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"'Tis some poor fellow's skull', said he (line 17–18) Who fell in that great victory". Illustration from The Children's Encyclopædia, 1912. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

"The Battle of Blenheim" (also known as "After Blenheim") is an anti-war poem written by English Romantic poet Robert Southey in 1796, and published in Metrical Tales, and other poems, 1805.

The Battle of BlenheimEdit

Battle of Blenheim - Joshua Ross jr

The Battle of Blenheim, by Joshua Ross, Jr., 1715. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


It was a summer evening,
     Old Kaspar's work was done,
And he before his cottage door
     Was sitting in the sun,
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.

She saw her brother Peterkin
     Roll something large and round
Which he beside the rivulet
     In playing there had found;
He came to ask what he had found,
That was so large, and smooth, and round.

Old Kaspar took it from the boy,
     Who stood expectant by;
And then the old man shook his head,
     And with a natural sigh,
"'Tis some poor fellow's skull," said he,
"Who fell in the great victory.

"I find them in the garden,
     For there's many here about;
And often when I go to plough,
     The ploughshare turns them out!
For many thousand men," said he,
"Were slain in that great victory."

"Now tell us what 'twas all about,"
     Young Peterkin, he cries;
And little Wilhelmine looks up
     With wonder-waiting eyes;
"Now tell us all about the war,
And what they fought each other for."

Battle of Blenheim (1704)@01

The Battle of Blenheim, by John Wooton (1682-1764), circa 1742. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


"It was the English," Kaspar cried,
     "Who put the French to rout;
But what they fought each other for
     I could not well make out;
But everybody said," quoth he,
"That 'twas a famous victory.

"My father lived at Blenheim then,
     Yon little stream hard by;
They burnt his dwelling to the ground,
     And he was forced to fly;
So with his wife and child he fled,
Nor had he where to rest his head.

"With fire and sword the country round
     Was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then,
     And new-born baby died;
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.

"They said it was a shocking sight
     After the field was won;
For many thousand bodies here
     Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that, you know, must be
After a famous victory.

"The Battle of Blennheim" -- poem by Robert Southey (1774-1843)

"The Battle of Blennheim" -- poem by Robert Southey (1774-1843)


"Great praise the Duke of Marlbro' won,
     And our good Prince Eugene."
"Why, 'twas a very wicked thing!"
     Said little Wilhelmine.
"Nay ... nay ... my little girl," quoth he,
"It was a famous victory."

"And everybody praised the Duke
     Who this great fight did win."
"But what good came of it at last?"
     Quoth little Peterkin.
"Why, that I cannot tell," said he,
"But 'twas a famous victory."

CharactersEdit

Old Kaspar, whose father lived nearby the battlefield, and had to flee with his wife.
Wilhelmine, his granddaughter
Peterkin, Kaspar's granddaughter wilhelmine's brother

SynopsisEdit

The poem is set at the site of the Battle of Blenheim (1704), with the questions of small children about a skull one of them has found. An old man tells two small children of burned homes, civilian casualties, and rotting corpses, while repeatedly calling it "a famous victory". The poem is set at the site of the Battle of Blenheim (1704), with the questions of small children about a skull one of them has found. An old man tells two small children of burned homes, civilian casualties, and rotting corpses, while repeatedly calling it "a famous victory".

Old Kaspar has finished his work and is sitting in the sun in front of the cottage, watching his little granddaughter at play. Peterkin, his grandson, has been rolling a hard round object he found near the stream. He brings it to the old man, who explains " 'Tis some poor fellow's skull," said he (line 17–18). He admits that he often finds them while ploughing in the garden (line 22–18). The children anticipate a story—"And little Wilhelmine looks up/with wonder-waiting eyes" (ln 26–27). Kaspar explains to the children the story of the battle, that the Duke of Marlborough routed the French, although he admits he never understood the reason for the war himself.

He also mentions that his father had a cottage by the rivulet—"My father lived at Blenheim then"—where Peterkin found the skull. The soldiers burned it to the ground, and his father and mother had fled, with their child. The following verse refers to a childing mother, or a mother with child (ln 45–46) and many of them died with their newborns, possibly alluding to his own mother.

Thousands of corpses lay rotting in the fields, but he shrugs it off, as part of the cost of war (ln 53—54). Wilhelmine says it was a wicked thing, but he contradicts her, no, he says, it was a great victory.

CriticismEdit

While Southey's verse, After Blenheim, is considered an anti-war poem, arguably Southey was not himself anti-war: Byron himself considered Southey a puzzle: on the one hand, he denigrated the English victory at Blenheim, but praised the Battle of Waterloo in The Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo, a popular poem that generated £215 in two months of publication.[1]

It is one of Southey's most famous poems.[2] The internal repetition of but 'twas a famous victory juxtaposed with the initial five lines of each stanza, establish that the narrator does not know why the battle was fought, why thousands died, why his father's cottage was burned. The often-quoted[3] closing lines are:

"But what good came of it at last?"
    Quoth little Peterkin.
"Why that I cannot tell," said he,
    "But 'twas a famous victory."

"Battle of Blenheim" was written during Southey's Jacobin years (roughly 1790Template:Dash1800). In a letter to Charles Collins, Esquire, he wrote of traveling through Woodstock in the summer of 1793, and of refusing to even turn his head to look at the walls of the palace, built by Marlborough, and named for the battle.[4] He wrote the poem, sometimes considered by critics as the most celebrated of British anti-war poems, while living at Westbury with his mother and his cousin (Peggy) in a renovated ale-house, which he shared also with a "great carroty cat".[5] It appeared in publication with several others, in the category of Ballads and metrical tales,[6] with the revenge tale of Lord William, and the narrative Queen Oracca.[7]

File:Battle of Blenheim Diorama.jpg

By 1820, however, Southey had changed his mind about the Battle, describing it instead as the most brilliant moment in British arms. The fate of Germany, had it not been won, he calculated, might have over set the Protestant succession in Britain.[8]

See alsoEdit

Template:Robert Southey

ReferencesEdit

  1. Lionel Madden. Robert Southey: the critical heritage. Taylor and Francis, 1996, ISBN 0-415-13444-7, p. 21, p. 267.
  2. William Arthur Speck. Robert Southey: entire man of letters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-300-11681-0, p. 74.
  3. e.g. included in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
  4. Robert Southey. The life and correspondence of Robert Southey. New York, Harper & brothers, 1855, p. 64.
  5. Speck, p. 74.
  6. Robert Southey, Poems. London, New York, Macmillan and Co., 1895, pp. 54–57.
  7. Southey, pp. 50–62.
  8. Speck, p. 180.

External linksEdit

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