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The Battle of Talavera

The Battle of Talavera
Category: Poetry
Title: The Battle of Talavera
Release Date: 2018-05-05
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 74
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T A L A V E R A.




’...... Sibi cognomen in hoste
‘Fecit; et Hispanam sanguine tinxit humum.
Ov. Fast. 6.




T A L A V E R A.

Dicam insigne, recens, adhuc
Indictum ore alio.


’Twas dark; from every mountain head
The sunny smile of heaven had fled,
And evening, over hill and dale
Dropt, with the dew, her shadowy veil;
{2}In fabled Teio’s darkening tide
Was quenched the golden ray;
Silent, the silent stream beside,
Three gallant people’s hope and pride,
Three gallant armies lay.
France, every nation’s foe, is there,
And Albion’s sons her red cross bear,
With Spain’s young Liberty to share
The patriot array,
Which, spurning the oppressor’s chain,
Springs arm’d, from every hill and plain
From ocean to the eastern main—
From Seville to Biscaye.
All, from the dawn till even-tide,
The fortune of the field had tried
In loose but bloody fray;
{3}And now with thoughts of dubious fate
Feverish and weary, they await
A fiercer, bloodier day.


Fraternal France’s chosen bands
He of the stolen crown commands,
And on Alberche’s hither sands
Pitches his tents to-night:
While, Talavera’s wall between
And olive groves and gardens green,
Spain quarters on the right;
All scatter’d in the open air
In deep repose; save here and there,
Pondering to-morrow’s fight,
A spearman, in his midnight prayer,
{4}Invokes our Blessed Lady’s care
And good Saint James’s might.
Thence to the left, across the plain
And on the neighbouring height,
The British bands, a watchful train,
Their wide and warded line maintain,
Fronting the east, as if to gain
The earliest glimpse of light.


While there, with toil and watching worn,
The Island warriors wait the morn,
And think the hours too slow;
Hark!—on the midnight breezes borne
Sounds from the vale below!
What sounds? No gleam of arms they see,
Yet still they hear—What may it be?{5}
It is, it is the foe!
From every hand and heart and head—
As quick was never lightning sped—
Weakness and weariness are fled;
And down the mountain steeps,
Along the vale, and through the shade,
With ball and bayonet and blade,
They seek the foe who dares invade
The watch that England keeps.
Nor do the dauntless sons of France
Idly await the hot advance:—
As active and as brave
Thrice rush they on, and thrice their shock
Rebounding breaks, as from the rock
Is dash’d the wintry wave.


But soon the darkling armies blend,
Promiscuous death around they send,
Foe falls by foe and friend by friend
In mingled heaps o’erthrown:
And many a gallant feat is done,
And many a laurel lost and won,
Unwitness’d and unknown;—
Feats, that achieved in face of day,
Had fired the bard’s enthusiast lay,
And, in some holy aisle, for aye
Had lived in sculptured stone.
Oh, for a blaze from heaven, to light
The wonders of that gloomy fight,
The guerdon to bestow,{7}
Of which the sullen envious night
Bereaves the warrior’s brow!
Furious they strike without a mark,
Save where the sudden sulphurous spark
Illumes some visage grim and dark,
That with the flash is gone!
And, ’midst the conflict, only know,
If chance has sped the fatal blow,
Or by the trodden corse below,
Or by the dying groan.


Far o’er the plain, and to the shores
Of Teio and Alberche, roars
The tumult of the fight;
The distant camps, alarmed, arise;
And throbbing hearts, and straining eyes{8}
Watch, through the dull and vapoury skies,
The portents of the night—
The vollying peals, terrific cries,
And gleams of lurid light—
But all is indistinct:—in vain
The anxious crowds their senses strain,
And, in the flash or shout,
Fancy they catch the signal plain
Of victory or rout:—
The signal dies away again,
And the still, breathless crowds remain
In darkness and in doubt.


Thus roll’d the short yet lingering night
Its clouds o’er hill and dale;
But when the morning show’d in light{9}
The wreck of that tempestuous fight
Scatter’d along the vale;
Still seated on her trophied height,
Britain exulted at the sight,
And France’s cheek grew pale.
Lords of the field, the victors view
Ten gallant French the turf bestrew
For every Briton slain:
They view, with not unmingled pride;
Some anxious thoughts their souls divide—
Their throbbing hopes restrain;
Hundreds beneath their arm have died,
But myriads still remain:
A sterner strife must yet be tried,
A more tempestuous day decide
The wavering fates of Spain.


