Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ST. HELENA, by PIERRE JEAN DE BERANGER



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ST. HELENA, by            
First Line: On a volcano whose dark throat doth dash
Last Line: Lowers the great napoleon to the grave.
Subject(s): Exiles; Napoleon I (1769-1821)


On a volcano whose dark throat doth dash
Its lava streams on seas that gird about
An Angel lights, 'mid clouds of smoke and ash,
And all at once its flaming heart dies out!
A Demon black forth from the crater broke,
'Thou bright and lovely still, what dost thou crave?'
The Angel said, 'This solitary rock
(So God determines) must become a grave.'

The Demon spoke, 'I for my Tenos sought
This isle, whence flame and fiery deluge hurled;
I thought each wealth-pursuing Argonaut,
Who by this path should seek the Eastern world
To overwhelm, must human corpse by fate
(Where never vessel rode) pollute my wave?
To what vile bounds the world has stretched its hate,
Since God here hides the victim in the grave!

'For what colossus is my crater quenched?
Some king, perchance, or hero claims the spot.
Earth is so heaped with dead, with blood so drenched,
Some such may need a tomb and find it not!
In all the states great Alexander won
No remnant of his tomb shall envy save?'
'His dust,' the Angel said, 'the winds bear on
That king no more possesses e'en a grave.'

The Fiend replied, 'What hero's last remains
On this bleak isle are fated to repose?
Rome at this hour the blood of Caesar stains
'Neath daggers edged his sceptre to oppose.'
'In Rome,' the Angel said, 'his tomb shall stay;
A world unborn as yet, its birth shall have,
And then the northern wolves shall rend their prey
On ruin of his desecrated grave.'

The Fiend accursed, his frowning brow bent low,
Said in his heart, 'Is it for Him designed
Who bids the conquered world his sway to know
And gives a Cross for standard to mankind?'
The Angel heard: 'Rebellious Fiend, be still;
O'er him no ravens croak, no jackals rave;
I, as a faithful lamp 'neath Sion's hill,
Shall keep appointed watch beside his grave.

'Demon! before two thousand years be past,
A conqueror, ruler of the Gallic name,
Closed all his vast career, shall here be cast
To die; of coward kings the lasting shame.
To make him rue his forfeit to mankind,
Whom from their path his dazzling glory drave--
Though loath to pass the doom--he here must find
A hated prison and a lonely grave.

'For him deprived of thy volcanic throne,
Be thou his gaoler, act all villainies,
Disturb his sleep, leave not his days alone,
And keep his bitter cup before his eyes.
His fame from dross he thus shall purify,
And prove a beacon future times to save.
O'er all his woes achieve a victory,
And triumph over monarchs in his grave.'

Far from the Fiend, far from that doleful clime,
Flew back the Angel to the feet of God,
Whose eye already sees thro' stretch of time
Die the great captain on that barren sod.
Some weeping friends there are, who sadly bear
Their glorious burden to his desert cave;
God's hand assists the hands whose pious care
Lowers the Great Napoleon to the grave.





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