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Robert Southey’s poem, “After Blenheim”, is an anti-war poem, showing the absurd intricacies surrounding the war which a common people are unaware of. For the common people, war is glorified as they consider it to be bold and an act of bravery and are only bothered by the victory. The poem presents the viewpoint of war from the perspective common person’s view.
It was a summer evening, Old Kaspar's work was done, And he before his cottage door Was sitting in the sun, And by him sported on the green His little grandchild Wilhelmine.
Old Kaspar is basking in the Sun after his day’s work and watching his granddaughter, Wilhelmine play in the garden. He is relaxing before his cottage door and the atmosphere of a quiet, peaceful and pastoral view is created. The poet uses the literary device of metonymy by saying “Was sitting in the Sun” implying the Old Kaspar is baking in the sun after his entire day’s hard work.
She saw her brother Peterkin Roll something large and round Which he beside the rivulet In playing there had found; He came to ask what he had found, That was so large, and smooth, and round.
Wilhelmine spotted her brother, Peterkin, coming home with something in his hands. It’s large and round which Peterkin actually picked up beside the rivulet. He himself is unaware of what he has found and brought it home to ask his grandfather, perhaps, about his discovery. The object which was so large, and smooth, and round attracts Peterkin’s attention and he brings it over.
Old Kaspar took it from the boy, Who stood expectant by; And then the old man shook his head, And with a natural sigh, "'Tis some poor fellow's skull," said he, "Who fell in the great victory.
Old Kaspar takes the object from Peterkin’s hand and tells to him with a natural sigh, as if he is trying to dig up his memories of the past, that what Peterkin has found is a skull. That too not an ordinary skull but a poor fellow’s skull who fell in the great victory. Old Kaspar means that the skull belonged to that of a brave soldier who died fighting in a way. To him the death of the soldier is not remorseful but the fact that he died for a great victory is more commendable.
"I find them in the garden, For there's many here about; And often when I go to plough, The ploughshare turns them out! For many thousand men," said he, "Were slain in that great victory."
The old man then goes to describe how often he finds skulls like this in his garden. He says that whenever he goes to ploughing the fields or gardens the ploughshare turns them out. He glorifies the scenario of having so many skulls by saying that it was a Great War where for that great victory, many lives were slain. The poet critics the voice of Old Kaspar by making him oblivious to the real horrors of the war. He is unaware of how gruesome battles are and many thousand men’s lives are trivial considered to the victory that they have attained. He is ignorant to the actual consequences of the war and celebrates hollow nationalism by celebrating the great victory.
"Now tell us what 'twas all about," Young Peterkin, he cries; And little Wilhelmine looks up With wonder-waiting eyes; "Now tell us all about the war, And what they fought each other for."
Peterkin is curious to know about the skulls. He wants to know about the war and how everything happened. Wilhelmine is also curious as she looks up with wonder-waiting eyes. They want to know about the war and how and why it happened. The curiousity between the children shows how oblivious they are to the harsh realities. They are so detached as being the young generation from warfare and other brutalities carried out in history.
"It was the English," Kaspar cried, "Who put the French to rout; But what they fought each other for I could not well make out; But everybody said," quoth he, "That 'twas a famous victory.
Old Kaspar sits down to narrate them the story behind the skulls. He says that it was a battle between the English and the French, with the English winning it rightly and valiantly. He goes on to say that the reason of the war is nit known to him but he knows one thing for sure that it was a famous victory. This shows how hollow nationalism is for common folk like Old Kaspar. He knows who won the war but doesn’t know the hardship and the bloodshed behind the war. He values war as the result of glory. The poet criticizes this form of glorification by making ironical statement like “great victory” and so on.
"My father lived at Blenheim then, Yon little stream hard by; They burnt his dwelling to the ground, And he was forced to fly; So with his wife and child he fled, Nor had he where to rest his head.
The war which was carried out Blenheim at that time is narrated by Old Kaspar. He says that his father used to live near the little stream but when the war broke out, they burnt his dwelling to the ground. Kaspar’s father was forced to flee with his wife and his child, having no idea where to go from there. Thai stanza highlights the direct impact caused on the people in the name of war. The common people during that time suffered immensely, without having anything to do with the war, directly or indirectly.
"With fire and sword the country round Was wasted far and wide, And many a childing mother then, And new-born baby died; But things like that, you know, must be At every famous victory.
In this stanza, the actual horrors of the war are presented. The soldiers burnt the villages near Blenheim and no one was spare, not even a childing mother nor a new-born baby. It was a massacre. However the speaker justifies all this by saying that type of things like that is necessary for every victory. He dismisses war and his horrors by saying how important it is for victory to be achieved.
"They said it was a shocking sight After the field was won; For many thousand bodies here Lay rotting in the sun; But things like that, you know, must be After a famous victory.
The speaker goes on describing the aftermath of the massacre by saying that it was a shocking sight. Dead bodies were not even proper burial but were left out in the poem, rotting in the sun. He once again justifies these brutalities in the name of victory.
"Great praise the Duke of Marlbro' won, And our good Prince Eugene." "Why, 'twas a very wicked thing!" Said little Wilhelmine. "Nay ... nay ... my little girl," quoth he, "It was a famous victory."
Old Kaspar goes on to praise the Duke of Marlboro and our good Prince Eugene, who to hide the harsh realities, used to sugarcoat it and make the common people believe that war is beneficial for the nation. On hearing these tales, Wilhelmine exclaim in horror how wicked it all is. But the grandfather shushes her saying that it actually wasn’t as it was for a famous victory. Kaspar glorifies war instead of accepting it as a mean of physical and psychological trauma. Unlike his little granddaughter, he is oblivious to the truth and lives under the illusions created by the rulers of the time. Due to this mindset, all the matters to Old Kaspar was victory only.
"And everybody praised the Duke Who this great fight did win." "But what good came of it at last?" Quoth little Peterkin. "Why, that I cannot tell," said he, "But 'twas a famous victory."
Instead of praising the martyrs of the war, Old Kaspar praises the Duke for whom he believes the great fight win. He thinks war is easily fought and the lives lost in the battle are trivial. Peterkin questions him what good came at the end of the war to which Old Kaspar responds saying he doesn’t know but all he knows and all he cares is the it was a famous victory. He lives and survives under an illusion wbu h is why till the very end he kept on saying that all that matters is the great victory.
Through this poem, the poet shows how vicious the wars can be and how ignorant the common people are to its destructiveness. War is not the solution to peace and those who glorify war and think only of victory in regard to it are nothing but foolish and imbecile (stupid). Soldiers go through extreme mental and physical exhaustion while being out there on the battlefield and Old Kaspar, on the other hand, doesn’t stop caring about the great victory at the end of the bloody war.