Robert Southey - Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo
Where might a gayer spectacle be found
Than Brussels offered on that festive night,. .
Her squares and palaces irradiate round
To welcome the imperial Moscovite,
Who now, the wrongs of Europe twice redrest,.
Came there a welcome and a glorious guest ?
Her mile-long avenue with lamps was hung,
Innumerous, which diffused a light like day;
Where thro' the line of splendour, old and young
Paraded all in festival array;
While fiery barges, plying to and fro,
Illumined as they moved the liquid glass below..
By day with hurrying crowds the streets were thronged,
To gain of this great Czar a passing sight;
"And music, dance, and banquetings prolonged
The various work of pleasure thro' the night.
You might have deemed, to see that joyous town,
That wretchedness and pain were there unknown.
Yet three short months had scarcely passed away,
Since, shaken with the approaching battle's breath,
Her inmost chambers trembled with dismay;
And now within her walls, insatiate Death,
Devourer whom no harvest e'er can fill,
The gleanings of that field was gathering still.
Within those walls there lingered at that hour
Many a brave soldier on the bed of pain,
Whom aid of human art should ne'er restore
To see his country and his friends again;
And many a victim of that fell debate
Whose life yet wavered in the scales of fate.
Here might the hideous face of war be seen,
Stript of all pomp, adornment, and disguise;
It was a dismal spectacle, I ween,
Such as might well to the beholders' eyes
Bring sudden tears, and make the pious mind
Grieve for the crimes and follies of mankind.
What had it been then in the recent days
Of that great triumph, when the open wound
Was festering, and along the crowded ways,
Hour after hour was heard the incessant sound
Of wheels, which o'er the rough and stony road
Conveyed their living agonizing load !
Hearts little to the melting mood inclined
Grew sick to see their sufferings; and the thought
Still conies with horror to the shuddering mind,
Of those sad days when Belgian ears were taught
The British soldier's cry, half groan, half prayer,
Breathed when his-pain is more than he can bear.
Brave spirits, nobly had their part been done!
Brussels could show, where Senne's slow waters glide,
The cannon which their matchless valour won,
Proud trophies of the field, ranged side by side,
Where as they stood in inoffensive row,
The solitary guard paced to and fro.
Unconscious instruments of human woe,
Some for their mark the royal lilies bore,
Fixed there when Britain was the Bourbon's foe;
And some embossed in brazen letters wore
The sign of that abhorred misrule, which broke
The guilty nation for a Tyrant's yoke.
Others were stampt with that Usurper's name,..
Recorders thus of many a change were they,
Their deadly work thro* every change the same;
Nor ever had they seen a bloodier day,
Than when as their late thunders rolled around,
Brabant in all her cities felt the sound.
Then ceased their occupation. From the field
Of battle here in triumph were they brought;
Ribbands and flowers and laurels half concealed
Their brazen mouths, so late with ruin fraught;
Women beheld them pass with joyful eyes,
And children clapt their hands, and rent the air with cries.
Now idly on the banks of Senne they lay,
Like toys with which a child is pleased no more:
Only the British traveller bends his way
To see them on that unfrequented shore,
And as a mournful feeling blends with pride,
Remembers those who fought, and those who died.
* * * *
Southey travelled to Waterloo just a few months after the decisive battle. This part of his poem recording the journey poem is an almost journalistic description of Brussels still recovering from the war - full of wounded and captured cannon.
With Grateful Acknowledgements
"Perfection is a full stop .... Ever the climbing but never the attaining Of the mountain top." W.G.