Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
 
III. War
The Bronze Statue of Napoleon
Henri Auguste Barbier (1805–1882)
 
Anonymous translation from the French

THE WORK is done! the spent flame burns no more,
  The furnace fires smoke and die,
The iron flood boils over. Ope the door,
  And let the haughty one pass by!
Roar, mighty river, rush upon your course,        5
  A bound,—and, from your dwelling past,
Dash forward, like a torrent from its source,
  A flame from the volcano cast!
To gulp your lava-waves earth’s jaws extend,
  Your fury in one mass fling forth,—        10
In your steel mould, O Bronze, a slave descend,
  An emperor return to earth!
Again NAPOLEON,—’t is his form appears!
  Hard soldier in unending quarrel,
Who cost so much of insult, blood, and tears,        15
  For only a few boughs of laurel!
 
For mourning France it was a day of grief,
  When, down from its high station flung,
His mighty statue, like some shameful thief,
  In coils of a vile rope was hung;        20
When we beheld at the grand column’s base,
  And o’er a shrieking cable bowed,
The stranger’s strength that mighty bronze displace
  To hurrahs of a foreign crowd;
When, forced by thousand arms, head-foremost thrown,        25
  The proud mass cast in monarch mould
Made sudden fall, and on the hard, cold stone
  Its iron carcass sternly rolled.
The Hun, the stupid Hun, with soiled, rank skin,
  Ignoble fury in his glance,        30
The emperor’s form the kennel’s filth within
  Drew after him, in face of France!
On those within whose bosoms hearts hold reign,
  That hour like remorse must weigh
On each French brow,—’t is the eternal stain,        35
  Which only death can wash away!
I saw, where palace-walls gave shade and ease,
  The wagons of the foreign force;
I saw them strip the bark which clothed our trees,
  To cast it to their hungry horse.        40
I saw the Northman, with his savage lip,
  Bruising our flesh till black with gore,
Our bread devour,—on our nostrils sip
  The air which was our own before!
 
In the abasement and the pain,—the weight        45
  Of outrages no words make known,—
I charged one only being with my hate:
  Be thou accursed, Napoleon!
O lank-haired Corsican, your France was fair,
  In the full sun of Messidor!        50
She was a tameless and a rebel mare,
  Nor steel bit nor gold rein she bore;
Wild steed with rustic flank;—yet, while she trod,—
  Reeking with blood of royalty,
But proud with strong foot striking the old sod,        55
  At last, and for the first time, free,—
Never a hand, her virgin form passed o’er,
  Left blemish nor affront essayed;
And never her broad sides the saddle bore,
  Nor harness by the stranger made.        60
A noble vagrant,—with coat smooth and bright,
  And nostril red, and action proud,—
As high she reared, she did the world affright
  With neighings which rang long and loud.
You came; her mighty loins, her paces scanned,        65
  Pliant and eager for the track;
Hot Centaur, twisting in her mane your hand,
  You sprang all booted to her back.
Then, as she loved the war’s exciting sound,
  The smell of powder and the drum,        70
You gave her Earth for exercising ground,
  Bade Battles as her pastimes come!
Then, no repose for her,—no nights, no sleep!
  The air and toil for evermore!
And human forms like unto sand crushed deep,        75
  And blood which rose her chest before!
Through fifteen years her hard hoofs’ rapid course
  So ground the generations,
And she passed smoking in her speed and force
  Over the breast of nations;        80
Till,—tired in ne’er earned goal to place vain trust,
  To tread a path ne’er left behind,
To knead the universe and like a dust
  To uplift scattered human kind,—
Feebly and worn, and gasping as she trode,        85
  Stumbling each step of her career,
She craved for rest the Corsican who rode.
  But, torturer! you would not hear;
You pressed her harder with your nervous thigh,
  You tightened more the goading bit,        90
Choked in her foaming mouth her frantic cry,
  And brake her teeth in fury-fit.
She rose,—but the strife came. From farther fall
  Saved not the curb she could not know,—
She went down, pillowed on the cannon-ball,        95
  And thou wert broken by the blow!
 
Now born again, from depths where thou wert hurled,
  A radiant eagle dost thou rise;
Winging thy flight again to rule the world,
  Thine image reascends the skies.        100
No longer now the robber of a crown,—
  The insolent usurper,—he,
With cushions of a throne, unpitying, down
  Who pressed the throat of Liberty,—
Old slave of the Alliance, sad and lone,        105
  Who died upon a sombre rock,
And France’s image until death dragged on
  For chain, beneath the stranger’s stroke,—
NAPOLEON stands, unsullied by a stain:
  Thanks to the flatterer’s tuneful race,        110
The lying poets who ring praises vain,
  Has Cæsar ’mong the gods found place!
His image to the city-walls gives light;
  His name has made the city’s hum,—
Still sounded ceaselessly, as through the fight        115
  It echoed farther than the drum.
From the high suburbs, where the people crowd,
  Doth Paris, an old pilgrim now,
Each day descend to greet the pillar proud,
  And humble there his monarch brow;—        120
The arms encumbered with a mortal wreath,
  With flowers for that bronze’s pall,
(No mothers look on, as they pass beneath,—
  It grew beneath their tears so tall!)—
In working-vest, in drunkenness of soul,        125
  Unto the fife’s and trumpet’s tone,
Doth joyous Paris dance the Carmagnole
  Around the great Napoleon.
 
Thus, Gentle Monarchs, pass unnoted on!
  Mild Pastors of Mankind, away!        130
Sages, depart, as common brows have gone,
  Devoid of the immortal ray!
For vainly you make light the people’s chain;
  And vainly, like a calm flock, come
On your own footsteps, without sweat or pain,        135
  The people,—treading towards their tomb.
Soon as your star doth to its setting glide,
  And its last lustre shall be given
By your quenched name,—upon the popular tide
  Scarce a faint furrow shall be riven.        140
Pass, pass ye on! For you no statue high!
  Your names shall vanish from the horde:
Their memory is for those who lead to die
  Beneath the cannon and the sword;
Their love, for him who on the humid field        145
  By thousands lays to rot their bones;
For him, who bids them pyramids to build,—
  And bear upon their backs the stones!
 
 
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