The Emperor's Return.

A poem by Victor Marie Hugo

("Un bouffon manquait à cette fête.")

[LES BURGRAVES, Part II.]


The EMPEROR FREDERICK BARBAROSSA, believed to be dead, appearing as a beggar among the Rhenish nobility at a castle, suddenly reveals himself.

HATTO. This goodly masque but lacked a fool!
First gypsy; next a beggar; - good! Thy name?

BARBAROSSA. Frederick of Swabia, Emperor of Almain.

ALL. The Red Beard?

BARBAROSSA. Aye, Frederick, by my mountain birthright Prince
O' th' Romans, chosen king, crowned emperor,
Heaven's sword-bearer, monarch of Burgundy
And Arles - the tomb of Karl I dared profane,
But have repented me on bended knees
In penance 'midst the desert twenty years;
My drink the rain, the rocky herbs my food,
Myself a ghost the shepherds fled before,
And the world named me as among the dead.
But I have heard my country call - come forth,
Lifted the shroud - broken the sepulchre.
This hour is one when dead men needs must rise.
Ye own me? Ye mind me marching through these vales
When golden spur was ringing at my heel?
Now know me what I am, your master, earls!
Brave knights you deem! You say, "The sons we are
Of puissant barons and great noblemen,
Whose honors we prolong." You do prolong them?
Your sires were soldiers brave, not prowlers base,
Rogues, miscreants, felons, village-ravagers!
They made great wars, they rode like heroes forth,
And, worthy, won broad lands and towers and towns,
So firmly won that thirty years of strife
Made of their followers dukes, their leaders kings!
While you! like jackal and the bird of prey,
Who lurk in copses or 'mid muddy beds -
Crouching and hushed, with dagger ready drawn,
Hide in the noisome marsh that skirts the way,
Trembling lest passing hounds snuff out your lair!
Listen at eventide on lonesome path
For traveller's footfall, or the mule-bell's chime,
Pouncing by hundreds on one helpless man,
To cut him down, then back to your retreats -
You dare to vaunt your sires? I call your sires,
Bravest of brave and greatest 'mid the great,
A line of warriors! you, a pack of thieves!

Athenaeum.

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