Menella Bute Smedley

The Battle of Antioch

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The clear eye of morning was cloudless and blue,
And the air was all fresh with the fragrance of dew,
And the cheeks of the Christians with watching were pale;
But their hearts were as strong as their double-link'd mail.
Round the walls of that city so stately and fair
The Saracen banners were soaring in air;
And countless and bright was that host of the brave
As sparkles of foam on the storm-cloven wave.
Lo, the gates are flung wide, and the Christian host comes,
Their plumes waving time to the roar of their drums;
Pale, pale was each cheek, and proud, proud was each eye,
For the souls that spake through them were purposed to die!
Like youth in its buoyancy, joyous and proud,
Was the shining array of the Saracen crowd;
Like the last hours of manhood, all grief-worn and wan,
But unshaken and fearless, the Christians came on.
They met as the hurricane meeteth the storm
When the fiend of the tempest unveils his dark form,
And the lightnings are marshall'd in heaven's high field,—
Woe, woe for the Christians! they waver, they yield!
They waver, the weary, the faint, and the few;
But still bold is their front as their spirits are true;
And brave were the hearts that had breathed out their life
Ere the banner of Tancred went down in the strife.
Full dark was the paleness which then overspread
The face of their leader, as groaning he said,
Upstretching his arms to the pitiless sky,
“Now God to the rescue, for man can but die!”
And lo, as he speaks, in the distance appears
A band of bright horsemen with star-pointed spears;
Their vesture was white as the sea's snowy surf,
And printless the step of their steeds on the turf.
So mutely they swept o'er the hill's haughty crest,
As the snow rushes down on the river's broad breast,
All noiseless and swift, all resplendent and white,
Like the fires of the north in the loneness of night.
They turn not, they pause not, they break not their ranks,
But, fast as a torrent o'er-sweeping its banks,
Yet firm as the marching of battle-proved men,
They charge and they shatter the false Saracèn.
That charge who withstandeth? They came like the wind,
And they went as they came—but what left they behind?
In shame and in shrinking, in wounds and in loss,
The Crescent hath fled from the might of the Cross!
The Christians have kneeled 'mid the dying and slain,
And their psalm of thanksgiving soars up from the plain:
“Now, down with the Paynim! his power is o'erthrown,
For God hath been speedy to succour His own!”

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Menella Bute Smedley