with ribands, black and blue,
Stars, medals, and a bloody sword in hand,
Addressing him in tones which seem'd to thank,
He recognised an officer of rank.
Short speeches pass between two men who speak
No common language; and besides, in time
Of war and taking towns, when many a shriek
Rings o'er the dialogue, and many a crime
Is perpetrated ere a word can break
Upon the ear, and sounds of horror chime
In like church-bells, with sigh, howl, groan, yell, prayer,
There cannot be much conversation there.
And therefore all we have related in
Two long octaves, pass'd in a little minute;
But in the same small minute, every sin
Contrived to get itself comprised within it.
The very cannon, deafen'd by the din,
Grew dumb, for you might almost hear a linnet,
As soon as thunder, 'midst the general noise
Of human nature's agonising voice!
The town was enter'd. Oh eternity! --
"God made the country and man made the town,"
So Cowper says -- and I begin to be
Of his opinion, when I see cast down
Rome, Babylon, Tyre, Carthage, Nineveh,
All walls men know, and many never known;
And pondering on the present and the past,
To deem the woods shall be our home at last
Of all men, saving Sylla the man-slayer,
Who passes for in life and death most lucky,
Of the great names which in our faces stare,
The General Boon, back-woodsman of Kentucky,
Was happiest amongst mortals anywhere;
For killing nothing but a bear or buck, he
Enjoy'd the lonely, vigorous, harmless days
Of his old age in wilds of deepest maze.
Crime came not near him -- she is not the child
Of solitude; Health shrank not from him -- for
Her home is in the rarely trodden wild,
Where if men seek her not, and death be more
Their choice than life, forgive them, as beguiled
By habit to what their own hearts abhor --
In cities caged. The present case in point I
Cite is, that Boon lived hunting up to ninety;
And what's still stranger, left behind a name
For which men vainly decimate the throng,
Not only famous, but of that good fame,
Without which glory's but a tavern song --
Simple, serene, the antipodes of shame,
Which hate nor envy e'er could tinge with wrong;
An active hermit, even in age the child
Of Nature, or the man of Ross run wild.
'T is true he shrank from men even of his nation,
When they built up unto his darling trees, --
He moved some hundred miles off, for a station
Where there were fewer houses and more ease;
The inconvenience of civilisation
Is, that you neither can be pleased nor please;
But where he met the individual man,
He show'd himself as kind as mortal can.
He was not all alone: around him grew
A sylvan tribe of children of the chase,
Whose young, unwaken'd world was ever new,
Nor sword nor sorrow yet had left a trace
On her unwrinkled brow, nor could you view
A frown on Nature's or on human face;
The free-born forest found and kept them free,
And fresh as is a torrent or a tree.
And tall, and strong, and swift of foot were they,
Beyond the dwarfing city's pale abortions,
Because their thoughts had never been the prey
Of care or gain: the green woods were their portions;
No sinking spirits told them they grew grey,
No fashion made them apes of her distortions;
Simple they were, not savage; and their rifles,
Though very true, were not yet used for trifles.
Motion was in their days, rest in their slumbers,
And cheerfulness the handmaid of their toil;
Nor yet too many nor too few their numbers;
Corruption could not make their hearts her soil;
The lust which stings, the splendour which encumbers,
With the free foresters divide no spoil;
Serene, not sullen, were the solitudes
Of this unsighing people of the woods.
So much for Nature: -- by way of variety,
Now back to thy great joys, Civilisation!
And the sweet consequence of large society,
War, pestilence, the despot's desolation,
The kingly scourge, the lust of notoriety,
The millions slain by soldiers for their ration,
The scenes like Catherine's boudoir at threescore,
With Ismail's storm to soften it the more.
The town was enter'd: first one column made
Its sanguinary way good -- then another;
The reeking bayonet and the flashing blade
Clash'd 'gainst the scimitar, and babe and mother
With distant shrieks were heard Heaven to upbraid:
Still closer sulphury clouds began to smother
The breath of morn and man, where foot by foot
The madden'd Turks their city still dispute.
