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
Strong John of
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 find 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 lassie’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
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 is victorious; 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....."