Portraits of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning
The seventh number of Bells and Pomegranates was entitled Dramatic Romances and Lyrics. In the redistribution of his shorter poems when he collected his writings, Browning having already a group of Dramatic Lyrics made a second of Dramatic Romances, taking the occasion to make a little nicer discrimination. Thus some of the poems originally included under the combined title were distributed among the Lyrics, and some at first grouped under Lyrics were transferred to this division of Romances. The first poem in the group was originally contained in Dramatic Lyrics along with Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister under the general title of Camp and Cloister, this poem representing the camp.
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,” the soldier’s pride
Touched to the quick, he said:
“I’m killed, Sire!” And his chief beside,
Smiling the boy fell dead.
AN OLD STORY
Mr. Browning has denied that this poem refers to Arnold of Brescia. It is imaginative, not historical in its dramatic action. It was possibly to relieve the poem of its apparent distinct reference to history that he removed the name of Brescia, which was used in the poem in its first form.
It was roses, roses, all the way,
With myrtle mixed in my path like mad:
The house-roofs seemed to heave and sway,
The church-spires flamed, such flags they had,
A year ago on this very day.
The air broke into a mist with bells,
The old walls rocked with the crowd and cries.
Had I said, “Good folk, mere noise repels —
But give me your sun from yonder skies!”
They had answered, “And afterward, what else?”
Alack, it was I who leaped at the sun
To give it my loving friends to keep!
Naught man could do, have I left undone:
And you see my harvest, what I reap
This very day, now a year is run.