To Canaris, the Greek Patriot | Victor Hugo

Written by Victor Hugo and translated by G.W.M. Reynolds

(“Canaris! nous t’avons oublié.”)[1]

[Kanaris! We forgot you!]

{VIII., October, 1832.}

O Canaris! O Canaris! the poet’s song

Has blameful left untold thy deeds too long!

But when the tragic actor’s part is done,

When clamor ceases, and the fights are won,

When heroes realize what Fate decreed,

When chieftains mark no more which thousands bleed;

When they have shone, as clouded or as bright,

As fitful meteor in the heaven at night,

And when the sycophant no more proclaims

To gaping crowds the glory of their names,—

‘Tis then the mem’ries of warriors die,

And fall—alas!—into obscurity,

Until the poet, in whose verse alone

Exists a world—can make their actions known,

And in eternal epic measures, show

They are not yet forgotten here below.

And yet by us neglected! glory gloomed,

Thy name seems sealed apart, entombed,

Although our shouts to pigmies rise—no cries

To mark thy presence echo to the skies;

Farewell to Grecian heroes—silent is the lute,

And sets your sun without one Memnon bruit?

There was a time men gave no peace

To cheers for Athens, Bozzaris, Leonidas, and Greece!

And Canaris’ more-worshipped name was found

On ev’ry lip, in ev’ry heart around.

But now is changed the scene! On hist’ry’s page

Are writ o’er thine deeds of another age,

And thine are not remembered.—Greece, farewell!

The world no more thine heroes’ deeds will tell.

Not that this matters to a man like thee!

To whom is left the dark blue open sea,

Thy gallant bark, that o’er the water flies,

And the bright planet guiding in clear skies;

All these remain, with accident and strife,

Hope, and the pleasures of a roving life,

Boon Nature’s fairest prospects—land and main—

The noisy starting, glad return again;

The pride of freeman on a bounding deck

Which mocks at dangers and despises wreck,

And e’en if lightning-pinions cleave the sea,

‘Tis all replete with joyousness to thee!

Yes, these remain! blue sky and ocean blue,

Thine eagles with one sweep beyond the view—

The sun in golden beauty ever pure,

The distance where rich warmth doth aye endure—

Thy language so mellifluously bland,

Mixed with sweet idioms from Italia’s strand,

As Baya’s streams to Samos’ waters glide

And with them mingle in one placid tide.

Yes, these remain, and, Canaris! thy arms—

The sculptured sabre, faithful in alarms—

The broidered garb, the yataghan, the vest

Expressive of thy rank, to thee still rest!

And when thy vessel o’er the foaming sound

Is proud past storied coasts to blithely bound,

At once the point of beauty may restore

Smiles to thy lip, and smoothe thy brow once more.

[1] Original citation: Hapgood, Smith, and Dole, pp. 123–24.

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