Koutousow, he who afterward beat back
(With some assistance from the frost and snow)
Napoleon on his bold and bloody track,
It happen'd was himself beat back just now;
He was a jolly fellow, and could crack
His jest alike in face of friend or foe,
Though life, and death, and victory were at stake;
But here it seem'd his jokes had ceased to take:
For having thrown himself into a ditch,
Follow'd in haste by various grenadiers,
Whose blood the puddle greatly did enrich,
He climb'd to where the parapet appears;
But there his project reach'd its utmost pitch
('Mongst other deaths the General Ribaupierre's
Was much regretted), for the Moslem men
Threw them all down into the ditch again.
And had it not been for some stray troops landing
They knew not where, being carried by the stream
To some spot, where they lost their understanding,
And wander'd up and down as in a dream,
Until they reach'd, as daybreak was expanding,
That which a portal to their eyes did seem, --
The great and gay Koutousow might have lain
Where three parts of his column yet remain.
And scrambling round the rampart, these same troops,
After the taking of the "Cavalier,"
Just as Koutousow's most "forlorn" of "hopes"
Took like chameleons some slight tinge of fear,
Open'd the gate call'd "Kilia," to the groups
Of baffled heroes, who stood shyly near,
Sliding knee-deep in lately frozen mud,
Now thaw'd into a marsh of human blood.
The Kozacks, or, if so you please, Cossacques
(I don't much pique myself upon orthography,
So that I do not grossly err in facts,
Statistics, tactics, politics, and geography) --
Having been used to serve on horses' backs,
And no great dilettanti in topography
Of fortresses, but fighting where it pleases
Their chiefs to order, -- were all cut to pieces.
Their column, though the Turkish batteries thunder'd
Upon them, ne'ertheless had reach'd the rampart,
And naturally thought they could have plunder'd
The city, without being farther hamper'd;
But as it happens to brave men, they blunder'd --
The Turks at first pretended to have scamper'd,
Only to draw them 'twixt two bastion corners,
From whence they sallied on those Christian scorners.
Then being taken by the tail -- a taking
Fatal to bishops as to soldiers -- these
Cossacques were all cut off as day was breaking,
And found their lives were let at a short lease --
But perish'd without shivering or shaking,
Leaving as ladders their heap'd carcasses,
O'er which Lieutenant-Colonel Yesouskoi
March'd with the brave battalion of Polouzki: --
This valiant man kill'd all the Turks he met,
But could not eat them, being in his turn
Slain by some Mussulmans, who would not yet,
Without resistance, see their city burn.
The walls were won, but 't was an even bet
Which of the armies would have cause to mourn:
'T was blow for blow, disputing inch by inch,
For one would not retreat, nor t' other flinch.
Another column also suffer'd much: --
And here we may remark with the historian,
You should but give few cartridges to such
Troops as are meant to march with greatest glory on:
When matters must be carried by the touch
Of the bright bayonet, and they all should hurry on,
They sometimes, with a hankering for existence,
Keep merely firing at a foolish distance.
A junction of the General Meknop's men
(Without the General, who had fallen some time
Before, being badly seconded just then)
Was made at length with those who dared to climb
The death-disgorging rampart once again;
And though the Turk's resistance was sublime,
They took the bastion, which the Seraskier
Defended at a price extremely dear.
Juan and Johnson, and some volunteers,
Among the foremost, offer'd him good quarter,
A word which little suits with Seraskiers,
Or at least suited not this valiant Tartar.
He died, deserving well his country's tears,
A savage sort of military martyr.
An English naval officer, who wish'd
To make him prisoner, was also dish'd:
For all the answer to his proposition
Was from a pistol-shot that laid him dead;
On which the rest, without more intermission,
Began to lay about with steel and lead --
The pious metals most in requisition
On such occasions: not a single head
Was spared; -- three thousand Moslems perish'd here,
And sixteen bayonets pierced the Seraskier.
