December 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

“What is the world, O soldiers?
    It is I;
I, this incessant snow,
  This northern sky;
Soldiers, this solitude
  Through which we go
    Is I.”

– Walter de la Mare

Though Napoleon won the Battle of Borodino outside of Moscow in what would be the bloodiest day of fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, he was forced to retreat due to the oncoming Russian winter and the lack of supplies in Moscow. By the time he returned to home soil, his army of 250,000 had dwindled to a quarter of its size, and the battle marked the beginning of Napoleon’s decline.

It remains ambiguous as to whether we hear Napoleon marching to Moscow or slinking away. The poem is either extremely ironic: a megalomaniac marching towards battle and not realizing his imminent downfall; or an apt personal reflection: Napoleon as the cause of the solitude, the thousands lost, the barren landscape through which the soldiers trudge.

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