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.
 
Descriptive Poems: I. Personal: Rulers; Statesmen; Warriors
Napoleon
Lord Byron (1788–1824)
 
From “Childe Harold,” Canto III.

  THERE sunk the greatest, nor the worst of men,
  Whose spirit antithetically mixed
  One moment of the mightiest, and again
  On little objects with like firmness fixed,
  Extreme in all things! hadst thou been betwixt,        5
  Thy throne had still been thine, or never been;
  For daring made thy rise as fall: thou seek’st
  Even now to reassume the imperial mien,
And shake again the world, the Thunderer of the scene!
 
  Conqueror and captive of the earth art thou!        10
  She trembles at thee still, and thy wild name
  Was ne’er more bruited in men’s minds than now
  That thou art nothing, save the jest of Fame,
  Who wooed thee once, thy vassal, and became
  The flatterer of thy fierceness, till thou wert        15
  A god unto thyself: nor less the same
  To the astounded kingdoms all inert,
Who deemed thee for a time whate’er thou didst assert.
 
  O more or less than man—in high or low,
  Battling with nations, flying from the field;        20
  Now making monarchs’ necks thy footstool, now
  More than thy meanest soldier taught to yield:
  An empire thou couldst crush, command, rebuild,
  But govern not thy pettiest passion, nor,
  However deeply in men’s spirits skilled,        25
  Look through thine own, nor curb the lust of war,
Nor learn that tempted Fate will leave the loftiest star.
 
  Yet well thy soul hath brooked the turning tide
  With that untaught innate philosophy,
  Which, be it wisdom, coldness, or deep pride,        30
  Is gall and wormwood to an enemy.
  When the whole host of hatred stood hard by,
  To watch and mock thee shrinking, thou hast smiled
  With a sedate and all-enduring eye,—
  When Fortune fled her spoiled and favorite child,        35
He stood unbowed beneath the ills upon him piled.
 
  Sager than in thy fortunes; for in them
  Ambition steeled thee on too far to show
  That just habitual scorn which could contemn
  Men and their thoughts; ’t was wise to feel, not so        40
  To wear it ever on thy lip and brow,
  And spurn the instruments thou wert to use
  Till they were turned unto thine overthrow;
  ’T is but a worthless world to win or lose;
So hath it proved to thee, and all such lot who choose.        45
 
  If, like a tower upon a headlong rock,
  Thou hadst been made to stand or fall alone,
  Such scorn of man had helped to brave the shock;
  But men’s thoughts were the steps which paved thy throne,
  Their admiration thy best weapon shone;        50
  The part of Philip’s son was thine, not then
  (Unless aside thy purple had been thrown)
  Like stern Diogenes to mock at men;
For sceptred cynics earth were far too wide a den.
 
  But quiet to quick bosoms is a hell,        55
  And there hath been thy bane; there is a fire
  And motion of the soul which will not dwell
  In its own narrow being, but aspire
  Beyond the fitting medium of desire;
  And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore,        60
  Preys upon high adventure, nor can tire
  Of aught but rest; a fever at the core,
Fatal to him who bears, to all who ever bore.
 
  This makes the madmen who have made men mad
  By their contagion! Conquerors and Kings,        65
  Founders of sects and systems, to whom add
  Sophists, Bards, Statesmen, all unquiet things
  Which stir too strongly the soul’s secret springs,
  And are themselves the fools to those they fool;
  Envied, yet how unenviable! what stings        70
  Are theirs! One breast laid open were a school
Which would unteach mankind the lust to shine or rule.
 
  Their breath is agitation, and their life
  A storm whereon they ride, to sink at last,
  And yet so nursed and bigoted to strife,        75
  That should their days, surviving perils past,
  Melt to calm twilight, they feel overcast
  With sorrow and supineness, and so die;
  Even as a flame, unfed, which runs to waste
  With its own flickering, or a sword laid by,        80
Which eats into itself, and rusts ingloriously.
 
  He who ascends to mountain-tops shall find
  The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow;
  He who surpasses or subdues mankind
  Must look down on the hate of those below.        85
  Though high above the sun of glory glow,
  And far beneath the earth and ocean spread,
  Round him are icy rocks, and loudly blow
  Contending tempests on his naked head,
And thus reward the toils which to those summits led.        90
 
 
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