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Friday, December 21, 2012

"Strong John of Waterloo...."

is a tragic romance in the tradition of a British folk song. It is broken up into three parts, plus an epilogue stanza at the end. The first part takes place at a Christmas dance; the second, at the Battle of Waterloo; and the third, both in an ailing girl's room and on the battlefield again. As a final note, "their leader" and "the Iron Duke" refers to Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.



Strong John of Waterloo


Old tunes, joyful tunes, weaving through the night
The rosy glow of faces beneath the candle light
North winds, cruel winds, howling at the door
The whirl of Yuletide dances across the wooden floor

And sitting by the fireside, amidst the revelry
Strong John takes poor weak Mary upon his bended knee
He’s young, bold, and handsome, a farmer’s strapping son
She’s young, frail, and sickly, with both her parents gone

His blue eyes flash like star-light, his red hair shimmers gold;
Her gray eyes mirror storm-clouds, her skin is pale and cold
But he finds her lips like honey, her hair like rich brown earth
And he whispers that he loves her beside the blazing hearth

Then “crash!” the door is broken in and cheer is turned to gloom
For soldiers in scarlet coats are standing in the room
They’re here to press bold young men to fight bold Bonaparte
And Mary cries, “Don’t take him, for it will break my heart!”

“If we put off our duty now to spare each lass’s heart
Then none would cross the raging sea to fight bold Bonaparte.”
They’ve taken hold of Strong John’s arms and dragged him to the door
And left his pale young lover sobbing on the floor

***

Brave tunes, haunting tunes, piping ‘cross the field
The stern and smoke-stained faces of men who will not yield
And John is the frontlines with other farmers’ sons
He hears the war drums beating, and the clatter of the guns

Their leader is a cold man, or so they all assume
He has a look of iron that penetrates the gloom
The air is damp and heavy; his eyes are quick and keen
He sees Old Boney’s horsemen advancing on the scene

The order then is passed around to form a British Square
John thinks of summer sunsets and Mary’s dark brown hair
He thinks of ale and cornbread, of Paradise and God --
Is there a place in Heaven for those who till the sod?

The officers are shouting; the noise drowns out their words
Old Boney’s men are coming; they draw their shining swords
The piper in the square is playing “Auld Lang Syne”
The redcoats prime their muskets, waiting for a sign

They see a sword flash downward; they fire in accord
The screams of men and horses across the field are heard
They keep the bullets flying, but they are out of time
A French sword flashes downward; John’s blood runs red as wine

***

Faint breath, gasping breath, Mary’s breath is gone
Her dying breath spent asking about the farmer’s son
Like Strong John’s scarlet coat, red blood has stained her dress
She coughed it up while clutching his letter to her breast

Her skin is white and ghostly; her figure worn and thin
Her lunges are drowned with fluid; her heart has burst within
Her lips are cracked and blood-stained, her eyes are sightless now
And tiny crystal droplets lay on her furrowed brow

This body would have borne him a daughter or a son
If he had but returned to her and they were joined as one
She sees the shadows parting, and views a gory field
Where gallant men in British Squares still refuse to yield

She sees the steel pierce through him, tearing flesh and bone
She sees the blood run freely; she hears his final groan
She flies across the distance, upon the field she stands
She kisses his pale lips, and squeezes his limp hand

His blue eyes flicker open; he sees her spirit there
He makes a final movement, and strokes her dark-brown hair
Her countenance is brightness, though all else fades away
They wake to find a Shining World, and greet a Glorious Day

***

The battle ends in victory; they find that John is dead
With lifeless Mary at his side, as in a marriage bed
None know where she came from, but together they are laid
And the Iron Duke sheds iron tears for the price that has been paid


"....gallant men in British Squares still refuse to yield....."

11 comments:

  1. Dear Pearl,

    Thank you for the, well, pearls you find and post.

    God bless every John and Mary.

    Mack

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  2. Thanks, Mack!

    Actually, this one is a produce of a creative splurge I had the other day. Like you, if I don't put up the name of the author or the fact that is a "traditional" folk song as opposed to "in the tradition" of a folk song, then it probably is mine!

