Too Close to See the Battle

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Robert Southey

Robert Southey (1774–1843), Selected Poems
Vol. 41, pp. 732-735 of The Harvard Classics

(Battle of Blenheim, Aug. 13. 1704.)
England and France caine to battle near Blenheim. Years later the people of Blenheim called it a "famous victory," but could not tell whose victory it was.


After 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 newborn 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 every body 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.’


The Scholar

MY days among the Dead are past;
Around me I behold,
Where’er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old:
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day.

With them I take delight in weal
And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel
How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedew’d
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.

My thoughts are with the Dead; with them
I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears,
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind.

My hopes are with the Dead; anon
My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
Through all Futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
That will not perish in the dust.


 

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