Canto 24: Nostoi

Though Mars himself, the angry god of arms,
& all the earthly potentates conspire
To disposses me of this diadem,
Yet will I wear it in despite of them

Christopher Marlowe


 

Fontainbleu

Armies Allied surround the Paris wall,
“We must fight on!” rallied Napoleon,
Fluster’d with his unfathomable fall,
“But sire, all hope in victory is gone!”
Dispirited
The Marshalls gather round,
On one point united… a solution is found.

“Never…” & yet, to save his face,
He an abdication sign’d
In that morgue-like, ghost-stain’d palace
Where the Court of Love once dined,
“You must exile, there’s no disgrace,
Be in comfort confined…”
London dictating to a dictator –
“Where shall I reside?” “Rot upon Elba!”

The Grand Duchess of Tuscany,
Dejected & alone,
The family greek tragedy
Rejects them from a throne –
As with her cuckoo-siblings she from eagle’s nest hath flown.

Bagni di Lucca
1814


 

The Canadian War

Conscious of a manifest destiny
Tho’ barely yet a white pawn in the Game,
The fledgeling wings of precious Liberty
Span oer the world, fanning the flames of fame;
America!
With freedom not content
Strikes vasty Canada to claim the continent.

As British redcoats ride upon
The soil their soldiers died for,
Into the streets of Washington
They carry hot shots of war,
A little spot of vengeance won,
Torch-flames settle the score,
& when the battle pass’d, to hide the fight,
Those Kloof-black scorch-marks painted oer with white.

As blood-lust simmers off the boil,
Good-feeling, peace-eager
Men share the spoil, divide the soil
Of North America –
Two cousins touching blood-stain’d fists, friendship seal’d forever.

Ghent
1814


 

A Challenge

Once, romance, regent ruler of an age,
Dwelt deep in the beatings of great men’s hearts,
Conjuring the captain that help’d to cage
The grand thief of Europe, as woodland parts;
He halts his ride
At the edge of tall trees,
Surveying countryside of swaying yellow seas.

With knowing eyes he scann’d the scene,
“I have seen its like before,”
Then spurr’d his mount, the moment keen,
& pauses on the contour,
Thereby thro’ blue sky flew, serene,
Doves from a lovely shore,
Upon which Wellington, warlord of men,
Says, “Swiftly, De Lancey, pass me my pen!”

Unto a dove the Duke did call
While scribbling down one word,
White wings in fall, how soon the scroll
Tied to that gentle bird,
Which flutter’d up to lofty heights where nothing mortal stirr’d.

Mont Saint-Jean
1814


 

Messengers

Fair France rolls restless ‘neath an eagle’s wing,
As gaylie De Dalibray’s sonnets,
Rippling over the realms of a Bourbon king
Imposed by those Great British bayonets;
Oft times sighing
Before the memory
Of her brothers flying thro’ stunning victory.

With hawkish eyes it spies its prey,
Swoops down from Appenine peak,
Thro’ ocean clouds bedabbl’d grey,
Wings elegantsky-carve sleek –
Til with one hurried, flurried fray,
Dove gored by bloody beak,
Clutch’d tightly by imperious talon,
High oer the lush Meditterranean.

Our ‘Little Island Emperor,’
Came brooding into view,
Sea-lock’d on the rock of Elba,
With nothing much to do –
Til dove’s death-fall, its scroll unroll’d, there scrawl’d was ‘Waterloo.’

Elba
1815


 

Imperial Return

Three sailing ships swept thro a sunsunk sea
Then drift amid a mountain-armour’d bay,
Flying flags studded with the honeybee –
From anchors splash how calmly there they lay;
Unsheath’d the sword!
This thousand men of war
Rejoice as they are row’d toward the stony shore.

Stoic, upon the scything stern,
Stood the mortal soul of France,
Whose soldiers sing for his return
With an awesome reverence –
Whose choric voice & eyes that burn
Commands them to advance,
Each rough cheek pinching as they pass him by,
Adoring adulation makes them fly.

They march’d, a musical parade
Cheer’d by the underclass,
While north they made a white cockade
Silently watch’d them pass,
Then raced away to warn the royalists who slept in Grasse.

Cannes
March 2nd
1815


 

To Arms!

Thro’ the verdant Provencal mountain mass
Wound a mile long, e’erclimbing martial train,
Thro’ the great, green gorge of the La Faye Pass,
Past the chapel-capp’d crag of Castellane;
In constant cheer,
Tho’ weary leagues pass by,
Like tireless Gondolier neath a Venetian sky.

A fat Provencal family
Sat gather’d & set to eat,
Heard clattering cacophony,
Swift uplifted from their seat
They leapt outside, strange sight to see –
Cavalry throng’d the street;
Tall Polish horsemen with long, lavish lance,
The vanguard of the fallen sword of France.

Her husband’s loving breath was done,
He donn’d the dusty blue,
Her darling son, his little drum,
& father donn’d them too –
Thro’ tears of pain & tears of pride she watch’d them glide from view.

Barreme
March 4th
1815


 

Startling News

He who adventures tastes life’s richest fruit,
As do the kings, who, of the seven sins,
Choose glutinous luxury as their suit;
The fat King Louis’ seven wobbling chins
Settle to eat
The peasantries long day,
Fine platters of sweet-meat swill’d down with Chardonnay.

Clutching a despatch from Digne
The blustering messenger
Burst the royal serenity,
“The monsters escaped Elba!”
“Has he landed in Italy?”
“Non! On the Cotes D’Azor!”
Thro’ the bay window the fluttering wing,
Eagle’s grim shadow cast across the King.

“Go bring me Ney,” the Coquin said,
Away scuttl’d the page,
How soon that head ablaze with red
Strode warlike to the stage,
“I shall drag him back to Paris, sire, within an iron cage.”

Tuilleries
4th March


 

Soldiers’ Passions

The violet pepper’d mountains turn’d to snow,
In single file travers’d the icy track,
Til at the pass an army stemm’d their flow,
Five thousand Frenchmen pois’d for the attack;
The royal corps
Led by the loyal Ney,
Who trembl’d as he saw that overcoat of grey.

He strode alone to meet the gun
& face that fateful order,
One bullet from oblivion,
“Will you shoot your Emperor?”
Great silence deafen’d ’til someone
Bellow’d echoing “Fire!”
He breath’d in relief, the beautiful sound
Of five thousand muskets meeting the ground.

Pledging eternal devotion
Surged the salutant wave,
Ney’s sword motion pierc’d the ocean
But back the blade he gave,
“I salute thee, Prince de Muskova, bravest of the brave!”

Laffrey
March 7th
1815


 

Grave News

Beneath the ancyent moon of Austria,
Generals, emperors, statesmen, royals,
Gather’d ’round the grand map of Europa,
Are wolves who wait the diseas’d eagle’s spoils;
Squabbling rabble
Discuss incessantly
The murmuring babble of high diplomacy.

All talk cut short as from outside
There peel’d a thundering boom,
The doors dramatic’ly flung wide
By the soul sunken in gloom;
Twas Metternich, whose slick, slow glide
Now claim’d the centre-room.
“Gentlemen, Genova sounds warning grave,
The Corsican Ogre has rode the wave!”

As the atmosphere grew colder
The hand of Russia’s Tsar
Grasp’d the shoulder of his soldier,
Britannia’s battlestar,
“Tis up to you to save the world – once more, m’lord, to war.”

Vienna
March 7th
1815

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