Crowned and Buried

Table of contents

1. Crowned and Buried

Napoleon!—years ago,2 and that great word
Compàct of human breath in hate and dread
And exultation, skied us overhead—
An atmosphere whose lightning was the sword
Scathing the cedars of the world,—drawn down
In burnings, by the metal of a crown.
Napoleon! nations, while they cursed that name,
Shook at their own curse; and while others bore
Its sound, as of a trumpet, on before,
Brass-fronted legions justified its fame;
And dying men, on trampled battle-sods,
Near their last silence, uttered it for God's.
Napoleon! sages, with high foreheads drooped,
Did use it for a problem: children small
Leapt up to greet it, as at manhood's call:
Priests blessed it from their altars overstooped
By meek-eyed Christs,—and widows with a moan
Spake it, when questioned why they sate3 alone.
That name consumed the silence of the snows
In Alpine4 keeping, holy and cloud-hid.
The mimic eagles5 dared what Nature's did,
And over-rushed her mountainous repose
In search of eyries; and the Egyptian river6
Mingled the same word with its grand "For ever."
That name was shouted near the pyramidal
Nilotic7 tombs, whose mummied habitants,
Packed to humanity's significance,
Motioned it back with stillness! shouts as idle
As hireling artists' work of myrrh8 and spice
Which swathed last glories round the Ptolemies.9
The world's face changed to hear it. Kingly men
Came down in chidden babes' bewilderment
From autocratic places, each content
With sprinkled ashes for anointing.10 —Then
The people laughed, or wondered for the nonce,11
To see one throne a composite of thrones.12
Napoleon! even the torrid vastitude
Of India13 felt in throbbings of the air
That name which scattered by disastrous blare
All Europe's bound-lines,—drawn afresh in blood.14
Napoleon—from the Russias, west to Spain!15
And Austria trembled—till ye heard her chain.
And Germany was 'ware;16 and Italy
Oblivious of old fames—her laurel-locked,
High-ghosted Cæsars17 passing uninvoked—
Did crumble her own ruins with her knee,
To serve a newer.—Ay! but Frenchmen cast
A future from them nobler than her past.
For, verily, though France augustly rose
With that raised NAME, and did assume by such
The purple18 of the world, none gave so much
As she, in purchase—to speak plain, in loss—
Whose hands, toward freedom stretched, dropped paralyzed
To wield a sword or fit an undersized
King's crown to a great man's head. And though along
Her Paris' streets, did float on frequent streams
Of triumph, pictured or emmarbled dreams
Dreamt right by genius in a world gone wrong,—
No dream, of all so won, was fair to see
As the lost vision of her liberty.19
Napoleon! 'twas a high name lifted high!
It met at last God's thunder sent to clear
Our compassing and covering atmosphere
And open a clear sight beyond the sky
Of supreme empire; this of earth's was done—
And kings crept out again to feel the sun.
The kings crept out—the peoples sate at home,20
And finding the long-invocated peace
(A pall21 embroidered with worn images
Of rights divine) too scant to cover doom
Such as they suffered,—cursed the corn22 that grew
Rankly, to bitter bread, on Waterloo.23
A deep gloom centred in the deep repose.
The nations stood up mute to count their dead.
And he who owned the NAME which vibrated
Through silence,—trusting to his noblest foes
When earth was all too grey for chivalry,
Died of their mercies 'mid the desert sea.24
O wild St. Helen! very still she kept him,
With a green willow for all pyramid 25,
Which stirred a little if the low wind did,
A little more, if pilgrims overwept him,
Disparting26 the little boughs to see the clay
Which seemed to cover his for judgment-day.
Nay, not so long!—France kept her old affection
As deeply as the sepulchre the corse27,
Until, dilated by such love's remorse
To a new angel of the resurrection,
She cried, "Behold, thou England! I would have
The dead whereof thou wottest28, from that grave."29
And England answered in the courtesy
Which, ancient foes turned lovers, may befit,—
"Take back thy dead! and when thou buriest it,
Throw in all former strifes 'twixt thee and me."
Amen, mine England! 'tis a courteous claim—
But ask a little room too . . . for thy shame!
Because it was not well, it was not well,
Nor tuneful with thy lofty-chanted part
Among the Oceanides30, —that Heart
To bind and bare and vex with vulture fell31.
I would, my noble England! men might seek
All crimson stains upon thy breast—not cheek!
I would that hostile fleets had scarred Torbay32,
Instead of the lone ship which waited moored
Until thy princely purpose was assured,
Then left a shadow, not to pass away—
Not for to-night's moon, nor to-morrow's sun!
Green watching hills, ye witnessed what was done!33
But since it was done,—in sepulchral dust
We fain would pay back something of our debt
To France, if not to honour, and forget
How through much fear we falsified the trust
Of a fallen foe and exile.—We return
Orestes to Electra . . . in his urn.34
A little urn—a little dust inside,
Which once outbalanced the large earth, albeit
To-day a four-years child might carry it
Sleek-browed and smiling, "Let the burden 'bide!"35
Orestes to Electra!—O fair town
Of Paris, how the wild tears will run down
And run back in the chariot-marks of time,
When all the people shall come forth to meet
The passive victor, death-still in the street
He rode through 'mid the shouting and bell-chime
And martial music, under eagles which
Dyed their rapacious beaks at Austerlitz36.
Napoleon! he hath come again-borne home
Upon the popular ebbing heart,—a sea
Which gathers its own wrecks perpetually,
Majestically moaning. Give him room!—
Room for the dead in Paris! welcome solemn
And grave-deep, 'neath the cannon-moulded column!37
There, weapon spent and warrior spent may rest
From roar of fields,—provided Jupiter
Dare trust Saturnus to lie down so near
His bolts!38 —and this he may. For, dispossessed
Of any godship lies the godlike arm—
The goat, Jove sucked39, as likely to do harm.
And yet . . . Napoleon!—the recovered name
Shakes the old casements of the world! and we
Look out upon the passing pageantry,
Attesting that the Dead makes good his claim
To a French grave,—another kingdom won,
The last, of few spans—by Napoleon.
Blood fell like dew beneath his sunrise—sooth40;
But glittered dew-like in the covenanted
Meridian41 light. He was a despot—granted!
But the αυτος42 of his autocratic mouth
Said yea i' the people's French; he magnified
The image of the freedom he denied.
And if they asked for rights, he made reply
"Ye have my glory!"—and so, drawing round them
His ample purple, glorified and bound them
In an embrace that seemed identity.
He ruled them like a tyrant—true! but none
Were ruled like slaves: each felt Napoleon.
I do not praise this man: the man was flawed
For Adam—much more, Christ!—his knee unbent,
His hand unclean, his aspiration pent
Within a sword-sweep—pshaw!—but since he had
The genius to be loved, why let him have
The justice to be honoured in his grave.
I think this nation's tears thus poured together,
Better than shouts. I think this funeral
Grander than crownings, though a Pope bless all43.
I think this grave stronger than thrones. But whether
The crowned Napoleon or the buried clay
Be worthier, I discern not. Angels may.

