Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Thirteenth of July

Today is the anniversary of the tragic carriage accident that claimed the life of Ferdinand-Philippe, Duc d'Orléans (1810-1842), Prince Royal of France and beloved eldest brother of Queen Louise-Marie of the Belgians. (Above, we see the grieving Orléans family, as King Louis-Philippe presents his son's young heir, Prince Philippe, Count of Paris). Here, in English translation, is the famous poem, lamenting Ferdinand-Philippe's untimely passing, by Alfred de Musset. (The French original may be found HERE). While celebrating the martial valor of the Orléans brothers, the author also mourns the sad fate of the romantic and artistically gifted Marie d'Orléans, the younger sister of Louise-Marie and Ferdinand-Philippe who succumbed to tuberculosis in 1839, two years before her brother's death; I have discussed Marie's life in more detail, HERE. It seems slightly strange and ironic that Ferdinand-Philippe, a scion of the liberal and revolutionary House of Orléans, was killed on the eve of Bastille Day.

The Thirteenth of July

Joy here below is ever young and new; 
As much as grief grows old, so far 'tis true. 
But yesterday the prince was swept from sight; 
He hardly sleeps the sleep of endless night; 
The angel-wings that bore him through the air, 
Close not; of him to speak too soon we dare. 

Sad was the day when on that little bier 
This death untimely came to wake our fear. 
Sad was the sight; the ancient cathedral 
Was dressed in black, as for death's festival; 
Sad was the noise when all the mourners kneel, 
Romancers 'gan to sing, and tales to tell. 

And we were silent, we, his childhood's friends, 
While toward the somber vault he slowly wends, 
Thoughts of the cradle us the coffin lends; 
His shade, perhaps, could hear that deep silence 
Which round his tomb fell on our hearts and sense. 

Now that day comes, than this one year more old, 
To rouse our grief and strike our hearts with cold,
We must salute the day of bale untold. 
When this young man died in his strength and flower,
From nothingness preserved by havoc's power, 
And by his youth and by the ordained hour.

To whom, just God, can any say: 
We meet To-morrow? Hope and Death each other greet, 
And hand in hand walk over desolate street. 
With steady steps one goes, and calm and veiled; 
The other's knees upon the road have failed; 
Bruised she lags and weeps, her cheek has paled.

O Death, thy steps are slow, but they count full. 
Who thought thee blind and inexorable? 
Who ever said that thou, implacable, 
And drunk with blood, a specter roamed to strike, 
And sweep at random, grain of sand most like, 
The temples, deserts, fields, and town and dike. 

Thou knowest how to choose upon this earth; 
'Tis true, to error oft thou givest birth; 
Thy hand is not so sure; it is thy worth 
To humor some who would thee darkly please, 
To spare the madman, prop the impostor's knees, 
Let vice grow gray, and sorrow starve and freeze. 

But when the noble child of royal race 
Flies from the sloth antique of royal place, 
Seeks in the studio truth in art to trace, 
Creates in dream the fair ideal shape, 
With maiden hand doth ope the stone agape, 
To let the beauty, let the life escape; 

And when this lovely sprite of genius pure— 
Her name was Marie, name of sweetest lure— 
Over her cherished work doth bend demure, 
To paint Jeanne when questioning her heart, 
The village child who healed her country's smart 
Lends her her piety and modest art; 

Then noble hands with ardent labor tired, 
No time for rest, but time for prayer required; 
Those hands so rich in alms, with visions fired, 
Those hands which bitter tears have wiped away, 
With sudden shiver, still and icy lay. 
From Pisa moves the coffin day by day. 

Her brother dead last year, what had he done? 
What good to kill—why on that bier a son, 
A young man dying, followed by his sire? 
What heart so cold on earth, devoid of fire, 
As not to shudder, not in silence pause 
Before this crime, of chance without a cause? 

What had he done but come and follow fate 
With us in school, his spirit cultivate, 
Reflect with us, with us both work and play, 
His rank assume beneath the sun of day, 
In greatness of the heart alone arrayed, 
And, since he was a prince, acquire his trade? 

What had he done but love, and seek to see 
What God has done in his great goodness free, 
That which already pales in our ennui, 
Country, and honor, words to love we seem? 
He knew, and gave the poor his pity's gleam, 
Love to the bravest, to the pure esteem. 

