Category Archives: Napoleonic War Poetry


Friedrich Rückert: “Marshal Forward”

Excerpt:  “Schiller’s Homage of the Arts, with it Miscellaneous Pieces from Rückert, Freiligrath, and Other German Poets.”  By Charles T. Brooks. 1846.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher

Carl Theodor Körner: “Covenant Song”

Excerpt, “Echoes:  or Leisure Hours with the German Poets.” Translated by A. C. Kendrick. Rochester:  1855.

 

COVENANT SONG

 Before Battle of Dannenberg

 

Darkly boding, sternly, grimly,

Breaks the great, the awful day;

And the blood-red sun looks dimly

Down upon our bloody way.

In one pregnant hour assembling,

Crowd a nation’s fortunes vast;

And e’en now the lots are trembling,

And the iron die is cast.

Brothers, in holiest compact united,

Warned by the hour, be our solemn vow plighted,

Come life or come death, to be true to the last!

 

Look we back–night’s raven pinion

Wide o’er shame and insult waves;

 O’er our German oak’s dominion

Bowed and broke by foreign slaves.

On our tongue they heaped dishonor,

And our holiest rites blasphemed;

Brothers, we have pawned our honor;

German brothers, be’t redeemed.

Lo, where the flame of heaven’s vengeance is burning!

Up! and its curse from our country be turning!

Up, and be freedom’s lost charter redeemed!

 

Blessed hopes shine bright before us,

And the future’s golden days;

A whole heaven of bliss hangs o’er us,

Whence fair freedom pours her rays.

Art, all bright thou reappearest!

Song, again thy raptures burn!

Love and beauty, all that’s dearest,

All that’s brightest, see return.

Ye there awaits us a desperate daring;

Blood must be poured all free and unsparing:

Only in blood will our glory’s star burn.

 

Now-with God-we will not falter,

Boldly meet fate’s heaviest blow,

Lay our hearts on freedom’s altar,

And to death unshrinking go.

Native land, for thee we’ll perish;

All thy bidding will we dare;

They our bosoms fondly cherish

May thy blood-bought freedom share.

Oak of our country, grow broader and bolder!

Stretch thy proud arms o’er the spot where we moulder!

Hear, 0 our country, the oath that we swear!

 

Now your thoughts toward home’s sweet treasures

Yet for one brief moment cast;

Part ye from those blooming pleasures

Which the South’s fell poisons blast.

Though the silent tear be starting,

Shame shall ne’er such tears attend;

Waft them one last kiss at parting,

Then to God the Loved commend!

All the sweet lips that in prayer are awaking,

All the fond hearts that are bleeding and breaking,

Mighty Jehovah, console and defend!

 

Cheerly now to battle wending,

Eye and spirit heavenward turn;

Earthly life in darkness ending,

Lo, where heavenly glories burn!

Bravely on, each gallant brother!

Every nerve a hero prove!

Faithful hearts rejoin each other;

Now farewell each earthly love!

Hark ! where the thunders of battle are crashing!

On, where the storm of red lightning is flashing!

Meet again in the realms above!

Sir Walter Scott: “The Bard’s Incantation”

Sir Walter Scott saw nothing to ridicule or caricature in the man who ruled France. He saw the danger which threatened his own country, and, in a legitimate way, he endeavoured to arouse his fellow-countrymen to a proper sense of that danger. There were other English writers, like Wordsworth and Campbell, who were willing to treat Napoleon as a foeman worthy of British steel; but the great majority thought of him only as a Corsican pirate, coming over to burn, ravish, and destroy.

france-louvre-napoleons-coronationCoronation of Napoleon (1804) Palace of Versailles

The Bard’s Incantation

Written under the threat of Napoleon’s invasion in the Autumn of 1804.

The Forest of Glenmore is drear,
It is all of black pine, and the dark oak-tree;
And the midnight wind to the mountain deer,
Is whistling the forest lullaby:
The moon looks through the drifting storm,
But the troubled lake reflects not her form,
For the waves roll whitening to the land,
And dash against the shelvy strand.

There is a voice among the trees,
That mingles with the groaning oak-
That mingles with the stormy breeze,
And the lake-waves dashing against the rock;-
There is a voice within the wood,
The voice of the Bard in fitful mood;
His song was louder than the blast,
As the Bard of Glenmore through the forest past.

