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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Russia: Vol. XX. 1876–79.

Alma, the River

Battle of the Alma

By Anonymous

BRIGHTLY, briskly runs the Alma, cold and green from mountain snow;

Pleasant shade along its borders oak and plane and walnut throw,

Where the Tartar shepherd shelters with his flock from noontide heat,

In a silence only broken by the browsing goat’s faint bleat.

From the huts beneath the hillsides Tartar women to the brink

Shyly come to fill their pitchers, or drive down the cows to drink.

All is calm and peace and plenty: over all—a form of awe!—

Sleeps in light the snow-spread table of the mighty Tschatyr-Dagh.

On the northern bank the copses flush with autumn red and gold;

On the southern bank the margin shows a cliff-line bare and bold.

You may cross the stream in spring-time, nor be wet above the knee,

But when summer melts the snow-wreaths, who would ford it stout must be.

On the twentieth of September—they had marched from early morn—

As our armies neared the Alma they were weary men and worn;

But the heaviest tread grew springy, strength was in the weakest hand,

As the word “Halt! Form!” was given, for they knew the Russ at hand.

There along the southern heights in intrenchments lay the foe,

With his batteries in position,—sevenscore great guns, levelled low.

There was little time to count them ere their roar the silence woke,

And the dell has grown a hell,—all fire and sulphurous smoke.

Now Zouaves and Tirailleurs!—now Rifles and Chasseurs!

Scatter wide, finding shelter where you can;

Fire steadily and slow, till the distant foemen know

That every Minié bullet has its man!

See! they crouch, with well-filled pouch, firm hand, and murderous aim:

Every bush, a puff of smoke; every stone, a jet of flame;

And behind their covering shot, at a steady, swinging trot,

Downward pours, to the shores, the Allies’ van!

Again—again—again those batteries’ iron rain,

And thick, alas! our gallant fellows fall:

For the river it is deep, and the banks they are steep,

And the heights there beyond are like a wall.

But a lusty British cheer, and a thundering British charge,

And the foremost are already in the flood,

Though the great guns ever roar, down upon them from the shore,

And the water that was green turns to blood!

Through the shallows, in the deeps, o’er the bowlders, up the steeps,

British, French, and Turk, eager for the work,

Are floundering and clambering and rushing with mad leaps—

On again—on amain,—some are left, though many die,—

Your powder may be damp, but your bayonets are dry:

Let it come but to the steel, and the Muscovite shall feel

With what men he his prowess hath to try!

Hark to those ringing cheers! ’T is the bold Welsh Fusileers!

Ever foremost where there ’s work to be done:

They ’ve won footing on the bank,—they are closing rank on rank,

Scores of dying, but of flying never one!

Now, fiery Celtic blood, to our French allies make good

The credit of the lineage that you share!

They have gained the heights’ bald crown! Now they stagger,—now they ’re down!

But, hark! another cheer, and the gallant Guards are near!

And with glorious tartans streaming, and Highland bagpipes screaming,

The Black-Watch to the rescue appear!

At length the crest is won! Stab the gunner at his gun!

Ere to take up new ground the batteries wheel;

On, Britons, Turks, and French, o’er redoubt and over trench,

Surge on like a wave of flashing steel!—

Lo, they waver! lo, they shake! lo, their line begins to break!

With the tramp of flying men, flying horses, earth doth quake.

You have fought a desperate fight, you have crushed a giant might,

And four hours ere the setting of the sun,

The triple flags wave high, bullet-rent, against the sky,

And the Battle of the Alma hath been won!