Victor Hugo: “The Grande Armée”
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.
While the Revolution went on and its effect were being felt from one end of France to the other; while the guillotine ran red with blood, and brother condemned brother to suffer beneath its awful knife; while it was a question of extreme doubt what precise form the government would assume, the soldiers of France, fighting her battles on the frontiers, held firm for the honour of their country. Barefooted, without arms and without food, they fought against combined Europe. Victory after victory they won; until, driven beyond the Rhine, the invaders were glad to sue for peace. These were the men who were to make possible the name of Napoleon, and well did they merit better than they then received. The glory, the honour, the future of France were in their keeping, and never once did they betray the trust.
THE GRAND ARMEE
Soldiers of our Year Two! O wars! O epic songs!
Drawing at once their swords against all Crowned Wrongs,
In Prussian, Austrian bounds,
And against all the Tyres and Sodoms of the earth,
And him the man-hunter, the Tzar o’ the icy North,
Follow’d by all his hounds.
And against Europe all, with all its captains proud,
With all its foot-soldiers whose might the plains did crowd,
With all its horsemen fleet,
All risen against France, with many a hydra head—
They sang as on they march’d, their spirits without dread,
And without shoes their feet.
At early dawn, at eve, South, North, and everywhere,
With their old muskets on their shoulders, rattling there,
Passing both rock and flood,
Without sleep or rest, foodless, and ragged too,
Joyous and proud they went, and their shrill trumpets blew.
As only demons could.
Sublimest Liberty fill’d evermore their thought;
Fleets taken sword in hand, and frontiers set at nought—
So sovereignly they go;
O France! On every day some prodigy they dare—
Encounters, combats, shocks—on Adige’ side Joubert,
And on the Rhine Marceau.
The vanguard they o’ercame, the centre thy o’erthrew;
In the snow, and in the rain, water their middles to,
On went they, ever on:
And one sued them for peace, and one flung wide his gate;
And thrones were scattered like dead leaves, here of late,
Now at the wind’s breath gone.
O soldiers! You were grand, in the midst of battle-shocks,
With your lightning-flashing eyes and wild dishevel’d locks
In the wild whirlwind black;
Impetuous, ardent, radiant, tossing back your heads,
Like lions snuffing up the North-wind when he treads
Upon his tempest track!
Drunken and madly rapt in their great epic deeds,
They savour’d all the mirth of most heroic needs—
Steel clashing here and there,
The winged Marseillaise flying amid the balls,
The grenades and the drums, the bomb-shells and cymbals,
And thy clear laugh, Kleber!
The Revolution cried—Die, O my volunteers!
Die to deliver all the people from their fears!
Their answering hands they raised.
Go, my old soldiers! Go, my beardless generals!
And Victory proudly march’d to the sound of bare foot falls
Over the world amazed.
Disheartening and fear to them were all unknown;
They had without a doubt over the high clouds gone,
If their audacity
In its Olympic race one moment had look’d back,
And seen the Republic point over their glorious track
Her finger to the sky.