Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > France
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X.  1876–79.
Napoleon’s Last Look
Bartholomew Simmons (1804–1850)
          “I shall never forget that morning we made Ushant. I had come on deck at four o’clock to take the morning watch, when to my astonishment I saw the Emperor come out of the cabin at that early hour and make for the poop ladder. Having gained the deck, pointing to the land, he said, ‘Ushant? Cape Ushant?’ I replied, ‘Yes, Sire,’ and withdrew. He then took out a pocket-glass and applied it to his eye, looking eagerly at the land. In this position he remained from five in the morning to nearly midday, without paying any attention to what was passing around him, or speaking to one of his suite, which had been standing behind him for several hours. No wonder he thus gazed; it was the last look of the land of his glory, and I am convinced he felt it as such. What must have been his feelings in these few hours!”—Memoirs of an Aristocrat.

WHAT of the night, ho! Watcher there
  Upon the armed deck,
That holds within its thunderous lair
  The last of empire’s wreck,—
E’en him whose capture now the chain        5
  From captive earth shall smite;
Ho! rocked upon the moaning main,
  Watcher, what of the night?
“The stars are waning fast, the curl
  Of morning’s coming breeze        10
Far in the north begins to furl
  Night’s vapor from the seas.
Her every shred of canvas spread,
  The proud ship plunges free,
While bears afar, with stormy head,        15
  Cape Ushant on our lee.”
At that last word, as trumpet-stirred,
  Forth in the dawning gray
A silent man made to the deck
  His solitary way.        20
And, leaning o’er the poop, he gazed
  Till on his straining view
That cloudlike speck of land, upraised,
  Distinct, but slowly grew.
Well may he look until his frame        25
  Maddens to marble there;
He risked Renown’s all-grasping game,
  Dominion or despair,
And lost; and lo! in vapor furled,
  The last of that loved France,        30
For which his prowess cursed the world,
  Is dwindling from his glance.
He lives, perchance, the past again,
  From the fierce hour when first
On the astounded hearts of men        35
  His meteor-presence burst,—
When blood-besotted Anarchy
  Sank quelled amid the roar
Of thy far-sweeping musketry,
  Eventful Thermidor!        40
Again he grasps the victor-crown
  Marengo’s carnage yields,
Or bursts o’er Lodi, beating down
  Bavaria’s thousand shields;
Then, turning from the battle-sod,        45
  Assumes the Consul’s palm,
Or seizes giant empire’s rod
  In solemn Notre Dame.
And darker thoughts oppress him now,—
  Her ill-requited love,        50
Whose faith as beauteous as her brow
  Brought blessings from above,
Her trampled heart, his darkening star,
  The cry of outraged man,
And white-lipped Rout and wolfish War,        55
  Loud thundering on his van.
Rave on, thou far-resounding deep,
  Whose billows round him roll!
Thou ’rt calmness to the storms that sweep
  This moment o’er his soul.        60
Black chaos swims before him, spread
  With trophy-shaping bones;
The council-strife, the battle-dead,
  Rent charters, cloven thrones.
Yet, proud one! could the loftiest day        65
  Of thy transcendent power
Match with the soul-compelling sway
  Which in this dreadful hour
Aids thee to hide beneath the show
  Of calmest lip and eye        70
The hell that wars and works below,
  The quenchless thirst to die?
The white dawn crimsoned into morn,
  The morning flashed to day,
And the sun followed glory-born,        75
  Rejoicing on his way,
And still o’er ocean’s kindling flood
  That muser cast his view,
While round him awed and silent stood
  His fate’s devoted few.        80
O for the sulphureous eve of June,
  When down that Belgian hill
His bristling Guards’ superb platoon
  He led unbroken still!
Now would he pause, and quit their side        85
  Upon destruction’s marge,
Nor kinglike share with desperate pride
  Their vainly glorious charge?
No,—gladly forward he would dash
  Amid that onset on,        90
Where blazing shot and sabre-crash
  Pealed o’er his empire gone;
There, ’neath his vanquished eagles tost,
  Should close his grand career,
Girt by his heaped and slaughtered host        95
  He lived,—for fetters here!
Enough,—in noontide’s yellow light
  Cape Ushant melts away,
Even as his kingdom’s shattered might
  Shall utterly decay,        100
Save when his spirit-shaking story,
  In years remotely dim,
Warms some pale minstrel with its glory
  To raise the song to him.

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