‘Wake ye from your sleep of death,
Minstrels and bards of other days!
For the midnight wind is on the heath,
And the midnight meteors dimly blaze:
The Spectre with the Bloody Hand,
Is wandering through the wild woodland;
The owl and the raven are mute for dread,
And the time is meet to awake the dead!

‘Souls of the mighty, wake, and say
To what high strain your harps were strung
When Lochlin plough’d her billowy way,
And on your shores her Norsemen flung?
Her Norsemen train’d to spoil and blood,
Skill’d to prepare the Raven’s food,
All, by your harpings, doom’d to die
On bloody Largs and Loncarty.

‘Mute are ye all? No murmurs strange
Upon the midnight breeze sail by;
Nor through the pines, with whistling change
Mimic the harp’s wild harmony!
Mute are ye now? – Ye ne’er were mute,
When Murder with his bloody foot,
And Rapine with his iron hand,
Were hovering near yon mountain strand.

‘O, yet awake, the strain to tell,
By every deed in song enroll’d,
By every chief who fought or fell
For Albion’s weal in battle bold:-
From Coilgach, first, who rolled his car
Through the deep ranks of Roman war,
To him, of veteran memory dear,
Who, victor, died on Aboukir.

‘By all their swords, by all their scars,
By all their names, a mighty spell!
By all their wounds, by all their wars,
Arise the mighty strain to tell!
For, fiercer than fierce Hengist’s strain,
More impious than the heathen Dane,
More grasping than all grasping Rome,
Gaul’s ravening legions hither come!’

The wind is hush’d, and still the lake-
Strange murmurs fill my tinkling ears,
Bristles my hair, my sinews quake
At the dread voice of other years-
‘When targets clash’d and bugles rung,
And blades round warriors’ heads were flung,
The foremost of the band were we,
And hymned the joys of liberty!’

Robert Mack: “The Battle of Marengo, by Bonaparte”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

Had Napoleon lost the battle of Marengo, it is safe to say he never would have worn the crown of France.  A return to Paris, defeated in Italy, meant for him a forced retirement from the head of National affairs and the substitution of Carnot, or some other sturdy republican in his place.  With such a change, at that time, Waterloo, in all human probability would never have been fought, and “Napoleon at St. Helena” would never have become history.

The escape was a narrow one.  In the space of half an hour, what appeared to be a crushing defeat was turned into a glorious victory.  To Desaix’s opportune arrival upon the field and to Kellerman’s masterly cavalry charge, a great share of the glory of that day is due.  The victory won was decisive and the campaign ended, with the close of the battle.  Within two months after leaving Paris, Napoleon returned – again the savior of France.

The campaign of 1800 will ever be recorded as one of the most brilliant achievements in history, and the one which bore the mightiest results to the man who planned and carried it out to a successful issue.

marengo

Battaile de Marengo

by Louis Francois Lejeune

.

The Battle of Marengo

By Napoleon

 

From flattering crowds, and laurel crowns,

To muse in thought profound,

An evening’s hour I sometimes seize,

And sigh beneath the Western breeze,

Which o’er these torn demolish’d trees,

Floats awfully around.

My friend, how mournful are these plains;

How deep the solemn silence reigns,

Where nature lately smil’d!

Yonder where tulips blooming stood,

And roses blush’d around;

Gaunt mastiffs gorge, on lapper’d blood,

All around for miles, tremendous ruin’s spread!

By whom? You’ll cry:

Heaven, I reply.

Melas and I.

Were but the instruments, by whom whole nations bled!

.

Friend L, to you, on trembling wing,

The muse in shudd’ring tones shall sing,

Thalia’s self shall tell;

Shall paint that bloody scene, that dreadful sight,

Which stopp’d the songs in heaven, and turn’d the day to night,

And made a pause in hell!

Seraphs, from heaven’s high battlements,

Look’d down, and dropp’d a tear.

Wrap’d round with smoke, form’d gloom, the sun

Gleam’d with a blacken’d red!

While devils, thinking time was done,

That God, to finish had begun,

And the last hour at last was come,

Darted from earth, swift to their home,

And hid in hell for fear!

.

