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Dana Burnet: Napoleon’s Tomb


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war

Dana Burnett: Selections on war


Dana Burnet
Napoleon’s Tomb (1918)

Through the great doors, where Paris flowed incessant,
Fell certain dimness, as of some poised hour,
Caught from the ashes of the Infinite
And prisoned there in solemn purple state,
To make illusion for dead majesty!
A dusk of greatness, such as well might brood
Beneath the wings of Destiny’s proud day;
A calm, immortal twilight mantling up
To the great dome, where painted triumph rides
High o ‘er the dust that once bestrode it all
Nor ever fame had fairer firmament!
It was as though Ambition still should live
In marble over him; as though his dream
From whose high tower and colored casements round
He, with a royal thievery in his eye,
Did look upon the apple of a world
Should take this shape, and being clothed with walls,
Stand, in such permanence as matter gives,
To house his glory through the centuries.

Then I went in, with Paris pressing slow,
And saw the long blue shadows folding down
Upon the casket of the Emperor.
A soldier in a faded uniform
Stood close beside me. He was one of those
Who die and leave no lament on the wind…
And straightway gazing on him I beheld
Not death’s magnificence; not fame’s hushed tomb
But grim Oblivion, and the fields of France!
And on some nameless hillside, where the night
Sets out wild flaming candles for the dead,
Innumerable corpses palely sprawled
Beneath the silent, cold, anonymous stars.

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