The first stanza of the poem describes an old man, named Kaspar, relaxing after a day of work. Kaspar sits “in the sun,” and his granddaughter, Wilhelmine, plays close by “on the green” grass of the garden.
In the second stanza, Wilhelmine’s brother, Peterkin, finds something “large, and smooth, and round” by the river, and he brings it to his grandfather to find out what it might be.
His grandfather, in the third stanza, examines the object, and declares that it is “some poor fellow’s skull.” He also says that the skull must have belonged to a man who fought in a battle, and “fell in the great victory.”
The grandfather continues speaking, and, in stanza four, tells his grandson that he has himself found many such skulls in his garden. He refers again to the battle, and says that “many thousand men … Were slain in that great victory.”
Peterkin then asks his grandfather, in stanza five, to tell him, and his sister too, all about the battle, or the war. Peterkin asks his grandfather to tell him specifically about what the men who fought were fighting for.
In stanza six, the grandfather explains that the battle was fought between the English and the French, and that the English “put the French to rout.” However, although he has heard people say that the English won “a famous victory,” he is unable to tell his grandchildren what either side was fighting for. He says that he “could not well make out” why the English and the French fought one another.
The grandfather then explains, in the seventh stanza, that his father had once lived on the field where the battle took place. He explains that the combatants in the battle “burnt his (father’s) dwelling to the ground,” and that his father was “forced to fly” with his wife and child.
In stanza eight, the grandfather recalls that the battle, with “fire and sword,” destroyed much of “the country round.” Indeed, he says that much of the land was “wasted far and wide.” He also recalls the destruction to human life, noting that “many a chiding mother ... And new-born baby died.”
In the ninth stanza, the grandfather continues to describe the devastation left by the battle. He describes “many thousand bodies … rotting in the sun.” At the end of the ninth stanza, and also at the end of the eighth, the grandfather says, “But things like that, you know, must be / After a famous victory.” The repetition of these lines invites the reader to question the death and destruction that we all seem to take for granted when we hear of wars, and of famous battles.
In the tenth and penultimate stanza, the grandfather names and praises important figures from the battle. He praises “the Duke of Marlborough’” and “our good Prince Eugene.” The granddaughter replies that the battle was “a very wicked thing,” implying that these men do not deserve her grandfather's praise. Her grandfather, however, disagrees, and reminds his granddaughter that “It was a famous victory.”
In the final stanza, the grandfather again praises the aforementioned Duke, and this time his grandson interjects. The grandson asks, “what good came of it,” and the grandfather can only reply, “Why that I cannot tell … But ‘twas a famous victory.” The poet uses repetition again here. The repetition of the phrase “famous victory” invites the reader to question whether we should look back proudly at famous battles, or whether we should rather question why they were fought, and whether any good came from them. This is the overall message of the poem.