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“Well,” cried he, “Emperor, by God’s grace 
“We’ve got you Ratisbon! 
“The Marshal’s in the market-place, 
“And you’ll be there anon 
“To see your flag-bird flap his vans 
“Where I, to heart’s desire, 
“Perched him!” The chief’s eye flashed; his plans 
Soared up again like fire.

In this stanza we hear from the boy, who, as we learned above, was shot threw. The boy is an extasy it seems. The tight lips of the third stanza were from his effort to make the announcement –not grim determination.

The Marshall is Lannes. The French have taken the city. The “flag-bird” is Napoleon’s eagle. 

And here we come to the summit of the boy’s joy: 

Where I, to heart’s desire,

Perched him!

It was the desire of the boy to perch the Emperor’s flag.  The boy was no fighting for something abstract, like his country. He was fighting for someone concrete, the “chief.”

It is Napoleon’s plan that are his joy. So both the boy and Napoleon can join in the same hope.


The chief’s eye flashed; but presently 
Softened itself, as sheathes 
A film the mother-eagle’s eye 
When her bruised eaglet breathes; 
“You’re wounded!” “Nay,” the soldier’s pride 
Touched to the quick, he said: 
“I’m killed, Sire!” And his chief beside 
Smiling the boy fell dead.

Here the Emperor is made human for a moment. The description of the tear forming in Napoleon’s eyes makes for an interesting basis of sympathy. 

His eyes at first flashed – with victory. Then the eye soften when it took in the boy. 

The language of a mother eagle with her eaglet is appropriate – because Napoleon’s symbol was the eagle. It was the eagle flag which the boy posted in the town. 

He finally notices that the boy is wounded. He blurts out, “You’re wounded!”

And here comes the surprise – at the end of the poem. This is the “incident”. It is why the story was so remarkable that the unnamed French soldier is telling this to you. 

He has spoken of the precarious position of Napoleon. Of the boy’s announcement. Of the surprising sympathy of Napoleon. 

But this surprise works almost as if a joke:

Napoleon says, You are wounded. 

The boy says, Nope, I’m not wounded! I’m dead!

And then the boy falls smiling, down.

The only explanation for the boy’s action is given as

                        the soldier’s pride 
Touched to the quick,

The boy is not a soldier in this instant, he is a soldier.  The boy has become something important in his own eyes – and since he has honored the Napoleon, that pride and accomplishment is objectively true. 

The boy then dies, smiling before the “chief.”

Note the use of the S’s and B’s to structure the lines:

The chief’S eye flaShed; but presently 
Softened itSelf, as SheatheS 
A film the mother-eagle’s eye 
When her Bruised eaglet Breathes; 
“You’re wounded!” “Nay,” the Soldier’S pride 
Touched to the quick, he Said: 
“I’m killed, Sire!” And his chief beSide 
Smiling the boy fell dead.

Also by ending the poem and the line on the word “dead,” Browning drives home the “punch-line” (if you will).