Poems, now first collected/Christophe



"King Henri is King Stephen's peer,
His breeches cost him but a crown!"
So from the old world came the jeer
Of them who hunted Toussaint down:
But what was this grim slave that swept
The shambles, then to greatness leapt?
Their counterfeit in bronze, a thing
To mock,—or every inch a king?

On San-Souci's defiant wall
His people saw, against the sky,
Christophe,—a shape the height of Saul,—
A chief who brooked no rivals nigh.
Right well he aped the antique state;
His birth was mean, his heart was great;
No azure filled his veins,—instead,
The Afric torrent, hot and red.

He built far up the mountain-side
A royal keep, and walled it round
With towers the palm-tops could not hide;
The ramparts toward ocean frowned;
Beneath, within the rock-hewn hold,
He heaped a monarch's store of gold;
He made his nobles in a breath;
He held the power of life and death;

And here through torrid years he ruled
The Haitian horde, a despot king,—
Mocked Europe's pomp,—her minions schooled
In trade and war and parleying,—
Yet reared his dusky heirs in vain:
To end the drama, Fate grew fain,
Uprose a rebel tide, and flowed
Close to the threshold where he strode.

"And now the Black must exit make,
A craven at the last," they say:
Not so,—Christophe his leave will take
The long unwonted Roman way.
"Ho! Ho!" cried he, "the day is done,
And I go down with the setting sun!"
A pistol-shot,—no sign of fear,—
So died Christophe without a peer.