    God Bless,
    Pearl

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  3. Hooray for you! I do hope you will publish your poems on bits of dead tree someday; electronics are ephemeral.

    Mack

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  4. I love the description of the Christmas dance! It makes me want to go English country dancing! I haven't been forever and now I wish there was a Christmas ball somewhere that I could get to!

    Very moving poem... reminds me of a similar incident in "Jane Eyre." Ever read it? Rochester is in trouble and calls out Jane's name, and in spite of being miles away, she hears him and cries, "I'm coming!" Which gives him courage to hold on till she physically gets there.

    I think you did an excellent job, and in spite of knowing next to nothing about British history I was able to enjoy it! Great job - and Merry Christmas!

    - Katherine

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  5. @Mack: I have made hard copies of most of my poems, just in case the world wide web goes through a "big bang"! It would be fun someday to try to get my stuff compiled into a book and published, but honestly I'm not holding my breath for that one!;-)

    @Katherine: Thanks so much! I'm glad you liked the part about the "English Country Dance". When you do that, do you get to dress in old-fashioned outfits?

    I think that would be great fun! I'd love to get involved in something like that myself, but I've searched my area for something even vaguely similar, and all I can turn up are tango club and - hold your breath for this one - Rainbow Singles dancing groups! EEK!!!

    I have never read "Jane Eyre", but I do know the story and really like it. Have you ever watched any film adaptations of it? I watched a really old one, but I'd like to watch a more updated version if I can find one.

    Christmas Blessings,
    Pearl

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  6. A happy and holy Christmas, Pearl and Katherine!

    -- Mack in Texas

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  7. Merry Christmas Avellina! (and anyone else reading this ;P)

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  8. For our Mothers on Christmas

    Beyond all other nights, on this strange Night,
    A strangers’ star, a silent, seeking star,
    Helps set the wreckage of our souls aright:
    It leads us to a stable door ajar

    And we are not alone in peeking in:
    An ox, an ass, a lamb, some shepherds, too -
    Bright star without; a brighter Light within
    We children see the Truth three Wise Men knew

    For we are children there in Bethlehem
    Soft-shivering in that winter long ago
    We watch and listen there, in star-light dim,
    In cold Judea, in a soft, soft snow

    The Stable and the Star, yes, we believe:

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  9. Not bad. Not bad at all.

    And that's as much feedback as I'm qualified to give; you know I'm not a poetry person! ;)

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  10. Well, thank you, Mack! I hope you (and everyone) are having a wonderful Christmas, too! (I WILL persist in telling people 'Merry Christmas' during all the 12 Days of Christmas. By the way, Pearl, thanks for posting the Christmas poems - and for pointing out that Christmas just STARTED yesterday. It is NOT over - it's only just begun!!)

    Ooh, sorry to hear about your disappointment with trying to find an English country dancing group. That's too bad... you did check out those links I had sent you, then? Okay, then, that settles it. You HAVE to come visit me someday so that I can take you to a real English Country Dance! To answer your question, sometimes we dress in old-fashioned costumes and sometimes we don't. Depends on the event. If you're interested in drifting my way this winter, for instance, there's a big 4 and a half hour fancy dress ball on March 1 of this year! Just saying... :)

    No, I've never seen a movie version of "Jane Eyre," though I remember hearing that a new one was going to come out. My mom and I (she saw the movie, liked it, told me about it, and so I read the book) were going to see it but we never heard any more about it. I could ask my mom what movie she saw, though. I really loved the book - it's one of my favorites.

    God bless and Merry Christmas!

    - Katherine

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  11. Wow! This is such a heartbeaking yet beautiful poem - I'm very impressed! Like Katherine, I also liked the description of the Christmas dance, and I think it's especially poignant the way you contrast it with the battlefield description. The "joyful tunes" have become "haunting tunes," and the the "rosy glow of faces" have been replaced by "stern, smoke-stained faces." The third section is also very moving, particularly the line about John and Mary waking to find a "Shining World" and a "Glorious Day." Great job!

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    - Ellen

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