May 5, 2013

He died at the close of that darksome day

French military leader Napoleon died on May 5, 1821. Only nine years later, the Maine-born poet Isaac McLellan commemorated the man in his poem "The Death of Napoleon." It begins with a dramatic quote from a biography of Napoleon by Walter Scott: "The fifth of May came amid wind and rain. Napoleon's passing spirit was deliriously engaged in a strife more terrible than the elements around. The words 'tite d'armee,' (head of the army,) the last which escaped from his lips, intimated that his thoughts were watching the current of a heady light. About eleven minutes before six in the evening, Napoleon expired." McLellan's poem particularly highlights Napoleon's military victories which, according to those who recorded his alleged last words, were still on his mind:

Wild was the night, yet a wilder night,
Hung round the soldier's pillow,
In his bosom there waged a fiercer fight,
Than the fight on the wrathful billow!

A few fond mourners were kneeling by,
The few that his stern heart cherished;
They knew by his glazed and unearthly eye,
That life had nearly perished.

They knew by his awful and kingly look,
By the order hastily spoken,
That he dreamed of days, when the Nations shook,
And the Nations' hosts were broken.

He dreamed that the Frenchman's sword still slew,
And triumphed the Frenchman's 'eagle ;'
And the struggling Austrian fled anew,
Like the hare before the beagle.

The bearded Russian he scourged again,
The Prussian's camp was routed,
And again on the hills of haughty Spain,
His mighty armies shouted.

Over Egypt's sands, over Alpine snows,
At the Pyramids, at the mountain,
Where the wave of the lordly Danube flows,
And by the Italian fountain,

On the snowy cliffs, where mountain-streams
Dash by the Switzer's dwelling,
He led again, in his dying dreams,
His hosts, the broad earth quelling.

Again Marengo's field was won,
And Jena's bloody battle;
Again the world was overrun,
Made pale, at his cannons' rattle.

He died at the close of that darksome day;
A day that shall live in story:
In the rocky land they placed his clay,
'And left him alone with his glory.'

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