James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

January 16

Burial of Sir John Moore

By Charles Wolfe (1791–1823)

  • A British general in the Peninsular War. Deserted by his Spanish Allies he was obliged to retreat to Corunna where the English troops were attacked by the French as they were embarking and Sir John Moore was killed January 16, 1809. He was buried in the citadel at night. It is rather a remarkable fact that the author of this poem, one of the gems of the English language, should never have written anything else of importance.

  • NOT a drum was heard, not a funeral note,

    As his corpse to the rampart we hurried;

    Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot

    O’er the grave where our hero we buried.

    We buried him darkly at dead of night,

    The sod with our bayonets turning,

    By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light,

    And the lantern dimly burning.

    No useless coffin inclosed his breast,

    Not in sheet or in shroud we bound him;

    But he lay like a warrior taking his rest,

    With his martial cloak around him!

    Few and short were the prayers we said,

    And we spoke not a word of sorrow;

    But we steadfastly gazed on the face of the dead,

    And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

    We thought, as we hollow’d his narrow bed,

    And smoothed down his lonely pillow,

    That the foe and the stranger would tread o’er his head,

    And we far away on the billow!

    Lightly they’ll talk of the spirit that’s gone,

    And o’er his cold ashes upbraid him—

    But little he’ll reck if they let him sleep on,

    In the grave where a Briton has laid him.

    But half of our heavy task was done,

    When the clock struck the hour for retiring;

    And we knew by the distant random gun,

    That the foe was sullenly firing.

    Slowly and sadly we laid him down,

    From the field of his fame fresh and gory;

    We carved not a line, we raised not a stone—

    But we left him alone with his glory.