Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CONFLAGRATION OF MOSCOW, by CALEB C. COLTON



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THE CONFLAGRATION OF MOSCOW, by            
First Line: Her royal nest the russian eagle fires
Last Line: Rebukes, and says to glory -- follow me!
Subject(s): Moscow; Napoleonic Wars


HER royal nest the Russian eagle fires,
And to the wild recess -- revenged -- retires;
Her talons unexpended lightnings arm,
And high resentments all her courage warm.
Tempt not, thou fiend of France! her arduous track;
Ambition spurs thee on -- defeat shall call thee back.
False friends in rear, in front a stubborn foe,
Thy caterer, famine, -- and thy couch the snow:
Then view that fiery cope with ghastly smile,
'T is thy ambition's grand funereal pile.
Blaze on, ye gilded domes and turrets high,
And like a furnace glow, thou trembling sky!
Be lakes of fire the tyrant's sole domain,
And let that fiend o'er flames and ruins reign;
Doom'd, like the rebel Angel, to be shown
A fiery dungeon, where he hoped a throne.
Blaze on! thou costliest, proudest sacrifice
E'er lit by patriot hands, or fann'd by patriot's sighs.
By stubborn constancy of soul, a rock
That firmly meets but to return the shock, --
By all that power inflicts, or slavery bears --
By all that freedom prompts, or valour dares --
By all that bids the bright historic page
Of Greece and Rome inspire each after age --
By all of great, that must our wonder raise
In direst, worst extremities, -- we praise
A deed that animates, exalts, inflames
A world in arms -- from Tanais to the Thames!
Hail! nobly daring, wisely desperate deed:
Moscow is Paris, should the Gaul succeed!
Then perish temple, palace, fort, or tower
That screens a foeman in this vengeful hour;
Let self-devotion rule this righteous cause,
And triumph o'er affections, customs, laws;
With Roman daring be the flag unfurl'd --
Themselves they conquer'd first, and then the world.
Be this the dirge o'er Moscow's mighty grave,
She stood to foster, but she fell to save!
Her flames like Judah's guardian pillar rose
To shield her children, to confound her foes;
That mighty beacon must not blaze in vain,
It rouses earth, and flashes o'er the main.
The sacrifice is made, the deed is done:
Russia! thy woes are finish'd, Gaul's begun!
Soon to return -- retire! There is a time
When earthly virtue must not cope with crime.
Husband thy strength, let not a life be lost,
One patriot's life is worth the Gallic host;
Unbend a while thy bow, more strongly still
To force thy shaft, and all thy quivers fill;
Crouch'd like the tiger, prescient of the prey,
Collect thy might, augmented by delay;
Still as the calm, when on her siren breast
The slumbering earthquake and the whirlwind rest.
To courage, strength -- to strength, cool wisdom bring;
Nurse every nerve, and plume thy ruffled wing;
Firm, but composed, -- prepared, but tranquil prove,
As the dread eagle at the throne of Jove!
Each arm provide, and engine of the war,
Till rout and havoc answer -- Here we are!
And valour, steel'd by virtuous energy,
To just revenge shall utter -- Come with me!
From pine-ploughed Baltic, to that ice-bound coast,
Where desolation lives, and life is lost,
Bid all thy Centaur-sons around thee close,
Suckled in storms, and cradled on the snows,
Hard as that sea of stone, that belts their strand
With marble wave, more solid than the land,
Men fiercer than their skies, inured to toil,
And as the grave tenacious of the spoil, --
Throng'd as the locust, as the lion brave,
Fleet as the pard that hies her young to save;
Tell them their king, their father takes the field,
A host his presence -- and his cause a shield!
Nor strike the blow, till all thy northern hive,
Concentering thick, for death or glory strive;
Then round the invader swarm, his death-fraught cloud,
While the white desert girds him like a shroud, --
Full on his front and rear, the battle-tide
With arm of lightning, hoof of thunder guide;
Soon shall the Gaul his transient triumph rue --
Fierce burns the victim, and the altar too!
Now sinks the blood-red sun, eclipsed by light,
And yields his throne to far more brilliant night.
Roused by the flames, the blast, with rushing sound,
Both fed and fann'd the ruin that it found.