The city's taken -- only part by part --
And death is drunk with gore: there's not a street
Where fights not to the last some desperate heart
For those for whom it soon shall cease to beat.
Here War forgot his own destructive art
In more destroying Nature; and the heat
Of carnage, like the Nile's sun-sodden slime,
Engender'd monstrous shapes of every crime.
A Russian officer, in martial tread
Over a heap of bodies, felt his heel
Seized fast, as if 't were by the serpent's head
Whose fangs Eve taught her human seed to feel:
In vain he kick'd, and swore, and writhed, and bled,
And howl'd for help as wolves do for a meal --
The teeth still kept their gratifying hold,
As do the subtle snakes described of old.
A dying Moslem, who had felt the foot
Of a foe o'er him, snatch'd at it, and bit
The very tendon which is most acute
(That which some ancient Muse or modern wit
Named after thee, Achilles), and quite through 't
He made the teeth meet, nor relinquish'd it
Even with his life -- for (but they lie) 't is said
To the live leg still clung the sever'd head.
However this may be, 't is pretty sure
The Russian officer for life was lamed,
For the Turk's teeth stuck faster than a skewer,
And left him 'midst the invalid and maim'd:
The regimental surgeon could not cure
His patient, and perhaps was to be blamed
More than the head of the inveterate foe,
Which was cut off, and scarce even then let go.
But then the fact's a fact -- and 't is the part
Of a true poet to escape from fiction
Whene'er he can; for there is little art
In leaving verse more free from the restriction
Of truth than prose, unless to suit the mart
For what is sometimes called poetic diction,
And that outrageous appetite for lies
Which Satan angles with for souls, like flies.
The city's taken, but not render'd! -- No!
There's not a Moslem that hath yielded sword:
The blood may gush out, as the Danube's flow
Rolls by the city wall; but deed nor word
Acknowledge aught of dread of death or foe:
In vain the yell of victory is roar'd
By the advancing Muscovite -- the groan
Of the last foe is echoed by his own.
The bayonet pierces and the sabre cleaves,
And human lives are lavish'd everywhere,
As the year closing whirls the scarlet leaves
When the stripp'd forest bows to the bleak air,
And groans; and thus the peopled city grieves,
Shorn of its best and loveliest, and left bare;
But still it falls in vast and awful splinters,
As oaks blown down with all their thousand winters.
It is an awful topic -- but 't is not
My cue for any time to be terrific:
For checker'd as is seen our human lot
With good, and bad, and worse, alike prolific
Of melancholy merriment, to quote
Too much of one sort would be soporific; --
Without, or with, offence to friends or foes,
I sketch your world exactly as it goes.
And one good action in the midst of crimes
Is "quite refreshing," in the affected phrase
Of these ambrosial, Pharisaic times,
With all their pretty milk-and-water ways,
And may serve therefore to bedew these rhymes,
A little scorch'd at present with the blaze
Of conquest and its consequences, which
Make epic poesy so rare and rich.
Upon a taken bastion, where there lay
Thousands of slaughter'd men, a yet warm group
Of murder'd women, who had found their way
To this vain refuge, made the good heart droop
And shudder; -- while, as beautiful as May,
A female child of ten years tried to stoop
And hide her little palpitating breast
Amidst the bodies lull'd in bloody rest.
Two villainous Cossacques pursued the child
With flashing eyes and weapons: match'd with them,
The rudest brute that roams Siberia's wild
Has feelings pure and polish'd as a gem, --
The bear is civilised, the wolf is mild;
And whom for this at last must we condemn?
Their natures? or their sovereigns, who employ
All arts to teach their subjects to destroy?
Their sabres glitter'd o'er her little head,
Whence her fair hair rose twining with affright,
Her hidden face was plunged amidst the dead:
When Juan caught a glimpse of this sad sight,
I shall not say exactly what he said,
Because it might not solace "ears polite;"
But what he did, was to lay on their backs,
The readiest way of reasoning with Cossacques.
