George Walter Thornbury

(1828-1876 / England)

The Old Grenadier’s Story - Poem by George Walter Thornbury

Told on a Bench outside the Invalides

’T WAS the day beside the Pyramids,
It seems but an hour ago,
That Kleber’s Foot stood firm in squares,
Returning blow for blow.
The Mamelukes were tossing
Their standards to the sky,
When I heard a child’s voice say, “My men,
Teach me the way to die!”

’T was a little drummer, with his side
Torn terribly with shot;
But still he feebly beat his drum,
As though the wound were not.
And when the Mameluke’s wild horse
Burst with a scream and cry,
He said, “O men of the Forty-third,
Teach me the way to die!

“My mother has got other sons,
With stouter hearts than mine,
But none more ready blood for France
To pour out free as wine.
Yet still life’s sweet,” the brave lad moan’d,
“Fair are this earth and sky;
Then, comrades of the Forty-third,
Teach me the way to die!”

I saw Salenche, of the granite heart,
Wiping his burning eyes—
It was by far more pitiful
Than mere loud sobs and cries.
One bit his cartridge till his lip
Grew black as winter sky,
But still the boy moan’d, “Forty-third,
Teach me the way to die!”

O never saw I sight like that!
The sergeant flung down flag,
Even the fifer bound his brow
With a wet and bloody rag,
Then look’d at locks and fix’d their steel,
But never made reply,
Until he sobb’d out once again,
“Teach me the way to die!”

Then, with a shout that flew to God,
They strode into the fray;
I saw their red plumes join and wave,
But slowly melt away.
The last who went—a wounded man—
Bade the poor boy goodbye,
And said, “We men of the Forty-third
Teach you the way to die!”

I never saw so sad a look
As the poor youngster cast,
When the hot smoke of cannon
In cloud and whirlwind pass’d.
Earth shook, and Heaven answer’d;
I watch’d his eagle eye,
As he faintly moan’d, “The Forty-third
Teach me the way to die!”

Then, with a musket for a crutch,
He limp’d unto the fight;
I, with a bullet in my hip,
Had neither strength nor might.
But, proudly beating on his drum,
A fever in his eye,
I heard him moan “The Forty-third
Taught me the way to die!”

They found him on the morrow,
Stretch’d on a heap of dead;
His hand was in the grenadier’s
Who at his bidding bled.
They hung a medal round his neck,
And clos’d his dauntless eye;
On the stone they cut, “The Forty-third
Taught him the way to die!”

’T is forty years from then till now—
The grave gapes at my feet—
Yet when I think of such a boy
I feel my old heart beat.
And from my sleep I sometimes wake,
Hearing a feeble cry,
A a voice that says, “Now, Forty-third,
Teach me the way to die!”

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Poem Submitted: Monday, October 11, 2010

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