The Wounded Soldier
The Spirit of the Public Journals, II (1799), pp. 126-129
The sun was just retir'd, the dews of eve
Their glow-worm lustre scatter'd o'er the vale;
The lonely nightingale began to grieve,
Telling, with many a pause, her tend'rest tale.
No clamours rude disturb'd the pensive hour,
And the young moon, yet fearful of the night,
Rear'd her pale crescent o'er the burnish'd tow'r,
That caught the parting orb's still ling'ring light.
Twas then, where peasant footsteps mark'd the way,
A wounded soldier feebly mov'd along;
While pity in his youthful form might view
A helpless prematurity of age.
Then as with strange contortions lab'ring slow,
He gain'd the summit of his native hill,
And saw the well-known prospect spread below,
The farm, the cot, the hamlet, and the mill;
In spite of fortitude, one struggling sigh
Shook the firm texture of his tortur'd heart;
And from his hollow and dejected eye
One trembling tear hung ready to depart.
"How chang'd (he cried) is the fair scene to me,
Since last across this narrow path I went!
The soaring lark felt not superior glee,
Nor any human breast more true content.
"When the fresh hay was o'er the meadow thrown,
Amidst the busy throng I still appear'd;
My prowess too at harvest-time was shown,
While LUCY's carol ev'ry labour cheer'd.
"The burning rays I scarcely seem'd to feel,
If the dear maiden near me chanc'd to rove;
Or if she deign'd to share my frugal meal,
It was a rich repast — a feast of love.
"And when at ev'ning, with a rustic's pride,
I dar'd the sturdiest wrestlers on the green,
What joy was mine! to hear her at my side
Extol my vigour and my manly mien.
"Ah! now no more the sprightly lass shall run
To bid me welcome from the sultry plain;
But her averted eye my sight will shun,
And all our cherish'd fondest hopes be vain.
"Alas! my parents, must ye too endure
That I should gloom for e'er your homely mirth,
Exist upon the pittance ye procure,
And make ye curse the hour that gave me birth?
"Oh, hapless day! when at a neighb'ring wake,
The gaudy sergeant caught my wond'ring eye,
And as his tongue of war and honour spake,
I felt a wish to conquer or to die.
"Then, while he bound the ribands on my brow,
He talk'd of captains kind and generals good,
Said, a whole nation would my fame avow,
And bounty call'd the purchase of my blood.
"Yet I refus'd that bounty — I disdain'd
To sell my service in a righteous cause,
And such to my dull sense it was explain'd,
The cause of monarchs, justice, and the laws.
"The rattling drums beat loud, the fifes began,
My King and country seem'd to ask my aid;
Through ev'ry vein the thrilling ardour ran —
I left my humble cot, my village maid.
"Oh, hapless day! torn from my LUCY's charms,
I thence was hurried to a scene of strife,
To painful marches, and the din of arms —
The wreck of reason and the waste of life.
"In loathsome vessels now with crowds confin'd,
Now led with hosts to slaughter in the field;
Now backward driv'n, like leaves before the wind,
Too weak to stand, and yet asham'd to yield.
"Till oft-repeated victories inspir'd,
With tenfold fury the indignant foe,
Who ruthless still advanc'd as we retir'd,
And laid our boasted, proudest honours low.
"Through frozen deserts then compell'd to fly,
Our bravest legions moulder'd fast away,
Thousands of wounds and sickness left to die,
While hov'ring ravens mark'd them for their prey.
"Ah! sure remorse their savage hearts must rend,
Whose selfish, desp'rate frenzy could decree,
That in one mass of murder men should blend,
Who sent the slave to fight against the free.
"Unequal conquest! — at fair Freedom's call,
The lowest hind glows with celestial fire;
She rules, directs, pervades, and conquers all,
And armies at her sacred glance expire.
"Then be this warfare of the world accurs'd!
The son now weeps not on the father's bier,
But gray-hair'd age (for nature is revers'd)
Drops o'er his children's grave an icy tear."
Thus having spoke — by varying passions tost,
He reach'd the threshold of his parents' shed,
Who knew not of his fate, but mourn'd him lost,
Amidst the number of the unnam'd dead.
Soon as they heard his well-remember'd voice,
A ray of rapture chas'd habitual care:
"Our HENRY lives — we may again rejoice!"
And LUCY sweetly blush'd, for she was there.
But when he enter'd in such horrid guise,
His mother shriek'd, and dropp'd upon the floor:
His father look'd to heav'n with streaming eyes,
And LUCY sunk, alas! to rise no more.
O, may this tale, which agony must close,
Give due contrition to the self-call'd great,
And show the poor how hard the lot of those
Who shed their blood for ministers of state!