Robert Browning “How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix”

After yesterday, I’m in need of something fun, and that doesn’t require a lot of little grey cells. So I defer to Robert Browning, and a poem that rivals “The Ballad of East and West” in terms of horsemanship.

I SPRANG to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I gallop’d, Dirck gallop’d, we gallop’d all three;
“Good speed !” cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
“Speed!” echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,         5
And into the midnight we gallop’d abreast.


Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turn’d in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shorten’d each stirrup, and set the pique right,         10
Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chain’d slacker the bit,
Nor gallop’d less steadily Roland a whit.


’T was moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawn’d clear;
At Boom, a great yellow star came out to see;         15
At Düffeld, ’t was morning as plain as could be;
And from Mechelm church-steeple we heard the half chime,
So, Joris broke silence with, “Yet there is time!”


At Aershot, up leap’d of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,         20
To state thro’ the mist at us galloping past,
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray:


And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back         25
For my voice, and the other prick’d out on his track;
And one eye’s black intelligence,—ever that glance
O’er its white edge at me, his own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.         30


By Hasselt, Dirck groan’d; and cried Joris “Stay spur!
Your Roos gallop’d bravely, the fault’s not in her,
We ’ll remember at Aix”—for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretch’d neck and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,         35
As down on her haunches she shudder’d and sank.


So, we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laugh’d a pitiless laugh,
’Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;         40
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And “Gallop,” gasped Joris, “for Aix is in sight!


“How they ’ll greet us!”—and all in a moment his roan
Roll’d neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight         45
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets’ rim.


Then I cast loose my buffcoat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,         50
Stood up in the stirrup, lean’d, patted his ear,
Call’d my Roland his pet name, my horse without peer;
Clapp’d my hands, laugh’d and sang, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland gallop’d and stood.
And all I remember is, friends flocking round         55
As I sat with his head ’twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I pour’d down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.         60




7 thoughts on “Robert Browning “How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix”

  1. I was very young when I first read this and was desperate to know what the “good news” was and what fate Aix was saved from (and the whole associated history). It was quite a few years later before I realised that Browning was just making it up There was no Google then and my parents just guessed that it was something to do with the Dutch revolt – these days curiosity is much more easily satisfied, which is not necessarily a good thing.

  2. Possibly “The Old Guard BROKE!”, after Waterloo? Fast couriers from Ghent to Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) to alert the late-arriving allies pf victory? Not sure, but the poem was a great pick-me-up to day. Great meter.

    • Nice idea but I think that it does not make too much historical sense. Not only was Aachen not expecting some terrible Napoleonic fate but the riders would have started from Brussels (which really does not sound anything like as good as Ghent). Google suggests the 1576 Pacification of Ghent, which is frankly boring so I reckon we just credit Browning’s imagination and assume that he had no idea – nor needed one – as to what the “news” or “fate” were.

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