Incident of the French Camp
Before you begin to listen to the poem, let’s know about the interesting background of the incident of the French camp.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) was originally an officer in the French army became the army chief and a legendary warrior, who later known for his military skill and genius.
The poem ‘Incident of the French Camp’ narrates an actual incident in the war in 1809 between France and Austria, led by Napoleon.
Napoleon was standing on a little mound, eagerly looking towards Ratisbon. His mind was oppressed with anxious thoughts and he said to himself that all his ambitious plans would come to nothing if Lannes failed to storm Ratisbon.
The poem describes an act of chivalry, gallantry, patriotism and sacrifice on the part of a young French soldier.
You know, we French stormed Ratisbon:
A mile or so away,
On a little mound, Napoleon
Stood on our storming-day;
With neck out-thrust, you fancy how,
Legs wide, arms locked behind,
As if to balance the prone brow
Oppressive with its mind. 8
Just as perhaps he mused, ‘My plans
That soar, to earth may fall,
Let once my army-leader Lannes
Waver at yonder wall’, –
Out ’twixt the battery-smokes there flew
A rider, bound on bound
Full-galloping: nor bridle drew
Until he reached the mound. 16
Then off there flung in smiling joy,
And held himself erect
By just his horse’s mane, a boy:
You hardly could suspect –
(So tight he kept his lips compressed,
Scarce any blood came through)
You looked twice ere you saw his breast
Was all but shot in two. 24
‘Well’, cried he, ‘Emperor, by God’s grace
We’ve got you Ratisbon!
The Marshal’s in the market-place
And you’ll be there anon,
To see your flag-bird flap his vans
Where I, to heart’s desire,
Perched him!’ The Chief ’s eye flashed; his plans
Soared up again like fire. 32
The Chief ’s eye flashed; but presently
Softened itself, as sheathes
film the mother-eagle’s eye
When her bruised eaglet breathes:
‘You’re wounded!’ ‘Nay’, his soldier’s pride
Touched to the quick, he said:
‘I’m killed, Sire!’And, his Chief beside,
Smiling, the boy fell dead. 40
Robert Browning (7 May 1812–12 December 1889) was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of the dramatic monologue made him one of the foremost, Victorian poets. He was born in Camberwell, a suburb of London on 7 May 1812. He was educated mainly at home, but he attended a short course in Greek at London University. His poems are known for their irony, characterisation, dark humour, social commentary, historical settings and challenging vocabulary and syntax. He developed a unique form of conversational, unrhythmic verse. The collection ‘Dramatis Personae’ and the book- length epic poem “The Ring and the Book” made him a leading British poet. By 1881 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to literature, a literary society called Browning Society was established.
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