1814.1 - "Napoleon's Dream"

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British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism 1793-1815, by Betty T. Bennet, Edited by Orianne Smith

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1814.1
Napoleon's Dream
“Miss Mitford”
[Mary Russell Mitford] [1]
The Poetical Register and Repository of Fugitive Poetry, VIII (1814), pp. 215-220

                           I.

Sweet is the English peasant's joy
    To watch her husband sleeping,
And smile upon the blooming boy
    To his lov'd bosom creeping;
Her finger on her lip the while
Mingling fond caution with her smile—
For the dear father wearied came
From copse-wood to his gentle dame;
'Twas cold and wet the dreary day,
And long and cheerless was the way—
    O transitory sorrow!
Slumbering beside the faggot's blaze,
On his calm mind no vision preys,
    Care leaves him till the morrow.
Yet sometimes o'er his sun-burnt face,
A pleasant dream will shed its grace,
    Sometimes a swelling tear;
Full well can she, his happy mate,
Link'd to his soul as to his fate,
The transient images translate,
    Nor feel one doubting fear;
The heart, the heart oft prompts the themes,
Which sleep and memory mould to dreams;
As radiance that from diamonds gleams,
    Is darted from above;
That smile the husband's fondness beams,
    That tear the father's love.

                          II.

But 'tis no English cottage there,
    That rears its Lofty head;
No English wife with tender care
    Watches her husband's bed:
No English peasant can he be,
That slumbers there so heavily.
Though scarce the lamp can pierce the gloom,
That shrouds a high and stately room,
Its light a bending fair one shows;
A man, who snatches short repose;
And while St. Cloud's proud walls scarce catch the beam,
Louisa wondering, marks Napoleon's dream.

                          III.

Strong were the features, sallow, wan,
And thoughtful, of the sleeping man:
In the fine mould of beauty cast,
Till passions wild and moody pass'd,
And nature's lovely work o'ercast.
Yet smiles, the lightning of the storm,
Would sometimes gild their darken'd form;
And never had a smile so bright
Dwelt on his lips with sunny light
Not when the Austrian maid be woo'd,
As now beguiles his dreaming mood.
His very hand, high rais'd in air,
Its gladsome influence seems to share.
Thinks he of victory's laurell'd bough?
Or of his mighty empire now?
In idolizing Paris crown'd?
On Austerlitz' red field renown'd?
Or, victor at the council board,
Deems he his rescued Spain restor'd?
Oh, no! not this th' usurper's smile;
Not this the statesman's crafty wile;
Not this the conqueror's blood-earn'd bliss;
No! 'tis a blameless transport this;
A joy unfelt of many years,
Unstain'd by guilt, unspoilt by fears.

                         IV.

Treading a lone and sea-beat shore
He seems a thoughtful boy once more:
A thoughtful boy, in musings rapt,
In hope's delightful visions lapt;
He feels the very breezes blow
That fann'd his cheek's enraptur'd glow;
He hears the very surges beat
That wont to lave his careless feet;
And every wish and joy again
Of happy youth inspires his brain.
The rushing tide of love, of hope,
    Ambition undefin'd,
Thoughts that the wealth of worlds would ope
    To spread it to mankind;
Wishes that would possess to give;
Power that might say, Be blest and live!
That would to all he loved impart
The boundless treasures of his heart;
Win but to save some land bedeck'd with flowers,
And Eden's bliss renew in Eden's blooming bowers.
Such are the thoughts that wake his smiles,
Such dream his sleeping sense beguiles,
And such are young Ambition's wiles.
The sun that in the burning street
    Pours death in every ray,
Darting through palms and plaintains sweet,
Gives but a soft and balmy heat
    Where leaf-born breezes play,
'Tis as the war-flag closely furl'd
    When reason reigns within;
O 'tis the world, the bitter world,
    That makes ambition sin.

                           V.

Ah, see the brilliant smile is dead!
The hand is dropt, the joy is fled!
Some thought has indistinctly shown,
    As in a misty glass,
Where all the cares that wait a throne,
And youthful hopes and virtues flown,
    In dim confusion pass;
With comrades slain, a fearful band,
Brothers who roam a foreign strand,
    A fond forsaken wife,
A bleeding world, a suffering land,
    His sorrows and his life.
Well may he sigh! but that convulsion
    A deeper anguish caus'd;
Almost it seem'd in dread revulsion
    That Nature's functions paus'd.
His brow was wet, his hair uprais'd,
His hands were clench'd, his look was mazed,—
The empress trembled as she gazed.
At Palm's[2] dread spectre doth he quake?
Comes D'Enghien[3] thus his soul to shake?
No; to the consciences of kings
Flattery her deadly opiate brings;
Though doom'd untried, by impious men,
Yet murder shall be justice then.

                          VI.

In all his pomp of power array'd
The monarch deems himself betray'd;
Hemm'd in by guards and armed bands
Chain'd in the senate hall he stands;
All whom he hated, all he loved
Were there, and all his fall approved.[4]
E'en the betrayer's self stood nigh,
With jeering tongue and scornful eye,
And thrice he strove to strike him dead,
And thrice the grinning traitor fled,
And Frenchmen thrice, with fickle breath,
Shouted "Napoleon to the death!"
That horror's past: Memory again
Binds Fancy in her spell-fraught chain.
The vision chang'd, and chang'd his look,
Though still his form with chillness shook,
Though still uprose his coal-black hair,
'Twas anguish still—but not despair.

                          VII.

He seem'd through realms of frost to stray
Where endless forests barred his way;
Forests of pines, whose snow mass made
In noontide clear a midnight shade.
A sense of solitary care,
Silence and deathlike cold were there.
And still he thought at every step
His jaded steed was forced to leap,
Something he could not move, nor kill,
Some fell obstruction met him still.
At length full in the monarch's way
A Gallic soldier dying lay;
Napoleon stopp'd and strove to cheer;
The warrior's death-groan met his ear,
The warrior's death-glance met his eye,
That groan that glance he could not fly!
A bitter curse they seem'd to shroud.
He gallopp'd on, he shouted loud,—
But still the groan he cannot fly,
But still the glance is in his eye.
"Awake! Awake!" and at her touch
The hero started from his couch,
Awhile he stood and shook with dread,
"'Tis but a dream!" at length he said;
"'Tis but a bubble of the brain!"
He said—yet fear'd to sleep again.

January, 1813


Notes

1. Mary Russell Mitford (1787-1855), English novelist, dramatist, and poet.

2. Johann Palm, a book-seller of Nurenburg, was executed in 1806 for publishing some strictures on Napoleon.

3. Louis de Bourbon-Condé, duc d'Enghein, was tried and executed in March, 1804 for conspiring against the life of Napoleon. His trial and sentence were without observation of the ordinary forms of law.


4. The events in this passage, though imaginary, accurately foretell the situation surrounding Napoleon's downfall in 1814.

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September 2004

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