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Uncle Ned’s Tales: How The Flag Was Saved
John Boyle O'Reilly 1844 (Dowth) – 1890 (Boston)
‘TWAS a dismal winter's evening, fast without came down the snow,
But within, the cheerful fire cast a ruddy, genial glow
O'er our pleasant little parlor, that was then my mother's pride.
There she sat beside the glowing grate, my sister by her side;
And beyond, within the shadow, in a cosy little nook
Uncle Ned and I were sitting, and in whispering tones we spoke.
I was asking for a story he had promised me to tell,—
Of his comrade, old Dick Hilton, how he fought and how he fell;
And with eager voice I pressed him, till a mighty final cloud
Blew he slowly, then upon his breast his grisly head he bowed,
And, musing, stroked his gray mustache ere he began to speak,
Then brushed a tear that stole along his bronzed and furrowed cheek.
'Ah, no! I will not speak to-night of that sad tale,' he cried,
'Some other time I'll tell you, boy, about that splendid ride.
Your words have set me thinking of the many careless years
That comrade rode beside me, and have caused these bitter tears;
For I loved him, boy,—for twenty years we galloped rein to rein,—
In peace and war, through all that time, stanch comrades had we been.
As boys we rode together when our soldiering first began.
And in all those years I knew him for a true and trusty man.
One who never swerved from danger,—for he knew not how to fear,—
If grim Death arrayed his legions, Dick would charge him with a cheer.
He was happiest in a struggle or a wild and dangerous ride:
Every inch a trooper was he, and he cared for naught beside.
He was known for many a gallant deed: to-night I'll tell you one,
And no braver feat of arms was by a soldier ever done.
'Twas when we were young and fearless, for 'twas in our first campaign,
When we galloped through the orange groves and fields of sunny Spain.
Our wary old commander was retiring from the foe,
Who came pressing close upon us, with a proud, exulting show.
We could hear their taunting laughter, and within our very sight
Did they ride defiant round us,—ay, and dared us to the fight.
But brave old Picton heeded not, but held his backward track,
And smiling said the day would come to pay the Frenchmen back.
And come it did: one morning, long before the break of day,
We were standing to our arms, all ready for the coming fray.
Soon the sun poured down his glory on the hostile lines arrayed,
And his beams went flashing brightly back from many a burnished blade,
Soon to change its spotless luster for a reeking crimson stain,
In some heart, then throbbing proudly, that will never throb again.
When that sun has reached his zenith, life and pride will then have fled,
And his beams will mock in splendor o'er the ghastly heaps of dead.
Oh, 'tis sad to think how many—but I wander, lad, I fear;
And, though the moral's good, I guess the tale you'd rather hear.
Well, I said that we were ready, and the foe was ready, too;
Soon the fight was raging fiercely,—thick and fast the bullets flew,
With a bitter hiss of malice, as if hungry for the life
To be torn from manly bosoms in the maddening heat of strife.
Distant batteries were thundering, pouring grape and shell like rain,
And the cruel missiles hurtled with their load of death and pain,
Which they carried, like fell demons, to the heart of some brigade,
Where the sudden, awful stillness told the havoc they had made.
Thus the struggle raged till noon, and neither side could vantage show;
Then the tide of battle turned, and swept in favor of the foe!
Fiercer still the cannon thundered,—wilder screamed the grape and shell,—
Onward pressed the French battalions,—back the British masses fell!
Then, as on its prey devoted, fierce the hungered vulture swoops,
Swung the foeman's charging squadrons down upon our broken troops.
Victory hovered o'er their standard,—on they swept with maddened shout,
Spreading death and havoc round them, till retreat was changed to rout!
'Twas a saddening sight to witness; and, when Picton saw them fly,
Grief and shame were mixed and burning in the old commander's eye.
We were riding in his escort, close behind him, on a height
Which the fatal field commanded; thence we viewed the growing flight.
'But, my lad, I now must tell you something more about that hill,
And I'll try to make you see the spot as I can see it still.
Bight before us, o'er the battle-field, the fall was sheer and steep;
On our left the ground fell sloping, in a pleasant, grassy sweep,
Where the aides went dashing swiftly, bearing orders to and fro,
For by that sloping side alone they reached the plain below.
On our right—now pay attention, boy—a yawning fissure lay,
As if an earthquake
Submitted on May 13, 2011
- 4:17 min read
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|Scheme||AABBCDEEFFGGBBHIJKLLMMBBNNJJAAOOPPQQRRJSTTMUVVWWJJRRAAEEXXYYZZOO1 1 2 2 AAQ3|
|Closest metre||Iambic octameter|
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"Uncle Ned’s Tales: How The Flag Was Saved" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 27 Mar. 2023. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/22099/uncle-ned’s-tales:-how-the-flag-was-saved>.
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