Now spake the Emperor to all his shining battle forces,
To the Lancers, and the Rifles, to the Gunners and the Horses;—
And his pride surged up within him as he saw their banners stream!—
“’T is a twelve-day march to Paris, by the road our fathers travelled,
And the prize is half an empire when the scarlet road’s unravelled—
Go you now across the border,
God’s decree and William’s order—
Climb the frowning Belgian ridges
With your naked swords agleam!
Seize the City of the Bridges—
Then get on, get on to Paris—
To the jewelled streets of Paris—
To the lovely woman, Paris, that has driven me to dream!”
A hundred thousand fighting men
They climbed the frowning ridges,
With their flaming swords drawn free
And their pennants at their knee.
They went up to their desire,
To the City of the Bridges,
With their naked brands outdrawn
Like the lances of the dawn!
In a swelling surf of fire,
Till they crumpled up and died
Like a sudden wasted tide,
And the thunder in their faces beat them down and flung them wide!
They had paid a thousand men,
Yet they formed and came again,
For they heard the silver bugles sounding challenge to their pride,
And they rode with swords agleam
For the glory of a dream,
And they stormed up to the cannon’s mouth and withered there, and died….
The daylight lay in ashes
On the blackened western hill,
And the dead were calm and still;
But the Night was torn with gashes—
Sudden ragged crimson gashes—
And the siege-guns snarled and roared,
With their flames thrust like a sword,
And the tranquil moon came riding on the heaven’s silver ford.
What a fearful world was there,
Tangled in the cold moon’s hair!
Man and beast lay hurt and screaming,
(Men must die when Kings are dreaming!)—
While within the harried town
Mothers dragged their children down
As the awful rain came screaming,
For the glory of a Crown!
So the Morning flung her cloak
Through the hanging pall of smoke—
Trimmed with red, it was, and dripping with a deep and angry stain!
And the Day came walking then
Through a lane of murdered men,
And her light fell down before her like a Cross upon the plain!
But the forts still crowned the height
With a bitter iron crown!
They had lived to flame and fight,
They had lived to keep the Town!
And they poured their havoc down
All that day … and all that night….
While four times their number came,
Pawns that played a bloody game!—
With a silver trumpeting,
For the glory of the King,
To the barriers of the thunder and the fury of the flame!
So they stormed the iron Hill,
O’er the sleepers lying still,
And their trumpets sang them forward through the dull succeeding dawns,
But the thunder flung them wide,
And they crumpled up and died,—
They had waged the war of monarchs—and they died the death of pawns.
But the forts still stood…. Their breath
Swept the foeman like a blade,
Though ten thousand men were paid
To the hungry purse of Death,
Though the field was wet with blood,
Still the bold defences stood,
And the King came out with his bodyguard at the day’s departing gleam—
And the moon rode up behind the smoke and showed the King his dream.