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Napoleon -- Walter de la Mare

(Poem #272) Napoleon
'What is the world, O soldiers?
        It is I:
I, this incessant snow,
    This northern sky;
Soldiers, this solitude
    Through which we go
        Is I.'
-- Walter de la Mare
De la Mare, like Kipling, suffers from over-anthologization (especially in the
pages of school textbooks - has it ever occurred to you that, given the way
poetry is taught in schools these days, including a classic poem in a student's
curriculum is the surest way of ruining it forever?). Again like Kipling,
though, his work has risen above this handicap and insinuated itself into the
collective unconscious. And deservedly so - there are hardly any readers of
poetry, serious or casual, who haven't been affected by such classics such as
'The Listeners' (one of the very first poems to be run on the Minstrels).

'Napoleon' is straightforward enough; the diction is clear and confident, as
befitting the speaker, but the words are (in the hindsight offered by history)
ironic in the extreme - it was precisely the Russian campaign described in the
poem that led to the Little Corporal's downfall. A typical de la Mare touch, and
nicely done without being the slightest bit exaggerated.


[Minstrels Links]

'The Listeners', which you can read at poem #2 was the first de la Mare
to be run on the Minstrels; we've had to wait 270 poems for the second.

A freebie at the same link is T. S. Eliot's wonderful tribute to Walter de la
Mare, which Anustup posted as a comment on the original poem. Eliot confesses
himself spellbound by
    the delicate, invisible web you wove -
    The inexplicable mystery of sound.
and I must say I concur. De la Mare's poems have true magic in them.

For another poetic portrayal of a tyrant, read Ted Hughes' powerful 'Hawk
Roosting', at poem #42

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is this about Napoleon blaming himself for the downfall?

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