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A Scandalous Woman: The Story of Caroline Norton

Bingen on the Rhine
by Caroline Norton

A SOLDIER of the Legion lay dying in Algiers,
There was a lack of woman's nursing, there was dearth of woman's tears;
But a comrade stood beside him, while his lifeblood ebbed away,
And bent with pitying glances, to hear what he might say.
The dying soldier faltered, and he took that comrade's hand,
And he said, "I nevermore shall see my own, my native land;
Take a message, and a token, to some distant friends of mine,
For I was born at Bingen,— at Bingen on the Rhine.

"Tell my brothers and companions, when they meet and crowd around,
To hear my mournful story, in the pleasant vineyard ground,
That we fought the battle bravely, and when the day was done,
Full many a corpse lay ghastly pale beneath the setting sun;
And, mid the dead and dying, were some grown old in wars,—
The death-wound on their gallant breasts, the last of many scars;
And some were young, and suddenly beheld life's morn decline,—
And one had come from Bingen,— fair Bingen on the Rhine.

"Tell my mother that her other son shall comfort her old age;
For I was still a truant bird, that thought his home a cage.
For my father was a soldier, and even as a child
My heart leaped forth to hear him tell of struggles fierce and wild;
And when he died, and left us to divide his scanty hoard,
I let them take whate'er they would,— but kept my father's sword;
And with boyish love I hung it where the bright light used to shine
On the cottage wall at Bingen,— calm Bingen on the Rhine.

"Tell my sister not to weep for me, and sob with drooping head,
When the troops come marching home again with glad and gallant tread,
But to look upon them proudly, with a calm and steadfast eye,
For her brother was a soldier too, and not afraid to die;
And if a comrade seek her love, I ask her in my name
To listen to him kindly, without regret or shame,
And to hang the old sword in its place (my father's sword and mine)
For the honor of old Bingen,— dear Bingen on the Rhine.

"There's another,— not a sister: in the happy days gone by
You'd have known her by the merriment that sparkled in her eye;
Too innocent for coquetry,— too fond for idle scorning,—
O friend! I fear the lightest heart makes sometimes heaviest mourning!
Tell her the last night of my life (for, ere the moon be risen,
My body will be out of pain, my soul be out of prison),—
I dreamed I stood with her, and saw the yellow sunlight shine
On the vine-clad hills of Bingen,— fair Bingen on the Rhine.

"I saw the blue Rhine sweep along,— I heard, or seemed to hear,
The German songs we used to sing, in chorus sweet and clear;
And down the pleasant river, and up the slanting hill,
The echoing chorus sounded, through the evening calm and still;
And her glad blue eyes were on me, as we passed, with friendly talk,
Down many a path beloved of yore, and well-remembered walk!
And her little hand lay lightly, confidingly, in mine,—
But we'll meet no more at Bingen,— loved Bingen on the Rhine."

His trembling voice grew faint and hoarse,— his grasp was childish weak,—
His eyes put on a dying look,— he sighed, and ceased to speak;
His comrade bent to lift him, but the spark of life had fled,—
The soldier of the Legion in a foreign land is dead;
And the soft moon rose up slowly, and calmly she looked down
On the red sand of the battle-field, with bloody corses strown;
Yet calmly on that dreadful scene her pale light seemed to shine,
As it shone on distant Bingen,— fair Bingen on the Rhine.

 

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Caroline Norton was born in 1808 in London, England to Thomas Sheridan and Caroline Henrietta Sheridan née Callander. Her father was an actor, soldier, and colonial administrator, and the son of the prominent Irish playwright and Whig statesman Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Her mother was the author of three novels.

In 1817, Thomas died in South Africa. Caroline afterwards lived in a Hampton Court Palace "grace and favour" apartment with her mother, four brothers and two sisters. The sisters' combined beauty and accomplishments led to their being collectively called the "Three Graces."

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Bingen on the Rhine

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