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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/246

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208
MAZEPPA.

By day and night through field and flood,
Stained with his own and subjects' blood;
For thousands fell that flight to aid:
And not a voice was heard to upbraid20
Ambition in his humbled hour,
When Truth had nought to dread from Power
His horse was slain, and Gieta gave
His own—and died the Russians' slave.
This, too, sinks after many a league
Of well-sustained, but vain fatigue;
And in the depth of forests darkling,
The watch-fires in the distance sparkling—
The beacons of surrounding foes—
A King must lay his limbs at length.30
Are these the laurels and repose
For which the nations strain their strength?
They laid him by a savage tree,[1]
In outworn Nature's agony;
His wounds were stiff, his limbs were stark;
The heavy hour was chill and dark;
The fever in his blood forbade
A transient slumber's fitful aid:
And thus it was; but yet through all,
Kinglike the monarch bore his fall,40
And made, in this extreme of ill,

His pangs the vassals of his will:

    Charles was severely wounded in the foot. On the morning of June 28 he was riding close to the river ... when a ball struck him on the left heel, passed through his foot, and lodged close to the great toe.... On the night of July 7, 1709 ... Charles had the foot carefully dressed, while he wore a spurred boot on his sound foot, put on his uniform, and placed himself on a kind of litter, in which he was drawn before the lines of the army.... [After the battle, July 8] those who survived took refuge in flight, the King—whose litter had been smashed by a cannon-ball, and who was carried by the soldiers on crossed poles—going with them, and the Russians neglecting to pursue. In this manner they reached their former camp."—Charles XII., by Oscar Browning, 1899, pp. 213, 220, 224, sq. For an account of his flight southwards into Turkish territory, vide post, p. 233, note 1. The bivouack "under a savage tree" must have taken place on the night of the battle, at the first halt, between Poltáva and the junction of the Vórskla and Dniéper.]

  1. [Compare—

    "Thus elms and thus the savage cherry grows."

    Dryden's Georgics, ii. 24.]