The Eve of Waterloo’ is one of the famous poems of Byron which belongs to his long narrative poem, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.’ It describes a surprise attack on the British Army by the French, when the soldiers and commanders of the former were enjoying themselves at the ball hosted by the Duchess of Richmond on the night before the Battle of Waterloo. Thus, there was merry making and enjoyment on one side and the impending horrors of wars on the other.
Romance and Love: The opening stanza of the poem is a colorful representation of romance and love. 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.
‘There was a sound of revelry by night
And Belgium’s Capital had gathered then
Her Beauty and Chivalry and bright
The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men
A thousand hearts beat happily.’
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. They ignored it as if it were the sound of the wind or that of a rattling car over the stony street. They decided to continue their celebration until the early hours of that morning.
Heroism: The Duke of Brunswick, Frederick William, who was a guest at the ball, was sitting in a corner, amidst the dancing and celebrations. He 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 rushed into the battlefield for his long desire of vengeance. He fought bravely and was killed in the battlefield. In stanza fifth, we find the men quickly forming 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.
Pathos: The poem arouses sympathy for the young soldiers who give up their lives for saving their countrymen. They leave their charms of life to face the impending horrors of war. The women in the ball 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.
In the final stanza, Byron portrays the gruesome reality of war. 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. All are buried in one heap, covered with blood and dust.
“Rider and horse,- friend and foe,- in one red burial blent.”