Bingen on the Rhine
by Caroline Norton

But we’ll meet no more at Bingen—loved Bingen on the Rhine.

Caroline Norton—in full, Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Sheridan Norton (1808–1877)—was a granddaughter of playwright and parliamentarian Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Thanks to an unfortunate marriage, she devoted much of her life to advocating for women’s legal rights. She lived to see the first Married Women’s Property Act, giving married women control over their earned income, but not the second, letting married women retain their inherited property.

In between, she found time for the occasional bit of writing, notably the seven-stanza poem “Bingen on the Rhine” in 1847.

Query: What’s special about Bingen? Answer: Nothing in parti­cular, unless you are a fan of twelfth-century composer Hildegard of Bingen. The author has made the poem timeless by concen­trating on the main character’s home town. Conve­niently for her, the French Foreign Legion was established in 1831, just in time to let Germans take part in France’s long-running Algerian war.

Song and Poem

For variety’s sake, Bingen on the Rhine isn’t in iambs (da DUM da DUM and so on). Instead the author used four-syllable paeans (DUM da dum dum DUM da dum dum), a metre I especially associate with Kipling—fittingly enough, given the subject.

The choice of metre made it easy to set the poem to music—and set it was. Although Caroline Norton was English, “Bingen” lost no time crossing the Atlantic. Already in 1847 it appeared as a parlor ballad with music by German-born American composer Herrman S. Saroni (1824–1900). Another musical setting by another American, Charlie L. Ward, came along in 1865. (The 1914 “Bingen on the Rhine” by Alfred Bryan and Herman Paley is an unrelated song with the same title.)

Bingen on the Rhine also seems to have been a staple of the amateur-recitation circuit; I find it mentioned in both Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (US, 1903) and Anne of Green Gables (Canada, 1908).

Illustrations

Along with composers, Bingen on the Rhine caught the attention of illustrators. In 1883, Philadephia’s Porter & Coates rounded up half a dozen artists to create a lavishly illustrated edition “under the supervision of” a seventh, James Wood Lauderbach (1830–1898), whose name is often given as “Louderbach”.

The List of Illustrations credits each one individually. In alphabetical order:

Formalities

This ebook is based on the 1883 Porter & Coates (Philadelphia) edition. I didn’t spot any typographical errors.

text: Bingen on the Rhine

text: Bingen on the Rhine. / by / Caroline E. S. Norton.

 

ILLUSTRATED BY

W. T. SMEDLEY, FRED. B. SCHELL, ALFRED FREDERICKS, GRANVILLE PERKINS, J. D. WOODWARD, AND EDMUND H. GARRETT.

 

PHILADELPHIA:
PORTER & COATES.

COPYRIGHTED,
1883,
By Porter & Coates.

text: LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

Drawn and Engraved under the supervision of James W. Lauderbach.

SUBJECT. ARTIST.
Illustrated Title, Frederic B. Schell.
Head-Piece, Edmund H. Garrett.
Vignette, Edmund H. Garrett.
“A Soldier of the Legion,” William T. Smedley.
“There was lack of woman’s nursing,” Granville Perkins.
“Take a message and a token,” Frederic B. Schell.
“Tell my brothers and companions,” William T. Smedley.
“That we fought the battle bravely,” Alfred Fredericks.
“Full many a corpse lay ghastly pale,” Frederic B. Schell.
“And ’midst the dead and dying,” Granville Perkins.
“Tell my mother that her other sons,” William T. Smedley.
“My heart leap’d forth to hear him tell,” Granville Perkins.
“Tell my sister not to weep,” Alfred Fredericks.
“But to look upon them proudly,” Granville Perkins.
“There’s another—not a sister,” William T. Smedley.
“Tell her the last night of my life,” J. D. Woodward.
“I saw the blue Rhine sweep along,” Frederic B. Schell.
“The German songs we used to sing,” Granville Perkins.
“And her little hand lay lightly,” William T. Smedley.
“His voice grew faint and hoarser,” William T. Smedley.
“And the soft moon rose up slowly,” Frederic B. Schell.
“On the red sand of the battle-field,” Granville Perkins.
Tail-Piece, Granville Perkins.