Long stood each stately tower and column high,
And saw the molten gulf beneath them lie:
Long rear'd their heads the aspiring flames above,
As stood the giants when they warr'd with Jove, --
Conquer'd at length, with hideous crash they fall,
And one o'erwhelming havoc covers all.
Nor AEtna, nor Vesuvius, though combined
In horrid league, and chafed by every wind
That from the hoarse AEolian cave is driven,
Could with such wreck astound both earth and heaven.
Rage, elements! wreck, ravage all ye can,
Ye are not half so fierce as man to man!
Wide and more wide, self-warn'd, without command,
Gaul's awe-struck files their circling wings expand;
Through many a stage of horrors had they pass'd --
The climax this, the direst and the last;
Albeit unused o'er others' griefs to moan,
Soon shall they purchase feeling from their own.
From flank to centre, and from rear to van,
The billowing, crackling conflagration ran, --
Wraps earth in sulphurous wave, and now the skies
With tall colossal magnitude defies, --
Extends her base, while sword and spear retire,
Weak as the bulrush to the lava's ire.
Long had that circle, belted wide and far
By burnish'd helm, and bristling steel of war,
Presented hideous to the Gallic-host
One blazing sea, one adamantine coast!
High o'er their head the bickering radiance towers,
Or falls from clouds of smoke in scorching showers:
Beneath their crimson concave long they stood
Like bordering pines, when lightning fires the wood,
And as they hemm'd that grim horizon in,
Each read in each the terrors of the scene.
Some fear'd -- accusing conscience waked the fear,
The day of wrath and retribution near,
Deem'd that they heard that thunderous Voice proclaim,
"Thou moon, to blood be turned; thou earth, to flame!"
Red-robed destruction far and wide extends
Her thousand arms, and summons all her fiends
To glut their fill, a gaunt and ghastly brood!
Their food is carnage, and their drink is blood;
Their music, wo: nor did that feast of hell
Fit concert want, -- the conquerors' savage yell --
Their groans and shrieks whom sickness, age, or wound,
Or changeless, fearless love in fatal durance bound.
While valour sternly sighs, while beauty weeps;
And vengeance, soon to wake like Samson, sleeps,
Shrouded in flame, the imperial city low
Like Dagon's temple falls -- but falls to crush the foe!
Tyrant! think not she unavenged shall burn;
Thou too hast much to suffer, much to learn:
That thirst of power the Danube but inflamed,
By Neva's cooler current may be tamed.
Triumph a little space by craft and crime,
Two foes thou canst not conquer -- Truth and time.
Resistless pair! they doom thy power to fade,
Lost in the ruins that itself hath made!
Or, damn'd to fame, like Babylon to scowl
O'er wastes where serpents hiss, hyaenas howl.
Forge then the links of martial law, that bind,
Enslave, imbrute, and mechanise the mind;
Indite thy conscript code with iron pen,
That cancels crime, demoralizes men;
Thy false and fatal aid to virtue lend,
And start a Washington, a Nero end;
And vainly strive to strangle in his youth
Freedom, the Herculean son of light and truth.
Stepfather foul! -- thou to his infant bed
Didst steal, and drop a changeling in his stead.
-- Yes, yes, -- I see thee turn thy vaunting gaze,
Where files reflect to files the o'erpowering blaze;
Rather, like Xerxes, o'er those numbers sigh,
Braver than his, but sooner doom'd to die.
Here -- number only courts that death it cloys!
Here -- might is weakness, and herself destroys;
Lead then thy southern myriads lock'd in steel,
Lead on! too soon their nerveless arm shall feel
Those magazines impregnable of snow,
That kill without a wound, o'erwhelm without a foe!
I see thee, -- 't is the bard's prophetic eye,
Blindly presumptuous chief, -- I see thee fly!
While breathing skeletons, and bloodless dead,
Point to the thirsting foe the track you tread.
To seize was easy, and to march was plain;
Hard to retreat, and harder to retain.
Reft of thy trappings, pomp, and glittering gear,
Dearth in thy van, -- destruction in thy rear, --
Like foil'd Darius, doom'd too late to know
The stern enigmas of a Scythian foe, --
Thy standard torn, while vengeful scorpions sting
The imperial bird, and cramp his flagging wing, --
The days are number'd of thy motley host,
Freedom's vain fear, oppression's vainer boast.
