In the poem "The Eve of Waterloo," in what ways does George Gordon, Lord Byron, contrast the charms of life and the horrors of war?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Lord Byron's narrative poem "On the Eve of Waterloo" tells of man's oppression of Nature and its disastrous results. For, the verses begin with the setting of a magnificent ball with "beauty and chivalry" where "A thousand hearts beat happily" only to tragically end with "Beauty's circle proudly gay" and Battle's magnificently-stern array" being reduced to "one red burial."

Here are other contrasts that exist in this poem:

  • "the sound of revelry" is contrasted with the horrifying sound of the roar of cannons
  • A supposed "car rattling o'er the stony street" is contrasted to the true sound of cannons.
  • the music of the ball is contrasted with the "cannon's opening roar"
  • the "voluptuous swell" of music is contrasted with the tone of "death's prophetic ear"
  • cheeks that "[B]lushed at the praise of their own loveliness" are in contrast to "cheeks all pale"
  • the "eyes [that] looked love to eyes which spake again are in contrast to the "choking sighs" that express worry "[I]f ever more should meet those mutual eyes" [if the couple will ever see each other again]
  • dancing is in contrast to "mounting in hot haste" to battle
  • the music from the orchestra's instruments are in contrast to "the beat of the alarming drum" of battle
  • the guests at the ball who gather are in contrast to the "throng[ed] ...citizens with terror dumb"
  • the announcement of the ball's guests contrasts with the whispering of the frightened crowd, "The foe! they come! they come!"
  • the rush of the men to battle is contrasted to the fall of many in battle
  • the evening of the ball contrasts with the morning of battle
  • the green leaves of Ardennes are in contrast to the trodden earth and bare clay of the battlefield
  • the wet clay earth that is propelled by the cannon balls because it had rained so much at Waterloo will be covered, in contrast, by "her own clay" [men] (Clay in the Biblical sense that man was formed from clay in the act of creation.)

The final stanza captures the sense of stark contrast in Bryon's poem:

Last noon beheld them full of lusty life,
Last eve in Beauty’s circle proudly gay
The midnight brought the signal-sound of strife,
The morn the marshalling in arms,—the day
Battle’s magnificently-stern array!
The thunder-clouds close o’er it, which when rent
The earth is covered thick with other clay
Which her own clay shall cover, heaped and pent
Rider and horse,—friend, foe,—in one red burial blent!

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