Thursday, August 13, 2009

August 13: Too Close to See the Battle (Vol. 41, pp. 732-735)

The Battle of Blenheim happened this day in 1704, when the armies of England and France clashed in a town in Bavaria. Thirty thousand French and Bavarian soldiers died, while just 11,000 of the Duke of Marlborough's men perished.

It's a rather obscure moment in European history immortalized in today's poem by Robert Southey. Because it breaks down this poem better than I can, here's an analysis of "After Blenheim" from the 1912 book "Historic Poems and Ballads," edited by Rupert S. Holland.

"Southey's poem tells how a little girl found a skull near the battle-field many years afterward, and asked her grandfather how it came there. He told her that a great battle had been fought there, and many of the leaders had won great renown. But he could not tell her why it was fought or what good came of it. He only knew that it was a 'great victory.' That was the moral of so many of the wars that devestated Europe for centuries. The kings fought for more power and glory; and the peasants fled from burning homes, and the soldiers fell on the fields. The poem gives an idea of the real value to men of such famous victories as that of Blenheim."

Southey died in 1843, years before the carnage of other larger wars would litter Europe with tens of millions of corpses. But he instinctively understood the futility and stupidity of war.

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