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

April 22

Incident of the French Camp

By Robert Browning (1812–1889)

  • The battle of Ratisbon was fought between Napoleon and the Archduke Charles of Bavaria on April 22, 1809. The town was afterwards ceded to Austria.

  • YOU know we French stormed Ratisbon:

    A mile or so away,

    On a little mound, Napoleon

    Stood on our storming-day;

    With neck out-thrust, you fancy how,

    Legs wide, arms locked behind,

    As if to balance the prone brow,

    Oppressive with its mind.

    Just as perhaps he mused, “My plans

    That soar, to earth may fall,

    Let once my army-leader Lannes

    Waver at yonder wall,”—

    Out ’twixt the battery-smokes there flew

    A rider, bound on bound

    Full-galloping; nor bridle drew

    Until he reached the mound.

    Then off there flung in smiling joy,

    And held himself erect

    By just his horse’s mane, a boy:

    You hardly could suspect—

    (So tight he kept his lips compressed,

    Scarce any blood came through)

    You looked twice ere you saw his breast

    Was all but shot in two.

    “Well,” cried he, “Emperor, by God’s grace

    We’ve got you Ratisbon!

    The marshal’s in the market-place,

    And you’ll be there anon

    To see your flag-bird flap his vans

    Where I, to heart’s desire,

    Perched him!” The chief’s eye flashed; his plans

    Soared up again like fire.

    The chief’s eye flashed; but presently

    Softened itself, as sheathes

    A film the mother eagle’s eye

    When her bruised eaglet breathes:

    “You’re wounded!” “Nay,” his soldier’s pride

    Touched to the quick, he said:

    “I’m killed sire!” And, his chief beside,

    Smiling, the boy fell dead.