How does the poem Eve of Waterloo depict the fickleness of fate and transience of human life?

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem “The Eve of Waterloo” by Lord Byron depicts the fickleness of fate and transience of human life in that it shows that all of humankind’s accomplishments, as a whole, and as individuals as well, can come to nothing because of the destructive nature of war and what it does to nations and societies. 

In the poem, Lord Byron talks of “revelry by night” and this merriment by the people does not consider the horrors of battle to come. The women and men are enjoying life and the nightlife also. They are not taking seriously the troubles on the horizon. However, trouble is on its way as is foreshadowed by the last line in the first stanza:

“But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!”

People are more concerned with partying and carousing here. The transience of life is that these are temporary pleasures and that life is more than just having a rousing good time all the time.

The fickleness of fate here is that war is not a respecter of persons. Anyone, rich or poor, great in stature or not, can become a victim of war as it marches across a landscape. In the second stanza, people are asked if they’ve heard the sounds of war. They say they have not, that maybe it was the wind. However, in the last line of this stanza, the poet says:

“Arm! arm! it is -- it is -- the cannon's opening roar!"

Fate is about to descend upon the populace who only want to be “On with the dance!” In the end, the people are caught up in the distress of being attacked. War has come to their land and comfortable society. Fate, being fickle, has not spared them. Their lives are transient and all their joyous times and revelry cannot protect them now. The distress is obvious form this line in the poem that talks about faces turning pale or white with fear:

“And cheeks all pale, which, but an hour ago,

Blushed at the praise of their own loveliness.”

At the end of the poem, reality - and the coldness of it has set in – their foes are coming to wage war with them. Their lives, if they survive, will never be the same.

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