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A poem by Victor Hugo


Title:     Mentana
Author: Victor Hugo [More Titles by Hugo]



("Ces jeunes gens, combien etaient-ils.")

[LA VOIX DE GUERNESEY, December, 1868.]


Young soldiers of the noble Latin blood,
How many are ye--Boys? Four thousand odd.
How many are there dead? Six hundred: count!
Their limbs lie strewn about the fatal mount,
Blackened and torn, eyes gummed with blood, hearts rolled
Out from their ribs, to give the wolves of the wold
A red feast; nothing of them left but these
Pierced relics, underneath the olive trees,
Show where the gin was sprung--the scoundrel-trap
Which brought those hero-lads their foul mishap.
See how they fell in swathes--like barley-ears!
Their crime? to claim Rome and her glories theirs;
To fight for Right and Honor;--foolish names!
Come--Mothers of the soil! Italian dames!
Turn the dead over!--try your battle luck!
(Bearded or smooth, to her that gave him suck
The man is always child)--Stay, here's a brow
Split by the Zouaves' bullets! This one, now,
With the bright curly hair soaked so in blood,
Was yours, ma donna!--sweet and fair and good.

The spirit sat upon his fearless face
Before they murdered it, in all the grace
Of manhood's dawn. Sisters, here's yours! his lips,
Over whose bloom the bloody death-foam slips,
Lisped house-songs after you, and said your name
In loving prattle once. That hand, the same
Which lies so cold over the eyelids shut,
Was once a small pink baby-fist, and wet
With milk beads from thy yearning breasts.

Take thou
Thine eldest,--thou, thy youngest born. Oh, flow
Of tears never to cease! Oh, Hope quite gone,
Dead like the dead!--Yet could they live alone--
Without their Tiber and their Rome? and be
Young and Italian--and not also free?
They longed to see the ancient eagle try
His lordly pinions in a modern sky.
They bore--each on himself--the insults laid
On the dear foster-land: of naught afraid,
Save of not finding foes enough to dare
For Italy. Ah; gallant, free, and rare
Young martyrs of a sacred cause,--Adieu!
No more of life--no more of love--for you!
No sweet long-straying in the star-lit glades
At Ave-Mary, with the Italian maids;
No welcome home!


This Garibaldi now, the Italian boys
Go mad to hear him--take to dying--take
To passion for "the pure and high";--God's sake!
It's monstrous, horrible! One sees quite clear
Society--our charge--must shake with fear,
And shriek for help, and call on us to act
When there's a hero, taken in the fact.
If Light shines in the dark, there's guilt in that!
What's viler than a lantern to a bat?


Your Garibaldi missed the mark! You see
The end of life's to cheat, and not to be
Cheated: The knave is nobler than the fool!
Get all you can and keep it! Life's a pool,
The best luck wins; if Virtue starves in rags,
I laugh at Virtue; here's my money-bags!
Here's righteous metal! We have kings, I say,
To keep cash going, and the game at play;
There's why a king wants money--he'd be missed
Without a fertilizing civil list.
Do but try
The question with a steady moral eye!
The colonel strives to be a brigadier,
The marshal, constable. Call the game fair,
And pay your winners! Show the trump, I say!
A renegade's a rascal--till the day
They make him Pasha: is he rascal then?
What with these sequins? Bah! you speak to Men,
And Men want money--power--luck--life's joy--
Those take who can: we could, and fobbed Savoy;
For those who live content with honest state,
They're public pests; knock we 'em on the pate!
They set a vile example! Quick--arrest
That Fool, who ruled and failed to line his nest.
Just hit a bell, you'll see the clapper shake--
Meddle with Priests, you'll find the barrack wake--
Ah! Princes know the People's a tight boot,
March 'em sometimes to be shot and to shoot,
Then they'll wear easier. So let them preach
The righteousness of howitzers; and teach
At the fag end of prayer: "Now, slit their throats!
My holy Zouaves! my good yellow-coats!"
We like to see the Holy Father send
Powder and steel and lead without an end,
To feed Death fat; and broken battles mend.
So they!


But thou, our Hero, baffled, foiled,
The Glorious Chief who vainly bled and toiled.
The trust of all the Peoples--Freedom's Knight!
The Paladin unstained--the Sword of Right!
What wilt thou do, whose land finds thee but jails!
The banished claim the banished! deign to cheer
The refuge of the homeless--enter here,
And light upon our households dark will fall
Even as thou enterest. Oh, Brother, all,
Each one of us--hurt with thy sorrows' proof,
Will make a country for thee of his roof.
Come, sit with those who live as exiles learn:
Come! Thou whom kings could conquer but not yet turn.
We'll talk of "Palermo"[2]--"the Thousand" true,
Will tell the tears of blood of France to you;
Then by his own great Sea we'll read, together,
Old Homer in the quiet summer weather,
And after, thou shalt go to thy desire
While that faint star of Justice grows to fire.[3]


Oh, Italy! hail your Deliverer,
Oh, Nations! almost he gave Rome to her!
Strong-arm and prophet-heart had all but come
To win the city, and to make it "Rome."
Calm, of the antique grandeur, ripe to be
Named with the noblest of her history.
He would have Romanized your Rome--controlled
Her glory, lordships, Gods, in a new mould.
Her spirits' fervor would have melted in
The hundred cities with her; made a twin
Vesuvius and the Capitol; and blended
Strong Juvenal's with the soul, tender and splendid,
Of Dante--smelted old with new alloy--
Stormed at the Titans' road full of bold joy
Whereby men storm Olympus. Italy,
Weep!--This man could have made one Rome of thee!


