After Blenheim

In Robert Southey’s poem ‘After Blenheim’, the old Kasper, who presumably is a simpleton, is flummoxed when his innocent grandchildren enquire about the usefulness of war. He has heard others glorifying war and has picked the phrase, “It was a great victory.” The fact that he does not actually understand this phrase punctuates the horrors and uselessness of war. He cannot answer their one simple question and gives one conditioned response saying “It was a famous victory.”

After finishing his work, old Kaspar is sitting in the sun in front of the cottage, watching his granddaughter, Wilhelmine play. Her brother Peterkin is playing near the rivulet. He comes back holding “something large and round” which he has found near the stream. He brings it to the old man, who tells him that it is some poor fellow’s skull who must have been killed in the “great victory” of Blenheim.

He adds that thousands of men were killed in that battle and admits that he has often found their skulls while ploughing in the garden. The naivety with which Kasper imparts bits of information about war underscores the horror and by implication the uselessness of war.

Anticipating a story, the children ask him about the battle and why it was fought. Kasper is flummoxed and says that the only thing he knows is that the French were defeated by the English and that it was a very famous victory. He also tells them that his father lived at Blenheim then. His own house was burnt down, and he had to flee with his family. He had no place to seek refuge.

The war caused widespread ruin and destruction. He tells them that thousands died in it and the dead included not only soldiers but also townspeople, young and innocent children. However he adds that this is what happens during a war. He continues to give a ghastly yet vivid description of the ruin and destruction in the aftermath of the war. Bodies were lying around, scattered and rotting in the sun. Yet again he replies, that such things are quite common after a war.

Old Kasper, totally unmoved by his grandchildren’s abhorrence of war, continues to refer to the public praise of Duke of Marlborough. Little Peterkin, like his sister, wants to know what good came out of the war. The old man is puzzled and again weakly asserts that it was a famous victory. By making Kasper’s response feeble, unsure and stereotyped, the poet is getting the reader to react strongly against war!


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