John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

Poet's Corner: Bingen on the Rhine

Bingen on the Rhine

A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers,
There was lack of woman's nursing, there was dearth of woman's tears;
But a comrade stood beside him, while his life-blood ebbed away,
And bent, with pitying glances, to hear what he might say:
The dying soldier faltered, as he took that comrade's hand,
And he said: "I never more shall see my own, my native land;
Take a message and a token to some distant friends of mine,
For I was born at Bingen — at Bingen on the Rhine.

"Tell my brothers and companions, when they meet and crowd around,
To hear my mournful story, in the pleasant vineyard ground,
That we fought the battle bravely; and when the day was done,
Full many a corpse lay ghastly pale beneath the setting sun.
And 'midst the dead and dying were some grown old in wars —
The death-wound on their gallant breasts, the last of many scars;
But some were young, and suddenly beheld life's morn decline;
And one had come from Bingen — fair Bingen on the Rhine.

"Tell my mother that her other sons shall comfort her old age,
And I was aye a truant bird, that thought his home a cage;
For my father was a soldier, and, even as a child,
My heart leaped forth to hear him tell of struggles fierce and wild;
And when he died, and left us to divide his scanty hoard,
I let them take whate'er they would, but kept my father's sword;
And with boyish love I hung it where the bright light used to shine,
On the cottage wall at Bingen — calm Bingen on the Rhine!

"Tell my sister not to weep for me, and sob with drooping head,
When the troops are marching home again, with glad and gallant tread;
But to look upon them proudly, with a calm and steadfast eye,
For her brother was a soldier too, and not afraid to die.
And if a comrade seek her love, I ask her in my name
To listen to him kindly, without regret or shame;
And to hang the old sword in its place (my father's sword and mine),
For the honour of old Bingen — dear Bingen on the Rhine!

"There's another — not a sister; in the happy days gone by,
You'd have known her by the merriment that sparkled in her eye;
Too innocent for coquetry — too fond for idly scorning, —
O friend, I fear the lightest heart makes sometimes heaviest mourning!
Tell her the last night of my life (for ere this moon be risen
My body will be out of pain — my soul be out of prison)
I dreamed I stood with her, and saw the yellow sunlight shine
On the vine-clad hills of Bingen — fair Bingen on the Rhine!

"I saw the blue Rhine sweep along; I heard, or seemed to hear,
The German songs we used to sing in chorus sweet and clear;
And down the pleasant river, and up the slanting hill,
That echoing chorus sounded, through the evening calm and still;
And her glad blue eyes were on me, as we passed with friendly talk
Down many a path beloved of yore, and well-remembered walk;
And her little hand lay lightly, confidingly in mine; —
But we'll meet no more at Bingen — lovely Bingen on the Rhine!"

His voice grew faint and hoarser; his grasp was childish weak;
His eyes put on a dying look; he sighed, and ceased to speak.
His comrade bent to lift him, but the spark of life had fled;
The soldier of the Legion in a foreign land — was dead!
And the soft moon rose up slowly, and calmly she looked down
On the red sand of the battle-field, with bloody corpses strown
Yea, calmly on that dreadful scene her pale light seemed to shine,
As it shone on distant Bingen — fair Bingen on the Rhine!

Caroline Norton (1808 – 1877)

Anne of Green Gables Month continues with "Bingen on the Rhine," a melodramatic broadside ballad from 1867 or thereabouts. This poem is actually mentioned twice in Anne of Green Gables. It's one of the poems that Anne tells Marilla she knows in Chapter 5. And in chapter 19, Gilbert Blythe recites it at the debating club concert. Diana later tells Anne that when Gilbert recited, "There's another — not a sister," he looked directly at Anne. Aw. Annbert 4eva!

When I was reading it this morning — just as I got to the line quoted above, coincidentally — it occurred to me that "Bingen on the Rhine" is just like "Seasons in the Sun." Individual poems may come and go, but maudlin poetry as a genre will live forever.

Tags: poet's corner

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