From the hill summit they behold,
By the first beams of orient gold
In adverse arms reveal’d,
Full fifty thousand warriors bold,
Inured to war, in conquest old,
To toil and terror steel’d:
But they,—as steel’d to fear or toil,
As bold, as proud of war-won spoil,
In victory’s path as skill’d,
Though doomed with twice their strength to try
The hard unequal field,
They view the foe with kindling eye,
And, in their generous transport, cry
“Conquer we may—perhaps must die;
But never, never yield!”


Thus ardent they: but who can tell,
In Wellesley’s heart what passions swell?
What cares must agitate his mind,
What wishes, doubts, and hopes combined,
Whom with his country’s chosen bands,
’Midst cold allies, in foreign lands,
Outnumbering foes surround;
From whom that country’s jealous call
Demands the blood, the fame of all;
To whom ’twere not enough to fall,
Unless with victory crown’d?
O heart of honour! soul of fire!
Even at that moment fierce and dire,
Thy agony of fame,
When Britain’s fortune dubious hung,{12}
And France tremendous swept along
In tides of blood and flame;
Even while thy genius and thy arm
Retrieved the day, and turn’d the storm
To France’s rout and shame,
Even at that moment, factious spite
And envious fraud conspired to blight
The honours of thy name!


He thinks not of them:—From that height
He views the scene of future fight,
And, silent and serene, surveys,
Down to the plain where Teio strays,
The woods, the streams, the mountain ways,
Each dell and sylvan hold:{13}
Prescient of all the war, he knows
On wing or center, where the foes
May pour their fury most;
And marks what portion of the field
To their advance ’twere good to yield,
And what must not be lost.
And all his gallant chiefs around
Observant watch, where o’er the ground
His eagle glance has rolled.
Few words he spake, or needed they,
Of counsel for the approaching fray,
Where to condense the loose array,
Or where the line unfold:
They saw, they felt what he would say,
And the best order of the day,
It was his eye that told.


And is it now a goodly sight,
Or dreadful, to behold
The pomp of that approaching fight—
Waving ensigns, pennons light,
And gleaming blades and bayonets bright,
And eagles wing’d with gold;—
And warrior bands of many a hue,
Scarlet and white and green and blue,
Like rainbows, o’er the morning dew
Their varied tints unfold:
While swells the martial din around,—
And, starting at the bugle’s sound,
The tramping squadrons beat the ground,
And drums unceasing roll:
Frequent and long the warrior cheer,{15}
To glory’s perilous career
Awakes and fires the soul:
And oft, by fits confused and clear,
The din and clang, to fancy’s ear,
The knell of thousands toll.


Soon, soon shall vanish that array,
Those varied colours fade away
Like meteors light and vain,
And eagle bright and pennon gay,
Ensanguined dust distain:
And soon be hush’d in various death,
The cymbal’s clang, the clarion’s breath,
The thunder of the plain:—
That sun which fires the eastern sky{16}
Shall set, ere noon, to many an eye
In battle’s stormy main!
The young, the gay, the proud, the strong,
Ghastly and gored, shall lie along
In mingled carnage piled.
Blood shall pollute the limpid source,
And Teio flow, with many a corse
Affrighted and defiled.


But not alone by Teio’s shore,
Tho’ heap’d with slain, and red with gore,
The tide of grief shall flow:—
’Tis not amidst the din of fight,
Nor on the warrior’s crested height,
Death strikes his direst blow:{17}
Far from the fray, unseen and late,
Descend the bitterest shafts of fate,
Where tender love, and pious care
The lingering hours of absence wear
In solitude and gloom;
And, mingling many a prayer and tear,
Of sire, or child, or husband dear
Anticipate the doom:
Their hopes no trophied prospects cheer,
For them no laurels bloom;
But trembling hope, and feverish fear,
Forebodings wild, and visions drear
Their anguish’d hearts consume.


All tremble now, but not on all,
Poison’d with equal woe, shall fall{18}
The shaft of destiny:—to some
The dreadful tale of ill shall come,
Not unallayed with good;
And they, with mingled grief and pride,
Shall hear that in the battle’s tide
Their darling soldier sank and died;—
Died as a soldier should!
But in the rough and stormy fray,
Many are doomed to death to-day,
Whose fate shall ne’er at home be told,
Whose very names the grave shall fold;
Many, for whose return, in vain
The wistful eye of love shall strain,
In vain parental fondness sigh,
In cruel hope that ne’er can die,
And filial sorrow mourn{19}
On Talavera’s plain they lie,
No! never to return!


But, tyrant, thou, the cause of all
The blood that streams, the tears that fall,
Who, by no faith or fear confin’d,
In impious triumph o’er mankind,
Thy desolating course hast driven,
Bursting the sacred ties that bind
Man to his fellow and to heaven!
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