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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.

Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte

Lord Byron (1788–1824)

’TIS done—but yesterday a King!

And arm’d with Kings to strive—

And now thou art a nameless thing:

So abject—yet alive!

Is this the man of thousand thrones,

Who strew’d 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

Who bow’d so low the knee?

By gazing on thyself grown blind,

Thou taught’st the rest to see.

With might unquestion’d,—power to save,—

Thine only gift hath been the grave,

To those that worshipp’d thee;

Nor till thy fall could mortals guess

Ambition’s less than littleness!

Thanks for that lesson—it will teach

To after-warriors more

Than high Philosophy can preach,

And vainly preach’d before.

That spell upon the minds of men

Breaks never to unite again,

That led them to adore

Those Pagod things of sabre sway

With fronts of brass, and feet of clay.

The triumph and the vanity,

The rapture of the strife—

The earthquake voice of Victory,

To thee the breath of life;

The sword, the sceptre, and that sway

Which man seem’d made but to obey,

Wherewith renown was rife—

All quell’d—Dark spirit! what must be

The madness of thy memory!

The Desolator desolate!

The Victor overthrown!

The Arbiter of others’ fate

A Suppliant for his own!

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!

He who of old would rend the oak,

Dream’d not of the rebound:

Chain’d by the trunk he vainly broke—

Alone—how look’d he round?

Thou, in the sternness of thy strength,

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, when his burning heart

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,

Yet left him such a doom!

His only glory was that hour

Of self-upheld abandon’d power.

The Spaniard, when the lust of sway

Had lost its quickening spell,

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:

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

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

The footstool of a thing so mean;

And Earth hath spilt her blood for him,

Who thus can hoard his own!

And Monarchs bow’d the trembling limb,

And thank’d him for a throne!

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!

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 honour dies,

Some new Napoleon might arise,

To shame the world again—

But who would soar the solar height,

To set in such a starless night?

Weigh’d in the balance, hero dust

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,

To dazzle and dismay:

Nor deem’d Contempt could thus make mirth

Of these, the Conquerors of the earth.

And she, proud Austria’s mournful flower,

Thy still imperial bride;

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?

If still she loves thee, hoard that gem,—

’Tis worth thy vanish’d diadem!

Then haste thee to thy sullen Isle,

And gaze upon the sea;

That element may meet thy smile—

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 hath now

Transferr’d his by-word to thy brow.

Thou Timour! in his captive’s cage

What thoughts will there be thine,

While brooding in thy prison’d rage?

But one—‘The world was mine!’

Unless, like he of Babylon,

All sense is with thy sceptre gone,

Life will not long confine

That spirit pour’d so widely forth—

So long obey’d—so little worth!

Or, like the thief of fire from heaven,

Wilt thou withstand the shock?

And share with him, the unforgiven,

His vulture and his rock!

Foredoom’d by God—by man accurst,

And that last act, though not thy worst,

The very Fiend’s arch mock;

He in his fall preserved his pride

And, if a mortal, had as proudly died!

There was a day—there was an hour,

While earth was Gaul’s—Gaul thine—

When that immeasurable power

Unsated to resign,

Had been an act of purer fame

Than gathers round Marengo’s name,

And gilded thy decline

Through the long twilight of all time,

Despite some passing clouds of crime.

But thou forsooth must be a king,

And don the purple vest,

As if that foolish robe could wring

Rememberance from thy breast.

Where is that faded garment? where

The gewgaws thou wert fond to wear,

The star—the string—the crest?

Vain froward child of empire! say,

Are all thy playthings snatched away?

Where may the wearied eye repose

When gazing on the Great;

Where neither guilty glory glows,

Nor despicable state?

Yes—one—the first—the last—the best—

The Cincinnatus of the West,

Whom envy dared not hate,

Bequeath’d the name of Washington,

To make man blush there was but one!