And lo! the Beresyna opens wide
His yawning mouth, his wintry weltering tide!
Expectant of his mighty meal, he flows
In silent ambush through his trackless snows:
There shall thy way-worn ranks despairing stand,
Like trooping spectres on the Stygian strand,
And curse their fate and thee, -- and conquest sown
With retribution deep, in vain repentance moan!
Thy veteran worn by wounds, and years, and toils.
Pilgrim of honour in all suns and soils!
By thy ambition foully tempted forth
To fight the frozen rigours of the north,
Above complaint, indignant at his wrongs,
Curses the morsel that his life prolongs,
Unpierced, unconquer'd sinks; yet breathes a sigh, --
For he had hoped a soldier's death to die.
Was it for this that fatal hour he braved,
When o'er the cross the conquering crescent waved?
Was it for this he ploughed the western main,
To weld the struggling negro's broken chain, --
Faced his relentless hate, to frenzy fired;
Stung by past wrongs, by present hopes inspired, --
Then hurried home to lend his treacherous aid,
And stain more deeply still the warrior's blade,
When spoiled Iberia, roused to deeds sublime,
Made vengeance virtue -- clemency a crime;
And 'scaped he these, to fall without a foe?
The wolf his sepulchre -- his shroud the snow!
'T is morn! -- but lo, the warrior-steed in vain
The trumpet summons from the bloodless plain;
Ne'er was he known till now to stand aloof,
Still midst the slain was found his crimson hoof;
And struggling still to join that well-known sound,
He dies, ignobly dies, without a wound!
Oft had he hailed the battle from afar,
And paw'd to meet the rushing wreck of war!
With reinless neck the danger oft had braved,
And crush'd the foe -- his wounded rider saved;
Oft had the rattling spear and sword assail'd
His generous heart, and had as often fail'd:
That heart no more life's frozen current thaws,
Brave, guiltless champion, in a guilty cause!
One northern night more hideous work hath done
Than whole campaigns beneath a southern sun.
Spoil'd child of fortune! could the murder'd Turk
Or wronged Iberian view thy ghastly work,
They'd sheathe the vengeful blade, and clearly see
France needs no deadlier, direr curse than thee.
War hath fed war! -- such was thy dread behest,
Now view the iron fragments of the feast.
Oh, if to cause and witness others' grief
Unmoved, be firmness -- thou art Stoa's chief!
Thy fell recorded boast, all Zeno said
Outdoes -- "I wear my heart within my head!" --
Caught in the northern net, what darest thou dare?
Snatch might from madness? courage from despair?
If courage lend thy breast a transient ray,
'T is the storm's lightning -- not the beam of day:
When on thine hopes the cloud of battle lowers,
And frowns the vengeance of insulted powers;
When victory trembles in the doubtful scale,
And death deals thick and fast his iron hail;
When all is staked, and the dread hazard known,
A rising scaffold, and a falling throne!
Then, can thy dastard soul some semblance wear
Of manhood's stamp -- when fear hath conquer'd fear!
Canst thou be brave? whose dying prospects show
A scene of all that's horrible in wo!
On whose ambition, long by carnage nursed,
Death stamps the greatest change -- the last, the worst!
Death! -- to thy view most terrible of things,
Dreadful in all he takes and all he brings!
-- But, King of Terrors! ere thou seize thy prey,
Point with a lingering dart to Moscow's fatal day;
Shake with that scene his agonizing frame,
And on the wreck of nations write his name!
Oh, when will conquerors from example learn,
Or truth from aught but self-experience earn?
How many Catos must be wept again!
How many Caesars sacrificed in vain!
While Europe dozed -- too aged to be taught --
The historic lesson young Columbia caught,
Enraptured hung o'er that inspiring theme,
Conn'd it by wood, by mountain, and by stream,
Till every Grecian, Roman name, the morn
Of freedom hail'd, -- and Washington was born!
I see thee redden at that mighty name,
That fills the herd of conquerors with shame:
But ere we part, Napoleon! deign to hear
The bodings of thy future dark career;
Fate to the poet trusts her iron leaf,
Fraught with thy ruin -- read it and be brief, --
Then to thy senate flee, to tell the tale
Of Russia's full revenge, Gaul's deep indignant wail.
