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THE BATTLE OF BLENHEIM
This is a famous poem, which you should study carefully in order to know what it means, for it contains a great life lesson.
Blenheim (blěn'him) in this poem was a great battle that was fought in Europe long ago, between the French on one side and the English and the Germans on the other side. The Duke of Marlborough (märl'bā-rů) and the young German prince Eugene (ū-jēn') commanded the English and the Germans, and won this terrible battle.
At that time, many useless and bloody wars were fought, not to make people free and happy, but because two kings had had a personal quarrel, or because one king wanted to rule over other countries than his own. These wars were very different from the Great World War in 1914, in which millions of men were killed in order that the whole world might become more free from the wickedness of kings.
Wars are awful, but sometimes they must be fought, or else wicked kings would conquer peoples other than their own and the world would lose its freedom. At such times, the free nations must fight, as they did in the Great World War of 1914–1918, or else they would lose their liberty.
But the war in which the Battle of Blenheim was fought was not one of that kind. It was only a wicked war between kings, who did not care how many of their people were killed, just so they could rule over more people.
So, in this story, a little boy and girl are playing near a farmhouse around which the great Battle of Blenheim was fought. They find the skull of a soldier who was killed in the battle, and run with it to their old grandfather, who is sitting in front of the house, and ask him what it is.
The grandfather, who was a little boy when the battle was fought, takes the skull and tells the children that it is the great round bone of the head of a soldier who was killed in the battle. Then he tells the children how the ground was covered with dead soldiers after the battle, and also that "it was a famous victory."
He seems to think only that one side won the victory over the other, but does not seem to think at all how useless the battle was in making men free and happy. He thinks only that "it was a famous victory."
In his time, people did not think much of liberty or why they fought, for they fought only because a wicked king ordered them to do so.
So the old man cannot understand why the boy wants to know "what they killed each other for.” And the children cannot make him understand. He only keeps on saying that "it was a famous victory.”
When the people fight now, they want to know what they are fighting for, and that is right. They want to know that they are fighting for liberty.
In studying the poem, remember that the poet is telling us of two kinds of persons :
1. The old man who is proud of “a great victory," although he
does not seem to know what they were fighting for. 2. The children, who want to know “what they killed each
other for.” The grandfather stands for the kind of people in the olden time who fought bloody wars without knowing why they fought them.
The children stand for the people of our own time who, before they fight and kill each other, want to know what it is all about and what they are fighting for.
When our liberties are in danger, it is right to fight for them, and it is a very poor kind of man who will not fight for them.
We hope that the time will come, all over the world, when there shall be no kings, and when the people themselves will make the laws under which they have to live. When that time comes, there will probably be no more wars.
You should study the following words and know their meanings before reading the poem :
expectant: waiting and wanting plowshare : the part of a plow to know.
which cuts the ground at the bottom of a furrow.
She saw her brother Peterkin
Roll something large and round,
In playing there had found;
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.
“I find them in the garden,
For there are many here about; And often when I go to plow,
The plowshare turns them out! For many thousand men,” said he, “Were slain in that 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.”
“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.
“My father lived at Blenheim then,
Yon little stream hard by;
And he was forced to fly;
“With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide,
And new-born babe had died;
“They say it was a shocking sight
After the field was won;
Lay rotting in the sun;