Henry James Pye

(20 February 1745 – 11 August 1813 / London, England)

The Art Of War. Book Iv. - Poem by Henry James Pye


When Vice triumphant rul'd the iron age,
And Justice left her seat to savage rage,
'Gainst the rude neighbour prompt at rapine's call,
The rising city rear'd the embattled wall,
While shew'd the citadel it's strengthen'd tower,
To guard the monarch from rebellious power;
Then on the cliff, or by the foaming flood,
With dreadful site the well-fenced rampart stood;
Each narrow pass by threatening works was barr'd,
And frequent forts the spacious frontier guard:
As the sharp fangs that arm the lion's jaw,
With threaten'd fate the Moor affrighted awe,
So where the borders of the realm extend,
If bulwarks strong the lengthening lines defend,
In vain combine of numerous foes the force,
The guarded frontier checks their daring course.

War, first of Arts, that savage nation knew,
By slow degrees to full perfection grew;
Grecia and Rome to fortify their power,
Thicken'd the wall alone, or rear'd the tower,
With missile weapons from whose threatening height,
Against the foe beneath they waged the fight;
From the light sling the leaden ball was thrown,
The arrow shot, or roll'd the ponderous stone.
When now the assailing troops the town inclose,
And deals the weighty ram it's thundering blows,
Descending dreadful from the lofty tower
On the machines a sulphurous stream they shower,
While numerous darts the approaching warrior wound,
And pierce the temper'd buckler's ample round,
Till various schemes the assailant's labors foil,
And force the wearied chief to quit his toil.

I shall not here my lengthen'd song employ
To tell of Priam's fate, and burning Troy.
With reverence due my eyes those scenes explore,
Proud Ilion's ashes, and Scamander's shore,
But tales that Virgil's glowing lines display,
Would ill agree with my severer lay.
Strong Syracusa's ramparts to destroy
See brave Marcellus every scheme employ,
While Archimedes' arts his labor foil,
Burn his machines, and mock his fruitless toil,
Repair each work, each tottering wall sustain,
And curb the force of Rome's imperious train.

Marseilles secur'd by many a strengthen'd tower
Mock'd dauntless Cæsar and his veteran power;
Wearied at length, but sure of fortune's aid,
He bid the sea their floating works invade.—
Thus check'd the siege long, bloody, and severe,
Of Rome's experienced chiefs the bold career.

In later times the powers infernal strove
To wrest the thunder from the hands of Jove,
These new machines have chang'd the face of War.—
The shell from brazen engines thrown afar
Reaches with curve immense the distant wall,
It's ponderous force redoubled by the fall,
Bursts 'mid the astonish'd train with horrid sound,
And cruel deaths unnumber'd scatters round:
Meanwhile the cannon with it's thundering breath
Sends forth terrific roars, and instant death;
Soon as the flash alarms our dazzled eyes,
Swift to the mark the iron bullet flies,
Lays in the dust the strongest bulwark low,
And gives a passage to the assailing foe.
This wonderous art reserv'd for modern days,
Whose power in sieges Mars has deign'd to praise,
Is form'd by sable grains in tubes confin'd,
Of smoulder'd charcoal, salt, and sulphur join'd.

Once to the world this fatal secret known,
Inventive Art to new defence has flown;
No more to guard the town from hostile fears
She builds the bulwark, and the turret rears,
'Gainst force which all that checks it's way destroys,
New skill she uses, and new arts employs.

Vauban, belov'd by Mars, whose forming hand,
The best defence of modern ramparts plann'd,
O that your glorious shade could now declare
The wonderous artifice, the ceaseless care,
Which in proud Gallia's perfect forts conspire
To check Germania's arms, and Britain's fire;
How with strong works you each attack defied,
And to the cruel art new force supplied.