What had he done but what he was to do? 
When cannon growled, he waved the banner too; 
When France would sleep, unto the camps he flew; 
The memory thereof would come, perhaps, with time;
For many times his thought frontiers would climb,
While listening drums that beat the marching chime.

Him what could calumny itself reproach? 
More cruel blow can ne'er again encroach. 
If not regret, who did not give respect? 
Go ask the crowd with hate and envy decked. 
No stain upon his brow or on his fame; 
No man hath left behind a purer name. 

A party man to triumph or to ruin run, 
What foe of father dares to hate the son? 
Who could to such a tomb an insult call? 
A ball, they say, in times of Charles the Tenth, 
Upon the throne steps he did stop at length; 
Then, since he falls, we let him sleep in strength. 

Ah, thus to die, poor prince, at thirty years! 
No word from wife, without his mother's tears, 
And clasping no one in his arms that throb! 
No agony of death, no parting sob! 
God only in his heart could read the prayer 
Which angels teach to those who dying are. 

May God, who hears, me from blaspheming keep!
I do not like this fate so foul and deep, 
Which breaks a diadem against a stone, 
Because a driver's hand too weak has grown. 
O ye, who pass beside that fatal brink,
Look to your steps, and on your loved ones think!

He liked our pleasures, our troubles made him sad; 
Of that old book where count of time he had, 
His hand with ours had turned many a page. 
He lived with us, he was of our own age. 
His youthful thought with ancient courage ran; 
A king of France to be, he was the man. 

I think, and say to all who will believe, 
No courtier I, nor would that grief deceive, 
But empty is a place in history. 
A century was there, and a glory,
In this staunch man with sister by his side,
A lovely head with fearless heart to guide.

It had been great, the day when his sword stood 
Retempered, washed and bright in strangers' blood,
Had to his native country brought her pride; 
The while the child with art preoccupied, 
Keeping upon the threshold charity, 
Could make the Muse come in with liberty. 

Nemours, Aumale, Joinville to battle call! 
Glorious that shout along our city wall 
The people hear, the ramparts they repeat; 
While in the chapel, praying calm and sweet, 
Though pale, her eyes with gentle brightness shine, 
The sister calleth down bounty divine. 

It had been fine, that youth and life so strong,
So warmly loved and waited for so long,
Awaking thus in our mother country.
I speak of it by chance, because I see;
Some one may weep him, having better known,
His wife and friend, and now his widow lone.

Poor prince! In his last moment what a dream!
An hour (how long to Time doth one hour seem?) —
An hour a century with wo could mar! 
He was departing, almost for the war. 
Father he was, and son; one hour was his; 
He would his mother and the children kiss. 

'Twas then that death his noble victim sought; 
Death spared him on the desert burning hot, 
Where Arabs fly, with stealthy step and slow, 
About our soldiers whom the fevers mow,
And creep with bloody sword the bush within. 
Once more to Neuilly, this was all his sin.

Neuilly! Oh, charming home and memory sweet!
Childish illusions, ah, ye come and fleet! 
When by the portal in those alleys green 
We children saw the smiling, watchful queen, 
Who then could think we must one day return, 
To find the veiled head, to see death's urn? 

What plans we made at that young age naive, 
When all things speak, and heart doth not deceive!
When with such force hath man so much of hope?
Innocent valor, bold with all to cope! 
The hour might come, the moment might entrance,
And we were proud and wild: we had our France.

Strange dream! Death came, and all has fallen asleep.
How can a hope so just and fair and deep 
Become an useless or a cruel thing? 
Last year he died, no funeral hymn we sing: 
Where stood that blood-stained shop, a chapel  stands. 
The rest? What age is in oblivion's hands? 

He did not die alone when going to Neuilly. 
Of nine of us who marched in company, 
How many are dead! Albert, so brave and free, 
Mortemart, and thou, brave Laborderie, 
Who madest haste to love, this life to know, 
The best of all of us, and first to go! 

If grief could live, your names would famous be, 
O friends! May that sad, gloomy deity,
Whose fires weak light to our time faintly lend, 
To you the funeral torches brightness send! 
And forlorn hope, of this a somber age, 
We must beware in this dark fight we wage; 

For France, just now the mistress of the world, 
Has been struck down and backward hurled, 
And, like Juliet, beneath the arches dark, 
In part awake, in part of death the mark, 
With staggering step, in rugged purple's folds, 
Among the tombs her random march she holds. 

July, 1843.

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