Incident of the French Camp

by Robert Browning

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.

Just as pehaps he mused, "My plans
   That soar, to earth may fall,
Let once my army-leader Lannes
   Waver a yonder wall," --
Out 'twixt the battery-smokes there flew
   A rider, bound on bound
Full-galloping; nor bridle drew
   Until he reached the mound.

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.

"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.

The chief's eye flashed; but presently
   Softened itself, as sheathes
A film the mother-eagle's eye
   When her bruised eaglet breathes:
"You're wounded!" "Nay", the soldier's pride
   Touched to quick, he said:
"I'm killed, Sire!" And his chief beside,
   Smiling the boy fell dead.




Incident of the French Camp


Browning, Robert

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Ratisbon. (German Regensburg) an ancient city of Bavaria on the right bank of the Danube. Because of its location it has been a regular target of conquering armies. In this instance, it was the army of Napoleon. While Napoleon watched from nearby a rider rode to him, saluted him and declared the city defeater. Napoleon exclaimed “You are wounded” the young man replied, “Nay, I’m killed, sire!” and fell dead.


Napoleonic wars











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Things to Discuss:

What word tells you of the rider's speed? What type of figurative language is it? What was the mission of the boy who rode alone? Was his heroism greater because he was alone?

About the Poem:

Ratisbon is strategically located on the right bank of the Danube River in Bavaria. It has been subjected to as many as 17 battles since the tenth century. This poem is about the last one, that of Napoleon in 1809. The name "Lannes" refers to the Duke of Montebello, one of Napoleon's generals.