Canto 25: Stormclouds

The great mistake I made was in leaving Elba six months too soon.

Napoleon Bonaparte


British Reaction

I am already on the way,
& follow thee with all the speed
Desire can make, or sorrows breed
Henry King

The morning sun scatter’d cross the Solent,
A tranquil & yet deadly waterway,
Where slept the ever watchful instrument
That kept the Gallic conquerors at bay;
Ye mighty fleet,
Queen of the oceans vast,
Thy duty ne’er complete while France still decks a mast.

In the barracks mess at breakfast
Sat the half-dress’d soldiery,
Freddie Johnstone yells joyous blast
Tosses broadsheets flying free,
“Old Boney has broke free at last,
Fink he’ll face our ‘ookey!”
As the room rose the whole company roar’d
With thoughts of gaining glory by the sword.

The word spread round like raging fire,
Great & glorious news!”
Time to retire thoughts of empire,
Pack up those marching shoes,
For once again brave Englishmen must battle with the blues.

Portsmouth
March 10th
1815


Return of Napoleon

One flower
on the cliffside
Nodding at the canyon
Jack Kerouac

Swept from the throne by mystical forces,
On gouty legs King Louis lugg’d his frame,
Shuffl’d out toward the waiting horses,
His ancestors all clamouring in shame;
Like bulging banks
Pockets stuff’d with riches,
With oer four million francs cramm’d in ammo boxes.

They fill’d the stony city square
With many a tricolour,
Seeming to flock from everywhere
To witness their emperor,
Who shush’d the cheers with one long stare,
“I’ll restore our honour!
Stolen by those nobles who kept their head,
Gorging on thy back-break & barley bread.”

To an ancyent saint’s tall steeple
High oer a Paris street
The first Eagle of the people
Observes the march complete –
Without bloodletting France’s Ceaser seizes back his seat.

Tuilleries
March 19th
1815


Portent of War

Not far or near
Can mounts or rebel waves
E’er make me full of fear
Paramahansa Yogananda

The winds of change have dwindl’d to a breeze,
The first Napoleon resumes his reign,
Renounces the lawless Bourbon decrees,
A man more powerful than Charlemagne;
Surrounded by
A court of men he made,
Who with a weary sigh prepare for war’s parade.

“All Europe declares war on you!”
“One man becomes one nation!”
“So be it! If peace shall not do
Increase the realms taxation,
A million muskets, Marshall Soult,
Treble the conscription,
Arm all the gendarmes, secure the borders,
Allez mon marshalles, await my orders.”

The city cool’d as blue moonlight
Shone with the tinkling stars,
The eagle’s flight span cross the night
To sweep across old Mars,
Who shone a little redder with the blood of coming wars.

Paris
March 22nd
1815


Blucher

I stand silent, waiting
until a warm wind blows,
bringing youth and vigor
Lauren McBride

Of a spring-time morning Silesian,
Midst the seedlings that sprout au naturale,
A deep-snoozing septegenarian
Retires into his calm idyllic shell;
Yet one eye strays
From his twilight slumber,
For thro’ the distant haze pricks a despatch rider.

The old man clasps the young mans hand,
Vill you haf sausage or vine?”
“Nein, mein prince, for the Vaderland
Faces a perilous time
& in your hands total command,
Our army of the Rhine.”
“Vat is the reason behind this request?
“NAPOLEON has return’d to the nest!”

The fresh flight of that fearful bird
Wings deep into his core,
With but one word his mojo stirr’d,
The great, unsettl’d score,
How bloody shall the battles be in fields of mud & gore.

Prussia
March 24th
1815


War’s Sinew

But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made
Denise Levertov

Behind the hustle of a bustling street
The anglicis’d head of Europe’s Jewry
Invites his dinner guest to a retreat
An aperitif of ten-year brandy;
Midst rich décor
The niceties dissolve
Into stern talk of war’s most delicate resolve.

