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Lord Byron (1788–1824). Poetry of Byron. 1881.

I. Personal, Lyric, and Elegiac

Ode on Waterloo

WE do not curse thee, Waterloo!

Though Freedom’s blood thy plain bedew;

There ’twas shed, but is not sunk—

Rising from each gory trunk,

Like the water-spout from ocean,

With a strong and growing motion—

It soars, and mingles in the air,

With that of lost Labedoyère—

With that of him whose honour’s grave

Contains the “bravest of the brave.”

A crimson cloud it spreads and glows,

But shall return to whence it rose;

When ’tis full ’twill burst asunder—

Never yet was heard such thunder

As then shall shake the world with wonder—

Never yet was seen such lightning

As o’er heaven shall then be bright’ning!

Like the Wormwood Star foretold

By the sainted Seer of old,

Show’ring down a fiery flood,

Turning rivers into blood.

The Chief has fallen, but not by you,

Vanquishers of Waterloo!

When the soldier citizen

Sway’d not o’er his fellow-men—

Save in deeds that led them on

Where Glory smiled on Freedom’s son—

Who, of all the despots banded,

With that youthful chief competed?

Who could boast o’er France defeated,

Till lone Tyranny commanded?

Till, goaded by ambition’s sting,

The Hero sunk into the King?

Then he fell:—so perish all,

Who would men by man enthral!

And thou, too, of the snow-white plume!

Whose realm refused thee ev’n a tomb;

Better hadst thou still been leading

France o’er hosts of hirelings bleeding,

Than sold thyself to death and shame

For a meanly royal name;

Such as he of Naples wears,

Who thy blood-bought title bears.

Little didst thou deem, when dashing

On thy war-horse through the ranks

Like a stream which burst its banks,

While helmets cleft, and sables clashing,

Shone and shiver’d fast around thee—

Of the fate at last which found thee:

Was that haughty plume laid low

By a slave’s dishonest blow?

Once—as the Moon sways o’er the tide,

It roll’d in air, the warrior’s guide;

Through the smoke-created night

Of the black and sulphurous fight

The soldier raised his seeking eye

To catch that crest’s ascendency,—

And, as it onward rolling rose,

So moved his heart upon our foes.

There, where death’s brief pang was quickest,

And the battle’s wreck lay thickest,

Strew’d beneath the advancing banner

Of the eagle’s burning crest—

(There with thunder-clouds to fan her,

Who could then her wing arrest—

Victory beaming from her breast?)

While the broken line enlarging

Fell, or fled along the plain;

There be sure was Murat charging!

There he ne’er shall charge again!

O’er glories gone the invaders march,

Weeps Triumph o’er each levell’d arch—

But let Freedom rejoice,

With he heart in her voice;

But, her hand on the sword,

Doubly shall she be adored;

France hath twice too well been taught

The “moral lesson” dearly bought—

Her safety sits not on a throne,

With Capet or Napoleon!

But in equal rights and laws,

Hearts and hands in one great cause—

Freedom, such as God hath given

Unto all beneath his heaven,

With their breath, and from their birth,

Though Guilt would sweep it from the earth—

With a fierce and lavish hand

Scattering nations’ wealth like sand;

Pouring nations’ blood like water,

In imperial seas of slaughter!

But the heart and the mind,

And the voice of mankind,

Shall arise in communion—

And who shall resist that proud union?

The time is past when swords subdued—

Man may die—the soul’s renew’d:

Even in this low world of care

Freedom ne’er shall want an heir;

Millions breathe but to inherit

Her for ever bounding spirit—

When once more her hosts assemble—

Tyrants shall believe and tremble—

Smile they at this idle threat?

Crimson tears will follow yet.