One's hip he slash'd, and split the other's shoulder,
And drove them with their brutal yells to seek
If there might be chirurgeons who could solder
The wounds they richly merited, and shriek
Their baffled rage and pain; while waxing colder
As he turn'd o'er each pale and gory cheek,
Don Juan raised his little captive from
The heap a moment more had made her tomb.
And she was chill as they, and on her face
A slender streak of blood announced how near
Her fate had been to that of all her race;
For the same blow which laid her mother here
Had scarr'd her brow, and left its crimson trace,
As the last link with all she had held dear;
But else unhurt, she open'd her large eyes,
And gazed on Juan with a wild surprise.
Just at this instant, while their eyes were fix'd
Upon each other, with dilated glance,
In Juan's look, pain, pleasure, hope, fear, mix'd
With joy to save, and dread of some mischance
Unto his protégée; while hers, transfix'd
With infant terrors, glared as from a trance,
A pure, transparent, pale, yet radiant face,
Like to a lighted alabaster vase; --
Up came John Johnson (I will not say "Jack,"
For that were vulgar, cold, and commonplace
On great occasions, such as an attack
On cities, as hath been the present case):
Up Johnson came, with hundreds at his back,
Exclaiming; -- "Juan! Juan! On, boy! brace
Your arm, and I'll bet Moscow to a dollar
That you and I will win St. George's collar.
"The Seraskier is knock'd upon the head,
But the stone bastion still remains, wherein
The old Pacha sits among some hundreds dead,
Smoking his pipe quite calmly 'midst the din
Of our artillery and his own: 't is said
Our kill'd, already piled up to the chin,
Lie round the battery; but still it batters,
And grape in volleys, like a vineyard, scatters.
"Then up with me!" -- But Juan answer'd, "Look
Upon this child -- I saved her -- must not leave
Her life to chance; but point me out some nook
Of safety, where she less may shrink and grieve,
And I am with you." -- Whereon Johnson took
A glance around -- and shrugg'd -- and twitch'd his sleeve
And black silk neckcloth -- and replied, "You're right;
Poor thing! what's to be done? I'm puzzled quite."
Said Juan: "Whatsoever is to be
Done, I'll not quit her till she seems secure
Of present life a good deal more than we."
Quoth Johnson: "Neither will I quite ensure;
But at the least you may die gloriously."
Juan replied: "At least I will endure
Whate'er is to be borne -- but not resign
This child, who is parentless, and therefore mine."
Johnson said: "Juan, we've no time to lose;
The child's a pretty child -- a very pretty --
I never saw such eyes -- but hark! now choose
Between your fame and feelings, pride and pity; --
Hark! how the roar increases! -- no excuse
Will serve when there is plunder in a city; --
I should be loth to march without you, but,
By God! we'll be too late for the first cut."
But Juan was immovable; until
Johnson, who really loved him in his way,
Pick'd out amongst his followers with some skill
Such as he thought the least given up to prey;
And swearing if the infant came to ill
That they should all be shot on the next day;
But if she were deliver'd safe and sound,
They should at least have fifty rubles round,
And all allowances besides of plunder
In fair proportion with their comrades; -- then
Juan consented to march on through thunder,
Which thinn'd at every step their ranks of men:
And yet the rest rush'd eagerly -- no wonder,
For they were heated by the hope of gain,
A thing which happens everywhere each day --
No hero trusteth wholly to half pay.
And such is victory, and such is man!
At least nine tenths of what we call so; -- God
May have another name for half we scan
As human beings, or his ways are odd.
But to our subject: a brave Tartar khan --
Or "sultan," as the author (to whose nod
In prose I bend my humble verse) doth call
This chieftain -- somehow would not yield at all:
But flank'd by five brave sons (such is polygamy,
That she spawns warriors by the score, where none
Are prosecuted for that false crime bigamy),
He never would believe the city won
While courage clung but to a single twig. -- Am I
Describing Priam's, Peleus', or Jove's son?
