1799.2 - "The Soldier's Funeral"

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British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism 1793-1815, by Betty T. Bennet, Edited by Orianne Smith

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1799.2
The Soldier's Funeral[1]
Robert Southey
The Annual Anthology, I (1799), pp. 269-271

It is the funeral march. I did not think
That there had been such magic in sweet sounds!
Hark! from the blacken'd cymbal that dead tone—
It awes the very rabble multitude,
They follow silently, their earnest brows
Lifted in solemn thought. 'Tis not the pomp
And pageantry of death that with such force
Arrests the sense,—the mute and mourning train,
The white plume nodding o'er the sable hearse,
Had past unheeded, or perchance awoke
A serious smile upon the poor man's cheek
At pride's last triumph. Now these measur'd sounds
This universal language, to the heart
Speak instant, and on all these various minds
Compel one feeling.

                                    But such better thoughts
Will pass away, how soon! and there who here
Are following their dead comrade to the grave,
Ere the night fall, will in their revelry
Quench all remembrance. From the ties of life
Unnaturally rent, a man who knew
No resting place, no dear delights of home,
Belike who never saw his children's face,
Whose children knew no father, he is gone,
Dropt from existence, like the withered leaf
That from the summer tree is swept away,
Its loss unseen. She hears not of his death
Who bore him, and already for her son
Her tears of bitterness are shed: when first
He had put on the livery of blood,
She wept him dead to her.

                                    We are indeed
Clay in the potter's hand! one favour'd mind
Scarce lower than the Angels, shall explore
The ways of Nature, whilst his fellow-man
Fram'd with like miracle the work of God,
Must as the unreasonable beast drag on
A life of labour, like this soldier here,
His wonderous faculties bestow'd in vain,
Be moulded by his fate till be becomes
A mere machine of murder.

                                  And there are
Who say that this is well! as God had made
All things for man's good pleasure, so of men
The many for the few! Court-moralists,
Reverend lip-comforters that once a week
Proclaim how blessed are the poor, for they
Shall have their wealth hereafter, and tho' now
Toiling and troubled, tho' they pick the crumbs
That from the rich man's table fall, at length
In Abraham's bosom rest with Lazarus.
Themselves meantime secure their good things here
And dine with Dives. These are they O Lord!
Who in thy plain and simple gospel see
All mysteries, but who find no peace enjoined,
No brotherhood, no wrath denounced on them
Who shed their brethren's blood,—blind at noon day
As owls, lynx-eyed in darkness!

                                  O my God!
I thank thee that I am not such as these
I thank thee for the eye that sees, the heart
That feels, the voice that in these evil days
That amid evil tongues, exalts itself
And cries aloud against the iniquity.


Notes

1. A "Fragment" of this poem without Southey's name appeared in The Courier, April 29, 1799. The Courier version concludes with "A mere machine," omitting "of murder" and the remainder of the poem.

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Published @ RC

September 2004