The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava
PROLOGUE TO GENERAL HAMLEY
Our birches yellowing and from each
The light leaf falling fast,
While squirrels from our fiery beech
Were bearing off the mast,
You came, and look’d and loved the view
Long-known and loved by me,
Green Sussex fading into blue
With one gray glimpse of sea;
And, gazing from this height alone,
We spoke of what had been
Most marvellous in the wars your own
Crimean eyes had seen;
And now–like old-world inns that take
Some warrior for a sign
That therewithin a guest may make
True cheer with honest wine–
Because you heard the lines I read
Nor utter’d word of blame,
I dare without your leave to head
These rhymings with your name,
Who know you but as one of those
I fain would meet again,
Yet know you, as your England knows
That you and all your men
Were soldiers to her heart’s desire,
When, in the vanish’d year,
You saw the league-long rampart-fire
Flare from Tel-el-Kebir
Thro’ darkness, and the foe was driven,
And Wolseley overthrew
Arâbi, and the stars in heaven
Paled, and the glory grew.
THE CHARGE OF THE HEAVY BRIGADE AT BALACLAVA
October 25, 1854
The charge of the gallant three hundred, the Heavy Brigade!
Down the hill, down the hill, thousands of Russians,
Thousands of horsemen, drew to the valley–and stay’d;
For Scarlett and Scarlett’s three hundred were riding by
When the points of the Russian lances arose in the sky;
And he call’d, ‘Left wheel into line!’ and they wheel’d and obey’d.
Then he look’d at the host that had halted he knew not why,
And he turn’d half round, and he bade his trumpeter sound
To the charge, and he rode on ahead, as he waved his blade
To the gallant three hundred whose glory will never die–
‘Follow,’ and up the hill, up the hill, up the hill,
Follow’d the Heavy Brigade.
The trumpet, the gallop, the charge, and the might of the fight!
Thousands of horsemen had gather’d there on the height,
With a wing push’d out to the left and a wing to the right,
And who shall escape if they close? but he dash’d up alone
Thro’ the great gray slope of men,
Sway’d his sabre, and held his own
Like an Englishman there and then.
All in a moment follow’d with force
Three that were next in their fiery course,
Wedged themselves in between horse and horse,
Fought for their lives in the narrow gap they had made–
Four amid thousands! and up the hill, up the hill,
Gallopt the gallant three hundred, the Heavy Brigade.
Fell like a cannon-shot,
Burst like a thunderbolt,
Crash’d like a hurricane,
Broke thro’ the mass from below,
Drove thro’ the midst of the foe,
Plunged up and down, to and fro,
Rode flashing blow upon blow,
Brave Inniskillens and Greys
Whirling their sabres in circles of light!
And some of us, all in amaze,
Who were held for a while from the fight,
And were only standing at gaze,
When the dark-muffled Russian crowd
Folded its wings from the left and the right,
And roll’d them around like a cloud,–
O, mad for the charge and the battle were we,
When our own good redcoats sank from sight,
Like drops of blood in a dark-gray sea,
And we turn’d to each other, whispering, all dismay’d,
‘Lost are the gallant three hundred of Scarlett’s Brigade!’
‘Lost one and all’ were the words
Mutter’d in our dismay;
But they rode like victors and lords
Thro’ the forest of lances and swords
In the heart of the Russian hordes,
They rode, or they stood at bay–
Struck with the sword-hand and slew,
Down with the bridle-hand drew
The foe from the saddle and threw
Underfoot there in the fray–
Ranged like a storm or stood like a rock
In the wave of a stormy day;
Till suddenly shock upon shock
Stagger’d the mass from without,
Drove it in wild disarray,
For our men gallopt up with a cheer and a shout,
And the foeman surged, and waver’d, and reel’d
Up the hill, up the hill, up the hill, out of the field,
And over the brow and away.
Glory to each and to all, and the charge that they made!
Glory to all the three hundred, and all the Brigade!
Note.–The ‘three hundred’ of the ‘Heavy Brigade’ who made
this famous charge were the Scots Greys and the 2d squadron
of Inniskillens; the remainder of the ‘Heavy Brigade’ subsequently
dashing up to their support.
The ‘three’ were Scarlett’s aide-de-camp, Elliot, and the trumpeter,
and Shegog the orderly, who had been close behind him.
Not this way will you set your name
A star among the stars.
You praise when you should blame
The barbarism of wars.
A juster epoch has begun.
Yet tho’ this cheek be gray,
And that bright hair the modern sun,
Those eyes the blue to-day,
You wrong me, passionate little friend.
I would that wars should cease,
I would the globe from end to end
Might sow and reap in peace,
And some new Spirit o’erbear the old,
Or Trade re-frain the Powers
From war with kindly links of gold,
Or Love with wreaths of flowers.
Slav, Teuton, Kelt, I count them all
My friends and brother souls,
With all the peoples, great and small,
That wheel between the poles.
But since our mortal shadow, Ill,
To waste this earth began–
Perchance from some abuse of Will
In worlds before the man
Involving ours–he needs must fight
To make true peace his own,
He needs must combat might with might,
Or Might would rule alone;
And who loves war for war’s own sake
Is fool, or crazed, or worse;
But let the patriot-soldier take
His meed of fame in verse;
Nay–tho’ that realm were in the wrong
For which her warriors bleed,
It still were right to crown with song
The warrior’s noble deed–
A crown the Singer hopes may last,
For so the deed endures;
But Song will vanish in the Vast;
And that large phrase of yours
‘A star among the stars,’ my dear,
Is girlish talk at best;
For dare we dally with the sphere
As he did half in jest,
Old Horace? ‘I will strike,’ said he,
‘The stars with head sublime,’
But scarce could see, as now we see,
The man in space and time,
So drew perchance a happier lot
Than ours, who rhyme to-day.
The fires that arch this dusky dot–
Yon myriad-worlded way–
The vast sun-clusters’ gather’d blaze,
World-isles in lonely skies,
Whole heavens within themselves, amaze
Our brief humanities.
And so does Earth; for Homer’s fame,
Tho’ carved in harder stone–
The falling drop will make his name
As mortal as my own.
Let it live then–ay, till when?
Earth passes, all is lost
In what they prophesy, our wise men,
Sun-flame or sunless frost,
And deed and song alike are swept
Away, and all in vain
As far as man can see, except
The man himself remain;
And tho’, in this lean age forlorn,
Too many a voice may cry
That man can have no after-morn,
Not yet of those am I.
The man remains, and whatsoe’er
He wrought of good or brave
Will mould him thro’ the cycle-year
That dawns behind the grave.
And here the Singer for his art
Not all in vain may plead
‘The song that nerves a nation’s heart
Is in itself a deed.’