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The First Grenadier of France

William Topaz McGonagall 1825 – 1902 (Greyfriars Parish, Edinburgh)

'Twas in a certain regiment of French Grenadiers,
A touching and beautiful custom was observed many years;
Which was meant to commemorate the heroism of a departed comrade,
And when the companies assembled for parade,
There was one name at roll call to which no answer was made

It was that of the noble La Tour d'Auvergne,
The first Grenadier of France, heroic and stern;
And always at roll call the oldest sergeant stepped forward a pace,
And loudly cried, "Died on the field of battle," then fell back into his place.

He always refused offers of high promotion,
Because to be promoted from the ranks he had no notion;
But at last he was in command of eight thousand men,
Hence he was called the first Grenadier of France, La Tour d'Auvergne.

When forty years of age he went on a visit to a friend,
Never thinking he would have a French garrison to defend,
And while there he made himself acquainted with the country.
But the war had shifted to that quarter unfortunately.

But although the war was there he felt undaunted,
Because to fight on behalf of France was all he wanted;
And the thought thereof did his mind harass,
When he knew a regiment of Austrians was pushing on to occupy a narrow pass.

They were pushing on in hot haste and no delaying,
And only two hours distant from where the Grenadier was staying,
But when he knew he set off at once for the pass,
Determined if 'twere possible the enemy to harass.

He knew that the pass was defended by a stout tower,
And to destroy the garrison the enemy would exert all their power;
But he hoped to be able to warn the French of their danger,
But to the thirty men garrisoned there he was quite a stranger.

Still the brave hero hastened on, and when he came there,
He found the thirty men had fled in wild despair;
Leaving their thirty muskets behind,
But to defend the garrison to the last he made up his mind.

And in searching he found several boxes of ammunition not destroyed,
And for a moment he felt a little annoyed;
Then he fastened the main door, with the articles he did find,
And when he had done so he felt satisfied in mind.

Then he ate heartily of the provisions he had brought,
And waited patiently for the enemy, absorbed in thought;
And formed the heroic resolution to defend the tower,
Alone, against the enemy, while he had the power.

There the brave hero sat alone quite content,
Resolved to hold the garrison, or die in the attempt;
And about midnight his practised ear caught the tramp of feet,
But he had everything ready for the attack and complete.

There he sat and his mind absorbed in deep distress,
But he discharged a couple of muskets into the darkness;
To warn the enemy that he knew they were there,
Then he heard the Austrian officers telling their men to beware.

So until morning he was left unmolested,
And quietly till daylight the brave Grenadier rested;
But at sunrise the Austrian commander called on the garrison to surrender,
But the Grenadier replied, "Never, I am its sole defender."

Then a piece of artillery was brought to bear upon the tower,
But the Grenadier from his big gun rapid fire on it did shower;
He kept up a rapid fire, and most accurate,
And when the Austrian commander noticed it he felt irate.

And at sunset the last assault was made,
Still the noble Grenadier felt not the least afraid;
But the Austrian commander sent a second summons of surrender,
Hoping that the garrison would his injunctions remember.

Then the next day at sunrise the tower door was opened wide,
And a bronzed and scarred Grenadier forth did glide;
Literally laden with muskets, and passed along the line of troops,
While in utter astonishment the Austrian Colonel upon him looks.

Behold! Colonel, I am the garrison, said the soldier proudly,
What! exclaimed the Colonel, do you mean to tell me --
That you alone have held that tower against so many men,
Yes, Colonel, I have indeed, replied La Tour d'Auvergne.

Then the Colonel raised his cap and said, you are the bravest of the brave,
Grenadier, I salute you, and I hope you will find an honourable grave;
And you're at liberty to carry the muskets along with you,
So my brave Grenadier I must bid thee adieu.

At last in action the brave soldier fell in June 1800,
And the Emperor Napoleon felt sorry when he heard he was dead;
And he commanded his regiment to remember one thing above all,
To cry out always the brave Grenadier's name at the roll call.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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William Topaz McGonagall

William Topaz McGonagall (March 1825 – 29 September 1902) was an Irish weaver, poet and actor who lived in Scotland. He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers' opinions of his work. He wrote about 200 poems, including "The Tay Bridge Disaster" and "The Famous Tay Whale", which are widely regarded as some of the worst in English literature. Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his work, and contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many listeners were appreciating McGonagall's skill as a comic music hall character. Collections of his verse remain popular, with several volumes available today. McGonagall has been lampooned as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms are that he was deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme. McGonagall's fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings are considered to generate in his work. Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language. His work is in a long tradition of narrative ballads and verse written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public. more…

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    "The First Grenadier of France" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 14 Jun 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/41907/the-first-grenadier-of-france>.

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