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


The French Army in Russia

By George Croly (1780–1860)

(From Paris in 1815)

MAGNIFICENCE of ruin! what has time

In all it ever gazed upon of war,

Of the wild rage of storm, or deadly clime,

Seen, with that battle’s vengeance to compare?

How glorious shone the invader’s pomp afar!

Like pampered lions from the spoil they came;

The land before them silence and despair,

The land behind them massacre and flame;

Blood will have tenfold blood. What are they now? A name.

Homeward by hundred thousands, column-deep,

Broad square, loose squadron, rolling like the flood,

When mighty torrents from their channels leap,

Rushed through the land the haughty multitude,

Billow on endless billow; on through wood,

O’er rugged hill, down sunless, marshy vale,

The death-devoted moved, to clangor rude

Of drum and horn, and dissonant clash of mail,

Glancing disastrous light before that sunbeam pale.

Again they reached thee, Borodino! still

Upon the loaded soil the carnage lay,

The human harvest, now stark, stiff, and chill,

Friend, foe, stretched thick together, clay to clay;

In vain the startled legions burst away;

The land was all one naked sepulchre;

The shrinking eye still glanced on grim decay,

Still did the hoof and wheel their passage tear,

Through cloven helms and arms, and corpses mouldering drear.

The field was as they left it; fosse and fort

Steaming with slaughter still, but desolate;

The cannon flung dismantled by its port;

Each knew the mound, the black ravine whose strait

Was won and lost, and thronged with dead, till fate

Had fixed upon the victor,—half undone.

There was the hill, from which their eyes elate

Had seen the burst of Moscow’s golden zone;

But death was at their heels; they shuddered and rushed on.

The hour of vengeance strikes. Hark to the gale!

As it bursts hollow through the rolling clouds,

That from the north in sullen grandeur sail

Like floating Alps. Advancing darkness broods

Upon the wild horizon, and the woods,

Now sinking into brambles, echo shrill,

As the gust sweeps them, and those upper floods

Shoot on their leafless boughs the sleet-drops chill,

That on the hurrying crowds in freezing showers distil.

They reach the wilderness! The majesty

Of solitude is spread before their gaze,

Stern nakedness,—dark earth and wrathful sky.

If ruins were there, they long had ceased to blaze;

If blood was shed, the ground no more betrays,

Even by a skeleton, the crime of man;

Behind them rolls the deep and drenching haze,

Wrapping their rear in night; before their van

The struggling daylight shows the unmeasured desert wan.

Still on they sweep, as if their hurrying march

Could bear them from the rushing of His wheel

Whose chariot is the whirlwind. Heaven’s clear arch

At once is covered with a livid veil;

In mixed and fighting heaps the deep clouds reel;

Upon the dense horizon hangs the sun,

In sanguine light, an orb of burning steel;

The snows wheel down through twilight, thick and dun;

Now tremble, men of blood, the judgment has begun!

The trumpet of the northern winds has blown,

And it is answered by the dying roar

Of armies on that boundless field o’erthrown;

Now in the awful gusts the desert hoar

Is tempested, a sea without a shore,

Lifting its feathery waves. The legions fly;

Volley on volley down the hailstones pour;

Blind, famished, frozen, mad, the wanderers die,

And dying, hear the storm but wilder thunder by.

Such is the hand of Heaven! A human blow

Had crushed them in the fight, or flung the chain

Round them where Moscow’s stately towers were low

And all bestilled. But Thou! thy battle-plain

Was a whole empire; that devoted train

Must war from day to day with storm and gloom

(Man following, like the wolves, to rend the slain),

Must lie from night to night as in a tomb,

Must fly, toil, bleed for home; yet never see that home.