Neither -- but a good, plain, old, temperate man,
Who fought with his five children in the van.
To take him was the point. The truly brave,
When they behold the brave oppress'd with odds,
Are touch'd with a desire to shield and save; --
A mixture of wild beasts and demigods
Are they -- now furious as the sweeping wave,
Now moved with pity: even as sometimes nods
The rugged tree unto the summer wind,
Compassion breathes along the savage mind.
But he would not be taken, and replied
To all the propositions of surrender
By mowing Christians down on every side,
As obstinate as Swedish Charles at Bender.
His five brave boys no less the foe defied;
Whereon the Russian pathos grew less tender,
As being a virtue, like terrestrial patience,
Apt to wear out on trifling provocations.
And spite of Johnson and of Juan, who
Expended all their Eastern phraseology
In begging him, for God's sake, just to show
So much less fight as might form an apology
For them in saving such a desperate foe --
He hew'd away, like doctors of theology
When they dispute with sceptics; and with curses
Struck at his friends, as babies beat their nurses.
Nay, he had wounded, though but slightly, both
Juan and Johnson; whereupon they fell,
The first with sighs, the second with an oath,
Upon his angry sultanship, pell-mell,
And all around were grown exceeding wroth
At such a pertinacious infidel,
And pour'd upon him and his sons like rain,
Which they resisted like a sandy plain
That drinks and still is dry. At last they perish'd --
His second son was levell'd by a shot;
His third was sabred; and the fourth, most cherish'd
Of all the five, on bayonets met his lot;
The fifth, who, by a Christian mother nourish'd,
Had been neglected, ill-used, and what not,
Because deform'd, yet died all game and bottom,
To save a sire who blush'd that he begot him.
The eldest was a true and tameless Tartar,
As great a scorner of the Nazarene
As ever Mahomet pick'd out for a martyr,
Who only saw the black-eyed girls in green,
Who make the beds of those who won't take quarter
On earth, in Paradise; and when once seen,
Those houris, like all other pretty creatures,
Do just whate'er they please, by dint of features.
And what they pleased to do with the young khan
In heaven I know not, nor pretend to guess;
But doubtless they prefer a fine young man
To tough old heroes, and can do no less;
And that's the cause no doubt why, if we scan
A field of battle's ghastly wilderness,
For one rough, weather-beaten, veteran body,
You'll find ten thousand handsome coxcombs bloody.
Your houris also have a natural pleasure
In lopping off your lately married men,
Before the bridal hours have danced their measure
And the sad, second moon grows dim again,
Or dull repentance hath had dreary leisure
To wish him back a bachelor now and then.
And thus your houri (it may be) disputes
Of these brief blossoms the immediate fruits.
Thus the young khan, with houris in his sight,
Thought not upon the charms of four young brides,
But bravely rush'd on his first heavenly night.
In short, howe'er our better faith derides,
These black-eyed virgins make the Moslems fight,
As though there were one heaven and none besides, --
Whereas, if all be true we hear of heaven
And hell, there must at least be six or seven.
So fully flash'd the phantom on his eyes,
That when the very lance was in his heart,
He shouted "Allah!" and saw Paradise
With all its veil of mystery drawn apart,
And bright eternity without disguise
On his soul, like a ceaseless sunrise, dart: --
With prophets, houris, angels, saints, descried
In one voluptuous blaze, -- and then he died,
But with a heavenly rapture on his face.
The good old khan, who long had ceased to see
Houris, or aught except his florid race
Who grew like cedars round him gloriously --
When he beheld his latest hero grace
The earth, which he became like a fell'd tree,
Paused for a moment, from the fight, and cast
A glance on that slain son, his first and last.
The soldiers, who beheld him drop his point,
Stopp'd as if once more willing to concede
Quarter, in case he bade them not "aroynt!"
