Napoleon

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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the Song of the Mad Prince

February 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Who said, “Peacock Pie?”
The old King to the sparrow:
Who said, “Crops are ripe?”
Rust to the harrow:
Who said, “Where sleeps she now?
Where rests she now her head,
Bathed in eve’s loveliness”? —
That’s what I said.

Who said, “Ay, mum’s the word”?
Sexton to willow:
Who said, “Green dusk for dreams,
Moss for a pillow”?
Who said, “All Time’s delight
Hath she for narrow bed;
Life’s troubled bubble broken”? —
That’s what I said.

– Walter de la Mare

This little lyric starts innocently with the bird names twittered back and forth like a child’s guide to ornithology, but the whimsy is soon bellied by the mad prince’s unusual inquiries, the foreboding “troubled bubble broken”, and the allusions to tragic Hamlet and Ophelia.

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