2. Note on the text

First published in The Athenaeum as "Napoleon's Return," this poem, as a manuscript indicates, was written May-June 1840, when the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) had recently been transported from St. Helena, the island of his final captivity, to France for re-burial. EBB had just read a new, two-volume History of Napoleon written by her correspondent R.H. Horne which recounts of the military exploits and personal life of the French general who crowned himself Emperor in 1804 (see BC 4:272, 273n4, 280). EBB wrote that Napoleon was "no idol of mine," but he had been suggested to her as a "noble" subject for poetry. Moreover, her interest was piqued by the fact that in 1815, when the captive emperor had been brought to England on the way to St. Helena, his ship had anchored for four days in the "very bay-waters" beyond her window, where she lay convalescing in the coastal town of Torquay (BC 4:292, 293n10, n8.). The poem captures the period's widespread ambivalence toward the French emperor, who had been the scourge of Europe, but had also been regarded as a Promethean figure1 immensely compelling to Romantic writers, composers, and artists. By changing this poem's title for publication in 1844, EBB linked the work to "Crowned and Wedded," which immediately preceded it in the same volume and which focuses on the contrasting figure of England's young female monarch, whose marriage underscored her similarity to ordinary women and her affinities with her culture's domestic values. Reviews of "Crowned and Buried" were mixed: while one cited the first two stanzas as a "specimen of … genius gone affected," others found the poem "full of noble thoughts," an original and "powerful commentary" on a subject "not easily treated with freshness and spirit" (BC 9:349; 10:377; 9:344). See also Avery and Stott (2003). For a text with variants and more extended annotation, see The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Vol. 2, General Editor, Sandra Donaldson, Volume Editors Marjorie Stone & Beverly Taylor (London: Pickering and Chatto).

3. Explanatory Notes

years ago Napoleon's great victories for France began in 1793, when he expelled English troops from Toulon.

sate sat.

Alpine Napoleon in a series of brilliant campaigns took control of the Alps and much of Italy from Austria and the Kingdom of Sardinia.

eagles Napoleon's emblem, the eagle, adorned his flags and was carried before his troops. After becoming emperor, he distributed imperial eagles to the troops instead of the national flag (Horne's History of Napoleon, 1:346).

river the Nile. Napoleon conquered Egypt in 1798, as part of a plan to drive Britain from all her possessions in the East.

Nilotic of the Nile. The famed pyramids, tombs of the mummified remains of ancient Egyptian rulers, are built along the Nile.

myrrh an aromatic gum resin prized in the making of perfume and incense.

Ptolemies kings of ancient Egypt (323-30 B.C.).

Refers to the tradition of putting ashes on the head of a subject to symbolize his feudal subservience.

nonce for the occasion, for the time being.

composite of thrones Napoleon installed his relatives and in-laws as his surrogates on the thrones of Naples, Sicily, Spain, Holland, Westphalia, and Tuscany. After becoming Emperor of France, he also crowned himself king of Italy.

