Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BETRAND AND GOURGAUD TALK OVER OLD TIMES, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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BETRAND AND GOURGAUD TALK OVER OLD TIMES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Gourgaud, these tears are tears - but look, this laugh
Last Line: Drink to me, clasp my hand, embrace me, friend.
Subject(s): France; Napoleon I (1769-1821)


Gourgaud, these tears are tears -- but look, this laugh,
How hearty and serene -- you see a laugh
Which settles to a smile of lips and eyes
Makes tears just drops of water on the leaves
When rain falls from a sun-lit sky, my friend,
Drink to me, clasp my hand, embrace me, call me
Beloved Bertrand. Ha! I sigh for joy.
Look at our Paris, happy, whole, renewed,
Refreshed by youth, new dressed in human leaves,
Shaking its fresh blown blossoms to the world.
And here we sit grown old, of memories
Top-full -- your hand -- my breast is all afire
With happiness that warms, makes young again.

You see it is not what we saw to-day
That makes me spirit, rids me of the flesh: --
But all that I remember, we remember
Of what the world was, what it is to-day,
Beholding how it grows. Gourgaud, I see
Not in the rise of this man or of that,
Nor in a battle's issue, in the blow
That lifts or fells a nation -- no, my friend,
God is not there, but in the living stream
Which sweeps in spite of eddies, undertows,
Cross-currents, what you will, to that result
Where stillness shows the star that fits the star
Of truth in spirits treasured, imaged, kept
Through sorrow, blood and death, -- God moves in that
And there I find Him.

But these tears -- for whom
Or what are tears? The Old Guard -- oh, my friend
That melancholy remnant! And the horse,
White, to be sure, but not Marengo, wearing
The saddle and the bridle which he used.
My tears take quality for these pitiful things,
But other quality for the purple robe
Over the coffin lettered in pure gold
"Napoleon" -- ah, the emperor at last
Come back to Paris! And his spirit looks
Over the land he loved, with what result?
Does just the army that acclaimed him rise
Which rose to hail him back from Elba? -- no
All France acclaims him! Princes of the church,
And notables uncover! At the door
A herald cries "The Emperor!" Those assembled
Rise and do reverence to him. Look at Soult,
He hands the king the sword of Austerlitz,
The king turns to me, hands the sword to me,
I place it on the coffin -- dear Gourgaud,
Embrace me, clasp my hand! I weep and laugh
For thinking that the Emperor is home;
For thinking I have laid upon his bed
The sword that makes inviolable his bed,
Since History stepped to where I stood and stands
To say forever: Here he rests, be still,
Bow down, pass by in reverence -- the Ages
Like giant caryatides that look
With sleepless eyes upon the world and hold
With never tiring hands the Vault of Time,
Command your reverence.

What have we seen?
Why this, that every man, himself achieving
Exhausts the life that drives him to the work
Of self-expression, of the vision in him,
His reason for existence, as he sees it.
He may or may not mould the epic stuff
As he would wish, as lookers on have hope
His hands shall mould it, and by failing take --
For slip of hand, tough clay or blinking eye,
A cinder for that moment in the eye --
A world of blame; for hooting or dispraise
Have all his work misvalued for the time,
And pump his heart up harder to subdue
Envy, or fear or greed, in any case
He grows and leaves and blossoms, so consumes
His soul's endowment in the vision of life.
And thus of him. Why, there at Fontainebleau
He is a man full spent, he idles, sleeps,
Hears with dull ears: Down with the Corsican,
Up with the Bourbon lilies! Royalists,
Conspirators, and clericals may shout
Their hatred of him, but he sits for hours
Kicking the gravel with his little heel,
Which lately trampled sceptres in the mud.
Well, what was he at Waterloo? -- you know:
That piercing spirit which at mid-day power
Knew all the maps of Europe -- could unfold
A map and say here is the place, the way,
The road, the valley, hill, destroy them here.
Why, all his memory of maps was blurred
The night before he failed at Waterloo.
The Emperor was sick, my friend, we know it.
He could not ride a horse at Waterloo.
His soul was spent, that's all. But who was rested?
The dirty Bourbons skulking back to Paris,
Now that our giant democrat was sick.
Oh, yes, the dirty Bourbons skulked to Paris
Helped by the Duke and Blucher, damn their souls.

What is a man to do whose work is done
And does not feel so well, has cancer, say?
You know he could have reached America
After his fall at Waterloo. Good God!
If only he had done it! For they say
New Orleans is a city good to live in.
And he had ceded to America
Louisiana, which in time would curb
The English lion. But he didn't go there.
His mind was weakened else he had foreseen
The lion he had tangled, wounded, scourged
Would claw him if it got him, play with him
Before it killed him. Who was England then? --

