Poetry I LIKE: The Panther, Hohenlinden, Charge of the Light Bergade, The Battle of Belleau Wood and St. Crispen’s Day Speech

Poetry I LIKE: The Panther, Hohenlinden, Charge of the Light Bergade, The Battle of Belleau Wood and St. Crispen’s Day Speech

My friend, Dennis Donnelly is an outstanding New Jersey plaintiff’s trial lawyer. Before becoming a lawyer law school he Panther taught school and was a lover of literature. Recently he introduced me to a poet I had not read before, Rainer Maria Rilke. One of Rilke's poems I enjoyed was this one The Panther:

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

There have been some wonderful and moving poems written about famous battles. One of them is by Thomas Cambell (1817 – 1844) Hohenlinden. This is a poem about a battle in 1800 during the French Revolutionary war near Munich Germany. The battle resulted in a victory for the French against the Austrians and Bavarians forcing an armistice.

On Linden, when the sun was low,
All bloodless lay the untrodden snow,
And dark as winter was the flow
Of Iser, rolling rapidly.

But Linden saw another sight
When the drum beat at dead of night,
Commanding fires of death to light
The darkness of her scenery.

By torch and trumpet fast arrayed,
Each horseman drew his battle blade,
And furious every charger neighed
To join the dreadful revelry.

Then shook the hills with thunder riven,
Then rushed the steed to battle driven,
And louder than the bolts of heaven
Far flashed the red artillery.

But redder yet that light shall glow
On Linden's hills of stainm̈d snow,
And bloodier yet the torrent flow
Of Iser, rolling rapidly.

'Tis morn, but scarce yon level sun
Can pierce the war clouds, rolling dun,
Where furious Frank and fiery Hun
Shout in their sulphurous canopy.

The combat deepens. On, ye brave,
Who rush to glory, or the grave!
Wave, Munich! all thy banners wave,
And charge with all thy chivalry!

Few, few shall part where many meet!
The snow shall be their winding-sheet,
And every turf beneath their feet
Shall be a soldier's sepulcher.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892) wrote the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. It is a poem about a battle during the Crimean War when a brigade of British calvary were mistakenly sent on a suicide mission. An order was miscommunicated and in spite of superior forces with overwhelming gun power the order was carried out anyway. The brave men on horseback charged into the cross fire and died by the hundreds.


Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack & Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter'd & sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them, Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

The Battle Of Belleau Wood was written by Edgar A Guest (1881-1959) This poem is about a battle of Americans and Germans during the First World War in 1918 in France. It was won by the Americans, primarily Marines, after twenty six days of fighting.

IT was thick with Prussian troopers, it was foul with German guns;
Every tree that cast a shadow was a sheltering place for Huns.
Death was guarding every roadway, death was watching every field,
And behind each rise of terrain was a rapid-fire concealed
But Uncle Sam's Marines had orders: "Drive the Boche from where they're hid.
For the honor of Old Glory, take the woods!" and so they did.

I fancy none will tell it as the story should be told–
None will ever do full justice to those Yankee troopers bold.
How they crawled upon their stomachs through the fields of golden wheat
With the bullets spitting at them in that awful battle heat.
It's a tale too big for writing; it's beyond the voice or pen,
But it glows among the splendor of the bravest deeds men.

It's recorded as a battle, but I fancy it will live,
As the brightest gem of courage human struggles have to give.
Inch by inch, they crawled to victory toward the flaming mounts of guns;
Inch by inch, they crawled to grapple with the barricaded Huns

On through fields that death was sweeping with a murderous fire, they went
Till the Teuton line was vanquished and the German strength was spent.

Ebbed and flowed the tides of battle as they've seldom done before;
Slowly, surely, moved the Yankees against all the odds of war.
For the honor of the fallen, for the glory of the dead,
The living line of courage kept the faith and moved ahead.
'They'd been ordered not to falter, and when night came on they stood
With Old Glory proudly flying o'er the trees of Belleau Wood.

Then there is that great St. Crispen’s Day Speech by Shakespeare in Henry V. Here are excerpts I particularly like

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.' …

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

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