Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Sack of Magdeburg

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Germany: Vols. XVII–XVIII. 1876–79.


The Sack of Magdeburg

By William Maginn (1794–1842)

  • The sack of this ill-fated city occurred during the Thirty Years’ War…. Tilly was before the city from March, 1631, and was about to raise the siege, in expectation of Gustavus to its assistance, but he was over-ruled by the fiery Pappenheim, who proposed an immediate attack. Preparations were made forthwith, and the storming commenced. In about six weeks the city fell, notwithstanding the bravery of the garrison, and it is estimated that upwards of twenty-five thousand persons perished.

  • WHEN the breach was open laid,

    Bold we mounted to the attack;

    Five times the assault was made,

    Four times were we beaten back.

    Many a gallant comrade fell;

    In the desperate mêlée there

    Sped their spirits ill or well,

    Know I not nor do I care.

    But the fifth time, up we strode

    O’er the dying and the dead;

    Hot the western sunbeam glowed,

    Sinking in a blaze of red.

    Redder in the gory way

    Our deep-plashing footsteps sank,

    As the cry of “Slay, slay, slay!”

    Echoed fierce from rank to rank.

    And we slew, and slew, and slew,—

    Slew them with unpitying sword;

    Negligently could we do

    The commanding of the Lord?

    Fled the coward, fought the brave,

    Wailed the mother, wept the child;

    But not one escaped the glaive,—

    Man who frowned, or babe who smiled.

    There were thrice ten thousand men

    When the morning sun arose;

    Lived not thrice three hundred when

    Sunk that sun at evening close.

    Then we spread the wasting flame,

    Fanned to fury by the wind;

    Of the city,—but the name

    Nothing more is left behind!

    Hall and palace, dome and tower,

    Lowly shed and soaring spire,

    Fell in that victorious hour

    Which consigned the town to fire.

    All that rose at craftsman’s call

    To its pristine dust had gone,

    For inside the shattered wall

    Left we never stone on stone.—

    For it burnt not till it gave

    All it had to yield of spoil;

    Should not brave soldadoes have

    Some rewarding for their toil?

    What the villain sons of trade

    Had amassed by years of care,

    Prostrate at our bidding laid,

    By one moment won, was there.

    Then, within the burning town,

    Mid the steaming heaps of dead,

    Cheered by sounds of hostile moan,

    Did we the joyous banquet spread.

    Laughing loud and quaffing long,

    With our glorious labors o’er;

    To the sky our jocund song

    Told the city was no more!