“Bonaparte must be defeated
To ensure a friendly France
& the German states united
Shall hold Europa’s balance…
My cabinet has requested,
Small matter of finance,
That is to say, five millions in specie,
Be handl’d by the Rothschild company”

“My firm accepts, the terms m’lord
Are two percent interest…”
The golden horde sharpens the sword
Plung’d in the Belgic breast…
Upon a sure-fire favourite do true gamblers invest.

London
March 27th
1815


Wellington’s Return

The dead spake together last night,
And one to the other said:
“Why are we dead?”
Joseph Lee

Kiss’d by the fair ladies of Vienna
With calm countenance he waves them goodbye,
Departing on another adventure,
To claim a victory, defeat, or die;
Young Lord Lennox
Perch’d proudly by his side,
While plush-skinn’d carriage rocks beside the Danube’s glide.

The Duke spoke of his duel with France,
From the battle of Assaye,
To the Peninsular advance,
How many a bloody day?
As talk drifted toward the chance
Of him marching in May,
“I feel that month would be a month too soon,
One would imagine the middle of June.”

In famous fields they paused for gin
Where ribald Redcoat wit
Effused like sin, “Sir, shall we win?
The duke observ’d them spit,
“Give me enough of those men there & I’ll be sure of it.”

Blenheim
March 31st
1815


William DeLancey

The circling buzzards are
interested in the sudden increase
in population beneath
Katrin Talbot

As step-by-step they paced between the aisles
Of Greyfriars Kirk – him buck, she bonnie lass –
Memories melted in those passing smiles
To when they walked the gorge down to Dunglass;
No fairer rose
Could e’er this love entwine,
The perfect, “I am yours,” the spotless, “you are mine.

He was the quintessential breed,
Lord of an Age’s passions,
Beknighted, gallivanting steed
Spritely in brightest fashions,
All England’s soldiers his to feed,
Distributing rations –
An army marches, bully-beef & rum,
By inky blots of Quatermaster’s thumb.

Into the Belgic heart of hearts
The Iron Duke did steer
Twyx crows & carts, “Before it starts,
I want my best men here…
Yes, especially DeLancey, for him France holds no fear.”

Brussels
April 4th
1815


Marital Bliss

they float on foam
and lay themselves down in the sea,
they’re loyal to the deepest reason
Rafael Felipe Oteriño

What dost thou do when one engorg’d with love
& that love’s source enarmour’d overseas?
‘Follow the Drum!’ lass be a little dove
& join those eagles swarming on the breeze;
As love demands
Such pangings to suspend,
Mrs DeLancey lands with luggage in Ostend.

In exquisite elevation
Over trees so fair & fine
Aided she the conversation
With proud cookery & wine,
“Polyglot conglomeration!”
“An overstretching line!”
Sensing death haunted every statement said,
She drove uncertain futures from her head.

That night they let desire reign
& fell, immesh’d, adream…
She felt his pain, him knelt, him slain…
She woke him with a scream,
“Tis just a horrid nightmare, love, biting on a moonbeam.”

Brussels
June 9th
1815


Gathering the Guard

I shall make myself spruce
Be a blade again,
I shall make a fine show
Alexey Koltzov

The Marshal notices his thinning hair,
“Napoleon, thine Armee de la Nord,
Awaits thee sire, the Guard is gather’d there;”
Up to the stars he thrust his glinting sword;
“Within one week
My seat I shall secure,
Roast all that rooster meat upon this deadly skewer.”

He left fair Paris that hot June,
Went breakfasting at Soissons,
Then fell asleep beneath the moon
That glower’d light on Laon,
Another day, another swoon,
Then on into Beaumont,
This was the day, the day of destiny –
That evening saw him with the infantry;

To them a God-on-Earth return’d,
His glory theirs to gain,
Minerva churn’d, what fervour burn’d…
‘I hope you wont be slain,’
He thought, pinching a soldiers ear, devotion to obtain.

Beaumont
June 14th
1815

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