Now the low works hid by the sheltering ground
Despise the thundering cannon's dreadful sound,
Strength to the wall the frequent buttress lends,
While the vast ditch in front the approach defends.
The angle here projects, and there retires,
And bastion bastion guards with flanking fires.
In the deep foss before the curtain placed,
The ravelin see with threatening cannon graced,
These second works prepar'd with skill profound,
Form a new rampart, and dispute the ground.
Round all these labors at a larger space
The extended outworks rise, and guard the place,
The trenches sink before, where give their aid
The cover'd way, and threatening palisade;
And the deep glacis spreads it's fatal green,
Of combat, and of blood the dreadful scene.

What various works has man with plastic skill
Drawn from the arts submissive to his will?
Who but must think where Gallia's bulwarks lower,
Defence has us'd her utmost stretch of power?
Yet deem not so, below observe the mine
With human rage where arts infernal join,
The glacis 'neath your feet the abyss contains,
Where the black dust but waits the whizzing trains
To raise the parting earth with fiery breath,
And strew the neighbouring works with blood and death.

Yet after all the effect of care and toil,
No ramparts now the insulting foe can foil,
For the same art the city which defends,
Assistance equal to the assailant lends:
The attack it's order and it's method knows,
Perils in vain the experienced chief oppose,
He wins his way through every threatening power,
And awes by numerous troops each hostile tower.
Should the bold foe attempt with dauntless face
To force his Camp, and so relieve the place,
Quick his laborious legions ope the ground,
And wide retrenchments all the host surround.
The prudent chief his lines contracts with care,
For works unguarded ill support the War;
The fierce assault unwearied to sustain,
Let for relief a strong reserve remain,
Then in the Camp, if smiling plenty flow,
Mock every effort of the insulting foe.

With care the place's strength and weakness learn,
And all your powers combin'd against it turn;
With cautious step advance, the attack being plann'd,
The line, the rule, the compass in your hand,
Your parallels along the country draw,
And by your winding works the fortress awe.

Now from the thundering engine flies the ball,
The bulwarks tremble, and the ramparts fall,
From their strong posts o'ercome by constant fire,
The steady troops that check'd your march retire,
From flanking shots that sideway bound along,
Soon quit the cover'd way, the hostile throng;
Your conquering steps the sloping glacis tread,
But there untried the faithless verdure dread,
Beneath your feet be sure the wily foe,
With sulphurous blast prepares the fatal blow;
Be cautious then, advance with anxious pain,
Sound well the mines, and spare your valiant train.

Before you push the bold attack too far,
Mind to conclude the subterranean war;
The miner first his useful works askance,
Should to the glacis' verdant base advance.
To save from hidden death each bold brigade,
Assault with fury near the palisade,
And when your troops that bloody region awe,
Swift to the spot your brazen engines draw,
The works shall totter at each fatal blow,
While sinks the crumbling bulwark mined below,
The trench is fill'd, around the warriors bleed,
And to assaults still fresh assaults succeed.

Oft while the troops the fugitives pursue,
The place they enter, and at once subdue;
Thus Gallia's sons by martial ardor fir'd,
Advancing boldly as their foes retir'd,
Seizing with eager hands the favoring hour,
Bent Hainault's capital to Lewis' power.

Observe the soldier, and his rage restrain,
Less fierce the savage of the Libyan plain,
Unless your power confin'd his fury hold,
By plunder lur'd, with savage licence bold,
His sanguine crimes while wrath his bosom warms,
Shall sully all the lustre of your arms.

The cruel chief who lets his troops assuage
In carnage and excess their bloody rage,
Though Conquest lead him o'er her wide domain,
Shall view Disgrace his fairest laurels stain,
While all mankind in mercy's cause combin'd,
His worth forgetting, curse his ruthless mind.

Tilly, who 'neath the imperial eagle fought,
By glorious deeds immortal honor bought,
One bloody cloud eclips'd it's rays divine,
And wip'd his name from memory's hallow'd shrine:
And bleeding Magdeburgh thy cries proclaim
His tarnish'd glory, and his deathless shame.

