The Bells of Fontainebleau

George Walter Thornbury

Napoleon in the gray surtout
That kings had learned to dread,
With close-clenched hands behind his back
And heavy bended head,
Climbed slowly (lost in battle plans)
A hill near Fontainebleau,
One, two, three, four, the village chimes
Came to him from below.

The marshals, glittering with gold,
Paced laughingly along,
Nor hushed the scandal and the jest,
Or scrap of opera song;
The Emperor stood silent there,
A monarch turned to stone,
Nor smiled, nor moved,— where great men stand
The spot becomes a throne.

Below, the reapers, singing, toiled
With sickles (not with swords),
Or down in clusters round the sheaves
Lay revelling like lords;
The soldiers pointed to the slopes
That bound the golden plain,
And almost wished that France were lost,
To win it o'er again.

The gray man stood, one foot outstretched.
As if upon a foe.
He cared not for the happy sight,
The plenty spread below.
Although the bells shook music down
From yonder village tower, —
And hark! the royal voice of Time
Exulting in his power.

At last be spoke, and slowly turned
(A moisture in his eyes), —
Massena gave a shrug that showed
A cynical surprise:
"Long years ago, at Malraaison,
When all unknown of men,
I heard just such a laughing peal,
And I was happy then."

He turned upon his heel, and then
Sat down upon the hill,
Tracing upon the level sand
With sword-sheath (O, that will!)
The star redoubt, the diamond fort,
The battle lines again:—
A month from that he won the day
Upon Marengo's plain.

Main Location:

Fontainebleau, France