Last Words. Napoleon and Wellington

A poem by Arthur Hugh Clough


Is it this, then, O world-warrior,
That, exulting, through the folds
Of the dark and cloudy barrier
Thine enfranchised eye beholds?
Is, when blessed hands relieve thee
From the gross and mortal clay,
This the heaven that should receive thee?
‘Tête d’armée.’

Now the final link is breaking,
Of the fierce, corroding chain,
And the ships, their watch forsaking,
Bid the seas no more detain,
Whither is it, freed and risen,
The pure spirit seeks away,
Quits for what the weary prison?
‘Tête d’armée.’

Doubtless angels, hovering o’er thee
In thine exile’s sad abode,
Marshalled even now before thee,
Move upon that chosen road!
Thither they, ere friends have laid thee
Where sad willows o’er thee play,
Shall already have conveyed thee!
‘Tête d’armée.’

Shall great captains, foiled and broken,
Hear from thee on each great day,
At the crisis, a word spoken
Word that battles still obey
‘Cuirassiers here, here those cannon;
Quick, those squadrons, up-away!
‘To the charge, on as one man, on!’
‘Tête d’armée.’

(Yes, too true, alas! while, sated
Of the wars so slow to cease,
Nations, once that scorned and hated,
Would to Wisdom turn, and Peace;
Thy dire impulse still obeying,
Fevered youths, as in the old day,
In their hearts still find thee saying,
‘Tête d’armée.’)

Oh, poor soul! Or do I view thee,
From earth’s battle-fields withheld,
In a dream, assembling to thee
Troops that quell not, nor are quelled,
Breaking airy lines, defeating
Limbo-kings, and, as to-day,
Idly to all time repeating
‘Tête d’armée.’


And what the words, that with his failing breath
Did England hear her aged soldier say?
I know not. Yielding tranquilly to death,
With no proud speech, no boast, he passed away.

Not stirring words, nor gallant deeds alone,
Plain patient work fulfilled that length of life;
Duty, not glory Service, not a throne,
Inspired his effort, set for him the strife.

Therefore just Fortune, with one hasty blow,
Spurning her minion, Glory’s, Victory’s lord,
Gave all to him that was content to know,
In service done its own supreme reward.

The words he said, if haply words there were,
When full of years and works he passed away.
Most naturally might, methinks, refer
To some poor humble business of to-day.

‘That humble simple duty of the day
Perform,’ he bids; ‘ask not if small or great:
Serve in thy post; be faithful, and obey;
Who serves her truly, sometimes saves the State.’

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