Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Napoleon’s Last Look

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.


Napoleon’s Last Look

By 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

    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

    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,

    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.

    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

    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,

    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

    His meteor-presence burst,—

    When blood-besotted Anarchy

    Sank quelled amid the roar

    Of thy far-sweeping musketry,

    Eventful Thermidor!

    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,

    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,

    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,

    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.

    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

    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

    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,

    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.

    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

    Upon destruction’s marge,

    Nor kinglike share with desperate pride

    Their vainly glorious charge?

    No,—gladly forward he would dash

    Amid that onset on,

    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

    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,

    Save when his spirit-shaking story,

    In years remotely dim,

    Warms some pale minstrel with its glory

    To raise the song to him.