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


Ode to the Column of Napoleon

By Victor Hugo (1802–1885)

Translated by George W. M. Reynolds

ON the foundation that his glory laid,

With indestructible materials made,

Alike secure from ruin and from rust,

Before whose might all monuments are dust,

The eternal Column, towering far on high,

Presents Napoleon’s throne unto the sky.

Well deemed the hero, when his sovereign hand,

Fatigued with war, the lasting trophy planned,

That civil discord would retire in shame

Before the vast memorial of his name;

And that the nation would forget to praise

The deeds of those who shone in ancient days.

Around the earth his veterans he had led,

O’er smoking fields encumbered with the dead,

And from the presence of that host so true

Armies and kings in wild confusion flew,

Leaving their ponderous cannon on the plain,—

A prey to him and his victorious train!

Then, when the fields of France again were trod

By him who came triumphant as a god,

Bearing the spoils of the defeated world,—

He came mid joyous cries and flags unfurled,

Welcome as eagle to her infant brood

That waits on mountain-top its daily food!

But he, intent on his stupendous aims,

Straightway proceeds to where the furnace flames;

And while his troops, with haste and zealous glow,

The massive ordnance in the caldron throw,

He to the meanest artisan unfolds

His plans to form the fashion of the moulds.

Then to the war he led his troops once more,

And from the foe the palm of conquest bore;—

He drove the opponent armies from the plain,

And seized their dread artillery again,

As good material for the Column high,

Built to perpetuate his memory!

Such was his task! The roaring culverin,

The spur, the sabre, and the mortar’s din,—

These were his earliest sports till Egypt gave

Her ancient Pyramids his smile to save;

Then, when the imperial crown adorned his brow,

He raised the monument we reverence now!

He raised that monument! The grandest age

Which e’er the historian’s annals might engage

Furnished the subject, and the end of time

Shall boast that emblem of his course sublime,

Where Rhine and Tiber rolled in crimson flood,

And the tall snow-capped Alps all trembling stood!

For even as the giant race of old

Ossa on Pelion, mount on mountain, rolled,

To scale high heaven’s towers, so he has made

His battles serve to help his escalade;

And thus to gratify his fancy wild,

Wagram, Arcole, on Austerlitz were piled!

The sun unveiled himself in beauty bright,

The eyes of all beamed gladness and delight,

When, with unruffled visage, thou didst come,

Hero of France! unto the Place Vendôme

To mark thy Column towering from the ground,

And the four eagles ranged the base around.

’T was then, environed by thy warriors tried,

As erst the Romans flocked to Æmilius’ side,—

’T was then each child—each infant, on whose head

Six summers scarcely had their radiance shed—

Murmured applause, and clapped their little hands,

And spied their fathers midst thy serried bands.

O, when thou stoodst there, godlike, proud, and great,

Pondering on conquest, majesty, and state,

Who would have thought that e’er the time could be

When a base senate should dishonor thee,

And cavil o’er thine ashes, for Vendôme

At least is worthy to become thy tomb!