Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Napoleon in Bivouac

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV. 1876–79.

Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia: Nile, the River

Napoleon in Bivouac

By Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876)

Translated by C. T. Brooks

A WATCH-FIRE on a sandy waste—

Two trenches—arms in stack—

A pyramid of bayonets—

Napoleon’s bivouac!

Yonder the stately grenadiers

Of Kleber’s vanguard see!

The general to inspect them sits—

Close by the blaze sits he.

Upon his weary knee the chart,

There, by the glowing heap,

Softly the mighty Bonaparte

Sinks, like a child to sleep.

And stretched on cloak and cannon,

His soldiers, too, sleep well,

And, leaning on his musket, nods

The very sentinel.

Sleep on, ye weary warriors, sleep!

Sleep out your last hard fight!

Mute, shadowy sentinels shall keep

Watch round your trench to-night.

Let Murad’s horsemen dash along!

Let man and steed come on!

To guard your line stalks many a strong

And stalwart Champion.

A Mede stands guard, who with you rode

When you from Thebes marched back,

Who after King Cambyses strode,

Hard in his chariot’s track.

A stately Macedonian

Stands sentry by your line,

Who saw on Ammon’s plain the crown

Of Alexander shine.

And, lo! another spectre!

Old Nile has known him well;

An Admiral of Cæsar’s fleet,

Who under Cæsar fell.

The graves of earth’s old lords, who sleep

Beneath the desert-sands,

Send forth their dead, his guard to keep,

Who now the world commands.

They stir, they wake, their places take

Around the midnight flame;

The sand and mould I see them shake

From many a mail-clad frame.

I see the ancient armor gleam

With wild and lurid light;

Old, bloody purple mantles stream

Out on the winds of night.

They float and flap around a brow

By boiling passion stirred;

The hero, as in anger, now,

Deep-breathing, grasps his sword.

He dreams;—a hundred realms, in dream,

Erect him each a throne;

High on a car, with golden beam,

He sits as Ammon’s son.

With thousand throats, to welcome him

The glowing Orient cries,

While at his feet the fire grows dim,

Gives one faint flash—and dies.