(26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885 / Besancon / France)

Jean Chouan

The Whites fled, and the Blues fired down the glade.
A hill the plain commanded and surveyed,
And round this hill, of trees and verdure bare,
Wild forests closed th' horizon everywhere.
Safe hold and rampart were behind the mount:
There the Whites halt, and their small numbers count.
Jean Chouan rose, his long hair floating free:
'None can be dead, since here our chief we see,'
They cried. Jean Chouan listened to the shot:
'Are any missing? No! Then tarry not,
But fly!' Around him women, children stood,
In terror. 'Sons, re-entering quick the wood,
Disperse yourselves!' As swallows scattering fly
On rapid wings when storms invade the sky,
They fled to thickets drowned in mist and shade,
And ran,—e'en brave men run when they're afraid.
Dread the disorder, when in trembling flight
Old men and infants at the breast unite,
Fearing or to be killed, or captive ta'en.
Jean Chouan, last, did with slow steps remain,
And often turned him back, and made a prayer.

Sudden, a cry within the glade you hear!
A woman 'mid a storm of bullets stood.
Already the whole band was in the wood;
Jean Chouan only stays. He turns, and sees
A woman burdened. Pale and weak, she flies;
Her naked feet, torn by the brambles, bleed;
She's all alone, and cries, 'To help me, speed!'
Jean Chouan mutters, ''T is Jeanne Madeleine.'
In line of shot, in middle of the plain,
On her the bullets with fierce fury pour.
Ah! God himself must bend the victim o'er,
And take her hand, and shelter 'neath his wing.
Death does such numerous darts around her fling,
She must be lost. 'There, help!' she loudly cries;
But fugitives are deaf, and fear denies.
The balls upon the helpless peasant ran.

Then on the hill which dominates the plain,
Jean Chouan bounded, manly, calm, and proud,
Dauntless. 'I am Jean Chouan!' called he loud.
The Blues cried, ''T is the chief!' and that brave form,
Engrossing all the thunder and storm,
Made Death his target change. 'Now take to flight!
He shouts; 'save yourself, sister!' Mad with fright.
Jeanne sped into the wood, her life to save.
Like pine on snow, or mast upon the wave,
Jean Chouan, whom death seemed to fascinate,
Drew up. The Blues see only him. 'I wait
What time your safety needs. Go, daughter, go!
Joy 'mong your kindred you again shall know,
Again sweet blossoms in your bodice place.'
And he alone it was who then did face
The storm of shot which fell on his great height,
Which seemed as if e'en then would win the fight.
The balls fell thick as hail. With scornful eye
He smiled and raised his sword, when suddenly,
As a bear struck in cavern deep and wide,
He felt a ball pierce thro' and thro' his side.
He stood, and said, ''T is well. Hail, Mary, maid!'
Then staggering towards the wood, he turned his head:
'Friends! friends! has Jeanne your shelter reached?' he cried.
'She's safe!' the voices from the wood replied.
Jean Chouan murmured, 'Good!' and dead he fell.

Peasant, O peasants! True, ye chose not well,
But still your memory has not lessened France.
Great were ye in your fierce, dark ignorance,—
Ye, whom your kings, wolves, priests, and savage wood
Made bandits of, were valiant knights and good.
Through all your frightful yoke and errors foul
You had mysterious flashes of the soul;
Bright rays at times from out your blindness flew.
Hail! I, the banished, am not hard on you:
Exile!—I know the cottage roof to spare.
We are proscribed, and you but phantoms are!
Brothers, we all have battled, but we sought
The future; you, benighted lions! fought
To keep the past. We strove to climb the height;
You strove no less to sink in gulfs of night.
All warred, and martyrs were, by different course,
Without ambition and without remorse,—
We to shut hell, you to keep wide the tomb.
Yet on your brows from high does radiance come;
Fraternal love and pity can unite
The sons of day with children of the night.
And Hero of the Darkness! in this lay
For you I mourn,—I, Soldier of the Day.

by Victor Marie Hugo

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