Ave Caesar! Te Morituri Salutant!
The coup d'état is blotted out
With fresher blood, with blacker crime, —
As midnight horrors put to rout
The vaguer ghosts of twilight-time.
"Greeting from those who are to die! —
Hail Caesar!" — Draw the curtains round.
In vain! — That mournful mocking cry
Pierces the purple with its sound.
And they who raise it enter too, —
With spectral looks and noiseless tread, —
Unbidden, hold their dread review,
Beside the Emperor's very bed.
They sought in his deserted tent;
They found him in the German camp.
They tarry till the oil be spent
That feeds his life's poor flickering lamp.
The hope of France, — the "gilded youth," —
So answering the trumpet's peal
As if revealing how, in sooth,
The gilding oft o'erlies the steel.
Soldiers Algeria's sun has spared;
Heroes from Russia's fire and frost;
Grey veterans, — scarred and scanty-haired, —
Who wept at word of eagles lost.
Workmen, who leave the rattling looms
To ply, perforce, a deadlier trade;
Students, who quit their cloudy rooms
To step within a heavier shade.
Slow-breaking hearts that suffer long, —
Blinded and chilled 'neath love's eclipse;
Singing no more the happy song
By horror frozen on their lips.
From castled cities battle-proof,
They press to the accusing ranks —
From cottage walls, — from canvas roof, —
Ere passing to the Stygian banks.
The thousands famine yet shall waste, —
The holocaust disease will claim, —
As to God's Judgment-Bar they haste,
They gaze on him who is to blame.
"Hail Caesar!" — While Napoleon's star
From yon horizon beams "Farewell!"
Setting in exile, — where, afar,
The children of St. Louis dwell.
Come from the past, — once-dreaded ghosts,
Whose number and whose names he knew! —
The future plants, — at countless posts, —
Sentries more terrible than you!