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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘Ode to Napoleon’
By Lord Byron (1788–1824)
 
(See full text.)

’TIS done—but yesterday a King,
  And armed with Kings to strive;
And now thou art a nameless thing,
  So abject—yet alive!
Is this the man of thousand thrones,        5
Who strewed our earth with hostile bones,
  And can he thus survive?
Since he, miscalled the Morning Star,
Nor man nor fiend hath fallen so far.
 
Ill-minded man! why scourge thy kind        10
  Who bowed so low the knee?
By gazing on thyself grown blind,
  Thou taught’st the rest to see.
With might unquestioned—power to save—
Thine only gift hath been the grave        15
  To those that worshipped thee;
Nor till thy fall could mortals guess
Ambition’s less than littleness!
 
Thanks for that lesson—it will teach
  To after-warriors more        20
Than high Philosophy can preach,
  And vainly preached before.
That spell upon the minds of men
Breaks never to unite again,
  That led them to adore        25
Those pagod things of sabre sway,
With fronts of brass and feet of clay.
 
The triumph and the vanity,
  The rapture of the strife— 1
The earthquake voice of Victory,        30
  To thee the breath of life—
The sword, the sceptre, and that sway
Which man seemed made but to obey,
  Wherewith renown was rife—
All quelled!—Dark Spirit! what must be        35
The madness of thy memory!
 
The Desolator desolate!
  The victor overthrown!
The Arbiter of others’ fate
  A Suppliant for his own!        40
Is it some yet imperial hope
That with such change can calmly cope,
  Or dread of death alone?
To die a prince, or live a slave—
Thy choice is most ignobly brave!        45
 
He who of old would rend the oak 2
  Dreamed not of the rebound;
Chained by the trunk he vainly broke—
  Alone—how looked he round!
Thou, in the sternness of thy strength,        50
An equal deed hast done at length,
  And darker fate hast found:
He fell, the forest prowlers’ prey;
But thou must eat thy heart away!
 
The Roman, 3 when his burning heart        55
  Was slaked with blood of Rome,
Threw down the dagger—dared depart
  In savage grandeur, home:
He dared depart, in utter scorn
Of men that such a yoke had borne,        60
  Yet left him such a doom!
His only glory was that hour
Of self-upheld abandoned power.
 
The Spaniard, 4 when the lust of sway
  Had lost its quickening spell,        65
Cast crowns for rosaries away,
  An empire for a cell;
A strict accountant of his beads,
A subtle disputant on creeds,
  His dotage trifled well:        70
Yet better had he neither known
A bigot’s shrine, nor despot’s throne.
 
But thou—from thy reluctant hand
  The thunderbolt is wrung;
Too late thou leav’st the high command        75
  To which thy weakness clung;
All Evil Spirit as thou art,
It is enough to grieve the heart
  To see thine own unstrung;
To think that God’s fair world hath been        80
The footstool of a thing so mean!
 
And Earth hath spilt her blood for him,
  Who thus can hoard his own!
And Monarchs bowed the trembling limb,
  And thanked him for a throne!        85
Fair Freedom! we may hold thee dear,
When thus thy mightiest foes their fear
  In humblest guise have shown.
Oh! ne’er may tyrant leave behind
A brighter name to lure mankind!        90
 
Thine evil deeds are writ in gore,
  Nor written thus in vain—
Thy triumphs tell of fame no more,
  Or deepen every stain:
If thou hadst died, as honor dies,        95
Some new Napoleon might arise,
  To shame the world again;
But who would soar the solar height,
To set in such a starless night?
 
Weighed in the balance, hero dust        100
  Is vile as vulgar clay;
Thy scales, Mortality! are just
  To all that pass away;
But yet methought the living great
Some higher sparks should animate,        105
  To dazzle and dismay:
Nor deemed Contempt could thus make mirth
Of these, the Conquerors of the earth.
 
And she, proud Austria’s mournful flower,
  Thy still imperial bride,        110
How bears her breast the torturing hour?
  Still clings she to thy side?
Must she too bend, must she too share
Thy late repentance, long despair,
  Thou throneless Homicide?        115
If still she loves thee, hoard that gem—
’Tis worth thy vanished diadem!
 
Then haste thee to thy sullen Isle,
  And gaze upon the sea;
That element may meet thy smile—        120
  It ne’er was ruled by thee!
Or trace with thine all idle hand,
In loitering mood upon the sand,
  That Earth is now as free!
That Corinth’s pedagogue 5 hath now        125
Transferred his byword to thy brow.
 
Thou Timour! in his captive’s cage,
  What thoughts will there be thine,
While brooding in thy prisoned rage?
  But one—“The world was mine!”        130
Unless, like him of Babylon,
All sense is with thy sceptre gone,
  Life will not long confine
That spirit poured so widely forth—
So long obeyed—so little worth!
*        *        *        *        *
        135
 
Note 1. “Certaminis gaudia”—the expression of Attila in his harangue to his army, previous to the battle of Châlons. [back]
Note 2. Milo of Croton. [back]
Note 3. Sulla. [back]
Note 4. The Emperor Charles V., who abdicated in 1555. [back]
Note 5. Dionysius of Sicily, who, after his fall, kept a school at Corinth. [back]
 
 
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