Sydney Thompson Dobell

(1824-1874 / England)

A Musing On A Victory


Down by the Sutlej shore,
Where sound the trumpet and the wild tum-tum,
At winter's eve did come
A gaunt old northern lion, at whose roar
The myriad howlers of thy wilds are dumb,
Blood-stained Ferozepore!


In the rich Indian night,
And dreaming of his mate beyond the sea,
Toil-worn but grand to sight,
He made his lair, in might,
Beneath thy dark palm-tree,
And thou didst rouse him to the unequal fight-
And woe for thee!


For some of that wild land
Had heard him in the desert where he lay;
And soon he snuffs upon their hurtling way,
The hunters-bandby band;
And up he gat him from the eastern sand
And leaped upon his prey.


Alas for man! Alas for all thy dreams,
Thou great somnambulist, wherein, outlawed
From right and thought, thou workest out unawed
Thy grand fantastic fancies! Thro' the flood,
The pestilence, the whirlwind, the dread plain
Of thunders-thro' the earthquake and the storm,
The deluge and the snows, the whirling ice
Of the wild glacier, every ghastly form
Of earth's most vexed vicissitudes of pain,-
Thro' worlds of fire and seas of mingled bloods
Thou rushest, dreadful as a maniac god;
And only finding that thou wert not sane
When some great sorrow thunders at thy brain
And wakes thee trembling by a precipice.


Alas for thee, thou grey-haired man that still
Art sleeping, and canst hold thy grandchild high
That he may see the gorgeous wrong go by
Which slew his father! And for thee, thou bright
Inheritress of summer-time and light,
Alas for thee, that thy young cheek is flush'd
With dreaming of the lion and the foe,
Tho' it had been yet paler than the snow
Upon the battle-hill, if once had gush'd,
But once before thee, even the feeblest flow
Of that life's blood that swept in floods below.
Alas! that even thy beauty cannot break
The vampyre spell of such a war-dream's woe,-
Alas! tho' waking might have been to know
Things which had made it sweeter not to wake.


Alas for man!-poor hunchback-all so proud
And yet so conscious; man that stalks divine
Because he feels so mortal, speaking loud
To drown the trembling whisper in his heart,
And wildly hurrying on from crowd to crowd,
In hope to shun the faithful shapes that start
Wherever lake doth sleep or streamlet shine
In silent solitudes. When once in youth
Fresh from the spheres, and too severely wise,
Truth drew the face he longed yet feared to view,
Stung with the instinct that confessed it true
He dashed the tablets from her sacred hand;
She drops her singing robes and leaves his land;
And Fiction, decent in the garb of Truth,
While lurking mischief lights her lambent eyes,
Seizes the fallen pencil, and with grave
Historic features paints the lies we crave.


So war became a welcome woe. The grass
Grows tear-bedewed upon a lonely grave,
And we plant sad flow'rs and sweet epitaphs,
And every grief of monumental stone,
Above a single woe; but let men sleep
In thousands, and we choose their hideous heap
For Joy to hold his godless orgies on.
Is it that some strange law's unknown behest
Makes gladness of the greatest woes we have
And leaves us but to sorrow for the less?
Even as in outward nature light's excess
Is blindness, and intensest motion rest;
Or is it not-oh conscious heart declare-
That the vast pride of our o'erwrought despair,
Seeing the infinite grief, and knowing yet
We have no tears to pay such deep distress,
Grown wild, repudiates the direful debt,
And in its very bankrupt madness laughs?-


Yet when this Victory's fame shall pass, as grand
And griefless as a rich man's funeral,
Thro' nations that look on with spell-bound eye,
While echoing plaudits ring from land to land,
Alas! will there be none among the good
And great and brave and free, to speak of all
The pale piled pestilence of flesh and blood,
The common cold corruption that doth lie
Festering beneath the pall?
Alas! when time has deified the thought
Of this day's desperate devilry, and men
(Who scorn to inherit virtue, but will ape
Their sires, and bless them, when they sin) shall shape
A graven image of the thought, and then
Fall down to worship it-will no one dare,
While nations kneel before the idol there,
To stand and tell them it is Juggernaut?
Alas for man! if this new crime shall yield
To truth no harvest for the sighs it cost;
If this crowned corpse, this pale ensceptred ghost
That stalks, Ferozepore, from thy red field
Robed as a king, shall all unchallenged pass
Down the proud scene of Time. Alas, alas!
If there are some to weep and some to pray,
And none to bow their humbled heads and say,
Low sighing,-There hath been a mortal strife;
And thirteen thousand murdered men lie there,
And day and night upon the tainted air
Blaspheme the Lord of Life.

Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010

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