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Poem by Thomas Campbell

Napoleon and the British Sailor

I LOVE contemplating, apart
  From all his homicidal glory,
The traits that soften to our heart
  Napoleons story!

T was when his banners at Boulogne
  Armed in our island every freeman,
His navy chanced to capture one
  Poor British seaman.

They suffered himI know not how
  Unprisoned on the shore to roam;
And aye was bent his longing brow
  On Englands home.

His eye, methinks, pursued the flight
  Of birds to Britain half-way over
With envy, they could reach the white
  Dear cliffs of Dover.

A stormy midnight watch, he thought,
  Than this sojourn would have been dearer,
If but the storm his vessel brought
  To England nearer.

At last, when care had banished sleep,
  He saw one morning, dreaming, doating,
An empty hogshead from the deep
  Come shoreward floating.

He hid it in a cave, and wrought
  The livelong day laborious; lurking
Until he launched a tiny boat
  By mighty working.

Heaven help us! t was a thing beyond
  Description wretched; such a wherry
Perhaps neer ventured on a pond
  Or crossed a ferry.

For ploughing in the salt sea-field,
  It would have made the boldest shudder;
Untarred, uncompassed, and unkeeled,
  No sail, no rudder.

From neighboring woods he interlaced
  His sorry skiff with wattled willows;
And thus equipped he would have passed
  The foaming billows;

But Frenchmen caught him on the beach,
  His little Argo sorely jeering;
Till tidings of him chanced to reach
  Napoleons hearing.

With folded arms Napoleon stood,
  Serene alike in peace and danger;
And in his wonted attitude,
  Addressed the stranger:

Rash man that wouldst yon channel pass
  On twigs and staves so rudely fashioned,
Thy heart with some sweet British lass
  Must be impassioned.

I have no sweetheart, said the lad;
  But, absent long from one another,
Great was the longing that I had
  To see my mother.

And so thou shalt, Napoleon said;
  Ye ve both my favor fairly won;
A noble mother must have bred
  So brave a son.

He gave the tar a piece of gold,
  And with a flag of truce commanded
He should be shipped to England Old,
  And safely landed.

Our sailor oft could scantly shift
  To find a dinner plain and hearty;
But never changed the coin and gift
  Of Bonaparte.

Thomas Campbell

Thomas Campbell's other poems:
  1. Field Flowers
  2. Gilderoy
  3. The Exile of Erin
  4. Poland
  5. OConnors Child; Or, the Flower of Love Lies Bleeding

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