Notes and Corrections: List of Illustrations

The titles in the List of Illustrations are not captions. They are the beginning of the first (sometimes the only) line of text on the page containing the picture.

“On the red sand of the battle-field,” Granville Perkins. / Tail-Piece, Granville Perkins.
[The editor goofed; these are the same picture. Unlike all other illustrations in the book, it comes at the bottom rather than the top of a page.]

text: Bingen on the Rhine.

solldier in kepi standing over wounded soldier

A  SOLDIER of the Legion lay dying in Algiers;

T HERE was lack of woman’s nursing, there was dearth of woman’s tears;

But a comrade stood beside him, while his life-blood ebb’d away,

And bent, with pitying glances, to hear what he might say.

The dying soldier falter’d as he took that comrade’s hand,

And he said, “I never more shall see my own, my native land;

two skies: Oriental horizon with new moon in the foregound, castle overlooking a river with full moon in the background

“T AKE a message and a token to some distant friends of mine,

For I was born at Bingen—at Bingen on the Rhine.

uniformed soldier talking to a group of villagers

“T ELL my brothers and companions, when they meet and crowd around

To hear my mournful story in the pleasant vineyard ground,

aftermath of battle, with heaps of dead soldiers

“T HAT we fought the battle bravely, and when the day was done

desolate roadside with broken carts

“F ULL many a corpse lay ghastly pale beneath the setting sun.

“A ND ’midst the dead and dying were some grown old in wars,

The death-wound on their gallant breasts, the last of many scars;

But some were young, and suddenly beheld life’s morn decline,

And one had come from Bingen, fair Bingen on the Rhine.

 

“T ELL my mother that her other sons shall comfort her old age,

And I was aye a truant bird, that thought his home a cage,

For my father was a soldier, and even as a child

 

“M Y heart leap’d forth to hear him tell of struggles fierce and wild;

And when he died, and left us to divide his scanty hoard,

I let them take whate’er they would, but kept my father’s sword,

And with boyish love I hung it where the bright light used to shine

On the cottage-wall at Bingen—calm Bingen on the Rhine.

crowds look on as soldiers march through a European town

“T ELL my sister not to weep for me, and sob with drooping head,

When the troops are marching home again with glad and gallant tread,

 

“B UT to look upon them proudly, with a calm and steadfast eye,

For her brother was a soldier too, and not afraid to die.

And if a comrade seek her love, I ask her in my name

To listen to him kindly, without regret or shame,

And to hang the old sword in its place (my father’s sword and mine),

For the honor of old Bingen—dear Bingen on the Rhine.

 

“T HERE’S another—not a sister: in the happy days gone by,

You’d have known her by the merriment that sparkled in her eye;

Too innocent for coquetry, too fond for idle scorning,

O friend, I fear the lightest heart makes sometimes heaviest mourning;

 

“T ELL her the last night of my life (for ere the moon be risen

My body will be out of pain—my soul be out of prison),

I dream’d I stood with her, and saw the yellow sunlight shine

On the vineclad hills of Bingen—fair Bingen on the Rhine.

ruined castle on a cliff overlooking a river

“I  SAW the blue Rhine sweep along—I heard, or seemed to hear,

 
 

“T HE German songs we used to sing, in chorus sweet and clear,

And down the pleasant river, and up the slanting hill,

The echoing chorus sounded through the evening calm and still;

And her glad blue eyes were on me as we pass’d with friendly talk

Down many a path beloved of yore, and well-remember’d walk.

 

“A ND her little hand lay lightly, confidingly in mine;

But we’ll meet no more at Bingen—loved Bingen on the Rhine.”

soldier in kepi leaning over dying soldier

H IS voice grew faint and hoarser—his grasp was childish weak—

His eyes put on a dying look—he sigh’d and ceased to speak;

His comrade bent to lift him, but the spark of life had fled—

The soldier of the Legion in a foreign land was dead!

full moon rising slowly over palm trees, small stream and broken carts

A ND the soft moon rose up slowly, and calmly she look’d down

O N the red sand of the battle-field, with bloody corpses strown;

Yea, calmly on that dreadful scene her pale light seem’d to shine,

As it shone on distant Bingen—fair Bingen on the Rhine.

full moon on the horizon, seen behind leaves in the foreground, dropping flag in the mid-distance

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.