Ferdinand Freiligrath: “Napoleon In Bivouac”
Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.
Battle of Aboukir Bay, 25 July 1798, by Louis Lejeune
Although the result of the battle of the Nile was a fatal blow to the hopes of Napoleon of ever being able to carry out, to a successful issue, his cherished schemes concerning the establishment of a mighty empire in the East, yet he did not relinquish the idea of doing a great work there.
The gallant Desaix was sent in pursuit of Mourad Bey, and soon he had possession of all Upper Egypt, over which Napoleon made him Governor. The French scientists minutely examined and made record of every object of interest to be found in the country of the old Pharaohs.
Battle of Mount Thabor, 16 April 1799, by Louis Lejeune
Napoleon, in person, inspected the proposed route of a canal in Suez, to connect the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, and it was at the identical spot where tradition tells us the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea that he and his party were nearly drowned by the rising tide. “Had I perished there like Pharaoh,” he said, “it would have furnished all the preachers in Christendom with a magnificent text against me.”
Then followed the battle of Mount Tabor, the siege of Acre, and the glorious victory at Aboukir. Master of Egypt, his work done, so far as it lay in his power to accomplish it, in sight of Pompey’s Pillar and Cleopatra’s Needle, surrounded by shades of those heroes who made ancient history famous, Napoleon, sitting before his tent with a map of the world on his knees, falls asleep; to dream, perchance, of future glory and the wondrous fate still to be his.
Napoleon in Bivouac
A watch-fire on a sandy waste
Two trenches – arms in stack
A pyramid of bayonets
Yonder the stately grenadiers
Of Kleber’s vanguard see.
The general to inspect them
Close by the blaze sits he.
Upon his weary knee the chart,
There, by the flowing 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 tonight.
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 Caesar’s fleet,
Who under Caesar 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 armour 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 dreams,
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.