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

June 15

Eve of Quatre Bras

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

  • From “Childe Harold”
  • The battle of Quatre Bras was fought on June 16, 1815, and was the preliminary of Waterloo. The Duke of Wellington forced Marshal Ney to retreat.

  • THERE was a sound of revelry by night,

    And Belgium’s capital had gather’d then

    Her Beauty and her Chivalry, and bright

    The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men;

    A thousand hearts beat happily; and when

    Music arose with its voluptuous swell,

    Soft eyes look’d love to eyes which spake again,

    And all went merry as a marriage-bell;

    But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!

    Did ye not hear it?—No; ’twas but the wind,

    Or the car rattling o’er the stony street;

    On with the dance! let joy be unconfin’d;

    No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet

    To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet—

    But, hark! that heavy sound breaks in once more,

    As if the clouds its echo would repeat;

    And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before!

    Arm! arm! it is—it is—the cannon’s opening roar!

    Within a window’d niche of that high hall

    Sate Brunswick’s fated chieftain; he did hear

    That sound the first amidst the festival,

    And caught its tone with Death’s prophetic ear;

    And when they smiled because he deem’d it near,

    His heart more truly knew that peal too well

    Which stretch’d his father on a bloody bier,

    And roused the vengeance blood alone could quell:

    He rush’d into the field, and, foremost fighting, fell.

    Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro,

    And gathering tears, and tremblings of distress,

    And cheeks all pale, which but an hour ago

    Blush’d at the praise of their own loveliness;

    And there were sudden partings, such as press

    The life from out young hearts, and choking sighs

    Which ne’er might be repeated: who would guess

    If ever more should meet those mutual eyes,

    Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise!

    And there was mounting in hot haste: the steed,

    The mustering squadron, and the clattering car,

    Went pouring forward with impetuous speed,

    And swiftly forming in the ranks of war;

    And the deep thunder peal on peal afar;

    And near, the beat of the alarming drum

    Roused up the soldier ere the morning star;

    While throng’d the citizens with terror dumb,

    Or whispering, with white lips—“The foe! They come! they come!”

    And wild and high the “Cameron’s gathering” rose,

    The war-note of Lochiel, which Albyn’s hills

    Have heard, and heard, too, have her Saxon foes:

    How in the noon of night that pibroch thrills

    Savage and shrill! But with the breath which fills

    Their mountain-pipe, so fill the mountaineers

    With the fierce native daring which instils

    The stirring memory of a thousand years,

    And Evan’s, Donald’s fame rings in each clansman’s ears!

    And Ardennes waves above them her green leaves,

    Dewy with nature’s tear-drops, as they pass,

    Grieving, if aught inanimate e’er grieves,

    Over the unreturning brave—alas!

    Ere evening to be trodden like the grass

    Which now beneath them, but above shall grow

    In its next verdure, when this fiery mass

    Of living valor, rolling on the foe,

    And burning with high hope, shall moulder cold and low.

    Last noon beheld them full of lusty life,

    Last eve in Beauty’s circle proudly gay,

    The midnight brought the signal-sound of strife,

    The morn the marshalling in arms,—the day

    Battle’s magnificently-stern array!

    The thunder-clouds close o’er it, which when rent,

    The earth is cover’d thick with other clay,

    Which her own clay shall cover, heap’d and pent,

    Rider and horse—friend, foe—in one red burial blent!