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Ay, lower again, thou crimson cloud-again ye drums
"Tis Rachel in the wilderness and Ramah in the tent!
"Close up! Right dress!" the captain said, and they gathered under the moon,
As the shadows glide together when the sun shines down at noon
A stranger at each soldier's right-ah, war's wild work is grim!—
And so to the last of the broken line, and Death at the right of him!
And there, in the silence deep and dead, the sergeant called the roll,
And the name went wandering down the lines as he called a passing soul.
O, then that a friendly mountain that summons might have heard,
And flung across the desert dumb the shadow of the word, And caught the name that all forlorn along the legion ran, And clasped it to its mighty heart and sent it back to man!
There it stood, the battered legion, while the sergeant called the roll,
And the name went wandering down the lines as he called for a passing soul.
Hurrah for the dumb, dead lion! And a voice for the
Rolled out of the ranks like a drum-beat, and sturdily answered "HERE!"
"He stood," cried the sons of thunder, and their hearts ran over the brim,
"He stood by the old battalion, and we'll always stand by him!
Ay, call for the grand crusader, and we'll answer to the
"And what will ye say?" the sergeant said.
"DEAD ON THE FIELD OF FAME!"
And dare ye call that dying? The dignity sublime That gains a furlough from the grave, and then reports to Time?
Doth earth give up the daisies to a little sun and rain, And keep at their roots the heroes while weary ages
Sling up the trumpet, Israfeel!* Sweet bugler of our God, For nothing waits thy summons beneath this broken sod; They march abreast with the ages to the thunder on the right,
For they bade the world "Good-morning!" when the world had said "Good-night!"
*In Mohammedan mythology, Israfeel is the angel whose office it will be to sound the trumpet at the resurrection.
HOW THEY BROUGHT THE GOOD NEWS FROM
GHENT TO AIX
The following very helpful introduc tion to the study of the poem is from Robert Morss Lovett's "Selections from Browning," Ginn & Company.
"A rousing good story, of which the key-note is the galloping of hard-pushed horses. There is a strain, a tense eagerness which rushes the verses along to the fine climax of bestowing upon the noble
Roland the last measure of wine in the saved city.
"The date, 16—, suggests that Browning had in mind as the subject of his poem a possible occurrence in the struggle between the Netherlands and Spain, or in the Thirty Years' War. Ghent is an important city in what is now Belgium; Aix, or Aix-laChapelle, is just across the boundary, in Germany. The actual route of the ride is interesting to follow; it covers a distance of more than ninety miles. Hasselt, where the first horse goes down, is almost eighty miles from Ghent. The next towns mentioned are out of the direct road to Aix. Apparently Browning made up his route without consulting the atlas. We have his own words that the incident is imaginary, and that the poem was written on shipboard 'after I had been at sea long enough to appreciate even the fancy of a gallop.'"
I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three; "Good speed!" cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew; "Speed!" echoed the wall to us galloping through; Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest, And into the midnight we galloped abreast.
Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
'Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half
So Joris broke silence with, "Yet there is time!"
At Aershot, up leaped of a sudden the sun,
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray:
And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, "Stay spur!
We'll remember at Aix"-for one heard the quick wheeze Of her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering knees, And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.
So, we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
'Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
"How they'll greet us!"—and all in a moment his roan
Then I cast loose my buffcoat, each holster let fall,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer;
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.
And all I remember is-friends flocking round
As I sat with his head 'twixt my knees on the ground;