Incident of the French Camp Poem by Robert Browning Summary & Line by Line Explanation


This poem narrates the heroism and patriotism of a young soldier in Napoleon’s army. The French army have just stormed the city of Ratisbon and Napoleon stands at a distance waiting for confirmation that his troops have won. A young soldier boy who is heavily injured rushes to the scene and gives Napoleon the good news of victory but dies soon after. The poem is 40 lines long and divided into 5 stanzas. Its alternative lines rhyme.

Stanza 1

You know, we French stormed Ratisbon:
A mile or so away,
On a little mound, Napoleon
Stood on our storming-day;
With neck out-thrust, you fancy how,
Legs wide, arms locked behind,
As if to balance the prone brow
Oppressive with its mind.

The poet is speaking as a soldier of Napoleon’s army in this poem. He says that they, the French, have stormed Ratisbon. The incident he is talking about is the French army’s sudden and violent attack on the Austrian city of Ratisbon. A mile or so away, on a little hill, Napoleon stood on the day that the city was attacked.

The speaker says that we can imagine how he was standing- with his neck extended forward, legs wide, arms locked behind. It almost seemed that his rigid posture was an attempt to balance his brow that was downturned and gave away the oppressive state of his mind. Therefore, Napoleon seemed to be worried about something. He was probably planning out the steps he would take in the future to lessen these worries.

Stanza 2

Just as perhaps he mused "My plans
"That soar, to earth may fall,
"Let once my army-leader Lannes
"Waver at yonder wall,"---
Out 'twixt the battery-smokes there flew
A rider, bound on bound
Full-galloping; nor bridle drew
Until he reached the mound.

Napoleon was thinking about how his plans that soar, to earth may fall. So, Napoleon was worried that his plans which then appeared to be successful, could suddenly fail if his army-leader Lannes wavered or grew weak even once at the distant wall.

Then suddenly, out of the thick blanket of gunfire-smoke, a rider rushed towards him, riding at top speed. He did not stop his horse by drawing the bridle until he reached the mound on which Napoleon was standing. The entry of this soldier would perhaps bring good news and put a rest to Napoleon’s anxieties.

Stanza 3

Then off there flung in smiling joy,
And held himself erect
By just his horse's mane, a boy:
You hardly could suspect---
(So tight he kept his lips compressed,
Scarce any blood came through)
You looked twice ere you saw his breast
Was all but shot in two.

The rider got off his horse in smiling joy and held himself erect by just his horse’s mane. He was just a young boy. One could hardly suspect how heavily injured he was because of how cool and composed he remained before his commander. He kept his lips so tightly shut that no blood could ooze out of his mouth.

One had to look twice before they saw that his breast was all but shot in two. Therefore, the young soldier is so injured that there is blood in his mouth and his chest has almost been torn apart, but his behavior does not allow us to see how grave his injuries are. He still comes smiling to deliver good news to Napoleon. This shows us just how heroic and brave he is.

Stanza 4

"Well," cried he, "Emperor, by God's grace
"We've got you Ratisbon!
"The Marshal's in the market-place,
"And you'll be there anon
"To see your flag-bird flap his vans
"Where I, to heart's desire,
"Perched him!" The chief's eye flashed; his plans
Soared up again like fire.

In spite of being in intense pain, the young soldier delivers good news to Napoleon. He tells the emperor that by God’s grace they had successfully captured the city of Ratisbon. The Marshal was in the market-place or the center of the city, and Napoleon would be there soon too.

He would see his flag-bird flap his wings where the boy had placed it to his heart’s desire. The flag-bird refers to the flag of France which had an imperial eagle on it. Therefore, when this flag fluttered in the wind, it looked like the bird was flapping its wings. The young soldier is extremely happy and proud to have planted this flag himself.

The planting of the flag symbolizes that the French have succeeded in capturing the city. Chief Napoleon’s eye flashed and his plans soared up again like fire. The good news brings joy to Napoleon and he starts thinking of future plans.

Stanza 5

The chief's eye flashed; but presently
Softened itself, as sheathes
A film the mother-eagle's eye
When her bruised eaglet breathes;
"You're wounded!" "Nay," the soldier's pride
Touched to the quick, he said:
"I'm killed, Sire!" And his chief beside
Smiling the boy fell dead.

Napoleon’s eyes flashed with the joy of victory before they softened at the sight of the young boy’s injuries. Here, Napoleon’s concern about the injured boy is compared to that of a mother-eagle who has discovered that her child is bruised. He exclaimed that the boy was wounded. However, the boy said no with pride because he had served his country well. He said that he was killed and fell dead beside his Chief with a smile.

Thus, although the boy was as good as dead, he still fulfilled his duty to his country by riding to Napoleon and giving him the good news of victory. The soldier boy was not sad about his injuries or oncoming death, but proud to die in the service of his country. This shows us just how brave and loyal he was. He was a true patriot.


The young soldier boy’s sacrifice for his country is an act of great gallantry and heroism. He brings hope and happiness to his chief and is proud to die in service of his country. He smiles even in the face of injury and happily accepts death. The young soldier boy is a hero to his nation and fellow soldiers.