‘The Eve of Waterloo’ by Lord Byron is a narrative poem, exciting as well as full of pathos. The poem is based on a true incident that happened just before the Battle o Waterloo. The battle took place in June 1815 in Waterloo, a village about 11 miles from Brussels where the Duke of Wellington defeated his famous French rival, Napoleon. Napoleon was sent to exile and imprisonment. When Napoleon was advancing towards Brussels, the Duke of Wellington was with his officers attending a ball thrown by Charlotte, the Duchess of Richmond.
Summary and Analysis of The Eve of Waterloo by Lord Byron
Stanza 1: The poem, ‘The Eve of Waterloo’ begins with a night scene, the eve of the battle. The sound of revelry echoes in the large ballrooms of Brussels, the capital of Belgium. The English officers and their ladies are seen dancing to the tune of the music which is being played. The ballroom was dazzling with the glow of bright lamps. Everybody present there was in a happy mood. As the volume of the music increased, the couples dancing started to exchange expressions of love through their glances. As the celebrations advanced like a wedding ceremony, they heard a sound of a cannon fire similar to the sound of a church bell announcing a burial.
Stanza 2: The sound of the cannon fire was ignored in the beginning by everyone as they thought it was the sound of the wind or that of a rattling car over the stony street. The people in the ballroom continued with their dances and enjoyed themselves without being disturbed until dawn. The poet has used personification here; Youth and Pleasure have been personified.
The poet says when youth and pleasure meet; they seem to be dancing in such a way as if they are chasing time with the speed of their feet. All of a sudden, the sounds of the cannon are heard once again. The sounds are louder, clearer and deadlier than before. Everybody was asked to arm themselves as the cannon fires began to roar.
Stanza 3: The Duke of Brunswick, Frederick William was the first to hear the sound amidst the celebrations. He could recognize from the tone that it was the sound of cannon. The Duke understood that it was a death knell for him. His father too was killed in a battle. It was the same sound that preceded his death. Thus, he was determined to take revenge upon his enemies by shedding the blood of his opponents. He is killed in the battlefield.
Stanza 4: The fourth stanza describes the confusion and the chaotic situation that takes place as the people are hurrying to and fro to prepare for the war. The women are sad because they are soon going to part with their partners. Their eyes are wet and they are trembling with fear. Due to the sudden parting, their cheeks have turned pale, which were blushing sometime back. The young people felt that their life was being taken away from them. The choking sighs might never be repeated; no one knew whether or not the men would return from the battle. They all wondered that how a night so full of love and happiness could give rise to such an awful and dreadful morning.
Stanza 5: The men quickly formed their ranks. The soldiers and officers mount their horses and gather in large numbers and starts moving towards their approaching enemies with great speed. The thundering sound of the enemies’ guns is heard again and again. In the meantime, the city is woken up by the warning drums that are played early morning. The people assemble in groups, terrified. They whisper with pale lips to specify that the French army had come.
Stanza 6: The Camerons (a clan of Highlanders) play their war-music, the wild and high notes of the bagpipes rise above all noise. It was often heard in the hills of Albyn, (a Gaelic name of Scotland). As the Camerons are playing their music, the Saxons are filled with fear. However, it puffed up the hearts of the Highland soldiers with inborn courage in a similar way as their bagpipes were filled with their breath.
Stanza 7: In the seventh stanza, we find the army making their way through the forest of Ardennes, the leaves on the trees waving above them as if they are shading tears over the heroes who would not return home from the battlefield. The poet beautifully draws an image in the last line of this stanza; he says that the grass on which the army is treading will soon be covered with their corpses. The soldiers fighting the enemy would soon be cold and lifeless.
Stanza 8: The last stanza of ‘The Eve of Waterloo’ makes a contrasting remark. The previous night, these same soldiers were full of life and they were vigorously dancing in the party. They were seen preparing and getting ready in their uniforms for the battle early morning. The dark clouds of the battle surrounded the soldiers. Finally, at the end of the day, we find the earth covered with heap of dead bodies of thousands of men. The soldiers have lost their identity. The bodies of soldiers, the friends or the enemies, the horses- all lay buried in one heap, covered in blood and soil.
“Rider and horse,- friend and foe,- in one red burial blent.”
Analysis of The Eve of Waterloo by Lord Byron: Through this poem ‘The Eve of Waterloo’, Byron wants to send a message to the world that no war can be justified. War is something that begins with a man’s ambition but ends with destruction on all sides. Thousands lose their lives and their homes, thousands go astray. There is no glory in war but only death and destruction.
Form and Structure:
The poem is composed in Spenserian stanzas, named after Edmund Spenser. In this kind of stanza, the first eight lines are in iambic pentameter and the last line is in iambic hexameter. The rhyming pattern is ababbcbcc.
Interjections: Byron has used a number of interjections in his poem, ‘The Eve of Waterloo’. Some of them are Hark, Hush, Arm Ah and Alas.
The imageries used in the beginning of the poem show the cheerful mood of the soldiers dancing in the party. “Beauty and Chivalry”, “thousands hearts beat happily”, “all went merry as a marriage bell” are indications of a joyous party. A little later, there is a rapid succession of images specifying hurry and movement. The descriptions are so vivid that the readers can even visualize. For example,
“And there was mounting in hot haste: the steed.
The mustering squadron, and the clattering car.”
The last two stanzas of The Eve of Waterloo are full of images depicting the change in scene from celebration and fun to battle and death. “Green leaves” and “grass” contrasts with “grieves” and “strife.” The last line of the poem, the poet writes, “Rider and horse,- friend and foe,- in one red burial blent” which symbolizes that all soldiers and their horses are killed and blended in mud, soil and blood.
Figures of speech such as metaphors, similes and personification are used in the poem.
Metaphor: “And caught its tone with death’s prophetic ear.
fiery mass/ Of living valour, rolling on the foe.”
Simile: “to be trodden like the grass.”
Personification: Examples of personification in the poem are given below,-
*Her Beauty and her Chivalry
*No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
*Dewy with nature’s tear drops, as they pass
*Last eve in Beauty’s circle proudly gay.
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