Thomas Lovell Beddoes: War’s harvest
Thomas Lovell Beddoes
From Leopold (1821)
The battle is over; the dews of the fog
The wings of the eager vultures clog;
And the souls of the dead, in many a flake,
Are winding aloft, a misty snake
From its blood-clotted lair with fresh slaughter tinged;
And the clouds of heaven, with sable fringed
Are weeping the murder; the spirit of ill
Is snuffing the incense upon the hill,
And basking with joy in the mortal steam,
And dabbling in the blood-red stream.
The tempest is moistening its blast in the blood
Which trickles along in the scurfy flood.
The dead are all reeking, a ghastly heap,
Slippery with gore, and with crushed bones steep;
As if the flesh had been snowed on the hills,
And dribbled away in blood-clammy rills;
A swamp of distorted faces it lay,
And sweltered and bubbled in the broad day.
There was one who had fainted in battle’s crash,
Now he struggled in vain with feeble splash
Under his warm tomb of motionless dead;
At last he dashed backward his bursting head,
And gasped in his hideous agony,
And ground his firm teeth, and darted his eye;
Then wiggled his lips in the last prayer of death,
And mixed with the whirlwind his foamed breath.
Another, with gold-hilted sabre girt,
Had crawled from amid the fermenting dirt,
And was creeping with torture along the ground,
Tracking his path with an opening wound;
But a plunderer, spying his failing form,
Scattered his brains as hot food for the storm.
Hard by was a smiling young infant at rest
On his death-frozen mother’s chilly breast,
And he filled her deaf ears with his piteous cries;
And with tiny fingers opened her eyes,
Which spurted upon him a thick, gory clot,
While he smiled and fingered the spreading blot.
Among the foul carcases slowly there went
A reverend hermit, weak and bent,
Muttering prayers with a tremulous tongue,
Whilst groans of despair at his deafened ears hung.
As he slipped on the dead men they started and howled,
And the lapping dogs stirred not but angrily growled.
A carrion crow, that was whetting its bill
On a naked bone that was reeking still,
Heavily flapped its broad wings for a flight,
But could not soar upward, so gorged all night.