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

Moskva, the River

Prince Emilius of Hesse-Darmstadt

By Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)

FROM Hesse-Darmstadt every step to Moskwa’s blazing banks

Was Prince Emilius found in fight before the foremost ranks;

And when upon the icy waste that host was backward cast,

On Beresina’s bloody bridge his banner waved the last.

His valor shed victorious grace on all that dread retreat,

That path across the wildering snow, athwart the blinding sleet;

And every follower of his sword could all endure and dare,

Becoming warriors strong in hope or stronger in despair.

Now, day and dark, along the storm the demon Cossacks sweep,

The hungriest must not look for food, the weariest must not sleep;

No rest, but death, for horse or man, whichever first shall tire;—

They see the flames destroy, but ne’er may feel the saving fire.

Thus never closed the bitter night nor rose the savage morn,

But from that gallant company some noble part was shorn,

And, sick at heart, the Prince resolved to keep his purposed way,

With steadfast forward looks, nor count the losses of the day.

At length, beside a black-burnt hut, an island of the snow,—

Each head in frigid stupor bent toward the saddle-bow,—

They paused, and of that sturdy troop, that thousand banded men,

At one unmeditated glance he numbered only ten!

Of all that high triumphant life that left his German home,

Of all those hearts that beat beloved or looked for love to come,

This piteous remnant hardly saved his spirit overcame,

While memory raised each friendly face and called each ancient name.

Then were his words serene and firm,—“Dear brothers, it is best

That here, with perfect trust in Heaven, we give our bodies rest;

If we have borne, like faithful men, our part of toil and pain,

Where’er we wake, for Christ’s good sake, we shall not sleep in vain.”

Some murmured, others looked assent, they had no heart to speak;

Dumb hands were pressed, the pallid lips approached the callous cheek;

They laid them side by side; and death to him at least did seem

To come attired in mazy robe of variegated dream.

Once more he floated on the breast of old familiar Rhine,

His mother’s and one other smile above him seemed to shine;

A blessed dew of healing fell on every aching limb,

Till the stream broadened and the air thickened and all was dim.

Nature had bent to other laws, if that tremendous night

Passed o’er his frame exposed and worn and left no deadly blight;

Then wonder not that when refreshed and warm he woke at last,

There lay a boundless gulf of thought between him and the past.

Soon raising his astonished head he found himself alone,

Sheltered beneath a genial heap of vestments not his own;

The light increased, the solemn truth revealing more and more,—

His soldiers’ corses self-despoiled closed up the narrow door.

That very hour, fulfilling good, miraculous succor came,

And Prince Emilius lived to give this worthy deed to fame.

O brave fidelity in death! O strength of loving will!

These are the holy balsam-drops that woeful wars distil.