Poems of Italy: selections from the Odes of Giosue Carducci/On the Death of the Prince Imperial

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ONE, the barbarian javelin laid low,
Unwitting; in the eyes that glowed with life
Extinguishing the smiles they seemed to catch
From phantoms floating in the azure vast.

The other, vainly drugged with kisses 'neath
His Austrian plumes, and in the frozen dawns
Dreaming réveillés and the warlike roll
Of drums,—bent, like a pallid hyacinth.

Far from their mothers, both; the silken curls
With childhood's brightness on them, seem to wait
The furrow that is left by the caress
Of the maternal hand. But now instead

They are cast into darkness, these young souls,
With none to comfort; neither follows them
Their country's tribute, sounding at the grave
The notes of love and the high strain of glory.

Not this, O dark son of Hortensia,[1]
Not this your promise to your little heir.
For him you prayed before the face of Paris
A fate far different from the King of Rome's.

Sebastopol's great victory and peace
Lulled with the rustling of their shining wings
The little one; admiring Europe watched,
And shown the imperial Column beacon-bright.

But all December's mire is stained with blood,
And treach'ry lurks behind the Brumaire fogs;
No bushes can take root in such a soil,
Or else bear ashes and a poisoned fruit.

O lonely house on the Aiaccian shore,
Shaded forever by your great green oaks,
With hills serene about you like a crown
And at your feet the solemn-sounding sea!

'Twas here Letitia—fair Italian name
Which henceforth in all ages sounds mischance—
Was happy wife and mother for, alas!
Too short a time; and here, O Consul[2] here,—

Launched your last thunderbolt against the thrones,
Given to the people your concordant laws—
You should have come to live withdrawn, betwixt
The ocean and the God of your belief.

Domestic shade, to-day Letitia haunts
The empty house; not round her head there played
The rays of Cæsar—betwixt church and tomb,
Corsican mother, all her life was spent.

Her Son of Destiny with eagle eyes,
Her daughters, fair as the resplendent dawn,
And nephews all aglow with eager hopes,—
All were laid low, all far away from her.

Corsica's Niobe, at night she stands
There by the door whence from baptismal rites
Her children issued forth, and her proud arms
She stretches out over the savage sea,

And calls, and calls—if from the Western shore,
If from Britannia, or the Land of Night[3]
No one of all her tragic-fated offspring,
Wafted by death, is borne unto her bosom.

  1. Napoleon III.
  2. Napoleon the Great.
  3. Africa, where the Prince Imperial was Killed.

A superb symphonic presentation of the whole Napoleonic tragedy, beginning with the parallel drawn in the first four stanzas between the Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III., and the King of Rome, son of the first Napoleon; and closing with the tremendous portrayal of Letitia, mother of the race—the "Corsican Niobe"—as she stands with her "proud arms" stretched toward the "savage sea," beyond which her children have fallen. In the seventh stanza the references are to the coup d'état of Napoleon III., which occurred in December, 1852, and to the birth of the Prince Imperial in January (the "Brumaire" of the revolutionary calendar), 1856. Very characteristic is the reproach which Carducci, in the tenth stanza, addresses to the Great Napoleon; the poet would have had the Consul put all aside when his true work—the humbling of the thrones, the giving of "concordant laws"—was done, and retire, a second Cincinnatus, to the "lonely house on the Aiaccian shore."