Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
 
III. War
The Relief of Lucknow
Robert Traill Spence Lowell (1816–1891)
 
[September 25, 1857]

O, THAT last day in Lucknow fort!
  We knew that it was the last;
That the enemy’s lines crept surely on,
  And the end was coming fast.
 
To yield to that foe meant worse than death;        5
  And the men and we all worked on;
It was one day more of smoke and roar,
  And then it would all be done.
 
There was one of us, a corporal’s wife,
  A fair, young, gentle thing,        10
Wasted with fever in the siege,
  And her mind was wandering.
 
She lay on the ground, in her Scottish plaid,
  And I took her head on my knee;
“When my father comes hame frae the pleugh,” she said,        15
  “Oh! then please wauken me.”
 
She slept like a child on her father’s floor,
  In the flecking of woodbine-shade,
When the house-dog sprawls by the open door,
  And the mother’s wheel is stayed.        20
 
It was smoke and roar and powder-stench,
  And hopeless waiting for death;
And the soldier’s wife, like a full-tired child,
  Seemed scarce to draw her breath.
 
I sank to sleep; and I had my dream        25
  Of an English village-lane,
And wall and garden;—but one wild scream
  Brought me back to the roar again.
 
There Jessie Brown stood listening
  Till a sudden gladness broke        30
All over her face; and she caught my hand
  And drew me near as she spoke:—
 
“The Hielanders! O, dinna ye hear
  The slogan far awa,
The McGregor’s?—O, I ken it weel;        35
  It ’s the grandest o’ them a’!
 
“God bless thae bonny Hielanders!
  We ’re saved! we ’re saved!” she cried;
And fell on her knees; and thanks to God
  Flowed forth like a full flood-tide.        40
 
Along the battery-line her cry
  Had fallen among the men,
And they started back;—they were there to die;
  But was life so near them, then?
 
They listened for life; the rattling fire        45
  Far off, and the far-off roar,
Were all; and the colonel shook his head,
  And they turned to their guns once more.
 
But Jessie said, “The slogan ’s done;
  But winna ye hear it noo,        50
The Campbells are comin’? It ’s no’ a dream;
  Our succors hae broken through!”
 
We heard the roar and the rattle afar,
  But the pipes we could not hear;
So the men plied their work of hopeless war        55
  And knew that the end was near.
 
It was not long ere it made its way,—
  A thrilling, ceaseless sound:
It was no noise from the strife afar,
  Or the sappers under ground.        60
 
It was the pipes of the Highlanders!
  And now they played Auld Lang Syne;
It came to our men like the voice of God,
  And they shouted along the line.
 
And they wept, and shook one another’s hands,        65
  And the women sobbed in a crowd;
And every one knelt down where he stood,
  And we all thanked God aloud.
 
That happy day, when we welcomed them,
  Our men put Jessie first;        70
And the general gave her his hand, and cheers
  Like a storm from the soldiers burst.
 
And the pipers’ ribbons and tartan streamed,
  Marching round and round our line;
And our joyful cheers were broken with tears,        75
  As the pipes played Auld Lang Syne.
 
 
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