George Croly: “The French Army in Russia”
“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.
Napoleon Near Borodino
THE FRENCH ARMY IN RUSSIA
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?
Battle of Smolensk
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 clangour rude
Of drum and horn, and dissonant clash of mail,
Glancing disastrous light before that sunbeam pale.
Battle of Borodino
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
Battle of Maloyaroslavets
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 deserts 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 flight, 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.