When from the slumbers of the night,

At morning light I rose,

Seem’d kindling to a flame;

Impell’d by heaven, my horse I sprung,

And bounded to the plain.

Then what a sight my wondering eyes beheld!

Austria’s lesions tow’ring o’er the field!

Compact and strong,

The dreadful throng,

Mov’d firmly on;

As if to force the Gaulic lines, or storm the gates of Death!

If that’s your mind, exclaim’d my soul,

Hungary’s passing bell may toll,

For here in blood your chiefs shall roll,

And pant away their breath.

.

Along Bormida’s broken hills,

Between the river and the north,

To keep our foes from marching forth,

Our army held its posts;

The spacious plain, that lay between

Those hills and deep Bormida’s stream,

Roar’d with the Austrian hosts.

One noble pass, nature had here supplied;

A smooth defile some hundred paces wide.

At all these posts our lines were thin,

For brave Desaix, with half the men,

Lay in reserve behind.

But seeing now, the hour was come,

When all was lost and all was won,

I cried, “Let swiftest couriers run,

And all our powers be joined.”

.

Meantime, the Austrian phalanx form’d

In terrible array;

Proud Melas, in refulgent arms,

Rides through his host, their courage warms,

And cries “Behold the day:

Behold the day, by Heaven design’d,

To crush th’ oppressors of mankind!

Be men this day, and down the tyrant’s hurl’d.

This day, the Corsican comes down;

This day we ransom Capet’s Crown,

And peace restore unto a bleeding world!”

This said, to eighty thousand men,

The bloody word was given;

Whose dread reply embowell’d air,

Shook earth, and enter’d heaven!

.

In haste, through Gallia’s lines I rode,

Along the dreadful van!

With military grandeur swell’d,

I scarcely felt as man!

To ardent warriors, loud I cried:

“Ye sons of France, ye heroes tried

Beneath the burning sun,

Who thrice have thunder’d down the Alps,

And Italy o’errun:

Ye shakers of Vienna’s wall!

To you, your former glory calls:

I’m too immense for faith, without renewed proof.

In thunder, then, convince the world,

Your standard over conquer’d Nile unfurl’d,

That mighty Charles and Wurmser overthrown,

Those proud defenders of a tyrant’s throne,

And Joseph hiring carts, to move his home,

Were but the opening wonders of your youth.”

.

On this, the horrid scene began,

And the dread tempest fell:

Twas then, Marengo’s thunders roar’d,

Down to the gates of hell!

For three long hours, the flame, the roar,

The dying screams, the streams of gore,

Waited on death, triumphing o’er

The undecided field.

At length o’er Austria’s Eagles victory hung,

My unsupported legions were o’ercome –

And all the chance, seem’d now from France,

Either to die, or yield.

This helpless situation, flow’d

From my mistake alone;

For when I bid the trumpets sound,

I thought Desaix was  near;

When O, alas! Almost too late I found,

His legions lay full three leagues in the rear!

.

Of all the dreadful hours I’ve seen,

Pregnant with nations’ fates,

The muse yet never witness’d one,

Like that she now relates?

On either hand, our wings were turn’d;

The centre only, stood;

Guarding the dread defile, which roll’d

With rivulets of blood!

Upon the right, a strange tremendous sound

Was heard, like thousands in despair:

Each, in a panic scream.

Not quite, but half, by thund’ring cannons drown’d,

It died away, along Bormida’s stream,

Like the dire wailings of the unhappy dead,

A sinking down to worlds unknown,

With terror, and with dread!

.

Had Melas one decisive charge

Made through the hollow way,

Scarce heaven itself, could have retriev’d

The fortunes of the day.

But thinking all our powers were join’d,

Restrained by heaven or fear;

He sent his forces three miles round,

To take us in the rear.

Not knowing, all that stopp’d his progress then

Was barely just six thousand weary men!

On whom for fear, lest we should charge,

He made his cannon roar—

Vomiting death amongst our ranks,

Till down, around their gasping dead;

Flaoted the Gaulic gore!

.

‘Twas in this dreadful hour, I rose

Above my former fame;

From friends, obtesting heaven, I would retire;

I broke, and brav’d the whole Austrian fire,

Across the bleeding plain.

From rank to rank, on every side I flew,

Serenely calm; “My friends,” I cried,

“Desaix is just in view.”

