James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

May 22

The Death of King Bomba

By Anonymous

  • “Bomba” was a nickname given in Italy to Ferdinand II. of the Two Sicilies from his bombardment of Messina and other cities. He died on May 22, 1859, after a reign that was characterized by inordinate cruelty.

  • COULD I pass those lounging sentries,

    Through the aloe-bordered entries,

    Up the sweep of squalid stair,

    On through chamber after chamber,

    Where the sunshine’s gold and amber

    Turn decay to beauty rare,—

    I should reach a guarded portal,

    Where, for strife of issue mortal,

    Face to face two kings are met:

    One the grisly King of Terrors;

    One a Bourbon, with his errors,

    Late to conscience-clearing set.

    Well his fevered pulse may flutter,

    And the priests their mass may mutter

    With such fervor as they may;

    Cross and chrism and genuflection,

    Mop and mow and interjection,

    Will not frighten Death away.

    By the dying despot sitting,

    At the hard heart’s portals hitting,

    Shocking the dull brain to work,

    Death makes clear what life has hidden,

    Chides what life has left unchidden,

    Quickens truth life tried to burke.

    He but ruled within his borders

    After Holy Church’s orders,

    Did what Austria bade him do,—

    By their guidance flogged and tortured

    High-born men, and gently nurtured

    Chained with crime’s felonious crew.

    What if summer fevers gripped them,

    What if winter freezings nipped them,

    Till they rotted in their chains?

    He had word of Pope and Kaiser—

    None could holier be or wiser;

    Theirs the counsel, his the reins.

    So he pleads excuses eager,

    Clutching with his fingers meagre

    At the bed-clothes as he speaks:

    But King Death sits grimly grinning

    At the Bourbon’s cobweb-spinning,

    As each cobweb-cable breaks.

    And the poor soul from life’s islet,

    Rudderless, without a pilot,

    Drifteth slowly down the dark;

    While ’mid rolling incense vapor,

    Chanted dirge, and flaring taper,

    Lies the body, stiff and stark.