19th Century

Ode to the Column of Napoleon (1835) | Victor Hugo

The following poem appeared in G.W.M. Reynolds’s translation of Victor Hugo’s Songs of Twilight (1835). It has been transcribed by Stephen Basdeo.


On the foundation that his glory laid,

With indestructible materials made,

Alike secure from ruin, and from rust,

Before whose might all monuments are dust,

Th’eternal column, tow’ring far on high,

Presents Napoleon’s throne unto the sky!

2.

Well deem’d the hero, when his sov’reign hand,

Fatigu’d with war, the lasting trophy plann’d,

That civil discord would retire in shame

Before the vast memorial of his name;

And that the nation would forget to praise

The deeds of those who shone in ancient days.

3.

Around the earth his vet’rans he had led,

O’er smoking fields encuber’d with the dead,

And from the presence of that host so true,

Armies and Kings in wild confusion flew,

Leaving their pond’rous cannon on the plain,

A prey to him and his victorious train.

4.

Then, when the fields of France again were trod 

By him , who came triumphant as a God, 

Bearing the spoils of the defeated world 

He came ʼmid joyous cries, and flags unfurld, 

Welcome as eagle to her infant brood, 

That waits on mountain-top its daily food.

5.

But he, intent on his stupendous aims,

Straightway proceeds to where the furnace flames;

And while his troops, with haste and zealous glow,

The massive ordnance in the cauldron throw,

He to the meanest artisan unfolds

His plans to fix the fashion of the moulds.

6.

Then to the war he led his troops once more,

And from the foe the palm of conquest bore:

He drove th’opponent armies from the plain,

And seiz’d their dread artillery again,

As good materials for the Column high,

Built to perpetuate his memory

7.

Such was his task.—The roaring culverin,

The spur, the sabre, and the mortar’s din

These were his earliest sports, till Egypt gave

Her lordly Pyramids his smile to save;

Then, when th’imperial crown adorn’d his brow,

He rais’d the monument we rev’rence now.

8.

He rais’d that monument!—The grandest age,

Which e’er th’historian’s annals might engage,

Furnish’d the subject—and the end of time

Shall boast that emblem of his course sublime,

Where Rhine and Tyber roll’d in crimson flood,

And the tall snow-capp’d Alps all trembling stood!

9.

For even as the giant race of old

Ossa on Pelion, mount on mountain roll’d,

To scale high heaven’s tow’rs—so he has made

His battles serve to help his escalade:

And thus, to gratify his fancy wild,

Wagram, Arcole, on Austerlitz were pil’d.

10.

The Sun unveild himself in beauty bright, 

The eyes of all beam’d gladness and delight, 

When, with unruffled visage, thou didst come, 

Hero of France! unto the Place Vendome, 

To mark thy column tow’ring from the ground, 

And the four eagles rang’d the base around.

11.

‘Twas then, environ’d by thy warrior’s tri’d,

As erst the Roman’s flock’d t’Æmilius’ side—

‘Twas then each child—each infant, on whose head

Six summers scarcely had their radiance shed,

Murmur’d applause, and clapp’d his little hands,

And spi’d a father ‘midst thy serri’d bands.

12.

Oh! when thou stood’st there, godlike, proud, and great, 

Pond’ring on conquest, majesty, and state 

Who would have thought that e’er the time should be, 

When a base senate could dishonour thee, 

And cavil o’er thine ashes—for Vendome 

At least is worthy to become thy tomb!

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