As he before had done. He did not heed
Their pause nor signs: his heart was out of joint,
And shook (till now unshaken) like a reed,
As he look'd down upon his children gone,
And felt -- though done with life -- he was alone
But 't was a transient tremor; -- with a spring
Upon the Russian steel his breast he flung,
As carelessly as hurls the moth her wing
Against the light wherein she dies: he clung
Closer, that all the deadlier they might wring,
Unto the bayonets which had pierced his young;
And throwing back a dim look on his sons,
In one wide wound pour'd forth his soul at once.
'T is strange enough -- the rough, tough soldiers, who
Spared neither sex nor age in their career
Of carnage, when this old man was pierced through,
And lay before them with his children near,
Touch'd by the heroism of him they slew,
Were melted for a moment: though no tear
Flow'd from their bloodshot eyes, all red with strife,
They honour'd such determined scorn of life.
But the stone bastion still kept up its fire,
Where the chief pacha calmly held his post:
Some twenty times he made the Russ retire,
And baffled the assaults of all their host;
At length he condescended to inquire
If yet the city's rest were won or lost;
And being told the latter, sent a bey
To answer Ribas' summons to give way.
In the mean time, cross-legg'd, with great sang-froid,
Among the scorching ruins he sat smoking
Tobacco on a little carpet; -- Troy
Saw nothing like the scene around: -- yet looking
With martial stoicism, nought seem'd to annoy
His stern philosophy; but gently stroking
His beard, he puff'd his pipe's ambrosial gales,
As if he had three lives, as well as tails.
The town was taken -- whether he might yield
Himself or bastion, little matter'd now:
His stubborn valour was no future shield.
Ismail's no more! The crescent's silver bow
Sunk, and the crimson cross glared o'er the field,
But red with no redeeming gore: the glow
Of burning streets, like moonlight on the water,
Was imaged back in blood, the sea of slaughter.
All that the mind would shrink from of excesses;
All that the body perpetrates of bad;
All that we read, hear, dream, of man's distresses;
All that the devil would do if run stark mad;
All that defies the worst which pen expresses;
All by which hell is peopled, or as sad
As hell -- mere mortals who their power abuse --
Was here (as heretofore and since) let loose.
If here and there some transient trait of pity
Was shown, and some more noble heart broke through
Its bloody bond, and saved perhaps some pretty
Child, or an agéd, helpless man or two --
What's this in one annihilated city,
Where thousand loves, and ties, and duties grew?
Cockneys of London! Muscadins of Paris!
Just ponder what a pious pastime war is.
Think how the joys of reading a Gazette
Are purchased by all agonies and crimes:
Or if these do not move you, don't forget
Such doom may be your own in aftertimes.
Meantime the Taxes, Castlereagh, and Debt,
Are hints as good as sermons, or as rhymes.
Read your own hearts and Ireland's present story,
Then feed her famine fat with Wellesley's glory.
But still there is unto a patriot nation,
Which loves so well its country and its king,
A subject of sublimest exultation --
Bear it, ye Muses, on your brightest wing!
Howe'er the mighty locust, Desolation,
Strip your green fields, and to your harvests cling,
Gaunt famine never shall approach the throne --
Though Ireland starve, great George weighs twenty stone.
But let me put an end unto my theme:
There was an end of Ismail -- hapless town!
Far flash'd her burning towers o'er Danube's stream,
And redly ran his blushing waters down.
The horrid war-whoop and the shriller scream
Rose still; but fainter were the thunders grown:
Of forty thousand who had mann'd the wall,
Some hundreds breathed -- the rest were silent all!
In one thing ne'ertheless 't is fit to praise
The Russian army upon this occasion,
A virtue much in fashion now-a-days,
And therefore worthy of commemoration:
The topic's tender, so shall be my phrase --
Perhaps the season's chill, and their long station
In winter's depth, or want of rest and victual,
Had made them chaste; -- they ravish'd very little.
Much did they slay, more plunder, and no less
Might here and there occur some violation
In the other line; -- but not to such excess
As when the French, that dissipated nation,
Take towns by storm: no causes can I guess,
Except cold weather and commiseration;
But all the ladies, save some twenty score,
Were almost as much virgins as before.
