The Peasant's Confession by Thomas Hardy
Good Father!â€¦ â€™Twas an eve in middle June,
And war was waged anew
By great Napoleon, who for years had strewn
Menâ€™s bones all Europe through.
Three nights ere this, with columned corps heâ€™d crossed
The Sambre at Charleroi,
To move on Brussels, where the English host
Dallied in Parc and Bois.
The yestertide weâ€™d heard the gloomy gun
Growl through the long-sunned day
From Quatre-Bras and Ligny; till the dun
Twilight suppressed the fray;
Albeit thereinâ€”as lated tongues bespokeâ€”
Brunswickâ€™s high heart was drained,
And Prussiaâ€™s Line and Landwehr, though unbroke,
Stood cornered and constrained.
And at next noon-time Grouchy slowly passed
With thirty thousand men:
We hoped thenceforth no army, small or vast,
Would trouble us again.
My hut lay deeply in a vale recessed,
And never a soul seemed nigh
When, reassured at length, we went to restâ€”
My children, wife, and I.
But what was this that broke our humble ease?
What noise, above the rain,
Above the dripping of the poplar trees
That smote along the pane?
â€”A call of mastery, bidding me arise,
Compelled me to the door,
At which a horseman stood in martial guiseâ€”
Splashedâ€”sweating from every pore.
Had I seen Grouchy? Yes? Which track took he?
Could I lead thither on?â€”
Fulfilment would ensure gold pieces three,
Perchance more gifts anon.
â€œI bear the Emperorâ€™s mandate,â€ then he said,
â€œCharging the Marshal straight
To strike between the double host ahead
Ere they co-operate,
â€œEngaging BlÑŒcher till the Emperor put
Lord Wellington to flight,
And next the Prussians. This to set afoot
Is my emprise to-night.â€
I joined him in the mist; but, pausing, sought
To estimate his say,
Grouchy had made for Wavre; and yet, on thought,
I did not lead that way.
I mused: â€œIf Grouchy thus instructed be,
The clash comes sheer hereon;
My farm is stript. While, as for pieces three,
Money the French have none.
â€œGrouchy unwarned, moreoâ€™er, the English win,
And mine is left to meâ€”
They buy, not borrow.â€â€”Hence did I begin
To lead him treacherously.
By Joidoigne, near to east, as we ondrew,
Dawn pierced the humid air;
And eastward faced I with him, though I knew
Never marched Grouchy there.
Near Ottignies we passed, across the Dyle
(Limâ€™lette left far aside),
And thence direct toward Pervez and Noville
Through green grain, till he cried:
â€œI doubt thy conduct, man! no track is here
I doubt they gagÐ¸d word!â€
Thereat he scowled on me, and pranced me near,
And pricked me with his sword.
â€œNay, Captain, hold! We skirt, not trace the course
Of Grouchy,â€ said I then:
â€œAs we go, yonder went he, with his force
Of thirty thousand men.â€
â€”At length noon nighed, when west, from Saint-Johnâ€™s-Mound,
A hoarse artillery boomed,
And from Saint-Lambertâ€™s upland, chapel-crowned,
The Prussian squadrons loomed.
Then to the wayless wet gray ground he leapt;
â€œMy mission fails!â€ he cried;
â€œToo late for Grouchy now to intercept,
For, peasant, you have lied!â€
He turned to pistol me. I sprang, and drew
The sabre from his flank,
And â€™twixt his nape and shoulder, ere he knew,
I struck, and dead he sank.
I hid him deep in nodding rye and oatâ€”
His shroud green stalks and loam;
His requiem the corn-bladeâ€™s husky noteâ€”
And then I hastened homeâ€¦.
â€”Two armies writhe in coils of red and blue,
And brass and iron clang
From Goumont, past the front of Waterloo,
To Papâ€™lotte and Smohain.
The Guard Imperial wavered on the height;
The Emperorâ€™s face grew glum;
â€œI sent,â€ he said, â€œto Grouchy yesternight,
And yet he does not come!â€
â€™Twas then, Good Father, that the French espied,
Streaking the summer land,
The men of BlÑŒcher. But the Emperor cried,
â€œGrouchy is now at hand!â€
And meanwhile Vandâ€™leur, Vivian, Maitland, Kempt,
Met dâ€™Erlon, Friant, Ney;
But Grouchyâ€”mis-sent, blamed, yet blame-exemptâ€”
Grouchy was far away.
Be even, slain or struck, Michel the strong,
Bold Travers, Dnop, Delord,
Smart Guyot, Reil-le, lâ€™Heriter, Friant.
Scattered that champaign oâ€™er.
Fallen likewise wronged Duhesme, and skilled Lobau
Did that red sunset see;
Colbert, Legros, Blancard!â€¦ And of the foe
Picton and Ponsonby;
With Gordon, Canning, Blackman, Ompteda,
Lâ€™Estrange, Delancey, Packe,
Grose, Dâ€™Oyly, Stables, Morice, Howard, Hay,
Von Schwerin, Watzdorf, Boek,
Smith, Phelips, Fuller, Lind, and Battersby,
And hosts of ranksmen roundâ€¦
Memorials linger yet to speak to thee
Of those that bit the ground!
The Guardsâ€™ last column yielded; dykes of dead
Lay between vale and ridge,
As, thinned yet closing, faint yet fierce, they sped
In packs to Genappe Bridge.
Safe was my stock; my capple cow unslain;
Intact each cock and hen;
But Grouchy far at Wavre all day had lain,
And thirty thousand men.
O Saints, had I but lost my earing corn
And saved the cause once prized!
O Saints, why such false witness had I borne
When late Iâ€™d sympathized!â€¦
So, now, being old, my children eye askance
My slowly dwindling store,
And crave my mite; till, worn with tarriance,
I care for life no more.
To Almighty God henceforth I stand confessed,
And Virgin-Saint Marie;
O Michael, John, and Holy Ones in rest,
Entreat the Lord for me!