Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Russia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Russia: Vol. XX.  1876–79.
 
Dnieper, the River
The Father of the Regiment
Walter Thornbury (1828–1876)
 
THICK snow-wreaths weighed upon the firs,
  Snow shrouded all the plain,
Snow brooded in the dusky clouds,
  Snow matted the chill rain,
Snow filled the valleys to the brim,        5
  Snow whitened all the air;
The snowdrifts on the Dnieper road
  Blinded us with their glare.
 
The white snow on our eagles weighed,
  It capped each crimson plume;        10
Knee-deep it now began to rise,
  Striking us all with gloom.
It clotted on our wagon wheels,
  And on our knapsacks weighed,
It clung to every soldier’s breast,        15
  And every bayonet-blade.
 
It quenched the shells and dulled the shot
  That round us faster fell,
As all our bayonets glancing moved
  Down the long Russian dell        20
That to the Dnieper river bore.
  Ney battled in our rear;
Griloff was nearly on us then,
  The Cossacks gathered near.
 
The Russian lancers charged our guards,        25
  Our grenadiers, and horse;
The Russian serfs, with axe and knife,
  Were gathering in force,
As floods of us with carts and guns
  Bore down upon the ridge        30
That led, by snowy swathes and slopes,
  Unto the Dnieper bridge.
 
The sun, a dull broad spot of blood,
  Smouldered through icy clouds;
The snow, in blinding heavy flakes,        35
  Was weaving soldiers’ shrouds.
Here lay a powder-wagon split,
  Its wheels all black and torn,
And there a gun half buried in
  The ruts its weight had worn.        40
 
Drums splashed with blood and broken swords
  Were scattered everywhere;
Our shattered muskets, shakos pierced,
  Lay partly buried there.
Guns foundered, chests of cartridge burst,        45
  Lay by the dead defaced;
By hasty graves of hillocked snow
  You could our path have traced.
 
Still one battalion firm was left,
  Made up of Davoust’s men,        50
“The Vieille Roche” we called the band,
  In admiration then.
The “Father of the Regiment,”
  De Maubourg, led us on,
With the old Roman’s iron will,        55
  Though hope had almost gone.
 
Two sons he had, who guarded him
  From every Cossack spear;
One was a grenadier, whose heart
  Had never known a fear;        60
The other boy a lusty drum
  Beat by his father’s side;
I often saw the father smile
  To see the stripling’s pride.
 
There came a rush of ponderous guns,        65
  Grinding the red churned snow,
Making their way o’er dying men
  Unto the bridge below.
Ney gathered close his prickly squares
  To keep the Russians back,        70
For fast those yelling Cossacks came
  Upon our bleeding track.
 
Maubourg was there erect and firm;
  I saw him through the fire;
He stooped to kiss a dying friend,        75
  Then seemed to rise the higher.
Great gaps the Russian cannon tore
  Through our retreating ranks,
As slowly, grimly, Ney drew back
  Unto the river banks.        80
 
Shot in the knee I saw Maubourg,
  Borne by his sons—slow—slow;
They staggered o’er the muddy ruts
  And through the clogging snow.
“Fly, leave me, children! Dear to France        85
  Young lives are,” then he said.
They both refused: a round shot came,
  And struck the eldest—dead.
 
The boy knelt weeping by his side,
  Trying in vain to lift        90
The old man’s body, which but sank
  The deeper in the drift.
“Leave me, my child!” he cried again.
  “Think of your mother,—go.
We meet in heaven. I will stay,        95
  Death is no more my foe.”
 
The boy fell weeping on his breast,
  And there had gladly died,
But I released his clutching hands,
  And tore him from his side.        100
One kiss—no more—and then he went,
  Beating his drum for us;
I did not dare to turn and see
  The old man perish thus.
 
Again there came a rush of spears,        105
  But we drove on the guns,
We—bronze and iron with the heat
  Of the Egyptian suns.
The eagles led,—our bayonets pressed
  Over the Dnieper bridge;        110
Ney was the last to turn and pass
  Down the long gory ridge.
 
The boy became a marshal, sirs;
  I saw him yesterday
Talking to Soult, who loves right well        115
  To chat of siege and fray.
He often finds our barracks out
  And comes to see us all,
We who escaped from Moscow’s fire,
  From Russian sword and ball.        120
 
 
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