Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Oceanica
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Oceanica: Vol. XXXI.  1876–79.
 
Various Islands: St. Helena
On the Death of Napoleon
Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873)
 
Translated by T. W. Parsons

HE was: and motionless in death,
As that unconscious clay,
Robbed of so mighty breath,
In speechless ruin lay,
Even so, bewildered, stunned, aghast,        5
      Earth at the tale is dumb,
Pondering the final agonies
Of him, the man of fate,
And wondering when, with tread like his,
Again to desolate        10
Her trampled fields, all dust and blood,
      A mortal foot shall come.
 
Him, upon his refulgent throne,
In silence could my soul survey,
And when, by varying fortunes blown,        15
He fell, rose—fell again and lay,
My spirit to the millions’ tone
      Echoed back no reply;
Virgin alike from servile praise
And cowardly abuse;        20
But now, as wane the meteor’s rays,
I let my genius loose,
To fall upon his urn one strain
      Perchance that shall not die.
 
From the Alps to the Pyramids,        25
From the Manzanar to the Rhine,
He tracked his eagles, as the bolt
Follows its flashing sign.
From Tanais to Scylla glancing,
      From the West to the Eastern brine;        30
Was this true greatness?—That high doom
Let after times declare;
We to the Greatest bow, from whom
He held so large a share
Of the Most High, creative mind,        35
      Stamped by the hand divine.
 
The tremulous, tempestuous joy
Of lofty enterprise—the heart
That knew no rest from its employ,
But burned to play the imperial part;        40
And won and kept a prize whose dream
      Had madness seemed, at best—
All he had proved and passed—renown
That after danger brightest smiled,
Defeat and flight, and victory’s crown,        45
A ruler now, and now exiled,—
Twice humbled in the dust, defiled,
      Twice at the altar blest.
 
Two ages, ’gainst each other armed,
Him for their umpire named,        50
Looking on him as Fate: he charmed
To silence their contentions—tamed
Their frantic feuds, and sat supreme
      Their factious rage above:
He vanished—and his vacant days        55
Spent in so small a sphere!
Majestic mark for envy’s gaze,
And pity most sincere—
For unextinguishable hate,
      And never-vanquished love.        60
 
As on the shipwrecked seaman’s head
The o’erwhelming breakers pour,
Beyond whose foaming fury spread
Around him and before,
The wretch had vainly gazed to see        65
      The intangible, far strand:
Thus o’er that strong but sinking soul
Swept Memory’s whelming tide,
As oft his actions to enroll
In Fame’s records he tried;—        70
But from the everlasting scroll
      Fell, faint, his harassed hand.
 
O, at the silent, dying hour
Of some dull day of rest,
His lightning eyes in sullen lower,        75
And his arms folded on his breast,
How often have his days of power
      Rushed on remembrance thick!
Then to his backward-roving thought
The moving tents, the trench, the course,        80
The gleaming squadrons have been brought,
The sea-like surging of the horse,
The martial word, the swift command,
      The obedience, no less quick.
 
Alas! at such an overthrow        85
Haply that panting spirit failed;
Haply despairing drooped: but, lo!
The Omnipotent from heaven hailed
His child, and unto purer air,
      With pitying hand conveyed;        90
And through the flowery paths of hope
Dismissed him to the eternal fields,
Where more than even his lofty scope
Perfect fruition yields,
And where the glory that hath past        95
      Is silence now, and shade.
 
Beneficent, immortal, fair,
Faith holds her wonted triumph yet:
Write this besides: Rejoice! for ne’er
Did haughtier potentate forget        100
His pride, and meekly bow at last,
      To Golgotha’s disgrace.
Thou, o’er his weary dust, each low
Calumnious word forbear;
The God from whom afflictions flow,        105
All comfort and all care,
Beside him deigned, on his low bed,
      To find a resting-place.
 
 
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