Reference to Context
These lines have been extracted from the poem Incident of the French Camp written by Robert Browning. The poem describes an act of chivalry, gallantry, patriotism and sacrifice on the part of a young French Soldier. The French Army had attacked the German city of Ratisbon. After they had achieved triumph, the news of the victory was conveyed to the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte by that young soldier who was brimming with pride and glory although he was on the verge of death. Thereafter, the wounded soldier breathed his last.
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.
In the lines given for explanation, the poet is describing the scene of the French attack on the German city of Ratisbon. Marshal Lannes led the French aggression in the year 1783. On that occasion, the French emperor Napoleon stood on a hillock just a mile away from the scene of the onslaught. He appeared to be in a pensive mood. He had his neck sticking out and his legs were wide apart. He had his arms joined behind his bark and a cloud on his brow was quite visible. It seemed that something very important was weighing upon his mind and he was perhaps working out his future strategy and line of action.
JUST AS PERHAPS HE MUSED, MY PLANS
THAT SOAR, TO EARTH MAY FALL,
LET ONCE MY ARMY.LEADER LANNES
WAVER AT YONDER WALL,’-
OUT ’TWIST THE BATTERY SMOKES THERE FLEW
A RIDER, BOUND ON BOUND
FULL-GALLOPING; NOR BRIDLE DREW
UNTIL HE REACHED THE MOUND.
These lines bring to light the contemplative nature of Napoleon, and the courage and enthusiasm of the young soldier who was heading towards him to convey the good news of victory. Napoleon was lost in his thoughts pondering over the events of the days to come. All his future planning depended upon his success at Ratisbon. He was eagerly waiting to see the French flag flutter over the German City. As he concentrated upon his future strategy, he observed a young French soldier rushing towards him, riding at top speed. The rider pierced through the blanket of smoke. He came straight to the place where Napoleon was standing and was waiting to receive the good tidings.
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.
In the given lines, the poet appreciated the heroic behaviour of the young soldier. Although he was fatally wounded, he displayed extraordinary courage, confidence and self-control. He jumped off his horse and stood at attention before his chief. His mouth was full of blood but he had his lips so tightly sealed that not a drop of blood oozed out of it. He maintained his cool and composure, and with confidence and chivalry, conveyed the cheerful news of victory. One could never realize that the young soldier’s breast was shot into two unless one has very keen and observant eye on him.
‘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.
In the lines given for explanation, the poet is describing the way in which the young soldier informed Napoleon of their success and the reaction of the Emperor to this good news. Although the young man was in intense pain and suffering, he finally opened his lips, and with a great sense of pleasure and personal pride, informed Napoleon of the annexation of the German City....