Home  »  Every Day in the Year A Poetical Epitome of the World’s History  »  The Return of Napoleon from St. Helena

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

December 15

The Return of Napoleon from St. Helena

By Lydia Huntley Sigourney (1791–1865)

  • Nineteen years after the death of Napoleon his body was removed from St. Helena and given a splendid funeral in Paris where it was interred in the Church of Les Invalides, on Dec. 15, 1840.

  • HO! City of the gay!

    Paris! what festal rite

    Doth call thy thronging million forth,

    All eager for the sight?

    Thy soldiers line the streets

    In fixed and stern array,

    With buckled helm and bayonet,

    As on the battle-day.

    By square, and fountain side,

    Heads in dense masses rise,

    And tower and battlement and tree

    Are studded thick with eyes.

    Comes there some conqueror home

    In triumph from the fight,

    With spoil and captives in his train,

    The trophies of his might?

    The Arc de Triomphe glows!

    A martial host is nigh;

    France pours in long succession forth

    Her pomp of chivalry.

    No clarion marks their way,

    No victor trump is blown;

    Why march they on so silently,

    Told by their tread alone?

    Behold, in glittering show,

    A gorgeous car of state!

    The white-plumed steeds in cloth of gold,

    Bow down beneath its weight;

    And the noble war-horse, led

    Caparisoned along,

    Seems fiercely for his lord to ask,

    As his red eye scans the throng.

    Who rideth on yon car?

    The incense flameth high,—

    Comes there some demi-god of old?

    No answer!—No reply!

    Who rideth on yon car?—

    No shout his minions raise,

    But by a lofty chapel dome

    The muffled hero stays.

    A king is standing there,

    And with uncovered head

    Receives him in the name of France:

    Receiveth whom?—The dead!

    Was he not buried deep

    In island cavern drear,

    Girt by the sounding ocean surge?

    How came that sleeper here?

    Was there no rest for him

    Beneath a peaceful pall,

    That thus he brake his stony tomb,

    Ere the strong angel’s call?

    Hark! hark! the requiem swells,

    A deep soul-thrilling strain!

    An echo, never to be heard

    By mortal ear again.

    A requiem for the chief,

    Whose fiat millions slew,—

    The soaring eagle of the Alps,

    The crushed at Waterloo:—

    The banished who returned,

    The dead who rose again,

    And rode in his shroud the billows proud

    To the sunny banks of Seine.

    They laid him there in state,

    That warrior strong and bold,—

    The imperial crown with jewels bright,

    Upon his ashes cold,

    While round those columns proud

    The blazoned banners wave,

    That on a hundred fields he won

    With the heart’s-blood of the brave;

    And sternly there kept guard

    His veterans scarred and old,

    Whose wounds on Lodi’s cleaving bridge

    Or purple Leipsic told.

    Yes, there, with arms reversed,

    Slow pacing, night and day,

    Close watch beside the coffin kept

    Those veterans grim and gray.

    A cloud is on their brow,—

    Is it sorrow for the dead,

    Or memory of the fearful strife

    Where their country’s legions fled?

    Of Borodino’s blood?

    Of Beresina’s wail?

    The horrors of that dire retreat,

    Which turned old History pale?

    A cloud is on their brow,—

    Is it sorrow for the dead,

    Or a shuddering at the wintry shaft

    By Russian tempests sped?

    Where countless mounds of snow

    Marked the poor conscript’s grave,

    And, pierced by frost and famine, sank

    The bravest of the brave.

    A thousand trembling lamps

    The gathered darkness mock,

    And velvet drapes his hearse, who died

    On bare Helena’s rock;

    And from the altar near,

    A never-ceasing hymn

    Is lifted by the chanting priests

    Beside the taper dim.

    Mysterious one, and proud!

    In the land where shadows reign,

    Hast thou met the flocking ghosts of those

    Who at thy nod were slain?

    Oh, when the cry of that spectral host

    Like a rushing blast shall be,

    What will thine answer be to them?

    And what thy God’s to thee?