An old, mad, blind, despised and dying king
Who lost a continent for the lust that slew
The Emperor -- the world will say at last
It was no other. Who was England then?
A regent bad as husband, father, son,
Monarch and friend. But who was England then?
Great Castlereagh who cut his throat, but who
Had cut his country's long before. The duke --
Since Waterloo, and since the Emperor slept --
The English stoned the duke, he bars his windows
With iron 'gainst the mobs who break to fury,
To see the Duke waylay democracy.
The world's great conqueror's conqueror! -- Eh bien!
Grips England after Waterloo, but when
The people see the duke for what he is:
A blocker of reform, a Tory sentry,
A spotless knight of ancient privilege,
They up and stone him, by the very deed
Stone him for wronging the democracy
The Emperor erected with the sword.
The world's great conqueror's conqueror -- Oh, I sicken!
Odes are like head-stones, standing while the graves
Are guarded and kept up, but falling down
To ruin and erasure when the graves
Are left to sink. Hey! there you English poets,
Picking from daily libels, slanders, junk
Of metal for your tablets 'gainst the Emperor,
Melt up true metal at your peril, poets,
Sweet moralists, monopolists of God.
But who was England? Byron driven out,
And courts of chancery vile but sacrosanct,
Despoiling Shelley of his children; Southey,
The turn-coat panegyrist of King George,
An old, mad, blind, despised, dead king at last;
A realm of rotten boroughs massed to stop
The progress of democracy and chanting
To God Almighty hymns for Waterloo,
Which did not stop democracy, as they hoped.
For England of to-day is freer -- why?
The revolution and the Emperor!
They quench the revolution, send Napoleon
To St. Helena -- but the ashes soar
Grown finer, grown invisible at last.
And all the time a wind is blowing ashes,
And sifting them upon the spotless linen
Of kings and dukes in England till at last
They find themselves mistaken for the people.
Drink to me, clasp my hand, embrace me -- tiens!
The Emperor is home again in France,
And Europe for democracy is thrilling.
Now don't you see the Emperor was sick,
The shadows falling slant across his mind
To write to such an England: "My career
Is ended and I come to sit me down
Before the fireside of the British people,
And claim protection from your Royal Highness" --
This to the regent -- "as a generous foe
Most constant and most powerful" -- I weep.
They tricked him Gourgaud. Once upon the ship,
He thinks he's bound for England, and why not?
They dine him, treat him like an Emperor.
And then they tack and sail to St. Helena,
Give him a cow shed for a residence.
Depute that thing Sir Hudson Lowe to watch him,
Spy on his torture, intercept his letters,
Step on his broken wings, and mock the film
Descending on those eyes of failing fire....

One day the packet brought to him a book
Inscribed by Hobhouse, "To the Emperor."
Lowe kept the book but when the Emperor learned
Lowe kept the book, because 'twas so inscribed,
The Emperor said -- I stood near by -- "Who gave you
The right to slur my title? In a few years
Yourself, Lord Castlereagh, the duke himself
Will be beneath oblivion's dust, remembered
For your indignities to me, that's all.
England expended millions on her libels
To poison Europe's mind and make my purpose
Obscure or bloody -- how have they availed?
You have me here upon this scarp of rock,
But truth will pierce the clouds, 'tis like the sun
And like the sun it cannot be destroyed.
Your Wellingtons and Metternichs may dam
The liberal stream, but only to make stronger
The torrent when it breaks." Is it not true?
That's why I weep and laugh to-day, my friend
And trust God as I have not trusted yet.
And then the Emperor said: "What have I claimed?
A portion of the royal blood of Europe?
A crown for blood's sake? No, my royal blood
Is dated from the field of Montenotte,
And from my mother there in Corsica,
And from the revolution. I'm a man
Who made himself because the people made me.
You understand as little as she did
When I had brought her back from Austria,
And riding through the streets of Paris pointed
Up to the window of the little room
Where I had lodged when I came from Brienne,
A poor boy with my way to make -- as poor
As Andrew Jackson in America,
No more a despot than he is a despot.
Your England understands. I was a menace
Not as a despot, but as head and front,
Eyes, brain and leader of democracy,
Which like the messenger of God was marking
The doors of kings for slaughter. England lies.
Your England understands I had to hold
By rule compact a people drunk with rapture,
And torn by counter forces, had to fight
The royalists of Europe who beheld
Their peoples feverish from the great infection,
Who hoped to stamp the plague in France and stop
Its spread to them. Your England understands.
Save Castlereagh and Wellington and Southey.
But look you, sir, my roads, canals and harbors,
My schools, finance, my code, the manufactures
Arts, sciences I builded, democratic
Triumphs which I won will live for ages --
These are my witnesses, will testify
Forever what I was and meant to do.
The ideas which I brought to power will stifle
All royalty, all feudalism -- look
They live in England, they illuminate
America, they will be faith, religion
For every people -- these I kindled, carried
Their flaming torch through Europe as the chief
Torch bearer, soldier, representative."

You were not there, Gourgaud -- but wait a minute,
I choke with tears and laughter. Listen now:
Sir Hudson Lowe looked at the Emperor
Contemptuous but not the less bewitched.
And when the Emperor finished, out he drawled
"You make me smile." Why that is memorable:
It should be carved upon Sir Hudson's stone.
He was a prophet, founder of the sect
Of smilers and of laughers through the world,
Smilers and laughers that the Emperor
Told every whit the truth. Look you at Europe,
What were it in this day except for France,
Napoleon's France, the revolution's France?
What will it be as time goes on but peoples
Made free through France?

I take the good and ill,
Think over how he lounged, lay late in bed,
Spent long hours in the bath, counted the hours,
Pale, broken, wracked with pain, insulted, watched,
His child torn from him, Josephine and wife
Silent or separate, waiting long for death,
Looking with filmed eyes upon his wings
Broken, upon the rocks stretched out to gain
A little sun, and crying to the sea
With broken voice -- I weep when I remember
Such things which you and I from day to day
Beheld, nor could not mitigate. But then
There is that night of thunder, and the dawning
And all that day of storm and toward the evening
He says: "Deploy the eagles!" "Onward!" Well,
I leave the room and say to Steward there:
"The Emperor is dead." That very moment
A crash of thunder deafened us. You see
A great age boomed in thunder its renewal --
Drink to me, clasp my hand, embrace me, friend.





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