Victor Hugo: The black eagle waits with claws outspread
From Sedan (1871)
Translated by Henry Carrington
Sedan! Death-name, which all has darkened o’er,
Spit forth! so never to pronounce it more.
Fierce was the strife! The carnage large and dire
Gave to the combatants a glance of fire.
Shrieking, the fell Furies at distance stood;
In a dark cloud, all spattered o’er with blood,
Mitrailleuses, mortars, cannons, belch their war.
Ravens, those busy workers, come from far;
Banquets are slaughter, massacre a feast.
Rage filled the gloom, and spread from breast to breast.
All Nature part in the fierce battle takes,
From man who maddens, to the tree that shakes;
The fatal field itself seemed frenzied o’er;
One is repulsed, one driven on before.
Now France, now Germany successful cope;
All either had of death the tragic hope,
Or hideous joy of killing. No man shrunk;
All with the acrid scent of blood were drunk.
None yield; each this the fatal hour knows.
That seed an arm of fearful power sows;
Bullets rained down upon the darkened sod;
The wounded groaned, the nearest on them trod;
The hoarse-mouthed cannon on the melee blew
A vast, thick smoke, which on the breezes flew.
Sudden — in all this mist, ‘mid thunder’s breath.
In the vast gloom where laughs imagined death;
In clash of epic shocks, and in the hell
Of brass and copper which on iron fell;
The crash, the crush, of hurtling shell and bomb.
In rain and rave of that wild hecatomb;
While the harsh clarions sound their dismal cry
A shudder through the haggard standards pours;
While waiting the decree of destiny
(All bleed, fight bravely, strive, or nobly die),
They heard the monstrous words, “I wish to live!”
The cannons are struck dumb; no longer strive
The blood-drunk hosts, — the abysmal word was said.
And the black eagle waits with claws outspread.