Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
 
Narrative Poems: VII. France
Napoleon and the British Sailor
Thomas Campbell (1777–1844)
 
I LOVE contemplating—apart
  From all his homicidal glory—
The traits that soften to our heart
    Napoleon’s glory!
 
’T was when his banners at Boulogne        5
  Armed in our island every freeman,
His navy chanced to capture one
    Poor British seaman.
 
They suffered him—I know not how—
  Unprisoned on the shore to roam;        10
And aye was bent his longing brow
    On England’s home.
 
His eye, methinks! pursued the flight
  Of birds to Britain half-way over;
With envy they could reach the white        15
    Dear cliffs of Dover.
 
A stormy midnight watch, he thought,
  Than this sojourn would have been dearer,
If but the storm his vessel brought
    To England nearer.        20
 
At last, when care had banished sleep,
  He saw one morning, dreaming, doting,
An empty hogshead from the deep
    Come shoreward floating;
 
He hid it in a cave, and wrought        25
  The livelong day laborious; lurking
Until he launched a tiny boat
    By mighty working.
 
Heaven help us! ’t was a thing beyond
  Description wretched; such a wherry        30
Perhaps ne’er ventured on a pond,
    Or crossed a ferry.
 
For, ploughing in the salt-sea field,
  It would have made the boldest shudder;
Untarred, uncompassed, and unkeeled,—        35
    No sail, no rudder.
 
From neighboring woods he interlaced
  His sorry skiff with wattled willows;
And thus equipped he would have passed
    The foaming billows,—        40
 
But Frenchmen caught him on the beach,
  His little Argo sorely jeering;
Till tidings of him chanced to reach
    Napoleon’s hearing.
 
With folded arms Napoleon stood,        45
  Serene alike in peace and danger;
And, in his wonted attitude,
    Addressed the stranger:—
 
“Rash man, that wouldst yon Channel pass
  On twigs and staves so rudely fashioned,        50
Thy heart with some sweet British lass
    Must be impassioned.”
 
“I have no sweetheart,” said the lad;
  “But—absent long from one another—
Great was the longing that I had        55
    To see my mother.”
 
“And so thou shalt,” Napoleon said,
  “Ye ’ve both my favor fairly won;
A noble mother must have bred
    So brave a son.”        60
 
He gave the tar a piece of gold,
  And, with a flag of truce, commanded
He should be shipped to England Old,
    And safely landed.
 
Our sailor oft could scarcely shift        65
  To find a dinner, plain and hearty,
But never changed the coin and gift
    Of Bonapartè.
 
 
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