After Cawnpore

June: 1857

Fourteen, all told, no more,
Pack'd close within the door
Of that old idol-shrine:
And at them, as they stand,
And from that English band,
The leaden shower went out, and Death proclaim'd them
_Mine_!
Fourteen against an army; they, no more,
Had 'scaped Cawnpore.

With each quick volley-flash
The bullets ping and plash:
Yet, though the tropic noon
With furnace-fury broke
The sulphur-curling smoke,
Scarr'd, sear'd, thirst-silenced, hunger-faint, they stood:
And soon
A dusky wall,--death sheltering life,--uprose
Against their foes.

Behind them now is cast
The horror of the past;
The fort that was no fort,
The deep dark-heaving flood
Of foes that broke in blood
On our devoted camp, victims of fiendish sport;
From that last huddling refuge lured to fly,
--And help so nigh!

Down toward the reedy shore
That fated remnant pour,
Had Fear and Death beside;
And other spectres yet
Of darker vision flit,--
Old unforgotten wrongs, the harshness and the pride
Of that imperial race which sway'd the land
By sheer command!

O little hands that strain
A mother's hand in vain
With terror vague and vast:--
Parch'd eyes that cannot shed
One tear upon the head,
A young child's head, too bright for such fell death to blast!
Ah! sadder captive train ne'er filed to doom
Through vengeful Rome!

From Ganges' reedy shore
The death-boats they unmoor,
Stack'd high with hopeless hearts;
A slowly-drifting freight
Through the red jaws of Fate,
Death-blazing banks between, and flame-wing'd arrow-darts:--
Till down the holy stream those cargoes pour
Their flame and gore.

In feral order slow
The slaughter-barges go,
Martyrs of heathen scorn:
While, saved from flood and fire
To glut the tyrant's ire,
The quick and dead in one, from their red shambles borne,
Maiden and child, in that dark grave they throw,
Our well of woe!

Ah spot on which we gaze
Through Time's all-softening haze,
In peace, on them at peace
And taken home to God!
--O whether 'neath the sod,
Or sea, or desert sand, what care,--if that release
From this dim shadow-land, through pathways dim,
Bear us to Him!

But those fourteen, the while,
Wrapt in the present, smile
On their grim baffled foe;
Till o'er the wall he heaps
The fuel-pile, and steeps
With all that burns and blasts;--and now, perforce, they go
Hack'd down and thinn'd, beyond that temple-door
But Seven,--no more.

O Elements at strife
With this poor human life,
Stern laws of Nature fair!
By flame constrain'd to fly
The treacherous stream they try,--
And those dark Ganges waves suck down the souls they bear!--
Ah, crowning anguish! Dawn of hope in sight;
Then, final night!

And now, Four heads, no more,
Life's flotsam flung ashore,
They lie:--But not as they
Who o'er a dreadful past
The heart's-ease sigh may cast!
Too worn! too tried!--their lives but given them as a prey!
Whilst all seems now a dream, a nought of nought,
For which they fought!

--O stout Fourteen, who bled
O'erwhelm'd, not vanquished!
In those dark days of blood
How many dared, and died,
And others at their side
Fresh heroes, sprang,--a race that cannot be subdued!
--Like them who pass'd Death's vale, and lived;--the Four
Saved from Cawnpore!

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"After Cawnpore" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 15 Dec. 2019. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/42928/after-cawnpore>.

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