Victor Hugo: “Ode To The Column of Napoleon”
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.
Soon after the victory of Austerlitz, peace was declared and Napoleon was at liberty once more to return to his beloved Paris. There, he devoted himself, with all the force of his mighty genius, to the creation of those magnificent works of art and of public utility which stamp his name on the history of France even to this day.
Out of the cannon taken from his enemies, he constructed that noble monument in the Place Vendome, which told so vividly the exploits of the Grand Army, to whose fidelity and courage it was consecrated.
ODE TO THE COLUMN OF NAPOLEON
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 ordinance 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 did’st come,
Here of France! Unto the Place Vendome,
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 Aemilius’ 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.
Oh, when thou stood’st 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 dishonour thee,
And cavil o’er thine ashes, for Vendome
At least is worthy to become thy tomb!