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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Holland: Vols. XIV–XV. 1876–79.

Spain: Saragossa (Zaragoza; Sansueña)

The Maid of Saragossa

By Charles Swain (1801–1874)

  • “The two sieges of Saragossa were the most distinguished displays of Spanish intrepidity during the war. The assault on the last day, the 28th, was renewed with still greater fury. It was preceded by a terrible blow. Whether by treachery or accident, the powder-magazine in the centre of the city exploded, tearing away fourteen houses, and burying above two hundred of the people. While the citizens, startled by this sweeping disaster, were crowding to dig their dead and dying friends out of the ruins, the French batteries opened a tremendous discharge, and the columns of assault advanced under it to the gates; in that moment Agostina, a woman of the humbler classes, sprang into the battery, calling on her countrymen to follow, seized the burning match, and fired off the cannon; then, jumping on it, loudly made a vow to ‘Our Lady of the Pillar,’ never to quit it till either she was dead, or the enemy were driven away.”

  • THERE were murmurs through the night,

    As of multitudes in prayer;

    There were tears of wild affright,

    And the wailing of despair:

    For Invasion’s gory hand

    Scattered havoc o’er the land.

    The startled morn arose

    To the trumpet’s fierce acclaim,

    To the ringing steel of foes,

    And the battle-bolts of flame;

    Whilst the Gallic wolves of war

    Round were howling, and afar.

    The matron armed her son,

    And pointed to the walls:

    “See, the carnage hath begun,

    ’T is thy bleeding country calls!

    Better, son, the patriot’s tomb

    Than a slave’s ignoble doom.”

    The gray-haired father took

    His time-worn brand and shield;

    The pale monk closed his book,

    The peasant left his field;

    And daughters, e’en a scar had grieved,

    Now deeds of dauntless heart achieved.

    Right onward dashed the foe,

    O’er the red and reeking ground,

    Till the giant gates below

    Burst with an earthquake sound;

    And the rocking walls yawned deep,

    ’Neath the cannon’s shattering sweep.

    Yet ne’er with tyrant warred

    A firmer, bolder band:

    Again the gates were barred,

    Again the walls were manned;

    Again, as with prophetic sight,

    The hallowed cross advanced the fight.

    But heavier woes befell

    The still unvanquished brave,

    Mid sounds that seemed the knell

    Of freedom’s hopeless grave:

    A hurricane, a blazing shower,

    Swept shivered rampart, rock, and tower!

    In that appalling hour

    When Fate with Gaul combined

    To quell the freeman’s power,

    To crush the valiant mind,—

    When e’en the last defence had died,

    Who braved the storm? who stemmed the tide?

    No steel-girt knight of fame,

    No chief of high emprise;

    A maiden’s soul enshrined the flame

    Which lit Hope’s darkening skies;

    A maiden’s valor dealt the blow,

    And stepped ’tween conquest and the foe;

    Stood on that fatal brink,

    Defying pain and death!

    And could Napoleon’s legions shrink

    Before a woman’s breath?

    Could Gaul’s proud eagle, from its height,

    Stoop to a mean, disastrous flight?

    Yes: that fair arm withstood

    The chivalry of France,

    And poured destruction, like a flood,

    On quailing helm and lance:

    Leonidas in maiden’s stole,

    A woman’s breast with Curtius’ soul.

    Heroic heart and true!

    Thy deeds shall find a voice

    To bid usurping tyrants rue,

    And Freedom’s sons rejoice:

    The loved of Time, the prized of Fame,

    Spain’s noblest boast, and Gallia’s shame!