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The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 3/Ode from the French

ODE FROM THE FRENCH.[1]

I.

We do not curse thee, Waterloo!
Though Freedom's blood thy plain bedew;
There 'twas shed, but is not sunk—
Rising from each gory trunk,
Like the water-spout from ocean,
With a strong and growing motion—
It soars, and mingles in the air,
With that of lost La Bédoyère—[2]
With that of him whose honoured grave
Contains the "bravest of the brave."[3]
A crimson cloud it spreads and glows,
But shall return to whence it rose;
When 'tis full 'twill burst asunder—
Never yet was heard such thunder
As then shall shake the world with wonder—
Never yet was seen such lightning
As o'er heaven shall then be bright'ning!
Like the Wormwood Star foretold
By the sainted Seer of old,
Show'ring down a fiery flood,
Turning rivers into blood.[4]


II.

The Chief has fallen, but not by you,
Vanquishers of Waterloo!
When the soldier citizen
Swayed not o'er his fellow-men—
Save in deeds that led them on
Where Glory smiled on Freedom's son—
Who, of all the despots banded,
With that youthful chief competed?
Who could boast o'er France defeated,
Till lone Tyranny commanded?
Till, goaded by Ambition's sting,
The Hero sunk into the King?
Then he fell:—so perish all,
Who would men by man enthral!


III.

And thou, too, of the snow-white plume!
Whose realm refused thee ev'n a tomb;[5]
Better hadst thou still been leading
France o'er hosts of hirelings bleeding,
Than sold thyself to death and shame
For a meanly royal name;
Such as he of Naples wears,
Who thy blood-bought title bears.
Little didst thou deem, when dashing
On thy war-horse through the ranks,
Like a stream which burst its banks,
While helmets cleft, and sabres clashing,
Shone and shivered fast around thee—
Of the fate at last which found thee:
Was that haughty plume laid low
By a slave's dishonest blow?
Once—as the Moon sways o'er the tide,
It rolled in air, the warrior's guide;
Through the smoke-created night
Of the black and sulphurous fight,
The soldier raised his seeking eye
To catch that crest's ascendancy,—
And, as it onward rolling rose,
So moved his heart upon our foes.
There, where death's brief pang was quickest,
And the battle's wreck lay thickest,
Strewed beneath the advancing banner
Of the eagle's burning crest—
(There with thunder-clouds to fan her,
Who could then her wing arrest—
Victory beaming from her breast?)
While the broken line enlarging
Fell, or fled along the plain;
There be sure was Murat charging!
There he ne'er shall charge again!


IV.

O'er glories gone the invaders march,
Weeps Triumph o'er each levelled arch—
But let Freedom rejoice,
With her heart in her voice;
But, her hand on her sword,
Doubly shall she be adored;
France hath twice too well been taught
The "moral lesson"[6] dearly bought—
Her safety sits not on a throne,
With Capet or Napoleon!
But in equal rights and laws,
Hearts and hands in one great cause—
Freedom, such as God hath given
Unto all beneath his heaven,
With their breath, and from their birth,
Though guilt would sweep it from the earth;
With a fierce and lavish hand
Scattering nations' wealth like sand;
Pouring nations' blood like water,
In imperial seas of slaughter!


V.

But the heart and the mind,
And the voice of mankind,
Shall arise in communion—
And who shall resist that proud union?
The time is past when swords subdued—
Man may die—the soul's renewed:
Even in this low world of care
Freedom ne'er shall want an heir;
Millions breathe but to inherit
Her for ever bounding spirit—
When once more her hosts assemble,
Tyrants shall believe and tremble—
Smile they at this idle threat?
Crimson tears will follow yet.[7]

[First published, Morning Chronicle, March 15, 1816.]


  1. [These lines "are said to have been done into English verse by R. S. —— P. L. P. R., Master of the Royal Spanish Inqn., etc., etc."—Morning Chronicle, March 15, 1816. "The French have their Poems and Odes on the famous Battle of Waterloo, as well as ourselves. Nay, they seem to glory in the battle as the source of great events to come. We have received the following poetical version of a poem, the original of which is circulating in Paris, and which is ascribed (we know not with what justice) to the Muse of M. de Chateaubriand. If so, it may be inferred that in the poet's eye a new change is at hand, and he wishes to prove his secret indulgence of old principles by reference to this effusion."—Note, ibid.]
  2. [Charles Angélique François Huchet, Comte de La Bédoyère, born 1786, was in the retreat from Moscow, and in 1813 distinguished himself at the battles of Lutzen and Bautzen. On the return of Napoleon from Elba he was the first to bring him a regiment. He was raised to the peerage, but being found in Paris by the Allied army, he was tried by a court-martial, and suffered death August 15, 1815.]
  3. [Michel Ney. (Compare Don Juan, Canto IX. stanza i. line 8.)]
  4. See Rev. Chap. viii. V. 7, etc., "The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood," etc. V. 8, "And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood," etc. V. 10, "And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters." V. 11, "And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."
  5. Murat's remains are said to have been torn from the grave and burnt. ["Poor dear Murat, what an end ...! His white plume used to be a rallying point in battle, like Henry the Fourth's. He refused a confessor and a bandage; so would neither suffer his soul or body to be bandaged."—Letter to Moore, November 4, 1815, Letters, 1899, iii. 245. See, too, for Joachim Murat (born 1771), proclaimed King of Naples and the Two Sicilies, August, 1808, ibid., note 1.]
  6. ["Write, Britain, write the moral lesson down."

    Scott's Field of Waterloo, Conclusion, stanza vi. line 3.]

  7. ["Talking of politics, as Caleb Quotem says, pray look at the conclusion of my 'Ode on Waterloo,' written in the year 1815, and comparing it with the Duke de Berri's catastrophe in 1820, tell me if I have not as good a right to the character of 'Vates,' in both senses of the word, as Fitzgerald and Coleridge?—

    'Crimson tears will follow yet;'

    and have not they?"—Letter to Murray, April 24, 1820.

    In the Preface to The Tyrant's Downfall, etc., 1814, W. L. Fitzgerald (see English Bards, etc., line l, Poetical Works, 1898, i. 297, note 3) "begs leave to refer his reader to the dates of his Napoleonics... to prove his legitimate title to the prophetical meaning of Vates" (Cent. Mag., July, 1814, vol. lxxxiv, p. 58). Coleridge claimed to have foretold the restoration of the Bourbons (see Biographia Literaria, cap. x.).]