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

Various Islands: St. Helena

On the Death of Napoleon

By Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873)

Translated by T. W. Parsons

HE was: and motionless in death,

As that unconscious clay,

Robbed of so mighty breath,

In speechless ruin lay,

Even so, bewildered, stunned, aghast,

Earth at the tale is dumb,

Pondering the final agonies

Of him, the man of fate,

And wondering when, with tread like his,

Again to desolate

Her trampled fields, all dust and blood,

A mortal foot shall come.

Him, upon his refulgent throne,

In silence could my soul survey,

And when, by varying fortunes blown,

He fell, rose—fell again and lay,

My spirit to the millions’ tone

Echoed back no reply;

Virgin alike from servile praise

And cowardly abuse;

But now, as wane the meteor’s rays,

I let my genius loose,

To fall upon his urn one strain

Perchance that shall not die.

From the Alps to the Pyramids,

From the Manzanar to the Rhine,

He tracked his eagles, as the bolt

Follows its flashing sign.

From Tanais to Scylla glancing,

From the West to the Eastern brine;

Was this true greatness?—That high doom

Let after times declare;

We to the Greatest bow, from whom

He held so large a share

Of the Most High, creative mind,

Stamped by the hand divine.

The tremulous, tempestuous joy

Of lofty enterprise—the heart

That knew no rest from its employ,

But burned to play the imperial part;

And won and kept a prize whose dream

Had madness seemed, at best—

All he had proved and passed—renown

That after danger brightest smiled,

Defeat and flight, and victory’s crown,

A ruler now, and now exiled,—

Twice humbled in the dust, defiled,

Twice at the altar blest.

Two ages, ’gainst each other armed,

Him for their umpire named,

Looking on him as Fate: he charmed

To silence their contentions—tamed

Their frantic feuds, and sat supreme

Their factious rage above:

He vanished—and his vacant days

Spent in so small a sphere!

Majestic mark for envy’s gaze,

And pity most sincere—

For unextinguishable hate,

And never-vanquished love.

As on the shipwrecked seaman’s head

The o’erwhelming breakers pour,

Beyond whose foaming fury spread

Around him and before,

The wretch had vainly gazed to see

The intangible, far strand:

Thus o’er that strong but sinking soul

Swept Memory’s whelming tide,

As oft his actions to enroll

In Fame’s records he tried;—

But from the everlasting scroll

Fell, faint, his harassed hand.

O, at the silent, dying hour

Of some dull day of rest,

His lightning eyes in sullen lower,

And his arms folded on his breast,

How often have his days of power

Rushed on remembrance thick!

Then to his backward-roving thought

The moving tents, the trench, the course,

The gleaming squadrons have been brought,

The sea-like surging of the horse,

The martial word, the swift command,

The obedience, no less quick.

Alas! at such an overthrow

Haply that panting spirit failed;

Haply despairing drooped: but, lo!

The Omnipotent from heaven hailed

His child, and unto purer air,

With pitying hand conveyed;

And through the flowery paths of hope

Dismissed him to the eternal fields,

Where more than even his lofty scope

Perfect fruition yields,

And where the glory that hath past

Is silence now, and shade.

Beneficent, immortal, fair,

Faith holds her wonted triumph yet:

Write this besides: Rejoice! for ne’er

Did haughtier potentate forget

His pride, and meekly bow at last,

To Golgotha’s disgrace.

Thou, o’er his weary dust, each low

Calumnious word forbear;

The God from whom afflictions flow,

All comfort and all care,

Beside him deigned, on his low bed,

To find a resting-place.