India In 1798 Napoleon challenged British dominance in India, but was deterred by an English victory over the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile, engineered by Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805).

blood A series of treaties redrew national borders after Napoleon's various conquests.

Spain At the height of his power, Napoleon's empire and ambitions stretched from Spain to Russia. He eventually lost his foothold in Spain when the English prevailed in the Peninsular Wars, and he twice met defeat invading Russia (1808, 1812), with disastrous losses of men and equipment. Napoleon more successfully battled Austria, repeatedly, for German and Italian territory.

'ware aware.

Cæsars the emperors of ancient Rome.

purple traditionally associated with royalty.

liberty Napoleon began his rise as a hero of the French Republic, endorsing a constitution that guaranteed considerable individual liberty, but he eventually betrayed republican ideals to become an absolute monarch.

home Napoleon's final defeat marked the end of the experiment in republicanism, for the monarchies allied against him restored the Bourbon king Louis XVIII to the French throne and other kings and royals to the various regions Napoleon had declared republics or parts of the French empire.

pall cover for a coffin, bier, or tomb.

corn grain, wheat.

Waterloo Belgian town near which English forces commanded by the Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) decisively defeated Napoleon's army in 1815. After his 1814-15 isolation on the Mediterranean island of Elba, off the coast of Tuscany, Napoleon had returned to France to overthrow the restored monarch Louis XVIII. The battle of Waterloo finally ended his political and military ventures. This end to the Napoleonic wars began a period of "bitter bread" for the English populace: fearing that the grain ("corn") market would be flooded by cheap produce from France after the cessation of hostilities, Parliament passed high protective tariffs called the Corn Laws. The resulting inflated cost of bread caused widespread suffering among the poor, reaching a crisis in the 1840s. See the "Introduction" for discussion of EBB's regret that in 1845 she declined to write a poem for the Anti-Corn Law League (founded in 1839).

sea When Napoleon abdicated in 1815 following the battle of Waterloo, he intended to sail to America. Intercepted, he agreed to board a British vessel, expecting that he would be allowed to live in England. The English instead sent him into exile on St. Helena, a small, barren, remote island in the south Atlantic. EBB lamented England's lack of chivalry in dealing with the vanquished Napoleon, judging him "a great man .. with gigantic faults"(BC 7:52-53)

pyramid There Napoleon's only monument was a willow tree (traditionally associated with mourning).

Disparting parting.

corse corpse.

wottest knowest.

grave At the French government's request, English authorities exhumed Napoleon's body and returned it to Paris, where it was interred at the Invalides, a military hospital which became a monument to the nation's military dead.

Oceanides in classical mythology, ocean nymphs. They sang to Prometheus in Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound, which EBB twice translated.

fell fierce, cruel. This imagery links Napoleon to the mythological Prometheus.

Torbay harbor adjacent to Torquay, where EBB stayed during the poem's composition. Napoleon waited there to learn his destination before being exiled to St. Helena.

done "Written at Torquay." [EBB's note].

urn In Sophocles' Greek tragedy Electra, Orestes returns home in disguise, presenting an urn which he says contains Orestes' ashes to his sister Electra, who mourns him deeply. In a ms draft EBB originally used the name Antigone, referring to another Greek woman renowned for grief over the death of her brother, Polynices; she defied her king's edict in order to provide her brother suitable burial honors (R D164). EBB also invokes the story of Electra and the urn in sonnet V of Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850).

'bide abide.

Austerlitz a Czech town (Slavkov in Czech) near the site of Napoleon's important defeat of the Russian and Austrian armies in 1805.

column "It was the first intention to bury him under the column" [EBB's note], in the Place Vendôme.

bolts In Roman mythology, Jupiter usurped the throne of his father Saturn as chief of the gods. His weapons included thunderbolts.

sucked Because of a prophecy that his son would dethrone him, Saturn devoured his children as they were born. Jupiter (also called Jove) was hidden by his mother on the island of Crete, where he was suckled by a goat.

sooth in truth.

Meridian the time when the sun is at its highest point.

αυτος Greek "autos," meaning "self," or "I, myself."

all Though Napoleon brought Pope Pius VII to officiate at his coronation as Emperor in 1804, he actually placed the crown on his own head.

figure In classical mythology the Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods to share with mankind. As punishment for this hubris, he was chained to a rock; each day an eagle (or vulture) gnawed his liver, which regenerated nightly to allow the torment to begin anew on the following morning. Romantic celebrations of the Titan (see the "Introduction") include P.B. Shelley's Prometheus Unbound (1820). EBB twice translated Aeschylus' Greek drama Prometheus Bound (pub. 1833, 1850), and in an early notebook (1824-26) she had associated Napoleon with Prometheus (Mermin 97, 258 n24), a link reiterated by the imagery in l. 100 below. In 1843, before she published the revised version of this poem, EBB's correspondent the painter B.R. Haydon, believing that she admired Napoleon, deluged her with letters discrediting the emperor and praising the Duke of Wellington, the British military leader who finally defeated him (see BC 7:26-7, 38-40, 45-47, 49-53, 58, 60, 64).

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Date: 07-Mar-2009
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