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“The Burial of Sir John Moore”

Charles Wolfe (1791-1823) was an Irish clergyman and poet. “The Burial of Sir John Moore,” one of the finest poems of its kind in the English language, was written in 1817. Sir John Moore (1761-1809) was a celebrated British general. He was appointed commander of the British forces in Spain, in the war against Napoleon, and fell at the battle of Corunna, by a cannon shot. Marshal General Jean-de-Dieu Soult (1769-1851), the opposing French commander, had a monument erected in Moore’s memory. The British government built a monument to him in St. Paul’s Cathedral, while his hometown of Glascow honors him with a bronze statue. — The New McGuffey Fifth Reader (New York: American Book Company, 1801), 309-310, 352.

noteAccording to Laura Ingalls Wilder, while the family was living over the grocery store in Burr Oak, Iowa, she and sister Mary used to practice their reading lessons in the evenings, and men would gather in the room below to listen. In her handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, Wilder included a list of pieces read, most of them found in the Independent Fifth Reader (J. Madison Watson, 1876) which was used by the Ingalls girls in their studies. Wilder’s list included “The Burial of Sir John Moore,” which is not found in the Independent Fifth Reader but can be found in McGuffey Fifth Reader of the same era.

Painting of the battle at Corunna is by William Heath.



The Burial of Sir John Moore. By Charles Wolfe.

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
     As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
     O’er the grave where our hero we buried.

We buried him darkly, at dead of night,
     The sods with our bayonets turning,
By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light,
     And the lantern dimly burning.

No useless coffin inclosed his breast,
     Not in sheet or in shroud we wound him;
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest,
     With his martial cloak around him.

Few and short were the prayers we said,
     And we spoke not a word of sorrow;
But we steadfastly gazed on the face of the dead,
     And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

We thought, as we hollowed his narrow bed,
     And smoothed down his lonely pillow,
That the foe and the stranger would tread o’er his head,
     And we far away on the billow!

Lightly they’ll talk iof the spirit that’s gone,
     And o’er his cold ashes upbraid him;
But little he’ll reck, if they let him sleep on
     In the grave where a Briton has laid him.

But half of our heavy task was done,
     When the clock struck the hour for retiring;
And we heard the distant and random gun
     That the foe was sullenly firing.

Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
     From the field of his fame, fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,
     But we left him alone with his glory!


“The Burial of Sir John Moore” (PG)