Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Winter in Russia, 1812

In 1812, the proud French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to take Russia in a six-month long campaign that stretched throughout at least four harsh winter months. Throughout the bitter campaign that followed, Bonaparte lost approximately 380,000 men. Some estimate the casualties as closer to 450,000. These deaths were not caused by bombs, machine guns or missiles, nor even to bayonets and inaccurate single-shot muskets, but exposure to sickness and freezing temperatures. More men were lost in the campaign on Russia than either Britain or America put into the field during the entire Revolutionary War or the War of 1812, better known as the French and Indian War, which was going on at the same time. In the entire invasion of Russia, Bonaparte only crossed blades with the Russian army a few times. The tragic loss of life was due mainly to natural causes. This is the first part of a poem I wrote in memory of their campaign.

The Russian Winter of 1812
Open your mind and close your eyes,
And follow me if you can,
To a land where the snow never melts,
Where the lonely tragedy began.

Imagine the boots on a frozen plain,
The wind a howling whirl,
Their banners flying through the storm,
And through the gale unfurled.

The wind whips through their tattered ranks
And leaves its icy grasp
Upon the hearts and souls of each,
As through the plains they pass.

Long have they traveled upon the road,
And longer still have they to go,
Through wind and rain and hail and sleet,
On paths of freezing ice and snow.

Troubles mark their slow progression
And thousands will fall before the end,
For an icy rage in the hand of Winter
Is a fearsome foe to offend.

The cheerful rays of a summer sun
Have long since fled this land
There is no hope of victory,
But the troops go marching on.

The snow stretches across the fields
But melts with the coming rain
Churning the paths to a treacherous mire
To slow the retreating campaign.

Along the road lie the bodies of men
Half-covered with ice and snow
And horses lay prostrate and rigid,
Under the silent shadow.

The march is cruel and terrible
Men fall and fail to rise,
“Winter is with the Russians!”
That is their final cry.

Indeed, what other reason can there be?
To explain this woeful tale,
For if Winter were with the Frenchman,
Then her sons would not have failed.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What a Day!

Oh what a day! Starting off with the luxury of sleeping in until 8:00 and ending with a good book and a cup of tea! Oh but there were other things in between, like driving along windy and rain covered roads through familiar towns to see people who are literally 'familyiar'. But the best was yet to come. =Standing outside under a small overhang playing everything you can think of on an electric guitar with two fun and invincible guitar players who couldn't care less that the rain is coming down in sheets around us! Less-than-melodic sounds emanate from the amplifiers but no one seems to notice or care about them or the rain. Neither did I.

 I'd be willing to bet that none of you expected that bit about the guitars. I bet you expected me to talk about cups of tea and good books and romantic smells of rain and earth. There is that too. :) But if you know me, you know that standing in the rain playing a second-hand guitar has a bit of a Jukebox Hero feel to it, and that romanticism has never been my forte.

But that was not the end of my day. I gingerly packed up my guitar with the careful attention and serious expression that one would use in handing a baby over to a friend on the other side of a cliff and then made my way home. (I actually got that expression today from someone when I picked up their guitar. :) It is a look of surprise, supressed fear, intense inward stress and more than a hint of!' I give people that look every time they breathe on my guitar. Some people call it obsessive, I call it 'cautionary action caused by lack of replacement funds and imminent possibility of damage caused by user's potentiality for ineptitude and carelessness'.
 But I told you there was a bit of the romantic as well. Sitting with candles, tea and cookies with 'Les Miserables' on my lap and my eyes on the opposite wall going, why, why, why, am I reading this book? Yes, yes, it is a classic, and a very good one, but Mr. Hugo seems to have thought of a million ways of avoiding dialogue and things that actually have a very important bearing on the immediate plot. If you doubt me, consider that when one is one pg. 615, you are just now only halfway through the book and the fact that the font size is 9. When I have finished it and watched the movie I suppose I will not regret having read it so I will stumble forwards to its completion.
What else? Well, then there is right now. Outside the fields are saturated with water, a cold northern wind is blowing and the pond has overflowed its banks. Our basketball hoop was split in two by ferocious winds, narrowly missing our car, and rivers of water are running through the pastures. But I am inside, writing this post, with every soundtrack from Braveheart and Sherlock to The Avengers and Spiderman playing in the background. 'Les Mis' is sitting beside me, judgmentally viewing my neglect of it and I am looking at it with the expression of one who knows his fate is approaching. Ah! well, "If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country loss..."

P.S. When I am done with Les Mis, I shall come back and write what I thought of it, and if my opinions now were made prematurely, I shall correct them and state my new opinion.

P.P.S Here is a link to the great St. Crispin's Day speech where the above quotation is from.