Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Napoleon's Army after the Fall of Moscow

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Napoleon's Army after the Fall of Moscow

Article excerpt

Napoleon's Army After the Fall of Moscow1

Snow, in what was left of the city behind them,

drifted into the smoke and flames.

In their retreat, the army did not know

one white field from another,

or the left flank from the right or center.

Ensigns whited out, the voices of commanders

lost, what had been an army was a herd.

More snow: mercury falling: some of the wounded

tried to shelter themselves

in the bellies of dead horses.

The bugler frozen to death at his post

stood upright, lips gone white with rime,

the brass of the trumpet locked

in the solid ice of his hand.

Flurries of riflefire blended with shrapnel

and snowflakes. The grenadier,

surprised to find himself now trembling,

marched with a more thoughtful step,

snot frozen in his moustache.

It snowed more still. The wind

out of the arctic sizzled; through strange country

slippery with pink ice, the barefoot soldiers

walked on without bread. These were not quite

living men, these wanderers in that fog:

they were a dream, a mystery,

a procession of shadows over a black sky.

Solitude settled into the mind of each,

like vengeance quietly gathering

out of the dreadful vastness. The sky made

turbid snow, over the largest army ever,

an immeasurable shroud. …

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