The poet Lord Byron visited the battlefield of Waterloo in 1816, and was both fascinated by the tremendous battle and horrified by the carnage it caused.
Lines from his epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, published soon after his visit, were inspired by the events surrounding the Battle of Waterloo. This scene is set a the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, a party held in Brussels on the night of 15th June 1815, just three days before Waterloo. Many of the soldiers who attended the Ball were dead within the week.
The Eve of Waterloo
Posted on October 16, 2013 by Carole Divall
From “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” Canto III, XXI-XXVIII
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 unconfined;
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 smil’d because he deemed 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 could 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 mountaineersWith the fierce native daring which instilsThe 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 valour, 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 magnificent 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.