Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, L'INCONNU, by DONALD BRUCE

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L'INCONNU, by            
First Line: Amid the dungeon's stifling gloom he lay
Last Line: "liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!"
Subject(s): Yale University

AMID the dungeon's stifling gloom he lay, --
A white-haired prisoner; his beard unkempt,
His tattered garments, and his wasted frame,
Told of long years of solitude. Above,
A narrow loop-hole pierced the massive wall,
And through it fell a sunbeam, pallid, thin,
Across whose path, marked by the dancing motes,
Wavered a single fly in aimless flight,
Buzzing a dreary monotone. Faint gusts
Of far-off shouting and the echoing call
Of bugles drifted through the narrow cleft,
Breaking the wonted silence of the cell.
Yet still the prisoner unheeding lay,
Watching the sunlight, as it slowly crept
Along the dungeon wall to where were cut
Rude characters, half legible and dim,
Deep carven in the blackened stone, -- crude shift
To tell the passing of the leaden hours.
Hard by the mark which told the hour of noon
Three words were graven, -- and the sunbeam stole
Yet nearer, nearer, till at last it reached
The first and flooded it with golden light: --
"Fraternite": the old man's dying gaze
Grew more intent, -- faint came the whispered words:
"Ah, brother, -- brother, -- Jacques, my brother, -- you
Had sworn --" Breath failed.
The shouting from without
Grew louder, fiercer, mingled with the boom
Of cannon, and the rumbling crash and roar
Of battered, falling masonry. The sun
Touched now the second word: "Egalite";
And straight the weary eyes were lit with joy,
And then grew dark with pain. "Marie, -- Marie, --
Are all your smiles for him, -- and this for me?
We loved together, Jacques and I, we fought
And toiled as one, Marie, -- are all, -- are all
Your smiles -- for him -- and this --" The whisper died.
No longer through the narrow loop-hole came
The shouting, but with ever fiercer din,
And clash of steel on steel, through the thick door
Of massive oak, cross bound with iron straps.
And now the letters of the last-carved word
Are touched with gleams of gold, -- 'tis
The tired eyes grow brighter as they gaze,
Then fade in death. A rush of heavy feet
Down the long corridor. Shrill screams the door
Upon its rusty hinge. The cell is filled
With men in arms, all wet with sweat and blood,
Their eyes aflame with light and victory.
And through the vaulted passage rings the cry:
"Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!"

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