Ye valiant warriors, if with mournful breath
My voice describes the dreadful scene of death,
'Tis to wake horror for the scene of woe,
And bid your breasts with indignation glow.

Pleas'd with fallacious hopes of sudden peace,
Their watchful guard the hapless inmates cease,
Lull'd by a faithless truce's mean disguise,
The treacherous Tilly seals their wakeful eyes;
Now drowsy Morpheus o'er the unthinking train
Spreads the soft languors of his leaden reign,
On the firm rampart tir'd with constant toil,
The slumbering centries press the dewy soil;
Security and peace the soldier seize,
He quits the trenches for domestic ease;
From Stygian shores the lying fiend appears,
And with deceitful arm the olive rears,
On every side the shouts of joy resound,
And Prudence' voice in festive notes is drown'd.

The watchful Tilly 'mid the dread repose,
Bids his still chiefs their ardent troops dispose,
O'er the strong works with silent step, and slow,
The cruel Austrian mounts, nor meets a foe.
Ah, hapless race! whom empty hope deceives,
Lo! peace to treason's power the city leaves;
Doubling the horror of the midnight shade,
See the funereal wing of death display'd,
Remorseless Rage, and Hell's destructive band
Arm with infernal swords the victor's hand,
Pale Nature groans, and through the thundering skies,
With useless aim the gleaming lightning flies.

Tilly whose hate no mercy could restrain,
Gave to his vengeful troops the loosen'd rein;
Slaughter and rapine rage on every side,
And the sad walls with native blood are dyed.
O'er the fell scene the insatiate chief presides,
Inflames their vengeance, and their ravage guides,
The example fires the mildest of their train,
They force the peaceful house, and sacred fane;
The valiant who oppose, the weak who fly,
Alike with undistinguish'd horror die.
Pierced in the mother's arms the infant's blood
Pours o'er the parent's breast a purple flood,
The father tries in vain the son to save,
But unreveng'd sinks with him to the grave,
Nor age, nor sex their hellish rage disarm,
To Pity deaf, and blind to Beauty's charm.
Feeble with years the hoary priest in vain
Grasps with his mournful arms the hallow'd fane;
Three hundred fathers bent by wasting time,
Slain at the altar's foot increase their crime.
While 'midst the horrid scene our eyes behold
The timid virgin by despair made bold,
By shame impell'd, the dread of danger brave,
And fearless plunge in Elbe's ensanguin'd wave.

But Heavens! what horrid spectacle appears!
What rage unknown each savage bosom sears!—
Why in your hands do baneful torches flame?
Infernal fiends! who blast the Soldier's name!—
See the fierce fires each lofty pile destroy,
The city blazes round, another Troy;
From house to house the shining ruins glide,
And horrid clamors swell on every side;
Who 'scape the flames the shining falchions glean,
While nature trembles 'mid the infernal scene.
So paint our sinking hearts the dread abode,
By torturing fiends, and hellish dæmons trod,
Where furies in gorgonian terrors clad
Chastise the impious, and appal the bad,
Where wretches endless torments undergo,
And fill the measure of eternal woe.
Such, and more dreadful, in those fatal hours
Appear'd, O Magdeburgh! thy shatter'd towers,
As by the conflagration's lurid ray,
Shewn to the sight thy smoaky ruins lay.

The city once of peace the fair retreat,
Of every smiling art the favorite seat,
In the short space of one unhappy night,
Lies a sad desert to the passer's sight,
Where with his crimes fatigu'd the soldier stands,
Proud of the slaughter of his savage hands,
While Elbe's affrighted waves forsake the shore
With corses choak'd, and red with human gore.
Did Fortune's smiles the cruel Tilly crown
For loosing vengeance on the unhappy town?
Devouring flames a useful conquest spoil'd,
And one vast scene of devastation wild
Fair Magdeburgh appears, whose ruins lie
A dreadful prospect to the Victor's eye,
And seem to call the immortal powers to shed
A tenfold vengeance on the Author's head.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, September 27, 2010

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