The bosom of the earth was tore

Beneath my courser’s feet –

Whole platoons dropp’d, amidst their gore –

The shiver’d trees, in fragments fell around,

And join’d the cumbrous carnage of the ground:

While horrid devastation rag’d  along,

And ruin seem’d complete!

At length like showers, to sun-burst flowers,

The great deliverers came;

Raging they broke, through fire and smoke,

And hillocks of the slain!

.

Transported at the long wished aid,

My daring plans were in a moment laid.

The troops, I in a solid column form’d;

Resolv’d to send, down to the world beneath,

Thousands, to tell the Austrian lines were storm’d,

Or Bonaparte had resign’d his breath!

But one half hour, these grand arrangements took;

During which time, disgorging flame,

Red globes, and death, across the plain,

One hundred cannons, roar’d amain;

Till heaven and earth resounding run –

With the dire clamour shook!

.

At length, prepar’d, the bleeding front,

To right and left I wheel’d;

And bade the column, form’d behind,

Rush thund’ring to the field.

The horrid pas de charge, at once was given,

Its tones re-murmur’d from the vault of heaven;

While like tremendous rolling flames,

By raging tempests driven,

The column in a torrent pour’d

On the Austrian host;

O’er bellowing cannons, and the dead;

O’er those that fought, and those that fled;

Like Aetna’s burning lava red,

Roaring, resistless, down it spread;

With bayonets plunge, down to Pluto’s dreary coasts

Thousands , who are now wandering there,

Pale, melancholy ghosts!

Thus ended this tremendous day

Of terrible renown;

‘T was thus, I snatch’d bright victorious prize,

Perhaps, the Imperial Crown,

But while we triumph, tears should pour,

For brave Desaix is gone:

As down upon the foes he bore,

Leading the van, thund’ring before,

Fate flew, and down amidst the gore,

He fell without a groan!

Hem’d round with glory, lo! He dies;

And worlds must do the same!

Even then, o’er nature’s smoking wreck,

Deathless, shall live the grandeur of his name,

Borne on Marengo’s dreadful sound

To everlasting fame.

LargeDeathofDesaixatMarengobyBroc.

Death of General Desaix

Jean Broc

Ferdinand Freiligrath: “The Hussar Horse”

Excerpt, “Poems from the German of Ferdinand Freiligrath.” Edited by his daughter. Kate Freiligrath. Leipzig: 1871.

Lord Byron: “The Star of The Legion of Honour”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

The only peace agreed to between France and England during the Napoleonic wars was that known as the “Peace of Amiens,” which lasted from March, 1802, until May, 1803. During the existence of that peace the whole world, as it were, rushed to Paris, to catch a glimpse of the man who had wrought such mighty changes in so short a time. The obscure Corsican had become the greatest man of the times. Emperor of France, in all but name, his Court began to take on all the trappings and ceremonies of royalty. Holding the reins of power absolutely within the grasp of his own hands, he tolerated no interference, either by his colleagues or by the people.

In peace, as in war, he rested not, but laboured incessantly for the advancement of his country, whose needs he seemed to comprehend fully. Society was reorganised for the better; judicial reforms were perfected, and the Code pushed forward towards completion; the educational system of the nation was thoroughly revised and improved; the relations between church and state were settled by the signing of the Concordat in the spring of 1802: the finances were brought up to a flourishing condition; magnificent roads and bridges were built; everything, in fact, that could enhance the greatness and glory of France was thought of and carried out by this tireless mind.

It was at this time the Legion of Honour was established.

a-depiction-of-napoleon-making-some-of-the-first-awards-of-the-legion-of-honour-at-a-camp-near-boulogne-on-16-august-1804

Premiere ‘Légion d’honneur’ by Charles Étienne Pierre Motte

A depiction of Napoleon making some of the first awards of the Legion of Honour, at a camp near Boulogne on 16 August 1804

How many a gallant soldier rushed to his death in hopes of winning a place in that legion, and how many a dying hero was made happy by being presented with its badge before he answered the last roll-call. When the “Star” no longer led the Legion on to victory, Byron gave us the following lines.

on-the-star-of-the-legion-of-honour

chevalier_legion_dhonneur_2

Chevalier Légion d’honneur

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