Some odd mistakes, too, happen'd in the dark,
Which show'd a want of lanterns, or of taste --
Indeed the smoke was such they scarce could mark
Their friends from foes, -- besides such things from haste
Occur, though rarely, when there is a spark
Of light to save the venerably chaste:
But six old damsels, each of seventy years,
Were all deflower'd by different grenadiers.
But on the whole their continence was great;
So that some disappointment there ensued
To those who had felt the inconvenient state
Of "single blessedness," and thought it good
(Since it was not their fault, but only fate,
To bear these crosses) for each waning prude
To make a Roman sort of Sabine wedding,
Without the expense and the suspense of bedding.
Some voices of the buxom middle-aged
Were also heard to wonder in the din
(Widows of forty were these birds long caged)
"Wherefore the ravishing did not begin!"
But while the thirst for gore and plunder raged,
There was small leisure for superfluous sin;
But whether they escaped or no, lies hid
In darkness -- I can only hope they did.
Suwarrow now was conqueror -- a match
For Timour or for Zinghis in his trade.
While mosques and streets, beneath his eyes, like thatch
Blazed, and the cannon's roar was scarce allay'd,
With bloody hands he wrote his first despatch;
And here exactly follows what he said: --
"Glory to God and to the Empress!" (Powers
Eternal! such names mingled!) "Ismail's ours."
Methinks these are the most tremendous words,
Since "Mene, Mene, Tekel," and "Upharsin,"
Which hands or pens have ever traced of swords.
Heaven help me! I'm but little of a parson:
What Daniel read was short-hand of the Lord's,
Severe, sublime; the prophet wrote no farce on
The fate of nations; -- but this Russ so witty
Could rhyme, like Nero, o'er a burning city.
He wrote this Polar melody, and set it,
Duly accompanied by shrieks and groans,
Which few will sing, I trust, but none forget it --
For I will teach, if possible, the stones
To rise against earth's tyrants. Never let it
Be said that we still truckle unto thrones; --
But ye -- our children's children! think how we
Show'd what things were before the world was free!
That hour is not for us, but 't is for you:
And as, in the great joy of your millennium,
You hardly will believe such things were true
As now occur, I thought that I would pen you 'em;
But may their very memory perish too! --
Yet if perchance remember'd, still disdain you 'em
More than you scorn the savages of yore,
Who painted their bare limbs, but not with gore.
And when you hear historians talk of thrones,
And those that sate upon them, let it be
As we now gaze upon the mammoth's bones,
"And wonder what old world such things could see,
Or hieroglyphics on Egyptian stones,
The pleasant riddles of futurity --
Guessing at what shall happily be hid,
As the real purpose of a pyramid.
Reader! I have kept my word, -- at least so far
As the first Canto promised. You have now
Had sketches of love, tempest, travel, war --
All very accurate, you must allow,
And epic, if plain truth should prove no bar;
For I have drawn much less with a long bow
Than my forerunners. Carelessly I sing,
But Phoebus lends me now and then a string,
With which I still can harp, and carp, and fiddle.
What farther hath befallen or may befall
The hero of this grand poetic riddle,
I by and by may tell you, if at all:
But now I choose to break off in the middle,
Worn out with battering Ismail's stubborn wall,
While Juan is sent off with the despatch,
For which all Petersburgh is on the watch.
This special honour was conferr'd, because
He had behaved with courage and humanity --
Which last men like, when they have time to pause
From their ferocities produced by vanity.
His little captive gain'd him some applause
For saving her amidst the wild insanity
Of carnage, -- and I think he was more glad in her
Safety, than his new order of St. Vladimir.
The Moslem orphan went with her protector,
For she was homeless, houseless, helpless; all
Her friends, like the sad family of Hector,
Had perish'd in the field or by the wall:
Her very place of birth was but a spectre
Of what it had been; there the Muezzin's cal
To prayer was heard no more! -- and Juan wept,
And made a vow to shield her, which he kept.