-- It is thy doom false greatness to pursue,
Rejecting, and rejected by, the true;
A stirling name, thrice proffered, to refuse;
And highest means pervert to lowest views;
Till fate and fortune -- finding that thou'rt still
Untaught by all their good and all their ill,
Expell'd, recall'd, reconquer'd -- all in vain, --
Shall sink thee to thy nothingness again.
Though times, occasions, chances, foes and friends,
Urged thee to purest fame, by purest ends,
In this alone be great -- to have withstood
Such varied, vast temptations to be good!
As hood-wink'd falcons boldest pierce the skies,
The ambition that is blindest highest flies;
And thine still waked by night, still dream'd by day,
To rule o'er kings, as these o'er subjects sway;
Nor dared thy mitred Mentor set thee right:
Thou art not Philip's son -- nor he the Stagyrite!
And lo, thy dread, thy hate! the Queen of Isles,
Frowns at thy guilt, and at thy menace smiles;
Free of her treasure, freer of her blood,
She summons all the brave, the great, the good.
But ill befits her praise my partial line,
Enough for me to boast -- that land is mine. --
And last, to fix thy fate and seal thy doom,
Her bugle note shall Scotia stern resume,
Shall grasp her Highland brand, her plaided bonnet plume:
From hill and dale, from hamlet, heath, and wood,
She pours her dark, resistless battle-flood.
Breathe there a race, that from the approving hand
Of nature, more deserve, or less demand?
So skill'd to wake the lyre, or wield the sword;
To achieve great actions, or, achieved -- record;
Victorious in the conflict as the truce, --
Triumphant in a Burns as in a Bruce!
Where'er the bay, where'er the laurel grows,
Their wild notes warble, and their life-blood flows.
There, truth courts access, and would all engage,
Lavish as youth -- experienced as age;
Proud science there, with purest nature twined,
In firmest thraldom holds the freest mind;
While courage rears his limbs of giant form,
Rock'd by the blast, and strengthen'd by the storm!
Rome fell; -- and freedom to her craggy glen
Transferr'd that title proud -- The nurse of men!
By deeds of hazard high, and bold emprize,
Train'd like their native eagle for the skies, --
Untamed by toil, unconquer'd till they're slain;
Walls in their trenches -- whirlwinds on the plain,
This meed accept from Albion's grateful breath,
Brothers in arms! in victory! in death! --
Such are thy foes, Napoleon, when time
Wakes vengeance, sure concomitant of crime.
Fixed, like Prometheus, to thy rock, o'erpower'd
By force, by vulture-conscience slow devour'd;
With godlike power, but fiendlike rage, no more
To drench the world -- thy reeking stage -- in gore;
Fit but o'er shame to triumph and to rule;
And proved in all things -- but in danger -- cool;
That found'st a nation melted to thy will,
And freedom's place didst with thine image fill;
Skill'd not to govern, but obey the storm,
To catch the tame occasion, not to form;
Victorious only when success pursued,
But when thou followed'st her, as quick subdued:
The first to challenge, as the first to run;
Whom death and glory both consent to shun --
Live! that thy body and thy soul may be
Foes that can't part, and friends that can't agree. --
Live! to be numbered with that common herd,
Who life's base boon unto themselves preferred, --
Live! till each dazzled fool hath understood
That nothing can be great that is not good.
And when remorse, for blood in torrents spilt,
Shall sting -- to madness -- conscious, sleepless guilt,
May deep contrition this black hope repel, --
Snatch me, thou future, from this present, hell!
Give me the mind that, bent on highest aim,
Deems virtue's rugged path sole path to fame;
Great things with small compares, in scale sublime,
And death with life! eternity with time:
Man's whole existence weighs, sifts nature's laws,
And views results in the embryo of their cause;
Prepared to meet, with corresponding deeds,
Events, as yet imprisoned in their seeds;
Kens, in his acorn hid, the king of trees,
And freedom's germ in foul oppression sees;
Precedes the march of time -- to ponder fate,
And execute, while others meditate;
That, deaf to present praise, the servile knee
Rebukes, and says to glory -- Follow me!





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