But the crime's wrought! Who wrought it?
Honest Man--
Priest Pius? No! Each does but what he can.
Yonder's the criminal! The warlike wight
Who hides behind the ranks of France to fight,
Greek Sinon's blood crossed thick with Judas-Jew's,
The Traitor who with smile which true men woos,
Lip mouthing pledges--hand grasping the knife--
Waylaid French Liberty, and took her life.
Kings, he is of you! fit companion! one
Whom day by day the lightning looks upon
Keen; while the sentenced man triples his guard
And trembles; for his hour approaches hard.
Ye ask me "when?" I say _soon_! Hear ye not
Yon muttering in the skies above the spot?
Mark ye no coming shadow, Kings? the shroud
Of a great storm driving the thunder-cloud?
Hark! like the thief-catcher who pulls the pin,
God's thunder asks to _speak to one within_!


And meanwhile this death-odor--this corpse-scent
Which makes the priestly incense redolent
Of rotting men, and the Te Deums stink--
Reeks through the forests--past the river's brink,
O'er wood and plain and mountain, till it fouls
Fair Paris in her pleasures; then it prowls,
A deadly stench, to Crete, to Mexico,
To Poland--wheresoe'er kings' armies go:
And Earth one Upas-tree of bitter sadness,
Opening vast blossoms of a bloody madness.
Throats cut by thousands--slain men by the ton!
Earth quite corpse-cumbered, though the half not done!
They lie, stretched out, where the blood-puddles soak,
Their black lips gaping with the last cry spoke.
"Stretched;" nay! _sown broadcast_; yes, the word is "sown."
The fallows Liberty--the harsh wind blown
Over the furrows, Fate: and these stark dead
Are grain sublime, from Death's cold fingers shed
To make the Abyss conceive: the Future bear
More noble Heroes! Swell, oh, Corpses dear!
Rot quick to the green blade of Freedom! Death!
Do thy kind will with them! They without breath,
Stripped, scattered, ragged, festering, slashed and blue,
Dangle towards God the arms French shot tore through
And wait in meekness, Death! for Him and You!


Oh, France! oh, People! sleeping unabashed!
Liest thou like a hound when it was lashed?
Thou liest! thine own blood fouling both thy hands,
And on thy limbs the rust of iron bands,
And round thy wrists the cut where cords went deep.
Say did they numb thy soul, that thou didst sleep?
Alas! sad France is grown a cave for sleeping,
Which a worse night than Midnight holds in keeping,
Thou sleepest sottish--lost to life and fame--
While the stars stare on thee, and pale for shame.
Stir! rouse thee! Sit! if thou know'st not to rise;
Sit up, thou tortured sluggard! ope thine eyes!
Stretch thy brawn, Giant! Sleep is foul and vile!
Art fagged, art deaf, art dumb? art blind this while?
They lie who say so! Thou dost know and feel
The things they do to thee and thine. The heel
That scratched thy neck in passing--whose? Canst say?
Yes, yes, 'twas _his_, and this is his _fete-day_.
Oh, thou that wert of humankind--couched so--
A beast of burden on this dunghill! oh!
Bray to them, Mule! Oh, Bullock! bellow then!
Since they have made thee blind, grope in thy den!
Do something, Outcast One, that wast so grand!
Who knows if thou putt'st forth thy poor maimed hand,
There may be venging weapon within reach!
Feel with both hands--with both huge arms go stretch
Along the black wall of thy cellar. Nay,
There _may_ be some odd thing hidden away?
Who knows--there _may_! Those great hands might so come
In course of ghastly fumble through the gloom,
Upon a sword--a _sword_! The hands once clasp
Its hilt, must wield it with a Victor's grasp.



[Footnote 1: The Battle of Mentana, so named from a village by Rome, was fought between the allied French and Papal Armies and the Volunteer Forces of Garibaldi, Nov. 3, 1867.]

[Footnote 2: Palermo was taken immediately after the Garibaldian volunteers, 1000 strong, landed at Marsala to inaugurate the rising which made Italy free.]

[Footnote 3: Both poet and his idol lived to see the French Republic for the fourth time proclaimed. When Hugo rose in the Senate, on the first occasion after his return to Paris after the expulsion of the Napoleons, and his white head was seen above that of Rouher, ex-Prime Minister of the Empire, all the house shuddered, and in a nearly unanimous voice shouted: "The judgment of God! expiation!"]

[The end]
Victor Hugo's poem: Mentana