THE BOY ON THE BARRICADE
("Sur une barricade.")
Like Casabianca on the devastated deck,
In years yet younger, but the selfsame core.
Beside the battered barricado's restless wreck,
A lad stood splashed with gouts of guilty gore,
But gemmed with purest blood of patriot more.
Upon his fragile form the troopers' bloody grip
Was deeply dug, while sharply challenged they:
"Were you one of this currish crew?"—pride pursed his lip,
As firm as bandog's, brought the bull to bay—
While answered he: "I fought with others. Yea!"
"Prepare then to be shot! Go join that death-doomed row."
As paced he pertly past, a volley rang—
And as he fell in line, mock mercies once more flow
Of man's lead-lightning's sudden scathing pang,
But to his home-turned thoughts the balls but sang.
"Here's half-a-franc I saved to buy my mother's bread!"—
The captain started—who mourns not a dear,
The dearest! mother!—"Where is she, wolf-cub?" he said
Still gruffly. "There, d'ye see? not far from here."
"Haste! make it hers! then back to swell their bier."
He sprang aloof as springald from detested school,
Or ocean-rover from protected port.
"The little rascal has the laugh on us! no fool
To breast our bullets!"—but the scoff was short,
For soon! the rogue is racing from his court;
And with still fearless front he faces them and calls:
"READY! but level low—she's kissed these eyes!"
From cooling hands of men each rifle falls,
And their gray officer, in grave surprise,
Life grants the lad whilst his last comrade dies.
Brave youth! I know not well what urged thy act,
Whether thou'lt pass in palace, or die rackt;
But then, shone on the guns, a sublime soul.—
A Bayard-boy's, bound by his pure parole!
Honor redeemed though paid by parlous price,
Though lost be sunlit sports, wild boyhood's spice,
The Gates, the cheers of mates for bright device!
Greeks would, whilom, have choicely clasped and circled thee,
Set thee the first to shield some new Thermopylae;
Thy deed had touched and tuned their true Tyrtaeus tongue,
And staged by Aeschylus, grouped thee grand gods among.
And thy lost name (now known no more) been gilt and graved
On cloud-kissed column, by the sweet south ocean laved.
From us no crown! no honors from the civic sheaf—
Purely this poet's tear-bejewelled, aye-green leaf!
by Victor Hugo
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